I’m no stranger to money-saving challenges.
When I set out to do free things in New York City for the month of February, the “challenge” seemed simple enough.
The issue wasn’t finding free things to do (ironically, the most expensive US city offers an abundance of free things to do). It was actually going out and doing them. Part of it was the February weather; part of it was not wanting to break up my day-to-day routine; and part of it was laziness. I will say that every time I did motivate to trade in my warm apartment for an adventure, it was 100% worth it.
I made the goal of checking off 14 freebies — one every other day — and I fell short by three activities. Here’s what I did, what I wished I did, and what I’m saving for sunny spring days.
Keep in mind that this is far from a comprehensive list and only scratches the surface. If you put in a bit of effort, you can easily experience this glamorous city on the cheap many times over.
I started in my neighbourhood of Chelsea, where there is a maze of free art galleries of all shapes and sizes. I wandered in and out of about 10 of them, but there are hundreds to choose from and you can easily fill a morning or afternoon gallery hopping.
I've also heard that if you plan your gallery crawl for a Thursday night, you may stumble upon free wine and cheese.
I spent an evening at the Museum at FIT -- also in Chelsea -- which is the only museum in New York City dedicated exclusively to the art of fashion. There's a permanent collection of garments and accessories dating from the 18th century to today, as well as rotating exhibitions. Admission is free to all.
I'd been told that the views from the Brooklyn Bridge, which links the two boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, are one-of-a-kind. I wasn't disappointed.
A perk of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on a winter evening is that you have the entire place to yourself, a rare luxury at the popular tourist attraction. We made a night out of it, walking over the bridge into Dumbo, Brooklyn for a view of the Manhattan skyline, and returning via the Manhattan Bridge. If you're doing the round-trip on foot, I would suggest skipping the Manhattan Bridge and crossing the Brooklyn Bridge twice. Its views and architecture are unmatched.
If you're crossing the bridge during the day, learn more about the Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Another great walking adventure is the High Line, an out-of-use railroad trestle converted into a 1.5-mile long linear park. Again, if you bundle up during the winter months, you'll have more breathing room than you would during spring and summer.
I walked the High Line at my own leisure, but you can take a free, 75-minute walking tour on Tuesdays and Saturdays (May through September).
Learn more about the free guided tours.
While I prefer the park during the heat of the summer, a snow-covered Central Park isn't a bad way to spend the day. If you're like me and not a big sledder, there's still plenty to fill a morning or afternoon with, from watching the ice skaters to exploring the ins and outs of the 843-acre park.
I brought a book to the New York Public Library, also known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, one afternoon, with the intention of reading for a couple hours and checking out the architecture. What I didn't expect were the art exhibitions -- it's a mini museum in itself! The library also offer free guided tours for walk-in visitors.
An unassuming bar in the historic West Village, Arthur's Tavern has been entertaining New York since 1937 with live jazz and blues every night of the week. Of course, the evening wasn't entirely free -- my roommate and I enjoyed a glass of wine -- but you won't ever have to pay a cover.
Another free music venue I had the intention of checking out was Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side -- it has three separate stages and you can stop by for live music any day of the week.
Hands down, the highlight of February was the Guggenheim Museum, where admission is 'pay as you wish' on Friday nights from 5:45 to 7:45 p.m.
I assumed people wouldn't be out and about on a frigid Friday night and arrived a little before 6:30 p.m. The line wove around the block and I waited about 15 minutes before getting inside. If I were to do it again, I would arrive right at (or before) 5:45 p.m. An hour is far too little time to take in and see everything the museum has to offer.
The Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg offers free, 30-minute tours on the weekends (1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays), which takes you behind the scenes and clues you in on the fascinating history of the place. I showed up with a few friends on a Saturday around 1:15 p.m. and we were given tickets for a 2:30 p.m. tour. We passed the time by walking along the waterfront close by, but you can also grab a beer in the Brewery, which is a neat, open area to hang out in.
If you're wondering, samples weren't included in the tour -- but if you pay $15 for the 'Small Batch' tour, it comes with a guided tasting of four Brooklyn Brewery beers and a souvenir glass.
Rockefeller Center offers a lot more than a giant Christmas tree and a famous ice skating rink. It's a 22-acre mini-city that took nine years (and $100 million) to build.
There are plenty of activities that come with a price tag, but there's more than enough to do and see without opening your wallet: watch the ice skaters, check out the slew of art collections, window shop along the nearby Fifth Avenue, and see NBC Studios, where The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live are filmed.
One of my favourite places in all of New York City is the greenway extending all along the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan. It's the ideal spot for running, biking, or walking, and one of the only places you can play tennis for free (if you don't mind waiting in line for an hour or two). There are also public basketball courts.
While I didn't get much use out of the greenway in February, I'll make up for lost time this spring.
This glamorous city offers plenty more freebies. Here's what's at the top of my to-do list for spring:
1. Get standby tickets to see a taping of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. People who have done it recommend arriving between 6 and 6:30 a.m. at the NBC marquee on 49th street (where the tickets are distributed the day of each show starting at 9 a.m.).
2. Stroll through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which has more than 200 cherry trees, a rose garden, and a Japanese hill-and-pond garden. Admission is free on Saturday mornings and Tuesdays.
3. Check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Many people don't realise that the $25 admission price to the largest art museum in the US is suggested -- it costs as little as a penny to enter the Met. If you're there between May and October, check out the roof garden bar with views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline.
4. Visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on a Friday night. Admission on a typical day will cost you $25, but on Friday night, you can pay as you wish to see the latest and greatest modern art exhibits.
5. Ride the Staten Island Ferry. Ferry tours to see the Statue of Liberty will cost you $12, but the Staten Island Ferry, which runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is absolutely free and will provide a sweet view of Lady Liberty, Ellis Island, and the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan.
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