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100 Free Things to Do in New York City

by M. Hartmann, January 15, 2008

New York isn't expensive if you know where to look or are willing to think creatively. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.

1. Win fun prizes and oggle celebrities at Rapture Cafe's bingo night.

2. Realize that there's more to New York City than pigeons on a Department of Parks and Recreation birding hike.

3. Get feedback on your novel at a Gotham Writers' Workshop event.

4. Chat with indie film professionals at the indieWIRE Presents Series.

5. Fish in the Harlem Meer with a pole borrowed from the Dana Discovery Center in Central Park. However, this is not a free lunch—catch and release only.

6. Frame a house or paint a child's new bedroom with Habitat for Humanity.

7. Sip wine at one of LeNell's tastings.

8. Then drink some more at Union Square Wines and Spirits.

9. Cheer or jinx commuters trying to make their trains as you people-watch from the balcony in Grand Central Station.

10. See what the Germans are up to at the Goethe-Institut, which offers free exhibitions, screenings, talks, and more.

11. Blush at the sexy stories and poems read each month at the Happy Ending Lounge.

12. Come out to support the runners in the New York City Marathon.

13. Count the places where George Washington slept on a self-guided Heritage Trails walking tour.

14. Serve meals and reach out to homeless men and women at one of the city's churches.

15. Tango in a TriANGulO Beginner Workshop.

16. Be a typical Brooklyn hipster and do things differently. Scorn the subway for Heart of Brooklyn's weekend trolley.

17. Hunt for Native American artifacts at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve.

18. View the Statue of Liberty from Castle Clinton National Monument.

19. Track down as many of the public works in the Percent for Art Program as you can.

20. Build a sandcastle or relax at Rockaway Beach.

21. Gorge on architecture and history during the annual Open House New York weekend.

22. Build a bicycle with found parts after learning how from the Freegan Bike Workshop.

23. Go on a Central Park ecology tour.

24. Play Marco Polo in the outdoor pool at the Asser Levy Rec Center.

25. Free love: snag some condoms courtesy of the Department of Health.

26. Try a new haircut from Bumble and bumble.

27. Get your fill of ballroom and swing dancing during one of Dance Manhattan's open houses.

28. Talk Democratic politics at a Democracy for New York City event.

29. Or be more conservative with the Young Republican Club.

30. Visit the lobbies of fancy hotels and rate them on their impressiveness.

31. Read to children at a public library.

32. Barter your stuff or find out about giveaways on Craigslist.

33. Lurk outside celebrity hotspots and see if you can get any autographs.

34. Chat with other dog owners while Rover gets some exercise at one of the city's dog runs.

35. No dog of your own? Volunteer to walk a pooch from an animal shelter.

36. If you prefer felines, play with and care for kitties instead.

37. Design a crazy interview with questions like: "Have you ever had an imaginary friend?" or "Where were you this time yesterday?" Then politely approach people in public places and ask if they'll take a survey. Say it's a psychology experiment or writing project if that helps you feel less creepy.

38. Find inspiration at a free meditation talk sponsored by Meditation in New York.

39. Join a pickup game in a park.

40. Come up with an interesting question about your neighborhood or the city, and then ask your local librarian to help you research it. Any good librarian will relish the challenge.

41. Find some of the sights listed on the Forgotten NY website.

42. Delight in the Bard's wordplay at Shakespeare in the Park.

43. Liberate yourself from the patriarchy at a Bluestockings Bookstore reading.

44. Attend one of the Third Street Music School Settlement's faculty concerts.

45. Munch on samples at Whole Foods. Last we heard, they put out goodies on Thursday nights.

46. Groove to DJ Morsy at The Good Foot Monthly.

47. Take a Saturday morning walk with Step Out New York City.

48. Browse an art exhibit at the World Financial Center.

49. Discover independent films at the Brooklyn Arts Council's annual film festival.

50. Explore all the nooks and crannies of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on one of their tours.

51. Smell the roses at the New York Botanical Garden on Wednesdays.

52. Learn about the history of the Flatiron District on a walking tour.

53. Sample a book at a Mid-Manhattan Library author reading, then choose one to read in nearby Bryant Park.

54. Catch a recital by a Mannes School of Music student before he or she is selling out Carnegie Hall.

55. Head back to the farm and visit the Queens County Farm Museum.

56. Or let the farm come to you and go to the Union Square Greenmarket, where you can find a few free samples.

57. Gaze at the Manhattan skyline from the Staten Island Ferry.

58. Puzzle over the Picassos Friday evenings at the MoMA.

59. Watch a movie under the summer stars on Mondays in Bryant Park.

60. Get in touch with your inner child as you play with the toys at F.A.O. Schwarz or the Toys 'R Us in Times Square.

61. Paddle around in front of the Downtown Boathouse during one of their walk-up kayaking events.

62. If you're a visitor, meet a New Yorker through the Big Apple Greeter Program and let him or her show you around.

63. Go downtown and learn more about Lower Manhattan at one of the Downtown Alliance's lectures.

64. Get freaky at the Village's Halloween Parade.

65. Become a part of the studio audience when you get tickets to TV Shows like The Colbert Report, David Letterman, and Rachel Ray.

66. Check out what's under the Boardwalk at Coney Island. Or just go for a stroll.

67. Wear shorts in the winter in the Wave Hill Public Garden's greenhouse. Mosey among the flora of the world's deserts and tropics during their free admission times.

68. Board the Pioneer at South Street Seaport's free night every month.

69. Take your kids or someone else's to the Children's Museum of Manhattan on Friday nights.

70. Give your regards to Broadway at the annual Broadway on Broadway outdoor concert.

71. Enjoy the view on a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

72. Borrow a field pack from Central Park's Henry Luce Nature Observatory (in the Belvedere Castle) and practice the scientific method.

73. Bar-hop for free using the advice at

74. Sample street performances in Washington Square Park.

75. Admire the intricacy of Spanish textiles at the Hispanic Society.

76. Get a dose of drama by seeing a student play at Julliard.

77. Stir your soul with a Sunday gospel service.

78. Go West without crossing the Hudson by taking in an exhibit or performance at the National Museum of the American Indian.

79. Burn your ears off by listening to the trash talk at the West 4th Street Basketball Court games.

80. Hear live jazz, pop, or experimental music on Fridays and Saturdays at the cafe at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

81. Make stuff from reused materials in a Make Fun Workshop.

82. Learn about interactive games or movie production methods at the Sony Wonder Technology Lab.

83. Get the dirt—visit the Earth Room, a sculpture by Walter De Maria.

84. Run among the ponds and streams at Clove Lakes Park.

85. Don't have the cash to make a difference? Participate in a vigil or protest.

86. Trade your English skills for lessons in the language of your choice by getting in touch with one of the city's many foreign visitors or new residents.

87. Think deep thoughts as you view the contemporary sculpture during a visit to Socrates Sculpture Park.

88. Stay for a tai chi or yoga session and exercise the body as well as the mind.

89. Celebrate the diversity of the city's music scene at Central Park Summer Stage.

90. Make your own walking tour by researching notable architecture online or at the library. Then go out and try to find all the places you read about.

91. Plan your next outfit with help from the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

92. Go dumpster diving in a ritzy neighborhood.

93. Do arts and crafts projects with kids through the Art Explorers Program.

94. Find a free event on

95. Beautify the city by volunteering to help maintain parks and other green spaces.

96. Browse the ETC job section on Craigslist, which always has eclectic ways to make a few bucks. Take part in a a focus group, be a movie extra, or help an out-of-town company at a tradeshow.

97. Listen to poets while snacking on wine and cheese at a Teachers and Writers Collaborative reading.

98. Take some time to reflect during Grace Church's Bach at Noon organ meditations.

99. Pretend to be a swanky art collector at a gallery opening.

100. Go on a free hunt: scour the city to find your own hidden free opportunities and make a personalized list. Compete with friends by splitting up and regrouping at a specified time to compare your lists.

Elsewhere on the Web

Free New York City Deals Guide
New York City Show List


City Secrets: New York City
City Walks New York: 50 Adventures on Foot
Frommer's NYC Free and Dirt Cheap

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