With a population of over 8 million, New York City is far and away the biggest metropolis across the nation. Thanks to its ongoing appearances in TV, film, and other pop culture, this concrete jungle sits firmly atop infinite wannabe-travelers’ bucket lists, and for good reason.
We’d be here until the cows come home if we tried to list every possible activity on offer in the Big Apple, with Manhattan alone offering an endless list of essential activities. However, just because there’s so much to do, it doesn't mean that we have to break the bank while we’re at it. As easily as we can go broke shopping on Fifth Avenue, we can experience one of the greatest cities in the world with just a handful of pennies. Here are 10 free things that every visitor should do in New York.
10 Walk the High Line
Nestled in the west side of Manhattan in New York City lies the beloved High Line - a beautiful, elevated walking path that has been miraculously transformed from an old, abandoned railway. Make sure you’re wearing your walking shoes because the stroll is just shy of a mile and a half.
It connects the recently-opened Vessel (AKA the giant beehive-looking structure that is nothing but stairs) with the bustling Chelsea Markets further south. So, depending on where you start, grab a bite to eat and a fresh coffee from one of Chelsea’s many popular outlets.
9 Stroll through Central Park
It’s hard to believe that in a booming metropolis full to the brim with skyscrapers and concrete that there can actually be an oasis of nature smack-bang in the middle, but alas it’s true. Central Park brings a much-needed breath of fresh air to the concrete jungle, with 1.31 square miles of greenery, local land and lake critters, a zoo, plenty of walking and running paths, and so much more.
If New York’s chaotic routine is becoming a little overwhelming, a nap on the grass in Central Park is an ideal way to unwind. In the winter when it’s covered in a fresh layer of untouched, white powder, it’s all the more stunning.
8 Say hey to the turtles at Bethesda
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If you're in Central Park, NYC, go check out these little critters! There's hundreds of them in the lake and they're super #cute! New York is a big city, so enjoy the little things :) #turtle #cuteanimals #travelblogger #travelphotography #wanderlust #nomad #explore #adventure #instatravel #outdoors #nature #travel #wander #sightsee #blogger #travelmore #wanderer #ourworld #traveltips #travelguide #travelhacks #nyc #newyorkcity #centralpark
We can’t leave Central Park without saying a quick hello to the hundreds of turtles scattered throughout the park’s lakes. The iconic Bethesda area (pictured above) is the most popular spot for getting up close and personal with these cute, little critters, however, it’s often by accident. People flock to Bethesda for the stunning fountain and to recreate some famous movie scenes by romantically paddling across the shimmering lake, before realizing that the water is actually booming with reptiles.
There’s also the aptly named Turtle pond a little further north, which is home to five different species, the most common being the red-eared slider.
7 Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
Connecting the bustling boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge is an icon of the city. It’s totally free to walk across it at any time of the day, offering up sublime views of downtown manhattan and the freedom tower propped up next to the East River.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you though - in the peak tourist seasons the bridge becomes a chaotic mess of snap-happy visitors and disgruntled local cyclists trying to speed across. If that’s the case, walk across the adjacent Manhattan Bridge instead. The crowds are far less obtrusive and you’ll be able to capture to the iconic Brooklyn Bridge in your photos from afar.
6 Catch the Staten Island Ferry
As an undisputed icon not only of New York City but of the entire United States, The Statue of Liberty sits atop Ellis Island, just south of lower Manhattan. It’s often a must-see for anything making the trip out to the big city, however, Liberty Island itself is often uncomfortably jam-packed with tourists and touring through the statue isn’t cheap by any means either.
A fantastic alternative is to hop aboard the free ferry that takes locals from Bowling Green, the lowest point in Manhattan, down to Staten Island and vice versa. The journey often A-grade views of the Downtown skyline, and, of course, Lady Liberty herself.
5 (Try to) see SNL
When we conjure up images of New York television it’s almost impossible not to think of Saturday Night Live. The NBC show has been matching celebrity hosts with all kinds of famous names over the last four decades, always delivering a fair share of laughs and comedy gold.
The tickets to this revered show are completely free but due to its absurd popularity, they’re often very tricky to come by. The way they release audience tickets is through a lottery system, so you’ll need a little touch of luck on your side. Otherwise, you’re more than welcome to line up outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza before 7 a.m. to get some standby tickets, but the coffee isn’t included.
4 Check out Times Square (but only once)
Granted, Times Square might be one of the most overrated, crowded, scam-centric tourist attractions on the planet, but it’s also a one-of-a-kind experience that should be seen at least once. With sky-high electronic billboards, poorly dressed-up cartoon characters, unique buskers, and massive crowds, Times Square really does feel like the center of the universe.
Unless you’re planning on seeing a Broadway show, however, there’s not much point going there more than once. Get your fix, snap a few pics to make your friends at home jealous, and then head north to Central Park or west toward the High Line.
3 Catch an outdoor movie
If you’re venturing to the Big Apple during the warmer months, which, let’s face it, the majority of tourists are, a few of the city’s major parks put on semi-regular outdoor movie events. Considering all the walking we’ve done so far, kicking back on a picnic blanket with a glass of cider and some popcorn while watching Anchorman with a few hundred other strangers seems like a welcomed rest.
The Netflix-sponsored calendar at Bryant Park offers up a variety of family-friendly flicks, smack in the hustle and bustle of midtown Manhattan, while Brooklyn Bridge Park offers some high-quality films a little further out of the way.
2 Read a book at the New York Public Library
As the most famous library in the city, hands down, the New York Public Library is as impressive as it is visually stunning. The reading room can fit 500 people who, when bored of whatever they’re staring down at, can tilt their head skyward toward the original Carrère and Hastings lamps.
In addition to the permanent collection of books, there are also plenty of regular and rotating exhibitions. You can walk around solo at pretty much any time, however, if you want some extra insider information, free tours take place at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. from Monday to Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday.
1 Just stroll
Honestly, New York is the kind of place where you can walk the same route, every single day, and have a completely different experience each time. Around every corner are hidden gems waiting to be discovered, be them in the form of street performers, graffiti, pop-up boutiques, Sunday markets, movies in the park, flashmobs, bodegas, fresh coffee stands - you name it.
The simplistic numerical-grid city layout is understandable even by squirrels, so even if you do find yourself a little lost, making your way back to the familiar areas doesn’t take too much thought. So if you’ve ever got a couple of hours to kill in the big city, why not just stroll around?