11 Fun FREE Things to Do in New York City

Free Fun in New York City

Since today is Skyscraper Day, I thought I’d share some pics and tips for finding free fun in New York City.

Although NYC doesn’t have the highest skyscraper, it had some of the highest prices we saw on our 17-state road trip. But that doesn’t mean you have to drop a bundle to visit The Big Apple. We found a lot of things to do in NYC that were totally free, including these 11 favorites:

Fun FREE Things to Do in New York City:

  1. Ride the Staten Island Ferry

    Tickets to Statue of Liberty will cost you about $25 each, but you can get a pretty good view of it at no charge by riding the Staten Island Ferry. This free New York harbor cruise is a fun and economical way to admire the Manhattan skyline. The ferry runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Check schedule for times.

  2. Visit the New York Hall of Science on Free Days

    You’ll enjoy free general admission if you go at 2-5 p.m. on Fridays. Our kids loved this museum. The “Explainers” were all very helpful and attentive.

    Abby at science museum

    There was a huge crowd there when we visited, but we found several quiet corners we had mostly to ourselves, including a wonderfully interactive exhibit on transportation called “Going Places.”

    going places

    The kids had a blast trying to navigate big remote-contro blimps through hanging hula-hoops — not as easy as it looks!

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

    And spinning one another around in this hover-craft prototype:

    science museu

    We also attended a fascinating chemistry demonstration. The kids sat enthralled through the entire 30-minute presentation. It was a blast — literally. It ended with a bang!

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

  3. Stop Off at Grand Central Terminal

    Even if you aren’t using public transit, you should at least step inside and have a look around this historic building. If you have time, visit the Gallery Annex while you’re there and admire the rotating exhibits on display.


  4. Never Forget: The 911 Memorial

    The memorial is free and open daily to the public from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. You’ll need a ticket to see The 9/11 Museum, but you can get that for free, as well, provided you schedule your visit on Mondays from 3-5 p.m.

  5. Enjoy Free Kayaking on the Hudson River

    If you were to ask our kids, most would tell you their favorite free thing to do in New York is kayaking at Pier 26.

    kayaking on Hudson River

    Designed to make the river accessible to everyone, regardless of age, income, or location, this volunteer-run program is popular with residents and visitors alike.

    kayaking on Hudson River

    We went in the evening just before sunset. The Boathouse was busy, but we were put in kayaks almost immediately.

    kayaking on Hudson River

    A word of caution: You may want to bring a change of clothes, especially if you plan to do anything after your kayaking adventure. By the time we had finished paddling around the bay, our seats were soaked. 🙂

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

  6. Get Inspired at the American Folk Art Museum

    Located at 2 Lincoln Square in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, this museum houses the nation’s premier collection of American folk art from the 18th century through the present.

  7. Take a Tour of High Line Park

    We walked the entire length of this park and were amazed at all the beautiful trees and flowers growing above the city.

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

    You’ll want to wear comfortable walking shoes, because the trail stretches on for nearly a mile and a half. Free public tours are offered weekly (days, times, and frequency varies with seasons) and the park sponsors lots of other free events, as well.

    11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

  8. Follow the Money at the Federal Reserve Bank

    If you’ve never toured a Federal Reserve Bank, you’ll want to put that on your list of things to do while you’re in New York, as well. You’ll gain a whole new appreciation for our currency system.

    The tours are free, but you’ll need to make your reservations well in advance.

  9. Go for a Walk in Central Park

    Central Park boasts 843 acres of beautifully maintained gardens, historic buildings, quaint bridges, and placid lakes. The designers intentionally laid the grounds out in such as way as to make it easy for visitors to get lost in nature.

    11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

    When you grow tired of walking, spread a picnic under the trees or go to the visitor’s center for a game of chess or checkers. etc.

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

  10. Check Out the NY Public Library

    The New York Pulbic Library has dozens and dozens of branches, but we went to the Stephen Schwarzman Building at 42 Street and 5th Ave.

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

    The inside of this beautiful building is magnificent, but the ceilings are particularly breathtaking –although none of my photos do them justice (you’ll have to look on their website to really appreciate the artwork or, better yet, visit in person!).

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

    We love to check out libraries in other towns, but we almost always wind up in the children’s section, reading picture books. 🙂

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

  11. Learn Something New at in Bryant Park

    Right next door to the library is Bryant Park, where you can find more free fun!

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

    You can play ping-pong, take a juggling class, listen to a piano concert, watch a Shakespeare play, take a watercolor painting lesson, or screen a summer movie — all at no charge! Check the NY Parks website for a current schedule of events.

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

    And if you need a bathroom break while you’re there — or maybe even if you don’t — you should stop in here:

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

    The Bryant Park Restrooms were recently rated #1 in the world. And I must say, they were pretty impressive.

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

    Fresh flowers adorned the entry and brightened the sink counters. And there were lovely mosaic borders running along the walls throughout. And a full-time attendant on duty. And toilet seats that automatically covered themselves.

    FF - 11 Fun Things to do in NYC for FREE

That about wraps up our top picks of fun free things to do in New York City, but getting there is another story.

Navigating New York can be a costly affair, as well. In our big van, we had to pay $24 just to cross one bridge to get into the city the night we arrived. There are a few free bridges available, but you’ll have to plan ahead if you want to cross the river without paying a toll.

Parking can be pricey, too. In some areas you can park on the street for free during evenings and weekends (that’s what we did for our kayaking trip), but you’ll pay premium prices to park in NYC during the week. We saved more than $20 a day by reserving our parking in advance using Spot Hero. If you’re planning to drive in New York, you can save an extra $5 off your first parking spot by using this link.

Have you ever been to New York City? What’s your favorite thing to do there? Is it free?

Want more vacation ideas or travel tips? Read some more of our travel posts or — better yet — get a copy of my book, Pack Up & Leave. It’s full of ideas for planning memorable family vacations, even when you’re working with a shoestring budget.

Pack Up & Leave: Travel Tips for Fun Family Vacations

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