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Visiting New York City on a Budget: Free Events, Shows, and Exhibits

Updated on February 4, 2021
Catherine Stolfi profile image

Catherine Stolfi has a Master of Science degree and enjoys sharing experiences related to expanding awareness on particular topics.

AMNH Rose Center for Earth & Space
AMNH Rose Center for Earth & Space | Source

Enjoying New York City without spending too much money is achievable in this city filled with high-rise apartments, expensive 5-star restaurants, and entrance fees. There are plenty of free events and free admission to museums and shows at any given time of the year in NYC and its surrounding area. You just need to know where to find them and take advantage of these experiences all over the city that never sleeps.

The majority of the experiences are during the week but there are some that you could experience on the weekend, if you look hard enough. There are also suggested donation experiences where explaining you're a student or have other financial hardship will allow not paying full ticket price. This is especially true for the Museum of Natural History where the entrance fee is actually a suggested one. When visiting, it's hard to know this from the signs everywhere but explaining that you're a local new yorker that visits frequently will get you this deep discount.

1. Live Blues at Lucille's Grill Times Square

Times Square is arguably the heartbeat of the city and with very few free offerings there, you need to look hard for anything free. For a free live performance every night of the week you can go to Lucille’s Grill in Times Square in midtown Manhattan. With guaranteed great acts, it is an extension of the well-respected BB Kings with blues bands in plethora. It's also a great place for families as an all-ages club that also offers a great food selection. It's open from 11am to 1am on weekdays and until 3am on the weekends.

2. Manhattan Skyline & Statue of Liberty View

For an amazing view of the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan skyline, you can take the Staten Island Ferry. It's an easy walk-on attraction that's a 25-minute ride for free. It runs all year, 24-hours a day, every 15 minutes at rush hour to every hour late at night. It leaves from the Manhattan Whitehall center located at 311 Whitehall Terminal, downtown near Battery Park. The peak time to visit is a mild day in the summer when riding on a ferry is ideal but also makes for the best photos.

For another great view, visit New Jersey at Liberty State Park. This is a free park to visit with free parking throughout. It's actually where the tour boats for visiting Ellis Island and the State of Liberty leave from but it also offers great views of Lady Liberty and the Manhatten Skyline. Grab a picnic blanket and make a day of it. This place is popular in the warmer months so get there early if you have your heart set on any particular view or spot.


3. NYC Museums with Suggested Donations

If you’re interested in going to museums but the student or senior discounts don't apply, many museums in the New York City and surrounding areas have suggested donation admission prices, meaning you pay what you have. Such museums include the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), located at Central Park West and 79th Street, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, located at 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, located at 200 Eastern Parkway, obviously, in Brooklyn. For most of these museums, hours are 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. If your guilt gets the best if you, remember, the money you do give goes towards special exhibitions in the art museums and science museum's research and educational outreach programs so give more if you can.

4. Broadway Preview Performances

For those fans of Broadway, you can’t miss out on the yearly Broadway on Broadway event considered to be the quintessential event of the Broadway season. It is an annual kick-off celebration with musical numbers from Broadway shows performed on a giant outdoor stage in the month of September. There will be giant screens in Times Square, celebrity performers, and a big finale with tons of confetti. In Times Square audiences will get to preview the season’s upcoming performances and long running favorites.

5. Queen's Botanical Garden

For nature lovers there’s Queen's Botanical Gardens. It is located in Flushing in the borough of Queens in the New York tri-state area located on 43rd Avenue and Main Street. It’s closed Mondays but open every other day at 8:00 am to 9:00 pm through October, and until 4:30 pm during the winter season. You can go for a walk in the gardens and enjoy the seasonal displays, or go to one of the many events happening throughout the year. They have a calendar on their website where you can find more information on their annual events.

Resident Giraffe at the Bronx Zoo
Resident Giraffe at the Bronx Zoo | Source

6. Shakespeare in the Park

You can also experience Shakespeare in the Park at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater in the summer months. See your favorites on rotation from Hamlet to Romeo and Juliet to The Comedy of Errors. Tickets are free and available on the day of the performance (two per person) at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park right in the heart of New York City beginning in the early afternoon and at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street (near Astor Place). The Delacorte Theater is located at 81st Street at Central Park West and 79th Street at Fifth Avenue. For more Info you can go to

7. Free Days at Museums and Gardens

There are museums and gardens in Manhatten that are free on certain days of the week such as the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), which is free for all visitors during Target Free Friday Nights, sponsored by Target, every Friday evening, 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm, located at 11th West 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues. There's also the Bronx Zoo, which is open year round, has free admission (accepting donations) every Wednesday, hours from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Visit for information and directions.

There are plenty of resources to find out more about free events in the NYC and metro area such as on and

© 2013 Catherine Stolfi


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