New York's best free attractions

From outdoor concerts to art exhibitions, there are plenty of ways to see the city without splashing your cash

Wednesday 17 August 2016 13:29 BST
Enjoy free gigs in Brooklyn's Prospect Park
Enjoy free gigs in Brooklyn's Prospect Park (Joe Buglewicz/

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


One of the world’s most captivating cities, NYC is famed for its many world-class museums and theatres, fascinatingly diverse neighbourhoods and unrivalled dining scene. Though prices are high, there are plenty of ways to save money.

Free museum days

Plan your schedule right and you can visit three of the best museums in the country without busting out your wallet. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) gives free admission on Fridays from 4pm to 8pm. Go after 6pm to avoid the crowds. At the Guggenheim, Saturday is the night to save with pay-what-you-wish admission from 5.45pm to 7.45pm. Meanwhile, the brand new Whitney Museum also has a discount night; Friday is pay what you wish from 7pm to 10pm.

The new Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District
The new Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District (Julienne Schaer/

Chelsea galleries

The epicentre of New York’s art world lies in West Chelsea, a formerly industrial neighbourhood containing hundreds of galleries. It’s gratis to browse works by famous artists and up-and-comers, and if you visit the district on Thursday nights you can usually enjoy free wine at art openings. Start your tour at top-class galleries such as David Zwirner, Gagosian and Barbara Gladstone.

Summer Stage

One of the best ways to spend a summer evening in NYC is to go to a concert in Central Park. From June through to August, you can catch more than 20 free shows in an incredible line-up of dance and music. Django Django, Femi Kuti, the Metropolitan Opera and the Martha Graham Dance Company have all taken the stage previously. Free, but donations appreciated.

Summer Stage runs throughout the summer in Central Park
Summer Stage runs throughout the summer in Central Park (Will Steacy/

Celebrate Brooklyn

Brooklyn hosts its own outdoor summer shows in leafy Prospect Park. This free series features eclectic bands, from New Orleans-style jazz, African funk and Brazilian dance to bluegrass and indie rock. There’s also decent food and drink on hand, including Brooklyn-made craft brews.

Kayaking in the city

It’s easy to forget that NYC is surrounded by water. One of the best ways to reconnect with the aquatic landscape is to head out on a free kayak ride from one of the boathouses around town. All you have to do is show up and register for a free 20-minute paddle on the water, against a backdrop of million-dollar views. Here’s where to find a kayak in summer: the Downtown Boathouse in Hudson River Park.

Staten Island Ferry

Skip the long lines for the (not-free) boat ride out to the Statue of Liberty, and instead board the classic bright-orange Staten Island Ferry. The 25-minute journey across the harbour won’t cost a penny, and you’ll have fabulous open-air views of the torch-holding dame (not to mention soaring skyscrapers) along the way. Bonus: you can purchase beer on board.

See the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry
See the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry (Phil Kline/

Brooklyn Flea

When the weekend arrives, head to Brooklyn to experience one of the best markets in the whole city. More than 100 vendors ply their wares here, with plenty of treasures on offer from the past and the present. You’ll find everything from records to 1930s posters, vintage clothing, jewellery, homewares, artwork, antique collectables and craft items. More than two-dozen food vendors are also on hand, meaning you won’t go hungry while you browse. Check the website for locations, which change seasonally.

This is an edited extract from The Best Things in Life Are Free, published by Lonely Planet (£16.99;

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