The Best Free Things To Do In New York City
Visiting New York is always a good idea! If you are planning a trip to one of the greatest cities in the world and would like to learn about the best activities that NYC offers for free, this list is for you.
In this article, I am also including useful tips, restaurant suggestions, and photos that I took while visiting these spots in the city.
1 Little Island Park
I am starting with Little Island, one of New York’s newest attractions! Located on the west side of Manhattan, Little Island is a floating park with tulip-shaped columns that sits on the Hudson River. The park opens daily at 6:00 am and closes between 9:00 pm and 12:00 am depending on the month of the year.
Little Island – Interesting facts:
- Piers in this area operated luxury cruise lines in the 1900s.
- Little Island replaces Pier 54 which originally operated the British Cunard-White Star line and served as a point of departure and return for trans-Atlantic voyages between 1910-1935.
- In 1912, the R.M.S. Carpathia brought survivors of the Titanic to Pier 54.
Little Island NYC Tickets and Reservations
Tickets or reservations are no longer required to enter Little Island, you can enjoy the park for free any day or time. The only activity that requires a paid ticket to attend is the performances in The Amph.
How to get to Little Island: Take Train A, C, or E to 14th Street, and walk 11 minutes to Pier 55.
2 The High Line in Chelsea
From Little Island, make your way to The High Line. There is nothing quite like taking a walk in this elevated park in New York! This beautiful park is open daily, and it will take you around 30 minutes to walk it (if you don’t make many stops). You can enjoy the landscaping, great views of the city, and outdoor installations, or relax on the benches throughout the park.
Here is a little background on it: The High Line was in operation from 1934 to 1980. It carried meat to the Meatpacking District, agricultural goods to the factories of the industrial West Side, and mail to the Post Office.
How long is the High Line Park in New York?
Insider tip: After walking the High Line, make your way to Chelsea Market, and grab a quick bite at Los Tacos No.1 or Takumi Taco. Both spots are located inside the market and offer some of the best tacos in the city. Or if you prefer a restaurant, I suggest Cookshop, an American hot spot serving one of the best brunches in the area (we love the entire menu!).
How to get there: Bus M23 will take you to W 23rd Street and Tenth Avenue.
The High Line was built on a 1.45-mile-long elevated rail structure that runs from Gansevoort St. to 34th St. on Manhattan’s West Side.
The High Line NYC Map
In the map below you can see the route from Little Island to The Vessel via The High Line.
3 The Vessel
At the end of The High Line, you will find The Vessel, another of NYC’s most visited attractions.
Standing at 150 ft high, this new landmark is comprised of 154 interconnecting flights of stairs offering epic views of Manhattan, the Hudson River, and beyond. The elaborate design of The Vessel makes it totally worth seeing in person.
The Vessel is located in Hudson Yards, New York’s newest neighborhood located between 10th and 12th Avenues from West 30th to West 34th Streets. At Hudson Yards you will also find an upscale shopping mall, and the famous EDGE outdoor observation deck (on the 100th floor).
Facts about The Vessel: The Vessel opened to the public in March 2019, and it was designed by British designer Thomas Heatherwick.
Insider tip: If you’d like to eat with a view of The Vessel, make a reservation at Queensyard, a restaurant located inside Hudson Yards Shops with massive windows.
How to get to The Vessel NYC: Train 7 can take you to 34th Street – Hudson Yards Subway Station, a 5-minute walk from The Vessel at 20 Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001.
Update 2023: The Vessel remains closed. But access to The Vessel’s ground-level base is free, open to the public and no reservation is required.
4 Pier 35 Swings
The giant swings located at Pier 35 are a hidden gem in NYC!
Located along the East River, Pier 35 is a waterside pier with exercise equipment & oversized swings! You will enjoy great views over the East River, including Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge! The pier is free to the public, no tickets are required for Pier 35 in NYC.
Insider tip: Arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds, or visit during sunset for epic views!
How to get there: Take Train F and get off at East Broadway. Walk 8 minutes to Pier 35.
5 Central Park
Central Park is a must when you visit New York and one of the best free things to do in NYC!
This is the perfect spot to relax, admire the views, and even go bird-watching! According to the Central Park Conservancy, there are 210 different species of birds that can be found at the park.
Also, did you know that there are 70 works of art in Central Park? These statues and monuments are memorials inspired by veterans, philosophers, writers, and other great thinkers that have shaped Central Park.
Other famous landmarks at Central Park include Conservatory Water, Loeb Boathouse, Bethesda Terrace, Bow Bridge, Cherry Hill, Belvedere Castle, the Lake, and Strawberry Fields.
Central Park is open daily from 6:00 am to 1:00 am. See all tours available at Central Park here, and I hope you enjoy your visit to one of the most famous parks in the world!
Address: 59th Street to 110th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West.
6 Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
The majesty of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is like no other. The cathedral was completed in 1878 and is the largest Gothic Revival Catholic cathedral in North America.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is open to the public even when there are no services in progress. Tours are available Monday-Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm, see more info here.
Insider tip: Rockefeller Center is a 3-minute walk from the cathedral! Make your way to Rockefeller Plaza, explore the area’s shops and cafes, or if you are up for it, visit Top of the Rock, my favorite observation deck in New York!
My husband and I got married at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. After mass on Sundays, we like to grab a cup of matcha latte at Ralph Lauren’s Coffee Truck, usually parked across the cathedral. You can also grab a bite at Tartinery, a French cafe that opened last fall where I usually order their avocado toast, ham & cheese croissant, mushroom tartine, or ginger, apple, and pear juice.
How to get there: Take Train F and get off at Rockefeller Center. Exit via 6th Avenue and 48th Street, and walk 6 minutes to the cathedral on 5th Ave, between 50th and 51st Street.
7 The Oculus & The National September 11 Memorial
The Oculus in NYC is an artistic landmark designed by Santiago Calatrava and located within walking distance of the World Trade Center. The building is one of many that were included in the city’s plan to rebuild the World Trade Center after September 11.
At The Oculus you will find a transportation hub and a shopping mall with stores that include: Kiehl’s, Lacoste, Aesop, Reiss, Stuart Weitzman, Montblanc, and the Apple Store.
Insider tip: Grab lunch at Eataly NYC Downtown, located just a block away on Church Street, a popular Italian spot in Lower Manhattan.
How to get there: Take Train 5 and get off at Fulton Street. Walk 4 minutes to The National September 11 Memorial at 50 W 15th St, New York, NY 10011
8 Wall Street
Wall Street is one of the world’s most active and influential financial districts in the world – a must-see when visiting New York City.
I highly recommend taking a walk around the buildings where some of the biggest business decisions have been made.
At the corner of Wall Street and Broad Street, you can find the iconic New York building that houses the New York Stock Exchange (completed in 1903).
How to get there: If you’d like to see the statue of The Fearless Girl, take Train 5, get off at Wall Street Station, exit via Broadway and Wall St., and walk 2 minutes to 2-26 Broad St. New York, NY 10005.
9 DUMBO in Brooklyn
DUMBO is a walkable neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn with lots of coffee shops and restaurants, including one of my favorite pizza spots, Juliana’s, serving the best specialty pies from a coal-fired oven! You can also go to Time Out Market New York for various lunch options all in one spot.
Be sure to explore Brooklyn Bridge Park – Pier 1, a lively riverside area with skyline views and tables where you can sit, relax, or eat a snack!
Insider tip: The following spots offer fantastic views of Brooklyn Bridge!
- % Arabica located at 20 Old Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
- Butler Bakeshop located at 40 Water St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
If you are traveling with children, check out Jane’s Carousel, built in 1922 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, beautifully restored, and open year-round (see photo below)!
10 Penn Station
Pennsylvania Station, also known as New York Penn Station, is the main intercity railroad station in New York City and the busiest transportation facility in the Western Hemisphere. This station serves more than 600,000 passengers per weekday.
This is Penn Station’s impressive “East End Gateway” located on 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue. The new entrance was one of many steps to totally transform the station, and double its vertical circulation capacity. Quite remarkable, isn’t it?!
It opened for the first time in December 2020, and its escalators are equipped with smart features including heaters to ensure operation during cold weather and a “sleep mode” to save energy.
Location: Train F will take you to 34th St. Herald Square, from there walk 5 minutes to Penn Station located on 30th to 34th Streets between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.
11 Friends Apartment Building
Are you a Friends fan? The tan brick building below is the Greenwich Village apartment building used in the popular 1990s TV show Friends. Upon arriving you will notice that there is no Central Perk on the ground level, instead, there is a restaurant called the Little Owl.
Finding this building is relatively easy, you might find that it is best to arrive at West 4th Street Station via subway lines A, B, C, D, E, F, or M, and then it is an 8-minute walk from the station.
Insider tip: After squeezing through the tourists, and photographing this building, walk over to Buvette, a French restaurant where I enjoy their almond croissants with a cappuccino. Sant Ambroeus and Sogno Toscano, are my two favorite lunch spots in this area.
Address: Train F to W 4th Street, exit via 6th Ave. & Waverly Pl. and walk towards 90 Bedford St, New York, NY 10014.
12 Admire Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal, the prettiest railroad station in New York City, features permanent works of art by a variety of artists, including the extraordinary celestial ceiling in the Main Concourse, and the Glory of Commerce statue on top of the station.
Interesting facts: The zodiac ceiling in the massive, cathedral-like Main Concourse features 12 constellations painted in gold leaf plus 2500 stars – 59 of them illuminated by LEDs. The Glory of Commerce statue was unveiled in 1914 and was considered the largest sculptural group in the world weighing 1,500 short tons. It includes representations of Minerva, Hercules, and Mercury.
More than 50 movies and television shows have been filmed in or feature Grand Central Terminal. These include: Men in Black, Armageddon, Superman (1978), I Am Legend and The Avengers.
After you finish admiring all the architectural details inside Grand Central Terminal, grab a banana pudding at Magnolia Bakery located at the Lower Level Dining Concourse!
How to get there: Trains 4, 5, or 6 will take you to Grand Central Terminal at 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017.
13 Brooklyn Bridge
Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most popular things to do in New York City for free.
Historical facts: Proposals for a bridge connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn were first made in the early 19th century, which eventually led to the construction of the current bridge, designed by John A. Roebling. Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its opening in 1883. It has been renovated several times, including in the 1950s, 1980s, and 2010s.
The bridge spans 1.1 miles, and it will take you approximately 30 minutes to cross it on foot. If you are looking for a place to eat, I suggest Rubirosa, a favorite Italian restaurant offering thin-crust pizzas and fresh pasta (they have an entire gluten-free menu as well).
How to access Brooklyn Bridge: Access the pedestrian walkway via the staircase located in the underpass on Washington Street and Prospect Street.
14 New York Public Library
One of the world’s greatest libraries, the New York Public Library, is right here in New York.
Visit the library and go on a free, 1 hour guided tour of the Schwartzman Building led by an official docent of The New York Public Library.
The Rose Main Reading Room is the most famous room inside the library, measuring 78 feet by 297 feet (the length of two city blocks!). Spend a few minutes checking out Patience and Fortitude, the world-renowned pair of marble lions that stand proudly before the majestic entrance of the library.
Interesting fact: John Fedeler, the first superintendent of the Library, lived in an eight-room apartment on the mezzanine floor of the library from 1911 to 1941, with his children.
How to get there: Train F will take you to 42nd Street – Bryant Park, and walk 4 minutes to the library at 476 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10018.
15 Roosevelt Island
This island on the East River is one of New York’s hidden gems!
What to do on Roosevelt Island: Visit the FDR Four Freedoms Park located at the south end of the island. You can also check out a 19th-century lighthouse at the northern end of the island, or walk around Cornell Tech’s campus as you make your way to Four Freedoms Park.
Where to eat on Roosevelt Island: Granny Annie’s Bar & Kitchen is the newest restaurant on Roosevelt Island offering Irish and American dishes, draft beer, and cocktails. I’ve eaten there a few times, and have enjoyed their chicken quesadilla. Other spots I’ve tried are Fuji East Japanese Bistro, Piccolo Trattoria Pizzeria, Jupioca (for smoothies), and Starbucks. All of these are located next door to each other, near the entrance to the subway.
How to get to Roosevelt Island: Take the Roosevelt Island Tramway located on the corner of 59th Street and 2nd Avenue. Easily use your Metro Card, and enjoy beautiful views during the 5-7 minute ride from Manhattan over the East River to the island. Other options are Train F, MTA’s Bus Q102, by car or bicycle, or taking the NYC Ferry.
Roosevelt Island history: For much of the early 1900s, New Yorkers nicknamed the island ‘Welfare Island’ after the asylums, prisons, and almshouses that were built there. In 1856 the island added a 100-bed Smallpox Hospital designed by James Renwick Jr. that is currently in a complete state of disrepair and was designated a New York City Landmark in 1976.
- Arrive at Roosevelt Island in the early afternoon, and once you finish exploring the island make your way to the Graduate Hotel to enjoy cocktails at Panorama Room located on the 18th floor of the hotel.
- RIOC operates the Red Bus, a free on-island shuttle bus service that connects apartment buildings to the subway and tramway.
When is the best time to visit Roosevelt Island?
Late March through early May, during cherry blossom season, is the most popular time to visit Roosevelt Island. Hundreds of people rush to capture photos of these beautiful Japanese trees in full bloom!
16 Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park is a 9.75-acre public park in the Greenwich Village.
This park is well-known for its arch (honoring George Washington) and its fountain – popular meeting spots in New York. Along the park’s perimeter, you will find many of New York University’s buildings.
Washington Square Arch was designed by architect Stanford White in 1891. This arch commemorates the centennial of George Washington’s 1789 inauguration as President of the United States and forms the southern terminus of Fifth Avenue.
After exploring the park, make your way to SoHo and grab a bite at Jack’s Wife Freda, a lively all-day NYC bistro that I go to whenever I am in the area (I love their kale salad & mint lemonade!).
How to get there: Train F will take you to W 4th St. Walk 6 minutes and arrive at Washington Square, New York, NY 10012.
17 Madison Square Park
Madison Square Park is a public area located in the heart of New York City. The square was named for Founding Father James Madison, the fourth President of the United States.
Insider Tip: The Flatiron Building is a 3-minute walk from the park. If you need to grab a quick lunch or take a break, I suggest Eataly NYC Flatiron, a popular Italian market located across from the Flatiron Building. If you prefer a restaurant, I always recommend MARTA at The Redbury Hotel in Nomad for the best thin pizzas and frose (rosé, grapefruit, lemon, Cocchi Rosa)!
How to get there: Train F will take you to 23rd St., and from there walk 6 minutes to the park.
18 Pier 57 & Rooftop Park
Pier 57 was recently transformed from an industrial location into a giant indoor and outdoor public space for year-round enjoyment, check it out before or after your visit to Little Island!
The two-acre rooftop park opened to the public in April 2023 and offers panoramic views of Hudson River Park, the New York City skyline, and New York Harbor. If you’d like to photograph Little Island from above, this is your spot!
We checked out Pier 57 during its opening weekend and had lunch at the new market located on the ground floor. Curated under the guidance of The James Beard Foundation, the food court features more than 15 food vendors inside.
Pier 57 is open to the public daily from 6:00 – 1:00 AM.
How to get there: Train A, C, or E will take you to 14th St. & 8th Ave., then walk 9 mins to Pier 57.
New York City Museums with Free Days
Many of New York’s museums offer free entry, or ‘pay-as-you-wish’ options, here is a list!
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum (Free admission on Mondays 3:30 – 5:00 pm)
- American Folk Art Museum (Admission is always free)
- American Museum of Natural History (NY, NJ, CT residents pay as you wish)
- American Museum of The American Indian (Admission is always free, no tickets required)
- Frick Collection (Admission is ‘pay as you wish’ on Thursdays 4:00 – 6:00 pm)
- Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY residents and NY, NJ, and CT students pay as you wish)
- MOMA (NYC residents free on the first Friday of the month 4:00 – 8:00 pm)
- Morgan Library & Museum (Free on Fridays 5:00 – 7:00 pm, tickets required)
- Neue Galerie (Admission is pay as you wish until October 24, 2022)
- Noguchi Museum (Admission is free on the first Friday of the month)
- Queens Botanical Garden (Free November – March)
- The Cloisters (NY residents and NY, NJ, and CT students pay as you wish)
- Whitney Museum of American Art (Admission is pay as you wish on Fridays 7:00 – 10:00 pm)
And that’s the list of the best museums in NYC with free days!
What are you looking forward to seeing in New York?!
TOP ATTRACTIONS IN NYC
WHERE TO STAY IN NEW YORK
There are many neighborhoods where you can stay while visiting New York City, here are my top choices in my favorite areas in the city:
- Lotte New York Plaza
- The Peninsula
- St. Regis New York
- Times Square EDITION New York
- Crosby Street Hotel
Save this post or send it to someone who will be visiting New York soon! 🙂
EXPLORE NEW YORK
- 10 Coffee Shops in New York City
- My Guide to The MET Museum
- New York City’s New Rooftop Bar
- The Fulton by Jean-Georges
- Famous Paintings at the MoMA
- Top Art Pieces at The MET
- Queensyard at Hudson Yards
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