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
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).
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.
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.
Getting primped and pampered can be taxing—especially on your wallet. But at Sephora, professional makeup artists provide complimentary 15-minute mini makeovers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s easy to be skeptical of corporate sponsorship, but this series—which throws ticketed concerts by stars of rock (Vivian Girls, King Tuff), metal (High on Fire), hip-hop (IAMSU!) and other genres—is a win-win to us. Follow @rubbertracksnyc for show announcements and R.S.V.P. details.
Budding performers pop their cherries at this showcase for brand-spankin’-new burlesque talent, hosted by Broadway Brassy. The “virgins” are offered up by the “sacrificers”: seasoned sirens such as Amber Ray and Dottie Dynamo. (broadwaybrassynyc.com/templeofthevirgins). Last Monday of the month at 10pm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Standing. Mon 8:30pm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.