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20 Best Free Things to do in NYC

Hector Fabián

20 Best Free Things to do in NYC

Free Sightseeing
For your stroll, head to the 38-acre wilderness area on the west side of the park known as the Ramble. The area has a storied history (as a gay cruising spot dating back to the turn of the last century, among other things), and it was even proposed as a recreational area in the mid-'50s. Thankfully, the winding trails, rocks and streams seemingly remain to be discovered. If you get the chance rent a bike a ride around all of Central Park, you wont regret it!
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Central Park
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For your stroll, head to the 38-acre wilderness area on the west side of the park known as the Ramble. The area has a storied history (as a gay cruising spot dating back to the turn of the last century, among other things), and it was even proposed as a recreational area in the mid-'50s. Thankfully, the winding trails, rocks and streams seemingly remain to be discovered. If you get the chance rent a bike a ride around all of Central Park, you wont regret it!
A new kind of public landmark. Engaging and interactive, Vessel is meant to be climbed and explored with others.Bryant Park is a 9.6-acre public park located in the New York City borough of Manhattan. Privately managed, it is located between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan.
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Vessel
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A new kind of public landmark. Engaging and interactive, Vessel is meant to be climbed and explored with others.Bryant Park is a 9.6-acre public park located in the New York City borough of Manhattan. Privately managed, it is located between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan.
This 25-acre green space is like Manhattan’s delicate fingernail, neatly plotted with monuments, memorials, gardens, sculptures and a farm-to-table café, plus killer waterfront views from the promenade. Though the area was named for the battery cannons it once housed, the fortified walls of Castle Clinton now protect little more than summer music concerts. If you prefer a quieter nook, seek out the stone labyrinth traced in the park’s lawns; it’s not actually a maze meant to confuse, but a prescribed stroll for meditation.
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Battery Park
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This 25-acre green space is like Manhattan’s delicate fingernail, neatly plotted with monuments, memorials, gardens, sculptures and a farm-to-table café, plus killer waterfront views from the promenade. Though the area was named for the battery cannons it once housed, the fortified walls of Castle Clinton now protect little more than summer music concerts. If you prefer a quieter nook, seek out the stone labyrinth traced in the park’s lawns; it’s not actually a maze meant to confuse, but a prescribed stroll for meditation.
Founded in 1971 and featuring more than 800 works, this multicultural art museum shines a spotlight on 20th- and 21st-century artists who are either Bronx-based or of African, Asian or Latino ancestry. The museum sporadically offers family programming.
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The Bronx Museum of the Arts
1040 Grand Concourse
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Founded in 1971 and featuring more than 800 works, this multicultural art museum shines a spotlight on 20th- and 21st-century artists who are either Bronx-based or of African, Asian or Latino ancestry. The museum sporadically offers family programming.
Some city parks—Central and Prospect, most obviously—were built to replicate rustic fields and preserve serene woodland. Brooklyn Bridge Park, however, was not—and that’s precisely why it has become so popular in the almost three years since it debuted. The project has transformed a chunk of the Brooklyn waterfront into a nearly 85-acre expanse; several sections house unique attractions such as Jane’s Carousel, a restored 1920s merry-go-round, and riverside esplanades with gorgeous Manhattan views.
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Brooklyn Bridge Park
334 Furman St
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Some city parks—Central and Prospect, most obviously—were built to replicate rustic fields and preserve serene woodland. Brooklyn Bridge Park, however, was not—and that’s precisely why it has become so popular in the almost three years since it debuted. The project has transformed a chunk of the Brooklyn waterfront into a nearly 85-acre expanse; several sections house unique attractions such as Jane’s Carousel, a restored 1920s merry-go-round, and riverside esplanades with gorgeous Manhattan views.
Gantry Plaza State Park is a 12-acre state park on the East River in the Hunters Point section of Long Island City, in the New York City borough of Queens. The park is located in a former dockyard and manufacturing district, and includes remnants of facilities from the area's past
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Gantry Plaza State Park
4-09 47th Road
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Gantry Plaza State Park is a 12-acre state park on the East River in the Hunters Point section of Long Island City, in the New York City borough of Queens. The park is located in a former dockyard and manufacturing district, and includes remnants of facilities from the area's past
This 21-story Beaux Arts edifice once dominated midtown. Although it’s now dwarfed by other structures, when it debuted in 1902, the triangle-shaped monolith represented the threat and the thrill of modernity: Naysayers claimed it would never withstand the high winds plaguing 23rd Street, while revered photographer Alfred Stieglitz—who captured it in an iconic shot in 1903—wrote that it was “a picture of a new America still in the making.”
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Flatiron Building
175 5th Avenue
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This 21-story Beaux Arts edifice once dominated midtown. Although it’s now dwarfed by other structures, when it debuted in 1902, the triangle-shaped monolith represented the threat and the thrill of modernity: Naysayers claimed it would never withstand the high winds plaguing 23rd Street, while revered photographer Alfred Stieglitz—who captured it in an iconic shot in 1903—wrote that it was “a picture of a new America still in the making.”
Give the city’s second-biggest park a day and it’ll show you the world: Its most enduring icon is the Unisphere, the mammoth steel globe created for the 1964 World’s Fair. But there’s also first-rate culture and sports at the New York Hall of Science, Arthur Ashe Stadium and Citi Field (depending on how the Mets are doing). The rolling green fields also encompass a zoo, a boating lake, a skate park, a barbecue area, playfields, and a $66 million aquatic and hockey center.
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Flushing Meadows Corona Park
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Give the city’s second-biggest park a day and it’ll show you the world: Its most enduring icon is the Unisphere, the mammoth steel globe created for the 1964 World’s Fair. But there’s also first-rate culture and sports at the New York Hall of Science, Arthur Ashe Stadium and Citi Field (depending on how the Mets are doing). The rolling green fields also encompass a zoo, a boating lake, a skate park, a barbecue area, playfields, and a $66 million aquatic and hockey center.
The 1913 Beaux Arts train station is the city’s most spectacular point of arrival. The station played an important role in the nation’s historic preservation movement, after a series of legal battles that culminated in the 1978 Supreme Court decision affirming NYC’s landmark laws. One notable oddity: The constellations on the Main Concourse ceiling are drawn in reverse, as if seen from heaven.
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Grand Central Terminal
89 East 42nd Street
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The 1913 Beaux Arts train station is the city’s most spectacular point of arrival. The station played an important role in the nation’s historic preservation movement, after a series of legal battles that culminated in the 1978 Supreme Court decision affirming NYC’s landmark laws. One notable oddity: The constellations on the Main Concourse ceiling are drawn in reverse, as if seen from heaven.
There’s something uniquely New York about this aerie. Built on an abandoned railway track, the space is ingenious in its use of reclaimed industrial detritus, a necessity in footage-starved Manhattan. But what we like best is how the pathway takes you above the city while keeping you rooted in urban life: Where else can you walk through a field of wildflowers or sprawl on a lush lawn as cabs zoom along the street beneath you?
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The High Line
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There’s something uniquely New York about this aerie. Built on an abandoned railway track, the space is ingenious in its use of reclaimed industrial detritus, a necessity in footage-starved Manhattan. But what we like best is how the pathway takes you above the city while keeping you rooted in urban life: Where else can you walk through a field of wildflowers or sprawl on a lush lawn as cabs zoom along the street beneath you?
The century-old main branch of the NYPL is about as regal a setting for reading—either on your laptop or those old dusty things called books—as you’ll find in the city. Two massive Tennessee-marble lions, dubbed Patience and Fortitude, flank the main portal and have become the institution’s mascots. Once inside, check out the cavernous Rose Main Reading Room, spanning almost 300 feet and outfitted with chandeliers and stunning ceiling murals.
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New York Public Library - Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
476 5th Avenue
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The century-old main branch of the NYPL is about as regal a setting for reading—either on your laptop or those old dusty things called books—as you’ll find in the city. Two massive Tennessee-marble lions, dubbed Patience and Fortitude, flank the main portal and have become the institution’s mascots. Once inside, check out the cavernous Rose Main Reading Room, spanning almost 300 feet and outfitted with chandeliers and stunning ceiling murals.
Urban visionaries Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who most famously designed Central Park, also put their stamp on bucolic Prospect Park. Amenities like the Long Meadow and Nethermead offer plenty of space to pull up on a patch of grass and indulge in some people-watching, and the woodland expanse of the Ravine is a towering forest within bustling Brooklyn. But we also have to give props to Robert Moses: The controversial city planner was behind some of the park’s kid-friendly offerings, including the zoo and Wollman Rink.
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Prospect Park
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Urban visionaries Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who most famously designed Central Park, also put their stamp on bucolic Prospect Park. Amenities like the Long Meadow and Nethermead offer plenty of space to pull up on a patch of grass and indulge in some people-watching, and the woodland expanse of the Ravine is a towering forest within bustling Brooklyn. But we also have to give props to Robert Moses: The controversial city planner was behind some of the park’s kid-friendly offerings, including the zoo and Wollman Rink.
This legendary house of worship counts Presidents, movie stars, and business moguls among past and present attendees. While its intricate marble towers are a marvel of Gothic Revival architecture, St. Pat’s interior—including the Louis Tiffany–designed altar and spectacular rose window—is tremendous as both a feat of master craftsmanship and a source of spiritual inspiration.
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St. Patrick's Cathedral
5th Avenue
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This legendary house of worship counts Presidents, movie stars, and business moguls among past and present attendees. While its intricate marble towers are a marvel of Gothic Revival architecture, St. Pat’s interior—including the Louis Tiffany–designed altar and spectacular rose window—is tremendous as both a feat of master craftsmanship and a source of spiritual inspiration.
Taken over by Mark di Suvero in 1986, this is one of the few locations in the city specifically designated for artists to create outdoor works. The splendid Queens space looks out over the Manhattan skyline and is open 365 days a year.
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Socrates Sculpture Park
32-01 Vernon Boulevard
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Taken over by Mark di Suvero in 1986, this is one of the few locations in the city specifically designated for artists to create outdoor works. The splendid Queens space looks out over the Manhattan skyline and is open 365 days a year.
This historic harbor is home to the former Fulton Fish Market, the Seaport Museum, the country's largest privately owned fleet of historic ships and a shopping mall with retail stores and restaurants. It hosts outdoor concerts during the summer, as well as a range of lectures and public programs.
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South Street Seaport
89 South Street
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This historic harbor is home to the former Fulton Fish Market, the Seaport Museum, the country's largest privately owned fleet of historic ships and a shopping mall with retail stores and restaurants. It hosts outdoor concerts during the summer, as well as a range of lectures and public programs.
The price of a harbor crossing between Staten Island and lower Manhattan may be the only activity in New York City that’s cheaper today than it was in 1817. Back then, it was 25 cents; today, it’s free. This 24-hour ferry is a lifeline for commuters making their way from NYC’s southernmost borough, but it’s also a boat trip affording some of the finest views in the world. Keep your eyes peeled for Governors Island to the east and Ellis Island and Lady Liberty to the west as the Manhattan skyline recedes in the vessel’s wake.
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Staten Island Ferry
83-85 Whitehall St
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The price of a harbor crossing between Staten Island and lower Manhattan may be the only activity in New York City that’s cheaper today than it was in 1817. Back then, it was 25 cents; today, it’s free. This 24-hour ferry is a lifeline for commuters making their way from NYC’s southernmost borough, but it’s also a boat trip affording some of the finest views in the world. Keep your eyes peeled for Governors Island to the east and Ellis Island and Lady Liberty to the west as the Manhattan skyline recedes in the vessel’s wake.
Manhattan’s heart was once a hub for vice, teeming with sex shops and drug dealers. Over time that notorious reputation has eroded, and now the area can feel like a tourist-clogged shopping mall. Still, changes such as the stairs above the TKTS booth and a pedestrian plaza along Broadway have improved the sightseeing experience…sort of. If the thought of attending the annual glitzy New Year’s Eve celebration gives you hives, you can see the midnight countdown re-created on a smaller scale at the Times Square Visitor Center.
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Times Square
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Manhattan’s heart was once a hub for vice, teeming with sex shops and drug dealers. Over time that notorious reputation has eroded, and now the area can feel like a tourist-clogged shopping mall. Still, changes such as the stairs above the TKTS booth and a pedestrian plaza along Broadway have improved the sightseeing experience…sort of. If the thought of attending the annual glitzy New Year’s Eve celebration gives you hives, you can see the midnight countdown re-created on a smaller scale at the Times Square Visitor Center.
You’ll find plenty of iconic New York sites in this multiblock complex: The ground level alone is home to the tourist-packed ice-skating rink, the bronze Atlas statue and the Today show plaza. Higher up, Top of the Rock rivals the Empire State Building in panoramic city views. You may not be able to access the five private rooftop gardens, but you can still peek at the spaces from Saks Fifth Avenue’s eighth-floor shoe department if you’re curious.
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
You’ll find plenty of iconic New York sites in this multiblock complex: The ground level alone is home to the tourist-packed ice-skating rink, the bronze Atlas statue and the Today show plaza. Higher up, Top of the Rock rivals the Empire State Building in panoramic city views. You may not be able to access the five private rooftop gardens, but you can still peek at the spaces from Saks Fifth Avenue’s eighth-floor shoe department if you’re curious.
Bryant Park is a 9.6-acre public park located in the New York City borough of Manhattan. Privately managed, it is located between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan.
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Bryant Park
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Bryant Park is a 9.6-acre public park located in the New York City borough of Manhattan. Privately managed, it is located between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan.
This park is named after neither the Union of the Civil War nor the labor rallies that once took place here, but simply for the union of Broadway and Bowery Lane (now Fourth Avenue). Even so, it does have its radical roots: From the 1920s until the early ’60s, it was a favorite spot for tub-thumping political oratory. Following 9/11, the park became a focal point for the city’s outpouring of grief. These days you'll find the lively Greenmarket in warmer months, holiday shops in the winter and a summer concert series for kids.
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Union Square
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This park is named after neither the Union of the Civil War nor the labor rallies that once took place here, but simply for the union of Broadway and Bowery Lane (now Fourth Avenue). Even so, it does have its radical roots: From the 1920s until the early ’60s, it was a favorite spot for tub-thumping political oratory. Following 9/11, the park became a focal point for the city’s outpouring of grief. These days you'll find the lively Greenmarket in warmer months, holiday shops in the winter and a summer concert series for kids.
The hippies who famously turned up and tuned out in Washington Square Park are still there in spirit, and indeed often in person. In warmer months the park—which was once a potter’s field—is one of the best people-watching spots in the city, hummings with musicians and street artists, while skateboarders clatter near the base of the iconic 1895 Washington Arch (a modest replica of Paris’s Arc de Triomphe). Plus, kids can splash in the area's new fountain on sweltering days.
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Washington Square Park
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The hippies who famously turned up and tuned out in Washington Square Park are still there in spirit, and indeed often in person. In warmer months the park—which was once a potter’s field—is one of the best people-watching spots in the city, hummings with musicians and street artists, while skateboarders clatter near the base of the iconic 1895 Washington Arch (a modest replica of Paris’s Arc de Triomphe). Plus, kids can splash in the area's new fountain on sweltering days.
Food-lovers and fashion-addicts can spend hours browsing the specialty stores in Chelsea's renovated Nabisco factory. Grab a coffee at Ninth Street Espresso and take your sweet time as you get the effect of market shopping all under one roof. Check out fresh catches at the Lobster Place, browse a good range of vino at Chelsea Wine Vault, and pick up Italian cooking staples at Buon Italia. If the rain lets up, you're in prime position to enjoy the High Line without the crowds.
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Chelsea Market
75 9th Ave
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Food-lovers and fashion-addicts can spend hours browsing the specialty stores in Chelsea's renovated Nabisco factory. Grab a coffee at Ninth Street Espresso and take your sweet time as you get the effect of market shopping all under one roof. Check out fresh catches at the Lobster Place, browse a good range of vino at Chelsea Wine Vault, and pick up Italian cooking staples at Buon Italia. If the rain lets up, you're in prime position to enjoy the High Line without the crowds.
Take in a different perspective on the city while walking, running or biking across one of the bridges including the Brooklyn Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge and Manhattan Bridge. Each bridge offers its own experience. The ever-popular Brooklyn Bridge is 1.13 miles (1.82 kilometers), but pedestrians and cyclists share an elevated pathway, plus you get a nice view of both Brooklyn and Manhattan’s skylines and the Statue of Liberty. Time your walk with the sunrise for an unforgettable experience with far fewer tourists sharing the path.
Brooklyn bridge walkway starting point Brooklyn
Take in a different perspective on the city while walking, running or biking across one of the bridges including the Brooklyn Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge and Manhattan Bridge. Each bridge offers its own experience. The ever-popular Brooklyn Bridge is 1.13 miles (1.82 kilometers), but pedestrians and cyclists share an elevated pathway, plus you get a nice view of both Brooklyn and Manhattan’s skylines and the Statue of Liberty. Time your walk with the sunrise for an unforgettable experience with far fewer tourists sharing the path.