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11 best things to do in New York for free

Fancy a transatlantic holiday but you're on a budget? NYC may be notoriously expensive, but it doesn't have to be. From culture and sculpture to bridges and boats, here's our pick of free things to do in New York.

1. Admire the view from the High Line

This re-imagined railroad trestle has been one of the hottest New York attractions since the opening of its first section in 2009. Now, there are entrances all along the street between Gansevoort Street and West 34th Street. When you climb the stairs, you are instantly transported into a different world – a lush public park hovering above the iconic city with beautiful greenery and unbeatable views. There are more green spaces in NYC than you might think: check out our guide to the best parks in the Big Apple.

The High Line park, New York

2. Make the most of winter at Rockefeller Center

Arguably one of the most famous places to visit in New York, Rockefeller Center will leave you gobsmacked all year round. But there’s no better time to visit than during the festive season, when the square in front of the Center is decked out in thousands of fairy lights, beneath which shoppers try desperately not to fall over on the ice rink. Winter fun continues at the legendary Rink at Rockefeller Center from October until April, 8.30am to 12am, and you can have a giggle at the skaters for free (or nursing a mug of hot chocolate in the window of the Rock Center Café), but if you have a few cents to spare then rent some skates for the evening.

3. Catch a show at Central Park’s SummerStage

If you’re hanging out in the city during the summertime, make sure to check out this yearly arts festival. Held at Rumsey Playfield, the festival features music, dance and theatre. With the exception of a few benefit concerts, all these events are free, spanning the months of June to August. Even if you’re not here during summer, Central Park is always a great budget NYC attraction, with gorgeous flower gardens and cherry blossoms in spring, a riot of colourful foliage to admire in autumn and free tours all year-round.

4. Save your Friday evenings for the Museum of Modern Art

It’s one of the must-see museums of NYC but if you’ve dreamed of hitting up this famous artistic landmark and don’t want to shell out the $25 admission fee, wait until Friday between 4pm and 8pm for UNIQLO Free Friday Nights. As the name suggests, fees are waived during this time, allowing guests access to the museum’s collections, including exhibits, galleries and films. There are often long queues, so wait until the initial rush has died down and try your luck after 6pm.

Museum of Modern Art, New York

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5. Browse the Chelsea Galleries

This funky neighborhood boasts some of the coolest art galleries in New York. The streets are lined with a selection of exhibition spaces for all types of art, from sculpture to short film and many of them are completely free to visit. Check out this map to see what’s on and where. Chelsea is also a great spot for nightlife, so if you can part with some cash, treat yourself to a cocktail in one of the cool bars in this part of town, many of which are on 27th-29th Streets. You’ll get a rooftop backdrop to go with your Cosmopolitan at Rare View Chelsea, and a peep inside the Hilton NY Fashion District at the same time.

6. Wander around Socrates Sculpture Park

There’s no shortage of art in the city, but at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, you can combine culture with a picnic in the sunshine (weather permitting) for a different kind of day out in NYC. This unique venue displays interesting sculptures and multi-media installations which you can come and stroll around for free. So grab some doorstopper-style deli sandwiches, a frisbee and a comfy rug and settle down for lots of low-cost fun. Find out where to go for the best food in New York, from pastrami on rye to pizza, in our guide.

Socrates Sculpture Park

7. Be a bookworm at the New York Public Library

All those honking yellow taxis and bright lights on Broadway making your head spin? Get away from the chaos and duck into one of the 88 branches of the New York Public Library for a relaxing afternoon exploring their collections of books, DVDs and photography exhibitions. Many libraries also have computers for free public use. One of the most famous NYPL branches is the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 5th and 42nd Street (5th Avenue subway station), which, since it’s featured in tons of film and TV productions, has become an essential place to visit in New York for fans of everything from Ghostbusters to Sex in the City.

New York Public Library

8. Become a fashion expert at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Museum

You don’t have to spend big bucks to drool over designer labels. This free museum has three galleries, including one entirely dedicated to exhibits of works and garments created by students and professors. There are more than 50,000 garments and accessories in the permanent collection alone, including the works of couture greats like Chanel and Dior, not to mention the highly praised special exhibitions, ensuring a day of non-stop fashion education. Located at 7th Avenue and 27th Street.

9. Take a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge

With separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians, the bridge is the best spot in the city for a (free) bird’s eye view across the cityscape. It also makes a rather romantic Valentine’s Day or date spot, one that won’t break the bank and is pretty unique. Plus, when you get to Brooklyn, you can check out Brooklyn Bridge Park, and join your sweetheart on the carousel here, for extra brownie points.

Brooklyn Bridge

10. Go for a ride on the Staten Island Ferry

This historic boat ride is meant to provide free passage from lower Manhattan to Staten Island. However, for many, this has become a fun, free way to spend an afternoon enjoying the sights from the New York harbour without shelling out big bucks for a cruise. Pack a jumper though, as it can get a bit breezy out on the open waters! Catch it at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal in Manhattan, just next to Battery Park.

View from Staten Island Ferry

11. Plan a day trip to Governor’s Island

After nearly two hundred years as a military base, Governor’s Island is fast becoming a hip New York City hangout. Open from May to September, this is the perfect spot to embrace NYC’s greener side, with 30 acres of public parkland. Get on board with Free Bike Mornings (up to an hour, Mon to Fri, 10am – 12pm) to explore the idyllic, car-free paths without spending a dime. 2017 sees the island’s former officer’s quarters and outdoor spaces open up to exhibitions, thanks to the OpenHouseGI program, so there’ll be plenty more free treats in addition to the art fairs and Jazz-style lawn parties that happen in the summer.

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This article was originally published on, written by Marlee Lisker.

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