10 famous sights you can see for free or almost-free in the Big Apple.
You already know that New York City is one of the world’s most expensive destinations, but most of us want to go there anyway, right?
If you’re headed there, here are some tips on how to see major sights for free or almost-free.
TAKE THE STATEN ISLAND FERRY
For a great postcard view of the Statue of Liberty, plus a 25-minute-long harbor tour with views of the Manhattan skyline, you can’t do better than this free trip to Staten Island. Did I mention that it’s free both ways? You’ve seen this ferry in countless movies and TV shows. It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but it’s most enjoyable when it’s not crammed with commuters at rush hour. The Manhattan terminal is at 4 Whitehall St.
SEE THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART FOR A PENNY
Did you know the Metropolitan Museum of Art does not have an admission fee? Instead, it’s by donation. You can pay what you like, every day of the week. There’s a big sign in front listing a “suggested donation” of $25, but only the tourists pay that. The city subsidizes the museum, and as a result, visitors can pay as little as one cent to get in. You choose how much to give, when you get to the ticket booth, even one penny. If you have a dollar bill or a few in your hand when you get to the front, just hand it to the ticket-taker. Yeah, they might give you the stink eye, but only 11 percent of the Met’s annual budget comes from visitor fees, so don’t feel too bad.
PAY WHAT YOU WILL AT THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
Same deal as the Met. They want you to pay the “suggested donation” of $22 (ouch) but you can pay what you wish. Buy your tickets at any admissions desk in the museum. You can’t buy tickets online with this deal, you must buy in person.
TAKE A GUIDED STROLL IN CENTRAL PARK
One of New York City’s great free attractions is Central Park, with scads of things to do. There’s a lake, boathouse, bridle path, Shakespeare garden, “castle” and more. I liked the John Lennon memorial at Strawberry Fields, on the west side near the Natural History Museum. The Central Park Conservancy offers free guided Thursday evening strolls July 7-Aug. 18.
ATTEND FREE CONCERTS AND MORE
Get brochures and read oodles of information about things you want to know on the New York City Tourist Authority website at nycgo.com. There’s a list of free summer concerts, maps and guides, and lots more.
TOUR GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL
This iconic landmark is indeed grand, and also free to visit. And you can take a free walking tour of the neighborhood every Friday at 12:30 p.m. that explores Midtown East sites such as the Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Terminal, the Chrysler Building, Pershing Square and more. You don’t need tickets or reservations, just show up at the sculpture court at 120 Park Ave. Sponsored by the Grand Central Partnership.
TOUR THE GUGGENHEIM FOR A PENNY
Saturday is “pay what you wish” night at the famed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of art, perhaps most noted for its remarkable architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright. From 5:45 to its 7:45 p.m. closing, pay as little as one cent to get in. (You can ignore the “suggested donation” of $10.) The line starts forming at 5:15, and the last ticket is issued at 7:15. Regular daily admission is $25. Visit guggenheim.org, and search under Plan Your Visit.
GET A FREE CITY TOUR
This is the coolest thing ever: Sign up at least three weeks in advance to get a free personal tour from a volunteer who lives in and loves New York City, through the Big Apple Greeters program. My friend gives these tours for fun. You’ll meet a real resident, and you can request a neighborhood, or leave it up to them. No tipping required, but they will request a donation to support the organization.
VISIT THE 9/11 MEMORIAL FOR FREE
This is a somber memorial, not an attraction. But note that the Lower Manhattan site of the destroyed World Trade Center is free to visit, open daily 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The adjacent museum is not free. You’ll have to buy a ticket for that, except on Tuesday evenings when it’s free from 5–8 p.m. (A limited number of free tickets can be reserved online in advance.)
But the memorial site costs nothing. It includes the names of everyone who died in terrorist attacks on Feb. 26, 1993, and Sept. 11, 2001, listed in bronze around a pair of memorial pools. There’s a 9/11 Memorial mobile app available.
VISIT THE CLOISTERS FOR FREE
This is a hidden gem I discovered when a local took me there. Operated by the Metropolitan Museum, The Cloisters is a medieval-style building entirely devoted to medieval art, gardens and architecture, with sculptures, paintings, stained glass, illuminated manuscripts and more. If you want to feel like you’ve stepped back in time, go here. Your Met ticket gets you free same-day admission, or it’s the same “pay as you wish” policy as the main museum. It’s located in Fort Tryon Park.