It’s easy to spend big money in the big apple. But if you’re like me, you probably want to indulge in some unusual cuisines and be on your way to Central America; I leave in 24 hours for Guatemala! In my three weeks in NYC, I’ve had my fair share of fun with tons of free things to do, free events and free activities to choose from.
Take my list and go, and be kind to that wallet of yours:
1) Kayak on the Hudson River
Seeing a gorgeous sunset over the Hudson is one thing, but rowing your way through its bays and open expanses in the backdrop of imposing skyscrapers is quite another. Pick a sunny day and head over to The Downtown Boathouse, Manhattan Community Boathouse or Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse, for 20 minutes of free kayaking on any day between May and October, or a more challenging 3-hour kayak trip on some weekends and public holidays.
2) Sample handcrafted beer at a microbrewery
Every Saturday, from 1 pm to 5 pm, Brooklyn Brewery along the cobbled streets of Williamsburg, opens its doors to visitors big on beer and small on the wallet. You spend an hour behind the scenes of one of New York’s favorite beers, and sample complimentary brews for a perfect start to the weekend.
Unfortunately for Manhattan dwellers, Chelsea Brewing Company, the largest microbrewery in the borough, closed its doors earlier this year.
3) See Cherry Blossoms at Sakura Park
Two thousand cherry trees were gifted by Japan to New York City in 1912, and most of them planted at Sakura Park; “sakura” means cherry blossom in Japanese. While many parks in NYC (including Central Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden) have cherry trees scattered in their midst, Sakura, in Morningside Heights, is the only park entirely dedicated to them. I might not be around till spring to witness the spectacular cherry blossoms, but if you are, I’m sure it’ll be worth your while!
4) Hear live music by budding artists
If you find yourself craving a cosy music venue without having to fork out money for cover charge or drinks at a bar, make your way to lower Manhattan, where Rockwood Music Hall offers free concerts on most weekdays and weekends. Budding artists and local bands play everything from jazz to R&B and Hip Hop. It’s all for the love of good music.
5) Go on a cargo ferry to see Statue of Liberty
Why pay 12$ for a tourist ferry to Staten Island, when you can hop on to the commuter cargo ferry for free? Board from Lower Manhattan, and sail away from the city’s iconic skyscrapers, holding your breath when the famous State of Liberty finally comes into focus on the far end of the 25 minute journey.
6) Indulge your literary side
Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt were once residents of the century-old Wave Hill estate in upper Manhattan, now a pretty public park and a venue for poetry recitals and author readings. Go on Tuesday, when admission to the estate is free, and make use of the free shuttle from the end of the subway line towards the Bronx. The Queens Library in the neighboring borough also holds literary readings and workshops throughout the week.
7) Have a beach day
It’s almost difficult to think of New York City as a cluster of islands amid its skyscraper-dominated skyline and fast-paced life. But when a friend told me about Rockaway Beach on the far end of Queens, I started scrolling through Google Maps to find other sun-and-sea spots in the city. Turns out just a short distance with public transport – at Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn, Great Kills Park on Staten Island or Orchard Beach in the Bronx – you can find yourself lying in the soft sand and swimming in the gentle waters on a summer day. See the list of New York City beaches here.
8) Work from an outdoor office
If you’re a digital nomad like me, you’ll love Bryant Park for offering free Wifi amid the wilderness. Find a quiet corner and set up your office under a tree, amid the colors of spring or autumn, in the distant backdrop of midtown Manhattan’s skyscrapers. Chances are, your inspiration will outdo your device’s battery life!
9) Catch a free movie, concert, carnival or walking tour
There’s always something going on in New York; you just need to find it. I spent one surreal evening at an Iranian gathering, listening to Rumi’s poetry recitals and heart-stopping music made on the 5000 year old Tanbur. And another, watching a breathtaking flamenco that transported me back to the gypsy quarters of Andalusia. Check out NYCgo and TimeOut for free cultural events while you’re around.
10) Go wine and spirit tasting
They say that the best things in life are free, and so it is in NYC! Find yourself sipping some of the world’s finest wines, rums and champagnes at a tasting session at Union Square Wines & Spirits in Lower Manhattan – without paying a penny, unless you really like what you taste and can fork out cash to buy a bottle. You’ll also find daily free wine tastings at Big Nose, Full Body in Brooklyn, and 67 Wines & Spirits on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Cheers!
What are your favorite free things to do in NYC?
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.