Visiting New York, but only have so much dough to spend? Go to the best free attractions and NYC landmarks—including some of the best NYC parks and museums in New York—and you’ll still have plenty of money leftover to treat yourself to a wonderful meal at one of the city’s best restaurants. Even the most seasoned Gothamite should revisit these essential New York attractions.
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Best free attractions in New York
This 25-acre green space is like Manhattan’s delicate fingernail, neatly plotted with monuments, memorials, gardens, sculptures and a farm-to-table café, plus killer waterfront views from the promenade. Though the area was named for the battery cannons it once housed, the fortified walls of Castle Clinton now protect little more than summer music concerts. If you prefer a quieter nook, seek out the stone labyrinth traced in the park’s lawns; it’s not actually a maze meant to confuse, but a prescribed stroll for meditation.
Some city parks—Central and Prospect, most obviously—were built to replicate rustic fields and preserve serene woodland. Brooklyn Bridge Park, however, was not—and that’s precisely why it has become so popular in the almost three years since it debuted. The project has transformed a chunk of the Brooklyn waterfront into a nearly 85-acre expanse; several sections house unique attractions such as Jane’s Carousel, a restored 1920s merry-go-round, and riverside esplanades with gorgeous Manhattan views.
It’s easy to forget that you’re standing atop the hectic Brooklyn-Queens Expressway while strolling along this esplanade, which opened in 1950. But the thoroughfare is inextricably linked to the Promenade’s existence: Community opposition to the BQE—which was originally intended to cut through Brooklyn Heights—led city planner Robert Moses to reroute the highway along the waterfront. He also proposed building a park atop the road to block noise.
For your stroll, head to the 38-acre wilderness area on the west side of the park known as the Ramble. The area has a storied history (as a gay cruising spot dating back to the turn of the last century, among other things), and it was even proposed as a recreational area in the mid-'50s. Thankfully, the winding trails, rocks and streams seemingly remain waiting to be discovered.
We won’t argue if you want to call this glimmering pinnacle of Art Deco architecture NYC’s most eye-popping skyscraper. Triangle-shaped windows in its crown are lined with lights, creating a beautiful effect come nighttime. Oozing a moneyed sophistication oft identified with old New York, the structure pays homage to its namesake with giant eagles (replicas of ones added to Chrysler automobiles in the 1920s) in lieu of traditional gargoyles and a brickwork relief sculpture of racing cars, complete with chrome hubcaps.
East River State Park, otherwise known as the Williamsburg waterfront, is not fancy: stage, concrete, water. But the view of Manhattan is breathtaking, and the neighborhood (even engulfed in new condos) is textbook Williamsburg. Families can relax amongst historic rail yard remnants, and in the summer, take in family-friendly music and film series. Be sure to leave Fido and your bicycle at home—neither are allowed in the space.
This 21-story Beaux Arts edifice once dominated midtown. Although it’s now dwarfed by other structures, when it debuted in 1902, the triangle-shaped monolith represented the threat and the thrill of modernity: Naysayers claimed it would never withstand the high winds plaguing 23rd Street, while revered photographer Alfred Stieglitz—who captured it in an iconic shot in 1903—wrote that it was “a picture of a new America still in the making.”
Give the city’s second-biggest park a day and it’ll show you the world: Its most enduring icon is the Unisphere, the mammoth steel globe created for the 1964 World’s Fair. But there’s also first-rate culture and sports at the New York Hall of Science, Arthur Ashe Stadium and Citi Field (depending on how the Mets are doing). The rolling green fields also encompass a zoo, a boating lake, a skate park, a barbecue area, playfields, and a $66 million aquatic and hockey center.