10 free things to do in New York

Home to world famous attractions like the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Times Square, New York City is rightfully among the world’s most popular backpacker and tourist destinations.

However, even though you can book a top quality New York hostel at a fraction of the price of a hotel,  a trip to NYC can get expensive- especially if youare visiting the city for the first time.

Mindful of the fact that you might be on a tight budget, we’ve put together a list of free things to do in New York so that you can make the most out of your trip to the Big Apple without having to break the bank.


1. Check out the history of immigration on Ellis Island

If you’re an art or culture vulture then New York is a fantastic place to go, full to the brim with great museums, art galleries and exhibitions for you to take a look at.

Top galleries like the Guggenheim are well worth a visit, however they will cost you tens of dollars which is no good if you’re on a tight budget or are intent on saving your hard earned cash for one of the city’s amazing department stores like Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s.

To save money for that dress you’ve always wanted or ticket to the New York Knicks, head instead to the Immigration museum on Ellis Island for a FREE fix of history and culture.

Here, you’ll be able to trace the history of US immigration through pictures, photos and interactive displays galore. You can even check the immigration books for family members who made the trip west in search of a better life in the U.S.

You can combine your trip to the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration with a visit to the Statue of Liberty which is just next door.

Check out our blog on New York museums and art galleries for more advice on the best galleries and museums New York has to offer.

2. Indulge your hidden Indiana Jones at Alley Pond Park

Always dreamt of being an all action-hero like Indiana Jones or James Bond? Then head to Alley Pond Park Adventure Course in Queens and make the dream a reality!

The adventure course involves scaling bouldering walls, being hurled out of a human swing shot, tip-toeing across high wire and hanging on for dear life as you take the leap of faith by sliding down a rickety zip line.

Fun, no? We certainly think so! If you’re interested then make sure you get there early as it’s first-come, first-served and each session can only take up to 40 people.

Sessions run on Sundays at 10 am-12.30 pm and 1.30-4pm from May to November only.

If being hurled 45 foot into the air isn’t your thing, then the Parkhouse at Nelson A. Rockefeller Park is another good option for a dose of entertainment and outdoor fun.

In exchange for you photo ID you get access to a whole range of sporting games and goodies which you can use to your heart’s content. These include ping-pong bats, Frisbees, badminton rackets and lacrosse sticks.

3. Grab a free bite to eat

After all that activity, the chances are you’ll be pretty hungry. There are a number of cheap eats in New York and the portions are enormous wherever you go. However, why spend a penny if you don’t have to?!

There are a number of options out there from bars to markets- the key is to shop around! If free grub to accompany your beer is what you’re after then the Rodeo Bar on 3rd Avenue at 27th Street during happy hour is a good option.

Any drink purchase during the very generous happy ‘hour’ of 4-9 pm daily will get you free cheesy nachos and chicken wings- more than enough time for a good feed!

Alternatively head to Macy’s Herald Square on any given Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday, grab a seat and sit back and relax whilst one of a number of professional chefs cooks you a delicious afternoon snack at the Cellar Ktichen.

Sadly the demonstrations only last an hour so get there before 2pm to avoid missing out on top grub from a top chef.

4. Get yourself a free makeover at a top New York department store

You will end up spending some of your trip shopping and with so many of the world’s top department stores to choose from its impossible not to spend money somewhere.

However, you can get at least a fraction of your money back by taking advantage of one of the big department store’s regular designer ‘trunk shows’ where designers go to town to promote their latest line of clothes or make up by offering you free facials, massages or makeovers.

Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s regularly feature such promotions and if you’re really lucky you’ll time your visit with a party launch which will involve plenty of canapés and free cocktails. Generally, if you see mention of a DJ on the schedule it’s a good indicator that you might get more than a quick manicure if you hang around!

5. Enjoy a free beer at a top New York bar

While manicures and facials at Bloomingdale’s are unlikely to feature on any man’s to do list in New York, enjoying a beer at a top bar is probably going to feature quite highly.

Lots of bars offer free drinks on various nights of the week but the ‘Meet the Brewer’ nights on Tuesday evenings at Beirkraft in Brooklyn on 5th Avenue between Berkley Place and Union Street is among the best places to go. During the course of the evening you get to taste five or six different beers from a visiting microbrewer and learn a little bit more about what goes into your pint in the process.

The bar is pretty good in its own right and serves a range of decent food and snacks to make sure you don’t go hungry during your wine tasting session.

On Wednesday’s at Mercury Bar on Third Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets ladies can drink free cocktails from 8-9pm. Lads, sadly, have to pay full price though the prices are reasonable and it is a sports bar by way of compensation!

6. Get your laughs for free at a free comedy show

Comedy is to beer what bread is to butter- the perfect companion- and New York does free comedy to accompany your free beer or cocktail too

ASSSSCAT 3000 and Whiplash are two of your best options from the free comedy clubs you can choose from.

ASSSSCAT 3000 regularly features stars from the world famous Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock and is two or three hours of great entertainment in the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

You’ll have to get there early though to get in for free though- the free tickets are distributed at 8.15pm ahead of the 9.30pm Sunday start and people queue up for a good hour or so before to ensure their entry- no jokes!

Whiplash, also at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, on Monday nights at 11pm is less crowded but is often the better option. The legendary comedian Leo Allen hosts the show which regularly features some of the biggest names on the stand-up circuit who turn up unannounced and surprise the audiences.

7. Learn to dance at Dance Manhattan

If dancing is your thing, then this is one not to miss! Dance Manhattan is one of New York’s most prestigious dance schools and training HQ of some of the finest social and contemporary dancers in the country.

However, once a month it opens its doors to the general public to offer a free dance class followed by a party and performance by the dance school.

The date of the Guest Night varies each month so you’ll have to check Dance Manhattan’s website for details on how to get involved.

8. Watch Shakespeare for free in a Car Park!

When Shakespeare wrote the likes of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet there wasn’t a car in site let alone car parks but this is exactly what you get from Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, which provides Shakespeare with a quirky, gritty edge.

All Shakespeare’s plays have had airings in the concrete surroundings of this Lower East Side car park at Broome Street which is well worth a look.

If you’re more keen on a more traditional version of theater head to the Lark Play Development Center at Lark Studio on 8th Avenue for a free play reading.

9. Catch a movie at the Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art is not the first place you’d think of going to watch a film and certainly won’t be showing the latest Hollywood blockbuster, however it is well worth a look if you’re at a loose end on a Friday afternoon.

The MoMA features films from across the globe and tends to focus on films that are lesser known and slightly quirky

Despite the obscurity of the films on show, ‘tickets’ sell out quickly and must be picked up between 4-8pm. The queues always reduce after 6pm but by then screenings can be sold out. Get their early to avoid disappointment and take advantage of the fact that the museum is also free to fill in the time before the film starts.

10. Take a stroll over Brooklyn Bridge

Not all of New York’s premier attractions cost you money. A walk round Central Park doesn’t cost a dime and neither does a stroll over Brooklyn Beach from Manhattan into Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Bridge is an absolute must for any trip to New York and provides some of the best views of the city in all its glory- day or night.

You can combine your trip over Brooklyn Bridge with a stroll along the three mile boardwalk at Coney Island which is also free. However, we can’t guarantee you won’t get hungry and dip your hand in your pocket to splash out on a hot dog from Nathan’s on the way back over the bridge!

There are many more free things to see and do in New York. The key advice to take on board is to keep your eyes and ears open as there is always something, somewhere going on- it’s the city that never sleeps after all!

Top Tip:

Pick up a discount card from the information desk at Macy’s for a 20% discount of purchases as a non-US citizen.

For more tips on how to make your money go further in New York check out our blog on 10 cheap eats in New York, 10 things to do in New York for $10, free New York art galleries, New York in pictures and The New York Street Food Guide.

Got a tip on how to save money in New York that you think might be helpful? Become a fan of hostelbookers on facebook and let us know about it!

Thanks to Gerson721ziptheusa, flickr4jazz, loop_ohMirka23, chrisbastian44mockstar, Randy OHC & Allie_Caulfield for the Flickr images.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

19 − two =