The cost of living in New York might be high (rent, food, transportation etc.) but fortunately, there’s an array of fun things to do on a budget.

Free Museum Admissions

Some museums offer free admissions on certain days at certain hours, such as the Museum of Modern Art. Be warned, however, that it can get crowded inside. Also, if you have a Bank of America credit or debit card, make use of the Museums on Us program which offers free admission on the first weekend of every month to participating institutions. Visit http://www.museumfreedays.com/?city=New%20York%20City for a list of free museum admissions.

Museum of Modern Art  

11 West Fifty-third Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues

UNIQLO Free Friday Nights every Friday evening from 4pm to 8pm, with access to all galleries, exhibitions and films. Tickets are not available in advance.

Museums on Us

Present your Bank of America/ Merrill Lynch credit or debit card and picture ID on the first weekend of every month for one free general admission. Check http://museums.bankofamerica.com or museums’ websites for hours.

Participating museums: Brooklyn Children’s Museum, El Museo del Barrio, New-York Historical Society, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Staten Island Children’s Museum, Queens Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art

Parks, City Squares, Gardens

While NYC offers the vibrancy of urban life, I love that it also contains ‘green’ pockets in the form of parks, squares and gardens. Almost all do not charge a fee for you to stroll, be close to nature and enjoy a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. They range from small spots in Manhattan (e.g. Madison Square Garden and Washington Square) to ones that stretch for miles along the waterfront (Brooklyn Bridge Park and Battery City Park), and of course the grand old dame that is Central Park. Read a book on a bench, have a picnic on the lawn, or use the sports facilities that some offer such as tennis courts and swimming pools. Visit http://www.nycgovparks.org/park-features/ to find a park.

The New York Botanical Gardens 

2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10458

Free admission all day on Wednesdays and from 10 am to 11 am on Saturdays. This does NOT grant access to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, Special Exhibitions, Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, Rock Garden, or Tram Tour.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

990 Washington Ave, New York, NY 11238

Free admission all day on Tuesdays and from 10am to 12pm on Saturdays. Apparently the garden is stunning during the cherry blossom season.

Staten Island Ferry

Join the commute of Staten Island locals by taking the Staten Island Ferry from the Whitehall Terminal, located close to the Whitehall Street subway station. Other subway stops nearby are Bowling Green, South Ferry and Broad Street. During the 25-minute journey, enjoy the sea breeze and view of the New York Harbor and Statue of Liberty. Check the schedule at http://www.siferry.com/SIFerry_Schedules.aspx for arrival and departure times. If possible, avoid rush hours.

Outdoor Movie Screenings

Many parks have free movie screenings on certain days that begin at dusk. Check http://www.nycgovparks.org/events/free_summer_movies to know which movies are playing and bring a picnic mat and food.


Participate in free public walk-up kayaking sessions during the summer at the Brooklyn Bridge Park and Hudson River Park (til end October). Check http://www.bbpboathouse.org/calendar/ and http://www.downtownboathouse.org/calendar/?view=calendar&month=August-2013.

Brooklyn Bridge Park

Thursdays from 5.30pm to 7.30pm and Saturdays from 10am to 3pm.

Hudson River Park (Pier 96)

Weekdays from 5pm to 7pm. Weekend hours vary.

Roosevelt Island

To get to the island from Manhattan, take Tramway Car at 59th Street & Second Avenue Station. You have to pay with a Metrocard (use your 30-day unlimited pass). The journey takes 4-5 minutes and offers wonderful aerial views. Alternatively, take the F line to the Roosevelt Island stop.

The island is serene and very small but has some interesting spots. You can find old mental asylums and a lighthouse surrounded by a park. Walk or take the red bus (25-cent fare) to get around.

The High Line

This could technically be classified as a park but I thought it deserves its own section for the unique experience it offers. It is built on an old freight rail line above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. It spans from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues. In the summer, it is open from 7am to 11pm. Check http://www.thehighline.org/about/park-information for maps, directions and more information.

I hope that I’ve given you some ideas and shown that exciting activities do not have to be expensive (or cost anything at all). Please share anything that I’ve missed out. I’ve included a pdf version of this post as a handy, printable guide: Free Things to do in NYC.