Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Staten Island, NY

  • Published 2022/11/12

Staten Island in Richmond County, New York City, got the share of the limelight after becoming part of the set of the classic movie “The Godfather.”

However, there’s more to Staten Island than this famous Hollywood classic.

Staten Island, the most suburban of New York City’s five boroughs, has its charm that is often overshadowed by Manhattan’s grandeur.

A short ferry trip from ‘The City that Never Sleeps” to Staten Island offers some of the best and unspoiled natural beauty of New York City.

It has plenty of attractions, diverse cultures, museums, parks, a zoo, and some of the most spectacular views of Manhattan.

Staten Island is your go-to travel destination if you want to find a peaceful place outside the Manhattan concrete jungle.

Above all, there are plenty of exciting activities and attractions on Staten Island with free admission.

Prepare for a worthwhile tour through this charming borough with the free things to do in Staten Island, New York City.

Go Window Shopping at Empire Outlets

Daytime view of Empire Outlets

Chie Inoue /

Nothing can go wrong with an afternoon of window shopping at Staten Island’s premier retail complex, the Empire Outlets.

You can visit this 350,000-square-foot shopping center along Richmond Terrace.

Window shopping at this place suits you or your family when you’re on a tight budget.

Plaza of Empire Outlets

John Penney /

This shopping center offers a delightful array of stores, from mainstream brands, anchor stores, and specialty shops, to restaurants and coffee shops.

Empire Outlets have over a dozen shops and restaurants to check out, making it an ideal place to spend your day.

Clothing shop in Empire Outlets

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Pass the Time at Seaside Wildlife Nature Park

First on the list is the Seaside Wildlife Nature Park.

This charming outdoor attraction is along Tennyson Drive and Nelson Avenue, where you can find one of Staten Island’s favorite hangout places.

It has a gorgeous waterfront park with a top-notch playground for everyone to enjoy.

Many locals spend their afternoons or weekends hanging out here to enjoy the scenic view, while toddlers enjoy the marine-themed playground.

If you want to wander the entire Seaside Wildlife Nature Park, explore its paved pathways to idyllic spots for picnics and other outdoor activities.

Relive the Past at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

Tuscan garden at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

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Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden offers you a fascinating historical experience.

This place allows you to see an eclectic collection of 19th-century buildings that remain significant today.

You can visit this attraction along Richmond Terrace and explore over 83 acres of historically significant streets, buildings, architecture, and a gorgeous botanical garden.

A building at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

Phakkapol Pasuthip /

This area served as the housing project for retired sailors in the 1800s.

Today, it’s one of the nation’s biggest adaptive reuse projects.

It has a botanical garden with campuses, an art center, visual arts theater, and other exciting attractions.

Visiting the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden allows you to see various attractions related to nature, history, architecture, and arts.

Japanese garden at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

Phakkapol Pasuthip /

Roam its streets filled with over 28 well-preserved buildings.

Otherwise, have a relaxing time at its botanical gardens, home to over a hundred rare plant species.

To complete your visit, check out its vast wetlands and see local wildlife for free.

Chinese garden at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

Linda Harms /

Immerse Yourself in Nature at the Greenbelt Nature Center

The Greenbelt Nature Center is a vast 5,440-square-foot brick-and-mortar building surrounded by natural beauty.

You can visit this place along Rockland Avenue and enjoy a fun-filled interactive nature-related activity.

This place immerses you in nature through a hiking tour that takes you to over 2,800 acres of a pristine natural area.

You will also enjoy a wonderful learning experience about the area’s flora and fauna through interactive lectures, workshops, and other environmental education programs.

Greenbelt Nature Center’s covered area comprises public and private properties, including traditional parks and unspoiled natural areas.

Touring its parks, marshes, forests, and other natural areas lets you get closer to nature.

So, never forget to add the Greenbelt Nature Center to your itinerary.

Relive History at Fort Wadsworth

Aerial view of Fort Wadsworth

Elzbieta Sekowska /

Fort Wadsworth is a spectacular historical attraction you mustn’t miss while visiting Staten Island.

You can visit this former military installation along New York Avenue, facing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

This attraction offers a fascinating historical experience, considering it’s one of the nation’s oldest military installations.

The fort covers more than 226 acres and is known for its natural beauty.

Entrance to Fort Wadsworth


Visiting this place allows you to immerse into rich history by touring its maze of underground tunnels.

You can also climb its overlook tower that gives you a stunning view of Manhattan from a distance.

In addition, step inside the Mont Sec History House and see up close various artifacts and the natural history of Fort Wadsworth’s surrounding natural area.

Facade of Fort Wadsworth


Take a Break at Tappen Park

Staten Island has dozens of community parks for Manhattan’s locals to take a break from their busy work life.

One of their favorites is Tappen Park, named after World War I veteran James Tappen along Bay Street.

Spending some time at this charming park allows you to relax by sitting on one of its benches.

Lay your picnic blanket on the grass and allow time to pass.

At the same time, enjoy a photo shoot with your friends or loved ones at Tappen Park’s beautiful brick comfort station with an elegant Romanesque design.

Another noteworthy attraction in the park is its commemorative London Plane Tree honoring its late employee Robert Dunne who served the park for over 35 years.

Explore the Vast Staten Island Mall

Exterior of Staten Island Mall

J dahlia, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you haven’t had enough of malling, then head to the Staten Island Mall.

You can visit this mall along Richmond Avenue and enjoy its upscale interior, which welcomes over 12 million mallgoers annually.

Visiting this mall allows you to explore the best place for leisure activities on Staten Island.

Check out over 200 stores with various anchor stores such as Macy’s, JCPenney, H&M, Forever 21, and plenty more.

Staten Island Mall also has a couple of AMC theaters if you’re looking for entertainment.

At the same time, you can dine at more than a dozen restaurants.

You can still enjoy roaming the mall, checking out some exciting items you might want to buy when your budget is right.

Otherwise, listen to the heartwarming Christmas songs played inside the Staten Island Mall during the Holiday season.

Feel the Ocean Breeze at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk and Beach

Head to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk and Beach for a relaxing time.

You can visit this breathtaking attraction along Fr. Capodanno Boulevard and stroll through its scenic 2.5-mile boardwalk.

This outdoor attraction offers some of the best views of Staten Island’s southern part.

Its famous boardwalk and beach area are perfect for satisfying yourself with the fresh ocean breeze.

Besides its famous boardwalk, you can also soak up the sun and swim at the beach, especially during summer.

In addition, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk and Beach has concession stands, restaurants, showers, and restrooms.

The area also has plenty of beach-side amenities for a more convenient visit.

Reflect at the Staten Island September 11 Memorial

Daytime view of Staten Island September 11 Memorial


Staten Island witnessed the tragedy on September 11, 2001, from a distance, which forever changed the lives of its locals up to this day.

An outdoor sculpture named the Staten Island September 11 Memorial was erected in 2004 to commemorate those who perished on that tragic day.

You can visit this memorial along St. George Street and offer some thoughts and prayers for the 247 Staten Island locals who lost their lives.

Structure of the Staten Island September 11 Memorial

Thomas Schaefer /

Dropping by this memorial also allows you to see up close the outstanding design of Masayuki Sono.

The Staten Island September 11 Memorial resembles a pair of wings stretched toward the sky.

Meanwhile, it has a smoother structure resembling oversized postcards, making it a fantastic artwork full of meaning.

Postcards memorial at Staten Island September 11 Memorial

Sean Pavone /

Spot Local Wildlife at Blue Heron Park

Blue Heron Park serves as Staten Island’s nature refuge on its south shores.

You can visit this natural attraction along Poillon Avenue and see various local wildlife thriving in its natural habitat.

Upon arriving at this park, you’ll see a sculpture of a blue heron at its entrance.

It has numerous unspoiled natural areas such as marshes, meadows, freshwater streams, kettle ponds, and woodlands.

This park allows you to explore over 250 acres of a natural area filled with local wildlife, such as blue herons and other bird species.

At the same time, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles are often seen at Blue Heron Park, making it an excellent place for wildlife viewing.

Count the Shipwrecks at Staten Island Boat Graveyard

Shipwrecks at Staten Island Boat Graveyard

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Staten Island Boat Graveyard is a fascinating attraction along Arthur Kill Road in Staten Island.

This massive boat graveyard has been home to nearly a hundred sunken boats and other marine vessels since the early 20th century.

Visiting this place allows you to explore New York City’s rich maritime history.

It’s also considered an accidental marine museum because of the number of boats and vessels lying there for almost a century.

A long abandoned boat at Staten Island Boat Graveyard

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It’s pretty easy to spot and even count the sunken boats, as most of them are sitting in shallow and muddy waters, which you can see from a short distance.

However, Staten Island Boat Graveyard is off-limits to the public.

Still, you can visit the grounds with marine historians who will tour you on a boat or a kayak to see this unusual sight of decaying ships.

Aerial view of Staten Island Boat Graveyard

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Enjoy the Panoramic View from High Rock Park

High Rock Park along Nevada Avenue takes pride in having one of Staten Island’s most breathtaking views.

A visit to this park allows you to see pristine natural areas such as forests, numerous ponds, and wetlands home to various local wildlife.

However, the best attraction at High Rock Park is the 260-foot hill called Mount Moses.

Climbing the top of this hill offers you a panoramic 360-degree view of Staten Island, other parts of New York City, and Manhattan Island.

Reaching the hilltop is relatively easy since it’s part of the numerous trails you can explore during your visit to this park.

So, don’t forget to list this park on your itinerary for a spectacular view of Staten Island.

Ride the Famous Staten Island Ferry

View of a cruising Staten Island Ferry

Drop of Light /

Your visit to Staten Island won’t be complete without hopping on the famous Staten Island Ferry.

This passenger ferry transports 22 million people annually.

It has operated since 1905, making it a tourist icon in New York.

Since it’s a public ferry, you won’t need a ticket from Manhattan to Staten Island or vice versa.

The ferry runs about 5.2 miles, traversing the New York Harbor between Staten Island and New York City in Manhattan.

People admiring the view from a Staten Island Ferry

James Kirkikis /

While on board, you will likely rub shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow New Yorkers who might be on their way to work, school, or the other way around.

At the same time, you’ll get a gorgeous sight of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from its deck.

So, always make a room in your itinerary for a boat ride aboard the famous Staten Island Ferry.

Terminal of Staten Island Ferry

Sean Pavone /

Wander the Ruins of the New York City Farm Colony

Another odd and equally fascinating attraction on Staten Island is the New York City Farm Colony.

You can visit these famous ruins along Brielle Avenue.

It’s mainly famous for the haunting ruins of a former poorhouse on Staten Island.

Constructed in 1898, it became a shelter for over 2,000 socially outcast residents where they grew self-sustainable vegetable gardens and engaged in small industry.

Like most farm colonies across the nation, this one eventually closed down in 1975 since it couldn’t sustain itself.

Today, it’s a famous unusual tourist spot in Staten Island which many outdoor adventurers love to wander.

Inside, you can see the decaying walls, buildings, and tunnels of the poorhouse filled with graffiti, offering you a perfect opportunity to take photos for souvenirs.

At the same time, you can also join ghost hunters investigating the area for paranormal activities.

Like the Staten Island Boat Graveyard, it’s off-limits to the public.

Still, you can explore the New York City Farm Colony with tour guides who have their secret entrances.

Take a Photo at the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge

Far view of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge

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Head to the South Beach Boardwalk to pose near the famous Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.

This suspension bridge connects Staten Island and Brooklyn on Manhattan Island.

The bridge stretches over 1,600 meters long, with 1,298 meters for its main span, making it the longest suspension bridge in the nation.

Aerial view of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge

Mihai_Andritoiu /

With all that in mind, visitors to Staten Island must pose with the bridge as their backdrop for a lovely souvenir before returning home.

Besides taking photos, looking at the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge from a distance is already an awe-inspiring experience.

After taking photos of this famous suspension bridge, take a walk on the gorgeous boardwalk for some relaxing activity while enjoying the view.

View of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge during sunset

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Final Thoughts

When planning a trip to New York City, don’t just focus on visiting its famous tourist spots.

Spend some time in its charming boroughs, particularly Staten Island, if you want to see a different side of New York’s beauty.

A visit to Staten Island allows you to see the more peaceful side of New York, where nature will embrace you.

Pin this list of the free things to do in Staten Island for an unforgettable budget-friendly visit.

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