It may be hard to believe, but a trip to New York doesn’t have to break your budget. Whether exploring the boroughs of New York City or hiking the great outdoors upstate, there are plenty of activities and places to visit that won’t cost you a thing. So, put your wallet away and read on to discover our list of free things to do in New York.
Departs from Manhattan (4 Whitehall St.) and Staten Island (1 Bay St.)
The Staten Island Ferry takes 117 trips a day between Manhattan and Staten Island, and while many think of it as solely a means for commuting, traveling the Staten Island Ferry is also one of the best kept not-so-secret free activities in New York.
A round trip gives you a free tour of New York Harbor from the water, including views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the bridges and skyline of the city.
The ferry operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The 5-mile ride takes about 25 minutes each way.
The Adirondacks region is known for having a variety of hiking trails across its 46 mountains, each catering to hikers of varying abilities. The Saranac 6 challenge is centered around six mountains in the Saranac Lake region of the Adirondacks: Baker Mountain, St. Regis Mountain, Scarface Mountain, Ampersand Mountain, Haystack Mountain and McKenzie Mountain.
Hikers who summit all of the mountains obtain official recognition as a “6er” as noted by a special certificate and the opportunity to ring the 6er bell located in Berkeley Green Park. The hikes add up to about 30 miles and an elevation gain of 8,000 feet. If you complete the challenge in the winter, you’ll be awarded designation as a Winter 6er, while completing all six hikes in under 24 hours will designate you as an Ultra 6er.
Connecting Poughkeepsie and Highland
Take a stroll along this 1.28-mile-long steel cantilever bridge that crosses over the Hudson River. The elevated pedestrian bridge, which claims to be the world’s longest, is accessible by staircase or a 21-story glass elevator, the latter of which connects the bridge to the Poughkeepsie Train Station.
Enjoy a walk on your own, take a group tour (for a fee) or listen to the mobile audio tour, which tells you about the animals you might spot along your walk (such as bald eagles), sites you’ll see (such as the Catskill Mountains) and about local historic sites. The Walkway Over the Hudson is both ADA accessible and open year-round.
Across New York State
The Empire State Trail has three sections totaling 750 miles and crossing the state of New York. One trail spans from Manhattan to Albany (the Hudson Valley Greenway Trail), another stretches from Albany to the Canadian border (the Champlain Valley Trail) and the third connects Albany and Buffalo (the Erie Canalway Trail).
The trails took four years to build and are designed for walkers, runners and bikers to enjoy the sights as they pass through the Hudson River Valley, Adirondacks and along the Erie Canal. Snowshoers and cross-country skiers use the trails during the winter, and some portions are open to horseback riders. Before you embark on your Empire State Trail adventure, be sure to order a printed map online to find museums and sites of historical interest along the way.
One of the free places to visit in New York’s capital city of Albany, the New York State Capitol is an edifice built in the 1880s and marked by late 19th-century architecture. The staff gives 45-minute tours Monday through Friday of the state legislative chambers, hall of governors, governor’s reception room, hall of New York and historic staircases and carvings throughout the building. Reservations for tours are suggested.
The capitol is located on the Empire State Plaza, where there’s plenty more to explore, including art, memorials, The Egg Performing Arts Center, special events and more.
From Gansevoort Street to 34th Street on Manhattan’s West Side
This elevated railway-turned-walkway stretches through 1.5 miles of the West Side of Manhattan, featuring gardens, an open-air food court (operational in the warmer months), art installations and live performances along the way.
Once considered an eyesore to be taken down, the High Line was designed after the community came together to salvage it. Walking along the path, you’ll discover a woodlands area near the Meatpacking District, or head to the area between 14th and 15th streets to see a unique water feature.
The museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology is the only one of its kind in New York City committed solely to the study of fashion. Its collection includes approximately 50,000 pieces of clothing and accessories designed from the 18th century to present. Exhibits celebrate iconic designers and design and are always rotating. Upcoming exhibitions include a spotlight on shoes and hip-hop culture’s influence on fashion.
Like many spots on this list, visiting Niagara Falls State Park is one of the things you can do for free in New York that showcases the state’s diverse outdoor landscape. Designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead, the architect behind Central Park, the state park covers 400 acres and includes views of the falls, gardens and 15 miles of hiking trails.
Of course, you can also choose to enjoy additional attractions at the falls for a fee, such as heading to the top of the observation tower, visiting the Cave of the Winds or riding the Maid of the Mist.
And for more things to do in the Northeast, check out Budget-Wise.
What are some of your favorite free things to do in New York? Share them in the comments below.