New York City doesn’t have to be hard on your wallet. Check out some budget-friendly things to do. (Photo: Alamy)
New York City is all about the biggest, the brightest and the best–hey, Michelin-starred restaurants, five-star hotels, internationally acclaimed museums, and luxury flagship stores. But while it’s easy to get caught up in the fast pace of the world’s most expensive city. It’s also just as easy to run your bank account dry. Lucky for you, we’re locals, so let us lend a hand to let you know what’s free in NYC.
Work Up a Sweat
In the Concrete Jungle, you don’t need a gym membership to get your butt in shape. Get your pre-work burn on with early-morning pilates, yoga, tai chi, and Zumba during Riverside Park’s Summer on the Hudson sessions or join The Rise, NYC’s outdoor group fitness classes every Thursday at 6:30 am in the Flatiron District.
If you’re looking for something that doesn’t necessarily feel like a workout (like we always are), head to Bryant Park where you can sign-up for a competitive round of ping pong and free fencing lessons (all equipment provided), or swing by PS 194 in Harlem for weekly West African dance classes.
If you’re one of the lucky few who can ride the happy waves of workout-induced endorphins and make it through a traditional exercise, Lululemon in Lincoln Square hosts Sunday Salutations and a running club.
Beyond Manhattan, Brooklyn has its fair share of workouts too. Don’t miss kayaking in Brooklyn Bridge Park every Saturday and Thursday (life jackets and breathtaking views of the Brooklyn Bridge are gratis), and basketball clinics for 8-17 year-olds which include yoga warm-ups and flag football agility training.
Catch a Flick
Throughout history, filmmakers have nursed a torrid love affair with Manhattan – there’s just something about its sleepless streets, soaring skyscrapers and enduring landmarks. NYC returns the industry-love with a slew of free film series.
There’s Movies Under the Stars hosted at different park venues throughout the boroughs (May-August catch “Grown Ups,” “Creed” and “Inside Out)”; Free Fridays with the Film Society of Lincoln Center screens critically-acclaimed HBO darlings; SummerScreen in Williamsburg’s McCarren Park plays cult classics like “Scream” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” every Wednesday; the eight-week running Movies with a View in Brooklyn Bridge Park mixes classics like “Singin’ In the Rain” with fresh flicks like “Selma” on Thursdays; and on Wednesdays in July and August, you can cozy up on a picnic blanket at Pier 63 for Hudson Riverflick’s for screenings of this year’s biggest blockbusters like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Jurassic World,” and “Trainwreck.”
While we don’t have the low-down on this year’s iteration of the Bryant Park Summer Film series (stay tuned) which runs every Monday night from June through August, in previous years, old WB cartoons preceded classics like “Ghostbusters” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.” For year-round flicks, Huckleberry Bar in Williamsburg holds Monday Mac & Movie nights (free mac and cheese!) based on monthly themes like “Cowboy Westerns.”
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Listen to Free Tunes
When Pandora or Spotify just aren’t cutting it, hit the streets for the real thing. Melodies of the classic sort can be found at theManhattan School of Music, where most performances don’t require tickets. Summer’s annual Central Park SummerStage Festival hosts artists of every genre—jazz, Latin, rock, hip-hop—at Rumsey Playfield—on various nights throughout the season, while some headliners require tickets, the majority of shows are free.
Nearly every show is free at the Lower East Side’s dimly-lit Rockwood Music Hall, where you can catch intimate performances by rising singer-songwriters and acoustic groups trying to make it to the big time. There’s also the GMA Friday Summer Concert Series in Central Park. Starting May 22nd, artists like Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and Sia take the stage bright and early. Doors open to the public at 6 am, so set that alarm and get a good seat!
Peep some Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Natural History, The Guggenheim, The Frick – perusing the revered halls of America’s greatest museums can cost upwards of $25 per entry. But two June nights a year, the annual Museum Mile Festival allows visitors admission to some of the biggest institutions on the Upper East Side—while Night at the Museums offers free entrance and programming for 13 spots downtown, including the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
Time your visit right, and you’ll gain entry to some of the hottest museums in town without shelling out a dime. The MoMA hosts UNIQLO Free Fridays every week from 4-8 p.m., as does the Museum of the Moving Image. And spots like the American Folk Art Museum, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Museum at FIT, the New York Transit Museum Annex (inside Grand Central Terminal) as well as the rows of galleries along the streets of Chelsea don’t charge a thing year-round.
SEE ALSO: 13 Mind-blowing Art Escapes
Go for a Stroll
NYC was made for walking (jealous of our grid system, Boston?). Central Park is the city’s nature playground–an 843-acre green stamp on an otherwise gray jungle of steel and concrete, home to iconic landmarks like the Bethesda Fountain, Strawberry Fields, Belvedere Castle, Sheep Meadow and flower-filled Conservatory Garden.
The High Line, an elevated train track turned urban park in the Meatpacking District, attracts some 5 million visitors a year with its manicured landscaping, temporary art installations, and killer vistas of the cityscape. Stay after sundown on summer Tuesdays for expert-guided stargazing through telescopes.
Or, get an alternate view of the Manhattan skyline from the waterside esplanade along Gantry Plaza State Park, bordering the borough of Queens. Over in Brooklyn, Prospect Park—nestled between the Park Slope, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Ditmas Park and Windsor Terrace neighborhoods—is essentially the borough’s own version of Central Park (no surprise it was also designed by Frederick Law Olsted and Calvert Vaux) with 585-acres to leisurely wander.
Grab a Bite to Eat
Forget fancy (and pricey) prix-fixe menus and saddle up for some free grub that doesn’t skimp on quality instead. High-energy groups amass at El Cantinero, in the East Village, for a free happy hour buffet of chicken wings, chimichangas and chips and salsa—perfect for soaking up those half-price tequila cocktails.
Over in the Financial District, Ryan Maguire’s Ale House has a free buffet with typical bar food Monday through Friday 5 pm to 7 pm. On Bleecker Street, Blind Tiger Ale Houseputs out two pounds’ worth of Murray’s Cheese selections and fresh baguettes every Wednesday at 6 p.m. Early riser? Head over to Spring Lounge in Nolita on Sunday mornings for free bagels and all the toppings—or at 5 pm on Wednesdays for complimentary hot dogs marinated in their weekly beer of choice.
Not to mention there are over 50 farmers markets scattered throughout the city, where up-and-coming chefs often host live cooking demonstrations and complimentary tastings. Among our favorites is Smorgasburg, a joint flea and food market that operates in Williamsburg on Saturdays and Prospect Park on Sundays.
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Get Your Drink On
Few indulgences are as expensive as booze, but New York has plenty of options to sip and save. Could there be anything better than free wine or chocolate? Bottlerocket, in the Flatiron District, offers both on evenings Thursday through Saturday.
Hankering to just want to belt your heart out? Karaoke singers earn a free drink at Wicked Willy’s on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. At Astor Wines and Spirits in NoHo, free tastings are held every night (sometimes there’s even more than one!). Coming up this summer? Portuguese wines, Italian Reds, Hayman’s Gin and Pierde Almas Mezcals.
Over in Williamsburg, Brooklyn Brewery’s wildly popular weekend tours conclude in the Tasting Room and while you’re in the neighborhood, head south to the Coney Island Brewing Company for a second round of tasting and touring. You’ll get to try out novel varieties like Cotton Candy Kölsch, Mermaid Pilsner, Hard Ginger Ale and Irish Goodbye.
Hit a Hot Event
Not many cities throw a party like the Big Apple, and if you love a crowd, these events are sure to please. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marches from Central Park to Herald Square and you can watch the spectacular Fourth of July Fireworks, blast off of barges along the East River or Hudson (depending on the year).
Or if you’re a Paddy’s Day fan, come during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the oldest parade in the U.S. During the spring and summer months, street fairs pop up all around New York’s neighborhoods (check the listings for times and locations), though they’re hard-pressed to match the pop-up holiday markets that spread good cheer in Columbus Circle, Bryant Park, and Union Square.
June 18 marks the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade which starts on Surf Avenue and W 21st, making it’s way to Steeplechase Plaza. Barely a week later, NYC’s PrideFest street fair – an LGBTQIA+, family-friendly party with DJs, talent shows, food, and a whole lot of love that culminates in Dance on the Pier—unfolds on the 26th (but check out all of the events running the 5th-26th).
SEE ALSO: 11 Hottest Spots in New York Now
Find Fun for the Whole Family
New York isn’t just an adult’s playground – there’s fun to be had by all age groups. A handful of bookstores throughout the city hold free readings for the little ones. Catch weekend story time at the Flatiron Books of Wonder or at Park Slope’s Terrace Books on Sundays, which also treats visitors to milk and cookies.
The whole gang will love seeing their favorite critters—tigers, gorillas, zebras, penguins—at the world-famous Bronx Zoo, which offers general admission gratis on Wednesdays (with a suggested donation).
Every first Friday of the month, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan opens its Upper West Side doors for entry to interactive exhibits on everything from cartoons to music and adventures with Dora the Explorer. Budding artists can also take to painting or sculpting during by-donation-only Thursdays (4-6 pm) at the Children’s Museum of the Arts.
Manhattan is entrenched in the nation’s history – it remained the hub of American life throughout the Revolutionary War, the Great Depression, and World War II, even serving (if only briefly) as capital in 1789.
You can stand in the very place George Washington was sworn in as president at Federal Hall on Wall Street. Grand Central Terminal, with its elaborately painted soaring ceiling, has served as a gateway to the city since its founding in 1903 and holds many secrets about the city’s past and present. Every Friday at 12:30 p.m., two Grand Central Partnership historians lead free 90-minute tours through the station’s whispering gallery, as well as the nearby Chrysler Building.
In September, Little Italy is ground zero for New York’s annual 11-day Feast of San Gennaro, which celebrates the heritage and history of the Italian immigrants who first came to America in the early 20th century. The New York Public Library hosts tons of free exhibitions, readings, and collections featuring artists and lecturers. On display now is “Archives of Sound,” an interactive audio installation which examines how sounds technology shapes experiences, the self-explanatory “Printing Women: Three Centuries of Female Printmakers, 1570-1900” and “Shakespeare’s Influence on American Writers.”
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You know the saying: “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” – and there’s certainly no end to NYC’s creative pursuits. All are welcome to the bimonthly Brooklyn Poets Reading Series in Fort Greene, the place to hear verse from up-and-coming and established local talents.
You needn’t shell out for expensive Broadway tickets when Shakespeare in the Park is in session. Theater buffs queue up as early as 6 a.m. for free tickets to the summer season’s public performances of some of Shakespeare’s greatest works (with esteemed actors like Meryl Streep, Patrick Stewart and Natalie Portman)—”The Tempest,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “King Lear”—which run five weeks a year at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater.
If you’re in for a laugh, surprise guests like Louis C.K. and Chris Rock put UCB Theater’s lesser-known late night Whiplash show on the cultural map and comedy radar. Think you got what it takes? Test your skills with free stand up every Monday night.
This article was published through a partnership with Jetsetter magazine.