A New York City vacation can put a dent in your wallet if you don’t know where to look or when to go.

Case in point: A recent report by CNBC stated that the average price of a loaf of bread in New York City is $7.95 and the average price of a bottle of wine is $14.74.

As a New York City local, I know where to get the local prices. The freshly baked Ukrainian Mantinga bread (1 kg) that I usually buy from NetCost Market costs $2.99, and most of my wine, which I purchase from Trader Joe’s costs under $10.

What applies for grocery shopping also applies for finding tours and activities. Want to do and see more of New York City for less? Use this insider’s guide to the top 15 free things to do and see in New York City.

1. Grand Central Terminal and more

One of the most popular attractions in New York City is Grand Central Terminal. It is free to visit. At the time of its opening in 1913, Grand Central Terminal was one of the most advanced train terminals in the world, with functioning electricity. When visiting, check out the chandeliers with 4,000 bare and exposed light bulbs and the blue ceiling (with constellations) at the main concourse, vaulted ceilings with Guastavino tiles at The Oyster Bar and the sculptures of Mercury, Hercules, and Minerva at the top of the 42nd Street façade.

The terminal also houses 60 shops, including a large Apple Store, 35 places to eat, and a gourmet market. I recommend grabbing a coffee from Irving Farm Coffee Roasters if you’re there in the morning, Frankie’s Dog on the Go for a quick bite and beer or wine with oysters (or any snacks) during Happy Hour at The Oyster Bar.

Other iconic places that are free:
St. Patricks Cathedral
Flatiron Bldg
Chrysler Building
High Line Park
Brooklyn Bridge
• Chelsea Market
• The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library

Things to do for free in NYC

Brooklyn Bridge

2. Central Park

See the monuments and statues scattered through Central Park  like Bethesda Fountain, Arches at Bethesda Terrace, Alice in Wonderland, Belvedere Castle, Wollman ice rink, Hans Christian Andersen statue, Delacorte Musical Clock, Strawberry Fields and more.

The park is ideal for a picnic. You may want to buy your picnic food at Whole Foods Market in Columbus Circle (close to Central Park West and 59th Street) or Grace’s Marketplace (close to 72nd Street and 5th Avenue). Or spend $99 for a gourmet lunch for 2 prepared by Pappardella (get this 60% off, so a final price of $39, with this offer from Travelzoo.com).

3. Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Brooklyn Botanic Garden is the best garden for cherry blossoms outside of Washington DC. This 52-acre garden is adjacent to the Brooklyn Museum, and you can potentially combine your visits to both attractions on a Saturday when both offer free admissions.

The Brooklyn Museum is free from 5-11 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month (except September). Brooklyn Botanic Garden is free on Tuesday and Saturday (10 a.m. to noon). For a full list freebies and activities, please check out the garden’s website.

4. NYC Museums

NYCGo.com has a complete list of free NYC museums, and “sometimes free” museums to visit. There are several museums to choose from, but here are five of my recommendations:

1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art – the Met Museum has a pay-what-you-wish admission fee with a suggested donation of $25. It’s not exactly free, but you could enter the museum if you paid just a penny, though I’d suggest more.
2. The Frick Collection – admission is free on every first Friday of the month from 6 to 9 p.m. (except in September and January) and pay-what-you-wish on Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. (starting Jul 5th)
3. Museum of Modern Art – free on Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
4. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum – pay-as-you-wish on Friday from 5:45 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.
5. The Morgan Library & Museum – free on Friday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Get to the venues early because the lines are usually long on the free days.

met Museum NYC

5. Staten Island Ferry

A round trip ride on the Staten Island Ferry will give you spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline and harbor. The 25-minute ride is free.

6. TV Shows Taping

Want to see your favorite morning or late night shows live? Check out the TV Shows taping listings. You must request for tickets in advance or wait in line if there is a standby option.

7. Free concerts

Students between the ages of 13 and 26 can apply for free concert tickets at the New York Philharmonic in Lincoln Center. The NY Philharmonic gives away 100 free tickets every Friday (not in the summer months). You can check out the details on their website.

Julliard School, a prestigious performing art school in NYC, also offers free concert tickets for all student performances.

The Metropolitan Opera has a summer recital series in parks all over the city every year.

For free summer performances go to NYCGo.com for the updated listings.

8. Farmers Markets

Want to know where New Yorkers get their fresh produce? Go to the farmers’ markets. I recommend Union Square’s year-round farmers market. The market is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

GrowNYC.org has a list of farmers’ markets in NYC’s five boroughs. Check it out.

9. Roosevelt tramway for a 360-degree view of the city

Take the Roosevelt tramway by using your Unlimited Ride 7-Day New York City metro card. You’ll save time and money if you buy the 7-day metro card for a stay of over three days with multiple train rides per day.

The tram takes you up as high as 250 feet, and it connects from Manhattan 59th Street and Second Avenue to Roosevelt Island. It’s only a 4-minute ride giving you a different vantage point to view the city.

Navigating the NYC subway system can be daunting for first-time visitors. I recommend reading The Ultimate NYC Subway Guide.

10. Coffee tasting

Coffee lovers may want to attend the weekly free coffee tasting event called Tastings at Ten. This event at Counter Culture Coffee’s New York Learning Center happens every Friday. You get to see how to brew a good cup of coffee and taste coffee with a barista.

11. Exotic neighborhoods

New York City is a melting pot of cultures. You can learn about cultures by visiting the different neighborhoods. Visit Koreatown on West 32nd Street in Manhattan, Chinatown (next to SoHo), Little Italy (next to Chinatown), Little Australia (Corner of Broome and Mulberry in Nolita), and Little Brazil (46th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues). Other neighborhoods outside Manhattan are worth a visit as well like Little India in Jackson Heights, Queens,  Little Poland in Greenpoint Brooklyn, and Little Odessa in Brighton Beach Brooklyn.

If you’re lucky, you may find yourself in the middle of a street festival like the La Festa de San Gennaro (September), West Indian Day (Labor Day), Latin American Culture Week (November), Chinese New Year (February) and hundreds more.

NYC

12. Free tours

NYC has many free walking tours where you pay the guide as you wish, but here are 3 free tours I recommend:

1. Tours organized by the NYC Parks in Central Park, Union Square Park, and Battery Park
2. Grand Central Partnership – every Friday at 12:30 p.m.
3. Greenwich Village Free Walking Tours, every Saturday from June to September only

13. Times Square

Times Square, also known as “The Great White Way” is filled with bright lights and excitement every day. A stroll along the busy Times Square is a must and while you’re there go to Hard Rock Cafe to see the guitar wall.

14. Bronx Zoo

Bronx Zoo is home to over 6,000 animals. It is the largest wildlife conservation park and the largest urban zoo in the United States. General admission is free all day on Wednesdays.

15. Free summer movies

If you’re visiting in summer, don’t miss the free summer movies in the park. Here is a complete list for Summer 2017:

Is there anything we’ve missed that should be included? Tell us or if you’ve any questions, we would love to hear from you. Become a Trippy user and let’s chat.

Photos and article by Claudia Looi

Mentioned in this post
  1. New York City
    City in New York

    New York New York
  2. Grand Central Terminal
    Attraction in New York County New York

    New York County New York
  3. St. Patricks Cathedral
    Attraction in New York New York

    460 Madison Avenue
    New York New York
    (212) 753-2261
    http://www.saintpatrickscathedral.org/
  4. Flatiron Bldg
    Attraction in New York County New York

    1 E 23rd St
    New York County New York
  5. Chrysler Building
    Attraction in New York County New York

    New York County New York
  6. High Line Park
    Attraction in New York New York

    210 10th Avenue
    New York New York
    (212) 500-6035
    http://www.thehighline.org
  7. Brooklyn Bridge
    Attraction in New York County New York

    New York County New York
  8. Central Park N
    New York County New York

    Central Park N
    New York County New York
  9. Whole Foods Market
    Attraction in New York County New York

    10 Columbus Cir
    New York County New York
    (212) 823-9600
    http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/columbuscircle
  10. Pappardella
    Restaurant in New York County New York

    316 Columbus Ave
    New York County New York
    (212) 595-7996
    http://www.pappardella.com/
  11. Botanic Garden
    Attraction in Kings County New York

    Kings County New York
  12. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    Attraction in New York New York

    1000 5th Ave
    New York New York
    (212) 535-7710
    http://www.metmuseum.org/
  13. The Frick Collection
    Attraction in New York City New York

    1 E 70th St
    New York City New York
    (212) 288-0700
  14. Museum of Modern Art
    Attraction in New York New York

    11 West 53rd Street
    New York New York
    (212) 708-9400
    http://www.moma.org/
  15. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
    Attraction in New York County New York

    1071 5th Ave
    New York County New York
    (212) 423-3500
    http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york
  16. The Morgan Library & Museum
    Attraction in New York

    225 Madison Ave
    New York
  17. Lincoln Center Plaza
    New York County New York

    Lincoln Center Plaza
    New York County New York
  18. Roosevelt Island
    Attraction in

  19. Jackson Heights, NY
    Attraction in Jackson Heights New York

    Anywhere!
    Jackson Heights New York
  20. Brighton Beach
    Attraction in Brooklyn

    Riegelmann Boardwalk
    Brooklyn
  21. Theater District - Times Square
    Neighborhood in New York New York

    1-7 W 43rd St
    New York New York
    www.bigapplevisitorscenter.com/pitsq.htm
  22. Hard Rock Cafe
    Restaurant in New York County New York

    1501 Broadway
    New York County New York
    (212) 343-3355
    http://www.hardrock.com/locations/cafes3/cafe.aspx?LocationID=99&MIBEnumID=3
  23. Bronx Zoo
    Attraction in New York

    2300 Southern Boulevard
    New York
    (718) 367-1010