Recently my family was deciding where to go for a fun summer vacation and New York City was on our list. It's no secret that NYC continues to be one of the most expensive places to visit, and we're always working within a tight budget. With its swanky restaurants, 5-star hotels, and high-end shopping, I wasn't too confident that we could spend a week there without shelling out a small fortune. But experiencing the craziness of Times Square and the history of the Statue of Liberty excited me. I was going to figure out a way for us to do it!
So I started doing some research into how to enjoy the Big Apple on a small budget, and I was surprised at what I found! There are tons of great activities and places to see in NYC that are free. Completely, 100%, no-strings-attached free. Like put-your-wallet-away-and-just-go-have-some-fun-in-the-big-city free! Unfortunately, going to a Yankees game will have to wait. And we won't be going up to the Empire State Building Observation Deck on this trip. But we will definitely be having loads of fun with these free things to do in the Big Apple! Read on and start planning your NYC trip on a budget!
You knew this would be on my list! Open every day of the year and free to visitors, this 843-acre park offers fun of all sorts for anyone wanting to escape the busyness of the city streets. Choose a day when you know the weather will cooperate and head over to Central Park to spend it sightseeing, wandering, and relaxing on one of the 9,000 benches in the greenest space in the Big Apple. Among the most popular attractions within the park is the 6-acre Conservatory Garden which features the Vanderbilt Gate at its main entrance. This magnificent iron gate made in Paris in 1894 originally stood in front of the Vanderbilt mansion at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street. Another must-see stop within the park is the Reservoir on the north end, which boasts one of the park's most beautiful landscapes. This 40-foot deep reservoir holds a billion gallons of water and has a 1.58-mile-long track that goes around it for jogging. Head south in the park to encounter the Bethesda Fountain, Kerbs Boathouse, the Shakespeare Garden, the Great Lawn, and so much more. Plan to spend the better part of a day here!
STATEN ISLAND FERRY
Hop aboard the Staten Island Ferry for an unforgettable ride across New York harbor! This 25-minute , 5-mile ride from Manhattan takes you to Staten Island and offers the most unbelievable views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on the way out. On the way back you can gaze in awe at the stunning New York City skyscrapers and the beautiful bridges of lower Manhattan. Run by the NYC DOT, the 9-vessel fleet that transports 70,000 passengers a day between Staten Island and Manhattan. Shouldn't you be one of them? While the East River Ferry charges for its rides, this one is totally free!
TOUR THE FEDERAL BANK OF NEW YORK'S GOLD VAULT!
As if a trip to New York City isn't glitzy enough, take a tour of the Federal Bank of NY's Gold Vault and surround yourself with pretty, shiny gold! Popular with school groups and tourists, the tour explains the roles and responsibilities of the Federal Reserve and teaches you all about the gold and how it's kept safe and secure behind a 90-ton steel cylinder that protects the only entry into the vault. Interestingly, most of the 508,000 gold bars housed in the basement vault have been there since World War II, when many countries wanted to store their gold in a safe location.
STARGAZING ON THE HIGH LINES
Do you enjoy stargazing? If you're in the Big Apple on a Tuesday night, you're in luck! Head to the Diller-von Furstenberg Sundeck on the High Line at 14th St. just before dusk to get a closer look at the twinkling stars overhead. Take a peek through a high-powered telescope provided by the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York to see constellations, shooting stars, and more. This totally free activity takes place on Tuesdays from April-October from dusk until 30 minutes before the park closes.
WORKOUT AT BRYANT PARK
Make sure you bring your workout gear because Bryant Park offers a Fit Club that's free and open to the public! From May-September, head over on Mondays from 7:30-8:30am for Pilates, or Wednesdays from 6:30-7:00am for Boot Camp. You can also try your hand at juggling in the park with free lessons!
CHELSEA ART GALLERIES
Calling all you art lovers out there! Instead of trying to budget for tickets to the Met, tour the art galleries in nearby Chelsea instead. With hundreds of galleries to choose from, they're all free to visit during open hours. And if you happen upon one during an opening night, you'll enjoy free wine or beer while you wander around!
GRAND CENTRAL STATION
You don't have to be catching a train to visit the gorgeous Grand Central Station! This elegant and awe-inspiring stop will surely be a favorite! While kids will love feeling the rumble of the incoming trains, adults will marvel at the gorgeous marble floors, Parisian bronze and stone carvings, and the imposing sculptures of Greek gods on the exterior façade. While the station offers 35 restaurants, 60 shops, and ongoing events, what you might remember most is the sheer beauty and history of this century-old building.
Don't leave New York City without visiting one of the newest and most sobering memorials in the city. The 9/11 Memorial, occupying 8 of the 16 acres at the World Trade Center site, honors all the lives that were lost on not only September 11, 2001, but also on February 26, 1993 during the Trade Center bombing. Nearly 3,000 names are stencil-cut onto bronze parapets that are surrounding the twin Memorial pools. The water-based design creates quiet reflection, allowing visitors to feel connected to the Memorial. A visit at night is especially moving, as each letter in each individual's name is lit. The outdoor memorial is open from 7:30am-9pm every day and is always free to visitors.
TAPING OF THE TONIGHT SHOW
Plan ahead for this one! Grab some free tickets to a taping of the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon a month before you plan to be in the Big Apple. Visit tonightshowtix.com to view the calendar and request your tickets. After an exhausting day touring the sights, I can't think of a better way to relax than catching the Emmy and Grammy Award winner on stage at Rockefeller Center (and seeing some other famous people too)!
KAYAK ON THE HUDSON RIVER
Ready to leave the crazy streets of NY behind and get out on the water? Head to the Pier 26 Boathouse where you can grab a kayak and enjoy some time paddling around on the Hudson River! Kayaks are free but they're on a first-come, first-served basis, so don't delay!
The list of great free activities in the Big Apple could go on and on, but these are just some that we wanted to highlight to help make your getaway to New York memorable (and affordable!).
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