By Laura Jemetta
There are so many ways to explore the real New York City that are actually free! Keep reading to discover some of my favourite free things to do in New York.
Explore Central Park
This is such a fantastic thing to do in New York, and the fact that it’s free is just a bonus. Central Park is just massive, it could take several days to explore the whole thing, which can make it a little overwhelming to start with. My approach has always been to explore Central Park bit by bit; taking it easy and enjoying whatever I have time to see while I’m in New York.
There is something for everybody to see in Central Park. Book lovers can take a stroll down the Mall and Literary Walk, and music lovers can discover Strawberry Fields – the tribute to the Beatles’ John Lennon, who was assassinated blocks away. Take kids, or the young at heart to the popular statue of Alice in Wonderland, or the nearby Hans Christian Andersen. You can watch the boaters on the lake at the Loeb Boathouse, check out the famous Central Park Carousel, and explore Belvedere Castle, a victorian folly right in Central Park.
Whatever you do in Central Park, I know you will love it like I do; sprawling and beautiful, rambling through Central Park is one of the best ways to explore New York.
Visit the New York Public Library
This is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. The New York Public Library is open to the public, and there are some interesting things to be found there; see the first Guttenberg Bible in the new world, visit the library’s free exhibitions, or see the real life toys that inspired AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, in person. This library is a must-see for any book lover, if only for the fantastic gift shop and the stunning architecture. Put it on your itinerary – you won’t be disappointed.
Walk the Highline
Built on the tracks of a disused railway system, the Highline is now a beautiful walking trail 30 feet above the Manhattan streets. This perspective makes for some terrific and unique views of New York City, and the walk itself is both low-impact and lovely. The entire length of the Highline is 2.33km, stretching from the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. My advice: put on your walking shoes, take yourself to the Meatpacking District, and take a nice stroll down the whole length of the Highline, stopping at all the lookouts, and taking in this unique perspective on New York City.
Ride the Staten Island Ferry
Riding the Staten Island Ferry is a fantastic – and free – way to see the Statue of Liberty! You could spend a fortune paying a very pushy tour company to take you onto Ellis Island, and (possibly) up to the viewing part of the statue. Don’t get me wrong; this is worth doing once in your life. But if you are in New York for the second time, or are strapped for cash, then taking a trip on the Staten Island Ferry is such a terrific way to get closer to Lady Liberty.
The Staten Island Ferry is a free ferry to – you guessed it – Staten Island. The ferry leaves every 30 minutes from the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, and travels to Staten Island, where you will need to disembark. You have the option of staying to look around Staten Island, or you can get straight back onto the ferry for the return trip. The ferry is a great opportunity to get some sunshine, as well as some terrific photos of the Statue of Liberty, as well as some unique ones of the New York skyline from the water.
It’s a lovely way to spend a morning – standing on the deck of the Staten Island Ferry, on the water, watching the iconic Lady Liberty grow nearer. I highly recommend taking the subway down to the financial district and riding the ferry – it’s such a valuable free service, and you won’t regret the spectacular views you get from the water.
Top-Tip: As you approach the Ferry Terminal, there will be hawkers from the expensive Statue of Liberty tour company’s. They will say, (or shout), anything to stop you from seeing the Statue of Liberty for free; including that tourists aren’t allowed to ride the Staten Island Ferry: Don’t listen to them. Tour company’s station hawkers at the ferry terminal to trick unwitting tourists into paying for unnecessary tours, but the Staten Island Ferry is a completely free service available to anybody who wishes to make use of it. Just keep walking, and enjoy the free ride you are entitled to!
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
Haven’t you always wanted to walk all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge? I have – and last time I was in New York, I did it! It’s a fantastic way to spend a sunny afternoon, and I highly recommend it to anybody wanting to see the city from a different perspective.
The pedestrian walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge is 2.09km long, and a slow walk all the way from Manhattan to Brooklyn should take about 45 minutes. It’s important to be aware of how crowded the Brooklyn Bridge can get, mainly due to it’s popularity with tourists. I would make sure to avoid peak times, when New Yorkers use the bridge to get to and from work, and be aware that you will probably be sharing the bridge with hundreds of other people, no matter what time you go.
My advice: take yourself down to the financial district mid-morning, hop onto the bridge, and go for an easy stroll all the way to Brooklyn. Make sure to take in all the sights from the bridge, don’t let the crowds deter you, and spend the rest of the day exploring Brooklyn!
There are so many fantastic and free things to do in New York City – it can actually be a really budget friendly city. I would love to hear if you have enjoyed any of the free things on this list, or let me know below your favourite free thing is to do in New York!