25 Free Things to Do in New York City, NY

New York City
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New York, also called NYC or New York City, doesn’t need further introduction.

The City that Never Sleeps has been the subject of songs and literary works and the setting of several iconic films and TV series.

The megacity is widely hailed as the world's capital, a cultural, financial, and entertainment center across the globe.

Nonetheless, its towering skyscrapers, fast-paced streets, and lively atmosphere make it a popular tourist destination.

However, you don’t have to spend a fortune exploring and enjoying New York!

Here’s a list of free things to do in New York City, New York!

Explore Central Park

Stunning view of Central Park
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Spanning 843 acres, Central Park is one of the most iconic parks in the world.

The famous park has many attractions, including a zoo, skating rink, mall, and a large lake.

Because of its massive land area, you can easily spend half a day here or a whole day to make the most of your visit.

Gapstow bridge at Central Park during winter
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Whether you visit in the summer, spring, fall, or winter, plenty of activities await you at Central Park.

Take a walk or jog across the park, have a relaxing picnic, follow the nature trails, watch a free concert, or go ice skating.

A couple enjoying boating at Central Park
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Take the Staten Island Ferry

View of the Staten Island Ferry
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See NYC from a different perspective by taking the Staten Island Ferry.

It offers scenic views of New York Harbor, including Ellis Island and the iconic Statue of Liberty.

You can also catch panoramic views of Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan, DUMBO, Ellis Island, and the famous Statue of Liberty.

Staten Island Ferry terminal
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Staten Island Ferry is also necessary when visiting New York because it runs 24/7.

This makes planning other activities easier since you can take the ferry any time of the day.

People enjoying the Staten Island Ferry ride
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Cross the Brooklyn Bridge

View of Brooklyn Bridge
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The Brooklyn Bridge is a cable-suspension bridge connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The bridge is also one of the most iconic structures in the city, immortalized in postcards, paintings, and photos.

It has an elevated pedestrian promenade where you can ride a bike or walk across the bridge.

Visitors strolling on the Brooklyn Bridge
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Enjoy breathtaking city views and see famous NYC skyscrapers like the One World Trade Center, Empire State Building, and Chrysler Building.

The walk from one end of the bridge to another can be tiring, so there are benches along the way.

Brooklyn Bridge lit up at night
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Take a Short Trip to Little Island

Unique architecture of Little Island
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Little Island is a gorgeous green space in an urban Hudson River Park setting.

It offers a refreshing change of scenery from the tall buildings with its playgrounds and ever-changing gardens.

Visit Little Island and see the blooming flowers and plants perfectly contrast New York's buildings.

Aerial view of the  Little Island
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Sit at the benches or one of the boulder scrambles and take a breather from the hustle and bustle of the city.

There are also dedicated spaces for jogging and yoga with a view.

Families enjoying their day at  Little Island
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Celebrate the Holidays at Rockefeller Center

Skating rink at Rockefeller Center
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If you’re spending the Yuletide season in New York, drop by Rockefeller Center.

The large complex is the location of the famous Tree Lighting Ceremony, accompanied by live performances.

You can also skate at the ice rink for free if you have your skates.

Beautiful flowers and fountain at Rockefeller Center
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Aside from the larger-than-life tree, Rockefeller Center is a sight to behold during the holidays.

Walk around the complex, admire and take photos with the colorful light displays, and soak up the festive vibes.

Outdoor dining area at Rockefeller Center
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View the Artworks at the Bronx Museum of the Arts

Not all museums in New York are free; luckily, the Bronx Museum of the Arts offers free admission all year round.

The museum houses hundreds of contemporary and 20th-century artworks from American artists of Latin, Asian, and African-American descent.

These include paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other works on paper.

Visit the Bronx Museum of the Arts and be in awe of the artworks from every exhibition.

In addition, the museum hosts events like charity auctions, galas, and Family Day events.

Walk along the High Line

High Line crowded on a sunny morning
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The High Line is a former rail line turned into an elevated linear park.

It stretches 1.45 miles and is lined with plants and benches overlooking the city, making it an ideal setting for a relaxing walk.

The garden zones along the High Line boast more than 100,000 plants, giving each zone its distinct personality.

Families and friends relaxing at High Line
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You can also find scenic overlooks, water features, and enclosed passageways.

Head to the park for stunning sunset views or simply if you need to relax and enjoy a change of pace.

Walkway at High Line
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Visit Green-Wood Cemetery

Gateway of Green-Wood Cemetery
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Visiting a cemetery may be one of the more unusual activities anywhere, but Green-Wood Cemetery is a must-see in New York.

The cemetery is dotted with lavish mausoleums with Classical, Egyptian, Gothic, Romanesque, and High Victorian designs.

Some notable persons buried here include Samuel Morse, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Leonard Bernstein.

Tombstones at Green-Wood Cemetery
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Enter the lavish Gothic Revival-style gates of Green-Wood Cemetery and take a relaxing stroll here.

Although it’s relatively far from other attractions in New York, you can visit Prospect Park or Sunset Park after.

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See a Free Movie on Movie Nights at Bryant Park

Walkway at Bryant Park
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Movie Nights at Bryant Park is one of the best free activities in New York in the summer.

Every Monday night, head to Bryant Park and watch a movie under the stars.

Fountain at Bryant Park
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Movies shown during the seasonal Movie Nights at Bryant Park vary, ranging from family-friendly films to cult classics.

Bring a blanket and snacks, and sit back and enjoy the show.

Arrive at the park in the afternoon to get a good spot and a better view of the park.

Memorial at Bryant Park
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Pay Respects at the National September 11 Memorial

People taking picture infront of the fountain at National September 11 Memorial
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The National September 11 Memorial is a beautiful yet sad reminder of the September 11 attacks that changed the course of history.

Two reflecting pools mark the previous location of the Twin Towers, surrounded by a forest of swamp white oak trees.

Meanwhile, the parapets surrounding the waterfalls display the names of the victims of all the attacks.

Top view of National September 11 Memorial
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At The National September 11 Memorial, visit the Survivor Tree, a pear tree that survived the attacks and is now a symbol of hope and rebirth.

Although the nearby 9/11 Memorial Museum isn’t free, you can still drop by the memorial to pay your respects.

Interior view of National September 11 Memorial
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Join a Free Tour around Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

Exterior view of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
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The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library stands out among the iron and glass buildings in New York.

This is the library's main branch, boasting a timeless Beaux-Arts style and a marble facade with two lions guarding the entrance.

Although reading at the library is free for all New Yorkers, visitors can also explore the library on a free tour.

Stairs at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
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Visit Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and learn about the history and architecture behind the building.

On your tour, please stop by the majestic Rose Main Reading Room, with its ornate ceiling and halls that look straight out of a Harry Potter film.

Interior view of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
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Hang Out at Brooklyn Bridge Park

People relaxing on the lawn at Brooklyn Bridge Park
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Brooklyn Bridge Park is an 85-acre park with waterfront views of the East River and New York Harbor.

The park offers several recreational facilities, including playgrounds, playing courts, a skating rink, and more.

Aerial view of the Brooklyn Bridge Park
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It has barbecue areas, a picturesque garden kayak and canoe launch sites, and an environmental education center.

You can also go to Brooklyn Bridge Park for a jog or run with panoramic views of the New York skyline.

Given its facilities, this is also one of the best places in New York to have a picnic.

A woman capturing the NY Skyline from Brooklyn Bridge Park
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See the Colorful Lights at Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

View of the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
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Another New York highlight during the holiday season is the famous Dyker Heights Christmas Lights.

This neighborhood in South Brooklyn provides a sight to behold with its streets decked in the best and brightest decorations.

Walk around the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights and marvel at the elaborately-decorated houses.

Chirstmas decoration at the entrance of a house at Dyker Heights
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Although guided tours around the neighborhood are available, you can explore them on foot.

The festive lights display starts the weekend after Thanksgiving and is up until early January.

Christmas lights at Dyker Heights
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Find Solace at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Exterior view of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral
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Whether you’re an architecture enthusiast or a devotee, don’t miss St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The church has a stunning Gothic Revival-English Gothic style that stands out among the modern and high-rise buildings in the area.

Enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral and marvel at its opulent interiors, taking in the solemn atmosphere of the cathedral.

Interior view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral
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Before heading out, don’t forget to pay your respects, take a few moments of silence, or light a prayer candle.

The cathedral is only a few minutes from Rockefeller Center and Central Park, so you can quickly drop by on your tour around the Big Apple.

Statue at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
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See the Artworks at First Street Green Art Park

Tree art at First Street Green Art Park
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While New York is famous for being a financial district, The Big Apple is also a canvas for many street artists.

Although the city is filled with murals, First Street Green Art Park showcases sculptures, installations, and murals from up-and-coming artists.

Aside from taking photos with the murals,  meet local artists in the park.

First Street Green Art Park hosts public programs like live painting sessions, workshops, and lectures.

The art park is in an open space near Sara D. Roosevelt Park.

Witness the St. Patrick’s Day Parade

View of St. Patrick’s Day Parade
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The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is among New York’s most famous.

This is the oldest and largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade worldwide, held in honor of St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, and the Archdiocese of New York.

Crowd of people cheering and witnessing the St. Patrick’s Day Parade
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At the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, watch the city turn green and performers in regalia march along the streets of Manhattan.

The parade starts at East 44th Street to Fifth Avenue and ends at East 79th Street.

Since this is a popular event, arrive early to get a good view of the parade.

Performance at St. Patrick’s Day Parade
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Spend the Day at Washington Square Park

Arch at Washington Square Park
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At the heart of Greenwich Village lies Washington Square Park, a vast open space marked by the Washington Square Arch.

It is a popular meeting place for locals and a location for performers, entertainers, and protests.

The large fountain is one of the park’s highlights, and you can often find children wading in it.

Visitors strolling around the Washington Square Park
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On a lazy afternoon, hang out at Washington Square Park and observe people going about their day-to-day routines.

You can also challenge one of the locals for a friendly chess match!

Kids playing in the fountain at Washington Square Park
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Catch a Play at Shakespeare in the Park

Performance by Shakespeare in the Park

Shakespeare in the Park is a local theatrical program that stages plays at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

Over the years, they’ve brought several of Shakespeare’s plays to the stage, including Othello, Macbeth, and the iconic Romeo and Juliet.

Performance at Delacorte Theater
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With Belvedere Castle and Turtle Pond as the backdrop, catch a free performance at Shakespeare in the Park.

Free tickets are given on the day of the performance outside the Delacorte Theater.

You can also get a ticket through a lottery or at various locations around NYC’s five boroughs.

Take a Photo of the Flatiron Building

Top view of the Flatiron Building
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Take the quintessential NYC photo by posing with the famous Flatiron Building.

Built in 1902, the building is famous for its unique triangular shape and strategic location between Fifth Avenue and Broadway.

Many tourists and even locals will take photos of or with the building.

Front view of the Flatiron Building
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On your tour around New York, don’t forget to stop by Flatiron Building, admire its unique architecture, and snap photos of it.

Since it’s a popular photo spot, time your visit in the morning to get a good angle of the building.

Ring in the New Year at Times Square

Crowd enjoying the New Year's eve at Times Square
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Welcome the new year with high spirits at Times Square!

The famous intersection in Midtown Manhattan is the location of perhaps the world's biggest New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Watch live performances from famous artists at the New Year’s Eve festivities at Times Square.

New Year Celebration at Times Square
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Then, count down to midnight and witness the famous Times Square Ball Drop, marking the start of another year.

The square becomes a flurry of colorful confetti and fireworks as everyone cheers for the new year.

People celebrating New Year at Times Square
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Visit Queens County Farm Museum

Exterior of the Queens County Farm Museum
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Discover the history of agriculture in New York City on a visit to Queens County Farm Museum.

This is one of the longest continually farmed lands in the state, with a 47-acre tract of farmland.

It has produced food for New Yorkers for over three centuries, using the best sustainable farming practices.

A native american playing flute at Queens County Farm Museum
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Take a day trip to Queens County Farm Museum and enjoy the change of scenery.

Meet the alpacas, sheep, and other livestock on your trip, check out the gardens and explore at your leisure.

Plants at Queens County Farm Museum
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Walk around Grand Central Terminal

Interior view of the Grand Central Terminal
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The famous Grand Central Terminal has been one of New York’s timeless icons.

It has attracted millions of tourists and is integral to New Yorkers’ daily commute.

With its grand exterior, Main Concourse, and overall Beaux-Arts design, it is also one of the city’s best photo spots.

Entrance to Grand Central Terminal
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Check out the Grand Central Terminal and take photos of the famous Main Concourse and the brass clock.

Also, check out the Whispering Gallery near the Oyster Bar & Restaurant.

Ticketing kiosk at Grand Central Terminal
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Catch the Sunset at Brooklyn Heights Promenade

Brownstone row house at Brooklyn Heights Promenade
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Brooklyn Heights Promenade is a tree-lined pathway offering gorgeous views of the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge.

The walkway is popular among morning joggers, bikers, rollerbladers, and those who want to rest and enjoy a good view.

View of the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Heights
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This is also one of the best places to watch the sunset under tall skyscrapers.

As the evening skyline of New York wakes up, this creates a picture-perfect moment.

Bring your cameras to capture the moment or soak up the beautiful scenery.

Benches at the Brooklyn Heights Promenade
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Join the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Performance at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
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The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade takes pride in being the second-oldest Thanksgiving parade and the oldest in Detroit.

It attracts millions of spectators, featuring dozens of giant inflatable balloons, elaborately decorated floats, and marching bands.

View of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
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The parade typically starts at Central Park and ends at Macy’s Herald Square.

Watch the festive Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from any nearby vantage point and watch as the giant balloons and floats take center stage.

Arrive early along the route for the best views of the parade.

Spider man floating over the crowd at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
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Learn History at Hamilton Grange National Memorial

Facade of the Hamilton Grange National Memorial
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Located at St. Nicholas Park, Hamilton Grange National Memorial preserves the relocated home of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.

The estate was Hamilton’s residence in his last years and became the Hamilton family home years after his death.

Entryway to Hamilton Grange National Memorial
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It has three stories: the first is a gift shop and exhibit, the second contains the dining room and guest chambers, and the last features five rooms.

Join a tour around Hamilton Grange National Memorial and learn about the founding father’s life.

Tours are only 25 minutes long and are on a first-come-first-served basis.

Final Thoughts

New York is one of the must-visit cities for everyone, wherever you are in the world, offering many sights and activities.

From museums, parks, historical sites, and fun events, The Big Apple has you covered.

Best of all, you can have a memorable vacation in NYC without breaking the bank.

With this list of free things to do in New York City, New York, you’ll enjoy every moment spent here!

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