New York City is known as being one of the most expensive cities in the world, but even if you are on a bare-bones budget, there are still many things that you can do for free.
1) Visit Central Park on a Sunday: one of the best and most diverse free shows in the city, Central Park is always filled with interesting sights and activities, but no more so than on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Aside from the numerous gardens and trails (the Conservatory Garden, the bridle paths and reservoir, the Shakespeare Garden and many others), the park is filled with picnickers, community baseball games, boaters, skateboarders, cyclists, hikers, jugglers, hip-hop dancers, poets, musicians, artists and magicians. There is something to do or watch in almost every part in the park. Bird and wildlife watchers will be amazed at the number of animals that make Central Park their home. People-watching is also fascinating on Sundays; colorful characters and celebrities abound.
2) Take the Staten Island Ferry: twenty million people a year commute between Manhattan and Staten Island on the Staten Island Ferry, but it is also an excellent way to take a boat tour of New York City for free. The views of Lower Manhattan, the city bridges and New York Harbor are spectacular. The five mile boat ride is 25 minutes long and, as a bonus, when you arrive on Staten Island, you can walk for hours in the many parks and nature reserves covering the island. The ferry leaves regularly from the Whitehall Terminal (South Ferry) in Manhattan and arrives at the St. George Terminal in Staten Island. Visit the excellent Staten Island Ferry website for schedules, history, anecdotes and general information.
Interior of the Guggenheim Museum (photo by Luis Bastardo)
3) Visit the Museums on Free Days: the entrance fees to many museums in New York are more reasonably priced than most people realize and sometimes free. Almost all museums have a weekly or monthly free period to allow visitors of all financial means to experience the art and cultural life of the city. The Guggenheim, for example, has a "pay what you wish" admission period on Saturdays from 5:45 p.m. until closing and the Whitney Museum's period is from 5:00 pm-9:00 pm on Fridays. Check the "Admission" or "Hours" link on each museum's website for times. Exceptions are museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The American Museum of Natural History, because (unknown to many visitors) the high entrance fee to these museums is actually a suggested donation only and visitors may pay what they wish according to what they can afford.
4) Walk/Bike/Rollerblade the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway: active New Yorkers and anyone who wants to escape the busy intersections of Manhattan frequent the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, a 32-mile biking and hiking trail that almost completely encircles the island. In most parts, the path is divided into bike and walking lanes and is completely separate from automobile traffic, making it a safer alternative than trying to negotiate the busy streets. It is a fantastic way to see the city, with views of the water, parks and cityscapes. The three main sections are the Hudson River, the East River and the Harlem River Greenways. The paths are mostly flat, but incline slightly toward the north of the city.
The Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park (photo by Luis Bastardo)
5) Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge: another great way to get panoramic views of the city and to visit one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States is to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on foot from Manhattan into the chic Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO. The bridge, completed in 1883, connects the borough of Manhattan to the borough of Brooklyn and can be easily walked in under 30 minutes (although many people take much longer so that they can enjoy the views and take photographs). The bridge's pedestrian walkway and bike lanes are on separate level than automobile traffic for safety reasons, but walkers must still take care not to wander into the paths of cyclists, many of whom travel at high speeds. When arriving in DUMBO, be sure to visit the Brooklyn Bridge Park and to wander through the cobblestoned streets of the neighborhood to visit the fashionable shops, cafes and restaurants. You may be lucky enough to come across a model shoot or film production, which are increasingly common in this up and coming area.