While a luxury suite at the Mark Hotel in New York City starts at an eye-popping $75,000 a night, (one night, not Scheherazade’s 1001 nights) New York City can be a boon for the frugal traveler. Standing-room or bargain lottery tickets at sold-out Broadway shows, gourmet food at outdoor markets and pay what you wish at many cultural institutions lets you save a few dollars for a hotel room.
Free In New York City
Looking to travel on a budget in New York City? Hotels and restaurants may be expensive, but there’s AirBnB and delicious ethic food and food trucks. Parking your car; or even taking a bridge or tunnel can set you back, too, but there’s 24/7 inexpensive, and extensive, public transportation.
Here are my admittedly biased 10 best free activities in New York City
Shakespeare in the Park
This summer-only theater is open to die-hards who wait most of the day on a long line snaking around the Sheep Meadow; the reward is star-studded (on stage and in the audience) highest quality Shakespeare and other theater. Some of these productions move on the Broadway theaters, so you can boast that you saw it free (also available through an online lottery).
Governors Island, reached only by ferry from Manhattan and Brooklyn, offers free mini golf, free tours of Castle Williams led by National Park Service rangers and free tours of Added Value Farm. Ferries are free on weekdays; on weekends, get up early; only the first ferry at, 10 a.m., is free.
Staten Island Ferry
Forget pricey bus tours or pleasure cruises. Hop on the Staten Island Ferry for a free ride across the harbor. You get an up close view of the Statue of Liberty and bragging rights if your neighbor back home spent $25 on an overcrowded boat tour. The ferry runs 24/7, so catch a sunrise or sunset ride for great photos.
Bryant Park is a great symbol of urban renewal. Once a derelict park, the midtown space was cleaned up and turned into a year-round playground. There is free ice skating in winter, and free movies at night in summer. Also during the summer, there are daily performances, including Broadway actors performing snippets form their shows. There is a year-round lending library. The park is behind the main branch of the New York Public Library, as well as ping-pong tables and bocce courts. And most important to some: clean, attended restrooms.
The 9/11 Memorial
With all the recent terrorist attacks, visiting the 9/11 Memorial is more important and poignant than ever. The memorial, on half the the original footprint of the Twin Towers, commemorates every person who died in those terrorist attacks as well as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The twin reflecting pools descend into an abyss in a breathtaking symbol of horror.
Note: the museum itself charges admission; the memorial, open daily, does not.
Battery Park City
This park in lower Manhattan has a waterfront promenade, multiple playgrounds, and a lending ‘library’ of playground balls and games; just show identification. Check out the Irish Hunger Memorial, which transports you to the old country, and explore the public art, sculptures scattered throughout the 36 acre park.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
The waterfront Brooklyn Bridge Park, just eight years old, has several playgrounds, free movies with a view in summer and free kayaking. There are also volleyball courts for open play and a seasonal Pop-Up Pool, with recreated sand beach.
Lefferts Historic House
Within Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, the Lefferts Historic House was the home of a Dutch family in the 18th century. It features period rooms filled with artifacts; when my kids were little, they loved to play with the wooden hoops, tops and other traditional toys. There is also a working garden, and a certain times of the year, young visitors can help harvest vegetables, churn butter or shear sheep.
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central is a great place to explore on a cold or wet day. The gorgeous restored ceiling in the main hall is worth the price of admission (um, free) and during the holiday season, a branch of the New York Transit Museum has a working scale model train display. There are also frequent special exhibits. There is a food court in the basement and relatively clean public restrooms.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
OK, so it only dates from 1879, unlike European churches from the 1600s. But the gorgeous Gothic Revival cathedral, with Tiffany windows, is spectacular and justly famous. You can look around the interior daily.
What are your favorite free places to visit in New York City? Let us know in the comments below.