Visiting somewhere like New York isn’t generally classed as a cheaper holiday, however, there are plenty of free things to do in New York City. Yep, lots of things that don’t cost anything at all besides a bit of time to wander around ticking them off. Here’s a list of things I thought were worth checking out when visiting New York in winter.
Visit Times Square
Obviously. One of the most famous parts of New York City I’d guess. It’s mad just how bright Times Square is with all the flashing adverts. There are also lots of shops around to explore, including the huge M&M shop, and a few restaurants. There is always something going on, and no matter how many times you walk through you are bound to spot something new each time.
We didn’t really spend too much time around here because it is always heaving and it’s not really somewhere to relax and watch the world go by. It is however definitely worth experiencing, even a few times over.
Just be careful as you walk through or stand around. There are always people in (badly designed) character costumes. They’ll try to lure you in for a photo and then demand money for it. Difficult especially if you have small children, and they will target you because of that.
Walk Across Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of those iconic New York must-see sights. It’s a good way to walk into Brooklyn and you get to see some cool views along the way as you’re crossing the water. Because of this it can get super busy, of course. I’d read beforehand that it really isn’t worth hiring a bike to get across, and I can totally see why. Despite having a cycle lane and a walking lane, you will not have a clear path ahead of you. The walk doesn’t take too long really and it gives you the chance to get those photos from every angle…
head to DUMBO
Once over into Brooklyn, you can head towards DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) where you’ll get a great viewpoint of, you guessed it – the Manhattan Bridge.
You’ll find a lot of photos of this spot on instagram, and whilst it may look all nice and calm, be assured it is not. Unless you go super early in the morning, there will be a lot of people here trying to get that same shot. It is manic.
However, if you walk down this street, up closer to the bridge and near the water, you’ll find more space to take photos of Manhattan Bridge and also Brooklyn Bridge will be on your left. It won’t give you that shot in between the buildings, but you will get something a little different!
You will be able to get a good shot with the buildings in, I wouldn’t wouldn’t expect it to be completely empty or quiet if you’re going at a normal time throughout the day.
It’s a pretty area and, from the viewpoint in this photo, if you head towards the bridge and turn left you’ll see an entrance to the Time Out Market food hall and there are plenty of little stalls and places to eat at in there if you’re feeling peckish.
Go on the Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry is a free commuter boat that runs 24 hours of the day, and it gives you a good view of the Statue of Liberty whilst on it. The trip takes around 30 minutes each way, and there are different kinds of boats you can get on. Some are fully enclosed, but some you will be able to stand outside to get photos without a glass window in between you and Liberty. In the winter, this journey can obviously get a little cold and windy, so make sure you’re well wrapped up if you have an open boat!
You can do various paid for trips to see the statue, but unless you’re actually wanting to get onto Ellis Island itself, I honestly wouldn’t bother paying just to get a bit closer.
Location: Whitehall Terminal, 4 Whitehall St, New York
Find Ghostbusters HQ
This is a little fire station located in the Tribeca neighbourhood of Manhattan. We followed google maps to find it, but once there it is quite easy to spot on the corner. Outside you’ll see the two ghostbusters signed painted onto the floor. It’s worth a visit for any fan of the Ghostbusters because it just looks cool.
Location: 4, N Moore St, New York, NY
See the Wall St Charging Bull
You’ll know exactly where the bull is because you’ll spot a queue of people waiting to take their photo next to it. You’ll also spot a queue on the other side of the bull with people waiting to have a photo taken of them touching it’s balls… Yep.
Unless you really want a photo with you standing next to the Charging Bull, do what I did and wait near the front of the queue for a quick person change to grab a photo when it’s clear. In all honesty, we did only stop to see it because we were heading in this direction to get to the Staten Island Ferry. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to see it personally.
The Finanical District of NYC is good to walk through though. Plenty of interesting buildings to see, and you’ve also got Joe’s Pizza close by and Leo’s for bagels. Food is always a good reason to explore an area.
Location: Broadway &, Whitehall St, New York, NY 10004
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9/11 Memorial & World Trade Center
Whilst there is a museum that costs, the 9/11 Memorial sites are obviously free to just visit and walk around. You honestly can’t really begin to imagine this area until you’ve been to see it. It just has that sort of eerie feeling surrounding it still.
Also just seeing the sites of where the Twin Towers stood really puts things into perspective. It’s all too easy to just think about a building not being there any more, but actually walking the perimeter of the area it covered makes you really understand the level of devastation. And then times that by two! Being there just made me feel really small. Plus, you’ve then got the names of everyone engraved all around each site.
It’s a different kind of place to visit, but one worth doing in my opinion.
Walk The High Line
The High Line is a park on the West side of Manhattan, built on an old elevated railway line. This 1.45 mile walk takes you through the city of New York from a different kind of perspective and you get all kinds of great views.
The park is owned by the City of New York, and is run by the community. As you walk through you’ll see different pieces of art as well as being able to look down on some of the city streets. It is a super pretty walk when visiting during the winter so I can only imagine how much it thrives in the summer time.
You can read a bit more about the history of the High Line here.
Location: So there are various entry points, and the great thing is that the High Line is wheelchair accessible. The end points are Gansevoort St and Washington St (elevator access/restrooms) & then 34th St and 12th Ave (ramp access).
Located at one end of the High Line, The Vessel is a work of art. This building was designed as an interactive piece of art, located in the centre of Hudson Yard.
You can go inside and climb the any of the 154 interconnecting staircases, view the city from different directions and angles. Just one search on instagram and you’ll be wanting to go inside!
Even better, it’s free to visit! You do however need to get a ticket. The Hudson Yard website says to get them onsite for 9:30 on a first come first served basis. You can also book ahead.
If you’re desperate to get in, there are some you can get on the day for $10. We didn’t go in, but the views outside are just as impressive I think so if you’re walking the High Line it makes sense to include this in the walk.
We were there just before sunset, and it looked lovely in the golden hour sunshine!
Explore Chelsea Market
The Chelsea Market is located at the other end of the High Line to the Vessel. It’s a short walk away from the last entry/exit point, but not too difficult to find.
Inside you’ll find various food places and shops to explore. There is a full on food market style area with all kinds of places to grab different cuisines. The food looked AMAZING, but we didn’t actually try any there as we already had food plans. Next time though!
The shops are a mixture but there is a really cool crafty/vintage style shop with various sellers having their own stands. It’s really cool and great to see so many independent stalls with different things. A place to shop and eat locally.
Location: 75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011
See the Flatiron
The Flatiron is a well known sight to see because well, the building kind of looks like a flatiron I guess. Though apparently it was already known as flatiron before it’s construction…
It’s an interesting building, known as the most unusual in NYC and a popular photography point. The tall, triangular building is set on it’s own so it does stand out on the street and can look pretty dramatic in photos.
It’s not out of the way either so easy to fit in if you’re having a wander around. You can walk down broadway from here and it will take you right to Times Square.
Admittedly, it’s not as great a sight with scaffolding covering each end but hey, what can you do?
Walk Through Central Park
And of course, probably one of the most obvious free things to do in New York… take a walk through Central Park! Even in the winter, Central Park is a brilliant place to walk around. We only scratched the tiniest surface of this park because it is HUGE. Honestly, I know that’s always the ‘thing’ about this park but I just didn’t really realise how big it actually was.
There are various different areas in here and we saw a nice lake and bridges. On a summer’s day it would be great to just chill in here for a bit. As we really wanted to see more of the sights having never been to New York, we didn’t really leave much time for Central Park because it is just a park after all. If I were to go back, I’d definitely try to explore a bit more though!
Worth visiting just to see how huge it is. Next time I’d love to do a bit of a run there.