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Atlantic Avenue Walk the Windows
Photograph: Courtesy Michelle Karshan

Cheap things to do in NYC: Your guide to bargains

Have fun and enjoy the city while maintaining your budget with these cheap things to do in NYC

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
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Let’s face it: NYC is expensive, both for visitors and locals. For those of us living here in the city, we’re constantly choosing between going out and, say, paying rent. While it’s certainly nice to splurge on one of the best restaurants in NYC, the reality is that we mostly have to focus on cheap eats and happy hour deals. We’re here to help: when it comes to going out in the city, you can still have fun without facing a hefty price tag. There are plenty of cheap things to do in NYC to fill your days without emptying your wallet. Some are even worthy cheap date ideas, if you’re looking.

Simply walking the streets of New York can make for an entertaining day out, but if you look closely you can find fabulous things to do for cheap. Did you know that some of NYC’s top attractions are also affordable? Or how about comedy — a good laugh doesn’t have to cost much. Manhattan and Brooklyn have beautiful parks to stroll, and for a small fee you can get around on a bike or a boat. You can catch free shows from up-and-coming bands, or catch a movie for under $10.

Entertainment in NYC can be cheap, or even free, so get out there and have some fun!

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in NYC

Best cheap things to do in NYC

  • Things to do

Thanks to the Culture Pass initative, library card holders can access more than 40 major New York attractions for free, regardless of economic circumstances. It's a pretty sweet deal, and it doesn’t matter which borough you reside in. Imagine visiting popular destinations like the Brooklyn Botanical Garden or the Whitney without having to pay a cent? That's right—you are about to become fancy and, frankly, more knowledgeable. 

 

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

NYC's libraries are a treasure trove of free resources from books to digital files and photos, but there's much more you can actually get for free from the New York, Queens and Brooklyn Public Libraries. Sure, you can download some 30,000 books from the NYPL, rent movies on DVD, and check out their respective free exhibits like the Lenapehoking at Brooklyn Public Library and the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library's Treasures, but you can also access lesser-known benefits and perks...

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  • Theater

Broadway and Off-Broadway shows have returned to New York's stages, which is great news for theater lovers who felt starved during the shutdown. And with attendance down overall, going to the theater is more affordable now than it was before: Discount Broadway tickets are everywhere, and modern technology makes it easier than ever to find cheap seats, even at the last minute.  If you play your cards right, you can even score seats for sold-out hits like Hamilton. Here are the five best ways to score cheap Broadway tickets...

  • Art

There's no need to just go to museums to see the city's best art. You can peruse it all by going from gallery to gallery. You’ll find the best galleries in NYC concentrated in Chelsea, but also Brooklyn and Queens to the Upper and Lower East Sides of Manhattan. Visit NYC’s legendary art galleries and you’ll see some of the best artists from around the world. These galleries are at the forefront of the latest trends in art and design, so you know you’re catching a glimpse of the cutting edge. 

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  • Art
  • Contemporary art

New York City is full of incredible art—even on its streets and in its parks. Sculptures, murals, and photographs can be found in its parks, sidewalks and on its buildings at places like the High Line, Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum Of Art, Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn and Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens and other NYC locales. Best of all, it costs you nothing to pay a visit...

 

  • Things to do

If you crave an escape from the city that won’t land you in debt, head to the ever-changing urban oasis of Governors Island, NY which combines park, adult playground and outdoor art space into a single lovely haven for adventure. One of the best things to do in summer is ride the ferry and visit the car-free attraction, so use our handy guide to plan your trip. After months of extended closure, Governors Island is officially reopened to the public to roam year-round, don't forget your mask!

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Catch a free show at Pete's Candy Store
  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Williamsburg
  • price 1 of 4

It may be pocket-size, but that pocket is full of goodies. There are readings, poetry, comedy and art. Best of all, there’s free music in the Pullman-car-shaped performance space in the back, with acts on the cusp of wider recognition appearing nightly. It's definitely a top choice for cheap entertainment.

Walk Green-Wood Cemetery
  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Greenwood

A century ago, this site vied with Niagara Falls as New York State’s greatest tourist attraction. Filled with Victorian mausoleums, cherubs and gargoyles, Green-Wood is the resting place of some half-million New Yorkers, among them Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein and Boss Tweed. But there’s more to do here than grave-spot: Check out the massive Gothic arch at the main entrance or climb to the top of Battle Hill, one of the highest points in Kings County and a pivotal spot during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. You can see it all for free.

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  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • East Williamsburg
  • price 2 of 4

Drink and dine while you catch a flick at Syndicated. Skip those fancy schmancy theaters with the cushy seats, Syndicated is just as comfy, with first-run movies for less than $10. They even host free sidewalk showings of movies like Royal Tennenbaums, Harry Potter and Bringing Up Baby.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Central Park

This serene garden features six acres of horticultural beauty. It's also a quiet zone, perfect for contemplation among the well-manicured plants. For a free activity with some fresh air and gorgeous views, the Conservatory is the place to be.

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  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • The Bronx

These days, New Yorkers feel real estate envy for the penthouse apartments foreign millionaires buy their newborn children. But if you want to see what would’ve popped on Pinterest in days of yore, head to the Bronx and take a tour of the Van Cortlandt House Museum. The gray fieldstone mansion, built before the Revolutionary War, served as the influential Van Cortlandt family’s homestead until the late 19th century. None other than George Washington himself spent the night here. Explore the house for just $5.

More cheap things to do

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