How To: See New York For Free

By: Maxine Sheppard

March 15, 2018

Panoramic view of the High Line, Chelsea, Manhattan © Shutterstock:Francois Roux

Panoramic view of the High Line, Chelsea, Manhattan © Shutterstock:Francois Roux

Seeing New York for nothing might sound like an impossible task, but there are hundreds of free and nearly-free ways of experiencing the Big Apple. The best, of course, is to spend as much time as possible walking the streets, remembering to look up at the forest of skyscrapers above your head. Absorbing New York’s singular streetlife and architecture is the surest way of getting to grips with the place, and if you combine this with a stroll through Central Park or along the sensational High Line you’ll soon feel like an almost-local.

For even more ways to keep your holiday budget under control, we’ve put together a handful of our favourite things to do in New York that won’t cost a dime.

Meet a Big Apple Greeter

There’s nothing better than a personal welcome, and if you request one of NYC’s 350-strong crowd of knowledgeable Big Apple Greeters, you’ll get a unique take on the city that never sleeps. This non-profit organisation matches visitors with enthusiastic New Yorkers who want nothing more than to share the city they love with families, couples, groups of friends or people travelling solo. A local-led neighbourhood tour will leave you with a lasting impression, and not only is the service completely free, there’s even a no tipping policy.

Ride the Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry against the Lower Manhattan skyline © Shutterstock:Diego Grandi

Staten Island Ferry against the Lower Manhattan skyline © Shutterstock/Diego Grandi

The free Staten Island Ferry from Lower Manhattan to Staten Island is a classic NYC experience. It’s also an excellent way to view the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Ellis and Governors islands and, of course, the famous skyline of Manhattan’s financial district. It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour (less frequently between midnight and 6am). If you want to experience the journey like a true New Yorker, hop on the ferry at rush hour for excellent people-watching and eavesdropping opportunities. It gets very chilly on deck (and even inside) so don’t forget to take some extra layers.

Staten Island Ferry, Whitehall Terminal, Whitehall and Water St, New York

Lucille’s Grill at the B.B. King Blues Club

Right in the heart of Times Square, the B.B. King Blues Club is a full service venue and restaurant playing host to some of the biggest names in blues, soul, rock and R&B, along with plenty of top quality tribute bands. But if your budget can’t quite stretch to some of the big ticket artists then make a beeline for Lucille’s Grill, a separate bar and restaurant located inside B.B. King’s, named after B.B’s guitar. With no cover charge, you can listen to free live music from New York’s local jazz, blues and rock scene every day of the week – the nightly show starts at 8pm.

Lucille’s Grill, B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, 237 West 42 Street, New York (Times Square)

Crawl the Chelsea Art Galleries

Loosely scattered throughout the West 20s streets, and roughly bordered by 10th and 11th avenues, Chelsea’s many art galleries make for an engrossing wander. This is a thoroughly walkable district of converted warehouses and lofts, renovated old stores and industrial workshops, brimming with pieces of contemporary art both beautiful and baffling. Cast aside any fears of being talked into buying a multi-thousand-dollar masterpiece; viewings are all free and the pressure is off. Check out this handy map and guide for exact locations and specific upcoming exhibitions.

Chelsea art galleries, West 20th to 29th streets, between 10th and 11th Avenues – approximately.

Explore Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal © Shutterstock:Gang Liu

Grand Central Terminal © Shutterstock/Gang Liu

An exceptional example of Beaux-Arts architecture, a major NYC transportation hub, the best known railway station in the United States, and tourist attraction par excellence: New York’s Grand Central Terminal is beloved by locals and visitors alike. To stand on the steps at either end of the cavernous main concourse, watching hundreds of individual stories play out below, is to witness New York in microcosm. Lift your head skywards to view the constellations of the gold and turquoise astronomical ceiling, restored to its original patina after a 12-year renovation. If you can find it, a single patch of grime was left behind to remind visitors of the state it was once in, just above the Michael Jordan Steakhouse. The Grand Central Partnership’s free guided tour will help you discover more about the building and the surrounding neighbourhood.

Grand Central Terminal, 87 E 42nd Street, New York

Tour Brooklyn Brewery

Over in Williamsburg, Brooklyn Brewery has produced the flagship green-labelled lager since its founding in 1988, along with a popular line-up of other brews including Brooklyn Brown Ale, Defender IPA, Bel Air Sour and a host of seasonal offerings. Beer aficionados can visit the Tasting Room any day of the week, with free tours available Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Combine your trip with a good old rummage at Artists & Fleas, a hip indoor weekend market featuring more than a hundred vendors.

Brooklyn Brewery, 79 N 11th St, Brooklyn, New York / Artists & Fleas, 70 N 7th St, Brooklyn, NY

Virgin Atlantic operates daily flights to New York from London Heathrow.


Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

Categories: Our Places