24 Cool Free Things to Do in NYC All Year Round

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Planning a trip to NYC and need to stick to a strict budget? There are so many cool free things to do in NYC, no matter what you like to do or when you visit.

You can watch movies, go to concerts, visit museums, explore art galleries, walk through a garden oasis, find incredible views, and take a ferry ride, all for free!

And if you want something a little less planned out, you might just find yourself wandering aimlessly through Central Park, people-watching in Times Square, or scoping out some of the street murals downtown.

And while some things are always gonna be a little pricey, if you follow this guide, you’ll be able to find enough free stuff to do in NYC to balance it all out. 

Cool Free Things to Do in NYC All Year Round

Free Outdoor Activities in NYC

If you want the most opportunities for free outdoor activities in NYC, the best time to visit is between April and October. 

Even though most outdoor things are available throughout the year, New York can be very harsh in the winter, and you’ll probably want to spend more time indoors than out. 

For being the “concrete jungle,” there are actually so many beautiful open and green spaces that are popular with the locals and great free tourist attractions in NYC too. 

New York’s many botanical gardens, parks, and other pedestrianized spaces will offer a different free activity every day of the week.

Discover more outdoor things to do in NYC with this guide.

Central Park

Central Park is perhaps the quintessential place to go in NYC for free things to do – especially in the summertime.

Aside from the many fields, playgrounds, bodies of water, and wooded areas to explore, there are also free concerts, theater performances, pop-up activities, and organized guided activities you can partake in too.

It stretches from 59th St to 110th st and spans from 5th ave to 8th ave; with many entrances and exits along the way. 

Water fountain in Central Park, NYC with crowds

The Highline 

 The Highline is a free public park built on an abandoned elevated rail line where people can walk through gardens, enjoy the city views, take a break, have lunch, see some local art, listen to music, and more.

It stretches between 34th Street and 12th Ave to Gansevoort St and Washington St, with several entrances and exits.  

Green and blooming elevated park, The High Line in New York

Kayaking at Pier 96

Kayaking at Pier 96 ( Pier 96 Boathouse at W 55 St.) runs on weekends from late May to early October and is one of the lesser-known free activities in NYC.

They supply everything you’ll need for an afternoon on the water, and minors are also able to partake with the proper adult supervision. 

Bryant Park

Bryant Park (5th ave 40th st) has the best free things to do in NYC year round, from free yoga and movies in the summer to the free Winter Village in the winter (including the city’s only free admission ice skating rink).

You can also see Broadway performances, play board games, attend a fitness bootcamp, listen to concert performances, grab a book to read, and more throughout the year. 

It is one of the top places to go in NYC for free.

Sunny day in Bryant Park with modern buildings framed by trees

Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park (W 4th St. and Macdougal St.) is known for its iconic arch and is one of the best free places to visit in NYC because it has a little bit of everything.

You can picnic under the trees, play chess on the provided tables, let your dogs play at the dog park, get a great photo app, listen to the street performers, watch people create art or dance, and even jump into the fountain in the hot weather. 

Washington Square Park fountain in flow

The Staten Island Ferry 

The Staten Island Ferry (4 Whitehall Street) is a completely free ferry operating 24 hours a day 7 days a week, between the southern tip of Manhattan and Staten Island.

The ferry is not only the most fun way to visit Staten Island but also a very popular way to see the Statue of Liberty (from a distance). 

This is a great tour to take if you’re visiting NYC on a budget.

Staten Island ferry at dawn with sunset

Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

 Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden (1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island) has free admission year-round and offers more than just a beautiful garden and cultural center.

There are also many different events, such as art installations, performing arts, and many tours showing off different parts of the garden.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden (900 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn) has free weekly admissions from December to February.

You’ll love the gorgeous gardens, but you can also participate in various events geared towards kids and families or adult programs. 

New York Botanic Garden

The New York Botanic Garden (2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx) has free grounds admissions on Wednesdays from 10 am to 11 am and for NYC residents all day on Wednesdays.

There’s so much to do at the NYBG for visitors of all ages; it is a living museum, an educational institution, and plant research and conservation organization. 

Queens Botanical Garden

The Queens Botanical Garden (43-50 Main Street, Queens) admission is free November-March and throughout the year on Wednesdays from 3 pm to 6 pm and Sundays from 9 am to 11 am.

They offer fun, family-friendly winter activities like musical performances, a walking tour series, and winter-themed workshops.

Free Indoor Activities in NYC 

There’s nothing worse than inclement weather to spoil your holiday plans, but a rainy day is no match for New York City. 

There are plenty of free attractions in New York; the city has over 100 museums, many of which are completely free or have varying free admission times. 

Plus, you could wander through all the cool boutiques, visit some art galleries, explore famous landmarks, and so much more.

For more indoor NYC activities, read this guide.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue) is perhaps one of the most famous museums in NYC and holds over 5,000 years of beautiful art from around the world.

They have a “pay-what-you-wish” policy for general admission for New York State residents and NY, NJ, CT students (with valid ID).

American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History (200 Central Park West) has over 30 permanent exhibits ranging from cultural artifacts to fossils to space – including the very popular Hayden Planetarium. 

They have a “pay-what-you-wish” policy for general admission for NY, NJ, and CT residents (with valid ID).

New York Public Library

New York Public Library‘s flagship location (Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street) offers books, films, and music and free author talks, performances, and exhibitions year-round. 

Even if you don’t want to partake in the events, the library is a gorgeous place to wander around and relax with a good book and enjoy one of the top free things to do in NYC.

Macy’s Flower Show

Macy’s Flower Show (151 W 34th street) is a two-week annual event in early spring where the ground floor of Macy’s Herald Square is filled with thousands and thousands of flowers that reflect that year’s theme.

Previous themes have included “Carnival”, “The Secret Garden”, and “Art in Bloom”; it is free to enter and wander around the floral wonderland.

Ford Foundation Atrium Garden

The Ford Foundation Atrium Garden (320 E 43rd St) is an indoor oasis with dozens of species of flora that provides a place of quiet beauty in the heart of the city.

The garden is wheelchair accessible and includes inclusive sensory options, and is free to the public year-round. 

Chelsea Art Galleries 

Take an “art crawl” through the many art galleries in Chelsea (20-29th street from 10th-11th avenue) for a more intimate view of the New York art scene.

They have free entry, and you can even scope out the galleries and make a plan ahead of time using this interactive map.

9/11 Memorial Museum 

The 9/11 Memorial Museum (180 Greenwich Street) tells the story of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks using multimedia artifacts and personal narratives. 

They offer free admission on Mondays from 3:30 – 5:00 pm and have many educational and kid-friendly resources so the whole family can understand the attacks at an age-appropriate level. 

Brooklyn Brewery 

Brooklyn Brewery (79 N 11th St, Brooklyn) is a great spot to visit for any beer lover in your group; you can learn all the behind-the-scenes info on the free hourly tours every Sunday between 1:00–6:00 pm.

Afterwards, visit the store and get a drink or check out any of the frequent events they have on location. 

Brooklyn Museum 

The Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn) has free admission on the first Saturday of the month from 5–11 pm and is free for anyone 19 and under, all year.

It is the second largest art museum in New York, and its 1.5 million art pieces mainly focus on varying world cultures.

The Bronx Museum of the Arts

The Bronx Museum of the Arts (1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx) focuses on contemporary art collections and offers free admission all year long.

Free Things to Do in NYC at Night 

New York is always the most magical when it’s all lit up and sparkly, and while there are fewer free things to do in NYC at night than during the day, there’s still plenty to keep you going. 

You can explore the twinkly cityscape, have a late-night laugh, or just walk until the sun comes up.

Find more things to do in NYC at night with this guide.

Midnight Moment

Midnight Moment (Times Square) is the world’s largest and longest-running digital public art program; it runs from 11:57 pm – 12:00 am from 41st to 49th Street.

Contemporary art is displayed across 92 digital display screens; to date, over 100 artists have had the chance to have their work featured across Times Square. 

Lit up boards at Times Square at night

Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live (30 Rockefeller Plaza) tapings are hard to come by- but if you’re lucky (and patient and dedicated), you might get to participate in one of the ultimate cool free things to do in NYC.

You can get standby tickets for the 8:00 pm dress rehearsal, or 11:30 pm live broadcasts.

Rockefeller Entrance at night with purple light

The Comedy Shop

The Comedy Shop (167 Bleecker Street) offers free admission in exchange for a one drink minimum.

While you sip on your drink, keep it from coming out of your nose while you laugh out loud at some of New York’s top comics. 

The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the best well-known free attractions in NYC, but walking across the bridge at night is a different experience, especially if you’re from the Brooklyn side into Manhattan. 

Walking across at sunset or early dusk is the best time to watch the city light up.

Sunset over Brooklyn Bridge in New York

Final Thoughts

Sure, NYC is expensive, but there are definitely better options you can choose if you want to visit The Big Apple on a small budget.

If you visit in the summer, there are tons of free options available, but things like hotels and travel might be more expensive.

If you visit in the winter, hotel and travel costs will be more affordable, but it will be cold for many of the fun outdoors free activities.

No matter when you come, this guide will help point you to some of the best free activities in New York.

Check out this Free NYC Bucket List if you’re looking for more things to do in the city.

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