The Top 10 Fun Things to Do in New York City if You’re on a Tight Budget

Here are the best things to do in New York City that won't break the bank...

Fun things to do in NYC on a budget

When you think of New York City, a lot of wonderful things come to mind. Unfortunately, “cheap” is not one of them. But, this doesn't mean you're out of luck if you're planning a visit to NYC and you're tight on funds. You can use a New York Pass to save money on the top New York City attractions. Or, you can get creative, do a little research, and take our advice below when looking for inexpensive attractions and things to do in New York…

1Ride the Staten Island Ferry

Photo Credit: Shaun Merritt

One of the best rides (and bargains) in NYC can be found aboard the Staten Island Ferry. In service since 1905, the Staten Island Ferry currently carries over 21 million passengers each year on its 5.2-mile run across New York Harbor. Each day, more than 70,000 people ride the ferry between Battery Park in Manhattan and the borough of Staten Island.

The 25-minute trip offers unparalleled views of lower Manhattan, Ellis Island, and of course, the majestic Statue of Liberty. Service usually runs every 30 minutes most hours of the day and night. While there is no fee to ride the ferry, all riders must disembark at each terminal and can optionally reenter through the terminal building to complete the free round trip. Food and beverages (including beer!) can also be purchased while on board.

2Lounge around Central Park

Photo Credit: Daran Kandasamy

Established in 1857, Central Park is a vast, majestic and magical urban oasis – right in the middle of Manhattan. Consider New York City’s “backyard,” it runs 2.5 miles long and half a mile wide. With 26,000 trees and 58 miles of paths running through 843 acres of wooded and landscaped grounds, Central Park is a pleasant (and free!) escape from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple.

There is no shortage of affordable things to see and do in Central Park. Dozens of free, guided walking tours are available through the Central Park Conservatory. In the summer you can picnic on the Great Lawn, go for a bike ride (rentals available), take a dip in Lasker Pool, or visit Belvedere Castle. In the winter, you can join other New Yorkers and tourists and take a few laps skating on Wollman Rink or Laker Rink.

3Have a beer… Brooklyn Style

Photo Credit: Jeff Egnaczyk

Since opening their doors in 1988, this Williamsburg (Brooklyn) microbrewery has grown to become one of the most popular breweries in New York State. The warehouse-like bar serves all of their beers, including seasonal favorites like summer and pumpkin ales. The success of Brooklyn Brewery is tied in closely with the revitalized borough of Brooklyn. The flavorful beers they brew here help enrich the lives, tradition and culture of the local community they serve.

While group tours Monday through Thursday are $12, weekend tours are free. Unfortunately, the free tour doesn't include the beer tasting. But don't despair! You can buy beer tokens ($5 each / 5 for $20) if you're eager to sample their tasty brews. Tours start on the half-hour from 1:00 to 5:00 PM on Saturdays, and 1:00 to 4:00 PM. on Sundays. Just remember to bring your photo ID if you plan to do the tasting.

Address: 79 North 11th Street between Berry Street and Wythe Avenue, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn

4Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Photo Credit: Phil Roeder

One of the world’s great art museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or simply, “The Met”) spans 5,000 years of culture and history from around the globe. More than 6 million visitors stroll the Met’s galleries each year, making it New York City’s single most popular museum and attraction. With more than 1.6 million square feet, the Met is not just the biggest museum in New York City, it’s also the largest one in the Western Hemisphere!

What most people don't realize, however, is that if you buy tickets at a museum ticket counter, the amount you pay is up to you. The suggested admission is: $25 for adults, $17 for seniors, $12 for students, free for children under 12. If money's tight, don't feel guilty about not paying the full price. They receive annual grants from the city without paying taxes or rent, and have an investment portfolio in excess off $2.5 billion. Six in ten visitors to the Met pay less than the suggested $25. Just pick a price that seems fair and affordable — and enjoy!

Address: 1000 Fifth Ave. New York, NY 10028

5Governor's Island Getaway

Photo Credit: Nestor Rivera Jr.

Open to the public since 2003, Governor's Island is a 172-acre island in the heart of New York Harbor. The five-minute ferry ride from Lower Manhattan and offers amazing views of the sites around the harbor. The island features a 2.2-mile bike path, mini golf, a picnic area, and historic military sites such as Admiral's House. Ferries depart from the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan from late spring until early fall. The ferry is free on weekend mornings. Otherwise, it’s a whopping $2 for the round-trip ferry fare.

On Governors Island, there's something for everyone during the summer. Enjoy a free concert or go kayaking along the Hudson River. Learn about the island's role in the Revolutionary War history, or go lounge around in Hammock Grove (which is actually a grove of hammocks). This is the ideal destination for anyone who wants to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the big city, without having to travel more than a few minutes from Manhattan.

6Go to the Library

Photo Credit: melanzane1013

What? I thought you said this was a list of fun things to do in New York City? It is… the New York Public Library is one of New York's most impressive buildings and is an amazing place to visit — and it's free, of course (along with free tours)! With nearly 53 million items, the NYPL is the second largest public library in the United States, the fourth largest in the world, and one of the greatest research libraries open to the public.

Two majestic marble lions adorn the entrance to this Beaux Arts masterpiece, National Historic Landmark and architectural wonder. Be sure to visit the third floor to view their rotating collection of art, which includes a copy of the original Declaration of Independence, a Gutenburg Bible, 431,000 old maps, priceless medieval manuscripts, ancient Japanese scrolls, and even baseball cards! This eclectic mix of collectibles makes the New York Public Library not just one of the greatest libraries in the world, but a top art museum as well.

Address: 5th Ave. and 42nd St.

7Visit a Free New York City Museum 

Photo Credit: Sue Waters

New York City has some of the finest museums in the world, and many are either always free, free on specific days of the week or free for select hours. Find one near you, and take advantage of the generosity of their supporters. While general admission may be free, certain events and special exhibitions may still require a fee.

The following NYC museums and memorials are always free:

  • African Burial Ground Memorial Site
  • American Folk Art Museum
  • BRIC House
  • The Bronx Museum of the Arts
  • Federal Hall National Memorial
  • The Federal Reserve Bank
  • General Grant National Memorial
  • Hamilton Grange
  • The Harbor Defense Museum
  • The Hispanic Society of America
  • Irish Hunger Memorial
  • Leslie–Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
  • The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology
  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • New York Transit Museum Annex & Store at Grand Central Terminal
  • Queens County Farm Museum
  • Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden (grounds and botanical garden only)
  • Socrates Sculpture Park
  • Soldiers and Sailors Monument
  • Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace

The following are free as indicated:

Mondays

  • Museum at Eldridge Street (10am to noon, tours)

Tuesdays

  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum (5pm to close)
  • The Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  • Morgan Library and Museum (McKim Rooms only, 3 to 5pm)
  • Wave Hill (9am to noon)

Wednesdays

  • Bronx Zoo (pay what you will for grounds access; does not include admission to special exhibitions like the Butterfly Garden, Congo Gorilla Forest and JungleWorld)
  • Museum of Jewish Heritage (4 to 8pm)
  • New York Botanical Garden (free grounds access; does not include entry to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, special exhibitions like the Orchid Show and Holiday Train Show, Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, Rock and Native Plant Gardens or Tram Tour)
  • Queens Botanical Garden (April through October, 3 to 6pm; all day rest of year)
    Staten Island Zoo (2 to 4:45pm)

Thursdays

  • Brooklyn Children's Museum (2 to 6pm)
  • Museum of Arts and Design (pay what you will, 6 to 9pm)
  • New Museum (pay what you will, 7 to 9pm)

Fridays

  • Asia Society (September through June, 6 to 9pm)
    Historic Richmond Town (1 to 5pm)
  • Japan Society (6 to 9pm)
  • Morgan Library and Museum (7 to 9pm)
  • Museum of Modern Art (4 to 8pm)
  • Museum of the Moving Image (4 to 8pm)
  • New York Aquarium (pay what you will, 3pm to close; 4pm to close in summer)
  • New York Hall of Science (2 to 5pm)
  • The New-York Historical Society (pay what you will, 6 to 8pm)
  • Rubin Museum of Art (6 to 10pm)

Saturdays

  • The Brooklyn Botanic Garden (10am to noon)
  • The Jewish Museum
  • New York Botanical Garden (free grounds pass, 9 to 10am)
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (pay what you will, 5:45 to 7:45pm)
  • Wave Hill (9am to noon)

Sundays

  • Frick Collection (pay what you will, 11am to 1pm)
  • The Morgan Library and Museum (McKim Rooms only, 4 to 6pm)
  • New York Hall of Science (10 to 11am)
  • Queens Botanical Garden (April through October, 4 to 6pm)
  • Studio Museum in Harlem

8Stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge

Photo Credit: Dave Winer

One of New York’s most recognizable landmarks, the Brooklyn Bridge has been connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn across the East River since 1883. Once the largest suspension bridge in the world, it took 600 workers 16 years to build, and claimed 20 lives in the process.

The 1-mile span rewards those who walk, run or bike across its promenade with phenomenal views of the city and the bridge itself. Like most NYC attractions, it’s usually packed with tourists. But a stroll across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge is a quintessential New York experience. Cross over from the City during the day and have lunch in Brooklyn. Explore the area, relax by the water, and then enjoy the great nighttime view of the city when you walk back in the evening.

9Be on a popular TV show!

OK, maybe you won't actually be on the show. But you can be in the audience. With so many television shows taping in New York, they're always looking for warm bodies who want to to laugh, applaud and fill those empty seats. From early morning to late night, you can join many of your favorite TV shows as an audience member without spending a penny.

In many cases, tickets must be reserved in advance. But some of the most popular shows also offer standby tickets to people who show up on the day they're recorded. Click on your preferred show below for more information:

10Stand (or kneel) in awe at St. Patrick's Cathedral


Photo Credit: jadepalmer

The Cathedral of St. Patrick is a towering, Neo-Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral church completed in 1879. The sanctuary is the largest Gothic Catholic cathedral in the US, and stands out conspicuously from among the towering skyscrapers surrounding it. Situated on 5th Ave. across the street from Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s with its 330-foot twin spires is visually stunning – both inside and out.

One of New York’s most spectacular architectural sights, more than five million people visit St. Patricks’s each year. It features a seating capacity of 2,400, numerous altars, stained glass windows, and an organ with 7,855 pipes. Services are held daily, and all are welcome — visitors and worshipers alike. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is free to visit (donations are welcome), making it a great place to find some peace and solace right in the heart of New York City.

For more ideas on things to do in NYC, see our list of the Top 25 New York City Attractions!