Most people know Central Park is free and open to the public, but not many people know that the Central Park Conservancy offers free guided tours of Manhattan’s largest park. Themes range from an introductory tour to a hike around the North Woods, where you’ll see waterfalls, rustic bridges, and pools near the Harlem entrance. Central Park is also filled with free events, statues, people-watching and sites like Strawberry Fields.
Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Museum
It's always Fashion Week in the FIT Museum, which features rotating exhibits by students and a surprisingly interesting and detailed collection of the country's first gallery of fashion, picked from a collection of 50,000 garments dating from the 18th century to present. (Seventh Ave and 27th St, Garment District, Midtown West.)
General Ulysses S Grant National Memorial
Also called 'Grant's Tomb', the $600,000 granite structure that holds the remains of the Civil War hero and 18th president (and his wife Julia) is the largest mausoleum in the US, and is patterned after Mausolus' tomb at Halicarnassus, making it a version of one of the Seven Wonders of the World. (Riverside Dr at 122nd St, Morningside Heights.)
The ferry to Governors Island is $2 round trip, but access to the 172-acre island – which is open May through September – is free. There's a 2.2-mile bike path, mini golf, a picnic area, plus military sites such as Admiral's House and a 'ghost town' of sorts at Nolan Park. Ferries leave from Battery Maritime Bldg, Slip 7, Lower Manhattan.
Once the nation's most visited tourist attraction outside Niagara Falls, the gorgeous Green-Wood Cemetery was founded in 1838 and is the eternal home to some 600,000 people (or about 530 miles of bodies, head to toe). It's leafy and lovely, features Brooklyn's highest point at Battle Hill – a site from the Revolutionary War now marked with a seven-foot statue of the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva. Watch for the squawking green parakeets at the cemetery's Gothic entry. (500 25th St, Sunset Park, Brooklyn.)
It may technically be a public park, but the expanding High Line project has the impact and feel of a real-life tourist attraction, complete with its own opening hours. Created from an abandoned stretch of elevated railroad track, the landscaping of this park (which stands 30 feet in the air) connects the Meatpacking District with Chelsea's galleries, ending at the Javits Center on the south side of Hell's Kitchen. There are wonderful views of the Hudson River and of pedestrians on the sidewalks below. Watch for public-art installations and events. (Gansevoort Street to 34th St, between 9th and 11th Aves, Chelsea.)
New York Earth Room
Now for something completely different: the Earth Room, Walter De Maria's 1977 art installation, a single room filled with 280,000 pounds of dirt, combines the framework of an ordinary office with the scent of a wet forest. (141 Wooster St, SoHo)
New York Public Library
Remember the Dewey Decimal System? The New York Public Library, New York's most famous library, is fronted by marble lions named 'Patience' and 'Fortitude,' and is a jaw-dropper to walk through – particularly the reading room fit for 500 patrons poring over tomes under the library's original Carrère and Hastings lamps. There are exhibits too, including a Gutenberg Bible, and 431,000 old maps. Free tours take place at 11am and 2pm Monday to Saturday, 2pm Sunday (closed Sunday in summer). (Fifth Ave at 42nd St, Midtown East.)
Shakespeare at Sunset
You can try your luck (along with everyone else in New York) to win free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park via the digital lottery, but just in case you don’t win, you can also get your fix of the Bard at Shakespeare at Sunset, hosted by New York Classical Theatre
at nontraditional public venues across the city.
Staten Island Ferry
Everyone wants to see the Statue of Liberty, but the ferry tours there start at $18.50 for adults. Fortunately, the Staten Island Ferry, which cuts across the New York Harbor and offers a great view of Lady Liberty, is absolutely free. Having been in service since 1905, the ferry carries 19 million people across the harbor each year. (East end of Battery Park, Lower Manhattan.)
Chelsea Art Galleries
In the westernmost stretches of Chelsea, there are dozens of free-admission galleries showcasing groundbreaking paintings, prints, installations and sculptures. It's a great way to get an introduction to the city's gallery hopping scene. Pro tip: while the shows frequently change, we recommend starting out with Gagosian Gallery, David Zwirner and Pace Gallery.
Socrates Sculpture Park
Built over an old landfill, today the park has beautiful, lush green lawns overlooking the East River and boasts a reputation as a premiere outdoor location for artists to create site-specific wonders. There are interesting art installations, light shows, and movies on Wednesdays in summer. (Broadway at Vernon Blvd, Astoria, Queens.)
Home to New York City's government since 1812, City Hall is the oldest city hall in the USA that is still used for its original purpose. Tours take in its cupola-topped marble hall, the governor's room as well as the spot where Abraham Lincoln's coffin lay in state briefly in 1865 – make sure you reserve your spot in advance. (City Hall Park, facing the Brooklyn Bridge, Lower Manhattan.)
MoMA (on Fridays)
Usually seeing the Picassos in the Museum of Modern Art requires a $25 admission fee, but lucky for you, the museum offers free admission every Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 pm. You can also visit the sculpture garden for free every morning from 9:30 to 10 am. (11 West 53rd Street)
The Whispering Gallery in Grand Central
Grand Central Terminal is worth visiting even if you’re not catching a train there. The 102-year-old train station glows with the grandeur of Old New York. One of its most alluring secrets is the Whispering Gallery under the Guastavino-tiled arches near the Oyster Bar. When two people stand at diagonal arches and whisper to each other, their voices ring through, clear as a bell. (89 East 42nd Street at Park Avenue)
Occupying 8 out of 16 acres where the World Trade Center once stood, the 9/11 Memorial honors the lives of those lost during the terrorist attacks on the site in 1993 and 2001. While the museum is complimentary only for 9/11 survivors and their families, the outdoor memorial is always free. (180 Greenwich Street)
Brooklyn Bridge Park
A favorite among locals and visitors alike, Brooklyn Bridge Park curves around the waterfront in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights. The park is chock full of activities, from basketball to bocce, and a pop-up pool made of recycled shipping containers. One of the most beautiful spots for skyline views is right by Jane’s Carousel, where the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges meet. (334 Furman Street)
Stop by the pioneering Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg to learn about the fine art and science of beer making. There are free tours every half hour on the weekends, though they tend to fill up quickly, so get there early to snag a ticket. While you wait, you can sample the beers in the tasting room for a discounted price. (79 N 11th St)
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
Fans of the Tonight Show can watch a taping with Jimmy Fallon at NBC’s studios in Rockefeller Center with a bit of advanced planning. Free tickets are released a month in advance, though if you’re lucky you can get standby tickets the night of the event. (49th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues)