Is it possible to see NYC on a budget? This is one of the questions that I get asked the most! And, the answer is a resounding YES! The city is filled with free activities. These aren't second rate experiences either. Some of the most iconic buildings and landmarks in the city are free and accessible to the public. It is entirely possible to fill your days with incredible sightseeing while spending next to nothing, aside from the cost of transportation. If you rely exclusively on walking and the subway, even better! Given that many of the free activities I'm going to mention are outdoor, that will likely influence the timing of your trip. April through November are the most reliable months, weather-wise, for exploring New York City on foot.
Let's kick things off with talking about the amazing NYC parks! Obviously Central Park is a major attraction and a location where you could spend hours exploring. I recommend that you do. Other notable parks are Battery Park in the Financial District along the Hudson River, Union Square Park home of a 4-day a week Greenmarket, Madison Square Park, and Washington Square Park with it's iconic marble arch. These beautiful and vibrant greenspaces are all located in Manhattan.
For the price of a subway or ferry ride ($2.75) just one stop away from Manhattan is Gantry State Park in Queens. It features a large playground, several piers and countless quiet seating areas where you can take in the gorgeous New York City skyline. Another option is going one stop over to Brooklyn, specifically the DUMBO area, for unparralled views of the bridges (Manhattan and Brooklyn) and the Financial District. You don't need a fancy harbor cruise or even an expensive observation deck. These experiences are every bit as good with the added benefit of being much less crowded. Do you know that tickets to an observation deck cost considerably more at sunset? Experience the deal of a lifetime by spending sunset in one of these parks watching the sun go down and the city lights turn on, FREE! Also worth mentioning is that these parks are filled with musicians, artists, and food vendors, even more to do and see!
The Financial District is brimming with historical landmarks and rich in free sightseeing opportunities as well. Start at the base of One World Trade and visit the 9/11 Memorial, walk to Saint Paul's Chapel and Trinity Church where you can pass through the cemetery where Alexander Hamilton is buried. Then head to Wall Street to the New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall. Be sure to walk the historic cobblestones of Stone Street and then sit and have a drink at the Fraunces Tavern. This is where George Washington gave his farewell speech to the soldiers of the Revolotionary War!
If you're looking for a little closer contact with nature, along the water, with walking and biking paths I recommend taking the 10-minute ferry ride from Lower Manhattan over to Governor's Island where you can walk, bike or picnic in peace. There are no passenger cars allowed on the island and it's such a peaceful place for respite outside of the hustle and bustle of the city.
Want a couple more free outdoor experiences? Walk the High Line from Chelsea to Hudson Yards, and check out Little Island which is a man-made island/public park just a couple of blocks away. (BONUS TIP: recharge at The Chelsea Market with tacos from Los Tacos No. 1 or a bowl of hand-pulled noodles from Very Fresh Noodles since you're in the neighborhood).
There are a handful of iconic New York City buildings which are open to the public that won't cost you a dime either. Saint Patrick's Cathedral, The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, The New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal and Rockefeller Center (concourse and street levels) are all free.
There are several food halls and indoor markets that are fee and have casual, lower cost food options and shopping inside. These are great places to wander, look around and grab a quick bite. The Time Out Market in DUMBO, Canal Street Market in Chinatown, The Chelsea Market inside the old Nabisco factory in the Meatpacking District, and Essex Market on the Lower East Side are a few of my favorites. If you are traveling with a family or group, and it's difficult to please everyone at meal time, these food halls will be your saving grace!
Stick around for a future post which will feature lower-cost lodging options as well as how to reduce your food budget while still eating delicious New York City foods! And as always, feel free message me through the website or DM me on social media if you have any questions or would like my help planning your next adventure to New York City!
If you're going to New York City for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, it is helpful to work with an NYC travel expert. I will help you navigate the logistics of timing, budget, and travel party dynamics while incorporating your unique needs and interests. Reach out! Let's plan your trip together.