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 Art11 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 Garden990 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.
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.
Realizing that it was one of Bank of America’s Museums on Us weekends, I decided to head for the Guggenheim Museum last Sunday to check out the new James Turrell exhibit and installation.
Turrell plays with the elemental qualities of light in his installations, which are stunning in their stark simplicity. Purely using light projected onto the corner of a room, he creates the visual illusion of a solid object floating in space. For his centerpiece in the rotunda, he transforms the architectural ceiling and interior of the Guggenheim into a contemplative, atmospheric environment. Visitors are welcome to lie on a mat in the center of the room and observe the gradual changes in the light. I love how museums are increasingly engaging with the audience in interactive ways, and expanding the possibilities of the museum experience.
I’m particularly drawn to museums not only for their collection of art and historical pieces but also their stunning interior spaces. Museums are purposefully divided into individual rooms yet possess an overall sense of flow. The clean white walls and high ceilings create a lofty, sanctified space that elevates the art objects displayed.
Museum of Modern Art (New York)
The architecture of MOMA is suitably modern with its minimal, angular lines (reminiscent of the Bauhaus movement) and punctuations of greys and blacks. In fact, it looks like an Ad Reinhardt or Barnett Newman painting in three-dimensional form. I particularly like how the MOMA integrates indoor and outdoor space and incorporates a strong sense of natural light through the towering glass windows.
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
The Met is a must-see for its breathtaking architectural details, which include vaulted ceilings, soaring arches, Greco-Roman columns and marble floors. The museum is segmented into various wings with individual architectural identities that somehow blend together into a seamless whole. Modern touches are cleverly incorporated to preserve the historical value but keep it from appearing dated.
A few days ago, I finally had the chance to view Edward Hopper’s paintings in person (along with his preliminary sketches) at the Whitney Museum in New York. They’re even more captivating than I’d hoped, and they perfectly capture the mood of New England. Hopper’s a master at depicting light-filled space, be it an empty room, a movie theater or a street. Each painting is like a capsule in which time stands still. Though his chosen settings are often urban spaces, interestingly they contain none of the bustling activity associated with cities. Instead, all the noise is drawn out and the attention concentrated on a solitary figure or a few figures. The quiet surroundings act as a physical metaphor for their self-contained world of thoughts.
I found parallel depictions of human experience in this Hopper painting (bottom) and Chambered Nautilus by Andrew Wyeth (top). Both feature a solitary female figure resting on her bed and gazing pensively out of the window, which is a classic motif in art laden with symbolism. Does the window represent her eye- her view of the external world? Perhaps that’s the role of an artist- to evoke universal emotions and create subtle visual poetry.
There’s been much buzz surrounding the film Black Swan lately, but I’m not sure if these posters have garnered much attention. The graphic design is brilliant. They have the feel of vintage movie posters, which is fitting given that Black Swan references the ballet tradition and the age-old myth of an artist suffering for his or her craft.
Talking about old movies, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and 8 1/2 by Fellini are my favourites. I confess to a weakness for films starring Audrey Hepburn. She’s just so luminous. I also loved Anouk Aimee in 8 1/2. She commands such presence as Guido’s long-suffering wife Luisa.