Looking to get a taste of the Big Apple without emptying your wallet? While visiting NYC can cost a fortune, savvy visitors who make plans in advance can save a lot.
Here are some of my favorite free activities in NYC:
1.Visit Grand Central Terminal, a Beaux Arts gem at 42nd Street and Park Avenue and a popular free New York City attraction. Start your free tour at the clock on the main concourse and move on to the whispering gallery (very cool, my kids love this), the kissing room, and so much more. Along with fascinating architectural (125’ arched ceilings) and historical sights (solve the grand staircase mystery) to behold, you find more than 68 shops to peek into and 35 places to eat. Plus, it’s a fantastic place to people-watch.
2. Spend the day in Central Park. With 843 acres of woodlands, lawns, paths, and water, Central Park offers something for everyone. For all the details, see Free Things to Do in Central Park.
3. Visit the free New York City attractions at the World Trade Center Site
-The American Express corporate heaquarters lobby in the World Financial Center has a memorial to the 11 employees the firm lost on September 11.
-St. Paul's Chapel is an 18th century Episcopal church that served a vital role during and after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Unwavering Spirit is the Chapel’s new interactive exhibit.
-The FDNY Memorial Wall at the corner of Greenwich and Liberty Streets includes the names of every member of the FDNY who gave his or her life in the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers. In words and images, it is a moving tribute to those heroes.
-The Tribute WTC Visitor Center at 120 Liberty Street can provide you with information on tours and updates on the construction of the September 11 Memorial and Museum.
4. Take advantage of free admission to NYC's most beautiful churches.
-Free walk-in tours are available at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest Gothic-style cathedral in the country.
-The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is a stunning 19th century architectural masterpiece. Free admission to the gardens and grounds.
-The churchyard at the neo-Gothic Trinity Church in lower Manhattan is one of my favorites. A witness to history, this site was a holding place for imprisoned Revolutionary soldiers, is the burial place for famous Americans, and the events of 9/11 unfolded on Trinity's front steps.
5. Take a Free Ride on the Staten Island Ferry. The views are priceless (Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, lower Manhattan, and New York Harbor). Catch the ferry in lower Manhattan at the Whitehall Terminal (South Ferry) at 4 South Street. The ferries leave approximately every 15-30 minutes, and travel time is 25 minutes each way. Bring your camera and avoid rush hours!
6. Visit the animals at the Bronx Zoo. On Wednesdays, admission is Pay What You Wish, so for whatever price you deem reasonable – free if that’s what you can afford. When you arrive at the gates, it seems a bit bizarre that you’re about to enter an oasis of lush greenery in the concrete jungle known as the Bronx, but there it is! It’s clean, and the staff is friendly. Bring your own picnic! It will be cheaper and tastier, and you won’t waste time in lines. Skip the shuttle (not worth the $5). Bring a stroller if your kids will tire –- the property is extensive, and once you get there, you won’t want to leave until you’ve seen it all!
7. Check out Rockefeller Center.
Seasonally, you’ll find different free sights to enjoy!
– the enormously grand Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and warmly bundled skaters at the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink in winter;
-free concerts from 7 – 10 a.m. on Fridays in the summer; and
-free viewings of NBC’s taping of the Today Show from outside the studio’s Window on the World all year round!
All this, plus lots of Art Deco architecture to admire! Put on your celebrity antennae, you might just see a familiar face from Saturday Night Live, the Today Show, or Radio City Music Hall.
8. Take advantage of free admission to NYC museums on the days they offer Target Free admission or Pay What You Wish. For details, go to: Free Museum Admission, NYC
9. The SONY Wonder Technology Lab is located at 56th Street and Madison Avenue. Admission is free. There are displays, work stations, and lots of activities like the Robot Zone, Virtual Surgery, and Animation Studio. While SONY limits the number of guests who may enter at one time, we found that there were long waits for activities due to slow turnover — the kids who got access to a station simply didn’t want to move on -- and broken stations. So, while I like this attraction in concept, I would recommend calling (212- 833-8100 ) in advance to find out when the less popular visit times are, so you get the most out of your visit.
10. If you enjoy architecture and interior design, visit the lobbies of some of NYC's most famous hotels like the Four Seasons New York Hotel, the Algonquin, and the Mercer.