New York City is one of the world's largest urban areas, with a population of over 8 million people. Every year, the city draws in tourists and new residents for the countless opportunities it offers as well as for its fast-paced environment and unique architecture. In New York, the enormous buildings make you feel like an ant, something is always happening, and the vast range of events to attend suits every budget.
The Big Apple hosts a variety of museums, dedicated to history and art, but there are also endless shopping opportunities, great restaurants to try and an entire street dedicated to Broadway performances. The city is full of a deep history and beautiful buildings all to enjoy, this is undeniable. But New York also has a reputation for being pricey. And deservedly so, we’d say.
Seeing Broadway shows or dining at one of the city’s most buzzed about restaurants will cost you a pretty penny, but that doesn't mean it's completely impossible to get by and have fun in the city on a shoestring budget. There is a legion of fun, free things to do, too, that can suit every need. Whether you’re a solo traveler or have children, you can take your pick of legitimately cool things to do in NYC without spending a cent in the list below. Don’t believe us? Keep reading to see for yourself.
20 Free: Shakespeare In The Park
Shakespeare in the Park is a summer-long theater production hosted by Public Theater and showcased in Central Park's Delacorte Theater. This is considered by far one of the best free activities to enjoy in NYC by the general public - and it’s easy to see why.
The main shows played are large-scale productions of works by William Shakespeare, but you can happen to watch occasional musicals or non-Shakespearean dramas as well. The productions often feature some of the most talented actors of our day. Past casts have included Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Al Pacino and George C. Scott just to name a few.
Unfortunately, Shakespeare in the Park’s popularity means that tickets aren’t easy to come by - thus some planning (and luck!) is required. In case you’re interested, this year's plays are “Othello” and “Twelfth Night.”
19 Too Expensive: Broadway Experiences ($100 - $1,000)
Broadway performances are definitely something New York is known for. The best and biggest productions in the world are played here - starring among the most talented actors around, no less. There’s even a whole street dedicated to these shows!
However, any Broadway experience is anything less than cheap - each show costs around $100 on average. Vip experiences are being offered, too, for those who can afford them. They cost around $1000 each and offer, besides premium orchestra seating, dinner, personal concierge service to deliver drinks during the intermission, an autographed program book and even a meet and greet with the cast backstage.
18 Free: Movies with A View At Brooklyn Bridge Park
“Movies with a View” is considered a must-do for every person visiting New York in the summer. This new-born event has been launched in 2000 but has earned a loyal and large following since then.
“Movies With A View” takes place every Thursday evening in July and August. It’s considered to be a very romantic experience because the gently sloping hillside provides the perfect setting to enjoy the breeze off of the East River during the hottest summer day - while the views of Lower Manhattan’s famed skyline are simply breath-taking.
Bring a picnic blanket and snacks to this riverside park and enjoy the eclectic mix of screenings shown: from Hollywood golden age classics, action blockbusters and cult-favorite comedies to family-fun animated features. Recent films screened have been ‘Wonder Woman’ and the classic ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’.
17 Too Expensive: Watch A Baseball Game With A Yankee Legend ($299+)
When they say there’s no limit to what you can spend in New York, they’re indeed true. The Big Apple definitely offers events to attend and things to do to suit every wallet. And if you’re a Yankee fan that doesn’t have a budget, then you’ll definitely enjoy the activity we’re about to propose you.
For around $299, you can head to the Yankee stadium and watch a game in a luxury party suite with the best views of the action, all while meeting at least two famous Yankee legends and watching a game in the iconic New York City Stadium. Need more convincing? The party suite has a high definition TV to watch close-ups of the game and an all-inclusive buffet. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for any Yankee fan!
16 Free: Target First Saturdays
Don't believe the cliche “you can't get anything for free” because you definitely can at New York, at least if you know your way around here. To prove this, there are the Target First Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum.
Though the venerable Brooklyn Museum of Art always operates with suggested-donation admission, during the first Saturday evening of the month, the institution offers free entrance to the museum and a jam-packed itinerary of free events throughout the night.
This free, once-a-month event is definitely not to be missed. It celebrates a range of themes every year, and always also ties into exhibitions at the museum. Plus, it's family friendly, and the programming is intelligent.
You won’t have to pay a dime to enter the museum during this special occasion, but bring your wallet if you want to grab a drink as part of the happy hour!
15 Too Expensive: Hiring A Personal Shopping Assistant ($150 - $800)
You watched ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, ‘Gossip Girl’, ‘Sex & The City’- or many more NY-based movies - and now you’re dreaming about getting a personal assistant to shop and fill your wardrobe with expensive and sleek pieces?
You totally can just know it’s not gonna be cheap. At all. And even though the cost of having a personal shopping assistant itself might not seem too exclusive ($150 - $800), consider you’ll be actually shopping in the most expensive designer shops in the world. Your own personal shopping assistant will guide you through the Fifth Avenue where shops like Prada, Gucci, Versace, and many others are located. So be prepared to try a lot of things on, spend plenty of money, learn a thing or two about fashion designers and renew your wardrobe!
14 Free: Socrates Sculpture Park
By far one of the most enjoyable activities for the eyes to do in New York for free, Socrates Sculpture Park was once an abandoned landfill. In the 1980s, it was turned into an open studio and exhibition space for artists, as well as a neighborhood park. So take in the great outdoors while appreciating awe-inspiring large-scale sculptures and installations at this 4.5-acre public space.
The park has beautiful, lush green lawns overlooking the East River and it’s the perfect location for a casual picnic. It also boasts a reputation as a premiere outdoor location for artists to create site-specific wonders that use the landscape to extend and complete their work. Need convincing? The park often hosts beautiful dance and musical performances as well.
13 Too Expensive: Private SUV Tour ($150 - $800)
Another one of the fancy and interesting things you can do in New York is renting an SUV.
If you’d like to have your own private driver at your disposal and being driven around the city, then this is something you’ll enjoy spending money on. You can bring your friends and enjoy some luxurious sight-seeing for four (or more if you want to) hours.
Themed itineraries are available and if something catches your eye or you want a break you can stop and take a walk. But who would ever get out of a luxury SUV? This is an amazing and unique opportunity to visit the Big Apple in style.
12 Free: Celebrate Brooklyn!
During the summer, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!, an annual series of outdoor concerts, takes place in Prospect Park Bandshell turning it into one of the best concert venues in the city. This scenic amphitheater is indeed surrounded by trees and the feeling all around can only be described as sesquipedalian.
While there’s always a few ticketed benefit concerts, nearly all the shows are open to anybody on a first-come basis. Whether you're seeing a buzzy indie-rock band, a classic soul or funk group, or one of the best hip-hop artists around, catching one of these gigs is guaranteed to be a highlight for your summer showgoing season.
11 Too Expensive: The Red Door Spa (Up To $1,040)
Walking up and down New York City’s streets can be stressing and tiring enough to encourage you to relax a bit after a while. In case, you’re lucky. The Big Apple is home to the best Spas in the world. But luxury comes with a price, of course.
Among the most expensive Spas in the city, there’s The Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, which is able to offer you what you need - from facials, massages and body treatments to hair and make-up services. Using just Elizabeth Arden beauty products, the Red Door Spa has some special packages and offers, with one for couples reaching $1.040.
The Spa is located on the Fifth Avenue, so after you finish your shopping at the designer shops located on the street - such as Prada, Gucci or YSL - why not drop by for a massage?
10 Free: View The Statue Of Liberty From The Staten Island Ferry
One of the most popular activities to do when visiting the Big Apple is taking a tour to see the Statue of Liberty. And how could it not be? However, a proper tour of the monument will cost you around $30 or more, but luckily we have a free alternative for every wallet-conscious traveler.
Indeed, you can save money by taking the Staten Island Ferry. The commuter ferry, which is always free, travels between Manhattan and Staten Island every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. It won't stop at the Statue of Liberty, but you'll get plenty of photo opportunities of the iconic monument and the New York skyline in the distance.
Not a fancy tour, but it’s still a way to save quite a few pennies in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
9 Too Expensive: Chartering A Yacht ($4,050)
If getting a private New York City tour by SUV is not luxurious enough for you, here’s an even more expensive alternative. For around $4000, you can see the Manhattan skyline with a four-hour cruise on a luxurious yacht. You’ll get close up views of the Statue of Liberty, Battery Park, and other beautiful NY-famous sites. Even private deep sea fishing trips on the Atlantic Ocean are available.
The cherry on top, you can also sign up for a holiday cruise on New Year's Eve or Fourth of July to see the sky lit up with fireworks and enjoy a private celebration. Well, this would definitely be an epic way to spend your holidays in the Big Apple!
8 Free: Take A Leisurely Kayak Ride
The island of Manhattan is home to a few major rivers - so cruises, ferry boats, and other water vehicles are a common sight on both the Hudson River and the East River in every season. Particularly in the summer, when several boat houses around the city offer up kayaks for free public use, giving visitors the unique chance to see the city from spectacular vantage points.
Governor's Island (offers free kayaking on Saturdays from June 16 to September 15) and L.I.C Community Boathouse (offers free walk-up kayaking every Sunday from May 28 to September 2) are among the most popular choices, but you can find many more boat houses with a simple quick Google search.
7 Too Expensive: Ordering Nino’s "Bellissima" Pizza ($1.000)
You might think of pizza as one of the most basic and cheap foods around. They rarely stretch above the $20 mark, even when they use the freshest, highest quality ingredients. But not in New York. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to taste one of the most expensive pizzas in the world.
The high-end pizza in question is called ‘Bellissima’ and can be ordered from Nino’s Bellissima Pizzeria for a whopping $1,000. It is topped with caviar worth no less than $820, while the rest $180 dollars go on the cost of the pizza and the 12-inch Maine lobster that is sprinkled on top.
Nino Selimaj, the place owner, started just as a dishwasher back in 1958. After a lot of hard work and perseverance, he now owns five restaurants. Ah, stories like this are New York’s pride!
6 Free: Check Out The Brooklyn Botanical Garden
Founded more than a century ago, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden was born to preserve some green in the city while the Big Apple was growing along with its many massive buildings. The garden’s main mission is to inspire people of all ages to aim for the conservation of plants by respecting the environment. Indeed, this is what we can read on their official site: “The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is an urban botanic garden that connects people to the world of plants, fostering delight and curiosity while inspiring an appreciation and sense of stewardship of the environment”.
This is also the reason behind the choice to keep the access to this peaceful garden free during the summer on Friday mornings before noon. This way, every traveler - even the most wallet-conscious ones - has the opportunity to visit this breath-taking reserve.
5 Too Expensive: Spend The night At PUBLIC, An Ian Schrager Hotel ($280/night)
Even a quick look at pictures from the Public Hotel can justify the whopping price you’re expected to pay in order to spend a night here. Hotels are already known to be particularly expensive in The Big Apple - and this might not even be the most expensive one - but it’s an example of what you should be willing to pay to spend the night in a 4.5 stars hotel in the city.
“Refined, sophisticated, smart and simple, yet flamboyant and provocative, all at the same time.” These are the words they use to describe the hotel’s guest rooms on the official site, while “Great Service. Great Style. Great Experience. Great Price.” is the place’s motto.
4 Free: Admire The Wildlife At The Bronx Zoo
New York City, the Big Apple, home to every type of cuisine, the world’s most famous skyline with residents who speak languages from every corner of the globe, is also where you’ll find America’s largest metropolitan zoo. Within the 265 acres, there’s almost no living animal on the planet you can’t see at the Bronx Zoo. During the winter, it’s highly suggested you stop by Tiger Mountain or Himalayan Highlands to see big cats enjoying the chilly outdoors, but you can also head to World of Reptiles or Jungle World for a warm up with tropical wildlife.
Now, we have good news and bad news. Good news is admission to the Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays - but donations are still suggested to help support operating costs and care for the animals. Bad news: expect the place to be extremely over-crowded during these occasions!
3 Too Expensive: Take A Private Walking Tour With A Personal Photographer ($65 - $600)
Even though the price range to enjoy this experience is wide, it’s still considered one of those activities that could potentially drain your wallet. Starting from $65 (up to $600 and more!), you can hire a personal photographer to guide you through a private, customized walking tour of New York City - to explore the city’s most iconic landmarks.
The location choice is up to your personal taste. You can select from any number of popular areas, like Times Square and the Theatre District, Central Park, Midtown Manhattan, Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Everybody can take travel selfies, but a New York photo tour… well, it’s on a totally different level!
2 Free: Walk The Unique, Elevated High Line Park
You can finish off your budget-friendly trip to New York with a walk along the unique High Line Park - which is an old elevated railroad track in Chelsea that was converted into a public park in 2009. The narrow, 1.5-mile park features unique artwork, plant life, and spectacular views of New York architecture and street life. It’s definitely one of those spots in the Big Apple you can’t afford to miss!
Plus, it won’t cost you a single dime to walk it, and it’s pretty useful if you’re going somewhere from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, or between 10th and 12th Avenues - which is exactly where it runs.
1 Too Expensive: Drink At Death And Co. ($20+ Per Drink)
Let’s end our list with a round of drinks at the popular Death And Co! The cocktail bar recently celebrated its first 10 years - and it’s crazy how much impact he had during this time frame, launching all kinds of “modern classics” that are now served at bars from Portland to New Orleans and back to Midtown Manhattan.
The place is considered to be one of New York’s gems, and even a quick trip here seems mandatory if you’re spending the holidays in the Big Apple. However, turns out it won’t be a particularly cheap one. For instance, the average cost of a drink on the menu is $20. Sounds pretty pricey, even for New York’s standards.