Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Hempstead, NY

  • Published 2022/11/21

Hempstead, New York, is on Long Island, the biggest township in the whole country.

Founded in 1644, this township in Nassau County has 22 incorporated areas and 34 unincorporated villages.

With the numerous destinations within Hempstead, it is no surprise that this town has become popular among tourists.

Today, Hempstead is a popular tourist destination thanks to its many historic sites and attractions.

Some of the most popular attractions within the area include the historic Hempstead House and the Roosevelt Field Mall, one of the largest shopping malls on Long Island.

In addition to these attractions, Hempstead also offers plenty of free things to do.

Whether you want to explore the outdoors or see stunning architecture, you will find something fun to do in the town!

Here are 15 free things to do in Hempstead, New York.

Behold the Grand Architecture of the Cathedral of the Incarnation

Exterior of the Cathedral of the Incarnation

Vadim 777 /

Heads up, architecture buffs!

If you’re roaming Cathedral Avenue in Garden City, a village in Hempstead, stop by the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

This church opened its doors to the public in 1885 and is considered a cornerstone in the city today.

You won’t discover how historic this cathedral is at first glance, but you’ll surely notice how stunning it is the first time you see it.

This cathedral emulates the majestic Gothic Revival architectural style, standard throughout European religious structures.

Architecture of the Cathedral of the Incarnation

Vadim 777 /

Visit this cathedral and behold its towering spire, which soars towards the sky at 200 feet, exquisitely decorated with exquisitely sculpted detailing.

With its walls’ exposed bricks, seeing this cathedral will surely transport you to another place and time!

You can also roam inside and see the stunning altar on the front, which mimics the facade of the church’s exterior.

A historic organ, placed in the cathedral in 1986, is also inside the church.

Thanks to its glorious architecture and stunning interiors, it is no surprise that this institution belongs to the National Register of Historic Places.

Interior of the Cathedral of the Incarnation

Stephen Bonk /

Break a Sweat at the Ellen Farrant Memorial Bikeway

Lace up your running shoes or prepare your bike before heading to the Ellen Farrant Memorial Bikeway.

The Ellen Farrant Memorial Bikeway is one of the many roads built to help locals from other parts of the state access Jones Beach State Park.

This trail is 5.5-miles in length and goes from Cedar Creek Park to Jones Beach State Park.

Many people who want to get active flock to this bikeway because of its flat and straight path, making it easy for beginners or those who prefer an easy hike.

Although if you bring a bike, you’ll surely experience more of a challenge.

With its flat road, this trail does not offer many opportunities for a relaxing coast and will demand you to pedal through it the whole time.

Aside from being a great place to break a sweat, this bikeway also offers scenic views to all its visitors.

There are three bridges you would cross on the trail.

Each bridge provides a view of marshes, tidal flats, and even Seaman’s Island!

Get ready to work your body while taking in the sights at this bikeway!

Go Fishing at Hempstead Lake State Park

The waters of Hempstead Lake State Park

anthonywphoto /

Bring your fishing lines to Hempstead Lake State Park.

Located on Lake Drive, this state park is known among the locals as an excellent open area where you can indulge in numerous recreational activities.

If you love fishing, you’d be happy to know three beautiful ponds are stocked with fish on the park’s premises!

Some fish you can catch include trout, sunfish, and even bullhead catfish!

A trail at Hempstead Lake State Park

anthonywphoto /

If you don’t have a fishing rod or are just not interested in fishing, don’t fret because there are many more activities in this park.

You can hike the numerous trails and gaze at the beautiful foliage around you.

Another thing you can do is play with your loved ones at the basketball, pickleball, or even the tennis court within the park!

Whatever activity you’re into, you’ll have fun at the Hempstead Lake State Park.

Watch the Boats at Freeport Nautical Mile

Viewing dock at Freeport Nautical Mile

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Visit the heart of the fishing community in Freeport and head to Freeport Nautical Mile.

Freeport Nautical Mile is essentially an avenue adjacent to the Woodcleft Canal, a body of water in the village of Freeport in Hempstead.

This destination is famous among locals and tourists alike because of all the activities it has to offer to all its visitors.

One unique thing that you can do here is boat-watching.

A boat at Freeport Nautical Mile

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Since it’s based near a canal and numerous commercial establishments, Freeport Nautical Mile regularly features boats docked within its premises.

If you love anything related to boating or find some peace whenever you watch boats, this is the place to go.

Sit by the waters and check out all the boats that come and go from the area!

If you have a little money, you could even get a small snack to munch on while you relax and watch all the boats sail through the Freeport Nautical Mile.

Docked boats at Freeport Nautical Mile

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Play Sports at Merrick Road Park

Bring your friends and family and engage in friendly competition at Merrick Road Park.

Merrick Road Park is a recreational area on Clubhouse Road in Merrick, a hamlet in Hempstead, with numerous sports courts.

Whether you prefer dribbling basketballs or swinging tennis racquets, you’ll have a great time playing your chosen sport!

Team up with your loved ones and play against each other on their basketball court!

You could also show off your high kicks and compete against your loved ones in a soccer match within the park’s premises!

If you’re not a sporty person, you can also hang out and chill in the sitting area in the park.

Groups of friends or families will love visiting this park since it offers excellent bonding opportunities.

Spot Rare Wildlife at Norman J. Levy Park & Preserve

A windmill at Norman J. Levy Park & Preserve

Joe Trentacosti /

Roam the beautiful green landscapes at Norman J. Levy Park & Preserve and do your best to spot local wildlife within the area!

Situated on Merrick Road in the Merrick hamlet within Hempstead, this preserve features numerous captivating flora and fauna.

Perhaps the first thing you might see in the area is the windmill outside the park.

Two stunning artificial ponds serve as a freshwater habitat for the animals in the area.

A goat at Norman J. Levy Park & Preserve

Arnett Murry /

Hike the trails at this destination and unwind as you surround yourself with all the greeneries.

If you’re lucky, you might spot extraordinary lizards, birds, and even goats along the way!

The Norman J. Levy Park & Preserve is one of the best free destinations to visit, especially if you are looking for unique flora and fauna!

Dwarf goats at Norman J. Levy Park & Preserve

Joe Trentacosti /

Spot Beautiful and Unique Birds at Garden City Bird Sanctuary

Go birdwatching and find extraordinary birds while learning to care for and preserve their species at Garden City Bird Sanctuary.

Garden City Bird Sanctuary is on Tanners Pond Road in Garden City, a village in Hempstead.

This facility features a nature refuge that spans nine acres of protected space to explore and spot stunning birds.

Within this luscious paradise, you can find rare birds, gorgeous flowering plants, and luscious greeneries.

You will enjoy hiking the trails inside this sanctuary, especially if you love being surrounded by nature!

Ready your camera as well since you’ll want to take many pictures of the captivating natural sights around the area.

Don’t be afraid to ask the volunteers and staff if you have questions about the birds or the flora around the sanctuary.

See Birds in Their Natural Habitat at Marine Nature Study Area

A bird at Marine Nature Study Area's marsh

Stubblefield Photography /

Marine Nature Study Area is another great place in town that you can visit if you’re interested in seeing local wildlife in its natural habitat!

Located on Slice Drive in Oceanside, a hamlet in Hempstead, the Marine Nature Study area features 52 acres of land home to many marine life and birds.

Scientists and researchers frequent this area to get more information about marine life, biology, and nature.

This area is home to many kinds of birds, some very rare.

Great egret at Marine Nature Study Area

CezaryKorkosz /

This destination is a hot spot for bird watching, so if that’s your interest, this is the place to visit!

Bring your binoculars to get a better look at these creatures!

To widen your knowledge, check out the study and observation areas to learn more about marine biology and appropriate conservation practices.

A flying great egret at Marine Nature Study Area

CezaryKorkosz /

Escape the City at Twin Lakes Preserve

The waters of Twin Lakes Preserve

R.Sullivan (sullynyflhi), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, then you should check out Twin Lakes Preserve!

This beautiful nature preserve on Park Avenue offers visitors a tranquil escape from the concrete jungle.

At this destination, you’ll find five picturesque freshwater ponds that offer a great place to relax and enjoy all the beauty around you.

Go for a stroll along the walking trails, set up a picnic lunch by the lakeside, and spend time with your family!

You could also bring your binoculars and try to spot birds hiding in the foliage of the trees!

If you want to unwind and relax, you can lay a blanket and nap under the shade of the tall trees or sit by the waters and meditate.

Visit the Twin Lakes Preserve to experience peace and appreciate nature.

Learn about Energy at Jones Beach Energy & Nature Center

Learn how humans, the environment, and energy systems are interrelated at Jones Beach Energy & Nature Center.

Based on Bay Parkway in Wantagh, a hamlet in Hempstead, Jones Beach Energy & Nature Center features exhibits and workshops to help you understand the coastal environment more.

At this facility, you’ll discover how humans can safely harvest the power of nature while still protecting the environment.

Here, you’ll explore the center and dive deep into the real meaning of sustainable living.

You’ll also deepen your appreciation for nature and uncover new ways to become trusted stewards of the environment.

The center also offers programs on renewable energy that you can join and learn from!

The best thing about visiting the Jones Beach Energy & Nature Center is you can get all these learnings without charge!

Whether you are strongly dedicated to saving the environment or just casually interested in becoming eco-friendly, this place is a must-visit!

Check Out the Historic Jackson House

Exterior of the Historic Jackson House

Dmadeo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jackson House is perfect for history buffs who love checking out old houses!

Located in Wantagh, this beautiful historic house was built way back in the 18th century.

It is also one of the oldest surviving structures in the town!

This home was once the home of the Jackson family and had a significant role in the county’s history.

Many members of the Jackson family were prominent figures in Hempstead back in the day.

People interested in discovering more about the area’s history often visit this home to see history before their eyes.

Check out this L-shaped house and deepen your appreciation for the Greek Revival architectural style!

You’ll also notice that the historic Jackson House has a specific colonial look reminiscent of historical architectural styles.

Visit the Remarkable St. George’s Episcopal Church

If you want to explore a piece of history, St. George’s Episcopal Church is the perfect place!

This church is one of the oldest structures in the area and is located on Front Street.

While many would not pay attention to it at first glance, this church is one of Long Island’s oldest Episcopal parishes.

Despite its establishment in 1702, this historic church remains one of the most beautiful structures in town.

Many visit this church to look at the captivating stained-glass artworks on its windows, most of which were designed by Tiffany & Co.

If you need more proof of this church’s history, you’d be surprised to learn that the parish purchased its tower clock.

Likewise, it was installed on the premises years before the iconic Big Ben was even established!

With its significant history and stunning works of art, the St. George’s Episcopal Church was also included in the National Register of Historic Places list.

Stop by and see this church’s historic and beautiful architecture!

Take Pictures of the Eye-Catching Old Town Hall

Exterior of the Old Town Hall

DanTD, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Old Town Hall is one of the most popular free tourist destinations in Hempstead that you can visit!

This beautiful building is on Washington Street and is a great place to take pictures because of its striking architecture.

The Old Town Hall was built in 1919 and played a crucial part in the town’s history.

Before this structure was built, the site where it now stands served as a bustling marketplace where farmers sold their products and homemakers purchased goods for their families.

West entrance of the Old Town Hall

DanTD, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Visit this building and appreciate its gorgeous Colonial Revival architecture.

Bring your camera and take pictures with its stunning red brick walls.

The Old Town Hall in Hempstead is a terrific place to visit if you are fond of great architecture.

Side view of the Old Town Hall's exterior

DanTD, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

See the Bristol and Mexico Monument at Rockville Cemetery

Rockville Cemetery is a cemetery located on Merrick Road in Lynbrook, a village in Hempstead.

This cemetery features the Bristol and Mexico Monument, a mass grave holding 139 immigrants involved in a tragic event on the state’s southern shore.

This tall, towering marble monument is on top of a grassy mound and soars to 18 feet.

At the base of this monument is the history of a shipwreck that caused the death of these immigrants.

This history is also free for anyone to read.

The captains’ names involved in the shipwreck are also included in the carvings, along with a Bible verse.

People often stop by this monument to remember this tragic historical event.

You can also see some of the graves of veterans who sacrificed their lives for the nation at the Rockville Cemetery.

Roam the Rock Hall Museum

Exterior of the Rock Hall Museum

Leonard Zhukovsky /

Dive into the history of Long Island as you check out all the historical items at Rock Hall Museum.

Located in Lawrence, a village in Hempstead, Rock Hall Museum was the home of Josiah Martin, an owner of a sugar plantation.

When the American Revolution began, rebel forces stayed at this house, and Josiah’s son, Samuel, was imprisoned.

Despite going through hard times, Samuel inherited Rock Hall in 1778 when Josiah passed away.

Signage of the Rock Hall Museum

Leonard Zhukovsky /

Eventually, the Hewlett family, another prominent family, acquired the property.

Today, Rock Hall Museum is open for tours, workshops, and even storytelling sessions for those who want to learn about the area’s history.

You can also meet the alpacas around the home!

Information board of the Rock Hall Museum

Leonard Zhukovsky /

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of free things to do in Hempstead, New York.

You can visit historic sites like Old Town Hall or Rock Hall Museum or enjoy nature at one of the many parks and preserves.

Plan your visit to the town today and include all these activities in your itinerary.

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