Free Things to See and Do in NYC

One of the key reasons many of us love New York is because there's so much to do.  Perhaps when you come into town for a couple of days it seems everything  costs a fortune from  dinners and drinks to tickets to a must see Broadway play. But in New York there's an entire tribe of people who exist in a "free or almost free" cultural space.  If you live here and you love the theatre there are ways to see things cheaply. I like to go out a lot so I'm a hound for free tickets and reduced admission, there so much you can see and do here without spending more than $5, lots of theatre, free concerts at Juilliard and Lincoln Center, classical concerts in churches, yoga, dance classes, Shakespeare in the Park, movies at the local libraries, talks at Colombia, the New School and NYU. You'll be astonished at the incredible programming if you check out the listings at
You won't find free tickets to Hamilton or popular Broadway shows, but there are plenty of tickets for smaller Off and Off Off Broadway shows available if you know where to find them and I've listed a number of resources below. Tickets tend to be last minute and at smaller venues so this works best for people  with flexibility and a broad interests, living in the city. If you're looking for advice on New York theatre tickets in general check out this post which includes advice on lotteries and where to find theatre deals. Central Park is lovely and of course it's always free.

I can't promise that this is a definitive list of all the free or low cost events, but these are the  resources I use and think are worth sharing. These are things I've done personally or those that are on my wish list! This is a work in progress and the  longer I spend in NY the more I'm learning about the city, so feel free to share any suggestions in the comments. 
I'll also try to update this as I try new things.
I'm a member at most of the museums below and I feel good about supporting them, just  don't get me started on how I feel about the Metropolitan Museum's recently changing its "suggested donation" policy which to exclude all but New Yorkers. However, with the exception of the newly grinchly Met (below) most museums in New York do offer at least some free hours. Click here for a comprehensive list of both free hours and free museums. 
The Frick  (below) has pay-what-you-wish hour on  Wednesday from 2-6pm.
MOMA is free from 4-8pm on Friday nights.
The Neue Galerie is free from 6-9pm on the first Friday of the month.
The Whitney is  pay-what-you-wish on Fridays from 7-10pm.
The NY Historical Society is pay-as-you-wish 6-8pm on Fridays including a weekly film showing and talk.
The wonderful Museum of the City of NY is always a "suggested" donation but be generous they support great school programming.
The Guggenheim is worth seeing for Frank Lloyd Wright's design alone and is "pay what you wish" with a suggested donation of $10 on Saturdays between 5-7:45 pm. It's worth noting the last tickets are issued at 7:15pm.
The Jewish Museum is free on Saturdays. Because it's shabbat they won't accept a donation, believe me I tried to give them one! They're also free on selected Jewish holidays so check the website. 
Free Tours 
- I've enjoyed the tour of the mayor's home Gracie Mansion a beautiful historic mansion on the East River. Sign up here if you're interested. Tours run on a Monday only.
- Still on my list is a Saturday tour of the Roosevelt Home - now part of Hunter College. Full details of the tour times are here.   The tour is free with a $10 suggested donation.
- Did you know you can take a tour of the Federal Reserve? Sign up here, but be sure to do it in advance as they often sell out.
- There are also  lots of all around the city but be sure to tip generously.
Jane's Walks 
Once a year the Municipal Arts Society organizes hundreds of walks over a weekend in May in commemoration of the life and work of the preservationist Jane Jacobs. The walks are designed and conceived by volunteers and they tackle a wide range of issues and locations all over New York City. I very much enjoyed the stroll I took through Carnegie Hill with them last weekend. 
Highly recommended for locals and visitors if you happen to be in town on the right May weekend!
The Art Galleries in Chelsea, the Lower East Side and Madison Avenue 
New York has lots of amazing commercial gallery shows in addition to the art you can see in museums. Check the listings in the New York Times - the most comprehensive listings are published on a Friday. FYI If you're interested in paying taking a tour of the gallery scene I'd recommend the wonderful Merrily Kerr, who sometimes has "buy one get one free" deals on her website. We absolutely loved the two tours we did with her. If you don't fancy the galleries there's always art on the street! Head downtown or to Bushwick in Brooklyn for lots of street art.
Show Score 
This is a great place to read theatre reviews, but if you submit six reviews they'll put you on a list for "member nights" where you can score $5 tickets. These are often last minute shows at smaller Off Broadway venues or performances in preview, but I've seen several shows this way and enjoyed them. For example last season I saw a Brits Off Broadway production  which is part of an annual festival of British theatre in the city . 

Club Free Time

In addition to providing a comprehensive listing of free events also offers an annual subscription service that provides access to complimentary tickets, similar to those offered to Show-Score reviewer.s For $20 per annum you'll be able to see a range of  Off-Broadway shows as well as various smaller classical concerts and talks for a $4:50 service fee. Desirable tickets appear with  less than 24 hours notice and are often for preview performances. Essentially both of these are  "papering services"  that bolster the audience for shows so they don't look too empty. They want to fill seats so you shouldn't grab the tickets and then bail on them no matter how cheap they are. Additionally, it's very bad form to mention you got free tickets anywhere near the venue, so read the terms and conditions carefully. If you can't conform to the rules don't waste their time. While there's some overlap between the various papering services  their offerings vary. 

Overall these services are best for those who have a fairly eclectic range of interests and would be just as happy seeing classical music, jazz or smaller theatrical productions. I did get two Broadway ticket this year but that's not what these services are generally about. There are more expensive papering companies that cost around $100 per year including Play by Play and Theatre Extras but I haven't used them and don't have a sense it they're worth the cost. I'd be curious to hear about these services from anyone who has used them.

Goldstar is worth keeping an eye on. If you're prepared to pay up to $10 in service fees you can score some interesting "comp" tickets to plays, talks music and boat tours. Their program isn't as generous as it once was. but I still keep and eye out and we've found some great offers particularly on yacht tours around Manahattan and tickets to music venues like the City Winery. I loved the American Institute of Architecture boat tour around Manhattan for which we only paid a small service fee. For more details see my previous blog post.
Theatre Talks at the Schomburg Center in Harlem 
The list of free things going on at the libraries in NYC is  overwhelming. However, if you're a theatre fan  I highly recommend the theater talks at the Schomburg Center in Harlem. We've seen both the playwright Dominique Morriseau and the director Ruben Santiago Hudson speak here. Overall it's one of the best places to go to hear talks, films or panel discussions on African American history, culture and experience. You can find their diverse listing of cultural events here.
Cheap Days Out
The Staten Island Ferry 
This is the classic free New York experience and fun for locals or tourists alike. Highly recommended when the weather is good.
The Aerial Tramway to Roosevelt Island  
This trip is another classical NY experience. For the cost of a subway ticket it's great to get a sky-high view of the Eastside, always worth checking out in my opinion.
All of New York is at your fingertips for the price of a subway ticket, currently $2:75 one way. For that you could do a tour of the art work on the newly opened east side Q which has lovely new stations and work by Chuck Close, Jean Shin and Vik Muniz. 
The list of things you can do or see is legion but in addition to taking the subway to Brooklyn and walking back over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, I'd recommend visiting to Coney Island. I like taking the B train to the Russian immigrant enclave of Brighton Beach and walking from there along the boardwalk to Coney Island. Sure it's popular in the warmer months, but it's even fun in the middle of winter - though you'd better wrap up warm the wind cuts right across the sand.
Although we have a flat in NY we're not city residents and therefore don't qualify for the IDNYC. However, for those of you who are NYC based it's well worth investigating. The card, which is free for city residents, offers free membership to anyone who has not been a member since 2014 at places including the American Museum of Natural History, the NY Botanical Gardens, The Metropolitan, the Museum of Art and Design, Lincoln Center, the Public Theatre and lots more. very well worth checking out the list here.

Hope this inspires you. The city has so much going on culturally whatever your budget. Please feel free to drop me a line!


Unknown said…

I’m your person we have had back and forth on Algeria. I am from NYC. Gramercy. Not a native but lived there a few years. My parents live near the Frick. Your description of things to do, museums etc is spot on. You have been to places in nyc I have not been. And I lived there, my son lived there, my parents live there. Your informational blog is a must see for any visitor to nyc. It’s a great city and very doable on a budget.

Mike D
Quite the extensive list! Love the pay-as-you-wish museums in towns. Those are some of the best we’ve seen.
HI Mike,
I'm behind on my comments but I'm so glad you thought this would be useful. I've been blogging less but trying to write dense, more practical posts. You're right there are lots of ways to enjoy NY on a budget.
HI Bertaut and Alexis, Fun to see you over here and not just on Instagram. Glad some of it looked useful to you.
I belong to most of the NY museums and I'm a great believer in opening up our cultural institutions to as many people as possible. Very disappointed in the Metropolitan Museum changing their rules but as a member I'm happy to take in an many friends as I can for free! Sometimes I even take in strangers!