How to Enjoy New York City without Spending a Dime
New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the United States, so the more fun you can have without spending money, the better.
New York City is one of the best and most varied travel destinations in the United States, but it is also one of the most expensive. A simple street meal costs what you could get at a casual restaurant in a small town. With the best museums, food, and live shows as well as high-priced hotel accommodations, you need to stretch your travel budget to make the most of your time in the Big Apple. Fortunately there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy New York's best for free.
Explore every acre of Central Park.
It does not take a lot of brain power to realize that parks are free, but Central Park is priceless. With 834 acres of beauty, peace, and entertainment, you could spend your entire vacation there without ever seeing the same thing twice.
One of the most popular spots in the park is Strawberry Fields, a mosaic built into the ground near where John Lennon was killed. The word "Imagine" is engraved on the memorial in remembrance for Lennon's song calling for peace, and many visitors come to spread flower petals in his memory.
Another popular area is "The Pond." If you are a fan of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, you will recognize this as the area Holden Caulfield frequented when wondering where all the ducks go.
Besides these historical and fictional landmarks, loads of street performers and live entertainment set up in the park to entertain both locals and tourists. If you spend enough time winding through the park's trees, you won't be able to help tossing a few coins to at least one musician.
Enjoy endless contemporary art in Chelsea.
With all the high-priced art museums in New York City, the neighborhood of Chelsea lets visitors enjoy their art galleries for free. Enjoy a gallery crawl almost any night of the week where you can see contemporary artists. Take this opportunity to see new talent in a low-pressure environment, Despite displaying new works free of charge, there is no pressure for visitors to invest in or buy the artwork.
Does an unguided gallery crawl in a new neighborhood sound intimidating? With Chelsea's numerous galleries, that is understandable. For only a dollar, you can download the Chelsea Gallery Map app from the Apple app store to turn your aimless wandering into a self-organized tour through the city.
For a special treat, stop by on Thursday evenings for a wine and cheese party to kick off that night's gallery crawl. Basically that means you get wine, cheese, entrance to as many galleries as you can fit into a night, and your own digital tour guide for, at most, a dollar.
Learn about as many different cultures as you like at no cost.
With a focus on education, many of the cultural societies in New York City offer free admission to visitors who want to come and learn about others' art, traditions, and history. The following places open their doors to the public for free:
The Hispanic Society of America Museum and Library specializes in Spanish art ranging from the Middle Ages to contemporary artists. Access rare books, manuscripts, and other primary documents, if history and research are where your interests lie. Nowhere else in New York City can you study and learn about the cultures of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America in such an authentic way.
The Japan Society sells tickets for lots of programs and shows, but you can enjoy their art galleries for free on Friday nights. From six to nine p.m. enjoy whatever the current exhibits are. They all feature prominent Japanese artists and photographers.
Learn about one of the United State's most underrepresented cultures at the National Museum of the American Indian. For the price of nothing, you get to learn how Native Americans fit into America's history, learning more than you ever did in school. While the exhibits are in flux, you never fail to walk away knowing something new about Native American traditions, culture, and history.
Visit the New York Public Library—seriously.
While for some it might seem like a crazy idea to visit a library on vacation, the New York Public Library is anything but your city's local branch. Over a hundred years old, the New York Public Library has an ornate reading room that seats over five hundred people that is always bustling. Despite its size and historical significance, it hosts community events such as book readings, live music and dance performances, and chess tournaments.
The New York Public Library also gives free tours to tourists from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Learn the history of the Schwarzman building and its exhibits such as a Gutenberg Bible, over 431,000 antique maps, and an authentic copy of the original Declaration of Independence.
Don't miss out on the opportunity to learn about New York City's most underrated landmark—free of charge.
Enjoy local craft beers at the Brooklyn Brewery.
A brewery that started out of the owner Steve Hindy's home and has been a staple since 1996, the Brooklyn Brewery offers free tours on the weekends. See how local brands are brewed and the science behind brewing beer up close. While weekend tours do not include the tastings that the paid weekday tours do, you can purchase tokens that you can then exchange so that you can sample beer.
And this beer is worth the tasting. In lieu traditional advertising, Hindy donated his beer to Brooklyn's theaters, galleries, and any event he could, using its taste and word of mouth to garner interest and bring his customers in.
If the idea of a tour without an included tasting just doesn't sound right, the tours Monday through Thursday that include beer samples are only ten dollars, meaning it still will not run you dry.
Enjoy comedy's up-and-comers at the Upright Citizens Brigade.
If you are a comedy connoisseur or just looking for a laugh while out on the town, the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre is somewhere you must go. This comedy troupe has produced comedy mainstays such as Aziz Anzari, Jerry Seinfeld, and too many Saturday Night Live cast members past and present to name.
Check the schedule before heading out of one of their two locations in either Chelsea or the East Village, but the Upright Citizens Brigade puts on comedy shows for free almost every night of the week. Past troupe members are notorious for popping in for a surprise guest appearance.
Even their paid shows are not hard on your wallet with ticket prices of only five and ten dollars a piece. These often have well-known comedians on the billing at bargain prices. See tomorrow's stars today as many times as you like while visiting without depleting your travel funds.
See what the Rockefeller Plaza has to offer year-round.
The Rockefeller Center, and most importantly the Rockefeller Plaza, are synonymous with Christmas time with its record-breaking Christmas tree and outdoor ice skating rink. While it is thriving during the holidays, it is a can't-miss place when visiting and does not cost a thing.
First it is where the outdoor tapings of the Today Show take place, so stand outside in the crowd to get a glimpse of Matt Lauer and Al Roker. Take some signs and make a lot of noise, and you might even get caught on camera.
Also when the tree and Christmas lights come down after the new year, you can see different art installations and enjoy the architecture outside this storied building.
Seek out when paid attractions offer free admission.
Much like the Japan Society mentioned above, many of New York's favorite tourist attractions offer special hours where they let visitors in for free for a few hours. Here are some of the best opportunities to avoid sky high ticket prices.
You might have to pick and choose since many of these special hours all take place on Friday afternoons and evenings.
The Bronx Zoo opens its doors on Wednesday with a pay-what-you-want admission price. While small donations—even as little as a dollar—are encouraged, you can get in for free.
The New York Aquarium is free on Friday afternoons from three p.m. to close.
The American Museum of Natural History has a suggested admission price, but you can get in for only a small donation or, if necessary, free.
While it gets very busy during this time, the Museum of Modern Art lets visitors in for free from four to eight p.m. on Fridays.
The New York Historical Society has free admission from six to eight p.m. on Friday evenings.
For a different outdoor experience from Central Park, visit the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens for free on Tuesdays and 10 a.m.-12 p.m. on Saturdays.
The Studio Museum in Harlem that highlights African American artists is free every Sunday.
The Neue Galerie displaying German and Austrian artworks is free from six to eight p.m. on the first Friday of every month.
While you are sure to end up paying for some of what you do while visiting New York City, look for some these special hours and free-of-charge attractions. Maybe forego that expensive Broadway show and see a free comedy show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Sacrifice a little of your time in your favorite museums to be able to go during their free hours. Visit the historical exhibits at the library for free instead of some of the city's other pricier ones. Save money and keep your itinerary full all at the same time.
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