I’m from Philadelphia, the fifth most populous city in the United States. I’ve visited many of the world’s great cities, including London, Paris, Madrid, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, and Cape Town. However, the one that still most intimidates me is only 100 miles up I-95 from our home. It’s New York City, the Big Apple, Gotham, the City that Never Sleeps. I asked travel bloggers to share with us their favorite free things to do in New York City. Here are their suggestions:
Seven Free Things to Do in New York City
1. Take a Free Tour of Historic Grand Central Terminal Station
Native New Yorker, Talek Nantes, who blogs at Travels with Talek, recommends taking a free tour of the historic Grand Central Terminal Station with Free Tours by Foot. She notes that even often seemingly jaded New Yorkers can’t fail to be impressed by the graceful feat of engineering that is Grand Central Terminal.
The tour lasts about 2 hours and is pretty comprehensive. Talek took one on a lazy Saturday afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed herself. She says, “The tour guide was pleasant, knowledgeable, and reminded us that tips are appreciated.”
This iconic station was opened to the public in 1913. Its original opulence and sheer size was representative of the industrial might of the age and the man behind it, Cornelius Vanderbilt. The soaring celestial ceiling displays the constellations. The chandeliers are gold plated and the massive columns give the impression of a colossal palace. All this for a train station?! The builders wanted to send a message to all who passed through the station, “you are someplace very special.”
You can also follow Talek on Facebook.
2. Take a Free Tour of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library
Lisa Chavis and Cheryl MacDonald of WhatBoundariesTravel.com recommend taking a free tour of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library.
A visit to the main branch of the New York Public Library is a city must-see for a glimpse of the grandeur of a past age. If you time your visit to take advantage of the FREE hour-long docent-led tours of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, you’re in for a real treat. Whether you’re a bibliophile, historian or simply fascinated by the story of the lions Patience and Fortitude guarding the library entrance, the free library tours are sure to make your New York experience memorable.
On the tour you’ll see the magnificent Rose Main Reading Room, the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, as well as an overview of the Library’s current exhibitions on display. The docent is also available to guide you should you want your own New York Public Library Card.
The free tours are 11 AM and 2 PM on Monday through Saturdays. Tours meet at the reception desk in Astor Hall (to the left as you enter the library). Tours are available on a first come basis and are limited to 25 people. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building entrance is located at 476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave).
3). Visit the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
A free visit to MOMA is recommended by James Cave of This Travel Guide
4. Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
One of the most iconic free things to do in New York City is one that actually takes you away from Manhattan. Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is a great experience that should be on top of everyone’s lists of things to do in NYC. If you’re a morning person, I really recommend waking up early and starting your day with Brooklyn Bridge. 4,000 pedestrians cross it every single day, that’s a big crowd! I happen to be an early bird and we went at 6:30 in the morning. It may sound blasphemous to wake up with the sun on vacation, but having the bridge to ourselves with the sunrise was priceless.
While the pedestrian pathways are more easily accessed from the Manhattan side, the views of the skyline as you walk from Brooklyn are the best. Try to arrange a visit to Brooklyn, walking back to the city across the bridge, soaking in the views of the iconic Manhattan skyline as you go. Allow an hour to cross the bridge at a leisurely pace, enjoy yourself, and don’t forget your camera.
5. Visit Coney Island in Brooklyn
Sylvia Van Overvelt of Wapiti Travel suggests a visit to Coney Island, one of my childhood memories.
On a sunny day it can become sweltering hot in the concrete jungle of Manhattan. On those days you may be tempted to hide in the air-conditioned shopping paradises along Fifth Avenue. A much less expensive option is to escape the concrete canyons of Manhattan to catch a breath of fresh air at Coney Island in Brooklyn, one of the other five boroughs of New York City.
One thing that makes a trip to Coney Island worthwhile is a stroll along its iconic boardwalk. The theme park along the boardwalk is pure Brooklyn history with 3 attractions dating back to 1939 and before. The theme park organizes free fireworks on Friday evenings in July and August. To learn more about the rich history of this theme park and several other landmarks you can arrange a free walking tour with the volunteer organization Save Coney Island.
If all this walking males you hungry, you can head to Famous Nathan’s hot dog stand right next to the theme park. This is their original site and also the place of the yearly hot dog eating contest on the 4th of July. Every year 20 contestants compete for the coveted mustard-yellow belt and last year’s winner at 74 hotdogs in 10 minutes. Witnessing this insane competition is completely free!
6. Visit “The Oculus”
New York resident, Brenda Tolentino, of Dish Our Town, is very aware that sightseeing in her city can be expensive. She recommends a free visit to the Oculus, a new attraction for me.