No other city in the world can match the dynamic pulse of the Big Apple. A cradle of culture, food, fashion and the arts and foremost hub of business, media and commerce, New York City is almost like another country within America.
Gotham can be a strain on your wallet however. Of course, you don’t have to stay at the Four Seasons, order the chef’s menu at Masa or Per Se, or splurge at Fifth Avenue shops. You can enjoy Manhattan on the cheap, believe it or not, you can even find cheap last minute accommodation in New York City.
It’s still free to roam the grid-like streets and gape at the cityscape after all. If you get hungry on the way from one landmark to the next, worry not. Dirty water frank vendors are no longer the de facto meal-on-the-go, with Manhattan now chockablock with affordable and savoury street eats.
Best of all, some of the most notable attractions in New York City are gratis. Here are 20 of the best.
The National Historic Landmark and legendary East River span has a pedestrian walkway with stellar views of Manhattan and is floodlit after sundown.
19. TV Show Tapings
Though the wait times can be long, there’s no charge to sit in the audience of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Late Show with David Letterman or Saturday Night Live, among others.
A Greenwich Village landmark, beautiful Washington Square Park is popular with film and television location scouts. The park’s central arch and fountain are popular congregation spots for chess players and street buskers.
17. Grand Central Terminal
The Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal is familiar to anyone who has ever seen a film set in New York City and contains numerous architectural secrets. The ornate ceiling fresco has recently undergone a full restoration.
16. Governors Island
In summer and early fall, visitors can take a free seven-minute ferry ride from Battery Park in Manhattan to Governors Island. With parks, pre-Civil War landmarks, Romanesque and Victorian Revival homes, the island is a fun exploration spot outside of the city.
15. Museum of Modern Art
The MoMa is one of the most popular museums in New York City and offers free admission every Friday from 4 to 8 pm.
Home to perhaps the best collection of 20th century American art, the Whitney has a pay-what-you-wish program every Friday from 6 to 9 pm.
13. New York Botanical Garden
Proof that not all the best attractions are in Manhattan, beautiful Bronx Park is the spacious home of the world class New York Botanical Garden, free on Saturdays from 10 am to noon.
The best views of Manhattan require a little boat ride, commuter-style. The Staten Island Ferry is free and provides easy access to the superb Staten Island Museum, where admission to a vast collection of natural history specimens, photographs and archival documents is also free.
11. Brooklyn Botanical Garden
With three international pavilions and several elegant outdoor gardens, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden welcomes over 700,000 visitors a year and offers free admission on Saturdays between 10 am and noon.
The most famous public library in the world is free for anyone to roam, browse, peruse and relax with what else, but a good book.
9. Rockefeller Center and Plaza
A Modernist masterpiece and National Historic Landmark, Rockefeller Center contains two Manhattan staples in the massive Christmas tree, lit every December, and Plaza ice rink.
8. Times Square
No ordinary urban junction, Times Square needs no introduction. While the Manhattan intersection has become commercial over the years, Times Square is still a thrill to walk through.
7. Chrysler Building
The Art Deco skyscraper is an indelible piece of Manhattan skyline, with a majestic lobby totally free of charge to admire.
The Gothic Revival St. Patrick’s Cathedral is impossible to miss. Across from Rockefeller Center, the grand interior is free of admission and well worth an hour of your time.
5. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Frank Lloyd Wright’s magnum opus is one of the must-visit attractions of New York City. The Guggenheim has a pay-what-you-wish policy on Fridays from 5:45 to 8 pm.
4. Bronx Zoo
The metro zoo of record in America, the terrific Bronx Zoo contains more than 4,000 animals and is admission by donation every Wednesday.
3. Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
The Morningside Heights area of Manhattan contains the largest Gothic cathedral in the world in Saint John the Divine. With a glorious Amsterdam Avenue entrance, the cathedral has a splendid interior, Biblical Garden and Peace Fountain.
2. Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met is a mandatory cultural lynchpin for visitors to Manhattan. The formidable facility has over 2 million works of art that span classical antiquity to the modern period and every age in between. The $20 admission fee is a “suggestion”, as the museum has a pay-what-you-can policy.
1. Central Park
The most famous city park in the world is a veritable oasis within the congestion and gridlock of Manhattan. With over 3.4 square km of recreation space, the park has enough landmarks and eye candy to occupy an entire New York City afternoon.
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