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Free things to do in NYC

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

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
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Finding free things to do in New York City is like striking gold! NYC 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

  • Music

Starting Thursday, June 23, the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park will host its second annual Summer Music Series, featuring a free series of sunset concerts on the waterfront of Bushwick Inlet Park located at Kent Avenue and North 9th Street. Through August 11, the series of concerts on the North Brooklyn waterfront will showcase local musicians playing a wide variety of musical genres including jazz, Latin, and traditional folk every Thursday evening at 6:30pm:

June 23: El Puente/El CADRE
June 30: Jazz Foundation of America
July 7: Jackson Lynch and Friends
July 14: Jazz Foundation of America
July 21: El Puente/El CADRE
July 28th: Jackson Lynch and Friends
August 4: Jazz Foundation of America
August 11: El Puente/El CADRE

 

  • Things to do
  • Hell's Kitchen

Grab your friends for a free outdoor dance party in Hudson Yards' Bella Abzug Park. The Mobile Mondays crew and friends are back with classic hits that shaped NYC club culture, spanning Funk, Soul, Hip Hop, House, Disco, Latin and more produced by Rebecca Lynn. The event is in partnership with Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance Business Improvement District (HYHK) and open to everybody. DJs include Operator Emz, Joey Carvello, Natasha Diggs, Just Blaze, Misbehavior and $$$ Mike.

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  • Things to do
  • Prospect Heights

Brooklyn Public Library is back with its annual plaza concert series and Cinema Ephemera, a weekly visual playlist of art, music, and archival footage projected onto the facade of the iconic Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. On select Wednesday evenings throughout the summer, BPL will welcome Brooklynites with live outdoor concerts at 7pm on the plaza at the Central Library, followed by screenings of concert films, short artist videos, historical footage, and more starting at 9pm, with a new playlist each week. Performances are from the likes of Rimarkable, the Met Opera, and more. These events are free to the public. You can see the full line-up here.

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  • Music

You can set your watch by how reliably awesome the annual BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival is. Unlike SummerStage, which spreads out across the five boroughs, all BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! shows take place at the beautiful bandshell in Prospect Park, a scenic amphitheater surrounded by trees. Catching one of these gigs is guaranteed to be a highlight of your summer show-going season, whether you're seeing a buzzy indie-rock band, a classic soul or funk group, or one of the best hip-hop artists around. As always, the majority of BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Offerings are free, with a $5 suggested donation, some benefit gigs, however, require tickets.

 

  • Art
  • Art

Rock Center's newest art installation, "Changing Spaces" by Jeppe Hein is effectively a water fountain with jets that spray up from the ground, allowing passersby to walk in and out and get soaked if they so desire. The water-based, social sculpture, which was unveiled at the Center's Plaza on June 22, is made up of four circles with enclosing "walls" of water that shoot up from the ground randomly and merge together, dividing the water pavilion into smaller spaces within it. It'd also be a great way to cool off after taking a spin on your skates at Rock Center's new Flipper's Roller Boogie Palace.

 

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  • Art
  • Contemporary art

New York City is full of free outdoor art that you don't even have to go to a museum to see. Sculptures, murals, and photographs can be found in its parks, sidewalks and on its buildings! Locations such as the High Line, Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum Of Art, Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn and Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens and other NYC locales all have a wide variety of pieces awaiting you, from massive sculptures to eye-popping murals and graffiti. Best of all, it costs you nothing to pay a visit.

  • Museums
  • Hell's Kitchen

On select Friday nights from April to October, the Intrepid Museum opens its doors for free (tickets are usually $33), allowing visitors can explore the Museum and enjoy free after-hours programming. This month, visitors can head to the Space Shuttle Pavilion for a special presentation from "Astronautica: Voices of Women in Space"—a work of music, voice, and video by women composers that was based on the words of women astronauts and includes videos taken by the astronauts while onboard space shuttles. Museum educators will also be on hand with demonstrations and hands-on activities and local astronomers will be on the flight deck with high-powered telescopes to help visitors navigate the night sky and answer questions about astronomy and stargazing. Guests are welcome to bring their own binoculars or look through the telescopes of the experts. (There will be no access to the Submarine Growler or Concorde during Free Fridays and last entry is 8:30pm). Check the program schedule at intrepidmuseum.org.

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  • Things to do
  • Hell's Kitchen

A good number of free outdoor movie screenings are taking place all over town this summer, but none boast an ambiance quite like the one that attendees of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum's Summer Movie Series get to revel in. After all, you get to watch some awesome movies while hanging out on the Intrepid's flight deck at sunset.The series, which celebrates the museum's 40th anniversary, already kicked off—but you've got more screenings to attend before summer's end:

July 29: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan 

August 26: Blade Runner

 

  • Museums

Free and cheap tickets to NYC's best museums? It's possible! One of the benefits of living in or visiting New York City is all the incredible cultural institutions and museums are at your beck-and-call like The Metropolitan Museum Of ArtMoMA or the Guggenheim. Luckily, most museums offer free hours or days and pay-what-you-wish admission. You just have to know where and when they are. We’ve got the info you need in our guide to all the free museum days and cheap admission in NYC you should know about.

 

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  • Comedy

You don't have to shell out cash or order two drinks to hit a minimum at these free comedy shows in NYC. The city has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to comedy—on any given night, you can hit up some of NYC’s best comedy clubs to see sets from the city’s best-rising comedians, along with well-established names—but you can also find hella funny sets around the city for nothing! Check out our rundown of free shows in town, which will satisfy die-hard fans of comedy podcasts and even clue you in budding comics in on the best open-mic nights in town.

  • Things to do
  • Midtown West

Hundreds of items have been pulled from the New York Public Library's expansive and centuries-spanning archive to be put on display—many of them for the first time—in a permanent exhibition called "The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures." Inside the NYPL's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and its beautiful Gottesman Hall, are more than 250 unique and rare items culled from its research centers including the only surviving letter from Christoper Columbus announcing his "discovery" of the Americas to King Ferdinand’s court and the first Gutenberg Bible brought over to the Americas.

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  • Museums
  • Special interest
  • Queens

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). 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!

 

  • Museums
  • History
  • Central Park
  • price 1 of 4

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

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. 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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  • Art
  • Contemporary art

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.

The Morgan Library & Museum
  • Museums
  • History
  • Murray Hill

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. It's free on Friday evenings to explore this gorgeous space.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Chelsea

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

Socrates Sculpture Park
  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Astoria

Take in the great outdoors while appreciating awe-inspiring large-scale sculptures and installations at this 4.5-acre public space. 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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The Museum at FIT
  • Museums
  • Fashion and costume
  • Chelsea

Overseen by fashion historian Valerie Steele, the Museum at FIT showcases selections from the institute's permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibitions focusing on individual designers and fashion's role in society. FIT owns one of the largest and most impressive collections of clothing, textiles and accessories in the world, including some 50,000 costumes and fabrics dating from the 5th century to the present. 

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