The Big Apple isn’t exactly the world’s cheapest destination. Nevertheless, there are many ways to kick open the NYC treasure chest without spending a dime – free concerts, theater and film screenings, pay-what-you-wish nights at legendary museums, city festivals, free ferry rides and kayaking, plus loads of green space.
Live Music, Theater & Dance
In summer there are scores of free events around town. From June through early September, SummerStage features over 100 free performances at 17 parks around the city, including Central Park. You’ll have to be tenacious to get tickets to Shakespeare in the Park, held also in Central Park, but it’s well worth the effort. Top actors like Meryl Streep and Al Pacino have taken the stage in years past. Prospect Park has its own venerable open-air summer concert and events series: Celebrate Brooklyn.
Summertime also brings free film screenings and events to the water’s edge during the River to River Festival at Hudson River Park in Manhattan and at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Another great option for film lovers is the free HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival screenings on Monday nights.
A few places offer free music throughout the year. BAMcafe in Brooklyn has free concerts (world music, R&B, jazz, rock) on select Friday and Saturday nights. In Harlem, Marjorie Eliot opens her home for free jazz jams on Sunday.
On the Water
The free Staten Island Ferry provides magical views of the Statue of Liberty, and you can enjoy them with a cold beer (available on the boat). While it’s not free, for just $2.75 you can sail from Lower Manhattan across to Brooklyn, Queens or all the way out to Rockaway on the NYC Ferry (www.ferry.nyc) – a great alternative to the subway. From May to October, you can also take a ferry (free on summer weekend mornings, $2 at other times) over to Governors Island, a car-free oasis with priceless views.
For a bit more adventure, take out a free kayak, available in the Hudson River Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park and Red Hook.
Some of America’s top evening shows are taped right here in New York City. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon all give out free tickets to their shows. Go online to reserve seats.
Need to Know
Handy websites for tracking down free and discounted events in the city include Club Free Time (www.clubfreetime.com) and the Skint (www.theskint.com). These have daily listings of free tours, concerts, workshops, talks, art openings, book readings and more.
One of the best ways to experience the city is to have a local show you around. The highly recommended Big Apple Greeter provides free tours by locals who love showing off their cities.
If you’re out for the day and need to get online, you’ll find free wi-fi in public parks such as the High Line, Bryant Park, Battery Park, Tompkins Square Park and Union Square Park. Most cafes and many restaurants also offer free wi-fi.
- Always Free
- Admission by Donation
- Free or Pay-What-You-Wish on Certain Days
MoMA 4–9pm Friday
Guggenheim Museum 5:45–7:45pm Saturday
Whitney Museum of American Art 7–10pm Friday
Neue Galerie 6–8pm first Friday of month
Frick Collection 2–6pm Wednesday & 6–9pm first Friday of month
New Museum of Contemporary Art 7–9pm Thursday
New-York Historical Society 6–8pm Friday
Jewish Museum 5–8pm Thursday and Saturday
Rubin Museum of Art 6–10pm Friday
Asia Society & Museum 6–9pm Friday, September to June
Japan Society 6–9pm Friday
Studio Museum in Harlem Sunday
MoMA PS1 Free with your MoMA ticket
National September 11 Memorial Museum 5–8pm Tuesday