Free & Cheap in NYC (For Real!)

Central park new yorkCentral Park in New York City
Courtesy alexgbaguio/myBudgetTravel

Simply show up at 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue at the right time, and you'll get a free, 90-minute, east-to-west official tour of Central Park's highlights, including The Lake (pictured).

The Big Apple doesn't have to mean big bucks! We asked locals, celebrities, BT editors, and readers to give their best tips on free and inexpensive things to do in Gotham. You'll want to put each and every one on your bucket list.

The city that doesn't sleep has a reputation for not exactly being cheap. This is, after all, the land of the $1,000 ice cream sundae and the $45,000 hotel room. But we here at BT love New York for its down-to-earth qualities that anyone can enjoy. In fact, the best activities don't cost a dime—or if you do shell out a few bucks, it's worth it and then some.

Where to find this awesome, accessible stuff to do? Ask the locals, of course. We talked to famous New York citizens, BT readers who know the city inside and out, and our own Empire State–based editors, who—with a little prodding—gave up their secret favorite NYC pastimes that won't leave you standing in Times Square with your pockets turned inside out.

Whose advice will you take first?

What's your favorite free or inexpensive thing to do in New York City?

The Food:

"Sunday dim sum (dumpling) brunch in Chinatown at Dim Sum Gogo. It is my favorite place to stuff myself on these delicious morsels."Patricia Field, fashion designer, costume designer for Sex and the City, and native New Yorker

"My favorite thing is to go all the way up to Harlem with a bunch of guys and go to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. It's inexpensive and so much fun. Go with a big group!" François Payard, James Beard award–winning pastry chef with five namesake bakeries and patisseries in NYC

"I have an on-the-go job, like most New Yorkers, but it's also important to stay healthy during the day. Try Gray's Papaya on the Upper West Side, which offers their Recession Special of two all-beef hot dogs and a nutritious juice drink for just $4.95, or the famous 'street meat' food carts on Midtown corners, being sure to opt for the lean grilled chicken over the greasy beef."Lee Tressel, Triple-A strength and conditioning coach for theNew York Yankees 

"We have kids, so our favorite is a visit to Economy Candy on the Lower East Side! Nostalgic, a great area to walk in, and of course a great time for the kids!" —BT reader Melika Nixon, via Facebook

The Sights:

"Staten Island Ferry. You get a fantastic view of lower Manhattan. An up-close pass by the Statue of Liberty. And you can interrupt a busy day of touring on foot with a relatively relaxing free boat ride where there is plenty of seating. That's about as much as you can ask from something that's free." Pat Kiernan, NY1 news anchor

"The parks! Pack a lunch and spend the day at Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan—visit The Cloisters while you're there—or Hudson River Park. There's so much going on over a long stretch." Amy Lundeen, photo director, Budget Travel

"In the summertime, I like going to the roof of the Met. The museum is a suggested donation (I usually give a couple of bucks), and you don't have to purchase anything at the bar on the roof. You can just enjoy the art installation and the view!" —BT reader and New Yorker Jennie LaIacona, via Facebook

"Visitors often overlook the neighborhoods that locals love, but spending time off the beaten visitor path is the best way to experience New York City like a local. Make sure you spend time in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island before heading home. You won't regret it!" Marty Markowitz, former Brooklyn borough president and current VP of borough engagement and promotion for NY's tourism org, NYC & Company

"Walk the beautiful Brooklyn Heights Promenade, then across the Brooklyn Bridge. Fabulous 360-degree views!" —BT reader Roger Warner, via Facebook

The Activities:

"Le Carrousel in Bryant Park. Kids can ride on a cat, a frog, a rabbit, and other beautiful carved animals in the middle of Midtown's perfect oasis. Tickets are only $3, and grown-ups who want to stand beside their little one ride for free."Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor in chief, Budget Travel

"Free museums on Fridays! Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria and MoMA." (Both free from 4–8 p.m.) —BT reader and New Yorker Sean Layton (@seanrlayton), via Instagram

"I love going for long strolls around the city. You never know who you'll bump into or what you'll see. I've stumbled upon movie premiere red carpets, the Metropolitan Opera showing their opening-night performance on the big screens in Times Square, and Robert De Niro filming in the East Village—I accidentally wandered into the shot!" Kaeli Conforti, digital editor, Budget Travel

"The Steinway piano factory tour in Queens. Requires advance reservation, but it was so interesting and free!" (Email or call 718-721-2600 to inquire.) —BT reader Eve Zucker Strauss, via Facebook

"I so enjoy attending free readings at unique NYC bookstores like Word in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; the legendary Strand (18 miles of books!) on 12th Street; McNally Jackson in Nolita; and even the Barnes & Noble flagship store in Union Square. I've met famous authors ranging from Naomi Wolf to Meg Cabot to Chuck Klosterman and gone home carrying a signed book that I intended to buy no matter what. Check out the websites' events pages, or go regardless and just get lost in the stacks." Jamie Beckman, senior editor, Budget Travel

"Walk and walk and walk! Central Park has free walking tours of specific areas of the park. Also, free walking tours from Free Tours by Foot." —BT reader Wynne Gavin, via Facebook

"Exploring the free galleries in Chelsea neighborhood, especially Hasted Kraeutler and Yancey Richardson; breaking for food-truck snacks on the nearby High Line; and then going back for more artful inspiration! The galleries are generally open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but if you want to rub elbows with art-scene 'somebodys,' show up on a Thursday evening for an opening and (reasonably) indulge in the free wine." Whitney Tressel, photo editor, Budget Travel

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