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Seven Free Things to Do in New York City

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

Grand Central Terminal Station, New York City

The restored interior of Grand Central Terminal Station. (Photo credit: Talek Nantes)

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

Reading room at the historic main branch of the New York Public Library

A reading room in the historic main branch of the New York City Library. (Photo credit: Lisa Chavis and Cheryl MacDonald)

Lisa Chavis and Cheryl MacDonald of 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)

MOMA in New York City

Museum of Modern Art in New York City. (Photo Credit: James Cave).

A free visit to MOMA is recommended by James Cave of This Travel Guide

The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) features on many lists of things to do in New York, but did you know you can get into the MOMA for free?
An adult ticket normally costs $25, while children are free and seniors and students are $18 and $14 respectively. This is quite a hefty price tag, particularly for those visiting New York on a budget. Thankfully, the MOMA has a free Uniqlo-sponsored slot every Friday between 4 pm and 8 pm and this gives you access to all galleries and exhibitions. Film admission is also free, but you do need to pick up an extra ticket so be sure to ask for that.
Because it’s free, the MOMA can often be very busy and you should expect long lines. Still, it’s definitely a price worth paying for free entry into what is commonly considered one of the top things to do in New York.

4. Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

Free thing to do in NYC.: Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge Walkway

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, preferably in the early morning. (Photo Credit: Erin Mushaway)

Erin Mushaway who blogs at Sol Salute recommends walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. You can also follow Sol Salute on Facebook.

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

Free thing to do in New York City, Visit Coney Island

The theme park on Coney Island’s famous boardwalk. (Photo credit: Sylvia Wapati)

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”

The Oculus. One World Trade Center, New York City

The Oculus represents hope and resilience in the One World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan. (Photo credity: Brenda Tolentino.)

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.

Brenda explains that “the Oculus” is an architectural marvel designed by Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava. It’s not only imposing and beautiful. Like a phoenix, the Oculus seems to hover over Lower Manhattan and is a symbol of how this part of the City has risen from the ashes of  Nine Eleven’s Ground Zero.
The Oculus is part of a larger complex which includes One World Trade and the World Financial Center. Head inside, and you’ll find that this work of art is equally as impressive from within. It’s named The Oculus for a reason. When you look up, you’ll feel like you’re viewing the future of our world. The structure is also a Westfield shopping mall, so in addition to admiring the architecture, one can also have a fun day shopping and eating on site. can also be found on Instagram.

7. Get on the High Line

Garden along the elevated High Line in New York City

A garden along the elevated High Line in New York City. (Photo credit: Geoff Stearns, Wikimedia CC Lic. 2.0)

Lori  Sorrentino of the TravlinMad website recommends a visit to the relatively new High Line for some free New York City fun. You can also follow Lori on Instagram.

The High Line is one of New York City’s most successful reuse projects. With over 5 million visitors last year. it is now one of its most visited public parks as well. The former decrepit railway turned elevated nature trail and greenway, runs along the lower west side of Manhattan, stretching nearly 1.5 miles.
There’s a lot to see along the greenway which skirts other interesting landmarks like the nearby Chelsea Market. The interesting bird’s eye view from 30 feet above the street only adds to the experience. From the High Line, one sees many local parks below, with striking views of Manhattan and the Hudson River in the distance. Needless to say, sunset is a perfect time to enjoy a walk as the shimmering city lights come on.
The High Line runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues, and has 11 different access points in between, some with elevator access. For more history of the High Line, take one of the free public tours given twice a week between May and September.
Enjoy the High Line, but please leave your dog at home.
I’ll be trying some of these suggestions when I’m in New York City in a few months.

Have you visited the Big Apple? Do you have any other suggestions of free things to do New York City?

Suzanne Fluhr, Travel Editor

Suzanne Fluhr, Midlife Boulevard's travel editor, is a recovering Philadelphia lawyer, empty nester, wanderer, dog person and Zentangle® enthusiast. She also writes about Baby Boomer travels for the body and mind on her personal blog, Boomeresque. Instagram: Boomeresque2

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