The Empire City offers a world of opportunity throughout its five boroughs covering more than 300-square-miles. Endless free and affordable experiences await locals and visitors from around the world at every corner. From alluring parks to iconic bites and historical sites to star-studded summer performances, we’ve curated a list of 18 ideas to keep you wide awake in the city that never sleeps, all at low cost or no cost!
1. Pick your Park
Credit: @wavehill on Instagram
Explore the city's enchanting parks, each offering a unique experience and adventure – with free and low-cost activities.
Central Park (Manhattan) Wander through Strawberry Fields, marvel at the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, stroll down the idyllic mall, or stand atop the picturesque bow bridge overlooking the Loeb Boathouse and the lake.
Prospect Park (Brooklyn) Home to the nation’s first urban-area Audubon Center, a band shell, carousel, recreational fields, and breathtaking cherry blossoms that blanket the park every spring.
Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan) This park is a living piece of history, with evidence of its prehistoric roots on display through dramatic caves, valleys, and ridges left as a result of shifting glaciers. And for avid bird watchers, this is the place to be, where an astonishing 239 species have been spotted.
Bryant Park (Manhattan) A 9.6-acre oasis in the middle of Manhattan boasts seasonal gardens, eateries, bars, free group yoga and tai-chi in the summer, a festive winter village, and the city’s only free admission ice skating rink.
Hudson River Park (Manhattan) Pier 25 in Hudson River Park includes Manhattan’s only 18-hole professional-grade mini golf course ($10/adults, $5/kids), sand volleyball courts, a children’s playground with water features, turf field, and snack bar. Enjoy views of sailboats, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island while lounging at the end of the pier.
Pelham Bay Park (Bronx) Stroll through miles of nature paths and hiking trails, soak up the sun at Orchard Beach, explore the historic Bartow-Pell Mansion ($15/adults, $12/students), and bask in the awe-inspiring 13-mile saltwater shoreline hugging Long Island Sound.
Wave Hill (Bronx; pictured) This famous public garden along the Hudson River is home to stunning flower gardens, greenhouses, an alpine house, and cultural center. Admission is free all day on Thursdays, and the garden hosts special free art events throughout the year. Regular admission is $10/adults, $6/students and seniors, $4/kids.
2. Museum Marveling
Credit: @chrissinderson on Instagram
Nearly 100 diverse and renowned museums are scattered throughout the boroughs of New York City, and quite a few of them offer free or low-cost admission.
Pay-what-you-wish or free:
The Met: One of the world's largest and finest art museums. Its collection spans 5,000 years of world culture, from prehistory to the present and from every part of the globe. Pay-what-you-wish for New York State residents and students from New Jersey and Connecticut, otherwise $30/adults; $22/seniors; $17/students, and free for kids.
The American Museum of Natural History (pictured): Share in the excitement of discovery with more than 40 galleries exploring the natural world and the universe. Pay-what-you-wish for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut residents, otherwise $28/adult; $22/students and seniors; $16/kids.
El Museo: The nation’s leading Latinx and Latin American cultural institution, preserving the art and culture of Puerto Ricans and all Latin Americans in the United States. Pay-what-you-wish for all.
National Museum of the American Indian: Explore the diversity of the Native people of the Americas with programs including music, dance, films, and exhibitions that draw upon 700 artifacts and works of art. Free.
The Bronx Museum: An internationally recognized cultural destination that presents innovative contemporary art exhibitions, education programs, and is committed to promoting cross-cultural dialogues for diverse audiences. Free.
Museum of the City of New York: Explore all things New York, from the actual buildings, apartments, parks, and streets that make up its urban landscape to the cultures, people, sights, sounds, and styles that give it its unique and unmistakable personality. Pay-what-you-wish for all (in-person tickets only), otherwise $20/adults; $14/students and seniors; and free for kids.
9/11 Memorial & Museum: Learn about the history of the 9/11 attacks and 1993 World Trade Center bombing at the site where the Twin Towers once stood. The Museum’s dynamic blend of architecture, archaeology, and history creates an unforgettable encounter with the story of the attacks, their aftermath, and the people who experienced these events. Museum free, 530pm-7pm. Memorial is always free. Otherwise museum $21-$33.
Museum of the Moving Image: The only institution in the United States dedicated to the art, technology, and social impact of film, television, and digital media. Free, 2pm-6pm, timed-entry tickets recommended, otherwise $10-$20.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum: Dedicated to the exhibition and interpretation of history, science, and service of the aircraft carrier Intrepid, a National Historic Landmark. As you explore the Museum you will be able to examine original artifacts, view historic video footage, and explore interactive exhibits. Free on select dates and free for US Military Service Members and Veterans, otherwise $36/adults; $34/students and seniors; $26/kids.
Whitney Museum of American Art: The preeminent institution devoted to the art of the United States, the Whitney presents the full range of 20th-century and contemporary American art, with a special focus on works by living artists. Pay-what-you-wish Friday evenings 7pm-10pm. Gallery on Floor 1 always free, otherwise $30/adults; $24/students and seniors, and free for kids.
MoMA: The MoMA played a major role in developing and collecting modern art and is often identified as one of the largest and most influential museums of modern art in the world. Free, first Friday each month for NYC residents, 4pm-8pm, otherwise $25/adults; $18/seniors; $14/students, free for kids.
New-York Historical Society: Founded in 1804 as New York's first museum, the New-York Historical Society presents exhibitions, public programs, and research that explore the rich history of New York and the nation. Pay-what-you-wish, 6pm-8pm, admission to the on-site DiMenna Children's History Museum included, otherwise $22/adults; $17/seniors, military, teachers; $13/students, $6/kids aged 5-13; free for kids under 5.
NYSCI: New York City's only hands-on science center. Discover more than 450 interactive exhibits including Rocket Park Mini Golf, an award-winning 60,000 square-foot Science Playground, and Design Lab. Free, 2pm-5pm. Reserve tickets online in advance, otherwise $19/adults; $16/students, seniors, kids.
Brooklyn Museum: One of the oldest and largest art institutions in the country, boasting extraordinary permanent collections that range from ancient Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary art and represent a wide range of cultures. Free, first Saturday of the month, otherwise $16/adults; $10/students and seniors, and free for kids.
The Jewish Museum: Devoted to exploring art and Jewish culture from ancient to contemporary, the museum offers diverse exhibitions and programs, and maintains a unique collection of nearly 30,000 works of art. Free, timed-entry reservations are recommended, otherwise $18/adults; $12/seniors; $8/students, and free for kids.
3. Taste the City’s Iconic Foods
NYC’s signature delicacies have captured the hearts and taste buds of locals and visitors alike, and you can try them all without breaking the bank. Nothing says New York like a slice of pizza! Stop by Mama’s TOO!, Joe’s, Scarr’s, or Paulie Gee’s (pictured) for a hot, fresh slice. Continue the carb craving with irresistibly chewy bagels at Ess-a-Bagel, Zuckers, or H&H. July 4th isn’t the only time to celebrate Coney Island hot dogs, grab one any time at Nathan’s, stop by the popular Crif Dogs, or enjoy one from any of the food carts throughout Central Park. No matter where you’re walking in the city, you can find carts serving up on-the-go warm pretzels, shish kabobs, and of course the beloved Halal Guys and Nuts4Nuts carts.
4. Free Summer Concert and Movie Series
Credit: @melwithaview on Instagram
Summer is for songs and stars in the city, and you can enjoy it all for free with star-studded outdoor concert series and movie screenings against magnificent skyline views. Good tunes and good times are always abound at the GMA Summer Concert Series (pictured) in Central Park, where recent performers have included: Tim McGraw, Busta Rhymes, and BTS. For jubilant jams throughout all five boroughs, check out SummerStage, an outdoor performing arts festival that presents nearly 80 free and benefit performances that represent the cultural fabric of New York City, ranging from jazz, hip hop, Latin, global, indie, and contemporary dance. Washington Square Music Festival has been providing free evening concerts in Washington Square Park since 1956 and has been a corner-stone of Greenwich Village life ever since. Lincoln Center presents the Out of Doors Festival where artists from around the world perform at music, dance and spoken-word events over the course of several weeks, as well as Summer for the City, a three month long festival featuring hundreds of free events, thousands of artists, and food from across the city. BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! brings the entertainment to Prospect Park all summer long, with free performances from talent across the globe. The New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks have become an iconic summer experience, transforming parks throughout the city into a patchwork of picnickers enjoying friends, family, and music under the stars. And every genre is celebrated in every borough with NYC summer concert series.
Grab a blanket and some popcorn and enjoy free Movie Nights under the stars and skyline in beloved Bryant Park. Brooklyn Bridge Park hosts its own Movies With A View series each summer at Pier 1 Harbor View Lawn, totally free!
5. Paddle in Paradise
Credit: @hudsonriverpark on Instagram
Picturesque paddling is promised at Brooklyn Bridge Park, where you can kayak for free on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5-7pm, Saturdays 10am-3pm, and Sundays from 12-2:30pm, with amazing views of lower Manhattan and the NYC harbor! The city also proudly presents the world’s largest free kayaking program with the Downtown Boathouse; row your way over to Pier 26 for free kayaking on weekends and holidays in May-October from 10am-4:30pm, and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30-7pm.
6. Elevate your Walk
Credit: @adventuring_millennial on Instagram
Roam the iconic Brooklyn Bridge via the 1.1-mile pedestrian pathway that connects Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights. As you walk, run, or bike along the bridge you’ll enjoy sweeping views and exclusive photo ops of the Manhattan skyline. Soar to new heights at Manhattan’s High Line, a 1.45-mile park built on an old elevated rail line running from Gansevoort St. to 34th St. Walk through gardens, view art, enjoy performances, and savor delicious food, all while enjoying a unique perspective of the city. Recently, the High Line added the Moynihan Train Hall Connector (pictured), a pair of interconnecting 600-foot-long bridges allowing pedestrians to walk all the way from the Meatpacking District straight to Penn Station. 140-feet above ground is New York’s oldest standing bridge, the legendary High Bridge. Established in 1848, this bridge is the famed centerpiece of the Old Croton Aqueduct, and a short .3-mile walk connects Manhattan and the Bronx.
7. Savor the Flavors from Food Markets and Halls
Credit: Sharon Medina/Queens Night Market
New York City's vibrant food halls and bustling markets offer a wide variety of global flavors and artisanal delights. Check out the Queens Night Market (pictured), a large and family-friendly open-air market, featuring up to 100 independent vendors where all bites are capped at just $6. Head to either the Williamsburg or WTC (Oculus) location for Smorgasburg, the largest weekly open-air food market in America, dubbed “The Woodstock of Eating.” The world-famous Union Square Greenmarket features up to 140 regional farmers, fishers, and bakers selling their products to a dedicated following of city dwellers and visitors. Take a trip to Tokyo without the jetlag! The expansive Japan Village includes Sunrise Mart, a bustling marketplace where you can find fresh ingredients and unique goods from Japan and an adjacent food hall that serves authentic Japanese cuisine. At the historic Pier 57 you’ll find fantastic foods and rooftop views at Market 57, curated under the guidance of The James Beard Foundation. The aptly named Ninth Avenue Food Festival takes place annually along Manhattan’s Ninth Avenue and features a weekend full of the city’s famously diverse foods, from snacks to meals to desserts, spanning every flavor you can imagine.
8. Ferry around NYC
Cruise the waterways of NYC for free on the Staten Island Ferry. Passengers can take the ferry between Manhattan and Staten Island and revel in remarkable vantage points of the stunning skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and the harbor. When you reach Staten Island you can explore nearby Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, for just $5/adults and free for kids! All aboard the NYC Ferry, where $4 will allow you to travel between waterfront communities including DUMBO, Williamsburg, Astoria, and Battery Park City throughout the city via six routes spanning over 60 nautical miles.
9. Browse Beaches and Boardwalks
Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk (Brooklyn) With nearly 3 miles of sandy beaches, Coney Island’s (pictured) sunny skies and rolling waves make for the perfect getaway. Recreation opportunities at this beach include beach volleyball, handball, basketball, playgrounds and amusement rides. In the summer enjoy free Friday night fireworks, or catch a Brooklyn Cyclones game for $9-$15 at Maimonides Park, just off the boardwalk. Mosey along the boardwalk for about 20 minutes to Brighton Beach, a clean and quiet spot to swim, sunbathe, and people-watch.
Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk (Queens) Beach goers can enjoy the totally free and spacious beach, sand and water, variety of concessions, and the city's only legal surfing beach. Kids will love the variety of playgrounds and other outdoor activities
Orchard Beach (Bronx) The Bronx's only public beach, this 115-acre, 1.1-mile beach contains a hexagonal-block promenade, central pavilion, snack bars, food and souvenir carts, playgrounds, picnic areas, and 26 courts for basketball, volleyball, and handball.
10. Get into the Holiday Spirit
Seasonal splendor is found year-round in New York City, without spending a cent! Ring in the New Year with the world-famous Times Square ball drop and A-list entertainment. Get your green on for the St. Patrick's Day Parade, a lively procession of culture and community. Marvel at the giant character balloons and performances of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, a beloved annual tradition that fills the air with joy and wonder. On the 4th of July, join the cheerful crowd along the East River in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn to witness the fantastic fireworks display. Walk into a winter wonderland along Manhattan’s 5th Ave to see the legendary window displays, holiday markets in Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center tree lighting, and venture over to Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights to see breathtaking light displays.
11. Go Island Hopping
Credit: Marta Zielinska
Little Island: While technically not an island, Little Island at Pier 55 is a one-of-a-kind public park with a visionary design, seemingly "floating" on the Hudson River like a leaf. You'll find arts activities, performances, food, plants, and an urban oasis set on 2.4 acres.
Governors Island: This 172-acre island is mere minutes away (by ferry) from Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn waterfront. Governors Island is a popular and unique destination with an award-winning park (including the longest slide in NYC), complemented by dozens of historic buildings, year-round educational and cultural facilities, a rich arts and culture program and 22-acre National Monument managed by the National Park Service.
Roosevelt Island Tram and Four Freedoms Park: Take the Roosevelt Island Tramway over the East River for a one-of-a-kind view of the city. Once closed to the public, today Roosevelt Island (pictured) is home to a residential community and a number of parks and landmarks. At the island’s southern end, the Louis Kahn–designed Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park offers public programming and family-friendly events. Additional historical landmarks on the island include a former smallpox hospital, the site of a former mental health hospital at the center of an expose by journalist Nellie Bly, and a 19th-century lighthouse.
City Island: A quaint seaside escape, City Island feels like no other place within the city limits. The Bronx fishing village is full of yacht clubs and waterfront restaurants. This spot is especially popular with visitors during the warmer months for its laid back vibe, fresh seafood, and range of activities.
12. Take on Times Square
The city that never sleeps is at its liveliest in the world-famous Times Square. Neon lights, billboards, architectural gems, and permeating palpable energy make the intersection between Broadway and 7th Ave a must-visit. Take in a unique view from atop the famous red staircase at the TKTS booth, gather ‘round the talented street performers, people-watch from every corner, and marvel at the magic of Manhattan.
13. Stand tall at The Statue of Liberty
Explore one of the world’s most recognizable, inspiring, and historic landmarks– The Statue of Liberty! Take the ferry over to Liberty Island where you’ll find the Statue of Liberty Museum, Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, and the monument itself. Reserve tickets in advance and climb the 10 stories to the top of the Pedestal or take on the double-helix spiraling staircase up to the Crown for a truly breathtaking view. General Admission to Liberty Island is $24.50 for adults, $12 for children 4-12, and $18 for seniors 62+.
14. Affordable Broadway Tickets and Free Outdoor Theater
Credit: @bryanyparknyc on Instagram
Enjoy budget-friendly Broadway brilliance with affordable ticket options. Visit the TKTS booth in Times Square or Lincoln Center where you can score discounted tickets (up to 50% off) for same-day Broadway shows. Certain shows have standing room tickets, where you stand in designated areas and see the show for a discounted cost. Students and youth can take advantage of discounted tickets using TodayTix. For fully free outdoor theater, check out Shakespeare in the Park, where you can watch Tony Award-winning actors perform in productions like Hamlet in Central Park. Head to Harlem to enjoy professional Shakespeare-inspired theater presented by The Classical Theatre of Harlem at Marcus Garvey Park.
15. Global Bites and Sites
Credit: @heather_noelle82 on Instagram
Often regarded as a food capital of the world, New York City is a melting pot of global cuisines. Check out Chinatown (pictured) and go on a self-guided food crawl where you can enjoy various dumplings, and sweet and savory baked goods for under $5, or take your tastebuds on a tour of Queens’ Koreatown and Chinatown. Jackson Heights is the go-to spot for Indian food, while Brooklyn boasts itself as home to the largest and most diverse Caribbean community outside of the West Indies. Arthur Ave comprises 12 blocks in the Bronx and serves up some of the city’s most authentic and impressive Italian cuisine.
16. Appreciate Architectural Gems
Free-to-explore treasures not only showcase New York's rich history and architectural prowess, but also offer moments of stillness amidst the city’s bustling energy. Wander the hallowed halls of the famed New York Public Library, where 53 million items decorate the second largest public library in America. Stand in awe under the celestial ceiling of Grand Central Terminal (pictured), a testament to Beaux-Arts magnificence that envelopes visitors in a blend of art and engineering. Delight in the beauty of St. Patrick's Cathedral, a neo-Gothic masterpiece adorned by soaring spires and intricate carvings.
17. Explore Children’s Museums
Ignite your child's imagination through captivating museums where learning and play meet. The Sugar Hill Museum in Harlem is free for children up to 8 years old, $4 for ages 9-17, and $7 for adults. The museum provides a place where kids can not only see art and talk about art, but share their own stories and create art from them. Kids' curiosity runs free at the Bronx Children’s Museum (pictured), where admission is pay-what-you-wish for a special opening period. Outside of that period, admission is $8/person. At the Brooklyn Children’s Museum you’ll find three floors of interactive exhibits, hands-on cultural and science programs for kids up to 10 years old. On Thursdays you can visit for free between 2pm-5pm, and regular general admission is $13/person.
18. Animal Adventure Awaits
Discover your wild side alongside furry friends. The Bronx Zoo is home to more than 6,000 species ranging from tiny toads to big cats, and on Wednesdays you can go all day for free with advanced tickets required. The New York Aquarium is the oldest continually operating aquarium in the United States. Check out a sea lion show at the Aquatheater, chill out while zebra sharks swim overhead, or get to know some of the ocean’s oddest named residents. On Wednesdays after 3pm you can enjoy these aquatic adventures for free with advanced tickets required. The Staten Island Zoo is roaring with fun, where more than 800 species and an extensive collection of rattlesnakes reside. Unleash your adventure on Wednesdays after 2pm where admission is free! Another legendary zoo resides in Central Park, and while it’s not free, admission is under $20 and includes the main zoo, Tisch Children's Zoo, and a visit to the 4-D Theater.
19. Awaken Your Inner Wizard
Step aside, Harry; there's a new wizard in town! Cast spells, brew potions, and marvel in movie magic with a visit to Harry Potter™: The Exhibition. An incredible collection of authentic movie props, costumes worn by the actors, and recreations of iconic scenes and settings create a fully interactive journey for fans to explore. As you make your way through the Exhibition, you can seek Golden Snitch™ medallions that will customize your experience based on your wizarding profile. (Tickets start at $25)