Table of contents
- Central Park & Bethesda Terrace
- Brooklyn Bridge Park
- Prospect Park
- Riverside Park
- Fort Greene Park
- South Street Seaport Piers
- Socrates Sculpture Park
- Astoria Park
- The High Line
- Gantry Plaza State Park
- Jacob Riis Beach & Rockaway Beach
- Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn
- Brighton Beach, Brooklyn
- Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
- Walk across the Manhattan Bridge
- Walk across the Williamsburg Bridge
- The “FRIENDS” Apartment Building
- The Flatiron Building
- Times Square
- Washington Square Park
- Union Square Park
- Grand Central Station
- September 11th Memorial
- Hamilton Grange
- Coney Island (Brooklyn)
- Jackson Heights (Queens)
- DUMBO (Brooklyn)
- Brooklyn Heights (Brooklyn)
- West Village (Manhattan)
- SoHo (Manhattan)
- Chinatown (Manhattan)
- South Williamsburg (Brooklyn)
- Staten Island Ferry
- The Oculus (World Trade Center)
- The Shops at Columbus Circle
- DeKalb Market Hall & City Point
Whether you’re visiting NYC for the first time or if you’re a local who just wants something new and free to do this weekend, I have got quite a list for you.
As a local living in NYC for quite some time now (and having lived in three different boroughs throughout various points in my life!), I consider myself the expert on free things to do without breaking the bank in one of the most expensive cities on this side of the planet.
Just because you’re visiting NYC or trying to travel around and see some sights does not mean that you have to spend any money at all!
There is so much to do in New York City (consider that it is VERY big!) and you can do a ton of stuff for free whether you’re visiting in summer, spring, fall or winter, and even on a rainy day. Visiting NYC at any time of year is always a great idea for free stuff to do.
In this list from my local trove of tips, I’ll show you all the free things you can do in NYC — as soon as tomorrow! — that won’t cost you even a dime (especially if you can walk there).
This list covers three boroughs of NYC, so no matter where you are staying in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens, you’ll find something you can walk to.
Our top tip for anyone on a long or short trip is to do all the free things, and then when you exhaust all those free activities in a place, move on to the stuff that costs money. See more ideas for keeping a trip budget under control in our ways to save money while traveling.
Free NYC Parks
NYC has countless numbers of city parks that are all free. This is one of the reasons why NYC is one of the best value destinations for travel and it’s because you can do free things like visit different city parks, all day long, during your stay.
Depending on the neighborhood and level of touristic value, especially proximity to the water, these parks can be anything from postage stamp-sized triangles at intersections to massive swaths of greenery with castles, ponds, lakes and zoos.
Let’s see the list of the best NYC parks that you can visit for free.
Central Park & Bethesda Terrace
It won’t surprise you that Central Park is first on my list of free things to do in NYC! This huge park that reaches from 57th to 110th Streets is one of the most famous parks in the WORLD, and for free, you can roam from Sheep’s Meadow to Harlem Meer, stopping in Conservatory Garden, the Reservoir, the Bethesda Fountain at Bethesda Terrace and Belvedere Castle.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
This free and huge park located where Brooklyn’s west side meets the East River is one of the best places to take photos of the NYC skyline, take a long walk, see some soccer games, admire the Old Pier 1 Docks and take photos of the sunset! Naturally, many locations in this park are some of the best places to Instagram in Brooklyn.
If you’re into night photography, you can use Dan’s night photography beginner guide to learn how to take photos from Brooklyn Bridge Park once the sun goes down.
Prospect Park is the Brooklyn sister of Manhattan’s renowned Central Park, and was even designed by the same designers in the 1800s.
Inside Prospect Park, you’ll find some grassy fields, baseball fields, “Brooklyn’s Only Forest (The Ravine),” the Prospect Park historic boathouse, and heaps of places to picnic under pretty trees. Everything in the park is free, and our local recommendation is to take a little hike up to Lookout Hill.
We also recommend Prospect Park as a place to see some secrets in our guide to what to know before traveling to NYC.
Riverside is a park that spans miles and miles down the west side of Manhattan and was one of my crucial places to catch a sunset when I lived on the Upper West Side. Riverside Park is a skinny park, with its prettiest spots near Pier I in the 60s streets, and toward the West Village, where the park becomes a promenade, and you can see people playing tennis, walking dogs, going for runs, admiring the Hudson River and more.
Fort Greene Park
Fort Greene Park is one of our best local NYC secrets because this free park (also designed by Calvert & Vaux, the designers of Central Park and Prospect Park) is pretty tourist-free, making it one of the more non-touristy free things to do in NYC. We love Fort Greene Park, especially when it’s autumn and there’s lovely foliage to see. You can catch live jazz, “dog hour” before 9am every day, and see a peep of the Freedom Tower from the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument.
South Street Seaport Piers
My parents would take me to the South Street Seaport when I was a kid, but it’s been wildly transformed since then. Now, it’s a wonderful free place to roam around, with federalist architecture and cobblestone streets in the pedestrian-friendly areas that lead up to the Pier 15, East River Esplanade. Pier 15 is one of the most unique and free things to do in this area, as it’s a dual-layer public pier with a second-story grassy area where you can sunbathe or have a picnic.
Socrates Sculpture Park
Another well-kept NYC secret gem that is also free is Socrates Sculpture Park, located near Astoria, Queens, right on the East River. This is an eclectic park with artsy sculptures that’ll make your head turn, and what’s more is there are views of Manhattan right from there. See more information on this free attraction at the NYCGO website.
Astoria Park is a brilliant free thing to do for those who take the subway out to Astoria, Queens, or for anyone who is already staying there. We actually recommend it as one of our favorite places to avoid heaps of tourists, so you should give it a try. Astoria Park is a west-facing park on the East River where you can enjoy a beautiful sunset.
The High Line
The High Line is a Manhattan public park located on elevated train tracks that sat defunct and collected dust for many decades until the early 2000s, when they were turned into a cool new park that everyone can enjoy!
The High Line is free, and you can walk it for a long time if you start near 34th Street and continue to Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District. You can also watch the sunset from here, and we recommend admiring the cool new architecture mixed with old as you walk next to plants, flowers and art installations.
Gantry Plaza State Park
Gantry Plaza State Park is a long name for the riverside park that lines Long Island City (a neighborhood in the west of Queens) with the East River. Believe it or not, this is also one of the best spots in NYC to watch a sunset (for free), and in recent years, this park has also been transformed to both a locals’ and visitors’ paradise, with new fields and turf, lounge chairs, picnic tables and food vendors.
Don’t miss the massive “Pepsi Sign” as your postcard to send home.
Most people think of NYC as an urban jungle with offices, Broadway, high-rise apartment buildings and Central Park, but have you considered NYC as a beachgoers paradise? I’m not saying our beaches are Thailand or the Bahamas, but for what it’s worth, NYC has put some time and money into keeping beaches attractive for visitors to enjoy throughout the summer and all year round.
Jacob Riis Beach & Rockaway Beach
Perhaps the “farthest out” from the city center and from Manhattan (aside from Orchard Beach, the Bronx, and the beaches of Staten Island) is Jacob Riis Beach and Rockaway Beaches in the east of Queens toward the rest of Long Island. These beaches really make you feel like you went on vacation, as you can hardly see the city from here, and the vibes are plenty tropical all throughout summer.
Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn
I bet you thought Manhattan Beach was in Manhattan! Nope, this smaller Brooklyn Beach is a local spot in Brooklyn a bit past Brighton Beach. To get to Manhattan Beach, you have to take the subway and then a short bus ride, and once you arrive, it’s free (just like the other city beaches). There is a small boardwalk and very, very few tourists.
Brighton Beach, Brooklyn
Brighton Beach is both a neighborhood with Russian and Eastern European flavors, and a proper beach next to Coney Island. While Coney Island gets all the fame for its amusement park and history of sideshows, Brighton Beach is a slightly quieter spot with fewer crazies where you can plop down on a beach blanket and sit in the sun. Also, there are free public restrooms.
NYC is the home of free landmarks that you can visit, from historic monuments to quirky things that make a good Instagram moment.
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of the top things to do in NYC (it is), but it’s also one of the best free things to do on any NYC itinerary, especially when you’re on a budget, or even if you are not on a budget at all. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (free for entering, walking and biking) will get you lovely views of Manhattan, both Lower Manhattan and Midtown Manhattan, and is one of the most quintessential NYC experiences I can think of.
Walk across the Manhattan Bridge
Walk across the Manhattan Bridge, which will look like this, and it’s one of the best free walks you can do in NYC that’ll get you some SOLID views from the pedestrian side! Start in either Downtown Brooklyn-DUMBO on Jay St. or from the Manhattan side in Chinatown. The walking side of the Manhattan Bridge has some of the coolest under-the-radar photo perspectives!
Walk across the Williamsburg Bridge
Definitely popular, but not on every tourist’s bucket list is a walk across the Williamsburg Bridge. The pedestrian walkway is easily accessible from Delancey Street in the Lower East Side, and you’ll be walking by runners, bikers, groups of friends, commuters, the whole thing. Walking on this bridge is 100% free and it will take you from Manhattan to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and back.
The “FRIENDS” Apartment Building
If you’re a fan of FRIENDS (the TV show), taking a walk to Grove St. where it intersects with Bedford St. in the West Village will put you on the spot of the “FRIENDS” building exterior. Free for looking at and quietly taking photos.
The Flatiron Building
The Flatiron Building is one of our favorite places to photograph, and we live here in NYC! It’s funny how something so unique is so a part of the fabric of New York, and this gorgeous “flat” building is one of the most free places to walk by or take a photo of from where Broadway crosses 5th Avenue.
Free Public Squares
Public squares are where LIFE happens in NYC, and there are quite a few of them! Most double as parks, but some are also great (and free) pedestrian areas where you can walk or sit around and people-watch or see some live music.
Times Square: you’ve always heard of it, but have you gone to Times Square yet? Locals will avoid it like the plague, but tourists put it as their #1 stop on their bucket lists. Times Square is totally free to walk around, and it’s unexplainable to put the experience into words. If a picture says a thousand words, you can see our Times Square photo gallery here.
Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park is the heart of Greenwich Village and of NYU, so when you visit, you’ll of course notice the huge and beautiful stone archway that makes a great photo, the Wash. Square Park Fountain, the live music and bands that tend to play, and college students setting up tables selling art, crafts and more. This park has things going on at all times of year, and it’s free to walk through or stay a while.
Union Square Park
Union Square Park is a hub for culture, people, transit and shopping, and within it, there are the steps closer to 14th St. where you’ll see skaters skating and men playing chess, with the tree-lined walkways in the middle, and the open spaces closer to 16th Street where the Union Park Farmer’s Market usually sets up.
Free Historic Sites
NYC also has no shortage of historic sites with such interesting value that you can visit and see for free. Check out these ideas of free places to visit for sightseeing in the city.
Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station is one of the most stunning places in NYC to visit, and to visit the main train hall (which is what you’d want to do), it is totally and completely free. Note the constellations on the ceiling, the symmetry, the hustle and bustle at rush hour and the stillness in the early hours of the morning.
September 11th Memorial
While the September 11th Museum does cost money (and it is excellent to support it), the September 11th Memorial itself is composed of the two massive fountain pools that bear all the names of those who perished in the attacks on 9/11/2001. To find the 9/11 Memorial Pools, go to this location. They are free to visit.
Hamilton Grange is the only “farmhouse” I know of in Hamilton Heights, and it was Alexander Hamilton’s “country house” back when New York City was a … farm. This historic landmark is in fact a national park, which makes it free for the public, and you can see more about your visit here at the NPS.gov site.
NYC Neighborhoods to Walk In
Walking is one of my favorite free pastimes in NYC, and there is no shortage of walking, nor neighborhoods, in which to do this free activity that’ll make sure you have things to do and will never be bored. Here are a few neighborhoods in NYC that make for great walking experiences, and you won’t have to dish out any cash to be in them.
Coney Island (Brooklyn)
Who could go to NYC without a trip out to Coney Island? If you can get to Coney Island, at the southern edge of Brooklyn, you’ll be in for a big (and free) feast for the eyes on Coney Island Boardwalk, where you can stroll next to the ocean and also see Luna Park, the historic and famous amusement park that gives this area its character. To see a lot more photos, see our Coney Island photo gallery.
Jackson Heights (Queens)
Jackson Heights, if you dare to take the 7 train, is the Little India neighborhood of Queens, and you can really feel like you traveled far, of course for free, to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and nearby regions of South Asia where an array of immigration has brought these rich flavors to the melting pot of New York City.
Start your free self-guided walking tour on 74th Street after getting off the subway at the Jackson Heights 7EFMR stop.
DUMBO was once a shipping district for Brooklyn, and now it’s a neighborhood that both tourists and locals alike enjoy strolling around (completely for free) from the “Washington Street Photo Spot” (see our list of photo spots in Brooklyn to the new Time Out Market (free to enter!). Check out the Main Street Park for great views of Manhattan and a peek at Jane’s Carousel.
Brooklyn Heights (Brooklyn)
Brooklyn Heights totally steals our hearts as one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of Brooklyn, and it is totally free to walk around the historic district (gorgeous brownstones and historic buildings!) and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, where you can see the Lower Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and a bird’s-eye view of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s piers. See more at our guide to Brooklyn Heights. Totally free.
West Village (Manhattan)
The West Village is one of the most beautiful NYC neighborhoods that you can walk around and enjoy without taking any money out of your wallet. The West Village is one of the oldest areas of NYC, and you’ll see that in its historic federalist and colonial homes, cobblestone streets and plaques commemorating historical facts.
SoHo is a fantastic Manhattan neighborhood that is expensive on the outside, but free to walk around aimlessly in. Look out for pretty cobblestone streets with painted buildings in traditional architecture with fire escapes, and you will see no shortage of luxury stores to window shop at (again, a free activity to do in NYC).
The original Chinatown of NYC began in the 1800s and takes many Cantonese flavors from Southern China and Hong Kong in its eateries, medicinal shops, parks and ages-old liquor stores. My favorite street is the newly-turned-pedestrian-street of Doyers Street, which is home to the Nom Wah Tea Parlor and was recently painted rainbow!
Also walk to East Broadway and look south, for some great views of Lower Manhattan like the Freedom Tower from a mid-street perspective.
South Williamsburg (Brooklyn)
South Williamsburg is for sure a free area to walk and roam around if you’d like to see a slice of a community that you won’t really see elsewhere in the US. South Williamsburg is home to the Hasidic community, and we recommend walking on Lee Avenue to check out the kosher bakeries, delis, meat markets and toy stores that are essential in this neighborhood’s flavor.
There are two free types of transportation in NYC: walking, and taking the Staten Island Ferry.
That’s really it. Everything else costs money (subway/bus/bike share/Uber/Lyft/Taxi), although if you stick to mass transit, you’ll definitely save money on a trip.
Remember that the NYC subway is in fact, super safe, as we detail in our guide to safety in NYC this year. Also, keep in mind that if someone tells you to pay money to ride the Staten Island ferry, that’s a scam!
Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry is NYC’s only free mass transportation method that goes from one borough to another (again, aside from walking). Here, we’re talking about transit from Manhattan to Staten Island, the only one of the NYC boroughs that is cut off completely from the others by land and water.
Yes, taking the Staten Island Ferry is completely free and on your trip, you can see nice views of the Statue of Liberty (although not totally up close), Ellis Island and Lower Manhattan. This is such a unique and free way to get epic views of NYC for $0.
Shopping Malls & Markets
NYC is home to lots of shopping malls and markets, all of which are free to enter! Of course, if you wish to buy anything like food or a souvenir, that will cost you money; however, to go to these markets and snoop around or take photos, it is totally free and costs nothing.
The Oculus (World Trade Center)
The Oculus is both a landmark, an architectural wonder, an “Instagram Spot” and also a high-scale shopping mall. Connecting Fulton Center to the PATH train, the Oculus is a stunning white construction that looks like the bones of a whale’s insides, some may say. It opened around 2016 and has been a favorite for locals and visitors ever since. Totally free!
The Shops at Columbus Circle
The Shops at Columbus Circle is a classic NYC indoor mall that’ll keep you warm in the winter if you need a break from sightseeing near Lincoln Center and cool in summer if you’ve been running around Central Park. My honest truth is that I’ll walk through the Shops at Columbus Circle to warm up or cool down, while also maybe hitting the Whole Foods in the basement level to pick up a snack or a juice.
One of the main attractions in this shopping mall are the huge Botero statues! To see more about Botero and his works, see our rather unrelated walking tour of Medellin, Colombia.
DeKalb Market Hall & City Point
Newer to the indoor shopping scene is DeKalb Market Hall at City Point! The City Point shopping mall opened around 2017 and now has a Trader Joe’s in the basement level as well as the food vendors that comprise the “Market Hall.”
This is a cool place to go for a visit, where you can try Jamaican jerk, Japanese ramen, Deli-style sandwiches, Turkish food, delicious ice cream, Chinese snacks and tacos: OH MY! Also, if you wish to wander on your own to take photos of the neon signage, it’s free.
Last updated on November 24th, 2021