Frugal And Free Things To Do And See In New York City


New York City.  The city so nice they named it twice!

Before I show you frugal, cheap, and free things to do and see in New York City let’s look at the first paragraph from Wikipedia:

New York City (officially The City of New York) is the largest city in the United States, with its metropolitan area ranking among the largest urban areas in the world. Founded as a commercial trading post by the Dutch in 1625, it served as the capital of the United States from 1785 until 1790, and has been the nation’s largest city since 1790. Located on one of the world’s finest natural harbors, New York is one of the world’s major centers of commerce and finance. New York also exerts global influence in media, education, entertainment, arts, fashion and advertising.  The city is also a major center for international affairs, hosting the headquarters of the United Nations.

Pretty cool, huh?

What is NYC?

First off I think we need to put some borders on NYC.

Most people think of NYC as Manhattan but you’d be doing a disservice to yourself if you only looked to Manhattan for things to do.

NYC is made up of five boroughs – Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island.  All but the Bronx are islands.  I tried to spread the love around the entire city as much as I could but don’t be offended if I don’t give every borough equal weight.

So here are Frugal And Free Things To Do And See In New York City (in no particular order):

Free and frugal things to do in NYC

Statue of Liberty

Statue of LibertyDedicated to the US by the people of France in 1886 to commemorate the centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Statue of Liberty stands on Liberty Island to greet visitors to the US and NYC (immigrants to the US would first pass through nearby Ellis Island before entering the US).

If you plan to visit the statue you need to figure out what section you want to go up to.  You can get a Crown ticket which takes you up to, you guessed it, the crown of Lady Liberty.  Other options include a Pedestal ticket and a grounds ticket (this allows you to visit the grounds but you don’t go up in the statue).

If you plan on visiting the Crown or Pedestal make sure you book your visit in advance (sometimes way in advance)!  You need to make advanced reservations.  And make sure you check the site page to see what is permitted and the general rules.  Security is tight at the statue and you may be required to rent a locker if you are carrying items that aren’t allowed up the Statue.

The ferry ride is $9 for kids 4-12 years old; $18 for those 13 and older; and $14 for seniors 62 and older.  For visits to the Crown, add an additional $3.  Lockers, if needed, are $2.

Visiting the Statue is an awesome trip.  When I was a little little tyke I was able to go all the way up to the torch.  But these days security is a lot tighter and the trip is more expensive.

A frugal way to get up close is to take the Staten Island Ferry from the Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan near Battery Park City.  Fare for the SI ferry – FREE!  The SI ferry runs between Manhattan and Staten Island and passes close to the Statue of Liberty.  It’s a beautiful ride across the New York harbor with additional views of Ellis Island, NYC skyscrapers, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (One time the longest suspension bridge in the world and also the start of the NYC marathon).

We took the kids about a year or so ago to the SI Ferry and it was a blast.  We were already in downtown Manhattan and said “let’s do it” and hopped on the ferry.  That’s how easy it is to take (though you might want to avoid rush hour).  You can sit inside the ferry or venture out to the decks and stand almost on the edge of the boat.

Wall Street/Financial District

This area, located in lower Manhattan, is home to the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, City Hall Park, Federal Hall National Memorial (where George Washington was sworn in) and is close to Battery Park and the South Street Seaport.  To walk around this area is to truly take in the early history and continuing legacy of NYC!  It’s also close to the Staten Island Ferry mentioned above.

Brooklyn Bridge

NYC is home to well over thirty bridges!

But in my opinion the Brooklyn Bridge, connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn, is the most beautiful.  Warm

The bridge was the largest suspension bridge in the world and the first steel wire suspension bridge when it opened in 1883.  What makes this bridge truly special is the pedestrian/bike pathway in the center of the bridge above the vehicle lanes.  The Manhattan entrance to the bridge is located close to City Hall.  Walk across and see the bridge up close as well as see an amazing view of the East River and NYC!

Feeling adventurous?  Sign up for the NYC Century Bike Tour which crosses the Brooklyn Bridge as part of the 100 mile ride (I’ve done three of them and they are a great way to see NYC!).

Empire State Building

It’s hard to think of NYC without imagining the 102 story Empire State Empire State Building HDR Building (located at Fifth Ave and 34th st).  Completed in 1931,  it was the world’s tallest building for more than forty years until the completion of the World Trade Center’s North tower.  The building can be seen from all around, from New Jersey to Queens!  The building has an observatory on the 82nd floor  you can visit as well as one on the 102nd floor.

Tickets start at $29 for adults ($23 for kids and $26 for seniors 62+) and go up from there depending on the options you want and how high you are going.

I can’t say it’s cheap but the panoramic views of NYC are spectacular (even King Kong had to see the top)!

Other notable buildings to see: Chrysler Building, Flatiron Building, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity Church, Woolworth Building.

The High Line

So what do you do with an old train freight line that sits above-ground in Manhattan’s west side?

That’s right, you turn it into an awesome walkway and garden!

The High Line runs from West 30th street down along the old line to Ganesvoort Street in the Meatpacking District.  It runs through Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton through West Chelsea, and into the Meatpacking District (don’t worry, those neighborhoods aren’t as scary as they sound!).

Along the way expect to see wonderful gardens, included big lawns to hang out on, art installations, as well as incredible views of NYC, its architecture,  and the areas around it (you can see the Statue of Liberty from one spot).  There is a water spot for the kids to run in barefoot as well as a picture window that hangs over the street to look eastward over the city.

The High Line truly a remarkable place to see when you consider it was all train tracks in the past!

While you’re there keep an eye out for the delectable food trucks.

Zoos, Gardens, and Aquarium

NYC is home to the world famous Bronx Zoo, Brooklyn Botanic Garden (Free; check out the cherry trees from late March to mid-May), Central Park Zoo ($12 for adults), Prospect Park Zoo ($8/adult), Queens Zoo ($8/adult), New York Aquarium ($11.95/adult), Staten Island Zoo ($8/adults), New York Botanical Garden, Queens Botanical Garden (Free), and Staten Island Botanical Garden (Free).

Make sure you check the sites for where you want to go for exact prices.  For some locations there might be a free or suggested donation day that makes it much cheaper.  Keep in mind it could very well be more crowded on those days too.  And don’t forget parking fees as well.

Museums

Are you a museum person?  Do you like American history or do you prefer modern art?

Whatever your tastes there’s a museum for you in NYC!  Check out the admission rates if you plan to go to one of the following.  Many are private museums and may be pricier while others may have suggested donations. There also may be free or discounted days at many of the museums.

American Museum of Natural History (you remember Night At The Museum, right?, American Museum of the Moving Image, Anne Frank Center, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Center For Jewish History, El Museo Del BarrioGuggenheim Museum (the building itself is art), Louis Armstrong House & Archives, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York Hall of Science (fun for the kids), Skyscaper Museum, Transit Museum.

There are so many museums in NYC that it’s hard to list them all!  Personally I love the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History.  The New York Hall of Science is fun too (and it’s not far from the Queens zoo and also a great park for the kids)!

Tip – Many corporations offer discounts to attractions, many times these can be free.  Check with your HR dept. and see what they offer.  In some cases having a company ID can get you into a museum for free.

Related: Free Museum Days from Bank of America

Transportation

How do you get around to all of these places in NYCSubway

Driving is an option but you have to listen to the traffic reports and know the parking situation where you’re going.  You can find taxi cabs all over Manhattan, and that could be good for a short trip, but they can get expensive quickly and they aren’t as easy to find in the outer boroughs (not Manhattan).  Another option is to use the city’s own transit system, the MTA.  There are tons of buses and trains that can bring you all over NYC.  The out the MTA Trip Planner site.  You put in where you want to go and where you’re coming from and it will suggest ways to get there via bus and train!  Oh, the bus or train is only $2.50 (more if you take an express bus)!

Parks

With the millions of people that are in NYC you might think there’s no room for parks.  Unisphere That would be a wrong assumption!  There are tons of parks in NYC!!

Here are some you might want to check out: Central Park – A biggie, located in Manhattan and home to the Central Park Zoo, Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art and much more; Bryant Park – another Manhattan park, much smaller than Central Park but home to the HBO Summer Film Festival (free movies on the lawn) and Good Morning America Summer Concert Series (free concerts); Flushing Meadows Corona Park – a huge park in Queens which is home to the New York Hall of Science, the US Open, the Mets (Citi Field), Queens Museum of Art, 1,255 acres of athletic fields, and includes many sculptures and building (such as the Unisphere) built for two World’s Fairs; Jamaica Bay Wildlife Reserve; Prospect Park; and many smaller neighborhood parks!

Biking/Walking

NYC has built over 100 miles of greenway trails for walking, running, skating and bicycling across the five boroughs.  These are great trails to get out and exercise on!  As well as the greenways NYC also has two mountain bike trails, one each in Highbridge Park, Manhattan and Cunningham Park, Queens.

Sports

NYC is home the the Mets, Yankees, Knicks, Rangers, US Open, NYC Marathon, Brooklyn Cyclones, Giants and Jets (though they play in New Jersey, go figure), Liberty, and the Staten Island Yankees.

For more frugal tickets in a smaller stadium check out the Cyclones and the SI Yankees which are minor league baseball teams.  You can find less expensive tickets for the other teams, just watch out for expenses like food and souvenirs at the stadiums!

We went to a Cyclones game and had a blast!  We started off with a walk along the boardwalk in Coney Island before we went to the game.  That day’s game was bat giveaway day.  My son was quite happy to get a full sized Cyclones bat as a souvenir (they have a lot of souvenir nights).  At the game we got to meet two of the Cyclones mascots.  Our littlest even got a autograph on her hat!  Something goes on in between every inning to get the crowd involved, be it a silly race, food eating contest, or launching shirts into the stands.  Really, minor league game is a lot of fun for the family and it costs a fraction of a major league game.

Food and Shopping

Seriously, if you can’t find the food or shopping you want in NYC then you really aren’t trying at all!  You can find virtually anything you want here!  To dine we have everything from five star restaurants to hot dog carts on the corner.  You can shop for the top designers or check out neighborhood flea markets.

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NYC Neighborhoods

NYC has many great areas that you should check out.  Among them: Times Square, Williamsburg, Coney Island, Little Italy, Chinatown, Greenwich Village, Park Slope, SoHo, Flushing, and many, many more!

Other Events

There’s always something happening somewhere in NYC, it’s hard to keep up with it all!  The NYC.gov site lists a good number of events going on. Resources – Here are a few places to further investigate frugal things to see and do in New York City: Time Out New York, NYC.gov, NYC Dept of Parks and Recreation, Village Voice, NY Times, nycgo.com.

If you are traveling to NYC, having a great travel rewards credit card can help you maximize what spending you need to make and potentially give you benefits like free hotels and more.  The key, or course, is to make sure your card is paid off in full every month, otherwise your benefits probably won’t exceed the interest you will be paying.

Final Words on Frugal and Cheap in NYC

This has got to easily be one of the longest articles I’ve written.

I thought it would be easy since there’s so much to do in NYC but it’s really tough trying to pick out the best stuff for you!  To say I left out a lot would be a major understatement.  Truth is there is just too much going on to put it all down in one article.  You can easily spend thousands, if not more, in this city but there’s also plenty to do for free!

Enjoy!  Let me know what I left out in the comments!

photo credit: wwarby Statue of Liberty, photo credit: lohit Wall Street Bull, photo credit: racreations Brooklyn Bridge, photo credit: ajagendorf25 Empire State Building, photo credit: Stig Nygaard Subway, photo credit: upabreak.com Flushing Meadow Park, photo credit: pwbaker NYC Skyline.

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Published or updated June 9, 2014.

Comments

  1. Awesome job. I love NYC. :)

  2. there is also a botanic garden in brooklyn – located right near Prospect Park; If you live in NYC or plan to visit the zoos & aquarium – it’s worthwhile to buy a membership as it supports the Wildlife Conservation Organization AND then gives free admission to all of the zoos and the aquarium for a year! You may want to consider the Top of the Rock instead of the ESB — it’s new and beautiful – though pricey.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! My husband and I are planning on going to New York City over our Spring Break. We are poor students and we have no idea what sort of things we should do that are ok for our wallet. I would love to read follow up articles on this. What a great resource. Thanks again.

    Oh and we will be sure to sign up through you for and ING account too!

  4. I just drive up to New York a couple weeks ago to watch the Twins get spanked by the Yankees. My wife and I were wondering what the best way to see the Statue of Liberty was! NY is so overwhelming, this helps a lot – now we have to go back.

  5. @ PT – Thanks!

    @ Rachel – You’re right about joining the Wildlife Conservation. If you go to the zoos and gardens that are run by the wildlife conservation society often enough then it really makes sense to join. And the money goes to a worthy cause! And thanks for the Top of the Rock tip! I’ll have to check that one out.

    @ Marilyn – Check out the resource links. There’s so much going on all year round and it changes constantly. We I listed is really only the tip of the iceburg!

    @ Rihanna – I haven’t tried that service for tickets. I know it can become quite expensive to see the Yankees or Mets though and I would only expect it to be more expensive in the new stadiums next year!

    @ Frank – Glad to hear you want to come back! Have you seen any Nationals games?

  6. Booyah I love NYC! ;) Sign me up!

  7. @ Hank – You’re signed up! haha

  8. Great post, and I will be referring to it when I do visit NYC again next month or this month. I’ve been there maybe five times? Yet I have still not visited the Statue of Liberty, so I should check it out. I love NYC, possibly my favourite place in the US. I was certainly in love with it as a teenager!

  9. @ Money Energy – I’d love to hear what you think of my suggestions once you visited! I hope you have fun.

  10. Hi,
    in the building directly opposite the ice skating rink, in Rockefeller center, are great wall paintings to see. Most amazing is the, little known, painting in the ceiling. If one stands at one end of the room and walk directly across underneat, keeping the eys on the ceiling and the man holding the log, one can see how he shifts position. I always take visitors there. It is a great hit and it is free. Well worth experiencing.

    Ingegerd

  11. @ Ingregerd – Little things like that make NYC a great place to discover!

  12. NYC on the cheap isn’t easy. Great ideas! ;-)

  13. @ Marc & Angel – It’s not easy but it can be done! Thanks!

  14. I can’t wait to eventually get to NY for a visit but I am worried about spending a ton! Luckily I have a few friends I could stay with.

    Thanks for the list…. I really want to see Brooklyn Zoo.

  15. NEW YORK the best place in the world

  16. Great list! As I know from personal experience, its very easy to spend a larger sum of money in NYC than you planned. You go to a musical, eat dinner out, and take one of the touristy destination visits and all of the sudden you’re out of money! Its still definitely not as bad as Vegas though ;)

  17. thank you! ! ! My husband and I are going to New York we spring break.

  18. Money Obedience says:

    New York City is a real walking city. You can experience the different neighborhoods by walking them. And it is all free.

    I have to add one impressive note about NYC. There are indeed “well over thirty bridges.” NYC has a grand total of 2,027 bridges. Some really nice ones are in Central Park. Also walk the Brooklyn Bridge at night!

    • It really is. And you almost have to walk around in some areas.

      The Brooklyn Bridge at night must be a great view. I’ll have to do that one evening. I’ve only biked across.

  19. My friend and I were just talking about hitting the city this summer. She has NEVER been there. I’ll pass your article on as she decides where she wants to go. I lived in NY for almost 10 years. Totally agree with you about the Brooklyn Bridge. You forgot to mention real, warm from the oven bagels! Trust me, there is rarely anything elsewhere that comes even close. Eating one of those with a smear, is a must do in the city. Bagels and crazy people are what I miss most.

    • Glen Craig says:

      Haha, I guess I take good bagels, and pizza for that matter, for granted. There’s so much good food to be found in NYC. The big thing these days are the various food trucks throughout the city serving up gourmet, artisan foods. We went to one by the HighLine that had some awesome ice cream sandwiches.

      Thanks for passing the article on!

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