There are many free things to do in NYC, including some of the best museums, services, and attractions in the world, including the Brooklyn Bridge. This is the definitive list is for those looking to free things to do in New York City (and almost free). Not all institutions are free every day. Some have one day per week in which the visitor can come in at no cost or on a pay-what-you-wish model. So, with a little bit of planning, you could help keep your money for other things. For more ideas on saving money, then take a read on our visiting New York City on a budget post.
TIP: If you are considering purchasing a New York tourist discount pass, keep in mind that many of them include free entry to the following museums, some of which have free days (see below): 911 Museum, Museum of Modern Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of the Statue of Liberty.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art– The Met is a world-famous art museum and is home to some amazing treasures. The museum advertises that the admission price is a hefty $25, BUT this is ONLY “a suggested donation”. Feel free to pay whatever fits your budget. However, to pay less than the suggested donation, you cannot buy your ticket online. You can only pay less by buying your ticket in person at the museum.
Guggenheim Museum – This famous museum specializes in Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, early Modern, and contemporary art. It is open every day of the week except Thursdays. Admission for adults is $25, students and seniors are $18, and children under 12 are free. Opening hours are from 10am-5:45pm. However, on Saturdays the museum has extended hours, and from 5:45pm-7:45pm tickets sell on a “pay what you wish” basis. The Museum stops selling tickets at 7:15PM and closes at 7:45PM, so make sure to get there as close to 5:45PM as possible. NOTE: For 2017, from 20 June – 29 Aug, the museum will be open until 9pm!
The Museum of Modern Art– The Museum of Modern Art is privately owned, so the admission price ($25) is not a suggestion. However, this museum is FREE every Friday from 4pm-8pm!! This is an excellent way to spend a Friday evening, but it is very popular so get in line early! You cannot get advance tickets for Free Fridays.
Whitney Museum of American Art – The Whitney Museum of American Art is home to one of the foremost collections of modern and contemporary American art. Well-known for their cutting-edge Whitney Biennial, a world-renown exhibition of contemporary American art, typically by young and lesser-known artists, held every two years. In 2015 the Whitney relocated to a brand new, architecturally stunning building located next to the High Line in the Meat-Packing District. Regular admission is Adults $25, Seniors/Students $18, Free 18 years and under. But on Fridays they have Pay-What-You-Wish tickets from 7 pm –9:30 pm! Before or after take a walk on the High Line. You can just stroll, use a self-guided tour or take a guided tour. (See below)
Museum of Arts and Design – Pay what you wish Thursdays from 6-9pm
Museum of Biblical Art – Always free
Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology – Always free
East River Ferry – A great way to get out into the harbor and also neighborhood hop in a more pleasant manner than the subway. The East River Ferry costs the same as a subway ride. An adult One-Way Pass $2.75 and up to two children under the height of 44 inches can ride for free when accompanied by an adult. The ferry routes travel from Midtown Manhattan to Wall Street with stops along the way throughout Brooklyn such as Williamsburg, where you could get off and take our free tour of Williamsburg, DUMBO where you can meet up with our free DUMBO Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn Bridge Tour. Read our in-depth post on this exciting new ferry.
Staten Island Ferry – The Staten Island commuter ferry is ALWAYS FREE offers incredible views of the NYC skyline, as well as iconic sites such as the Statue of Liberty. The ferry departs Lower Manhattan and takes approximately 25 minutes to reach Staten Island, where you could get off and explore or just get back on and return to Manhattan.
Water Taxi IKEA Shuttle Ferry – The best way to get between Red Hook Brooklyn and Wall Street Terminal. It’s free on weekends and $5 on weekdays. However, if you make at least a $10 purchase at IKEA, then your weekday ride is free.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden – Another hidden green oasis in NYC, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is free every Tuesday and always free for children under 12. Take advantage of this peaceful place for no cost at all!
New York Aquarium – A great way to take a break from the city. During the summer, the aquarium is free on Fridays from 4-6pm, and from 3-5pm in the fall.
New York Botanical Garden– There are 50 gardens spread over 250 acres at the Botanical Gardens (located in The Bronx), including more than 30,000 mature trees. Admission to the grounds is free to the public every Wednesday and from 9am-10am on Saturdays.
Queens Botanical Gardens – The botanical gardens offers a wide range of tours. Free April through October on Sundays 9-11AM (except festival days). Please visit their website for updates on seasonal hours.
The most concentrated pocket of art galleries in New York City is in Chelsea, between 10th and 11th Avenues in the 20’s. For a detailed map of galleries and details about upcoming shows, visit www.chelseagallerymap.com. See some amazing art… for free! Many art gallery shows open on Thursday nights, so if you are in town swing by and catch the art and the opening night reception.
General Ulysses S. Grant National Memorial (aka Grant’s Tomb) – the final resting place of the former United States President and his wife, Julia, is the largest mausoleum in the US. The exterior is modeled after the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World. The memorial is in Morningside Heights, at 122nd St and Riverside Drive. Free to visit!
The Hamilton Grange National Memorial – The area of Harlem that is now called Hamilton Heights was once the country estate of Alexander Hamilton. The Hamilton Grange National Memorial includes the country house that Hamilton hired architect John McCombs Jr. to design. (McCombs Jr. was a part of the team that designed City Hall.) The house has been moved from its original location a couple of times, and now rests in St. Nicholas Park (at 141st St). Free to visit!
The National September 11th Museum– Closing time depends on the season. The museum closes at 7pm in the colder months and 9pm in the warmer months. Free admission on Tuesdays from 5pm until close.
Soldiers and Sailors Monument – Always open and free!
Theodore Roosevelt Birth Place – Closed on Sundays and Mondays; open every other day from 9am-5pm. Free to visit!
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – Attend a free taping of the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Tickets tend to be booked way in advance, so be sure to plan ahead. Learn how to get tickets by clicking here.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert – Like the Tonight Show, the Late Show offers free tickets to attend live tapings. Click here for more details.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah – Guests can reserve tickets in advance through the Daily Show website. All tickets are free, though guests must be at least 18 and only 4 tickets are allowed per booking. Guests who are unable to book a reservation in advance can follow the @TheDailyShow on twitter to check for last minute, same day tickets. Read our full post on how to get tickets.
Gospel Music – Most people’s New York City “must-do” list includes attending a gospel service. Fortunately there are so many to choose from. There are many to choose from and we have some recommendations for you. Take a look at our post on the best Gospel services and Gospel Tours. Since so many church choirs are located in Harlem, you should take the opportunity to do some exploring. Free Tours by Foot offers a free Harlem Renaissance and Gospel Music Tour as well as a free self-guided tour.
Concerts at Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel– While a church may not seem a likely place to find a great concert, Trinity Church offers wonderful free concerts, both at Trinity and at St. Paul’s Chapel. Catch Pipes at One, an organ recital at 1 pm every Wednesday in February! For a full calendar of music events, visit www.trinitywallstreet.org.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Late Night Session– Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola offers a late night session that begins at 11:30 pm. Unlike the sessions earlier in the evening, which can run up to $40 for the cover charge, the late night session is only $5 for cover! See the up-and-comers of the jazz world! No reservations required. Visit www.jalc.org to see who is performing!
Jazz at St. Peter’s Church – This church, located at 619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th St.), offers a jazz concert every Wednesday at 1pm. They request that you make a donation at the door (it all goes to continuing the program), but, like many of the activities listed, pay what you can afford.
Movies Under the Stars– A favorite summer activity of New Yorkers is watching movies outdoors for free in select parks throughout the city. There are so many offerings you could see a different movie almost every night of the week for the whole summer and not pay a cent! Most popular is the Bryant Park Monday Movie night. Our fave is the Thursday night series at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Our Brooklyn Heights Sunset tour finishes right nearby- perfect timing! For a complete schedule of all city movie locations, see this Free Outdoor Summer Movie Guide.
Subway musicians – A never-ending source of free music and performances can be found on the streets and subway platforms of New York City. Chances are that you will spontaneously come across a busker or performer, but if you want to find them first, check our post New York City Street Performers and Subway Music.
Museum of Chinese in America – A unique museum that specializing in sharing the history and heritage of Chinese-Americans of the last century. The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday from 11am-6pm, though it has extended hours until 9pm on Thursdays. General admission is $10, though children under the age of 12 get in for free. On the first Thursday of every month, admission is free for everyone!
The Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue – The museum is open Sunday-Thursday from 10am-5pm, and on Fridays from 10am-3pm. It is closed on Saturdays and major Jewish holidays. Tours of the synagogue run on the hour, every hour, until closing. The cost of admission is $12 for adults, $10 for students, and $8 for children. However, guests can receive a 25% discount if they visit Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays. Every Monday, admission and tours of the synagogue are free for groups of 6 people or less.
The National Museum of the American Indian – This wonderful museum, which is housed in the historic Alexander Hamilton Custom House, is absolutely wonderful. Best of all, because it is a part of the Smithsonian Institution, it is absolutely free all the time.
African Burial Ground National Museum – Always free
Asia Society – Free Fridays, Sept-June, from 6-9 pm
Hispanic Society of America – Always free
Irish Hunger Memorial – Always free
Japan Society – Free Fridays, 6-9pm
Jewish Museum – Saturday free; Thursday 5-8pm Pay What You Wish
Museum of Jewish Heritage – Free Wednesdays, from 4-8pm
Scandinavia House The Nordic Center in America – Always free
The American Museem of Natural History – This museum, referred to in shorthand as AMNH, also operated as a suggested donation museum. The suggested amount is $22 for adults and $12.50 for kids (2-12). Admission includes all 45 halls and the Rose Center for Earth and Space. If the suggested price is no problem for you and you want to support the museum- fantastic! If this is too much, pay whatever works for you and go visit the dinosaurs. When you purchase online, however, you must pay the full price. NOTE: General Admission to the museum does not get you into the Hayden Planetarium Show or the IMAX.
New York Historical Society – This is both a museum and a library that is a must for anyone hoping to learn more about the history of New York City. It is closed on Sunday and Mondays, but open to the public Tuesday-Friday from 9am-3pm, and Saturdays from 10am-3pm. General admission is $19 for adults and $6 for kids 12 and under. Historians lead free tours of the museum at 2pm and 3:30pm. Also, guests can visit the museum on a “pay what you like” basis if visiting on Fridays from 6-8pm.
New York Public Library Tours– The New York Public Library is a must-see during your visit to NYC, and they offer free guided tours of the Main Branch Building (5th Avenue and 42nd Street) every day at 11am and 2pm. (2pm only on Sundays.) The library is massive, so having someone to show you around is great!
Historic Richmond Town– The largest cultural institution in Staten Island. Daily tours available. Free Fridays 1-5pm.
The King Manor Museumlocated in an old farmhouse, it is dedicated to Rufus King, one of the authors of the Constitution and a fierce abolitionist. They have lectures, family crafts, and festivals several times a year. Admission is suggested and is: Adults $5, Seniors and Students $3, Children 16 and under free. You can pay the suggested admission or any amount you’d like, including free.
Obviously, Free Tours by Foot offers a host of neighborhood tours that are free to take and work on a pay-what-you-wish basis. Check out our free New York tour schedule. However, there are several other tours, often run by neighborhood associations or development corporations, that are free. Most ask for a pay-what-you-wish donation. Here is a list of many of them. Schedules accurate at time of writing. Be sure to double check the schedules before attending one of these neighborhood tours.
Big Apple Greeters – a non-profit organization that pairs up visitors with real New Yorkers. Theoretically, you can get a tour of any neighborhood in New York City. Space is very limited, as the service relies on volunteers. So, be sure to book very early with them.
Central Park – The Central Park Conservancy offers several walking tours, many of which are free to take (donations accepted). They also offer a free app to guide you through the park. Free Tours by Foot also offers free Central Park tours as well as a free self-guided tour.
Grand Central Terminal – Dubbed “The Grand Tour” and run by the Grand Central Partnership, these 90 minute tours do not focus solely on the terminal itself, rather the neighborhood as a whole. Tours are every Friday at 12:30. No reservations required. Also check out tour free Grand Central Terminal Tour.
Greenwich Village – The Village Alliance offers free guided tours (donations accepted). The dates for 2017 are every Saturday from June 3 to September 23 at 11:30 am at St. Marks Church (northwest corner of Second Avenue and E. 10th Street). They also have posted on their website short thematic self-guided tours such as Village Foundations about the very early days of the area and also Film and TV Locations, and others. For longer more in-depth guided tours, Free Tours by Foot offers guided tours of Greenwich Village as well as food tours of Greenwich Village. We also have a guide to Greenwich Village with a handy map, a self-guided tour, suggestions of things to do, where to eat, shop and have fun!
The High Line– Docents from Friends of the High Line offer free (donations accepted) walking tours of the High Line on Tuesdays at 6:30 pm and Saturdays at 10 am. Tours take place only during the warm weather months. Also check out our free High Line Tours, which run year round. We also offer a free self-guided tour of the High Line.
Lower East Side – The LES Business Improvement Development District offers free tours every Sunday at 11 am from April through December. A free tour that covers the Lower East Side in all aspects. This is not a food tour. This tour ends in time for you to take our 1 pm Lower East Side Food Tour. Check out this free self-guided tour of the Lower East Side.
Union Square – 90 minute walking tours titled “Crossroads of New York”. Every Saturday at 2 pm. Reservations required only for groups.
Brooklyn Brewery Tours– This brewery in Williamsburg offers free tours every half hour from 1pm-5pm on Saturdays and from 1pm-4pm on Sundays. Get glimpse into the brewing process and then taste some beer! The tours are first-come, first-serve- no reservations necessary. The Brewery is located at 79 N. 11th St in Brooklyn.
The Federal Reserve Bank– How often are you going to get to see piles of gold bars? The guided tours of the New York Federal Reserve Bank are absolutely FREE, but you do have to book in advance. (www.newyorkfed.org) Six time slots per day, Monday-Friday, are offered, but they fill up very quickly! Plan ahead!
City Hall Lunchtime Tours– While tours of our beautiful City Hall are always free, they usually require advance reservations. Every Wednesday at noon, however, this tour is available on a first-come, first-serve basis without reservations. Sign-in is at the NYC tourism kiosk at Broadway and Barclay St from 10am-11:30am.
Museum of American Finance– This museum is pretty reasonably priced on any day, ($8), but for all of 2014 The Museum of American Finance will be free every Saturday!! The museum is open from 10am-4pm. Pair a visit to this museum with one of our Lower Manhattan Tours! (See calendar for dates/times.)
New York Hall of Science– Over 450 exhibits and presentations available. General admission ticket is usually $15 for adults and $12 for children. Free Fridays, Sept-June, from 2-5pm
The Bronx Zoo– The Bronx Zoo is the world’s largest metropolitan zoo, encompassing 265 acres. It boasts being home to over 6,000 animals! The Bronx Zoo is normally $16.95 for adult admission, but on Wednesdays the zoo operates on a “pay what you wish” basis. Enjoy this amazing zoo and pay what fits your budget! Members of the U.S. military are entitled to free admission.
Staten Island Zoo – Includes an aquarium, an extensive bird exhibit, and much more. Free on Wednesdays after 2pm.