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.
Entering the courtyards of the Cloisters Museum magically transported me to the era of medieval Europe. It’s not hard to imagine why they served as peaceful sanctuaries for monks in monasteries. I had such a pleasurable experience admiring the plants and architectural details, wondering if centuries ago people were doing the same. The setting of the museum is gorgeous as well- perched atop a hill overlooking the Hudson River. Places like these are so captivating because they are alive with nature and history.
It’s been ridiculously hot these few days but I went ahead with a trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens anyway. Blooming lotus flowers, glassy domed observatories, and a black-and-yellow striped butterfly were just some of the treasures I found. I’m dying to return in autumn for the glorious foliage and during cherry blossom season as well.
The High Line is an old freight rail line repurposed into a public park set above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. I think it sets a wonderful standard for reconfiguring urban spaces in creative, constructive ways. Instead of tearing down old structures, why not give them a new lease of life while retaining their historic value? It’s great that the marks of a railroad e.g. converging tracks, bars on the tracks and side railings are preserved to some degree, as a reminder of its heritage and for interesting aesthetic effects. The gritty, industrial feel of the original structure and its surroundings (the historic Meatpacking district) is harmonized with natural elements like plants, water and grass patches for a truly unique urban experience.