Visiting New York on a budget – 14 Things to do in New York for free or little money

Exploring New York for free - Travel for a Living

New York for free? Sounds too good to be true. I mean, we all know that city trips cost a fortune. And New York is no exception. What if I told you there are heaps of things to do in New York that cost little to no money? Perfect, if you are visiting New York on a budget. Or if you want to keep some spare change for that shopping spree

OK, without further ado, let’s dive straight into it. I’ll share with you 14 things that you can do in New York for free or for very little money. Yes, some might require a little planning. Surely that’s a little price to pay to get the most out of your trip when visiting New York on a budget. 

14 Things to do in New York for free: Walk Brooklyn Bridge

First time we visited New York back in 2012, we headed to Brooklyn Bridge (obviously). But we didn’t actually walk the entire length. Instead we only went as far as the first arch, then turned around (ok, in our defence, the weather was crap, it was cold and drizzling). But during one of the subsequent visits, we finally walked Brooklyn Bridge in its entirety.

As the oldest of the bridges, Brooklyn Bridge spans the East River and connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. At just under 500m, Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge at the time. Nowadays it just about stays in the Top 10, even nearby Williamsburg Bridge being marginally longer. 

Exploring New York for free - Travel for a Living

Whilst walking Brooklyn Bridge, you will get stunning views of Manhattan, as well as of the bridge itself. 

Visiting New York on a Budget - Travel for a Living

Explore Central Park 

Actually, Central Park should be on your itinerary, regardless of whether you visit New York on a budget or not. There are loads of things to do and see in Central Park, other than just going for a walk.

10+ things to see + do in Central Park - Travel for a Living

New York for free: Take the Aerial Tramway to Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island is a small island in the middle of the East River, spanning approximately from East 48th Street to East 85th Street.

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The Queensboro Bridge passes above it. But if you’d like to actually visit the island, you can either get there by Subway (Line F, Roosevelt Island Station) or by aerial tramway. The Roosevelt Island Tramway starts at the corner of 2nd Avenue / East 60th Street. And takes you over to the island in a few minutes. Although the tramway isn’t actually for free, it is included in the MTA network. Meaning, if you have a Metrocard for the week, you can use the tramway at no extra cost. And if you don’t, a single ride costs $2.25 ($4.00 for a return trip).

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What is there to see on Roosevelt Island? 

You can just go for a walk on Roosevelt Island. It offers you great views of the Manhattan Skyline, from a rather unusual angle.  

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Nowadays around 10.000 people actually live on Roosevelt Island. So, it is a fully functioning little community, complete with cafes, a few shops and restaurants.

Back in the days, there used to be several hospitals on the island, which have long been abandoned. If you walk toward the southern end of the island, you can see the remains of those buildings.

Visiting New York on a budget: Staten Island Ferry

Another thing to do in New York for free is riding the Staten Island Ferry. The Staten Island Ferry is a passenger ferry connecting the southern end of Manhattan Island with Staten Island. It is running 24/7. The actual ferry ride takes around 20-25 minutes and ferries depart every 15 to 30 minutes, depending the time of day.

Exploring New York for free - Travel for a Living

As you cross the bay, the ferry will pass the Statue of Liberty, offering you a view of this New York landmark absolutely for free. 

Arriving at Staten Island, you can go for a little walk along the seafront until you get to the ‘Staten Island September 11th Memorial’. Which in itself is quite a beautiful memorial. And it offers you a magnificent view of Manhattan from across the water.

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New York (almost) for free: One Dollar Pizza Slice

All this exploring leaving you hungry? Food is one of those things that can stretch your finances quickly when visiting New York on a budget. There are just so many yum things to try. What if I told you, you could have lunch for a single dollar? And no, I don’t mean buying yourself a banana and an apple in the nearest supermarket.

Go and get yourself a One Dollar pizza slice. My favourite is the Dollar Slice as 2Bros Pizza.

What to eat in New York - Travel for a Living

And if you are looking for more food recommendations, I keep a list of favourite foods to eat in New York. Which seems to extend every time I visit.

Free Museum Days

New York has some of the greatest museums in the world: MoMA, Guggenheim, Met. Unfortunately, most of those come with a rather hefty price tag. But with a bit of planning, you might be able to visit some of them completely for free. 

I am sorry to say, that you can only visit the MET for free if you are a patron or a local resident of New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. For everyone else, the $25 entrance fee is applicable, so it does not really work as a New York for freerecommendation.

But you can visit the MoMA for free. Every Friday evening from 5.30 to 9.30 during Uniqlo Free Fridays. Whilst this is obviously great news if you are visiting New York on a budget, please expect the museum to be rather busy. After all, you might not be the only one trying to save some money whilst visiting New York.

The Guggenheim Museum offers free entry on Saturdays from 5pm until 8pm. 

Exploring New York for free - Travel for a Living

There are loads of other museums in New York that you can visit for free. My advice is to check their websites before you visit to see if and when they offer free admission. That will allow you to see tons of stuff, when visiting New York on a budget.

New York Public Library

A New York landmark that is free to visit is the New York Public Library.

This stunning building in Bryant Park on 5th Avenue is open to the public. You can have a walk around the four floors open to the public, including the reading room. But please be prepared that you’ll have your bags searched at exit of the building and on entry and exit of the reading room.

Exploring New York for free - Travel for a Living
Exploring New York for free - Travel for a Living

Self-guided Movie Location Tour

There are loads of sightseeing tours on offer for New York visitors. As a first-time visitor, you might be tempted to go for one of the open top sightseeing busses. But if you are visiting New York on a tight budget, this might not be the smartest choice. Instead, keep an eye out for cheaper options, such as guided walking tours.

Alternatively, grab a map (or get your smartphone ready) and make an attempt on a self-guided walking tour. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? It won’t cost you a penny and it gives you a great way of exploring New York at your own pace. Unsure where to start? Well, how about a self-guided movie location tour of New York.

New York for free: Visit Times Square

Another one of those New York landmarks that won’t cost you anything. Times Square is that crazy busy square in the heart of New York. Not for the feint hearted, Times Square gets super busy in the evenings. But it obviously can’t miss from your New York itinerary and you should go and visit at least once. My favourite time to visit Times Square? In the early hours of the morning. Since you have the entire square almost to yourself. Heaven.

Visiting New York on a budget: Walk the High Line

Have you worked it out yet? The key to exploring New York for free is to just walk everywhere. Yes, it might be a little tiring and I would urge you to pack comfortable shoes for your New York trip. But walking New York allows you to get a good sense of the city and explore corners that you would miss, if you only take the subway everywhere.

OK, even if I can’t convince you to walk 15 miles a day, one walk that sure is worth it is the High Line Park. And no worries, you don’t have to walk the entire length. You could walk just a little part of the High Line Park. Or just sit on one of the benches, bring a picnic and have a little rest. Up to you. 

New York for free: Climb the Vessel in Hudson Yards

Whilst you visit the High Line Park, it is worth also checking out the Vessel in Hudson Yards. Yes, you will need to be a little organise and get your tickets ahead of your visit. But if you do so, the tickets are for free.

Visiting New York on a budget: Watch Street Performers     

Busking in subway stations is big in New York. Chances are, you will bump into a fair share of performers as you travel around town. And since you are on holiday, why not take the time to actually stop and listen for a little bit? Some of those musicians are really good. And even though this post is all about New York for free, if you enjoy the music, show your appreciation by leaving a little tip. 

Obviously, you won’t only find performers in the subway stations. When the weather is nice, you will also regularly find impromptu slamming sessions in the parks.  

Exploring New York for free - Travel for a Living

New York for free: Coney Island

What could be better than a day by the beach? OK, since you are visiting New York and are there for the city, maybe not an entire day. But if you have some spare time in your New York itinerary, I would recommend a trip to Coney Island. Although it is a bit of a track from Manhattan to the southern end of Brooklyn, you can easily get to Coney Island by subway. Lines D, F, N and Q all terminate at Coney Island. Or take line B to Brighton Beach, then walk along the boardwalk to Coney Island. And it is well worth a visit, if not only just to get away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan for a little while.

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What is there to do in Coney Island?

Coney Island is probably most famous for its amusement parks, which are free to visit. But if you actually want to go on any of the rides (including the ‘Wonder Wheel’ that is celebrating its 100th birthday this year), you will have to pay for those.

You could also go and visit the New York Aquarium, but again, this will cost admission, so whether you’d like to include this into your New York on a budget itinerary is up to you. 

What we’ve done, whenever we visited Coney Island, was just go for a walk. Starting at Brighton Beach, walking along the boardwalk to Coney Island. Which is something you can do any time of the year, not just in summer. In fact, the first time we went to Coney Island was in January (because obviously, you’d like a trip to the beach at that time of year). The amusement parks are shut over winter, but even in January some of the restaurants and shops were open (Nathan’s famous hot dog anyone?).

Visiting New York on a Budget - Travel for a Living
Exploring New York for free - Travel for a Living
Visiting New York on a Budget - Travel for a Living

Visiting New York on a budget: Brooklyn Botanic Garden

This is one thing to do in New York for free that I have yet to do myself. General admission to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is $18 (children under 12 can visit for free). However, with some planning, you can actually visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for free.

From December through to February you can visit the Botanic Garden for free on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

March to November, admission is free on Friday mornings before 12am. 

There you have it, my 14 top suggestions of what to do in New York for free or very little money. Perfect for anyone visiting New York on a tight budget. Hope you enjoyed them.

Tell me, do you have any other suggestion to add to this list?

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12 Comments

  1. Movie Location Tour New York City for free - Travel for a Living

    […] Well, to be honest, there are loads of ready-made movie location tours available in New York, it could be rather difficult to choose just one. So instead, I decided to have a bit of all and create my very own self-guided movie location walking tour through New York. Intrigued? Let me tell you all about the movie locations we visited. And the good thing? My movie location tour is completely for free. See, not everything in New York needs to cost a fortune (in fact, there are heaps of things you can do in New York for free or very little money). […]

    Reply
  2. Sharon

    How I love New York City! The first place I will head on my next trip is the Vessel in Hudson Yards. Love your photo! I missed that my last trip as it was too cold to be outside very long!

    Reply
  3. Samantha

    I love NYC! I’ve done about half of these things, I loved central park. We tried to go to the Met but somehow we timed our trip the day of the met gala 😅 crazy luck, so we didn’t go lol. Next time I need to get some $1 pizza!

    Reply
  4. Petrina

    There are actually quite a few things to do for free! Loved this post! I will definitely save it for future reference since I usually tend to travel low-budget! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  5. Natalie

    Great places! This is a good list because everyone is shocked when they can do free things in NYC!

    Reply
  6. Michelle

    NYC is such an awesome place to visit. There is truly something for everyone. I am glad to say that I have visited about half of these places 🙂

    Reply
  7. Farrah

    I am all for budget travel (when it’s okay to 🙁 hopefully soon)–I’ve been to the Brooklyn Bridge + Central Park before! I haven’t been to Coney Island, High Line or the Hudson Yards yet though!

    Reply
  8. Isabel

    Awesome! I didn’t know about the free ferry. Great tip to consider! Gonna put it into my list 🙂

    Reply
  9. Jasmine

    This was a great post! I’ve been to New York twice and I absolutely love it! I never knew about the aerial tramway, though! I’ll have to go on that next time I go back!

    Reply
  10. GingerAroundTheGlobe (@GingerGlobe)

    Awesome guide, I didn’t know that you can save that much money in New York. That is amazing. Thank you I will definitely save it for my first visit

    Reply
  11. Erin

    Amazing tips! I’ve been to New York a couple times and I’m always overwhelmed by how expensive it is to spend a few days exploring the city. Love these options for free experiences in amazing NYC. Thanks for sharing – adding a few of these to my bucket list for my next trip there.

    Reply
  12. navigationjunk

    Great list! I love NYC and have done many of these. I did not know about the tramway to Roosevelt Island, but will have to check that out on my next visit.

    Reply