Get a glimpse of the skyline
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Despite its downtown location and sizeable tourist cred, a view from the roof of, say, the Empire State Building won’t give you the same stunning sprawl that wandering the Brooklyn Bridge will. At just over 1.6 kilometres long, it’s an easy stroll from one side to the other of the bridge’s pedestrian walkway, with your only challenge being to dodge photo snappers and impatient locals whizzing past on their bikes.
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Midtown’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is one of the city’s most revered art institutions and with good reason – it’s a veritable treasure trove. Although there are true masters along its walls (the permanent collection includes pieces by Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, for starters), it won’t always cost you a pretty penny to critique them. Entry is completely free every Friday night between 4pm and 8pm so you can pretend you know your way around a canvas without even having to pay.
Browse some bookshelves
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You don’t have to be pining for a good page-turner to make a visit to the impressively vast New York Public Library in Midtown. Being the home of over 2.5 million tomes – some dating back as far as 1455 – is just the start of this landmark’s riches. The building itself is something to behold (free tours of the site happen twice daily for interested parties) and there’s a children’s centre that houses the very toys that inspired A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh as well as a rotating schedule of interesting exhibitions and events, most of which are also free.
Turn about a park
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New York is a city best seen on foot so why not loop one of its many pretty parks into your route? Sure, Central Park is a must-do but there’s also the 10 riverside hectares of woodland, urban farms and parkland of Battery Park or the enormous Prospect Park, which occupies 213 hectares in Brooklyn, complete with the area’s only forest.
Sail past Lady Liberty
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Save your dollars and skip the pricey journey to the crown of the Statue of Liberty on Staten Island. Instead, spend a Sunday giving her a wave as you pass by on the complimentary Staten Island ferry. The route not only takes you straight past Liberty Island but also a fair way from Manhattan for an impressively different view. A warning, though: you’ll have to pay for the trip any other day of the week.
Get across to Governors Island
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Between May and October, the island off the south of Manhattan comes alive: food trucks trundle in, festivals set up shop (a serious highlight being the otherworldly Jazz Age Lawn Party) and pop-up poetry, well, pops up. Most events are free but if you’re really penny pinching, hang out in one of the island’s 50 red hammocks. You’d never have thought New York could feel so zen.
Walk The High Line
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Originally a train line for transporting all manner of goods to New York’s industrial district, The High Line was subsequently reclaimed and reopened for public use in 2009 as a shrub-studded walkway skirting buildings and city blocks. Running from the Meatpacking District’s Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street, this 2.33-kilometre-long elevated path provides great views of Chelsea and West Manhattan, as well as out over the Hudson River.
Take in a show
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Who can resist giving their regards to Broadway? While tickets to some hits (we’re looking at you, Hamilton) are virtually impossible to secure, there are a few options that won’t even leave you out of pocket. New York Classical Theatre is the city’s only professional off-Broadway theatre company and offers performances for zilch, bringing the stories of Shakespeare, Chekhov and Molière to life for the cultured (yet cash-strapped) masses. New York’s premiere performing arts school, The Juilliard School, also offers a number of free opera and classical music performances throughout the year.
Make your television debut
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If you’re keen to do a little celeb spotting, this could be your ticket. Each of the major late-night shows – think Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Jimmy Fallon – film in New York and invite audiences to join them for free. Yep, that’s right – you could be mere metres from your favourite film star for absolutely nothing. Tickets are popular for all tapings so you’ll have to be quick to secure a few – try Showclix for upcoming shows.
Blend into Brooklyn
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Heading down to the Brooklyn Museum on the first Saturday of every month is as close as you’ll get to looking like a local in New York’s hippest ‘hood. While the museum is serious in so far as its everyday offerings (it is the city’s third largest art institution, after all), it also loves to let its hair down come Saturday, when the grounds transform into somewhat of a block party – for free, no less. Target First Saturdays puts on a program studded with avant-garde activities from 5pm until 11pm including concerts (local rapper Leikeli47 has previously performed), talks, film screenings and pop-up poetry.
Catch the next comedy superstar
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Love a laugh? Make your way to one of the many open mic comedy nights that thrive in this creative city. A lot of comedy clubs don’t charge for entry (Friends and Lovers in Crown Heights has free comedy every Monday) and some even throw in a free frozen margarita (No, But What’s Your Real Job? at The Lantern Comedy Club is one) for the first five people to arrive on the third Thursday of the month. Who knows? You might be cackling at the next Amy Schumer.
Check your diary
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In a city of more than 8.5 million people, it's little wonder there's something happening on nearly every street corner. Because summers can soar into the 30s and winters often dip below freezing, some of the city's best events are often only held seasonally. Check back with New York's official tourism site, NYC Go, for events happening around your visiting dates. Hint: there's a page dedicated to free currents events to make sure you're not out of pocket.