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Simon Willis Author: Simon Willis
Last updated: 29 April 2019

Let’s face it – a trip to New York can cost a pretty penny. And as a savvy YOTEL traveller, you want to be sure that time and money are put to good use. Here are some things to do for free in New York - it just shows, you can be quids in without missing out.

Bryant Park

42nd Street at 6th Avenue

There’s something for everyone - and almost all of it for free, right in the middle of Manhattan. From poetry and puppet shows to putting and ping pong, beekeeping to boot camp to the Bard, there’s a daily programme of things to do for all ages. There’s even free WiFi to save you burning up expensive data.

  • Bryant Park with skyscrapers in the background
    Bryant Park
  • Juggling at Bryant Park
    Juggling in Bryant Park


Hudson Yards, NY 10001

You need to book tickets to climb Heatherwick Studio’s 'spiral staircase' but admission is free. Depending on the route you choose, you can climb up to 154 flights of stairs (2,500 individual steps) to reach the top-most landings.

Staten Island Ferry

Whitehall Street, NY 10004

Every day, 70,000 people make the journey between Manhattan and Staten Island on the Staten Island Ferry. The service runs 24 hours a day, is absolutely free and runs past the Statue of Liberty for that all-important selfie.


New York’s largest, free outdoor performing arts festival takes place between May and October with 100 or so free events in Central Park, as well as neighbourhood parks across the city. The line-up for 2019 is due to be announced any day now - check their website to plan your visit.

  • Man playing trumpet at NYC Jazz Fest
    Jazz Festival
  • Puppet show at Bryant Park
    Puppet Mobile

Hamilton Grange

West 141st Street, NY 10031

Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster musical, the life and times of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton have renewed awareness. You can visit Hamilton’s New York home (from 1802 until his death two years later) for free. Read the New York Times review here.

Gallery-hopping in Chelsea

According to Wikipedia, there are more than 200 commercial art galleries in Chelsea, between roughly 14th Street up to the upper 20s.  Don’t be intimidated by the security guards and the black-clad gallerists (they are only human after all and more welcoming than they sometimes first appear!) From YOTEL New York, head down to 34th Street to the northernmost end of the High Line and then walk the Line to 28th Street or 26th Street.

Many of the galleries represent some of the world’s most influential contemporary artists – if you strike it lucky, you’ll get to see work of the quality you’ll find at MOMA, but for free. Some recommendations include:

  • FLAG – this non-profit art foundation was founded in 2008 with a view to bringing contemporary art to a diverse audience. As such, they mix big-name artists (Ellsworth Kelly, Rachel Whiteread) and provocative, curated shows such as 2018’s Dime-Store Alchemy

  • Matthew Marks Gallery – one of the first galleries to move into Chelsea, their 9,000 sqft (835 sqm) gallery showcases work from world-famous artists such as Nan Goldin, Robert Adams, Jasper John, Ellsworth Kelly, and Katharina Fritsch.

  • Tanya Bonakdar Gallery – another stalwart of the Chelsea art scene, this gallery represents Olafur Eliasson, famous for his New York City Waterfalls project as well as the Weather Project at Tate Modern.

  • Gagosian Gallery – of the five (yes, five) galleries that Gagosian has in New York, the biggest draw (and biggest space) is at West 24th Street: 25,000 sqft (2,300 sqm) exhibiting a veritable army of top-name artists. Nearby, his gallery at West 21st Street is definitely worth a look – this spring it’s showing largely new / unseen work by Jeff Wall

  • Paula Cooper Gallery – another Chelsea pioneer with a stellar list of artists who include Sophie Calle, Sol LeWitt, Christian Marclay and Walid Raad.

  • Mary Boone Gallery – crowned 'the new queen of the New York art scene' by New York magazine in 1982, Mary Boone and her gallery have represented the likes of Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Barbara Kruger.
  • Abstract art in Gallery
    Haim Steinbach
  • Woman paiting
    Marbara Kruger
  • Motorbike painting
    Robert Grosvenor
  • Large clay sculptures in gallery
    Mark Manders

You can also dodge admission fees at some of New York’s finest visitor attractions if you get the time and day right:

Museum of the Moving Image – free 4-8pm, Friday

MoMA – free 4-8pm, Friday

Brooklyn Museum – First Saturdays, free 5-11pm

Bronx Zoo – “pay what you wish” Wednesdays… although the suggestion is that you pay the usual admission fee.