Free attractions in New York: Save money while sightseeing in NYC

You don’t have to spend a lot to have a great time in New York City. Save money and check out these free attractions that are guaranteed to impress.

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Photograph: Michael Kirby

Brooklyn Bridge

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Photograph: Michael Kirby

Brooklyn Heights Promenade

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Photograph: Michael Kirby

Brooklyn Flea

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Chrysler Building

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5 Pointz Aerosol Art Center

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Flatiron Building

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Photograph: Jeffrey Gurwin

Grand Central Terminal

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Photographer: Filip Wolak

Little Italy

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Photograph: Jessica Lin

Macy's Herald Square

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Photograph: Moira Brazier

New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

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Photograph: Jay Muhlin

Rockefeller Center

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Roosevelt Island

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Photograph: Michael Kirby

St. Patrick's Cathedral

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Photograph: Michael Kirby

South Street Seaport

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Photograph: Alys Tomlinson

Staten Island Ferry

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Times Square

Yes, itis possible to have fun in New York without spending a bundle. These free attractions are among the most impressive sights in New York City—and best of all, you’ll save money by avoiding ridiculously high ticket fees.

RECOMMENDED: The 50 best New York attractions you have to see

Brooklyn Heights and Brooklyn Promenade

It’s easy to forget that you’re standing atop the hectic Brooklyn-Queens Expressway while strolling along this esplanade, which opened in 1950. But the thoroughfare is inextricably linked to the Promenade’s existence: Community opposition to the BQE—which was originally intended to cut through Brooklyn Heights—led city planner Robert Moses to reroute the highway along the waterfront. He also proposed building a park atop the road to block noise. Stroll, run or make out along its ⅓-mile length, pausing to appreciate postcard-ready views of lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty; then check out some of the 19th-century row houses down Brooklyn Heights’ tree-lined side streets, or head down to Brooklyn Bridge Park.

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Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Bridge

No mere river crossing, this span is an elegant reminder of New York’s history of architectural innovation. When it opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was a feat of engineering: It was the first structure to cross the East River and, at the time, the longest suspension bridge in the world. (It also made use of steel-wire cables, invented by the bridge’s original designer, John A. Roebling.) Now it attracts thousands of tourists and locals, who enjoy spectacular views of lower Manhattan and other city landmarks (such as the Statue of Liberty and Governors Island) as they stroll its more-than-mile-long expanse. Heads up, though: You may run into the occasional cyclist trying to navigate through the crowds on the pedestrian walkway.

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Dumbo

Brooklyn Flea

In the nearly five years since its debut, this market has elevated the vintage-shopping experience, setting a new standard for both goods and food vendors, and emphasizing local purveyors where possible. Its mini empire now includes markets in Fort Greene and Williamsburg, as well as two food-focused Smorgasburg outposts, and forthcoming locations in Manhattan and Philadelphia. When temperatures plunge, the fest moves to the handsome, cavernous lobby at Brooklyn’s landmark Skylight One Hanson (through March). It’s as good a people-watching spot as you’ll find—plenty of established and wanna-be designers mill about—and the eats alone are worth the trip. Vendors change each weekend, so check the website the Friday before doors open to see who’s selling.

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Fort Greene

Chrysler Building

We won’t argue if you want to call this glimmering pinnacle of Art Deco architecture NYC’s most eye-popping skyscraper. Triangle-shaped windows in its crown are lined with lights, creating a beautiful effect come nighttime. Oozing a moneyed sophistication oft identified with old New York, the structure pays homage to its namesake with giant eagles (replicas of ones added to Chrysler automobiles in the 1920s) in lieu of traditional gargoyles and a brickwork relief sculpture of racing cars, complete with chrome hubcaps. During the famed three-way race to construct Manhattan’s tallest building, the Chrysler added a needle-sharp stainless-steel spire to best 40 Wall Street—but was outdone shortly after its completion in 1930 by the Empire State Building.

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Midtown East

5Pointz Aerosol Art Center

This Long Island City warehouse, treated as a 200,000-square-foot canvas, is one of the world’s best places to see the full spectrum of spray-paint art. Ride a Queens-bound 7 train past the Hunters Point Ave stop for an elevated, panoramic view of the names of NYC’s graffiti forebears—like Iz the Wiz—scrawled on 5Pointz’s walls. New pieces appear regularly during the painting season, with concrete surfaces assigned by founder and curator Meres One. Go while you can: The property owner is securing permission to replace the warehouse with condos. Take advantage of the biweekly behind-the-scenes tours (Sun 2–3:30pm; $35; visit sidetour.com for details), led by Meres One, to watch a painting demonstration.

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Long Island City

Flatiron Building

This 21-story Beaux Arts edifice once dominated midtown. Although it’s now dwarfed by other structures, when it debuted in 1902, the triangle-shaped monolith represented the threat and the thrill of modernity: Naysayers claimed it would never withstand the high winds plaguing 23rd Street, while revered photographer Alfred Stieglitz—who captured it in an iconic shot in 1903—wrote that it was “a picture of a new America still in the making.” Today, it’s possibly the least tourist-friendly New York landmark. The space above the ground-floor shops, occupied by publishing house Macmillan, is inaccessible to the public, but during office hours you can admire black-and-white photos and read a few panels on the history of the tower in its lobby. If you want to see the “point” offices (just over six feet wide at their narrowest), we suggest getting to work on the Great American Novel.

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Gramercy & Flatiron

Grand Central Terminal

The 100-year-old transit hub funnels thousands of commuters each day, but it’s a destination in its own right: The majestic Beaux Arts framework is a spectacle of both form and function. Familiar features include the vaulted, constellation-adorned ceiling and the four-faced opal clock topping the main information booth, both located in the Grand Concourse. Meanwhile, ornamentation above the 42nd Street entrance includes a likeness of Mercury, the god of travel (naturally), and an ornate Tiffany-glass timepiece.

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Midtown East

Little Italy

The 2010 census didn’t find a single Italian-born resident on or around Mulberry Street, but pasta-and-Parmesan purveyors still line the narrow lanes of Little Italy, and the recently restored Most Precious Blood Church (113 Baxter St between Canal and Hester Sts, 212-226-6427) holds fast. Old-world flavors abound at joints like the 120-year-old Ferrara Bakery and Cafe (195 Grand St between Mott and Mulberry Sts; 212-226-6150, ferraracafe.com), and every September, the deep-fried-zeppole carts mark the start of the Feast of San Gennaro. But modern joints are moving in too: Hidden under a souvenir shop, the speakeasy Mulberry Project (149 Mulberry St between Grand and Hester Sts; 646-448-4536, mulberryproject.com) mixes bespoke cocktails in a den dark enough for a mafia don.

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Chinatown & Little Italy

Macy's Herald Square

It may not be as glamorous as New York’s other famous stores, but for sheer breadth of stock, the 34th Street behemoth is hard to beat. You won’t find exalted labels here, though—midpriced fashion and designers’ diffusion lines for all ages are its bread and butter, along with all the big beauty names. A new $400 million renovation will upgrade the entire edifice by 2015, but the store has already debuted a “world’s largest” shoe floor, home to 280,000 pairs. Thankfully, not everything will be brand-new: The project will restore the original 34th Street entrance, and some of the rickety wooden escalators—installed when this branch opened in 1902—will remain intact.

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Midtown West

New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

The century-old main branch of the NYPL is about as regal a setting for reading—either on your laptop or those old dusty things called books—as you’ll find in the city. Two massive Tennessee-marble lions, dubbed Patience and Fortitude, flank the main portal and have become the institution’s mascots. Once inside, check out the cavernous Rose Main Reading Room, spanning almost 300 feet and outfitted with chandeliers and stunning ceiling murals. Though it’s a classy setting in most instances, it’s also where Bill Murray uttered, “Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?” and “Back off, man, I’m a scientist” in Ghostbusters.

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Midtown East

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