Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Union City, NJ

  • Published 2023/02/23

Known as the Havana on the Hudson, Union City‘s greatest charm is its cultural Cuban and Hispanic heritage.

However, it’s not the only reason many travels to this northeastern New Jersey city.

The city is most famous for hosting the longest passion play production in the country, making it a place of religious diversity and appreciation.

The residential and industrial blend of Union City’s neighborhoods also offers a historical yet modern feel that any other city hasn’t captured.

Before Union City’s rise, the city was once two separate communities: West Hoboken and the Town of Union.

Incorporated in 1925, the city inspired art and literature, enticing the poet W.S. Merwin to explore the place.

If you’re interested in this city in Hudson County, you’ll also not have to spend more to make your trip worthwhile.

Below are the free things to do in Union City, New Jersey.

Admire the Sculptures at Michael A. Leggiero Music Park

The grounds of Michael A. Leggiero Music Park

Nightscream, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Michael A. Leggiero Music Park is one of the most sought-after family-friendly attractions in Union City.

Named after a community icon and a leader of the North Hudson Community Action Corporation, the park features a water pad and a wading pool.

Water-shooting musical instruments, including a violin, a saxophone, and a flute, are situated methodically around the pad.

Sculptures at Michael A. Leggiero Music Park

Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This park is a massive hit among families with little ones who wish to cool off when faced with the summer heat.

So, what are you waiting for?

Michael A. Leggiero Music Park is right along the corner of the bustling streets of Park Avenue and 39th Street.

Daytime view of Michael A. Leggiero Music Park

Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Relax under the Trees at Washington Park

Archway of Washington Park

Acebarry, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Going to Washington Park for nature-filled relaxation can never go wrong.

With a vast open space that bridges Union City and Jersey City, this park features the best of both passive and active parks.

It has over 3.8 miles of nature trails, a go-to biking and jogging spot.

There are also various sports facilities and courts for those needing an active area to practice or play a few games.

Take meditative strolls along its winding pathways and attractive green foliage.

Play on Washington Park’s volleyball court and baseball fields with a batting cage for little baseball learners.

Find this park on 2nd Street & Bergenline Avenue.

Enjoy the Waterfront Views at Weehawken & Union City Reservoir Park

Are you looking for an idle way to explore Union City’s seascapes?

Then, you might want to try walking along the waterfront pathways at Weehawken & Union City Reservoir Park.

Spanning at least 0.45 miles, this site currently stands on a 14-acre reservoir serving water storage for Union City and the neighboring city of Weehawken.

Admire the Manhattan cityscape vistas across the way from the serene Hudson River.

The pathway comprises mostly gravel and is also a unique wildlife exploration stop.

Meet turtles, ducks, and geese sprawling along the sun or waddling in the water.

Weehawken & Union City Reservoir Park also has benches and sitting areas for your benefit.

You can find this park on Palisade Avenue.

Learn about Cuban Heritage at Bergenline Avenue

Shops at Bergenline Avenue

quiggyt4 /

The Hispanic community at Bergenline Avenue, Union City, is worth visiting at least once.

What once was an Italian-American commercial center became a Cuban-focused avenue by the 1980s.

This historical landmark is best known for its endless shops and business establishments.

It also stretches across four cities within Hudson County: Union City, North Bergen, Guttenberg, and West New York.

Buildings at Bergenline Avenue

Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Many come by Bergenline Avenue to taste the fresh Spanish cuisine at its restaurants and bakeries.

Come by this avenue during local parades, like every Memorial Day, to truly celebrate the American-Cuban heritage.

You can reach this avenue when you turn right from 49th Street.

Celebrate Art and Music at Night Festivals in the Park

Union City does not disappoint with outdoor art and music celebrations.

These nightly events happen at several parks within the city.

Included in this park list are War Memorial Plaza and Ellsworth Park.

These festivals are also the ultimate summer commencement events for everyone living and visiting the city.

Listen to live musical performances from local and regional jazz performances on Jazz Nights.

You should also watch out for Latin Nights!

Keep your May, June, and July calendars free to join these festivities.

Admire the Botanical Variety at Ellsworth Park

A memorial at Ellsworth Park

Luigi Novi, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you have time to spare between city adventures, come by Ellsworth Park.

Renovated in 1997, this park has been a recreational refuge and historical learning place.

This “monumented” park features dedicatory statues and sculptures that show Union City’s past.

A life-sized monument of an eagle and a uniformed soldier commemorates fallen soldiers of the Civil War and World War II.

Another memorial tells of the Puerto Rican philosopher Eugenio de Hostos y Bonilla.

While this park is not strictly a garden, it also brings together a scenic charm similar to most gardens.

Its staging area highlights diverse trees and shrubs and the occasional native flowers.

Ellsworth Park is on 24th Street.

See the Walk of Fame at Celia Cruz Park

One of Union City’s most attractive assets is its constant tribute to Cuban culture.

Celia Cruz Park is proof of this legacy.

Founded in 2005, this park takes inspiration from Celia Cruz, who was most famous for her “Queen of Salsa” title.

There’s a backlit photograph of her on display within the park property, where a large mural stood.

Perhaps what makes this park an all-in-one beauty is its Walk of Fame section.

Unlike its Hollywood counterpart, this Walk of Fame honors 51 Latin stars.

This list includes La India, Willy Chirino, Paquito D’ River, and many more!

Celia Cruz Park also goes by Celia Cruz Plaza on 31st Street and Bergenline Avenue.

See a Free Art Exhibit at William V. Musto Cultural Center

Exterior of William V. Musto Cultural Center

Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

William V. Musto Cultural Center is your all-around stop for all things related to Union City.

Established in 2011, this center got its name from the former city assemblyman, mayor, and father of the state lottery.

It houses both the city’s museum for art and history.

The Museum of Art presents the best pieces from Union City’s artists and some unique displays by artist Enid Bell.

On the other hand, the Museum of History gets you closer to the city’s past from its formation years to the present.

Side view of William V. Musto Cultural Center

Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The center also hosts senior citizen classes and children’s programs.

Regarding free solo exhibits, William V. Musto Cultural Center is the best place to visit!

Go to 15th Street to reach this multifaceted center.

Rest and Reflect at Liberty Plaza

9/11 Memorial at Liberty Plaza

Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Liberty Plaza is a passive space to admire picturesque sceneries and people-watch.

Located on 30th Street and Palisade Avenue, this plaza strives to commemorate the lives lost during the World Trade Center attacks.

The park was inaugurated in 2007, six years since the fateful tragedy.

Within the park, you can also find a large butterfly monument that aims to remember the lives of comfort women during the war.

Spearheaded by Korean survivors, the dedication of the butterfly memorial took place in 2014.

Whether you want to pay respects to the innocent lives lost to tragedy and slavery or to enjoy some time alone, Liberty Plaza can give you what you’re looking for.

Watch a Touching Performance at the Annual International Ballet Festival

Every September, the Annual International Ballet Festival happens in Union City.

This festival is a one-night performance showcasing ballet performers from all over the world.

Experience a night of fantasy, dance, and spectacular music you have never seen!

Free parking and admission are available to residents and tourists, so come!

Union City Performing Arts Center hosts the Annual International Ballet Festival on Kennedy Boulevard.

Other Things to Do Nearby

You’re in luck if you’re craving more fun outside Union City!

Below are more things to do near Union City.

Learn about the American Aristocracy at Boxwood Hall

Exterior of Boxwood Hall

Dmadeo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Boxwood Hall is one of the few historic sites that don’t come with an admission fee.

Built in 1750, this hall was once home to various noble people in the city’s history, including Samuel Woodruff and Jonathan Dayton.

George Washington dined in this building on his final national visit before becoming America’s first president.

Its building offers a Georgian design, prominent within American aristocratic homes.

Its original interior layout and furnishings make the building even more memorable.

Boxwood Hall is open for tours on East Jersey Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey.

This historic landmark is only 26 minutes away from Union City.

Bring Your Dog to South Mountain Reservation

Waterfall at South Mountain Reservation

Richard Scalzo /

Get your adventure kit and binoculars ready because you are in for a surprise in West Orange, New Jersey.

South Mountain Reservation offers a magical journey into Earth’s unfiltered beauty.

Spanning over 2,000 acres, this preserve showcases various habitats and woodland trees.

It also sheds light on the uniqueness of Olmsted-designed landscapes with its paved hiking trails and nature overlooks.

Waters at South Mountain Reservation

Art by Amart /

The preserve also features carriage roads, a 2012 wildflower sculpture park, and a recreation center hosting public programs for the whole family.

If you’ve got your pet with you, the preserve has a designated dog park that spans two acres.

South Mountain Reservation is 26 minutes from Union City.

Nature trail at South Mountain Reservation

Vadim 777 /

Cool off at Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

Waterfall at Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

Brian Logan Photography /

As both a historical and recreational spot, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park is a result of one immigrant’s dream.

Alexander Hamilton, the founder of the city of Paterson, made this site his brainchild in response to the English Industrial Revolution.

Now, the site offers stories about this particular era in history and tours around the mills.

The park’s most-visited feature and centerpiece are the Great Falls of the Passaic River, where visitors cool down.

Rushing waters at Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

Adonis Page /

Many come by this site for guided tours and youth-specific programs.

Those who wish to explore the site’s grounds at their own pace are also free to do so!

Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park is in Paterson, New Jersey, 23 minutes from Union City.

River at Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

Brian Logan Photography /

Learn about the Historic Weehawken Duel at Hamilton-Burr Dueling Grounds

Sculpture at Hamilton-Burr Dueling Grounds

EQRoy /

The Hamilton-Burr Dueling Grounds is a memorable historical stop in Weehawken, New Jersey, five minutes from Union City.

True to its name, this place was a famous dueling spot in the 19th century because of its guaranteed privacy.

Former Revolutionary War soldiers Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr settled their rivalry in 1804.

Marker of Hamilton-Burr Dueling Grounds

Billy Hathorn, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A bronze statue of Hamilton created in 1935 stands on the site.

Relive this historical moment with a stroll along the grounds and a stop at the memorials and their inscriptions.

You can also find the boulder where the mortally wounded Hamilton rested his head as he died.

Resting rock at Hamilton-Burr Dueling Grounds

Theornamentalist, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Go on a Floral Retreat at Van Vleck House & Gardens

Side view of Van Vleck House

Brian Logan Photography /

Managed by the Montclair Foundation, Van Vleck House & Gardens offers a floral legacy from Brooklyn to Montclair.

Once owned by Joseph Van Vleck Sr. and his family in 1868, this private estate eventually went under the ownership of three generations of Van Vlecks.

In 1993, the family’s heirs gifted the property to the foundation to serve as a non-profit botanical landmark.

The site specializes in exotic gardens with distinct sections for its flora.

Front view of Van Vleck House

Brian Logan Photography /

The Van Vleck House is also a community events venue.

Make your way around the Wisteria Courtyard and see the blossoms beautify the place.

Don’t miss out on the Azalea Walk and the Children’s Butterfly Garden, too!

You can find the Van Vleck House & Gardens in Montclair, New Jersey, about 25 minutes from Union City.

Wisteria at Van Vleck House & Gardens

Blondhairblueeyed at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Final Thoughts

Union City is a cultural and artistic hub that continually draws visitors to its borders year after year.

From memorial parks to sightseeing spots, this city’s outdoor recreational opportunities have something unique to offer its visitors.

Enjoy the free things to do in Union City, New Jersey!

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