Free Thrills: The Best Free Activities in New York City
If you’ve been in the city for more than 10 minutes, or even heard about it from a friend, you likely already know how expensive it can get. Whether it’s rent, brunch, or drinks at a nightclub, the bill can stack up quick.
Most of the best times you’ll have in your life will be absolutely free, and the same goes for the best things to do in New York City. Along with some of the most iconic parks in the country, people can find all sorts of museums, activities, and educational experiences to fill their day.
These are some of our favorites.
Kayaking in the Hudson
City life can get overwhelming, and there are plenty of times where we’d do anything to break away from it for a second. If you make your way to the Hudson during the warmer months, you can hop in a kayak & do exactly that.
They rent them out at the Manhattan Community Boathouse in Midtown, Riverside Park on 72nd street, and Pier 26 in Tribeca on a first come, first serve basis, so make sure you get down there earlier in the day.
Who doesn’t like a good stroll through a graveyard? Not a lot of people, at one point. There was a point in time where it was competing with Niagra Falls as the state’s most popular tourist attraction. With the wide, lush expanse it offers, we can see the appeal.
Along with some adorable parrots at the Gothic entry that’ve lived in the park for decades, the cemetery also features the highest point in the city, Battle Hill. It’s a famed Revolutionary War site & adorned by a statue of Minerva, Rome’s goddess of wisdom.
You can even go gravespotting; Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the most recent popular figures who found their final rest there, but those interested in the who’s-who of the late 19th and early 20th centuries could dedicate a full day to exploration.
“Don’t you have to buy tickets to get in?”
Not from 4-8:00 PM on Fridays, you don’t. During that time frame, you can experience one of the most comprehensive collections of modern art, including pieces from Warhol and Picasso, without setting yourself back $25.
Many consider this a must-see, so try to plan that afternoon around it if you can.
Yoga at Bryant Park
You can head to Yoga to the People (optional donation), which we recommend, but nothing can beat the freedom of the great outdoors. You could stream an instructional video in the park & try to follow along, but we can’t imagine that’s the easiest, or most enjoyable way, to go about it.
If you’re at Bryant Park on Tuesday morning at 10:00 AM, or Thursday evening at 6:00 PM, find yourself on the lawn or upper terrace for a free class!
This isn’t too much of a “hidden” gem; their website says they have mats for the first 1,000 people that show up, but they also say you should arrive at least 30 minutes before the class to secure one for yourself. You can register for one of the classes here.
If you want to stick around Bryant Park later in the day, you’ll be treated to one of the biggest movie nights you’ll ever be invited to.
The movie starts at sunset, and they open up the lawn at 5:00 PM for people to set their blankets down. We’d suggest you arrive closer to that time, since spots can fill up pretty quickly. They offer food, drink & blankets as well, but you’ll have to pay for those.
They’ll be announcing the movies in May, so be sure to stay tuned with them.
Movies are all well and good, but maybe you want something a little more…dirty. Maybe…a room filled with 280,000 pounds of dirt. That’s what you were thinking, too, right? Thought so.
Considered by many (read: us) to be the crown jewel of SoHo, this art installation, done by Walter De Maria in 1977, lives up to the name quite literally: it’s an entire room of earth.
It’s designed with the framework of your typical office, except it happens to smell like a wet forest. If you’ve got a coworker that doesn’t believe in deodorant, this might hit too close to home to be a priority destination. For everyone else, though, don’t miss out.
Hosted every year by BRIC, which stands for Brooklyn Information & Culture, Celebrate Brooklyn! is a music festival series that’s been running for about 40 years, showcasing top-tier talent at the Prospect Park Bandshell during the summer.
There are some shows that come with ticket prices, but almost all of them are $free.99.
Whether you’re a hip-hop fan, more in the indie crowd, or get down with some soul music, they have it all, and they want the whole city to join in on the fun.
The Gift of Knowledge
I’m sure some of you have found yourself watching a TED Talk and wondered what it would be like to be in that audience. We aren’t giving out free tickets to one of those, but we’ve got the next best thing & you don’t even need a ticket.
At quite a few bookshops across the city, you can catch a strong variety of authors & prominent thinkers discussing their work to the public, giving people a special look into their work & process in a way that few in other cities get to experience.
Both McNally Jackson Independent Booksellers and the Penn Book Center host regular talks & lectures from all sorts of speakers & writers, and we don’t think there are too many reasons to turn down some free wisdom.
Whether you’re trying to find some peace, catch a movie, soak in some knowledge, or look at a lot of dirt, you’ve got plenty of options that don’t even touch the bank, let alone break it.
So go! Head out into the vast, beautiful city, and leave your wallet at home. Actually, bring that with you. You’ll still need your MetroCard.
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