22 free things to do in New York City this summer

New York City is calling you — and you don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy it. T Photography/Shutterstock
  • New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but you don’t have to break the bank when you visit.
  • Many tourist attractions, local hangouts, and not-to-be missed experiences are completely free.
  • Free activities you can do in New York City this summer range from outdoor concerts to special museum visits to Shakespeare performances.

New York City isn’t cheap – in fact, it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world for travellers.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get by on a shoestring budget. There are plenty of activities you can do in the Big Apple that won’t cost you a dime this summer, from outdoor concerts and Shakespeare performances to trips to world-famous museums and peaceful botanical gardens.

Here are 22 of the best activities you can do in New York City this summer for free.

View the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry


A proper tour of the Statue of Liberty will cost you $US30 or more, but the wallet-conscious traveller can save money by taking the Staten Island Ferry.

The commuter ferry, which is always free, travels between Manhattan and Staten Island every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. It won’t stop at the Statue of Liberty, but you’ll get plenty of photo opportunities of the iconic monument and the New York skyline in the distance.

Check out the Brooklyn Botanical Garden


The peaceful Brooklyn Botanical Garden is free during the summer on Friday mornings before noon.

Take a leisurely kayak ride


Several boathouses around New York City offer up kayaks for free public use in the summer, giving visitors a chance to see the city from spectacular vantage points.

Two of the more popular locations are by Brooklyn Bridge Park and along the Hudson River in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. You can check out more options here.

Go to some of New York’s most famous museums on special free days


A number of museums that typically charge for admission offer periods of free admission or pay-what-you-wish admission on certain days. They include:

  • The Museum of Modern Art – Fridays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • The Guggenheim Museum – Saturdays from 5:45 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.
  • The Whitney Museum of American Art – Fridays from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  • Brooklyn Museum – First Saturday of each month from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
  • 9/11 Memorial Museum – Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Museum of Jewish Heritage – Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Or go to the museums that are always free, technically


Similarly, the American Museum of Natural History is always pay-what-you-wish, so long as you get your tickets in person instead of online. The same goes for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but only for residents of New York or students from the tri-state area.

See where the Twin Towers once stood at the 9/11 Memorial


Although the museum portion of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is only free on Tuesdays, the two memorials where the towers once stood are always free to the public.

Admire the wildlife at the Bronx Zoo


Admission to the Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays. Donations are suggested to help support operating costs and care for the animals.

Get a taste of drama at a Shakespeare in the Park production


Shakespeare in the Park is a summer-long theatre showcase in Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre. This year’s plays are “Othello” and “Twelfth Night.”

Tickets to the outdoor venue are free, but the easiest way to get them requires some advance planning and some luck. Users can log onto the Public Theatre’s website and enter a virtual lottery the morning before each night’s performance, and find out at noon whether they got tickets. A limited number of tickets is also distributed at Central Park and various locations around the five boroughs.

See how beer is made at the Brooklyn Brewery


Brooklyn’s most famous beer makers offer a free tour of their Williamsburg brewery on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

The beer itself isn’t free, though, so bring some cash if you want to enjoy a cold one after the tour.

Laugh yourself silly at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade


Uprights Citizen Brigade, the comedy group founded by Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, and Ian Roberts, offers free entrance to its flagship show, “ASSSSCAT,” every Sunday night at its Hell’s Kitchen theatre.

Walk the unique, elevated High Line park


The High Line is an old elevated railroad track in Chelsea that was converted into a public park in 2009.

The narrow, 1.5-mile park features unique artwork, plant life, and spectacular views of New York architecture and street life.

Go to free outdoor concerts at Central Park and Prospect Park


Summertime also brings free outdoor concerts to the Big Apple.

The Celebrate Brooklyn series stages free shows at Brookyn’s Prospect Park, and this summer will feature diverse acts such as Common, Los Lobos, Ricky Skaggs, and Gary Clark Jr.

The SummerStage series at Central Park will feature the Rebirth Brass Band, Rapsody, and several other artists.

Watch an old movie in the park


Public parks across the city offer free outdoor movie screenings most weekends. You can check out the locations and film selection here.

Go art gallery-hopping in Chelsea


Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood is filled with art galleries of all stripes. You could easily fill a morning or afternoon hopping from gallery to gallery, and if you’re lucky, you might score some free wine and cheese.

Pay your respects at the African Burial Ground


The African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan marks the final resting place for thousands of enslaved and free people of African descent who were buried there in the 1600s and 1700s.

The memorial is always free to access.

Get a tour of the Federal Reserve Museum and Gold Vault


The Federal Reserve Bank of New York offers free tours of its museum and gold vault. There is limited space, so tickets must be reserved in advance.

Attend a hot dog-eating contest for the ages

If you’re in town for the Fourth of July, one free entertainment option is Nathan’s Famous hot dog-eating contest at Coney Island.

You might just witness history – last year, men’s champion Joey Chestnut broke his own record by downing 72 dogs in 10 minutes.

Sit in the audience of your favourite late-night show


If you’re a fan of late-night TV, there’s nothing better than seeing one filmed in person. Most shows allow you to reserve free tickets online, or if those run out, you can try waiting in the standby line.

Go on a walking tour


Numerous companies offer free, guided walking tours through various Big Apple neighbourhoods. You can check out some of the best ones here.

Admire the New York Earth Room — a roomful of soil worth $US1 million


The New York Earth Room is an art installation – sorry, an “interior earth sculpture” – consisting of 250 cubic yards of soil stacked two feet high in a large, white room.

Supposedly, the creation is worth $US1 million, but you can check it out for free in SoHo.

Peruse the ornate main branch of the New York Public Library.


Most travellers wouldn’t want to spend their previous vacation time in the library, but the New York Public Library’s main branch is a worth an exception.

Among the attractions are its famous pair of stone lions, one of the only surviving copies of the Gutenberg Bible, and numerous murals and paintings adorning the walls. You can walk around on your own or head to the information desk for a free guided tour.

Check out the Revolutionary War-era Old Stone House


The Old Stone House in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighbourhood is a reconstruction of a house that played a pivotal role in the Battle of Long Island, the first major battle of the Revolutionary War.

Inside is a small museum about the battle and life in New York at the time. Admission is free, although there is a suggested donation of $US3.