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16 Ways to Experience New York’s Culture Scene on a Budget

Here are 16 ways to enjoy world-class art and culture while sticking to a budget.

So you might not have the cash for that $450 million Da Vinci painting, but that doesn’t mean you’re excluded from New York City’s cultural scene. As it turns out, art and culture in one of the most expensive cities in the world doesn’t always come with a hefty price tag. Lovers of the visual, literary, and performing arts will find plenty to do without spending wads of cash. From rush ticket options to free admission days, here are 16 ways to enjoy performances, exhibitions, and events on a budget.

Related: The Best Things to Do in New York City

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Broadway on a Budget

WHERE: Citywide

Broadway isn’t a cheap date. Or so you might think. While it can certainly be pricey, there are a surprising number of opportunities to see great theater at an even better price. One of the better-known ways to access low-priced tickets is the TDF TKTS Booth at Times Square, which offers day-of or next-day tickets at a steep discount. For the careful planners out there, the website and app TodayTix collate discount tickets that can be yours up to one month in advance. The daily lottery drawing can also score you tickets to some of the hottest musicals in town, like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. Lotteries are held in-person or online, depending on the show. But the real bible for drama devotees is the website, an all-in-one roundup of Broadway lotteries and affordable rush tickets.

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Free Tickets to Shakespeare in the Park

WHERE: Delacorte Theater, 81 Central Park West, New York, NY

Shakespeare in the Park is one of those long-standing New York City traditions synonymous with summer. Every season, the Public Theater brings Shakespearean plays to the Delacorte Theater, Central Park’s open-air stage. Beyond the incredible talent that these productions often draw (Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, anyone?), they are also completely free. You’re probably wondering what the catch is. Well, tickets aren’t easy to come by, but they can be secured through a few different avenues. This includes the weekly lottery, the text-to-standby line, or the good ol’ fashioned in-person line. It’s worth noting that these lines can get long, so it’s best to secure a spot well before the start of a show.

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Free Tickets to Molière in the Park

WHERE: LeFrak Center at Lakeside, 171 East Dr, Brooklyn, NY

Molière in the Park is Brooklyn’s answer to Shakespeare in the Park. Also free, tickets to this annual event are usually easier to score. Each season, the troupe presents a different play by famed French playwright Molière at Prospect Park’s LeFrak Center. This year, Tony Winner Gabriel Ebert will be starring in a full-scale production of The Misanthrope, a comic tale of honesty and hypocrisy. The show will run from May 13-25, so RSVP now to secure your seat!

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Free Concerts at The David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center

WHERE: 61 West 62nd, New York, NY

From classical ensembles to K-pop DJs and everything in between, the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center is a first-rate performance venue open to all. Their robust programming includes weekly musical performances that are always free. And if that weren’t enticing enough, the space itself is a work of art, featuring floor-to-ceiling vertical gardens, textured murals, and multiple skylights outfitted with color-changing LEDs.

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Discount Tickets to Carnegie Hall

WHERE: 881 7th Avenue, New York, NY

There are few venues more iconic than New York’s Carnegie Hall, and while iconic often equals pricey, it isn’t the case here. Carnegie Hall offers a variety of discount programs that mean a seat can be yours for the price of a sandwich from the corner deli. If you’re a student, tickets to select concerts can be purchased for $10. For others, every performance in the Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage — even the sold-out ones — guarantees same-day rush tickets for just $10. Additional discounts are offered to active-duty members of the military, patrons under 40, and Bank of America card holders. All the details can be found here.

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Free Concerts at Trinity Church on Wall Street

WHERE: 89 Broadway, New York, NY

Trinity Church Wall Street, located in Manhattan’s Financial District, has a long history of presenting free public concerts. Their famous ensembles have performed at celebrated venues around the globe, but they can also be heard for free at select Sunday services and programmatic events throughout the year. Melomaniacs flock to the church to experience robust seasonal programs that include performances by The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, a professional, Grammy-nominated ensemble; NOVUS NY, the church’s contemporary music orchestra; Trinity Baroque Orchestra, dedicated to period music; Downtown Voices and St. Paul’s Chapel Choir, volunteer choir ensembles; and the Trinity Youth Chorus. Another beloved tradition is the weekly Compline by Candlelight services, Sunday evening concerts with a meditative bent.

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Free Shows at the Manhattan School of Music

WHERE: 130 Claremont Avenue, New York, NY

The Manhattan School of Music is an elite conservatory that trains the crème de la crème of the musical arts, and graduates have gone on to careers at countless esteemed institutions. The school offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, and students of all levels participate in hundreds of live performances throughout the year. Lovers of brass, chamber music, contemporary, jazz, and more will find a near-daily performance held either on-campus or at venues throughout the city. Almost all offerings are free of charge, though advanced reservations can be required. Learn more about upcoming events and reserve your seat here.

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Free Entry to Museums

WHERE: Citywide

If you’re super savvy, almost every museum in New York City can be enjoyed free of charge. There are those, like the Bronx Museum, that are always on the house, and others with a pay-what-you-wish policy. Some, like the Brooklyn Museum, offer free admission on certain days of the month. Still others have periods of free admission each week, like the 9/11 Memorial and Museum (free on Monday afternoons) or the Morgan Library & Museum (free to the public on Friday evenings). To find out how to take advantage of these initiatives, be sure to visit museum websites and look for information on their admission policies.

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Gallery Hopping

WHERE: Citywide

New York City has more art galleries within its five boroughs than any other metropolis in the world. Even better, anyone can enter without even opening their wallet. Some of the higher-end galleries regularly exhibit household names like Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman. Other smaller spaces have monthly rotating shows that range from contemporary painting to experimental performance art. There are great galleries to be found almost anywhere, but some neighborhoods, like Chelsea and Dumbo, have a higher concentration, making it easier to hop from one to the next. For an in-depth guide to the latest gallery shows and openings, visit Artforum.

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Public Art

WHERE: Citywide

Whether it be a monumental gardening spade, a Banksy mural, or some sidewalk chalk, it’s hard to walk around New York without coming across at least one piece of public art. These works can appear in unexpected places, like the subway or well-known establishments like The High Line. There are hundreds of permanent installations throughout the five boroughs and plenty of rotating ones. Some are sanctioned, and some are not, but these artworks bring richness to the city’s streets no matter the status. Programs like Art in the Parks conserve existing public works and bring new temporary exhibits to city greenspaces, while other organizations like the Public Art Fund install contemporary works in public places. Grassroots initiatives, like the Bushwick Collective, display street art and graffiti in an evolving, open-air space. Or, for the go-as-you-please among us, there is always the option to simply wander and see what you come across.

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Free and Low-Cost Events at the Center for Fiction

WHERE: 15 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

As the name indicates, Brooklyn’s Center for Fiction is the go-to place for all things reading and writing. Beyond writing workshops, educational programming, and a stellar bookshop, the Center also presents a first-rate roster of in-person and virtual events each month. These include readings, author talks, and insightful conversations on the art of fiction. All of the live streams are free, and many of the in-person events are as well. Some require an advanced purchase, but tickets can cost as little as $10 and usually include a voucher to the campus bookstore.

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Free Events at Public Libraries Citywide

WHERE: Citywide

New York City is swimming in books. There are tens of millions of stories to be discovered throughout more than one hundred public libraries. But these libraries are not just shelving spaces for books; they are neighborhood hubs of art and culture. Between the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Public Library systems, daily programs range from after-school courses to live performances. Curious bookworms can attend an author talk, poetry workshop, writing circle, or painting class on any day of the week. Better yet, nearly all of the programming is completely free.

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Bookstore Events

WHERE: Citywide

It’s been said that the bookstore is dead, but New York City disagrees. Every borough has a stronghold of independent bookstores, and many of them host book-related events that usually have a variety of ticket tiers. Some are free, some require the advanced purchase of a book, and others are ticketed, though the price is rarely bank-breaking. After all, if the opportunity to see Minnie Driver in conversation with Ronan Farrow for less than $30 arises, wouldn’t you take it?

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New York City Ballet’s $30 for 30 program

WHERE: 20 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY

New York City Ballet is one of the preeminent dance companies in the world. Their home at Lincoln Center is a plush jewel box fit for a queen but still open to those on a budget. Especially those of a certain age. The ballet’s $30 for 30 program offers $30 tickets to patrons aged 30 or younger. Seats are available at all tiers within the theater, and interested parties can sign up for the program online or opt for day-of tickets that can be secured at the David H. Koch Theater’s box office.

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Low-Cost Juilliard Performances

WHERE: 60 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY

Juilliard is the training ground for future stars of the stage. One of the most prestigious performing arts conservatories in the country, its cachet is only furthered by its presence on the Lincoln Center campus. Luckily for us, the school often opens its doors to the public, presenting over 700 dance, drama, and music performances each year. Dance enthusiasts can check the calendar of events and filter by division to find a variety of dance performances, some free of charge, others starting at just $10.

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$26 Tickets to The Joyce Theater

WHERE: 175 8th Avenue, New York, NY

Whether you love ballet, hip-hop, jazz, or tap, The Joyce Theater has a headliner for you. One of the city’s premier dance venues, The Joyce, is renowned for its eclectic programming. Their seasons regularly feature groups like the Limón Dance Company, but they also present little-known companies with big moves. As one of the more accessible venues in the city, tickets rarely exceed $100. Even better, no performance is ever prohibitive, as tickets to every show start at $26 (and no hidden fees!).