The best things in life are free… Well that may not be strictly true – I’m pleased to say there are many great – and free – things that you can do in New York City. Which is just as well as the plunging post-Brexit pound made everything else in this fab city pretty pricey! Especially when most galleries and museums have a $20+ admissions fee which is extended to children too!
Walk The High Line
The High Line in the Chelsea/Meatpacking part of town is a disused, elevated rail track that has been regenerated into a walkway and park filled with art, foliage and fabulous views over the west of the city and the Hudson. It’s free to enter – you simply climb the stairs – and features quirky art including a very realistic semi-naked man in grotty pants (a la Dead Dad). Whilst you’re in the area – as long as you a) have no kids in tow and b) are carrying ID to prove you are over 21 (and believe me you need the ID even if you are obviously way older than 21) you can enjoy a cocktail and a view at the super-cool rooftop bar at the Standard.
Visit The Guggenheim
I love the Guggenheim. I always have done. In fact I think that the Guggenheim is one of the most beautiful art galleries in the world – and every Saturday entry is free from 5.45-7.45pm. Be warned tho that the queue really does snake round the block – so it’s well worth getting there either early (5.30ish) or late (after 7pm) to avoid the crush. Unfortunately none of us were massive fans of the main exhibition on at the time of our visit (Agnes Martin) and lots of the gallery space was under refurbishment – but despite this our visit to the Guggenheim was still a holiday highlight and well worth the queue.
Enjoy The Art And The Rooftop Of The Met
Despite misleading signage advising you to contribute $25 per head to enter The Metropolitan Museum of Art (or The Met as it is more commonly referred to) on the upper east side of Central Park – the gallery actually only asks for your to make a donation that you can afford. While my daughter and I gave $5 between us, and were offered change (we declined), my son gave just $1 – which is pretty much as near to free as you’re going to get! And once in if you whizz up the back lift to the roof top café (which be warned closes at 4.30pm) you are afforded the most brilliant views across Central Park and the city skyline. Once you’ve enjoyed this – you then have rooms upon rooms of art to feast your eyes on.
See Lady Liberty From The Staten Island Ferry
Jump on the subway down to South Ferry Stop – swerve past all the ticket touts and agents selling expensive trips to the Statue of Liberty (that’s of course unless you’ve been organised enough to book a trip to climb up inside her crown in advance – current bookings are 6 months in advance so that’s pretty good planning!) and jump on the Staten Island Ferry to, yes you’ve guessed it, Staten Island. It’s completely free. It runs every half hour 24 hours a day. It has stunning views of Lady Liberty. Quick tip – it drives both forwards and backwards – therefore don’t think you’re being clever by sitting on the “wrong side” and waiting for it to turn around – you’re on the wrong side and it won’t turn round. Instead – head to the right hand side on the outbound crossing, and the left hand side to return to Manhattan. Plus, make sure you pop out the back on the bottom deck on your way our to Staten Island as the views on Manhattan are amazing!
Walk Across Brooklyn Bridge
It’s almost a mile long (and yes it feels like it is too) but it is well worth the stroll across this stunning cable suspension bridge spanning the East River. The views both of the bridge and off the bridge are amazing. Be warned that it gets very crowded at certain times of day, plus the cyclists (who have their own lane) are very irate. It’s also a good idea to make sure you plan what to do when you get to the other side. I’m told Brooklyn has plenty to offer by way of food, drink and entertainment – however we got a little lost and were rather tired and ended up in a whiskey distillery in the Brooklyn Navy Yard which was fascinating but did only sell whiskey (I don’t like whisky) and then was rather tricky to get back home from. On the plus side everyone we met in Brooklyn (and there were quite a few people as we got lost) were really friendly, helpful and lovely.
Roam Around Central Park
Yes it’s beautiful, yes it’s free, yes you could easily lose yourself in here for a day – so why not give it a go if you’ve got the time. And if you have a bit of cash to splash – hire a remote control boat on the small pond for some classic NYC entertainment. It’s only $11 for half an hour – and lots of fun.
Stroll Down Wall Street
Take a walk down Wall Street – whether you grew up watching iconic 80s movie Wall Street or the newer Wolf of Wall Street – this iconic financial zone with its classic New York sky-scraping architecture can’t fail to impress. And whilst you’re there you can pop into the Federal Hall (for free) and see where George Washington was inaugurated as the first US president – and where controversial President Elect Donald Trump will be inaugurated in January 2017.
Play The Big Piano
We were sad beyond belief when we got to the top of Fifth Avenue only to discover that legendary toyshop FAO Schwarz had closed won, forever! We were all dying to play ‘that tune’ on the Big piano (Big is a favourite film of ours). Imagine our delight two days later when we popped into Macy’s only to discover that they had salvaged said Big piano from FAO Schwartz and given it a new home! It’s a case of queue and play – for free. And as we were in the store very close to opening time on a Monday morning – there was no queue so we could just play. And whilst we’re on the topic of Big – we also managed to track down Zoltar in a small gadget store somewhere off Madison – and we all made a wish – for free.
Hang out in Washington Square
With its iconic arch and a host of buskers – not to mention the supercool NYU student vibe – and nearby street market – Washington Square is a fab place to while away the afternoon. This was a particular hit with my children as they love watching US prank show Impractical Jokers, which is often filmed here – so they loved the familiarity and classic NY style of the surroundings.
Stroll along the Hudson
Walking around Manhattan is one of the best activities there is. We averaged 20km a day during our visit which is bonkers as we are not known for our active lifestyle as a family! One of the nicest strolls we had was along the west side of the island from Greenwich Village down to Wall Street – with stunning views across the Hudson to New Jersey.
Freebies we missed
Unfortunately we simply ran out of time – but the two other free things that we were hoping to enjoy during our trip were the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) on Fridays from 4-8pm and the 9/11 Memorial Museum on Tuesdays from 4.30pm. Oh well, there is always next time.