New York

Free and Cheap in NYC: 20 Things to Do this Summer

For a New Jerseyan like me, getting into the city isn’t cheap (tunnels and bridges don’t pay for themselves, people).  The same can be said about visiting as a tourist.  However, the city offers a never-ending list of cheap and free things to do, especially in the summer months.  Here are some of my suggestions.

Free and Pay-What-You-Wish Museums

Most New York museums offer free or reduced entry for at least a few hours of week.  For a full list of free and pay-what-you-wish museums click here.

Another tip, if you live in the New York area, check to see if your local library allows you to check out museum passes.  This gives you a chance to visit for free regardless of the day or time.

Here are my favorites:

1. Metropolitan Museum – Pay-what you wish.  You can spend a whole day here – or several days – without running out of things to see.  My favorites include: The Temple of Dendur in the Egyptian Art Wing, the Arms and Armory hall, and the American Wing.  Any special exhibition are also included with the price of admission.  (The Met is changing their pay-as-you-wish policy as of March 2018.  Read my post about it here.)

2. Museum of the Moving Image – Free Fridays 4-8 pm .  In addition to the trove of film and television artifacts, they have the best interactive exhibits that I have ever visited.  Dub your voice over a classic film scene, add sound effects, make your own stop motion animation, and play classic arcade games.  A permanent Jim Henson exhibition will open July 22, 2017.

3. The Guggenheim Museum – Free Saturdays 5:45-7:45.  As famous for its art as its architecture, the corkscrew design lets visitors see artwork as they slowly descend a central ramp.  The Guggenheim collection features work from modern artists including Cezanne, Gauguin and Kandinsky as well as more contemporary art and installations.

4. Brooklyn Botanic Gardens – Free all day Tuesdays and Saturdays 10-noon (except during festivals). One of the best times to visit is the spring when cherry blossoms are in full bloom. However, several gardens are in full bloom during the summer months including The Cranford Rose Garden, The Shakespeare Garden and Lily Pool Terrace.

Free Concerts

Summer is the season for outdoor concerts and music festivals.  While, the some of the big name music festivals will set you back, there are also plenty of free performances running throughout the summer.  I’ve highlighted a few below; for a complete list of all free music in summer 2017, check this link.

5. Celebrate Brooklyn – A full lineup of free performances at the Prospect Park Bandshell (runs June through the end of August).

6. Central Park Summer Stage – A mix of genres including funk, opera, hip hop and musicals.  Most take place at the Summer Stage in Central Park, as well as other parks throughout the city (runs June through early October)

Free and Cheap Theater

7. Shakespeare in the Park – Every year the Delacorte Theater in Central Park hosts free performances (typically of Shakespeare plays, but occasionally other works).  Past performances have attracted big name actors – a sample of just the last decade includes Al Pacino, Anne Hathaway, John Lithgow, and Rosario Dawson.  Many line up starting early in the morning to wait for tickets distributed at 12 noon.  I personally enjoy a morning of people and dog watching while on the line; however, if that is not your thing, they also offer a mobile lottery.

8. Broadway Lottery, Rush, Standing Room – Most Broadway plays and musicals offer discount ticket options that put the experience within reach of the frugal-minded.  Most of still not cheap by most standards — but still cheap by Broadway standards.  Some of these options are available online — others only at the theater itself.  Another option for same day discount tickets is the TKTS counter located in Times Square, with smaller booths at other locations within the city.

9. Go Off-Off Broadway – The Theater Development Fund offers for the opportunity for theater lovers to buy $9 tickets for Off-Off Broadway productions.  You simply need to register for free through their website.  The productions are smaller, and usually more experimental; however, you are getting a unique experience for “less than the cost of a movie ticket”.

Free Outdoor Films

10. Movies Under the Stars – Parks throughout the city host free movie under the stars screenings.  The variety of movie is wide from nostalgic and recent blockbusters to independent and foreign films.

11. Movies Under the Stars (On A Boat) – For something a little different, watch a movie under the stars on an aircraft carrier.  The Intrepid (decommissioned in 1974) is now a museum and national historic landmark located on the Hudson River.  There summer movie series runs May through the beginning of August.

Parades and Street Festivals

12. The Coney Island Mermaid Parade – The Mermaid Parade is an annual parade to kick off the summer.  Marchers go all out to create ocean-themed costumes and floats.  This year’s parade is June 17, 2017.  (Visit this post for pictures of the parade).

13. Bastille Day Festival – On the heels of July 4th, this street festivals celebrates French culture with various vendors and performances lining 60th street.  This year’s festival will take place Sunday, July 9, 2017.

14. Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival – A two day festivals that features not only boat races, but also traditional music, food and dance.  The first day includes an opening day parade.  This year’s festival will run August 12-13, 2017

15. West Indian American Day Parade – Think marchers in beautiful, elaborate Carnival costumes and a variety of Caribbean dance and music.  The parade is tentatively schedule for September 4, 2017 (Labor Day).

Visit some of New York most iconic locations:

The best places to enjoy the city are free.  Put at least one of these on your summer bucket list:

16. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

17. Stroll the Coney Island Board Walk

Picture by Peter Kortleve via

18. Tour the New York Public Library

Picture by Thomas Picard via

19. Ride the Staten Island Ferry for great views of the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan

Photo by Giorgio Galeotti via Wikimedia Commons

20. Walk the High Line

Photo by Jim Henderson by Wikimedia Commons

For weekly list of free events in NYC check out TimeOut New York on a regular basis.  If you are interesting in my frugal travel strategy, click for my article on 6 Ways to Afford Travel.  I’ll be posting more about my adventures in New York throughout the summer.



8 thoughts on “Free and Cheap in NYC: 20 Things to Do this Summer

  1. Oh what a fun roundup! Summertime is, hands down, my favorite time in NY. The beautiful weather and loads of free events makes getting outside so easy.

    With a little 1 year old, we’ve been doing tons of “playground hopping” this summer, which is great for him to have fun outdoor places to run around in, and great for me, in getting to discover new parts of the city!

    1. Hope you get a chance to. Even when you live near New York, there feels like there is never enough time to do everything.

  2. My friends have been inviting me to visit NYC – but I’ve kinda wanted to visit it in spring… so that’s gone for this year. I am debating whether to try visiting in September – early November. Hopefully it’s not too rainy / humid / hot then? Do you have advice on visiting NYC in fall? Is it as good as spring? Thanks!

    1. I think spring and fall are both nice. I personally actually prefer fall weather. I’d suggest visiting early in the fall rather than later if you want to have nice weather for being outdoors. Sometimes fall weather is rainy in New York – but often you get comfortable, sunny days and cool nights. If you are able to visit around Halloween time, consider going to the Greenwich village Halloween Parade. It is a crazy New York experience. Anyone can march in the parade (with a costume) and many of the costumes are super-creative and over-the-top.

  3. Awesome! I try to visit New York 2-3x a year. Most of my family lives in Queens. I’m in Delaware so i’m not too far down at all! I will definitely refer back to your blog for future travels !🙂

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