There are a gazillion FREE and budget-friendly things to do in New York City any month of the year, especially the last two weeks of November, which includes the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Baloonfest the night before, plus lectures, film festivals, the openings of of holiday exhibits and markets, and so much more.
Some events require advance registration to manage space, so if you are interested, sign up.
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This extraordinary annual design competition is also the most unique food charity in the world
Canstruction, in the Atrium at Brookfield Place, challenges teams of architects, engineers, and contractors to build sculptures made entirely out of unopened cans of food. The large scale structures are placed on display and later donated to City Harvest for distribution to those in need.
Canstruction is FREE, but organizers request all visitors to bring a full can of healthy food (or several) to donate to City Harvest. There is a large collection bin next to the Information Desk located on the second level.
It is best to enter through the doors at 230 Vesey Street where you will see the first of the structures.
- FREE through November 21 at Brookfield Place (formerly Winter Garden)
Yeti, Set, Snow Returns to the Swedish Cottage
Yeti, Set, Snow! – an original story and marionette show produced by City Parks Foundation – is now open at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre in Central Park, with performances into February 2020.
Perfect for families with young children, this winter adventure with puppetry and music is perfect for getting into the winter holiday spirit.
Yeti, Set, Snow! tells the story of a young girl named Widget, and her friend, Twig, who encounter a yeti named Pascetti and a cat, Tinsel Kitty, on the first snow day. Pascetti, who lives on a mountaintop nearby, dislikes the snow. Through songs and outdoor activities, Pascetti learns not only that snow can be fun, but also that friendship is important.
Again this year, tickets are a bargain $8 for kids and $12 for the adults who accompany them.
Ticket purchases help to support FREE PuppetMobile performances in NYC parks.
There are as many as three performances a day, and even so, the most popular days around the holidays get sold out first.
Tickets are available now
Sacred Splendor: Rare Judaica
Sotheby’s is auctioning rare Judaica objects from the Arthur and Gitel Marx Collection, and you can see these beautiful objects for FREE in the days leading up to the auction.
There are some 300 items, or lots, in the auction – comprising Judaica books and manuscripts, paintings and metalwork from the 15th through 20th centuries, from around the world, including from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, touch every aspect of secular and religious Jewish life.
- FREE Opens Nov. 17, auction on Nov. 20,
- 1334 York Ave., sothebys.com.
Attend a FREE concert by The Mighty Sparrow, known as the Calypso King of the World, is a vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist, and a veritable living legend.
A prolific songwriter, he has written over 600 songs and recorded over 60 albums and has been recognized by such songwriters as Bob Dylan and Van Dyke Parks for his genius as a wordsmith.
For this very special evening at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, The Mighty Sparrow will play an intimate acoustic set that explores his artistry and personal history.
- FREE, at 7:30pm, Thursday, Nov. 21
- There are no reservations, seating is first come first served.
The annual Holiday Fair returns for five weeks of indoor shopping under the beautiful Beaux Arts architecture and chandeliers in the warmth of Vanderbilt Hall.
Artisans will sell a diverse mix of items, including men’s and women’s accessories, pet products, photography, clothing, holiday ornaments, bath and body items, products for the home, and other locally made and handcrafted goods across 40 booths. Seven new vendors will be joining this year, including jewelry brands Ela Rae, Elke Van Dyke Design, and PlayHardLookDope, as well as handblown glassware from Swoon Living by Patrick Fitzpatrick, Edie Art, ornament brand JingleNog, and tie company Bird Dog Bay.
The Fair is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 8pm, Saturdays from 10am to 7pm, and Sundays from 11am to 6pm.
- Nov. 17 through Dec. 24, Vanderbilt Hall, Grand Central Terminal
- For additional details, visit the website.
Every holiday season, the New York Transit Museum’s Grand Central Gallery plays host to a city within a city with the display of a miniature electric railroad running over, through, and beneath some of New York’s most magnificent landmarks.
Celebrating its 18th year of operation in 2019/2020, this beloved annual holiday exhibit features model trains traveling along a 34’ long, two-level, “O” gauge model train layout.
Departing from a miniature replica of Grand Central Terminal, the Transit Museum’s collection of Lionel trains including Metro-North, Polar Express, and vintage subway train sets will dazzle the eyes of children and adults alike as they make their way past New York landmarks and on to the North Pole.
Because everybody loves trains.
- FREE, November 21, 2019–February 23, 2020
This FREE program is part of a seven-part series on the French-Jewish experience.
Until the French Revolution, France’s Jews were mired in insecurity, expelled by kings greedy to steal their wealth, invited back to create more while still subject to restrictive legislation. But influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment, after a series of contentious debates, the French revolutionaries offered Jews the full rights of citizenship in 1791 – and Napoleon affirmed them, even as he placed new regulations on the tiny community.
This program explores how Enlightenment ideals and prejudices shaped the emancipation of French Jewry, and even the broader issues of religious intolerance, and the real goal of Napoleon’s reorganization of Jewish life.
- FREE, 6:30pm at the Temple Emanu-el Streicker Center, 1 East 65th St
- Registration is recommended to ensure space
Attend a lecture that will leave you laughing, with the two authors of a new book that brings irreverent humor to all things Jewish, from the Oslo Accords to Barbara Streisand to the meaning of happiness (hint: it’s latkes), all of it celebrating the diverse and unique tidbits that make up modern Jewish life.
You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the humor of the encyclopedia’s authors, Stephanie Butnick and Liel Leibovitz, who also host the Jewish podcast Unorthodox.
- 7pm on November 21
- Ticket Info: $15 general; $12 seniors; $10 CJH/Partner members, students at encyclopedia.bpt.me
- Authors selling and signing books after the talk
- Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th St.
Shout, Sister, Shout! is the eye-opening story of the “Godmother of Rock and Roll,” GRAMMY® nominee and 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
If you like that old time rock-and-roll, this FREE program is a great way to hear the golden oldies as it focuses on the recently released unabridged audiobook of author Gayle F. Wald’s book, Shout, Sister, Shout!
Highlights of the audiobook include narration by Emmy® and Tony® Award-winner, Leslie Uggams, as well as others, and recordings by Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
- FREE, 7pm on Friday, Nov. 22 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, in Lincoln Center
Spend the afternoon with the Mad. Sq. Park team to rake, collect, and bag leaves throughout the Park.
It’s great exercise for grown-ups and great fun for kids – as well as being a great learning experience about cleaning up after yourself, recycling, and the science of changing seasons.
- FREE, 11am to 2pm on Saturday, Nov 23 at Madison Square Park
- The rain date for this program is the following day, Sunday, Nov. 24
Origami Holiday Tree
An annual Museum tradition, the delightfully decorated Origami Holiday Tree and two merrily lit 19-foot Holiday Barosaurs welcome visitors throughout the holiday season.
The theme of this year’s 13-foot tree is T. rex and Friends: History in the Making, with models inspired by the Museum’s special exhibition T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, which celebrates the world’s most famous dinosaur species, first discovered, named, and exhibited to the public by the Museum. In honor of the Museum’s 150th anniversary, the Origami Holiday Tree includes more than 150 origami models of theropod dinosaurs, including T. rex, as well as models of other Museum icons like the blue whale.
Volunteers, including local, national, and international origami artists, fold year-round, contributing to a collection of more than1,000 models that will be displayed on the tree. Each year the 13-foot-tree features a different theme relating to the Museum’s special exhibitions or to its collections, which include more than 34 million artifacts and specimens.
Past themes have included Oceans of Origami; Unfolding the Senses; Mighty and Microscopic Life; Origami Night at the Museum; Wicked, Wild, and Wonderful; Fantastic Creatures: Mythic and Real; Origami in Flight; Origami A to Z; and Origami Safari. During the holiday season, volunteers will be on hand to teach visitors of all ages origami, the art of paper folding.
The two Holiday Barosaurs, which greet visitors to the Museum on the front steps throughout the holiday season, are made of openwork stainless steel and festooned with pine boughs and lights. Illuminated at night, the whimsical dinosaurs flank the Museum’s Central Park West staircase and echo the Barosaurus mount in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda.
The Origami Holiday Tree is located in the Grand Gallery.
The Holiday Barosaurs are located outside the Museum’s main entrance on Central Park West at 79th Street.
- FREE to view, at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)
- Nov. 25 to Jan. 12, 2020
Marching bands, celebrity-filled floats, clowns, and the official arrival in town of Santa are all important parts of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
But it is the giant balloons, some as much as six stories high, that define the annual event. It’s bigger and better than ever in 2019 with three new balloons – Astronaut Snoopy, SpongeBob SquarePants and Gary, and Green Eggs and Ham – and new floats.
Performers include Emmy Award-winning Broadway and TV star Billy Porter and Grammy Award-winning band Black Eyed Peas.
including information about Balloonfest the night before, when you can watch balloons inflated, one leg, arm, torso and head at a time.
Avoid “Black Friday” madness. Head for Wave Hill for a community meditation focused on gratitude and clearing your mind of holiday clutter.
Get inspired by the outdoors and the peace and tranquility that nature evokes, and learn how to work loving kindness into daily life. Led by Neem Dewji of Yoga for Bliss.
Please bring a meditation cushion and be on time; latecomers will not be admitted since it disturbs the meditation.
- Free with admission to the grounds, 11am to Noon on Friday, Nov. 29.
- Wave Hill House, Bronx