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10 Totally Free Things to Do in New York City

New York City Insider Guides
by Nicole Bergstrom May 10, 2017

NEW YORK CITY just might be the most exciting and dynamic city in the world. It has thousands of activities for visitors. But, it is also very expensive. If you are planning to visit the city but do not have a millionaire’s budget, don’t worry. Below is a list of ten totally free activities for a variety of interests.

1. Walk, jog, or run in Central Park.

Central Park is the ultimate big city place to walk, jog, or run in every season. The 843-acre park has tons of walking tracks. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir has a 1.58-mile jogging track surrounding it that is popular with locals and tourists. While you explore the most visited urban park in the United States, you will discover numerous landmarks such as the Carousels, Shakespeare Garden, Turtle Pond, and Strawberry Fields. When you need to rest, there are hundreds of benches plus many open grassy areas and meadows. If you are interested in the history of this world-famous park, Free Tours by Foot has two free guided tours covering the lower and central sections of the park.

2. Visit an outdoor sculpture park.

Socrates Sculpture Park, located in Long Island City, was previously an abandoned riverside landfill and illegal dumpsite. In 1986, artist Mark Di Suervo lead a team of local artists in transforming the four-acre site into an outdoor sculpture exhibition. At the main entrance, a billboard greets visitors and sets the theme for the current show. The park also hosts many free programs, including artist tours of exhibitions, summer art projects, and yoga classes. From the park, you can see an incredible view of the Manhattan skyline day or night.

3. Feed your head with knowledge.

Meet Patience and Fortitude, the Tennessee Marble lion statues guarding the entrance of the New York Public Library, located at Fifth Ave. and 42nd Street. The Rose Main Reading Room is the highlight of this National Historic Landmark. The 500-person capacity room has huge windows, gorgeous chandeliers, and a 52-foot high ceiling painted with sky-like murals. The library offers free one-hour tours Mondays through Saturdays at 11 am and 2 pm, and at 2 pm on Sundays. The daily tours begin at the reception desk in Astor Hall. There is no reservation needed, but tours are limited to 25 people and are on a ‘first-come, first served’ basis.

4. Fine art galleries

If you are a fan or connoisseur of fine art, there are multiple free gallery showings. The hub for art galleries is in the Chelsea neighborhood between 10th and 11th Avenues in the 20’s. Participating galleries in this neighborhood include David Zwirner, Gagosian, Matthew Marks, and The Pace.

5. Sightseeing on the water

The Staten Island Ferry is a commuter ferry that is free of charge. The ferry ride between Whitehall Ferry Terminal in lower Manhattan and St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island provides great photo opportunities of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. The ferry is packed during the weekday rush hour, so the better time for a leisurely ride would be mid-day or the weekend. You must disembark the ferry at the terminal, from there you can explore Staten Island, or re-board the ferry through the waiting room for the return trip to Manhattan.

6. Movies al fresco

These days, the average cost of a ticket for a theatrical release in Manhattan is $14.30. If you add the cost of refreshments, you will put a serious dent in your wallet. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation offers free Movies under the Stars. Screenings are May through September at locations in Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn.

7. Pay tribute to the heroes and heroines of 2/93 and 9/11.

September 11th, 2001 was a day marked by the heroics of firefighters, police, and everyday New Yorkers fraught with fear, death, and destruction. The 9/11 memorial at the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers pays tribute to those who died in the terrorist attacks of February 1993 and September 2001. The names of all victims of the attacks are inscribed in bronze at twin memorial pools at the site. You will also find the Survivor Tree, a Callery pear tree that survived the terrorist attacks. You can pay your respects here.

8. History lessons

The Public Design Commission hosts City Hall tours several times during the week. The hour-long tour includes the Governor’s Room, the City Hall Portrait Collection, the rotunda and the City Council Chamber. Reservations are required for group tours. Groups are limited to 20 and the minimum age is 9 to attend the tour. Don’t forget to say ‘congratulations’ to all the newlyweds as they leave City Hall and start their new lives together.

Big Apple Greeter is a non-profit organization that offers free neighborhood tours to visitors of New York City. Tour guides are native New Yorkers who volunteer their services and can provide insider details that only residents can know. Any neighborhood tour itinerary is possible. Visitors need to schedule tours at least four weeks in advance via the website.

9. Live shows

The renowned Shakespeare in the Park series premieres two Shakespeare plays every summer at the Delacorte Theatre, located in Central Park. Plays in the past have starred members of the Hollywood A-List, such as Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, and Al Pacino, who have made this event wildly popular. Tickets to this series are free and are distributed the day of the performance. Be sure to get on a ‘free line’ at the theatre early to receive your tickets, as they are handed out on a first-come arrangement.

NBC Studios, located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, has free tickets for tapings of its popular live television shows including The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, The Voice, Saturday Night Live and America’s Got Talent. Free guided tours of NBC studios are also available. Make your request for free tickets via the website about a month in advance. Standby tickets for same-day tapings for live shows are also available. Check the NBC Studios’ website for more information.

10. Outdoor shows and concerts

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation hosts free shows and concerts in all boroughs from May through September. Most noteworthy is Bryant Park Friday Picnics, where from 5 pm to 10 pm Fridays the park hosts a free picnic with live entertainment — and loans blankets to participants!

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