10 things to do for free in New York (whilst slow dancing to a mellow tune)

New York

Illustration by Arpita Bhattacharya

By Arpita Bhattacharya, BagFullofBooks.com



Life passes most of us by in a breathtaking buzz.

When we take a vacation, the last thing many of us want to do is to frenetically tick off places  to see from a never-ending wishlist. Sometimes it is more enjoyable to savour a few choice experiences. Better still many of the following things can be enjoyed on a budget. Here are my top ten things to do in New York for free whilst slow dancing to a mellow tune. How about a bit of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong crooning ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ in the background…


"Washington Crossing the Delaware," 1851 painting by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Phil Roeder and sourced via Creative Commons License

“Washington Crossing the Delaware,” 1851 painting by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Phil Roeder and sourced via Creative Commons License

1) Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A visit to the Met is a must for art lovers. It is the repository of over two million of some of the most amazing pieces of art in the world including masterworks from Rembrandt, Vermeer, van Gogh just to name a few. The entrance fee, however, can be quite prohibitive especially if you would like to spread the art browsing over multiple days. Most people do not know that the entrance fee is a suggested one and that you may pay as much or as little as you wish. There are a number of suggested itineraries to match your interests and your time curated by museum experts. Bonus Tip: The rooftop garden and cafe of the Met affords excellent views of Central Park.



2) Staten Island Ferry

New York City consists of the five boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island. The Staten Island ferry plies commuters between Staten Island and Manhattan for no charge at all. So what is so great about boarding a commuter ferry? Well… the answer is it provides an opportunity to view Manhattan from the water and as an added bonus it sails quite close to the Statue of Liberty. Skip the lines and the cost of visiting the Statue and take a selfie with Lady Liberty herself from the bows of the Staten Island Ferry.

3) Union Square Greenmarket



Apples, Union Square Greenmarket. Photo kind courtesy of Alexis Lamster, sourced via Creative Commons License.




Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, from 8 am to 6 pm, the Farmers’s Market at Union Square is a mecca for food lovers and New Yorkers shopping for fresh fruit, vegetables and other merchandise. You can sample many local wines, cheeses, cider and other fare at the many stalls. This may be a good option if you are self-catering whilst staying in Manhattan or you would just like to pick up a few essentials.



Central Park “Eye of the Lovers”. Photo by Tony Fischer and sourced via Creative Commons License.


4) Picnic in Central Park

If the weather permits pack a  picnic to enjoy in a quiet spot in the 800 acre grounds of Central Park. In my opinion Central Park is the jewel in New York’s crown. It doesn’t cost you a penny to enjoy all she has to offer. Some of the highlights are the beautiful Bow Bridge, Bethesda Fountain and Terrace and the Strawberry Fields just to mention a few. There are several free entertainment options including music concerts in Central Park in the summer.


5) Standing Room Only Ticket at Metropolitan Opera

Even if you are not an opera lover the stage productions at the Metropolitan Opera are quite breathtaking. The tickets can be quite expensive especially if bought last minute. However, on the day of the show, starting from 10 am you may pay for standing room only tickets which are very affordable. If nothing use this opportunity to go inside and enjoy the opulent interiors and view Chagall’s beautiful murals up close. You never know it may be your lucky day and some benevolent opera lover may go home at half time and on the way out slip you their ticket!



New York Public Library. Photo by huangjiahui and sourced via Creative Commons License


6) New York Public Library

The architecture of the main branch or the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library is just splendid. Take a docent led  free personal tour around the library or tour one of the special exhibitions showcasing some of the libraries more treasured pieces.  You can also do a self-guided audio tour at no cost. Take pictures with the magnificent marble library lions. My favorite exhibit showcases the actual stuffed animals that inspired the Winnie the Pooh stories.


7) MoMA, Guggenheim, Frick Collection

Each of these museums has a pay as you wish window of opportunity during the week which reduces costs. For MoMA this is every Friday from 4pm to 8pm. The Frick Collection is pay as you wish on Sundays from 11 am to 1 pm. the Guggenheim’s window of opportunity is 5.45 pm to 7.45 pm every Saturday. Don’t be daunted by the huge lines- they move very quickly. My personal favorite is the Frick Collection. They have excellent Vermeer’s and decadent interiors.


8) Visit the Outer Boroughs



Hidden gems of New York: New York Botanical Garden (Pay as you wish every Wednesday and 9 am to 10 am on Saturdays ) Photo by Terry Robinson and sourced using the Creative Commons license8) Visit the Outer Boroughs














Many people tend to associate New York City with a vision of the tall spires of Manhattan. However, New York City is far more than the concrete jungle of Manhattan. Venture further abroad and you may discover in Brooklyn the beautiful park that is Prospect Park (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted- the architect of Central Park), Coney Island and the New York Aquarium. In the Bronx, there is the Cloisters- the medieval branch of the Met Museum on the banks of the Hudson River. Entry is per your discretion. Additional gems are the New York Botanical Garden (Pay as you wish every Wednesday and 9 am to 10 am on Saturdays) and the world renowned Bronx Zoo (Pay as you wish every Wednesday). Queens is a mecca for culinary experiences and the home of Flushing Meadows.



Browsing the bargains at the biggest bookstore in the USA: Strand Bookstore, New York. Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin and sourced via Creative Commons

Browsing the bargains at the biggest bookstore in the USA: Strand Bookstore, New York. Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin and sourced via Creative Commons

9) Book Browsing at the Strand and Food Trucks

The two- book browsing and food trucking are in no way related but book browsing personally makes me really hungry. If you are a book lover look no further than the ‘Strand Bookstore’ – home to ’18 miles of books’. The store has a fantastic collection of rare and collectible books, signed new editions, art books, bestsellers, gifts and author events. When you have shopped till you’ve dropped there are excellent food trucks all over the city to offer you sustenance. Many of them are mobile having a different location every day. My favorite is the ‘Wafels and Dinges’ food truck. There are tonnes of food trucks  in and around Times Square and the Financial district and other locales. I especially remember the sweet smell of honey roasted peanuts in the cold New York winter air.



10) Walking Around the City

My top tip for New York City is to walk walk walk and then walk some more.  New York is a very walkable and navigable city. Most of the city is split into a grid of cris-cossing streets and avenues. Whether you walk with a purpose or walk aimlessly there is so much to discover in New York. Each corner you turn, each new discovery you make is your very own and at the end of the day what can be more special than that? If you should require assistance there are some excellent walking tours in and around the city for little to no cost.

At the end of this slow dancing guide is there some money burning a hole in your pocket? If there is don’t scrimp on a chance of seeing New York from the top of a very tall building. The experience will stay with you for the rest of your life and you cannot place a price on that.


For more tips about Arpita’s New York, checkout my sister’s awesome earlier piece on how to enjoy New York on a budget Plus also pop over to her new blog, Bag Full of Books where you can enjoy faraway worlds from the comfort of your armchair: follow her on a virtual journey around the world through her favourite books.


  • Great tips! Another great walk in good weather is the High Line down to Chelsea and the commercial art galleries on and around W. 24th Street. Washington Square is another great place to peoplewatch, cool off near the fountain, check out the chess players and basketball in the legendary West Fourth Street Cage.

  • Arpimay says:

    Great Suggestions Lesley. I really enjoy NYC’s neighborhoods. Each one has a unique character. Greenwich Village was a favorite of ours. Another favorite walk was crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.

  • Lesley – I agree, the highline’s a great addition to any NYC visit.

    Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge could easily be on this list.

    I live in New York City, and when my friends visit, I take them on a walking tour through the different neighborhoods in Manhattan, eating our way around the city.

  • Arpimay - bagfullofbooks.com says:

    Todd, thanks for the comment . Let’s insert these suggestions into the post Budgettraveller!

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