There is certainly no shortage of things to do in New York City: from picnicking in Central Park to taking in a Broadway show, there are countless ways to have fun here; the sad thing is that not all of them, or even most of them, are cheap (never mind free!). However, having been born and bred in this town, I know a few under-the-radar tips and tricks to help you have a great time without breaking the budget. Here are seven of my favorite free things to do in New York City.
1. Walk/Tour The High Line
The High Line is a former elevated freight railroad that has been transformed into a beautiful aerial garden. Only opened in 2009, the High Line has since become a favorite spot amongst locals to stroll, eat lunch, or simply take in a bit of sunshine. It runs from Gansevoort Street to West 30th Street, which is only about 1 mile (about 1.6 km) long, but offers lovely and unexpected views of the Hudson River.
The Friends of the High Line community group offers free guided walking tours, though hours vary according to season, so be sure to read their website for more information thehighline.org
2. Visit Art Galleries in Chelsea
Chelsea is a downtown neighborhood that stretches from West 18th-23rd Streets between Eighth and Tenth Avenues. It’s known for being artistically and culturally vibrant, and many art galleries have subsequently relocated here from SoHo. The galleries are (almost) always free to visit, and here’s an insider tip: new exhibitions usually open on Thursday evenings – the best time to sip (free!) wine, munch (free!) hors d’oeuvres, and maybe even meet a famous artist or two.
Just beware: openings are typically glamourous events, so be sure to wear something a bit more stylish than jeans and sneakers. Have a look at the website chelseagallerymap.com to find out where each gallery is located, as well as current and upcoming exhibits.
3. Go Kayaking
While it’s not exactly the shot of adrenaline that say, BASE jumping is, New York City does offer some terrific opportunities for more outdoorsy types. Kayaking is available through the Downtown Boathouse, a nonprofit organization run completely by volunteers.
Their mission is:
to encourage safe public use of the harbor waters of New York City and thereby provide residents [and visitors] of this space-constrained city with increased recreational opportunities.
Nice, right? Kayakers are given a lifejacket, paddle, and kayak; the only requirement is that you must know how to swim. The program runs from the middle of May to the middle of October; check their calendar for exact times and dates: downtownboathouse.org
4. Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge (and Spend an Afternoon at the Brooklyn Bridge Park)
The Brooklyn Bridge is easily one of the city’s most important icons: at once alluring and imposing, this bridge will take your breath away with dramatic views of both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Just about any time of day is perfect for a walk across, but my favorite is always late evening, just after the sun has gone down and the lights of the city are just beginning to pop up like little twinkling stars – it’s absurdly romantic and, more practically speaking, less crowded with other visitors.
If you cross from Manhattan to Brooklyn, you’ll be deposited right on the waterfront in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Make like a local and lie in the grass, though if the mood strikes you, you can even ride the carousel! brooklynbridgepark.org
5. Grab a Beer and Eat Free Pizza at Alligator Lounge
The owners of this bar had what was possibly the best idea ever: serve a free personal-size pizza with every drink purchased! That’s right, you get a free pizza with every drink you buy. Alligator Lounge is the perfect place for folks on a budget; despite its unremarkable interiors, locals love it for the friendly atmosphere, rockin’ jukebox, and fun karaoke nights that take place every Thursday.
They have 13 beers on tap, all of which are moderately priced, and should you want a topping on your pizza, well, that would be a whopping 1 dollar, my friend! They’re located at 600 Metropolitan Avenue (near Lorimer Street), Brooklyn NY 11211 and are open until 4:00 AM every single day of the week.
6. Visit a Church
Although New York is known more for its ultra-modern skyscrapers than its grand cathedrals, the city does have a few worth checking out just for their architectural value, regardless of your religious persuasion. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the most famous, with nearly 6 million tourists each year. Trinity Church, St. Bartholomew’s, and Cathedral of St. John the Divine are less known but equally lovely. You might even recognize St. Bart’s from moments in films like Arthur (both the 1981 original and the 2011 remake) and Salt.
Poke your head in for just a moment or take a full tour: both options are free!
7. Take a Class
I know, I know – taking a class sounds utterly boring.
I mean, didn’t you go on vacation to escape that sort of thing? Well, this being New York City, classes here aren’t exactly of the “Learn How to Care for Your Pet Rock” variety (though you could probably find it if you tried hard enough). If you have a passion for something, this town has a free class hiding somewhere for you.
Want to practice foreign langauge skills?
Brooklyn Public Library hosts free conversation groups in Portuguese, Italian, French, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, and Spanish.
Want to tickle your funny bone?
Try the Introduction to Improv class at Magnet Theater.
Looking to keep fit while on holiday?
Get your sweat on with yoga at Socrates Sculpture Park, cardio and martial arts sessions at the Jewish Community Center, or the ballroom dance party at Dance Manhattan.
Are you the crafty type?
Programs for DIYers of all kinds abound at the Etsy Labs.
Feeling particularly saucy?
Babeland, purveyor of “sex toys for a passionate world,” gives workshops on everything from standard positions to the more, shall we say, unconventional methods of intimacy. Great for both singles and couples, plus they give out cupcakes!
So there you have it! Now go off and enjoy this amazing city.
Anything to add to 7 free things to do in New York City? More suggestions?
We love to hear them! Just share it below in the comment section – I will add the additional tips from time to time.[author image=”http://www.back-packer.org/wp-content/uploads/ofrevolt.png” ]Jessica Kulick escaped the clutches of “The Man” to become a freelance writer and blogger. Originally from New York City, she is currently spending the next year traveling across Europe. In addition to writing and traveling, Jessica enjoys photographing her misadventures and posting the evidence on her website, Of Revolt. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.[/author]
Featured image taken from Flickr (c) by Tony the Misfit
Great to see my tips and tricks on NYC up here! Thanks for the feature, Steve!
Thanks for the article with some really good tips. I think I have to prove the list when i’m Couchsurfing NYC – just tell me when your Penthouse or Loft in Manhatten is ready for a visit ;)
Hope you’ll have a lot of fun on your last weeks here in good old europe, before heading back to the states!
Take the Staten Island Ferry and cross the Statue of Liberty.
Great post thank you! We are heading back to NYC in May, our 3rd time. I cant wait to explore this city some more. We didnt do the High Line on our last visits so its a definite for this time around!