New York City owns me. I consider myself one of the lucky millions who has called Manhattan home. I’ve had the pleasure of residing both on the upper east side, as well as downtown, smack in the center of it all. While I’m currently in the ‘burbs, a part of my heart is still owned by the city that never sleeps. Manhattan, though? It screams luxury – from the shopping to the accommodations, it’s easy to feel like a million bucks. But, let’s face it, we can’t all afford a private shopper at Bergdorf’s, or a stay in the Ty Warner Penthouse at the Four Seasons. However, we all can dream, right? For those on a budget I’ve compiled a short list of things to do in NYC for free (that don’t include staring at the lights in Times Square). You’re welcome.
Most of my city living took place during my college years. Digital cameras were on the verge “back then,” so I scanned some photos for your comical enjoyment. Being a poor college kid… what’s the saying? Champagne thoughts and a beer budget? That was me.
10. Window Shop. There’s nothing wrong with a little gawking. Even if you don’t have the cash to spend, take a walk down fifth avenue and pretend your pockets are full. Have the time of your life as you fill your head with visions of owning the latest this and that. It was definitely my favorite thing to do back in the day. Nowadays though, you’ll find me dragging my husband around the diamond district doing pretty much the same thing.
9. Stroll Through Central Park. There are a ton of things to do IN Central Park, ranging from budget to uber expensive. However, one thing you don’t need to shell out a dime for is to just be there. There’s no entrance fee. Go! Feel the magic at the Alice in Wonderland statue, stand in the middle of the park and be amazed how it feels like you’re in the middle of a forest, rather than in the center of one of the busiest cities in the world. Seriously. There’s a spot in the center of the park where you see nothing but trees. No tall buildings. No cab horns. Just nature. Check out the different fountains, the mall, walk to Belvedere castle, relax on top of gigantic boulders, be stunned by the size of the reservoir. The options are endless. And don’t worry about getting lost. If you don’t know where you are, just find the nearest lamp post. On it there’s a number which lets you know the street you’re closest to.
8. Park Hop. It’s not just something you do in Disney World. No, there aren’t any rides, but there’s plenty of nature, even though you’re in the middle of a bustling city. While Central Park is certainly the most famous, it’s not the only park Manhattan has to offer. Spend some time visiting the rest. Check out Highline – old train tracks that have been transformed into a park high above the city. Head past the village – way down – and try to spot Lady Liberty from Battery Park. People watch in Bryant Park, or relax in Riverside Park as boats sail by.
7. Cross the Brooklyn Bridge. Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is awesome. What’s even more awesome? Brooklyn Bridge Park. Visit during the kite festival, or even embark on a free kayak lesson from the boathouse. I mean, personally, you couldn’t pay me to get in that water, but maybe you’re more adventurous than I am.
6. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wait, but I thought they charge admission? Well, you thought wrong. Those “admission prices” are actually just suggested. Trust the poor college kid in me. While the Met appreciates your donation, you can totally get in without opening your wallet. Between classes, this is where you’d find me. My husband knew me well when he included this as part of our first date back in the day. Present day, I’ve been to museums all over the world and this one’s still my fave.
5. College me would be appalled if I didn’t mention sitting in a TV studio audience. In high school (FYI, my 10 year reunion is this year – yikes!), I skipped countless times to do just that. The hobby followed me to college, and heck, even present day it’s something I still do (we most recently sat in on a taping of the Stephen Colbert show). I mean, I won’t judge if you spent your senior year hanging out with friends in the school cafeteria, but, amongst other things, I was with my girls Britney and Christina.
Feeling super adventurous? How about sleeping on the street to secure a spot for Saturday Night Live? Crazy? It’s fun, I swear. If that’s too much for you, don’t worry. Most shows offer standby lines during more reasonable times (not to mention are far less in demand).
If you don’t want to risk standby, simply request tickets to your favorite shows in advance. It doesn’t cost a thing. David Letterman tickets can be requested here. Jimmy Fallon here. Jon Stewart here.
4. Walk instead of taking the subway or a cab. It’s a thing to do, I swear. Not only will this save you money, and provide a crazy amount of exercise, but it’s fun too. I walked everywhere. Not only was I in amazing shape, but had I not walked, I never would have stumbled upon the things I had. One time, while passing the Plaza Hotel, I watched them film a scene for Sex and the City. I took a shortcut through Central Park and ran into the Olsen twins. I watched Justin Timberlake leave his hotel. I ran into Tony Soprano in the village. Bottom line, the city is full of surprises, and if you don’t take the time to look around, you may just miss it!
3. Broadway on Broadway. Okay, I swore I wouldn’t mention Times Square, but I’m not saying “just visit Times Square,” because if you’re a “true” NYer, chances are you can’t stand the place. Seriously, everyone just stops and stares, and you can’t actually get anywhere. But, for those on a budget who can’t afford a Broadway show, be sure to plan your trip to the big apple in the Fall, around September. Broadway on Broadway features a huge stage in the heart of Times Square, with popular Broadway performances. Check out the annual date here.
If you’re like me and love theater, you also may want to snag (free) tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. This happens during the summer in Central Park and is totally amazing!
Speaking of summer and free, another awesome thing to check out is the Today show’s annual summer concert series. This films (super) early at the plaza in Rockefeller Center. It’s free, but be sure to get there at an unGodly hour, especially if it’s someone super famous. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing *NSYNC and John Mayer here, both for free.
2. Famous Sights. I’m slightly entertainment obsessed, if you can’t tell. I love to see where TV shows and movies have filmed, and NYC is full of famous locations. I’ll take it even further and list a couple favorites here:
– When Harry Met Sally. You know the famous scene I’m talking about. That took place in Katz’s Deli on the lower east side.
– There are a handful of movies, aside from Serendipity, that filmed inside Serendipity 3. It’s a fun place you should definitely check out. If you do have the extra money, splurge on one of their frozen hot chocolate’s. Yum!
– Who doesn’t love a little Ghoustbusters? The famous fire house is Hook & Ladder 8 in Tribecca. Go ahead and take your picture in front of it, you’ll thank me later.
There are thousands of locations, and this site outlines them best.
1. Experience the village. If you love to party (and no, this isn’t going to turn into a Stefon monologue) – if you don’t get that you clearly don’t watch enough SNL, you should be ashamed – head down to the village and bar hop with the college crowd. It’s nice to pretend you’re still that age every now and then. Plus, it’s an amazing atmosphere.
Want to do something a little more cultural? I guess, if you insist. Instead of drinking your way into Sunday, maybe you’d rather visit the World Trade Center memorial? They ask for a donation, but it’s not mandatory.
If that’s still not your thing, head over to Canal Street and prepare to be amazed by some of the best knockoffs you’ll ever find. While you’re in the area, be sure to visit Little Italy and Chinatown.
Bonus: If it’s a “special” time of year and you find yourself in the village – the Halloween parade is not to be missed, same goes for SantaCon.
So there you have it! Enjoy!