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Free New York

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New York isn’t the cheapest of holiday venues. Once you’ve considered flights, hotels and spending money, it can work out a rather costly trip. So, with that in mind, I’ve tried to find some of the best things to do for free in this “spend, spend, spend” city. Many of these are date specific, so it’s important to check what is going on while you’ll be in the city, but if you haven’t already booked, maybe some of these events will influence your decision of when to visit…

Central park: It’s big, it’s beautiful and, of course, it’s free! This iconic landmark has to make it into your calendar and the fact that you can just spend a day seeing this huge park with it’s impressive halo of New York skyscrapers and not spend a dime is added bonus. Of course, if you do want to spend some cash, there are boats for hire, rickshaw and horse carriage rides, bikes to rent and a multitude of tours and food venues to keep you occupied and keep your wallet active. Chilling out costs nothing, however, and with 9000 benches and numerous beautiful lawns, you can happily lose a day just relaxing in this amazing park.
Even better, there are a whole host of free events that happen throughout the year in Central Park. Classical concerts, Tango dancing and outdoor discos regularly punctuate the calendar. Here are some of my favourites to look out for:

Shakespeare in the Park. Central park has its very own, and very worthy, open air theatre. The best part is that the tickets are entirely free. Two main Shakespeare plays are shown during the summer months and can attract very big stars in the leads. To get tickets be prepared to queue (aye, there’s the rub) for the ticket handout at noon. I advise getting to the 81st street entrance before 6am, where a theater guide will lead you in to form a new queue when the park officially opens at 6. Can’t face a morning of sitting doing nothing in central park waiting for ticket handouts? You could try the virtual lottery held every day but don’t hold your breath.

Summerstage: Throughout the summer, “Good morning America” hosts a whole string of big name concerts and all for free. You’ve guessed it, they are early in the morning and, yes, you will probably have to queue. This summer’s lineup included Jessie J, Ed Sheeran and Nicki Minaj. Some of the bigger names are ticketed free events so do check the website to see if you need a ticket and how to get one. Summerstage is a great opportunity to see great acts in a small open air venue but you need to understand that, first and foremost, this is a TV show. The artists will play a song before the hosts go back to the studio for weather, traffic etc. In total, expect to hear about 7 tracks. Hey, it’s free, what do you want?!
Global Citizen Festival: Held in September, this massive festival of big names is entirely free – this year’s headliners were Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay and Pearl Jam with guest appearances from Hugh Jackman and others. To get tickets you have to be a good person (no, seriously!) From July onwards there are opportunities to “earn” tickets by tweeting, emailing and generally harassing world leaders about important global issues. If you aren’t lucky enough to win tickets through this lottery, this is Central Park – just hang around anywhere close by and you will definitely be able to hear the music. Better still, head along to the sound check the day before and get a close up mini concert with hardly anyone else around – I enjoyed a mini concert from Pearl Jam along with, maybe, 50 others this year.
Movies in the park. Not just a Central Park phenomenon. Many of the parks show free movies during the summer. Check the website for the dates and movie play list. It’s a really lovely way to spend an evening watching a great movie while picnicking in a beautiful location (just make sure your vino is in a brown paper bag)!
Met Opera summer season: On the same vein, if you fancy getting some opera in your life, think about heading along to the Met for its summer season. A whole week of amazing operas broadcast in the beautiful location of Lincoln square. Take some beverages and maybe a cushion – they often last 3 hours and you don’t get intervals here…
If Broadway is more your bag – head down to Bryant park where some of the top stars will serenade you with snippets from top shows. Check out the dates and times on the Bryant park website.
Museum mile: In an attempt to get more people into the wonderful museums and galleries, once a year they open them to the public for free (here’s a hint New York – just make them free all of the time!). Get into any of the museums listed on the website – but don’t try to do them all – they are all vast and deserve more than a 30 minute run round!
Summer street: For three Saturdays in August, Park Avenue is closed to traffic. Do what you please on this massive pedestrianised walkway from E72nd down to the Brooklyn bridge. A gentle stroll is wonderful, but how about hiring a free bike or skates. Grab some free food, or listen to some great free music. Cool off in a free water shoot – you get the idea – it’s FREE! If you miss Summer street, street closures are a regular event in the city, so look out for them. They will either herald a parade or a street fair – but will always have a party atmosphere.
If all you really want is to sightsee – here are some of the top free iconic landmarks in New York city.
Brooklyn Bridge: Get a subway to the Brooklyn side and wander back catching some breathtaking views of Manhattan. There is also a lovely park on the Brooklyn side to enjoy that view.
The High Line: Manhattan’s very own window box. Nearly 1.5 miles of disused elevated railway line converted into some of the most tranquil and beautiful gardens you could hope to see (I say tranquil… it can get pretty busy). End it off near the southern end with a trip into Chelsea Market- though that could tempt you to spend a few bucks…
Staten Island Ferry: Want a totally free way to see the Statue of Liberty? Jump on to the free Staten Island ferry. It won’t get you as close as the sightseeing boats but it isn’t a bad view at all and will save you a fair few bucks. Make the effort to leave the ferry terminal and see the 911 memorial while you are there – with beautiful views back to Manhattan, it’s definitely worth the trip.
Getting indoors at zero cost is also a possibility in New York. Grand Central Station is beautiful and, yes, you can get in it for nothing (you don’t even need to catch a train anywhere!) There is also an excellent and very reasonable audio tour you can do (not free but pretty cheap for New York).
St Patrick’s cathedral: Whether or not you are religious, there is something pleasing about wandering around large religious buildings. This one, on 5th avenue, is very pretty if not a little on the young side…
Rockefeller centre: The main foyer is stunning with it’s art deco paintings, and fabulous Thirties interior design. Outside, during the winter, you have the ice skating rink (not free) presided over by Prometheus. Come in the holiday season if you want to see the lighting of the famous Rockefeller Christmas tree. With top celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett performing, it does get mighty busy so don’t expect a ringside seat.
In addition to all the items listed, always check out what is happening on the dates you will be in the city. There are many websites showing up to date offers and info such as “Time Out“. Doing a simple search “what’s free in New York next week” just before heading over should give you some interesting links to keep you, and your wallet, happy…

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Marie September 30, 2015, 3:53 pm

    This is such a help for visitors and your photos make me quite homesick for new york. NY city council should employ you as tourism advisor. You’ve started using American spelling I noticed . Does this mean you’ll acquire the accent eventually???

  • Justin Durant October 3, 2015, 12:51 pm

    Thanks for the great write up and photos. Makes a trip to New York from the UK look very tempting. Now seriously considering a visit next Summer!

    • Georgina Shellard November 20, 2015, 5:47 pm

      you definitely should!!! Would be delighted to see you.

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