The 50 best free things to do in NYC

No charge, no quality? Hell no! The best things in life—and in this glorious city—are free. Discover the very best free events in NYC with our essential guide
50 best free events, Free
By Time Out New York editors |
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Gone are the days when free stuff was the fate of the New Yorker who simply couldn’t afford the best the city had to offer. New York City boasts more free experiences and events than anywhere else and ever before, and the one thing that all these free things to do in NYC have in common (apart from costing zilch) is that they’re so awesome we’d gladly lay down serious cash for them. Thankfully, we don’t have to. You can see some of NYC’s best stand up comedians, enjoy one of the world’s biggest bands, gorge on lip-smacking food or just watch the sunset while enjoying one of the best views in the city—all without spending a cent. This is democracy in action, people, and it’s never looked so darn good.

RECOMMENDED: Free things to do in NYC

Food and drink

Bars, Sports Bars

Skee-Ball & Hot Dogs at Full Circle Bar

icon-location-pin Lower East Side

This Skee-Ball-themed bar in Williamsburg is a haven for kitschy, nostalgia-driven boozing. The beer offerings skew cheap and cheerful, with five standard taps supplemented by 17 canned brews kept in ice-filled coolers behind the bar. Three-buck Genesee Cream Ale replaces PBR as the cheapo suds of choice, and a $4 beer-and-hot-dog combo serves as the snack of champions. Divey decor reflects the owners' commitment to the game—the bar is constructed from old Skee-Ball machine parts, and a TV up front plays a live feed of the action on the three ramps in the back ($1 per game).

Restaurants, Lunch

Bierkraft’s Tuesday Tastings

icon-location-pin Park Slope

Free booze! For weeknight tippling for zero dollars, snag a spot at Bierkraft’s Tuesday Tastings (Tue 7pm), where you’ll taste five to seven different suds from craft brewers like California’s Telegraph and Naked Flock Ciders from Hudson Valley. It gets crowded; be there early.

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Bars, Breweries

SingleCut Beersmiths

icon-location-pin Astoria

Say it again with us now: Free booze! On the weekend, SingleCut Beersmiths offers free tours at 4pm followed by sample-size pours of what’s on tap.

Shopping

Shopping, Cosmetics

Sephora beauty treatments

icon-location-pin Upper West Side

Getting primped and pampered can be taxing—especially on your wallet. But at Sephora, professional makeup artists provide complimentary 15-minute mini makeovers.

Shopping, Cosmetics

Beauty treatments at LUSH Cosmetics

Getting primped and pampered can be taxing—especially on your wallet. But the Fresh Bar at LUSH Cosmetics offers free one-on-one consultations with a LUSH skin-care professional, followed by a facial—no product purchase necessary.

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Tiffany & Co. holiday windows 2013
Photograph: Jessica Lin
Shopping, Jewelry

Tiffany & Co. shoppers' champagne

icon-location-pin Midtown East

Warning: You’re more inclined to splurge if you’re shopping with a buzz. That’s probably why some local stores offer drinks. You can channel your inner Holly Golightly when you visit Tiffany & Co.: Sales associates provides a free glass of bubbly while you drool over the diamonds.

Events

Movie theaters, Independent

Arrested Development Bingo at Videology

icon-location-pin Williamsburg

Consider yourself an AD devotee? Flock to free-screening haven Videology, where you’ll find like-minded individuals laughing along to episodes of the show and stamping squares whenever, say, George Michael crushes on his cousin or Tobias makes a homosexual innuendo. Winners receive free drinks and, naturally, a frozen banana. Good times. There is one strictly enforced rule, though: no touching. Wed 8:30pm.

Theater, Off Broadway

“Free for All” at the Public Theater

icon-location-pin East Village

Oskar Eustis, the Public Theater’s progressive bear of a leader, has floated the idea of making all tickets gratis. “Free for All” doesn’t go quite that far, but it’s a great move, offering free first previews to its 2014–15 shows: Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3); Straight White Men; Hamilton; and others. Tickets will be available via TodayTix’s mobile lottery, with winners notified by e-mail.

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Attractions, Parks and gardens

Central Park Moonlight Ride

icon-location-pin Central Park

Does taking a crisp ten-mile pedal under the stars through New York’s most iconic green space tickle your fancy? Of course it does. This monthly get-together from the folks behind nonprofit Time’s Up has been going strong for 20 years, and it’s not hard to understand why. There’s also a version in Prospect Park, if Brooklyn is more your scene. Meet at Columbus Circle, southwest corner of Central Park and 59th St (212-802-8222, times-up.org). First Friday of the month at 10pm.

Bars, Beer bars

Gael Pub trivia night

icon-location-pin Upper East Side

There’s nothing (nothing, we say!) as satisfying as flaunting your smarts in front of complete strangers. Do just that at Gael Pub Trivia (Tue 8pm), which features fantastically nerdy signature audio and visual rounds.

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Bars

Common Ground trivia night

icon-location-pin East Village

There’s nothing (nothing, we say!) as satisfying as flaunting your smarts in front of complete strangers. The folks at Common Ground (Wed 9pm) create new categories each week.

Bars, Dive bars

Branded Saloon trivia night

icon-location-pin Prospect Heights

There’s nothing (nothing, we say!) as satisfying as flaunting your smarts in front of complete strangers. At Thirsty Thursday Trivia with Mona Mour (Thu 9pm), you can test your wit against the fiery, red-wigged drag queen. Expect insults for wrong answers or any mention, at all, of Star Trek. (Don’t ask why.)

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Things to do

Movies at the Sony Wonder Technology Lab

icon-location-pin Downtown

Free flicks! Don’t be fooled by this kid-friendly midtown destination. On Saturdays, it shows classics and modern fare that grown-ups can get down with, including Ghostbusters (Oct 31), Julie & Julia (Nov 29), Another Year (Dec 17) and Midnight in Paris (Dec 27). Nab tickets on the website the Monday before each screening. Various times.

Art

Museums, Art and design

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

icon-location-pin Midtown West

Ordinarily, MoMA charges nonmembers 25 smackers to get in, but on Fridays between 4 and 8pm, you can pay the much more affordable nada. The gratis admission applies to all exhibits—special shows as well as the permanent collection—and other areas such as the sculpture garden. (The latter, by the way, is itself free every morning from 9:30 to 10:15am if you’re looking for a peaceful, if brief, moment before heading to work.) Just remember to get to MoMA well before 4pm on Fridays if you’re aiming to enter, because a lot of people will be having the same idea. Fri 4–8pm.

Museums, Movies and TV

Museum of the Moving Image

icon-location-pin Astoria

On Fridays, New Yorkers can take advantage of a free pass to this temple of all things cinematic, which boasts everything from 19th-century cameras to 21st-century digi-art. Explore the importance of the Astoria studio system, fiddle around with editing and overdubbing, and check out costumes, scripts and more artifacts from classic films. Fri 4–8pm.

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Bars, Lounges

Franklin Park Reading Series

icon-location-pin Crown Heights

Hosted by Penina Roth, this laid-back gathering might just be the queen Brooklyn book event (and that’s saying something) Whether featuring major names (hello, Amy Hempel and Michael Showalter!) or up-and-coming local scribes, the lineups never disappoints. Second Monday of the month at 8pm.

Brooklyn Poets Yawp
Photograph: Veronica Rafael
Things to do, Literary events

Brooklyn Poets Reading Series at Dumbo Sky

icon-location-pin DUMBO

The Brooklyn Poets folks don’t care if you know anything about poetry: They just want you to have a good time. This is one of the most energetic places to hear verse, whether it’s from talents like Matthea Harvey or Brooklyn poet laureate Tina Chang. First Friday of every other month at 7pm.

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Bars

The Atlas Review Reading Series at 61 Local

icon-location-pin Boerum Hill

We’re big fans of this young lit mag and its editor-in-chief, Natalie Eilbert. The Atlas Review eschews bookish cliques and champions untapped talent, ensuring each event boasts a crop of fresh voices. Second Wednesday of the month at 7pm.

Things to do, Event spaces

Target Free Thursdays at Lincoln Center

icon-location-pin Upper West Side

Calling all culture vultures: These weekly performances feature acclaimed artists from across the globe of all genres and styles—from jazz musicians and new-classical groups to poets to dancers—and offer that rarest of Lincoln Center nights: the ones that won’t cost you a cent. Thu, various times.

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Art, Galleries

Miguel Abreu Gallery, LES

icon-location-pin Lower East Side

There’s something like 1,500 galleries in in the five boroughs, showing art that runs the gamut from ancient to contemporary—and all are absolutely free. For a relaxed (but inspiring) vibe, head over to the Lower East Side galleries. They’re funkier and hipper than the ones in Chelsea, focusing on young emerging talents. Miguel Abreu Gallery represents conceptually inspired artists including R.H. Quaytman, Eileen Quinlan and Blake Rayne.

Art, Galleries

Canada gallery, LES

icon-location-pin Lower East Side

There’s something like 1,500 galleries in in the five boroughs, showing art that runs the gamut from ancient to contemporary—and all are absolutely free. For a relaxed (but inspiring) vibe, head over to the Lower East Side galleries. They’re funkier and hipper than the ones in Chelsea, focusing on young emerging talents. Canada is one of the pioneers of the Lower East Side–Chinatown gallery scene, with a program that reflects the nabe’s old-school, funky DIY aesthetic.

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Art, Galleries

Salon 94 Bowery gallery, LES

icon-location-pin Nolita

There’s something like 1,500 galleries in in the five boroughs, showing art that runs the gamut from ancient to contemporary—and all are absolutely free. Two doors down from the New Museum, swanky Salon 94 Bowery keeps up with the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood but somehow isn’t intimidating.

Music

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Bars, Lounges

Bands at Otto’s Shrunken Head

icon-location-pin East Village

Genuine kitsch, and not the fabricated, tongue-in-cheek kind, is getting harder and harder to come by in NYC. That’s just one reason the mere thought of this honest-to-goodness East Village tiki bar—which features rockabilly, punk and surf-rock groups in its back room—warms our jaded Gotham hearts.

Clubs

Roots dance party at Cielo

icon-location-pin Meatpacking District

This hump-day dance party has been running strong for more than ten years—and for good reason. With house heroes Louie Vega (of Masters at Work) and Kevin Hedge (of Blaze) at the helm, expect nothing but top-tier beats all night long. And if you show up before 11pm, there’s no cover. Score! Wed 10pm.

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Shopping, Markets and fairs

Music at Brooklyn Night Bazaar

icon-location-pin Greenpoint

The venue might be a little odd at first glance, situated inside a big ol’ Greenpoint craft market, but the Night Bazaar routinely nabs top acts for it free weekend shows. Guest curators bring in a diverse range of entertainment: Recent gets include local punks Titus Andronicus, Walkmen singer Hamilton Leithauser and Nashville country-rockers Those Darlins. Fri, Sat 7:30pm.

Bars, Lounges

Mobile Mondays at the Bowery Electric

icon-location-pin East Village

DJs Just Blaze, Misbehaviour, $$$ Mike, Operator EMZ, Joey Carvello and Natasha Diggs kick off the workweek at Bowery Electric, serving up funk, soul, rock, punk, pop, salsa, calypso, reggae, rhythm & blues, disco and more. The one rule? They only spin vinyl 45s. Mon 10pm.

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50 free events, Le Poisson Rouge
Photograph: Courtesy DJ Ceremony
Music, Music venues

Basement Bhangra at Le Poisson Rouge

icon-location-pin Greenwich Village

At this long-running monthly powwow, DJs Rekha and Petra blend South Asian bhangra beats with hip-hop, dancehall and bass-heavy electronic rhythms. Are you a newbie to the scene? Don’t worry, there’s a bhangra dance lesson at 10pm. Thursdays at 7pm. Free before 8pm.

Bars, Lounges

PAT at Union Pool

icon-location-pin Williamsburg

JD Samson—best known for her ridiculously awesome bands Le Tigre and MEN—presents a fun and friendly shindig at Union Pool. Show up for great DJs and a cute and mixed LGBT crowd. Various dates and times.

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Things to do, Literary events

BAMcafé Live

icon-location-pin Fort Greene

Need your envelope-pushing music fix? The venerable Brooklyn cultural institution welcomes artists from a variety of genres (Afrobeat, jazz, experimental) to its stylish dining room on occasional Friday and Saturday nights. Next up: Funky electro-world music ensemble Digital Diaspora (Fri 17 9:30pm) and African multi-instrumentalist Kinobe (Sat 18 9:30pm). Dates vary. 9:30pm.

Bars, Lounges

Rhum Saturdays at Bembe

icon-location-pin Williamsburg

A rotating cast of stellar spinners—David Medina, Nappy G, Eddy Plenty, Nickodemus, Captain Planet, Nova and Sabo—offers tropical, Latin and Afro-Brazilian rhythms to a lively throng of dancers on Saturdays at everyone’s favorite global-music–focused watering hole. Sat 10pm.

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Comedy

Photography: Mindy Tucker
Comedy, Stand-up

Whiplash at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre

icon-location-pin Hell's Kitchen

This UCB-based comedy show has been running for over five years and remains one of the most consistently great stand-up nights in New York. On any given evening, you could be treated to a surprise performance from Chris Rock, Jim Gaffigan, Aziz Ansari and other comics we’d gladly throw down some coin to see. Mon 11pm.

Restaurants, Mexican

Week at the Creek

icon-location-pin Long Island City

LIC destination the Creek and the Cave is reshaping the comedy-club landscape—and not just by waiving the whole two-drink–minimum thing. It actually cares about the performers, man—so much that it gives favorite pro and rising comics an entire week’s worth of shows to do whatever the hell they please. Various times.

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Comedy

Frantic at the Stand

icon-location-pin Gramercy

Despite being open for only two years, the Stand is already a comedy force to be reckoned with. Its weekly free show, hosted by Michael Kosta, has an powerhouse lineup of regulars, including Judah Friedlander and Aparna Nancherla. Mon 10pm.

Bars, Beer bars

The Broken Comedy Show at Bar Matchless

icon-location-pin Greenpoint

The absolutely hilarious Michael Che, SNL’s newest “Weekend Update” anchor and former Daily Show correspondent, cohosts this showcase with Nimesh Patel and Mike Denny. Each week, the trio spotlights an impressive crop of stand-ups, including folks who have appeared on everything from Late Night to Last Comic StandingMon 8:30pm.

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Bars, Cocktail bars

Gandhi, Is That You? at Lucky Jack's

icon-location-pin Lower East Side

A comedy show with serious star power, this weekly gathering on the LES features eight comics with national TV credits every week. Louis C.K. has been known to drop in, as have SNL’s Jay Pharaoh and The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac. Wed 9pm.

Music

Secret Meeting standup at Pine Box Rock Shop

icon-location-pin Bushwick

Eli Yudin is the SNL “Weekend Update” contributor who co-created the popular Twitter account @NotTildaSwinton. Nick Mullen is responsible for the funniest and most controversial articles on Thought Catalog. Put them together and you get this new stand-up showcase in Bushwick featuring their favorite up-and-comers. Oh, and the night turns into a karaoke jam once the comedy’s done. Thu 8pm.

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Bars, Lounges

The Sherry Vine Show at Industry

icon-location-pin Hell's Kitchen

The OG of comedy-cabaret, Miss Vine’s weekly show predates the Clinton administration. Full of offensive parodies and twisted music videos, this gig is home base for a queen who is world-famous for a song called “I Shit My Pants” (inspired by Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” of course). Wed 11pm.

Movie theaters, Independent

Low Standards with John and Matt at Videology

icon-location-pin Williamsburg

Bad-movie lovers, rejoice! These Upright Citizens Brigade veterans invite their famous and TV-credit–wielding comedy pals to sit down and discuss their favorite bad shows and movies after performing stand-up sets. Thu 9pm.

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Comedy

Superfree Wednesday at Peoples Improv Theater

icon-location-pin Flatiron

This free comedy night comes in five parts: Two house improv teams perform in each of the 7, 8 and 9pm time slots; at 10pm, a house team opens for a group composed of the PIT's teaching staff; and at 11pm, hop onto the stage for Improdome, the weekly amateur jam.

Music, Dance and electronic

Comedy at the Knitting Factory

icon-location-pin Williamsburg

Feel like catching a big-name comedian for nothing? Ace stand-up Hannibal Buress (Broad City, Neighbors, The Eric André Show, 30 Rock) hosts this show known for famous drop-ins like Dave Chappelle and Method Man. In just a few short years, it’s already become a staple on the New York comedy scene. Sun 9pm.

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