Seven Free Sights in New York City

New York City is a world in itself and a popular Gap Year stop off, but chances are you’ll run out of cash before you run out of things to do!

Since I traded beaches and kangaroos for skyscrapers, stars and stripes to call NY home, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to explore the city with friends visiting from overseas. From those adventures, I’ve put together a list of my favorite free attractions in the city, plus a few tips on how to save and make your stay last longer.

Staten Island Ferry

Probably the number one free attraction in NYC, the Staten Island Ferry gives panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, great photo ops for the Statue of Liberty and the chance to feel the wind in your hair, Titanic-style. All this, for the bargain price of only $0. The ferry runs at least twice per hour from the ferry terminal in lower Manhattan, accessibly by subway or a stroll through the financial district. Get on fast to nab the best spots at the front of the boat.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Inspired, beautiful or downright weird by turns- one of NYC’s most popular museums, MoMA is free on Friday nights between 4pm and 8pm. Try the upper floors for Dali, Warhol, Picasso and Van Gogh!

Central Park

A NYC icon, Central Park is a mixing pot of all of NYC society. People-watch in the crowd of designer-clad Fifth Avenue housewives with implausibly miniscule dogs, wholesome families, rather ‘unconventional’ park characters and easy-to-spot tourists with bum bags/I Heart NY t-shirts in tow. I’ve tried to count the number of languages I heard in the park in one day and gave up at 15! Alternatively sunbake or wander through the surprisingly wild areas (and forget you’re in a major city) in summer or have a snowball fight and giggle when the ice-skaters fall over in winter.

Brooklyn Bridge

Another city landmark, the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge takes you above the traffic from City Hall in Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights. The walkway has nice views and information plaques along the way, as well as irritated cyclists (stay in the walking lane or face the wrath!) and cutesy, hand-holding couples who’ve taken up the tradition of securing ‘love padlocks’ to the railings and throwing the key in the river. The walk is around 2 km- leave the heels at home unless you want them wedged in the boards and rug up in winter!

Highline Park

This hip, fun testament to NYC design sits above the city, built on an abandoned raised freight train track stretching from Chelsea to the Meatpacking District. Go for great views of the Hudson and surrounding city, laze on the architectural wooden benches and appreciate the reclaimed urban space. Afterwards, search out lunch in the nearby Chelsea Markets. It can get busy in nice weather, but sunset, or dare I suggest sunrise, are good times to visit.

TV show audience

Saturday Night Live, Good Morning America, Letterman and The Tyra Banks Show, plus many more, all tape in NYC. Tickets are free and can be requested in advance on some websites, given out by lottery or obtained on the day by queuing. Popular shows are hard to snag, but there are plenty of options and you might just get lucky. See here ( for an overview on where to begin.

Brooklyn Brewery

Plenty of tourists never make it off the island of Manhattan- evidently they missed the memo that all the cool kids have moved to Brooklyn. Williamsburg in particular is the hipster capital (though the Yuppies are moving in), with great bars, coffee and indie music. The Brooklyn Brewery offers free tours from 1-5pm on Saturday and 1-4pm Sundays. Oh and by the way, the legal drinking age in the USA is 21 years… Bring a passport as foreign driver’s licenses aren’t technically recognized as valid ID.

More tips:

– Most museums, including the Museum of Natural History, the Met, the Guggenheim and the Whitney can be seen for less than ticket price. Some are technically ‘pay what you like’, some have special times when you can enter for just a donation and others have free entry an hour before closing. See here ( for a complete guide.

– If you will be in the city for more than a couple of days, a 7 day MetroPass ($29) is a cheaper option than paying as you go ($2.25 a trip), especially as you’ll have unlimited, 24-hour access to the whole city. Purchase at any subway station.

– Hostels are a popular option, but websites where you can rent out a room or whole private home can be an even better deal, especially for 2 or more people. Beware Craigslist scams and stay with a reputable website such as Airbnb. I’ve rented a whole apartment in Manhattan $30 each per night- cheaper than a hostel! (Amar here, I can confirm that this is correct because I was at this apartment and Fiona ate all of my Dunkin’ Donuts but that’s a story for another time)

– Broadway tickets can be found for as little as $25-50, versus the normal $100+. Two TKTS booths (one in Times Square) sell discounted tickets the day of the show (though you’ll have to queue), and some theatres sell ‘rush’ tickets a few hours before the show direct from the box office (usually only available to students and paid in cash).

Happy travels!

This article was authored by GYE contributor Fiona Soper. Currently, Fiona is trying to find creative excuses to balance travel with a PhD, brushing up on her Arabic and dreaming of Oman.

  • Fiona Soper
    Posted at 12:54h, 23 February

    For the record, I would like to clarify that I ate *some*…. or maybe *most* of the donuts, but NOT all!

  • Gap Year Escape
    Posted at 14:42h, 24 May

    You left one. ONE! It was the disgusting custard one that you chose in the first place!

  • Fiona Soper
    Posted at 20:44h, 23 August

    It was the chocolate one I swear!

  • What I Got Up To In New York City
    Posted at 03:54h, 10 March

    […] If that wasn’t enough, check out these free things to do in New York. […]

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