15+ Unique Things To Do In NYC That Are Budget Friendly

15+ Unique Things To Do In NYC That Are Budget Friendly

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We’ve all heard of the common touristy sites to NYC: Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller, Empire State Building, the Met, etc., so don’t expect those to come up below! Instead, we’ve compiled a list of not commonly mentioned places to visit in NYC. Bonus? Most are FREE!

Related: 50 Favorite Cheap, Tasty, or Unique Eats in NYC

Kayaking on the Hudson (FREE)

The Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaking on the Hudson River at Pier 26! Get on the water and enjoy the Manhattan skyline. They have 20 minute sessions where everything is provided for free. Here are the details.

Federal Reserve Museum & Gold Vault Tour (FREE)

Ever wanted to see the gold vault and learn about how the government’s Central Bank works? They offer free tours at 1PM and 2PM twice a day. The max capacity is 25 people per tour and reservations open up 30 days in advance at 9am each morning. Snag a tour with some quick button clicking!

Get Insanely Discounted + Premium Seats To BroadWay Shows

Ddi you know there were lotteries for extremely discounted tickets for Broadway Shows? You can see Hamilton in prime seats for $10 a person. Most lotteries let you enter to win two tickets, so you and a partner can both enter to double your chances. I’ve seen Wicked and Book of Mormon this way and it’s awesome to be able to see such amazing shows for so little money! Playbill has listed all the shows with lotteries here. If a lottery has an in-person version, consider going because it’s much easier to win in-person lotteries. We won Book of Mormon tickets after 11 tries and Wicked on the first try (we got lucky!). We had 60+ entries to Hamilton with no success!

Attend a Live Taping of A Show

Did you know all of the famous shows offer free seating for taping? Most do a lottery program, so try your hand at the multitude of shows here. They all have different rules and require entry a few weeks in advance, so be sure to check the rules! We’ve done John Oliver, and it took us three tries. It was awesome!

Central Park Castle

Everyone knows about Central Park, so that’s no surprise. Take a bike ride around the park, it’s incredibly refreshing. While you’re there, you need to visit the Belvedere Castle — it has amazing views of Manhattan and you can get great photos for your trip.

Roosevelt Island Tram & Smallpox Hospital

Take the Tram to Roosevelt Island from Manhattan and walk around and enjoy the great views. You can also visit the historical Smallpox hospital at the south tip of the island.

Bryant Park

Open year round, this public park is in a tiny green haven in the middle of the concrete jungle. It’s a great place to rest after a few hours of walking near the East Village or touring. During the winter, there’s a free skating rink (if you bring skate shoes, or you can rent then for $), and a Danny Meyer eatery for when the Zamboni rills in. During the other seasons there are free movies, gym classes, cultural programs, etc.

Washington Square Park

Wander around the east village shop and little eats, then come to rest in Washington Square Park for a bit. The fountain is calming, with interesting street artists there all year round. We once saw a guy with a grand piano there! Pretend like you’re back in Paris for a second with the miniature arc’d Triomphe. This park is located near NYU, so you might see a ton of students!

The High Line

Take a 1.5 mile walk above the streets of NYC on a renovated set of railway tracks. An architectural path of concrete, wood, and greenery line the path, which runs from the meatpacking district to up-and-coming Hudson Yards. You’ll see the urban theater at the beginning, and then an interesting art installation in the middle. Visit Chelsea Market prior and pack some lobster rolls from The Lobster Place, Halva (sesame seed dessert) from Seed + Mill, and other small eats in the shops there. Head over to the HighLine from Chelsea market, and find a small place to sit on the grass while watching the gorgeous view.

New Fulton Fish Market

Nestled in NYC is the largest fish market in the world. Sure, you’ve probably heard of Tsukiji in Japan, but that’s actually number two. The fish market is free to attend ($7 parking). FYI, if you plan on going, the hours are M-F, 1-7AM (No, that’s not a typo, it’s only open for 6 hours in the very early morning), but you’ll want to head there at the earlier end or else the best seafood will be gone. You can get all kinds of insanely fresh seafood in bulk for incredible prices.


Want to feel like you’re back in Europe when you visit NYC? Visit the Cloisters, which is a branch of the Met. The museum is pay what you wish!  The garden and exterior of the Cloisters were transported via French Abbey’s, so it feels as if you were transported across the ocean.

Jane’s Carousel

A piece of art housed inside a jewel box on the Brooklyn waterfront. The carousel was built nearly a century ago and hand-carved from wood — the 48 wooden horses themselves are gorgeous. Take a ride and enjoy the brooklyn waterfront and greenery while sitting on a piece of history. Rides are $2, with the hours are located here.

Brooklyn Bridge

After taking a ride on Jane’s Carousel and seeing the Brooklyn waterfront, you should walk back to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge. The view from Brooklyn is much better than the view the other way around. It’ll take you about half an hour to cross.

9/11 Memorial

After crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, the 9/11 memorial is just a 10 minute walk away. Reflect on the event when you’re staring over the North or South Pools, and then visit the museum. The museum is $24 for adults, with cheaper tickets for kids, veterans, and other special groups. Then take a look from the Oculus at the World Trade Center. The pools and oculus are both free.

Staten Island Ferry

Take the free Staten Island Ferry to see the statue of liberty and other sights along the waterfront. Go in the middle of the morning or afternoon to get the best seats!

Pay What You Wish/Free Day Museums

There’s a large number of Museums in NYC that are pay what you wish. Most museums also have days or a few hours that are totally free. It might get more crowded at the time, but that’s life! A few I’d recommend are the obvious ones: the Met and the MoMa. There are specific free days/hours for a few lesser known favorites as well: the Frick, Botanic Garden, Rubin, Whitney, Morgan Library, and Bronx Zoo. Here’s a website with all the info you need.

Do you have any special NYC places you’d love to visit that are off the beaten path?

Author: Olivia

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7 thoughts on “15+ Unique Things To Do In NYC That Are Budget Friendly

  1. Haha – that was my main thought too…”what the what — there’s a castle in Central Park?!”

    How come on all the episodes of Law & Order SVU I watched (way back in the day) it was not mentioned?!

    Random squirrel – my fav character’s name is Olivia from that show…

    Back to NY, I was bummed to not be sent to NYC for my work trips this summer…I was looking forward to some downtime and seeing all these great places. Now I’ll have to save them for my to-do list!

    Great compilation Olivia!

    1. I didn’t realize that show was supposed to be in NYC! It was also so seedy and scary, which is different from the NYC I know!

      Def come visit the castle next time :).

  2. Isn’t it funny? The first time I visited, I did the standard tourist things and then on subsequent visits, made sure I visited out-of-the-way museums, places of interest.

    I’ve ticked off a few things on your list already, but happy to save the link for next time I return.

    I learnt so much about what makes this city tick by just talking to the locals about what they did for fun and excitement.

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