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The Best Free Things to Do in New York City

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People-watching and wandering New York’s distinct neighborhoods are two of the city’s greatest—and cheapest—thrills. You may also be pleasantly surprised by how many historic sites, cultural venues, and green spaces are free day in and day out. We’ve included 20 here. But there are many more like MoMA and the Bronx Zoo that have select free entry times, so be sure to do your research before you pay up.
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Randall Manor, Staten Island, NY, USA
The price of everything is always going up, up, up in New York City . . . with one exception. The Staten Island Ferry, which started operating in 1905, remains the best deal in the Big Apple: it's free. The 25-minute ride between Whitehall...
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32-01 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City, NY 11106, USA
Years—no, decades—before Long Island City became a happening neighborhood, Socrates Sculpture Park was there, staking a claim on a patch of land that had been abandoned and turned into an illegal landfill. Since then, the park has...
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476 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018, USA
The main branch of the New York Public Library is one of the country’s grandest Beaux Arts buildings, a temple to learning on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd streets. At the end of the 19th century, John Bigelow, who oversaw the Tilden...
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500 25th St, Brooklyn, NY 11232, USA
Spread across 478 acres of Brooklyn’s ample hills, Green-Wood was founded in 1838 and quickly became the preferred spot not only for burials but also for picnics—a tourist attraction second only to Niagara Falls. It remains an...
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1000 Surf Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11224, USA
First, Brooklyn's Coney Island is not, in fact, an island, having been attached to the rest of the borough by landfill since the 1920s. What the area is best known for, however, is its heyday from around the 1880s through World War II when it...
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Brooklyn, NY, USA
After the congestion and chaos of Manhattan, a day in Prospect Park provided a welcome return to open spaces and slow paces, narrow trails lost in the trees, frisbees, and the clean sound of crunching leaves. A quirky fellow passing through on the...
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210 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011, USA
For much of its history, the western edges of Manhattan neighborhoods like the West Village and Chelsea consisted of small manufacturing buildings and warehouses that served the piers on the Hudson River. Over time, those factories were replaced...
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414 W 141st St, New York, NY 10031, USA
“It’s quiet uptown.” So sings founding father Alexander Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical. While those ticket prices are still astronomical, it’s free to visit and tour Hamilton’s uptown home in...
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45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111, USA
Rockefeller Center was one of the great construction projects of the Great Depression, a complex of 14 buildings between Fifth and Sixth avenues and 48th and 51st streets built over the 1930s. It's also one of America's grandest examples of Art...
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As one of the world's art capitals, it's not surprising that New York has a thriving gallery scene. While many of the city's galleries were located in SoHo and Tribeca in the 1970s, as they were priced out of those neighborhoods they began to move...
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334 Furman St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, USA
Completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge is an engineering wonder and an architectural one as well, a masterpiece of design that has inspired acclaimed poets (Hart Crane, Marianne Moore), writers (Jack Kerouac), and painters (Joseph Stella). While...
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201 Park Ave S, New York, NY 10003, USA
At the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway, Union Square has a long history—back to at least 1845—as a gathering spot for locals. New York is too large to have one main plaza, but Union Square would make any list of New York's...
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Governors Island, New York, NY 11231, USA
Located in the middle of New York harbor, less than half a mile from Manhattan (and even closer to Brooklyn), 172-acre Governors Island feels like a world unto itself, far from the bustling city. It has played a key role in the defense of New York...
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New York, NY 10012, USA
Washington Square Park is only a fraction of the size of Central Park, but it is as almost as much of an icon of New York as its much larger counterpart uptown. It's likely because it sits in the heart of Greenwich Village, and has thus served as...
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89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017, USA
Stepping into the enormous main concourse of this landmarked architectural jewel—with its sweeping granite staircases, hulking columns and 38-meter (125-foot) ceilings painted with night-sky constellations—can be a jaw-dropping experience. What’s...
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300 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA
The landscape architects of James Corner Field Operations led the design of Manhattan’s High Line and more recently masterminded this playful public space that debuted in summer 2018. It stretches for a quarter mile along the East River...
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290 Broadway, New York, NY 10007, USA
In 1991, exploratory work on a new federal building in Lower Manhattan uncovered more than 400 caskets in an unmarked cemetery. It turned out to be a former six-acre burial ground dating back to the mid-1630s—the oldest and largest of its kind in...
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New York, NY, USA
Manhattan can, famously, feel like endless rows of apartment blocks and office towers for most of its length. At least above 14th Street, a regular grid of streets and avenues, bisected only by Broadway, has transformed the city into a dream for...
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New York, NY 10018, USA
Looking up from the lawn at Bryant Park, you get the feeling of being in canyons. I sometimes call the city, especially Midtown, a canyon because everything towers above you. I love spending time in Bryant Park, which is well known for being a...