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Governors Island winter village
Photograph: Sari Goodfriend

The best free things to do in NYC this week

The best free things to do in NYC this week include free outdoor performances, kayaking and art exhibits

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
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It is possible to not spend a penny to go out and have fun in NYC. Knowing where to find these freebies is half the battle, so you're gonna need this list of the best free things to do in NYC. First and foremost, don't miss out on NYC's best free exhibits, the free ice skating at Governors Island or cool public art you can see at no cost.

RECOMMENDED: Find out more free things to do in NYC

Free things to do in NYC this week

  • 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: the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the Library for the Performing Arts and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The exhibit spans 4,000 years of history and includes a wide range of history-making pieces, 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.

  • Art
  • Midtown West

Award-winning graphic novelist Peter Kuper's intricate drawings of insects—bees, ants, cicadas, butterflies, silkworms, beetles, dragonflies, and more—show them "flying, crawling, and interacting with the various rooms of the Library’s 42nd Street building, where they will be showcased. "This bug’s-eye view of the building’s Beaux-Arts architectural details illuminates the iconic spaces in a completely original way." Kuper has been working on an upcoming graphic novel, INterSECTS, and had the chance to explore the building and its rooms while they were empty during the pandemic. It was there that he realized that the building would be a perfect vehicle for his concept.

 

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  • Art
  • Art

The next time you visit Flushing Meadows Corona Park you may notice a pretty awesome new sculpture smack-dab in the middle of David Dinkins Circle: the bronze bust of Queens-born hip-hop artist LL Cool J. The piece, dubbed "Going Back to the Meadows," is the work of sculptor Sherwin Banfield. The sculpture of the artist, who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame just a few months ago, depicts him atop a steel radio and pedestal frame that features references to LL Cool J's career. What's most interesting, though, is the solar-powered audio setup right below the bust. In fact, the sculpture features a set of speakers that are timed to play LL Cool J's music from Noon to 5pm every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Now that's some immersive art!

 

  • Attractions
  • West Village

New York City’s hottest new attraction, Little Island, opened to the public in May 2021 and has since brought in plenty of visitors who flocked to see Manhattan’s newest “floating” greenspace. Open from 6am to 1am, the park is filled with open lawns, colorful shrubs and trees and a secret garden. While entry is free to the park throughout the day, entering between noon and close requires a reservation. For those feeling peckish, there are affordable food and drink options offered by Savory Hospitality. The park’s amphitheaters, The Glade and The Amph, offer a spectacular view of the Hudson River, with a majority of the events being free throughout the summer. Every Monday night at 6pm, the theater hosts Savory Talks & Performances, a free dialogue around food sustainability and industry trends. The lineup includes local farms and sustainable meat and fish companies, discussing the future of food production, including "elements of storytelling and dance" from Perform in the Park artists.

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

Governors Island has opened its first-ever winter village with glittering lights, a 5,000-square-foot ice rink, sled rentals, warm drinks near fire pits and winter programming as well. The massive ice rink will be open Fridays, weekends and on New York City public school holidays from noon to 5pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 5pm, with extended hours available for youth, adult and nonprofit sports leagues and associations. There will be themed events as well as Free Admission Fridays! Governors Island will also have winter activities including cornhole, can jam and giant Jenga as well as winter arts and cultural programming and a dazzling display of holiday lights throughout Colonels Row. There will also be a fun and historic photo opp with a Coast Guard-era fire truck at the Winter Village.

  • Things to do
  • City Life

Located at 935 Broadway in the Flatiron District, this recently-opened store has been the talk of the town for Potterheads and tourists alike. The 21,000 square foot store features three floors of the magical world of Harry Potter, with 15 different themed areas. The store features over 1,000 props on display (including some from the films). For those who wish to just browse, the store features various photo ops, including the British Ministry of Magic photobooth, a “life-size” cardboard cutout of Hagrid and his gigantic shoes (which you can try on for yourself), and a giant Hippogriff statue. The shop also features candy from Honeydukes, the candy store from the franchise, a Butterbeer Bar, and two virtual reality games that customers can participate in for free. While the line for this hotspot may be long, customers can join a virtual queue by scanning a QR code upon initial arrival that will notify them when it is their turn to step into the wizarding world of Harry Potter. 

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Chelsea

With over 8 million visitors annually, the High Line is easily a classic New York favorite. Located along the west side of Manhattan on a former New York Central Railroad track, the park requires free reservations on the weekends, with open access and no reservation required on weekdays. The park currently is operating at reduced capacity and asks all visitors to wear a mask to ensure a safe visit. While the park believes that the best way to experience it is “simply to wander,” there are many interesting features to be noticed while you are exploring the High Line. Pathways filled with greenery make up a majority of this park, with various viewing decks of Chelsea, old train tracks, and the Diller-Von Furstenberg sundeck and water viewing area. Whether you choose the High Line as a destination for sunbathing or simply take it on your way to work, it provides a unique combination of greenery and transportation history of the city of New York.

Walk around The Bushwick Collective
Photogrpah: Shutterstock

8. Walk around The Bushwick Collective

This outdoor street art gallery has gathered quite the social media presence, as it has garnered over 125,000 followers on its Instagram page. Located just off of Flushing Avenue in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, the project features murals by both local and international artists. While there are many street art walking tours throughout the city, The Bushwick Collective consists of almost 100 blocks of art, and one can easily spend an entire day exploring the creative works that lay here. The collective’s 10th-anniversary celebration is this August and will include music, food trucks, and local vendors to complement the colorful artwork.

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