What to Do in New York City: 31 Iconic and Free Things to Do
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Adored by locals and revered by travellers, New York is the pulsating, colourful capital of the world. From hipster neighbourhoods to shimmering skyscrapers there is something to entertain and entice anyone who visits. Wondering what the big city has to offer for you? Read on for our ultimate guide to what to do in New York City.
There are some things every visitor to New York should experience — whether it’s seeing a Broadway show or visiting an iconic museum. Whatever you plan to do while in the Big Apple, make sure these top ten attractions are on your list.
1. Statue of Liberty
Located on Liberty Island in New York harbour, the 93-metre-high Statue of Liberty represents Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. To get to it, you need to take a ferry from Battery Park. Once on the island, you can take a guided tour or visit the new museum, which is set to open in May 2019. You can also do the precarious climb to Lady Liberty’s crown for sweeping views of the harbour.
- Location: Liberty Island
- Cost: Adults USD 23.50, children USD 12, seniors USD 18, children under 4 free
- Open: Daily, 8.30 am–5 pm
- Pro tip: If you want to go up to the crown, you will need to book tickets several weeks in advance.
2. American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)
With five floors, 45 rooms and millions of specimens, New York’s Museum of Natural History is one of the largest museums in the world. It explores everything to do with Planet Earth from ocean life to the origins of man. Exhibits include a life-size blue whale and giant T-rex, making it a firm favourite with children. Leave enough time to see it all!
- Location: Central Park West & 79th Street
- Cost: Adults USD 23, children USD 13, concessions USD 18. Special exhibitions cost extra.
- Open: Daily. 10 am – 5:45 pm
- Pro tip: Highlights tours take place every day and are ideal if you are visiting the museum for the first time.
3. 9/11 memorial
The 9/11 memorial is visited by millions of people every year and is a sobering reminder of one of the world's deadliest acts of terrorism. Where the Twin Towers once stood, there are now two huge sunken pools around which the name of each victim is inscribed. The nearby museum houses exhibitions about the attacks and the victims, as well as some moving artwork.
- Location: 180 Greenwich Street
- Cost for Museum: Adults USD 26, children USD 15, seniors & students USD 20, veterans USD 18. The memorial is free to visit.
- Open: 9 am – 8 pm (Sun to Thurs), 9 am – 9 pm (Fri and Sat)
- Pro tip: Don’t miss the Last Column, a 36-foot-high beam from the South Tower which has been covered in mementos by those who were at the scene.
4. Empire State Building
A classic landmark of epic proportions, the Empire State Building is 443 metres high and has 73 lifts and 6,500 windows. During its construction, 3,400 men worked on it every day! The view from the 102nd floor is breathtaking in the daytime, but at night it is out of this world.
- Location: 20 West 34th Street
- Cost: Adults USD 75, children USD 69, seniors USD 73
- Open: Daily. 8 am – 2 am
- Pro tip: Don’t miss the art deco lobby, which is a national landmark.
5. Whitney Museum of Art
A vast institution in the meatpacking district, the Whitney has works by every significant American artist of the twentieth century. Highlights include paintings by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe and Jasper Johns. Architecture fans should make a beeline for the Whitney too — its dramatic angular building is the work of world-famous architect Renzo Piano.
- Location: 99 Gansevoort Street
- Cost: Adults USD 25, students, seniors and concessions USD 18, children under 18 free
- Open: 10 am – 6 pm (Mon to Thurs and Sun), 10 am – 10 pm (Fri and Sat)
- Pro tip: Combine your visit with a trip along the Highline, New York’s elevated public park, which begins on Gansevoort Street.
6. A Broadway show
Seeing a show on Broadway is a classic way to spend a night out in New York. There is a huge variety of productions to choose from; the most popular, like Hamilton, have been running for years, while new ones open all the time. If you're visiting as a family and want to keep the kids happy for a few hours, there are plenty of shows that children will adore too, including The Lion King and Harry Potter.
- Location: Theater District
- Cost: Upwards of USD 50 per person
- Pro tip: For cheap tickets, queue at the TKTS desk in Times Square on the day of the performance.
7. Manhattan cruise
One of the best ways to see Manhattan is from the water. Sightseeing ferry boats leave from Pier 83 in Hudson River Park and sail around Manhattan daily, and the views are astounding. The route takes you alongside skyscrapers, under 20 bridges and past the Statue of Liberty. And, the boats sell beer. It’s a win-win!
- Location: Pier 83 West 42nd Street
- Pro tip: Wrap up warm as it can get windy and cold on the water even in summer.
8. Yankee Stadium
Setting foot in the sacred Yankee stadium is a must for all sports fans. On the stadium tour, you'll get to see the view from the press box and visit Monument Park where the greats of baseball are honoured. You can combine the tour with tickets to a game for the full experience. Game tickets can be bought via several different booking apps and are often discounted on the day if a game hasn't sold out.
- Location: 1 East 161 Street, The Bronx
- Cost: Anything from USD 15 to thousands of dollars
- Pro tip: One way to see a Yankee Stadium game if you are on a budget is to get bleacher seats. While these seats don’t have the best view, they can go for as little as USD 15.
9. Coney Island
Coney Island has entertained New York’s fun-lovers for more than 170 years. The quirky Brooklyn neighbourhood boasts a beach and theme park where you can ride the famous Cyclone. Once you’ve scared yourself silly on a 91-year old wooden roller-coaster, enjoy some classic American food — think hot dogs, cheese fries, and lobster rolls. It’s kitschy, nostalgic and fun.
- Location: Brooklyn
- Cost: Entrance is free. You can buy a Luna Pass starting from USD 29 that will give you access to any rides.
- Pro tip: Grab a hot dog from Nathan’s Famous, which has been dishing them up since 1916.
10. Comedy clubs
Everyone from Robin Williams to Amy Schumer has played a New York comedy club, so go watch and you might just catch a show by a future superstar. You can see comedy all over the city, but many of the legendary clubs can be found around Broadway and Times Square. To discover what's going on and where, consult a local listings website or a city guide.
- Location: City-wide
- Cost: Upwards of USD 10 per person
- Pro tip: While the big comedy clubs charge plenty for tickets, smaller venues where newcomers test out their material are often free.
Spend any length of time in NYC, and it will start to make a serious dent in your wallet. Luckily, the city is one of the best in the world for free activities. You can score free theatre tickets, entry to museums and much more. Keep reading for our list of free things to do in New York.
1. Visit Times Square
Glitzy, trashy Times Square is loved and hated by New Yorkers. On the surface, there seems to be nothing more than tacky attractions, chain restaurants and cavernous flagship stores. However, if you look hard enough, you will find the real New York in the authentic diners, ancient dive bars and comedy clubs.
- Location: Midtown
- Pro tip: For a classic Times Square experience, sit on the Red Steps above the TKTS booth and watch the world rush by.
2. Visit the New York Public Library
Built at the turn of the century, the building has a beautiful interior of chandeliers, brass and mural-painted ceilings that is well worth seeing, and it’s free to enter. Free one-hour tours take place at 11 am and 2 pm Mondays to Saturdays and at 2 pm on Sundays.
- Location: 476 5th Avenue
- Open: 10 am – 6 pm (Mon, Thurs, Fri, Sat), 10 am – 8 pm (Tues, Weds), 1 pm – 5 pm (Sun)
- Pro tip: The third-floor hallways have murals depicting the history of the written word.
3. Visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
MoMA is the most important modern art gallery in the US, and a top destination for art lovers. Its vast collection of almost 200,000 works includes icons like Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. Every Friday the museum opens its doors for free from 4 pm until 8 pm.
- Location: 11 West 53 Street
- Open: 10:30 am – 5:30 pm (Mon – Thurs, Sat, Sun), 10:30 am – 8 pm (Fri)
- Pro tip: Free Fridays can get extremely busy, so arrive early to avoid the queues.
4. Explore Central Park
Central Park is made up of 843 acres of woods, gardens, lakes and peaceful corners. There is a huge variety of things to see and do, and most of them don’t cost a penny. Bird watching in the North Woods and catch-and-release fishing in the Harlem Meer are just two of the free activities on offer.
- Location: North of Midtown
- Open: Daily. 6 am – 1 am
- Pro tip: On the weekend, there are regular free tours exploring different areas of the park. Check the central park’s website for more details.
5. See Shakespeare in the Park
Every summer The Public Theatre stages two Shakespeare productions in Central Park’s outdoor Delacorte Theatre, and all tickets are free. The shows are well-produced and hugely popular with locals and tourists alike. There are only two ways to get your hands on tickets — either take part in a lottery (there is a slim chance of winning) or stand in line at the box office for a few hours on the morning of the performance.
- Location: 81 Central Park West
- Pro tip: If you want to guarantee tickets, be in the queue before 9 am.
6. Visit Grand Central Terminal
With its golden clock and century-old oyster bar, Grand Central Terminal is one of the great romantic symbols of New York. The station is full of beautiful architectural details; chandeliers, Valencian tiles, 100-year-old leaded glass windows. Although not strictly free, don’t miss the chance to have a drink in the cocktail bar, where you’ll feel like the star of a classic Hollywood movie.
- Location: 89 E 42nd Street
- Open: Daily. 5:30 am – 2 am
- Pro tip: Central Market on the lower level serves posh takes on American fare like five-cheese grilled cheese sandwiches and truffle fries!
7. Get tickets to a live TV show
A fun free thing you can do in New York is be part of a TV show’s live audience. There are two main ways to do this: one, reserve tickets in advance on the show’s website, or two, for shows that don’t have an advance ticket system (including Saturday Night Live) wait in line at the studio on the day for a standby ticket. If you can’t make a show’s recording time, you can sometimes get tickets for a rehearsal.
- Location: City-wide
- Pro tip: Some shows have a dress code for the studio audience — check in advance.
8. Ride the Staten Island Ferry
In the eighteenth century, sailboats and steamboats transported New Yorkers to and from Staten Island. The modern-day ferry leaves from the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan and takes around 25 minutes to reach the Island. On the way, you will get unrivalled free views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan.
- Location: 4 South Street
- Open: Daily. 24 hours. Ferries run every 15 – 30 minutes.
- Pro tip: Avoid the hours of 6 am – 9 am and 5 pm – 7 pm, when the ferries are packed with commuters.
9. Explore Chinatown
A visit to Chinatown is a sensory expedition to Asia; you can find everything from baked pork buns to Chinese porcelain in the jumble of restaurants and shops. Rummage around the intriguing grocery stores and herbalists or take a walk in Columbus Park where locals can be found practising tai chi and playing mahjong.
- Location: Lower Manhattan
- Pro tip: Take a peek at the large gold Buddha in the Mahayana Buddhist Temple on Canal Street, which permits tourists to enter.
10. Admire Street Art in Bushwick
During the past eight or nine years, street artists have turned the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bushwick into a free open-air gallery. Although graffiti is illegal in New York, the artists sought permission from local businesses beforehand and painted eye-catching murals to help them drum up business. The area has become a vibrant place to hang out with plenty of boutiques and cafes.
- Location: North Brooklyn
- Pro tip: Some of the best streets for seeing the art are Jefferson Street, Starr Street and Flushing Avenue.
11. Walk the High Line
The 2.3 km long High Line is an abandoned train line that once transported meat and dairy products across New York. It has been transformed into a public park giving visitors a unique and free way to see the city. Starting in the meatpacking district, the High Line runs alongside the Hudson River to West 34th Street, meaning you can combine the walk with other attractions like the Whitney or Hudson Yards.
- Location: West Side of Manhattan
- Open: Daily. 7 am – 10 pm (11 pm in summer – June, July, August)
- Pro tip: There are free tours of the High Line every Tuesday and Saturday in summer; check the High Line website for details.
12. Cross Brooklyn Bridge
The first steel-wire suspension bridge in the world, Brooklyn Bridge is a well-known piece of New York’s history. The breezy 2 km walk across it takes around forty minutes, and whether you start at the Manhattan or Brooklyn end, the views are spectacular. Sunset is the most romantic time to cross the bridge, and you also get to see the night time skyline for free.
- Location: Park Row and Centre Street. (Manhattan side), Tillary Street (Brooklyn side)
- Pro tip: The bridge gets busy with tourists so if you want a quiet experience without the crowds, visit in the early morning.
13. Explore Harlem
Harlem is one of New York’s most exciting and historic neighbourhoods. Visit the Apollo Theater, where Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown started their careers or explore the area on a Sunday morning when you might be able to watch a gospel choir in action. Harlem is a fantastic destination for foodies; you can get everything from Somalian roast goat to Caribbean steamed crab, as well as the Soul Food the area is known for.
- Location: 110th Street to 150th Street
- Pro tip: The Red Rooster is a popular Soul Food restaurant where you can also hear live jazz several nights of the week.
14. Visit Movie Locations
New York is brimming with movie and TV locations that you can visit for free. Some of the famous ones are Grand Central Terminal (North by Northwest), Tiffany’s (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and Katz’s Deli (When Harry Met Sally). You can also spend days if not weeks looking for Friends and Gossip Girl locations, and then there’s Sex and the City, and Spiderman…how long have you got?
- Location: City-wide
- Pro tip: Want to see a new movie being made in New York? The website onlocationvacations.com lists everywhere in the city where filming is going on.
15. Visit Wall Street
The history of Wall Street is fascinating; the street was the location of New York’s slave market as well as the city’s first ever bank. Although there are few historic sights left today, you can still get a thrill from being in the heart of New York’s money mecca. Don’t miss the famous Fearless Girl, who now stands facing the New York Stock Exchange.
- Location: Broadway to South Street in Lower Manhattan
- Pro tip: Rub the sculpture of the charging bull on Bowling Green to get lucky with your investments.
16. Bike around Governor’s Island
A former fort and military outpost, Governor’s Island is now a city escape popular with locals as well as tourists. It boasts green open spaces and is a car-free zone, making it an excellent place to go biking (free bike hire is available on the island). On weekends before noon, the South Street ferry is free, so if you take a picnic, you can enjoy a day out without spending anything at all.
- Location: New York Harbour
- Open: Daily. 10 am – 7 pm (May 1 – October 31)
- Pro tip: Outlook Hill at the southern end of the island is the place to get a perfect photo of the Harbour.
17. Greenwich Village
To get to know Greenwich Village, do as the locals do — that means getting coffee, going for brunch, browsing the eclectic shops and taking a stroll in Washington Square Park. You’ll find live music and comedy happening every night of the week, as well as some of the city’s best bars and restaurants.
- Location: West side of Lower Manhattan
- Pro tip: MacDougal Street is home of a legendary comedy club the Comedy Cellar.
Of all the things to do in New York City, trying the city’s various foods is surely the most fun. Where else in the world can you find pastrami egg rolls or marshmallow-topped pizza? Quirky food mash-ups aside, some things — like pizza and bagels — are ubiquitous in New York. Read on for our pick of things foodies should enjoy.
1. New York pizza
Pizza is a staple food in New York, and you cannot visit the city without having at least one ‘slice to go.’ The city’s historic pizza shops include Lombardi’s in Little Italy, John’s on Bleeker Street and Totonno’s on Coney Island. If you want to find your own favourite pizza place, concentrate your search on Brooklyn, Greenwich Village and Little Italy.
- Location: City-wide
- Cost: Upwards of USD 1
- Pro tip: One of the most famous pizzas in New York is the black truffle pizza served at the Mark Hotel on Madison Avenue.
2. New York bagels
Bagels first arrived in New York with Eastern European immigrants at the turn of the century. Historic bagel shops include Kossars on Grand Street which opened in 1936 and Russ and Daughters on East Houston Street which opened in 1914. These days, bagel shops are everywhere in New York, so whether you fancy classic lox, a bacon egg and cheese for breakfast or even a rainbow bagel, you’ll have no problem satisfying your craving!
- Location: City-wide
- Cost: Upwards of USD 1
- Pro tip: Many bagel shops take payment in cash only so check before you get to the front of the line.
Kombucha ice lolly, anyone? Pizza cupcake? Smorgasburg food market is where to go for the quirkiest, most instagrammable food in the city. Taking place in three different locations on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, this market is for those who think food should be seriously fun.
- Location: World Trade Centre (Fridays), East River Park (Saturdays), Prospect Park (Sundays)
- Open: 11:30 am – 7 pm (Fri), 11 am – 6 pm (Sat and Sun)
- Pro tip: If you really want to try a certain food at Smorgasburg, get there early as it is likely to sell out.
4. Chelsea Market
One of New York’s best destinations for food lovers, Chelsea market is the size of a block and is filled with all kinds of unusual eateries. Whether you fancy crepes or ceviche, you will find it here. Food and wine tastings happen frequently, and the market opens late into the night.
- Location: 75 9th Avenue
- Cost: Upwards of USD 1
- Open: 7 am – 2 am (Mon to Sat), 8 am – 10 pm (Sun)
- Pro tip: From the High Line there is direct access to the market so you can combine your visit with a great city walk.
There are things to do in New York City every second of every day — which is why New Yorkers refer to their home as the greatest city in the world. So, if you’re heading there, don’t worry — whatever you love doing, you’ll be able to do it in NYC!