Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, the High Line… some of New York’s most famous attractions don’t cost a dime. We pick the best, plus where to head for free concerts, beer and comedy in the Big Apple.
New York can be stiflingly hot and humid in the summer but the city also has the perfect remedy: free open-air swimming. A network of dozens of outdoor public pools across all five city boroughs open for the summer months (usually closing around Labor Day weekend in early September). All you need is your swimming suit, towel, bag and a padlock for the locker (you won’t be admitted without the padlock). The pools range in size and popularity. Red Hook Pool in Brooklyn, for instance is huge, with one end of the pool packed with children, while the other end is partitioned into lanes for serious swimmers. And while you are there, take the short stroll to a fabulous view of the Statue of Liberty (and Ikea if you are so moved). As part of the social well being of the city, the pools also provide free snack lunches for children during the school holidays. nycgovparks.org/facilities/outdoor-pools
Every Saturday night (and some other evenings) throughout the summer, Prospect Park in Brooklyn hosts free concerts, featuring an eclectic collection of acts. Summer 2013 saw They Might Be Giants, the Waterboys, Calexico, and the Barenaked Ladies to name but a few. The small venue allows families to picnic on the grass at the back while the more enthusiastic can congregate closer to the Bandshell stage. The concerts are a perfect excuse to leave the crowded streets of Manhattan to see one of Brooklyn’s treasures: Prospect Park was created shortly after Central Park by the same landscapers and also features its own zoo, boating lake and carousel.
Every Friday, the MOMA stays open until 8pm and hands out free tickets to anyone who enters after 4pm – it’s best to arrive by 4:30pm to avoid the queue. Start with the rotating special exhibition on the top floor, move on to the fifth and fourth floor paintings, including Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, and end with the second floor and its oversized sculptures, technology-infused media collection and the occasional interactive exhibit like Roman Ondák’s Measuring the Universe, where visitors’ names were written on the wall to mark their height. (See the Free Museum Day website for the schedule of other free admissions.) 11 West 53rd Street, moma.org
The most magnificent of the bridges across New York’s East River, linking Manhattan and Brooklyn was completed in 1883 and is one of the oldest steel-wire suspension bridges in the US. A stroll across on the special pedestrian walkway affords great views of the city. At the Brooklyn end the area has been recently redeveloped with parks, piers and a carousel. The Manhattan end is close to the downtown sights of City Hall and the New York City Supreme Court, where you can re-enact the final scene from 12 Angry Men (white suit optional). A word of warning: pedestrians share the bridge path with cyclists, who have little patience for pedestrians wandering into the cycle lane – expect to be yelled at, at the very least, if you stray on to the wrong side of the path.
After strolling across Brooklyn Bridge, hop on a ferry to Governor’s Island from Pier 6 at the bottom end of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Although the historically free ferry starts charging $2pp from May this year, there are plenty of free activities to try on the island, plus 30 new acres of park open to the public this May. Formerly a military base and home to the US Coast Guard, the island has been redeveloped as a sprawling public space – a “vibrant summer seasonal venue of art, culture and performance.” The island’s roster of events seems to grow each summer, but a few (free!) must-dos include: visiting the annual Figment NY sculpture project, checking out the latest exhibit at the Building 110 Arts Center; getting in a round of mini-golf; free bike-hire mornings; history hikes of the island’s historic district; or just packing a picnic and taking a leisurely lunch in the park with lower-Manhattan as your backdrop. You can also take the ferry from the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan, next door to the Staten Island ferry terminal. The island is open to the public from May to September.nps.gov/gois/planyourvisit/directions.htm
There are two main attractions at the main branch of the city’s library in Midtown Manhattan – well, three technically. The first is the gorgeous main reading room on the third floor of the Beaux-Arts building, where natural light bounces off long oak tables and the ceiling’s chandeliers, and thousands of reference books line the 52ft (almost 16-metre) high walls. Standing in the room you can’t help but feel inspired, as if you might become a little smarter simply by being in the presence of so much elegance. The other can’t-miss highlights are Patience and Fortitude, two marble Lions who guard the main entrance. Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, nypl.org