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Jen Lewin, Reflect at Domino Park
Jen Lewin, Reflect at Domino Park, Brooklyn, March 2021. Drone footage by Demian Neufeld, Ryders Alley Media, and Matt Emmi. Edited by Joshua Pullar. Artwork (c) 2021 Jen Lewin

Free things to do in NYC

Live your best life without breaking the bank at NYC's best free events, shows and exhibits

By Shaye Weaver
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New York is one of the greatest cities in the world, but holy cow, is it pricey. Seeing Broadway shows or dining at one of the city’s most buzzed about restaurants will cost you a pretty penny. Lucky for us, the city also offers a prime list of free art exhibitions, free museum days and more. Read on for our list of NYC's best gratis activities.


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

Free things to do in NYC

open culture
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. NYC’s new Open Culture program

News City Life

What is it? Following on the success of last year’s Open Restaurants and Open Streets programs, a new citywide program is gearing up to bring arts and culture to the five boroughs’ streets. Similar to those (very lovely!) programs which allowed for pedestrians to enjoy streets while they were shut down to cars and dine in the middle of thoroughfares, the new Open Culture program will allow for ticketed, socially distanced performances, workshops and classes in the streets.

Why go? Over 150 events have already been approved to take place in the city so far and you won't want to miss out because it's been a long year without any live, in-person entertainment.

Jen Lewin, Reflect at Domino Park
Jen Lewin, Reflect at Domino Park, Brooklyn, March 2021. Drone footage by Demian Neufeld, Ryders Alley Media, and Matt Emmi. Edited by Joshua Pullar. Artwork (c) 2021 Jen Lewin

2. "Reflect" at Domino Park

News Art

What is it? A new public art installation at Domino Park is lighting up the East River waterfront. Created by new media artist Jen Lewin, the interactive piece is called Reflect. Taking its cues from patterns found in nature, the work takes the form of three concentric rings each consisting of interactive platforms that respond to visitor’s steps. (AKA The light changes when you walk on it!) The constantly changing work spans 2,400-square-feet across the Brooklyn waterfront, providing a technicolor, waterfront light show.

Why go? During the day, the sculpture mirrors the sky and surrounding environment and at night it lights up in the brightly colored dots. It kind of looks like you're inside a video game!

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Queens County Farm Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Queens County Farm Museum

3. Queens County Farm Museum

Museums Special interest Queens

What is it?  This Queens County treasure is well worth the bus trek or car ride. As the city’s longest continually farmed site in the city (it’s been in operation since 1697), the 47 acres feels like an entirely different world compared to Manhattan. Feed and pet the barnyard animals, including sheep, ponies and goats, hop aboard a hayride and come back during the fall harvest season when you can go pumpkin picking and attempt to find your way through the Amazing Maize Maze (yes, that’s a corn maze).

Why go? Admission is free except on special ticketed event days. Don’t miss the store on your way out for fresh fruits and veggies grown on the premises!

 

Photograph: Courtesy The Jewish Museum

4. The Jewish Museum

Museums History Central Park

What is it? The Jewish Museum, housed in the 1908 Warburg Mansion, mounts temporary exhibitions of contemporary and modern art and also has a substantial collection of artworks of art and Judaica.

Why go?  The Jewish Museum is free on Shabbat during regular hours! There is a permanent exhibit specifically for children, as well as a restaurant that includes an Uptown outpost of Russ & Daughters, the iconic Lower East Side purveyors of Kosher delicacies like lox, sable and whitefish.

 

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yoga at Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Photograph: Courtesy Cathedral of St. John the Divine

5. Yoga at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Sports and fitness Online,

What is it? The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is doing virtual yoga classes and mindfulness meditation that it'll stream from inside the building's monumental architecture. 

Why go? Mia Michelson-Bartlett will lead the classes that aim to align, ground, and recalibrate using movement and breath to quiet the mind and connect with something beyond ourselves. 

6. Green-Wood Cemetery

Things to do Walks and tours Greenwood

What is it? 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. 

Why go? 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.

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Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Photograph: Lincoln Center

7. Outdoor performances at Lincoln Center

News Art

What is it? As part of the much-discussed New York Arts Revival project, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts just announced its plans to create a giant outdoor performing arts center that will include ten different performance and rehearsal spaces. Dubbed Restart Stages, the effort was crafted with the help of medical and public health professionals, ensuring that all staff, future audiences and artists will be protected by COVID-19-related safety protocols. 

Why go? New Yorkers can expect a varied programming slate, including a concert and cabaret series by the Lincoln Center Theater, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's annual summer evening concerts, dance workshops led by the New York City Ballet and film screenings by Film at Lincoln Center.

Chelsea Market exhibit
Photograph: Chelsea Market

8. Seven-foot-tall portraits at Chelsea Market

News Art

What is it? Chelsea Market has a new exhibit that honors some of "the most pivotal individuals in our nation’s history and pop culture." The works are on display throughout the market's main concourse. Brooklyn artist Voodo' Fe has curated the show, which includes "his very familiar and notable pop culture character renditions, all brought to life through the various textures of mixed media that he employs to tell his story," according to the show's official press release. In an effort to celebrate both Black History Month and Women's History Month, the artist presents mixed media renditions of the likes of the late Kobe Bryant, the Notorious B.I.G. and Frida Kahlo. Specifically, expect to stumble on a Harriet Tubman piece mostly made of bottle caps and paint, alongside a pretty giant painting of the one-and-only late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Why go? Most of the pieces stand 7 feet tall, so you really can't miss them upon entering the market and, the best part of all? The exhibition is completely free to all visitors.

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Bronx Museum of the Arts
Photograph: Courtesy Bronx Museum of the Arts

9. Bronx Museum of the Arts

Museums Art and design The Bronx

What is it? Founded in 1971 and featuring more than 1000 works, this multicultural art museum shines a spotlight on 20th- and 21st-century artists who are either Bronx-based or of African, Asian or Latino ancestry. The museum sporadically offers family programming.

Why go? It's always free to attend!

African Burial Ground National Monument
Photograph: Dmadeo, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

10. A new walking tour on Black resilience in NYC

News City Life

What is it? This tour is presented by the Shed, the art center in Hudson Yards, and focuses on New York's history of racial violence, specifically diving into the story of the 1863 riots. The audio tour—which can be taken by folks currently in New York or listened-to from anywhere online—is called "Fighting Dark" and it is accompanied by a short film narrated by artist Kamau Ware, founder of local art studio The Back Gotham Experience.

Why go? Among the highlighted stops are the African Burial Ground National Monument, in downtown Manhattan, and Weeksiville, a historic neighborhood in Crown Heights that was established by free African Americans back in 1838.

 

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Chelsea art galleries
Photograph: Courtesy Greene Naftali

11. Chelsea art galleries

Art Contemporary art

What is it? In the westernmost stretches of Chelsea, there are dozens of free-admission galleries showcasing groundbreaking paintings, prints, installations and sculptures.

Why go? 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.

12. The Morgan Library & Museum

Museums History Murray Hill

What is it? This Madison Avenue institution began as the private library of financier J. Pierpont Morgan and is his artistic gift to the city. Building on the collection Morgan amassed in his lifetime, the museum houses first-rate works on paper, including drawings by Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Picasso; three Gutenberg Bibles; a copy of Frankenstein annotated by Mary Shelley; manuscripts by Dickens, Poe, Twain, Steinbeck and Wilde; sheet music handwritten by Beethoven and Mozart; and an original edition of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol that’s displayed every yuletide.

Why go? It's free on Friday, 2-5 pm, to explore this gorgeous space.

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The High Line
Photograph: Shutterstock

13. The High Line

Attractions Parks and gardens Chelsea

What is it? The 1.45 mile-long park, which first opened in 2009, was originally created entirely on an abandoned elevated train track, snaking above the otherwise industrial West Side neighborhoods. Today millions clamour for the dazzling views of the Hudson River and the downtown skyline. 

Why go? The park hosts free star-gazing events, lively cultural happenings like latin dance nights and rotating works of sculpture and art throughout the year.

14. Socrates Sculpture Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Astoria

What is it? Take in the great outdoors while appreciating awe-inspiring large-scale sculptures and installations at this 4.5-acre public space.

Why go? 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.

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