New York City Feature
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Free Things to Do in New York City
If you think everything in New York costs too much, well, you're right—almost. In fact, the city has tons of free attractions and activities; you just need to know where to look for them.
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for spectacular views of the Financial District, Brooklyn, the seaport, and Manhattan.
Ride the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the southern tip of Manhattan from the water. A one-way trip takes 30 minutes and offers magnificent views—and inexpensive beer and snacks. Note that you have to disembark at St. George Terminal. 1 to South Ferry; 4, 5 to Bowling Green.
Catch a free movie screening in Bryant Park in summertime. A tradition since 1992, watching films alfresco surrounded by tall Midtown buildings is a summertime rite of passage for New Yorkers. Bring a blanket and a picnic basket, and be prepared to stake out a good spot on the lawn well in advance. Movie schedules are posted at www.bryantpark.org B, D, F, M to 42nd St.
Wander Battery Park City's waterfront promenade. The breeze and passing boats will make you forget you're in the gritty city, though the view of the Statue of Liberty will remind you that you couldn't be anywhere but New York. 4, 5 to Bowling Green; 1 to South Ferry.
Let botany grow on you with free visits to New York Botanical Garden (free all day Wed. and Sat. 10-11 a.m.), Brooklyn Botanic Garden (free all day Tues. and Sat. 10 am-noon), and Queens Botanical Garden (free Wed. 3-6 pm and Sun. 4-6 pm). www.nybg.org www.bbg.org www.queensbotanical.org
Kayak on the Hudson. The Downtown Boathouse gives free lessons and paddling tours, and there's even an indoor-swimming-pool program to hone kayaking skills in winter months. The boats are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, so cloudy days and early mornings are the best times to avoid the crowds. Pier 40 at Houston St. www.downtownboathouse.org B, D, F, M to 47th-50th Sts./Rockefeller Center.
Head to Governor's Island, a 172-acre island oasis in the heart of New York Harbor, just a seven-minute ferry ride from Lower Manhattan. You can visit the former military base turned sculpture park and public playground late May to late September to bike, picnic, wander forts, bask in views of the New York City skyline, and enjoy a variety of cultural offerings and festivals. www.govisland.com for a schedule of events and ferry information 1 to South Ferry; 4, 5 to Bowling Green; R to Whitehall.
Taste the goods at the Union Square greenmarket (on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday), where farmers offer samples of their organically grown produce, artisanal cheeses, and fresh bread. 4, 5, 6 to Union Sq.
Stroll the Coney Island boardwalk for some old-school kitsch (before it's redeveloped into swanky condos). There are also plenty of free annual events, including the outrageous Mermaid Parade and the Fourth of July hot-dog-eating contest. B, F, N, Q to Stillwell Ave.
Check out the street performers around New York's parks: break-dancing crews in Union Square, ragtime duets in Central Park, nutty unicyclists in Washington Square. Buskers in the subway are better than you'd expect—the MTA has a committee that vets official performers, with the top performers assigned to the busiest subway stops.
Discover Central Park with a free, volunteer-led guided tour from the Central Park Conservancy. Explore the park's history, design, and ecology with one- to two-hour tours that focus on different areas of the park from its woodlands, romantic vistas, Conservatory garden, and Seneca Village to secret corners and off-the-beaten path walks of the park. Tours meet at different points in the park so check the website for details. www.centralparknyc.org
Music, Theater, and Dance
Watch tango dancers and jazz musicians outside Lincoln Center at the annual month-long Out of Doors festival, held in August. It includes more than 100 performances of spoken word, beatboxing, and bigwigs like Dave Brubeck and Arlo Guthrie. 1 to 66th St./Lincoln Center.
Hit Central Park Summerstage for big-name performers like Afrobeat bandleader Seun Kuti and Columbia's own Vampire Weekend. There's also a second series of concerts in Brooklyn.
Catch rising stars in classical music, drama, and dance at the Juilliard School's free student concerts (check www.juilliard.edu for a calendar of events). Free tickets are available at the Juilliard box office for theater performances; there's also a line for standby an hour before the show. 144 W. 65th St. 1 to 66th St./Lincoln Center.
Entertain thyself at Shakespeare in the Park, one of New York City's most beloved events—80,000 watch each year. It's been going strong since 1962, and shows usually feature celebrities earning their olde English acting chops. Get in line early at the Public Theater for a shot at tickets, or head to the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. 425 Lafayette St. 6 to Astor Pl.
Get gratis giggles at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre's comedy shows. Professional comedians, including UCB cofounder and Saturday Night Live alumna Amy Poehler, are sprinkled in with amateurs during the shows. Check the schedule for free shows. 307 W. 26th St. www.ucbtheatre.com A, C, E to 23rd St.
Art and Literature
Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The $25 entry fee is actually a suggested donation. You can pay as much, or as little, as you wish. Smaller donations may get some eye-rolling from the cashier, but it's a small price to pay for access to world-famous works. 1000 5th Ave. at 80th St. www.metmuseum.org 6 to 86th St.
Browse the galleries scattered throughout the city. Chelsea's full of expensive galleries with free access to superstar artists, though things get edgier the closer you get to the West Side Highway; you'll also find a trendy art scene in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Marvel at Grand Central Terminal's spectacular main concourse. The ceiling painted with the constellations of the zodiac is one of the city's treasures. 4, 5, 6 to Grand Central/42nd St.
Attend a reading at one of the city's hundreds of bookstores—bit (Barnes & Noble) and small (Housing Works Bookstore Café). You can also get your fix of free words at bars like KGB in the East Village, where budding and established authors have been reading since 1993. There's poetry on Monday, nonfiction on Tuesday, and contemporary fiction on Sunday. In Williamsburg, Pete's Candy Store has an excellent reading series on alternate Thursday nights.
MoMA is free on Friday between 4 and 8 pm, when the $25 entry fee is waived. Arrive as close to 4 as you can, and once you get your ticket (the line is long but fast), avoid the crowds by working your way down from the fifth floor. 11 W. 53rd St., between 5th and 6th Aves. www.moma.org E, M to 5th Ave./53rd St.; B, D, F to 47-50th St./Rockefeller Center.
Learn about the American Indian at Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, located in the grand Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House in Bowling Green. Admission is free every day to the museum's collections, public programs, music and dance performances, and films. www.nmai.si.edu/visit/newyork 4, 5 to Bowling Green; R to Whitehall St.
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