Ask anyone who’s been to New York and they will agree that the city is expensive. Many people think that there is no fun stuff to do in NYC for free, but they are wrong! Even despite the outrageous rent, grocery and ticket prices, there’s a good number of fun free things to do in New York City that let you explore the city on a budget.
Some of the best things in New York are free. In order to take advantage of all the fun things to do in New York City for free, all you need to know is where to find them. Of course, you can walk the Brooklyn Bridge, explore Central Park, or step inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but there are many more free fun activities in New York City that go beyond the obvious that are not yet on your radar! At this point, you should already start thinking about what you’re going to do with all the money you’ll be saving with these activities in your itinerary.
The top 13 fun free things to do in New York City
1. Attend a live taping of a show
One f the best fun free things to do in New York City is to attend a show. Some renowned shows are being taped in New York, including the Daily Show, Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, Last Week Tonight, and many more. While attending those tapings is completely free, it may be a little tricky to obtain the tickets. Once you know how and when to look for them, however, you’re likely to get into one of those shows. To see how to score tickets, check out our guide to free TV show tickets.
2. Participate in a free outdoor activity at Bryant Park
Bryant Park is the epicenter of free fun activities in NYC. Though the park itself is relatively small if you compare it to green spaces like Central Park or Corona Park, the offer of free activities here is unparalleled. Its central location also makes Bryant Park’s free activities easily accessible to locals and visitors alike. If you’re looking for fun stuff to do in NYC for free, Bryant Park is the place to go!
Free Bryant Park activities:
- Broadway in the Park
- Reading room
- Language classes
3. Enjoy a summer movie beneath the stars
During the summer, taking advantage of outdoor activities is an absolute MUST. One of our favorite things to do in the summer is to attend outdoor movies. Besides being one of our favorite summer activities, it’s also one of the best free fun activities in NYC. Throughout the warmer months, several locations across the boroughs offer free movie screenings. The most popular locations are Bryant Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Be sure to check the season’s calendar before you head there. Their eclectic selection makes it easy to find a movie to suit everyone.
4. Help others for free
Sometimes free fun things to do in NYC are not only for you to benefit from; they can also benefit others. Ever thought of giving something back to the community? There are plenty of volunteer opportunities in New York City to pay it forward. Programs like City Harvest are designed to give you a chance to volunteer your time to do some good. If that’s something you may consider, check out their volunteer opportunities in NYC.
5. Visit a museum for free
If you’re looking for even more fun stuff to do in New York City for free, a museum may be in the cards for you! Of course, you already know that museums can be fun, but they are certainly even more enjoyable if you get in for free! Of the myriad museums in New York City, a handful can be visited for free. While some museums are always free, others offer free admission on select days, meaning you may have to work around your schedule a bit to accommodate the museums. Here’s a list of some popular museums that you can visit for zero dollars.
Free museums in NYC:
- 9/11 Memorial Museum – free admission on Tuesdays after 5 pm
- American Museum of Natural History – pay-what-you-wish admission
- Bronx Museum of the Arts – free admission
- Bronx Zoo – free admission on Wednesdays
- Brooklyn Botanic Garden – free on Fridays before 12 pm
- Brooklyn Museum – pay-what-you-wish admission
- Intrepid Museum of Sea, Air & Space – free on select Fridays from 5-9 pm
- National Museum of the American Indian – free admission
- Mmuseumm – pay-what-you-wish admission
Even though some museums have a pay-what-you-wish offer and you could theoretically decide to give nothing in return, we hope that everyone will give whatever donation they can afford to help the museums preserve their exhibits.
Many other museums are fully covered by the New York Pass and Sightseeing Pass!
Should you have a New York Pass or a Sightseeing Pass, admissions to many other museums are already included in your pass and you can visit them for free anyway! If you haven’t decided yet which attraction pass you want to use during your visit, try our free savings calculator. With just a few clicks, it’ll calculate the cheapest way for you to visit the attractions you selected.
6. Take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry
The absolute cheapest way to see the Statue of Liberty on a budget is by taking the free Staten Island Ferry. It gives you the opportunity to explore the city’s least explored borough. The ferry is the only direct connection between Staten Island and Manhattan spoiling you with unforgettable views of the skyline and some major attractions along the way. If that isn’t one of the most fun free things to do in NYC, then what is?
The ferry runs every 15-20 minutes, 7 days a week and takes you from Whitehall Terminal by Battery Park to St. George Terminal on Staten Island. You can easily spot the vessel thanks to its distinctive orange color.
When taking the ferry over, be sure to spend some time on Staten Island. Read our Staten Island insider guide for the best things to do, including the 9/11 Postcards Memorial and the new Empire Outlet.
7. Spot some celebrities
You have the best shot at celebrity sightings in NYC during New York Fashion Week. Peruse the schedule and hang out in front of the show venues as guests either arrive or depart. Many models, celebrities, and other stars may even pose for cameras. Not there during NYFW? Try your luck at the New York Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, or even at film sets. To see what’s being filmed in NYC during your visit, check out Backstage. While spotting celebrities by simply walking around is entirely possible, you can’t really plan for it. Your best shot at encountering celebrities on the streets would probably be in SoHo. Even if you don’t get to see a celebrity the first time you try, the hunt can one of the more fun things to do in NYC for free.
8. Take a free guided tour
You already know that museums belong to the fun free things to do in New York, but there’s even more! Not only can museums be free, so can guided tours. If you ask me, tours are one of the best ways to really get to know a city. You learn facts you’d never discover otherwise and hear stories from real locals while meeting friendly and like-minded people along the tour. There are probably more providers of free tours in New York than you think. Besides regular tours, you can also download an audio guide for self-guided tours. You can choose from different neighborhoods and attractions.
- New York Public Library – more info
- Federal Reserve Bank – more info
- Brooklyn Brewery – more info
- Free Tours by Foot – more info
- Apple Greeter – more info
- Self-guided tours – Android or iOS
Be sure to leave a generous tip for your guide!
Funds are required to make free tours possible. To show your gratitude, we recommend leaving a good tip for the guide.
9. Visit famous filming locations across the city
Many movies take place or have been filmed in New York City, running the gamut from classics to recent movies and shows. If simply visiting those filming location in New York isn’t quite enough for you (despite it being a fun and free thing to do in NYC) know that some shows are so popular that there are dedicated guided tours you can take for a more comprehensive experience. The most popular tours in NYC are Sex and the City and Gossip Girl. To sweeten this option even further, you might even be able to see a movie being filmed! See what’s currently being shot in New York at Backstage.
Famous movies in New York:
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s
- You’ve Got Mail
- The Avengers
- Home Alone
- Harry and Sally
- I am Legend
- Devils wears Prada
- Night at the Museum
- Men in Black
And the list goes on!
10. Knitting Factory in Williamsburg
What can possibly be a better fun free thing to do than a free comedy show? If you find yourself looking for some fun things to do in New York for free on a Sunday night, the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn has got you covered! Every Sunday at 9 pm you can enjoy a free show. Though you may not have to pay, you do need to claim your tickets online. You need to be 21 years or older to see it.
11. Retreat from the city’s bustle on Governors Island
Governors Island is one of our favorite places to hang out in the city. Open from May through October, the old military island is a popular retreat for New Yorkers to relax and enjoy the views. Throughout the summer, a variety of events take place on the island that makes it even more attractive. Governors Island is only a short ferry ride away from Manhattan.
If you plan smart, getting there or taking a bike ride can belong to the free and fun things to do in New York City. It all depends on the day you decide to visit the island. Normally, a single ride to the island will cost $3. On weekends before noon, however, the ferry is free. Children under 12 always ride for free.
If you come here on a weekday, you can save some serious cash on bike rentals. Blazing Saddles offers free bike rentals from Monday through Friday between 10 AM to noon. The rental is free for up to one hour. If that’s not enough you can extend your rental or grab a CitiBike from one of the three docks located on the island.
12. Go kayaking on the Hudson River
An exciting way to take in the beautiful sights of Manhattan’s skyline while at the same time burning some calories takes place in the Hudson. The Manhattan Community Boathouse offers free kayaking at Pier 96, where you can loan a kayak for up to 2 people. If you think there’s a catch to this, you’re wrong! Generous donations and volunteers make the free rentals possible.
The kayaks are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, meaning you may have to wait in line until it’s your turn unless you’re early. If you’re early enough, you can enjoy one of the most fun things to do in New York City that are free without waiting in line. Also, know that you must be 18 years old to pilot a kayak. Every minor needs to be accompanied by an adult in a two-seater.
Check the opening hours before you go!
Manhattan Community Boathouse opens to the public from May through October but has a varying schedule.
- Saturday and Sunday: 10 am – 6 pm (MAY-OCT)
- Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm (JUN-AUG)
My personal best free fun activities in New York City
Another fun free activity in NYC that you can do over and over again is exploring street art! The streets in New York are everchanging, making it a great activity even for those who’ve already been to New York before. Every now and then when I walk the streets or ride the subway I notice some changes!
Discover NYC’s newest graffiti and subway art
You don’t need necessarily need to step into a museum to see art in New York. While the city streets may get a bad rap for their cleanliness, you’ll find many beautiful street artworks and subway stations. Thanks to a mix of local and international artists, the city is known to be a haven for street art lovers. If you have the inclination and a lot of time on your hands, there are many outdoor galleries to explore. Even some subway stations are worth a stop for the sake of exploring their art and decor.
Some cool street art & sculptures to check out:
- Bushwick Collective
- Bowery Graffiti Wall
- 2 World Trade Center
- Along the Highline
- Bronx Wall of Fame
Some of New York’s most well-known murals were painted by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra. His distinctive style sets his artwork apart from others’ and makes it instantly recognizable. His murals carry deep meanings as you may suspect from the titles: “Black or White”, “PEACE”, “the Braves of 9/11”, “Tolerance”, “Stop guns”, and “War is hell”.
Subway Stations I love looking at:
- 14th Street Station ACE
- 23rd Street Station 46
- Lexington Av/59 St NRW
- Second Avenue–72nd Street MQR
Are there more fun free things to do in NYC?
Oh, yes! There are lots of free events that are recurring on an annual basis. As they are specific to your travel dates, we didn’t feel it made sense to include them in this list. To see more fun free activities and events during your month of travel, please refer to our monthly specials. They include parades, concerts, light shows, and more! Just go ahead and pick your travel month to continue learning about fun free things to do in NYC.
- January | February | March
- April | May | June
- July | August | September
- October | November | December
More Fun Things to Do in New York City
New York City has so much more to offer than its must-sees. In order to inspire you with not so typical activities, we’ve compiled a list of the top fun things to do in NYC for you. Also, you’ll find the most fun activities in New York City in different categories on this overview page. We made sure there’s more than enough fun stuff to discover for everyone!
I'm a true New York fan! Not only have I visited the city over 25 times but also have I spent several months here at a time. On my blog I show you the best and most beautiful spots of the city, so that you have a really good time! You can also find lots of insider tips in our New York travel guide. Also check out my hotel finder for New York!