If you want to spend lots and lots of money exploring the Big Apple you’ll find it’s real easy, but what are some fun, yet cheap things to do in NYC? Well the good news is that there are lots of fun things to do in NYC that are not only cheap, but in many cases, free. So let’s dive in an explore this amazing city and see what we can do without our wallet breaking into a sweat!
Parks and Views
Many people who’ve never been to New York have the impression it’s a crowded and bustling city! Well, they’re right, especially as far as Manhattan is concerned, but that isn’t the whole story. New York City contains many superb parks where you can connect with nature and enjoy a peaceful oasis. Central Park, the largest and the most famous, could fill an entire book with all of the things there are to see and do there. Did you know there’s even a castle in the park? Visitor centers offer information about the various programs that are available in the park. Parents of young children will appreciate the various children’s playgrounds located throughout. You can rent bicycles in the park, or, an even less expensive activity is to rent a rowboat for an hour; just $12 at Loeb Boathouse on Central Park’s largest pond known simply as ‘The Lake’. Up to 4 people can go along in one boat. Anyway, I could go on, but there are many other nice parks in NYC to enjoy as well.
You can pay to go up to the top of the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center for some undeniably great views, but you can also enjoy some beautiful views for free. Battery Park at the Southern tip of Manhattan has beautiful flower gardens and an esplanade from which you can enjoy views of the ferry traffic, the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island. In the summertime there are frequent outdoor concerts held in the park.
Extending along the East bank of the Hudson River, Hudson River Park offers over 5 miles of walking along the riverside. Once an industrial wasteland, this area has been beautiful transformed into a great place for people to stroll, cycle or jog. Along the way there are numerous piers, children’s, playgrounds, waterparks, and many other recreational facilities. If you want to get out on the water you can borrow a kayak or a canoe from the Downtown Boathouse in return for a small donation.
High Line Park is a visionary park created on top of a decommissioned elevated railway bed that was originally scheduled for demolition. Instead these old rail beds where re-purposed into a great people space where you can stroll through the length of 3 historic NYC neighbourhoods just above the bustling streets. You will enjoy great views of the Hudson river from some spots along the walkway.
Another great way to enjoy part of a day in NYC is to walk across the promenade of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. You’ll enjoy superb views of the NYC skyline as well as an up close look at the historic and icon landmark itself. Head over on a Thursday afternoon in the summer and make your way to Brooklyn Bridge Park at the foot of the bridge where you can enjoy free music followed by a free movie on the park lawn. What more can you ask for?
The city’s most popular tourist attraction is the Staten Island Ferry which also happens to be free. No wonder it’s so popular! You’ll enjoy spectacular views of Ellis Island, the Statute of Liberty and the New York City skyline as you sail between Whitehall Terminal beside Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan and St George Terminal on picturesque Staten Island.
One more way to enjoy some spectacular views Manhattan is the Roosevelt Island Tramway. For the price of a Subway fare you can ride a cable car high above the East River to this historic little island that is still part of Manhattan. After getting off the tram you can walk along the western shore of the island to the pier and farther, to the lighthouse at the northern tip of this narrow island. Along the way, you’ll enjoy more great vistas of central Manhattan.
Street Musicians and Concerts
Street musicians or buskers are a common sight throughout New York City. These musicians and performers are not only wannabe musicians, they are, for the most part, very talented entertainers. Some of them even perform in clubs during the evening hours. In fact, there are many rules that pertain to performing on the sidewalks in NYC and permits are required by these musicians. The ones that perform at Subway stations even have to pass a competitive audition to win the right to perform at a given location. Always in the background, these talented musicians contribute to the ambiance of the city. Why not take a few minutes to stop and enjoy their music and offer a token of your appreciation.
Free Outdoor Movies and Concerts
Warm summer nights are a great time to enjoy watching a movie outdoors with friends, family or that special someone. The Big Apple has a number of options in for outdoor movies during July and August. The River Flicks in Hudson River Park feature two venues. The lawn at Pier 63 features movies for the adult crowd on Wednesday evenings at dusk while at Pier 46 they show movies geared to children on Friday evenings. They even provide free popcorn! You can check the schedule and what movies they are showing at riverflicks.com.
Another great venue for movies under the stars is Brooklyn Bridge Park located on the Brooklyn side of the famous bridge. This venue is located on the Pier one Harbour View Lawn; a spectacular setting with superb views of the New York City skyline. Movies begin around sunset on Thursday evenings, but you’ll want to get there early to claim a great spot and enjoy the live DJ music that proceeds the movie starting at 6pm.
SummerStage presents a diverse schedule of free concerts in various parks throughout all five boroughs. Central Park is one very popular SummerStage venue where the entire family can enjoy outstanding free concerts and performances all summer long.
Many museums in New York offer free visits on at least one day or evening a month. While you probably won’t be able to take in all of a museum’s permanent exhibit is such a short time, you can at least see enough to know if you would like to come back for more. The Museum of Modern Art offers free admission every Friday between 4 and 8 pm. Of course, with 6 floors of exhibits it will take you a few Friday evenings to see everything! The Metropolitan Museum of Art and associated Cloisters museum and gardens offer admission by donation. The recommended adult admission is $25 which covers a same day visit to both museums, but you can pay what you wish or can afford with the exception of advance tickets.
Times Square and Broadway Shows:
Times Square is always a busy, vibrant, happening spot. You can simply enjoy the ambience and street performers or perhaps just people watching. If you want to take in a Broadway show you can get a substantial discount ranging between 20 and 50% off on same day tickets by purchasing them from a TKTS booth right in Times Square.
Another way to save money when sightseeing in NYC is to get around like a real New Yorker does. Never mind fancy tour buses. Use the excellent subway and bus system. It’s way cheaper than taxis and not that difficult if you read up on it. Tourbytransit – New York City is a great resource for doing just that. If you must use a taxi, try to ensure you catch it traveling in the direction you want to go. If you are on a one-way street going the opposite direction from where you’re headed it can cost a lot more than walking a block or two to a street where the traffic is already going in your direction of travel because the taxi will have to travel, often through busy traffic, around the block to get turned around.
As you can see there are enough free and / or cheap things to do in NYC to keep you busy for days on end. In fact, a vacation in New York City does not have to be expensive at all! While I have endeavored to cover many of the cheap things to do in NYC, I am sure there are many more. If you know of any great things to do in NYC on a budget be sure to share them in the comments below. As they say – the more the merrier!