I have been living in New York City (NYC) for more than ten years. Still, I have not visited Liberty Island — where the Statue of Liberty is. It’s because I don’t need to go there to watch the Statue of Liberty up close. The free Staten Island Ferry is excellent for this purpose. Similarly, there are numerous attractions in New York City that are free but very rewarding for a traveler.
In this article, I’m going to make a list of the most popular attractions in NYC that are absolutely free in no particular order.
New York City has five boroughs. Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. For a tourist, the majority of the attractions are in Manhattan. You can comfortably skip all boroughs except Manhattan and still not miss any attraction. Staten Island and Queens do not have any major tourist attractions. Brooklyn and the Bronx have only a few.
If I were you, this would be my first destination in NYC. Sometimes, people say to avoid this location because of crowds. Please don’t. Times Square is the signature attraction here. I suggest you go there 30 minutes before sunset and stay more than 30 minutes after sunset.
Sunday is the best day to visit Times Square when all the street vendors come to make this area more vibrant. I would strongly advise you not to buy any souvenirs from this area. Those are crazy expensive, low-quality souvenirs. I worked in these shops, and I know a lot about them. Instead, go to Chinatown in Downtown Manhattan. There you would get the same products but at a fraction of price. But in some instances, you do need to negotiate the price.
This is the iconic wall street bronze sculpture that symbolizes New York’s financial industry. Don’t be shocked to see a massive line of people who wants to take a picture with the charging bull. In winter after sunset, there would be very few tourists but on summer days, this place is very crowded. Please don’t skip this place. Take your time and take a picture here.
The best park in New York City with a lot of things to do and see. This place is a real break from the concrete jungle. Summer is the best time to visit the central park. However, this park is a beautiful, peaceful, and enjoyable year-round. This is a massive park. It took me 3 hours to walk from one end of the park (110th street) to another end (east 59th street). Even one full day is not enough to explore everything inside this park. This is a great place to walk, run, or ride a bike. You can also take a horse carriage ride in the park.
I highly recommend walking or biking this historic bridge. At night you can see the lights of Manhattan and Brooklyn, especially the view of Manhattan from the bridge is breathtaking.
Every Wednesday, general admission is free at the Bronx Zoo. I recommend going early in the morning to enjoy everything because this zoo has a lot to offer. Moreover, this is a huge zoo, so be prepared to walk a lot. You may walk out of this zoo exhausted but with a smile on your face.
This is one of my favorite parks. This once used to be a rail line but later converted to a park. In my opinion, the best time to visit here in summer. The full walk is well worth it. This beautiful oasis has gorgeous views. There are many benches along the way to take rest. I recommend everyone walking Highline at least once in a lifetime.
Staten Island Ferry:
Instead of spending money for the ferry tour of Statue of Liberty, take this free Staten Island Ferry. This ferry provides not only the best view of Liberty Island but also the Manhattan skyline.
Scam Alert: Remember Staten Island Ferry is completely free. If anyone tries to sell you a ticket for the ferry, ignore them or contact cops.
Pools and exhibit honors the victims of 2001 world trade center terrorist attacks. There are two waterfalls on the spots where the buildings once were, and the names of all the victims are engraved on the walls. This is a remarkably well laid out and fitting memorial for 9/11 victims. Words cannot describe what you will see and feel at this place.
Grand Central Terminal:
This is a classic historic building, and the Iconic train station is known for its grand facade with a lot of history. Words cannot adequately describe the grandeur of the roof. It’s a gorgeous must-see architecture if you’re visiting New York City. There are great places to eat on the lower level too.
This beautiful park is right in the middle of NYC. Bryant Park is fabulous in all seasons. In winter it has an ice-skating ring (if you bring your skate, it’s free), in summer they host movie nights. There are always some events going on.
New York Public Library:
The New York flagship library beside Bryant Park. It provides a museum-like experience. The architecture is breathtaking, with beautiful rooms, doors, and ceilings. This still works as a regular library. So please be quiet while you visit.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum:
This museum is free on the last Friday of every month from April through September from 5 PM to 8 PM. This flight museum on an aircraft carrier includes a Helicopters, Planes, Submarine, Space shuttle, and Concorde. This exceptional museum is an enjoyable experience for people of all ages. It’s history and a great learning experience.
This is a beautiful and relaxing park along the Hudson River. It is open year-round with lots of options for activities. Walking or running along the river is calming.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA):
Admission to the Museum of Modern Art is free every Friday from 5:30 PM to 9:00 PM. This six-story museum features modern artworks from van Gogh to Warhol and a sculpture garden. This is the most iconic contemporary art museum in New York City with high-quality exhibitions. In my opinion, even a full day is not enough to see everything and a must-visit place for art enthusiasts. There is a gift shop with exceptional items but pricey.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral:
Don’t miss this iconic Neo-Gothic church from 1879 opposite to the Rockefeller center. This is the mother church of the Archdiocese of New York. The decorations are beautiful, and the church itself is magnificent. Be prepared for crowds and lines, but lines move relatively fast.
Tickets are free and available as a first-come, first-served basis. Same-day tickets are available on all of the interactive kiosks in the Shops and Restaurants at 20 Hudson Yards and the interactive kiosks on the Public Square and Gardens. The Vessel is a great place to visit. From here, you can get the best panoramic view of the Hudson yards. This eight-story building has a spiral staircase configuration and is one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen.
This iconic NYC triangle tower nicknamed for its clothes iron look. This is the first skyscraper of New York City. There is a great park — Madison Square Park — to sit and watch people. You can only view this building from outside. Nothing like this architecture exists anywhere in the world, so this is a must-see building.
United Nations Headquarters:
The entrance is free here. But you need to pay for the guided tour that shows the UN chambers where everything happens. Every corner of this building has a history.
Macy’s at Herald Square:
This is the world’s largest retail store. This is an incredibly massive store with outfits, shoes, fragrances, watches, jewelry, bar, restaurants, and many other things. Even if you intend not to buy anything, I suggest you visit this Macy’s because this is something more than a store. This eight-story entire block store would take you one full day to explore. The window displays are one of the main attractions of this place.
Washington Square Park:
Historic Greenwich village park. This is a hidden gem of New York City. This is an excellent place to hang out with friends. This vibrant place is always filled with people. This is a great place to walk and enjoy the fountain.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum:
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is free every Saturday from 5 PM to 8 PM with a pay what you wish honor system. The museum is not big and 2 hours is enough to see everything here. Not only the museum but also the building is very famous and photogenic inside and outside. You walk up the winding staircase and watch the artworks that are displayed along with the round-shaped building.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade & Brooklyn Bridge Park:
The Promenade has stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, Brooklyn Bridge, and Statue of Liberty. Plenty of benches where you can sit down and relax. Sunset from here is beautiful, gorgeous. This is one of the best places to capture Manhattan skyline photos.
New York Botanical Garden:
New York Botanical Garden grounds admission is free all day on Wednesday, and from 9 AM to 10 AM on Saturdays. But this does not include access to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, Special Exhibitions, Rock Garden, or Tram Tour. This botanical garden has 50 gardens, 30,000 trees, and glasshouses with rain forests and cactus displays. This is a lovely year-round place to visit. It’s an astonishing and peaceful place to spend a day. The train show during the holiday season is fantastic.
What day is free at the Bronx Zoo?
Every Wednesday, general admission is free at the Bronx Zoo with a curtesy donation. However, you still have to pay for parking if you come here with your car. Street parking in the nearby area is minimal.
When is Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum free?
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is free every Saturday from 5 PM to 8 PM with a pay what you wish honor system.
When is the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum free?
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is free on the last Friday of every month from April through September from 5 PM to 8 PM.
When is the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) free?
Admission to the Museum of Modern Art is free every Friday from 5:30 PM to 9:00 PM.
When is admission to New York Botanical Garden free?
New York Botanical Garden grounds admission is free all day on Wednesday, and from 9 AM to 10 AM on Saturdays. But this does not include access to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, Special Exhibitions, Rock Garden, or Tram Tour.