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Guest blog by Jennifer Havener
New York City is the city that never sleeps, the fashion capital of the world, the Big Apple. It’s also really expensive to visit. If hotels and food are taking up a good chunk of your vacation budget, check out these free (or cheap) things to do in NYC.
Staten Island Ferry
Everyone wants to go on the Statue of Liberty tour but who wants to stand in line for hours or be packed on a boat like sardines? The tours to the Statue of Liberty are expensive and the crown tickets sell out six months in advance. (My thing is – why bother going all the way out there if you’re not going to the top?)
What if I told you there was a free way to get close to the Statue of Liberty in New York City for photo ops without paying a cent? The Staten Island Ferry leaves every 30 minutes from the South Ferry port and it is completely free. Be warned, though: it is crowded, both in the ferry terminal and on the boat. However, the amazing views of the Statue of Liberty are well worth it.
Once you’ve completed the ferry ride to Staten Island, you can stay in the terminal until the next ferry leaves or explore Staten Island. The return trip to Manhattan is free as well.
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal is one of the most beautiful buildings in New York City, hands down. It is a train and subway station but you don’t need a ticket to go inside to look at the ceiling art or the immense windows. This is something great in New York City for free to do.
There are a bunch of restaurants in GCT, such as the popular Shake Shack, but they are a bit pricey. The Dining Hall and Main Concourse can get a bit busy during rush hour, but the terminal is spacious, especially for NYC.
New York City Public Library
If you’re looking for actual books to borrow, you’ll have to go to one of the other branch locations. The NYPL location on 5th Ave. is mostly for research purposes and sightseers. The exterior of the library is featured in many films, most notably in one of the Ghostbuster movies.
The 5th Ave. branch is just a few blocks away from Grand Central. I walk by the library every time I’m in NYC to visit “my lions,” the two large lion statues that bookend the library steps.
NYC is often referred to as the “concrete jungle” because of the overwhelming skyscrapers and other concrete structures looming over the streets. Central Park is 750 acres of land in NYC that hasn’t been bulldozed and filled with cement. It’s where people go to lay in the grass or walk the hundreds of trails.
Walking through Central Park is free. You can see the Balto statue, the famous arch bridge, the Alice In Wonder statue… if you can find them. Central Park is huge and very easy to get lost in. If you’re new to visiting NYC, your best bet might be to take a guided tour, which isn’t free. There are tons of pedicabs and horse-drawn carriages available to get you around the park, but those are definitely not cheap.
— NYC Daily Pics (@NYCDailyPics) June 10, 2019
The High Line
If you like nature and walking, the High Line in New York City is perfect for you. The High Line is 1.5 miles of converted above-ground railroad tracks spanning from 34th St. down past 13th St. The train tracks were made into a green public space where visitors can relax and enjoy nature and the occasional art installation. It is completely free and has several different entrances and exits – you don’t have to walk the entire 1.5 miles.
Get a Hug from Loubie, The Hugging Dog
A few years ago, my Facebook feed was spammed by all my friends posting news stories about a dog in NYC who gave out hugs to anyone walking by. Her name was Loubie and it quickly became my dream to get a hug from her. I stalked her on social media to find the exact cross streets. I messaged her owner, but every time I was in NYC, Loubie was trekking the globe.
For about 5 years now, I have been trying to find this dog. While I was in NYC in March and tried twice in the same day to find her, only to get back to the hotel and see on Facebook that her owner had a broken foot and wasn’t walking her. Will my dream of getting a hug from Loubie ever come true?
If you’re also a huge dog lover and would like a hug from Loubie, she can be found on 45th St. and 9th Ave. after 6 p.m. Not all is lost, though – NYC has a ZILLION dogs that I can stalk and sometimes pet.
The Vessel, Hudson Yards
The Vessel is a new landmark that just opened in March. I haven’t been able to visit it yet. It is free, but you need to get advance tickets either online or at the exhibit. The Vessel is basically 154 flights of stairs to walk up to observe the NYC skyline.
They are also building a new observation deck nearby that is supposed to be the tallest in the world, but I’m sure that won’t be free. From what I understand, the Vessel does have elevators for accessibility, but the purpose is to walk up (or down) the 154 flights of stairs. NYC is weird, what can I tell you?
For a very expensive city, New York City has a ton of free things to do. Many of the museums in NYC offer “pay-what-you-wish” admission where you pay whatever you want. (I’ve never done this because I’m shy, so I’m not sure exactly how it works.) Most museums also have free hours on certain days of the week.
The Museum of Modern Art has free admission on Fridays after 5 p.m. I went there once to see a Dali painting, but I only stayed 15 minutes because free = crowds.
Side note: While the 9/11 Museum isn’t free (except during the weekly free hours,) you can visit the Memorial at the site of the former twin towers for free. The Memorial is the reflecting pools in now-named Liberty Park, where the two towers stood. The Museum is artifacts and information about the attack.
— NYC Daily Pics (@NYCDailyPics) June 11, 2019
Roosevelt Island is a small island between Manhattan and Queens. There isn’t a ton to do there, but it has an amazing view of the NYC skyline. There is a lighthouse on one end and an old mental hospital from the 1800s, but you can’t go in there.
Getting to Roosevelt Island isn’t free, but it is cheap and exploring the island once you’re there is free. You can get to the island from the Roosevelt Island tram or the subway. The cost is $2.75 or whatever the price of one subway ride is at the time of your visit. I did this last year when I was in NYC but I didn’t have time to explore it thoroughly. It’s on my list of things to do next time I’m in NYC.
Sight-seeing is free is one of the big attractions in NYC. You don’t have to take an expensive bus tour to see the city. You can just walk around the city. Many buildings have open lobbies where you can go in to look. Two of the most beautiful (aside from Grand Central) are the Chrysler Building and, politics aside, the Trump Tower.
When I go to NYC, I tend to visit the exact same places but I try to throw in at least one new place. My go-to’s are the lions outside the library, the Atlas statue across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (another free thing to do,) The Strand Bookstore and Junior’s cheesecake. This is along with walking up and down 9th Street to spot the hugging dog. Someday I will find her!
Times Square is probably one of the most well-known tourist destinations in the world. People who live in NYC often refer to it as a “tourist trap” because of how expensive it is. However, it is free to walk around to see the bright lights and billboards. It is insanely crowded and that can be overwhelming, especially for children. Just make sure if you take a picture with anyone in a costume, you plan to tip because they will expect it.
There are a ton of restaurants and stores in Times Square, but most of them are overpriced. The stores you can find at any mall in America – H&M, Victoria’s Secret, the Disney Store, etc. I avoid Times Square as much as possible but I have to go to that area at least once to visit Junior’s Cheesecake. The cheesecake is the best cheesecake I’ve ever had. A slice is $7.50, which seems crazy, but it is a huge slice. There is a sit-down restaurant adjacent, but I go right to the bakery part.
What do you like to do in New York City for free or cheap? Share your thoughts in the comments below.