20 Free Things to Do in Manhattan


Central Park is one of the greatest public parks in the world.

Budget travelers may scratch New York from their bucket list since the city is deemed one of the most expensive in the world. Manhattan hotels, for instance, can cost thousands for a week-long stay, leaving little money for meals or attractions, the reasons most people venture to New York to begin with. While tickets to many of the most famous sights are indeed pricey – the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and One World Trade Center come to mind – other things to do are unbelievably light on the wallet. In fact, some of the city’s crown jewels cost nothing at all. These 20 free things to do in Manhattan prove that a trip to the Big Apple doesn’t have to break the bank.

The High Line

After years of planning, this abandoned above-ground rail line that stretches from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues, was converted into a public park with the first phase opening in 2009 and the other two stages completing by 2014. Although the High Line’s hours vary depending on the season, the impressive, well-thought-out green space is open year-round and provides a lovely respite from busy Midtown.

Visit the 9-11 Memorial

Ascending One World Trade and touring the 9-11 Museum aren’t free of charge, but anyone can visit the site where the towers once stood – for free. The 9-11 Memorial honors the lives of those who perished during the terrorist attacks in 1993 and 2001, with name engravings in bronze. The memorial occupies eight acres of the original 16-acre site, featuring 400 white oak trees and the larges manmade waterfalls in the country. It’s a solemn yet lovely place to pay your respects and escape the frenzy of city life.

Liberty Street and Church Street

Brooklyn Bridge

It’s New York’s most beloved bridge and rightfully so. The Brooklyn Bridge took 14 years to construct and was the first steel-wire suspension bridge built in the world. Most tourists ask the question, “Which direction is better? Manhattan into Brooklyn or Brooklyn into Manhattan?” Both are awe-inspiring but in different ways, so why not walk into Brooklyn and back to Manhattan? You can cross the Brooklyn Bridge at any time of the day or night in either direction – for free.

Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge at any time of the day or night. It’s always free.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Steps from Rockefeller Center, this historic landmark is a can’t-miss when in Midtown. Visit for mass or to appreciate the astonishing Neo-Gothic architecture. The church underwent an impressive 125-million-dollar restoration and it is looking more magnificent than ever. Entrance to St. Patrick’s Cathedral is free, but donations are welcome. Public tours begin at 10 a.m. The schedule varies, so check the website.

5th Ave and 51st St

Staten Island Ferry

Soak up captivating views of the New York Harbor when you ride this free vessel from South Ferry in Manhattan to Staten Island and back. You’ll catch a glimpse of Lady Liberty at her finest and see the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan, including One World Trade in all its glory. The five-mile trip takes about 25 minutes each way, and ferries run every half hour. The Staten Island Ferry operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

4 Whitehall Street 

Explore the West Village

One of the most picturesque neighborhoods in New York City, the West Village extends from Sixth or Seventh Avenue to the Hudson River and 14th Street to Houston Street. The area is known for its 19th-century townhouses on calm, tree-lined streets, unique shops, and charming Euro-style cafes. Go-to spots include Murray’s Cheese for all things cheese, The Little Owl for brunch, The Elk for coffee, Abingdon Square Park and the Village Vanguard for live jazz.

Rockefeller Center

Though tours of NBC Studios, Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rock will cost, visiting Rockefeller Center does not. The stunning Art Deco complex is one of the most alluring and photographed attractions in NYC. Spend time outside on the Plaza and in the underground concourse, browsing dozens of shops and restaurants. During the holiday season, snap a selfie in front of the gigantic Christmas tree and watch the ice skaters in the famed rink.

45 Rockefeller Plaza

Browse the concourse at Rockefeller Center.


Feel as if you’ve escaped the US for Asia when you visit this growing neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, which holds the densest population of Chinese immigrants in the Western Hemisphere.  Borders are approximate as Chinatown continues to grow. It spans from Essex Street to the east and Lafayette to the west, Hester Street to the north, East Broadway to the southeast and Worth Street to the southwest. While eating, drinking and shopping in Chinatown aren’t free, wandering the streets and hanging with the locals in Columbus Park (at Mulberry Street and Baxter Street) won’t cost a dime.

Watch a television show taping

Be a member of a studio audience when you request tickets for top shows like The View, The Rachel Ray Show, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and a host of others filmed in New York City. Most requests need to be submitted at least four weeks in advance and tickets are not guaranteed, but if you’re lucky enough to land seats, they’re free. Some shows do offer standby tickets the day of the show if you have the time (and patience) to wait in line.

Various locations

Central Park

A whopping 840 acres of public green space and fascinating history have placed Central Park at the top of the list for the most visited public parks in the world. The Great Lawn, Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, and the Mall are must-see sights. One walk through the park – which begins at 59th Street and extends to 110th Street, from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West – and you’ll understand why everyone adores Central Park.

FIT Museum

Art and fashion merge at this Chelsea museum on the ground floor of the Fashion Institute of Technology, a public college for design, art, fashion, communications and business. Find a selection of more than 50,000 garments and accessories from the 18th century to the present, as well as award-winning special exhibitions. Past exhibits include Denim: Fashion’s Frontier, Black Fashion Designers, Paris Refashioned: 1957-1968, and The Body: Fashion and Physique.

227 W 27th St

Hours: Tuesday to Friday, Noon to 8 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Closed Sundays and Mondays

Window shop on Fifth Avenue

Buying on Fifth Avenue is expensive for sure but perusing and making a wish list is both fun and free. Make your way to the 40s and 50s and window shop at the likes of Tiffany & Co, Cartier, Armani, Gucci, Henri Bendel, and Louis Vuitton, among other luxury retailers. End your browsing spree at none other than Bergdorf Goodman, New York’s favorite department store – at 58th Street and Fifth Avenue – also the only one in the world.

Window Shopping on Fifth Avenue is always free.

Run on the Hudson River Greenway

Hit the Hudson River Greenway – the longest greenway in Manhattan – for a workout with a water view. The 12.3-mile path begins at Battery Park on the south end and reaches the George Washington Bridge (around 180th Street) on the north. Jog from 59th Street to Battery Park and back for a little more 10 miles (best early in the morning to avoid crowds), or opt for a quieter run from West 125th Street in Harlem to the bridge and back at just over five miles.

Yoga in Bryant Park

If you visit NYC in the summertime, add Yoga in Bryant Park to your list of outings. A variety of instructors head the one-hour sessions, which take place Tuesday mornings at 10 and 11 a.m. and Thursday evenings at 6 p.m. The classes are in partnership with KEvita and run from Mid-May to September. Gaim provides yoga mats for the first 1,000 participants, or feel free to bring your own. RSVP online to reserve your spot. Bryant Park is located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 40th and 42nd Streets.

Chelsea’s Gallery District

Hip West Chelsea has evolved into a thriving arts district with several hundred galleries lining the blocks between 10th and 11th Avenues. Join flocks of art enthusiasts and socialites every Thursday evening when galleries host new show openings and often extend hours until 8 p.m. Most galleries are located between West 19th Street and West 28th Street. Those to stop by include Denise Bibro Fine Art, Yancey Richardson, and Herbert Arnot.

The Museum of Modern Art on a Friday evening

Appreciate a collection of more than 200,000 works of contemporary and modern art including those by legendary artists like Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollack, and Andy Warhol. Entrance to MoMA is free between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Uniqlo Free Friday Nights. Arrive after 6 p.m. to avoid long lines. Admission is always free for children ages 16 and under.

11 W 53rd St

Entrance to MoMA is free on Fridays from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m.

People watch at Lincoln Center

Ballet, opera, and music tickets cost a bundle, but mingling by the spectacular Revson Fountain in the center of Josie Robertson Plaza is free. This beloved fountain has been featured in NYC-based films like The Producers, Manhattan, Ghostbusters and Moonstruck. Watch people gather before performances as you await the fountain’s next choreographed show, in which water can shoot as high as 40 feet in the air. Be sure to bring your camera!

10 Lincoln Center Plaza

Grand Central Terminal

More than 750,000 people travel through the transit hub on the East Side of Manhattan, but this spectacular building houses more than miles of train track. Grand Central is recognized as one of the world’s greatest Beaux-Arts masterpieces and has been a National Historic Landmark since 1976. While you may find yourself passing through to jump on the subway or Metro North, the free guided tours every Friday at 12:30 p.m. are a lot more interesting.

89 E 42nd Street

Roosevelt Island

Hop the tram at 59th and Second Avenue and revel in some of Midtown Manhattan’s most breathtaking views on this 80-foot wide peninsula. Stroll around the island and have a picnic or unwind in the Louis Khan-designed Four Freedoms Park on the southern end, a beautiful memorial dedicated to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The tram costs the price of a subway or bus ride (at the writing of this article, it’s $2.75), but meandering Roosevelt Island is free.

Walk anywhere

New York is a walking city, and every block tells a story. Where to go? Leave your hotel and start strolling in any direction until your feet have had enough or you hit the water. Two of the most interesting walks include starting at Columbus Circle and walking north on Central Park West and heading south on Broadway from the Theater District to SoHo. You’ll soon realize that walking in New York is the best free activity. Tip: Wear your most comfortable shoes and carry an extra pair.

Walking in New York is the best free activity.

By Tracy Kaler