Everyone always thinks that visiting New York City is going to drain your bank account. While living in the City is very expensive, visiting does not need to be. There is an abundance of cheap and free activities in New York City, which will keep you busy for days on end.
The most iconic of all places in New York City, Times Square is essentially nothing more than a junction of roads – 7th Avenue and Broadway. It has been converted into a pedestrian square and it’s one of the world’s busiest. Formerly known as Longacre Square, it was renamed in 1904 when The New York Times moved its headquarters there. Massive billboards and flashing neon lights make it clear that you’re in the capital of capitalism.
Rockefeller Center is especially popular during the winter holidays, when the ice skating rink attracts impassable crowds. People come to skate, to buy their Christ presents or just to enjoy the wonderful holiday atmosphere. Christmas lights everywhere, people singing carols, cold weather,… New York may just be the best place in the world to spend Christmas.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art isn’t free in the strict sense of the word. To enter the largest art museum in the USA, located within Central Park, you can pay whatever you want. Therefore free entry is possible, although I have to say that I paid $10 when I went there. Just out of respect I guess; it’s really not necessary.
The collection is vast and boasts two million items, from ancient Egyptian art and sculptures to Renaissance paintings and modern art, and pretty much everything in between. It is a fabulous museum and it’s absolutely worth spending a full day here.
Parks are usually free to visit – that’s the point of a park isn’t it? – but Central Park is more than just a free park. For starters, it’s enormous. You could easily walk around for a day and not see everything. At certain times free events and activities are held, there’s fantastic people-watching and you can see several important monuments – where John Lennon was shot for example – and famous movie sites – the Bow Bridge is a classic.
New York City’s Grand Central is another icon. It truly is a grand train station, beautifully restored and sees several millions of people pass through each year.
Empire State Building and Chrysler Building
These two iconic and world-famous New York skyscrapers are not to be missed. You can see them from almost anywhere in the city, but they are most impressive from right underneath. It is also possible the go all the way up the Empire State Building, but only if you’re willing to spend $27 and queue for several hours. In my opinion that’s really not worth the time and money – just seeing the structures is enough – but it really is up to you.
Staten Island Ferry
A free way to see the Statue of Liberty from up-close! The Staten Island Ferry takes commuters across the harbor and is free. It’s supposed to transport people from Staten Island and Manhattan and back, but it’s absolutely possible to hop back on immediately and go back.
The Brooklyn Bridge, as well as the Manhattan Bridge, connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. My personal favorite activity when visiting New York City was walking across the bridge from Brooklyn into Manhattan, which offers fantastic views of the Lower Manhattan skyline. It’s quite the busy pedestrian walkway, but it’s totally worth it.
There are many, many more cheap or free activities you can do in New York City. If you’re interested an extensive list of those, make sure to check out this article.
To get around I bought a 7-Day Metrocard for only $30, which gives you unlimited subway transportation across the city for a week. There is also a great choice of New York City hotel accommodation.