15 Fabulously Free Things to Do in New York City This Summer
Sure, New York is the home of the $100+ hamburger and the $1,000+ baseball game. But there's also no other city in the world that offers more first-rate freebies on a daily basis. From famous paintings to gorgeous green spaces, classical music to stand-up comedy, welcome to Free NYC!
Every single day of the summer, Central Park's calendar is packed with activities like catch-and-release fishing, guided tours of gardens and wild spaces, concerts, theater, and more—not to mention the fact that the park also hosts the charmingly manageable Central Park Zoo, a carousel, puppet theater, and, oh yeah, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (whose admission is always a suggested donation that you can tailor to your budget). But, honestly, the best way to enjoy Central Park is to wander its paths with someone you love, discovering its ponds, bridges, and public sculptures as you go. If you're the type who must plan ahead, you'll find maps and a somewhat overwhelming schedule of events, visit the park's official site at centralparknyc.org.
Museum of Modern Art
On Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m., admission to MoMA is free, including all galleries, films, and exhibitions. With a collection that includes some of the best-known works by Van Gogh, Mondrian, Picasso, Chagall, and other 19th- and 20th-century artists, MoMA is a bargain at any admission price. To see it free of charge at the end of a long week is a special treat. Insider tip (well, it's my opinion): Leave time for a visit to the outdoor sculpture garden on a balmy night. To learn more about MoMA's programs, visit moma.org.
Got a little time on your hands? How about a free concert? Or dance recital? Or how about 100 free performances in 17 public parks in all five of New York City's boroughs? Summerstage arranges an incredible array of free entertainment each year, including music, dance, and comedy. Find a few—or a few dozen!—that sound good to you at cityparksfoundation.org/summerstage.
Grand Central Terminal
At the corner of 42nd Strett and Vanderbilt Avenue in Midtown, you'll find an architectural treasure that's worth a visit even if you're not planning on hopping on a train. Grand Central Terminal's main hall has the open, uplifting feeling of a cathedral interior, and if you're lucky enough to visit on a sunny, day, you'll see the classic image of sunlight pouring in the building's iconic windows, illuminating the bustle below. For a schedule of the building's award-winning, absolutely free walking tours, visit grandcentralpartnership.org.
New York Public Library
Not just a collection of books—though what a collection it is!—the New York Public Library's main building at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue also hosts numerous free art and history exhibits with materials from its extensive collection of drawings, paintings, maps, manuscripts, and bound books. If you're a fan of the film Ghostbusters, the building will feel eerily, and comically, familiar. And don't forget to pay the sculpted lions outside a visit! Visit nypl.org for a schedule of exhibits and special events.
Right behind the main library, Bryant Park is an oasis of green—and blood-pressure-lowering serenity—in the midst of Midtown. A children's carousel imported from France plays Edith Piaf recordings as the kids whirl around on beautifully carved and painted horses, bunnies, and cats (it'll set you back a whopping $2 per ride), and there are a few spots to buy lunch or dinner in the park. But a seat by the fountain on a hot summer day is just about all it takes to relax and recharge—as many New Yorkers do on their lunch hours. The park's summer film festival presents a free movie every Monday night—bring a blanket and a picnic dinner, and get there early to nab a spot on the lawn where you can enjoy a classic like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Norma Rae, or E.T. the Extraterrestrial. To find out what's going on at the park, visit bryantpark.org.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
As long as you remember that you're stepping into a house of worship (hats off, voices low), a stop at St. Patrick's is a lovely way to escape the summer heat and hoards of shoppers on Fifth Avenue. Religious sculptures, stained glass windows, and soaring architecture can almost convince you that you've stepped into a time machine—or been transported to a European capital. Visit saintpatrickscathedral.org for a schedule of events, including masses and concerts.
National Museum of the American Indian
New Yorkers who envy Washingtonians for their free access to the Smithsonian museums are forgetting that Manhattan has a Smithsonian museum of its own: the National Museum of the American Indian. Located downtown at the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, the museum is devoted to the history and culture of America's native peoples and in addition to permanent exhibits also offers regular music and dance presentations. Visit nmai.si.edu/visit/newyork to learn more.