The 30 Best Free Things to Do In New York State!
Between the city and the upstate towns, New York state offers a great deal of attractions for both residents and tourists alike. The state is historic, filled with some of the coolest and most interesting spots in the world.
Every year, New York City alone welcomes over 50 million tourists from all over the world. In 2013, New York state parks topped 60 million visitors. But during most visits to the state, people go prepared to drop a pretty penny on activities and attractions.
But if you’re planning a visit to this state and don’t want to spend a ton of dough on expensive restaurants, bars, concerts or other activities, what is there to do?
You’re in luck! There’s a long list of things you can do in New York without paying a dime. Here are 30 free things to do in the state.
Mt. Marcy, one of 46 mountains to scale in the Adirondacks, is the largest mountain in the state of New York. With an elevation of 5,344 feet, Mt. Marcy typically takes 10 hours to hike and is 14.8 miles, according to its website. So if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, go for a serious hike to see the scenic landscapes of the Adirondacks.
With more than 18 miles of trails and 3,200 acres of space, this preserve is a New York Unique Area, Bird Conservation Area and a National Audubon Society Important Bird Area. According to its website, the staff and volunteers at the preserve “conduct on-the-ground natural resource protection and management, scientific research and environmental education.” The Discovery Center allows visitors to learn about the significance of the preserve. The center features things like interactive exhibits and local artwork. If you don’t just want to spend the day there, go visit their website and sign up to be a volunteer!
This concert series is a can’t-miss. Every Thursday in the summer a variety of famous acts grace the stage in Albany. Shows are generally held at Corning Riverfront Park, which is being renovated to be even bigger and better. Alive at Five in Albany has featured popular artists such as Dave Mason, Smash Mouth, and George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic. Oh yeah, and it’s totally free!
In Allentown in Buffalo, there is a gallery walk known as “First Fridays” which invites the public to visit Allentown for a intriguing artistic experience. According to its website, on the first Friday of every month from 6 to 9 pm, Allentown art galleries, performance artists, musicians, restaurants, retailers and more come together to create a rich cultural attraction.
5. Alma Pond
Located in Allegany County, Alma Pond covers about 36 acres of space with a maximum depth of around 8 feet. On the headwaters of Honeoye Creek, this pond is described on its website as a permanent earthen dike likely built in the 1940s. But for those who want to spend the day fishing, this is a fun spot to do it. Some of the fish in this pond are largemouth bass, panfish, carp and bullhead. Largemouth bass up to 20 inches and 5 pounds can be found in this pond. So if you’re an angler in New York, drive on down to Alma Pond.
Located in Bear Mountain, New York, this is another one for those who are looking for a little bit of an outdoor adventure. Bear Mountain State Park is by the West Bank of the Hudson River and features a wide range of activities for visitors to partake in such as hiking, biking and cross-country skiing in the winter. There is also a large play field, a swimming pool and for the children, a Merry-Go-Round. The Merry-Go-Round displays hand painted scenes of the park and the seats themselves are hand crafted after the wildlife in the area with black bear, raccoon and swan.
If it’s a warm, sunny day and you’re just in the mood to relax, take a step inside the beautiful Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The garden features 52 acres of scenic plants and flowers. Some of the flowers currently in bloom are the hybrid tea rose, peony, sacred lotus and violet. The garden offers free entry on Tuesdays and from 10 am to noon on Saturdays as well as weekdays in the winter.
While it’s not exactly free beer, you’re still getting the opportunity to tour through a historic New York spot. This famous Williamsburg brewery, opened in 1988, offers free tours on Saturdays and Sundays, giving visitors a sneak peek of what goes into crafting beers such as Brooklyn Lager, Defender IPA and American Ale. Grab a free ticket for the tour and make sure to get their early. After the tour, eat some food and buy beer tokens to try their famous brews. And don’t forget your ID!
Even if you’re not a very religious person, the architecture of this place is truly a sight to see. Known as the largest cathedral in the world, the Church of St. John Divine is a sprawling building sprinkled with fascinating historical information, ornamented with immaculate décor, and completely free to walk through. So if you ever want to escape the busy city streets for a moment to breathe, step inside this place of worship to marvel at the history and beauty.
The Catskills truly offer an escape from the noisiness of the city as you escape to the serene paradise of these mountains. As far as hiking trails go, the Catskills offer visitors hikes that vary in difficulty depending on your level of experience. The Catskills Scenic Trail labeled as “easy” on its website is 26 miles long and is a perfect opportunity for hikers of all skill levels. If you’re a more skilled hiker, try out the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower. With an elevation that reaches 4,040 feet and labeled as “difficult” on its website, this trek is not easy to conquer. But on the perfect day, there is no other sight quite like it.
11. Central Park
If you’re visiting the city, it’s always important to visit the historic Central Park. The list of movies filmed in Central Park is seemingly endless: When Harry Met Sally, The Avengers, Ghostbusters II, Almost Famous and the Royal Tenenbaums. And of course, it doesn’t cost anything to stroll through this picturesque, 843-acre park. Central Park is the most-visited urban park in the United States, hosting 40 million visitors in 2013. Some features of the space include Belvedere Castle, Diana Ross Playground (named after the famous recording artist, who performed two legendary free concerts there) and a famous carousal.
One of the most beautiful beach areas in New York, Fire Island is a 30-mile stretch of land separated from Long Island by the Great South Bay. There is no fee for entry at Fire Island but there are a ton of private properties in the area, so plan your trip accordingly. At the western end of the seashore by Robert Moses State Park, you can gawk at the 168-foot Fire Island Lighthouse. If you’re lucky you might be able to see one of the many animals that make up the wildlife of Fire Island with anything from seals to whales to sea turtles and even white-tailed deer.
From 4-8 pm, the Japanese clothing company UNIQLO sponsors free visits to the MoMA. Visitors will be able to view all of the galleries, exhibits and films featured at the museum. The website encourages the public to stop by after 6 pm in order to avoid the long lines, as it’s a popular attraction in the city on free nights. The Midtown museum presents an extensive variety of collections that will dazzle its visitors. Go out and observe some beautiful works of art with your friends without opening up your wallet.
This state park in Otsego County has 593-acres of space and is located north of Cooperstown. There are plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities here, offering a very family-friendly atmosphere. If it’s a beautiful day, head down there for a picnic with your loved ones or walk through one of the hiking trails. There is something for just about everyone at Glimmerglass State Park, especially if you enjoy spending the day outside.
15. Guggenheim Museum
According to its website, the museum “collects, preserves, and interprets modern and contemporary art, and explores ideas across cultures through dynamic curatorial and educational initiatives and collaborations.” This historically and culturally-rich museum has locations all over the globe. For the art lovers and curious visitors, stop into the Guggenheim on Saturday afternoons for a free visit. Lines generally start forming around 5:15 pm and the last ticket is issued at 7:15 pm. And of course, there is a suggest admission donation of $10 to support the museum.
Every year, HBO sponsors a film series in Bryant Park, and has been for the past 20 years or so. The space opens up for movie screenings at 5 pm on Mondays and doesn’t cost anything so make sure to show up early to grab a spot. Some movies that are featured on this year’s list of screenings are Top Gun, The Omen, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Bring some drinks and snacks, grab a spot on the lawn and enjoy some of the most popular films in one of the hottest spots in the city.
17. The High Line
This popular tourist spot is a one and a half mile-long linear park elevated above the city. What was previously a New York Central Railroad is now a stretch of space that offers visitors a unique view of the city. Transformed in 1934, the High Line runs from Gansevoort Street, the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and the northern edge of the West Side Yard by the Javits Convention Center. The planting design is inspired by the way the plants looked overgrowing on the rail tracks that used to be there, a nice touch that holds onto a piece of its past. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the High Line offers free, guided walking tours.
People claim that there isn’t much to do in upstate New York, but there are some pretty sights that most people don’t talk about. Within 10 square miles, Ithaca holds over 150 different waterfalls. Whether you’re near Cornell, down by the Commons or in one of the state parks, you’re going to find a waterfall somewhere that’ll take your breath away. According to its website, Potter’s Falls is considered Ithaca’s favorite sunbathing spot. The fall is 25 feet and is located on Six Mile Creek, surrounded by wildflowers and intricate rock formations. You can also bring your dog with you as long as it’s on a leash. But remember: no swimming allowed!
If the weather is warm and you’re in the mood for a nice outdoor activity in the city, go grab a lifejacket and kayak from the Downtown Boathouse for free and paddle down the Hudson River. Offered May through October, you don’t even have to pay extra for other equipment you might need for your adventure. Not only this, but the Downtown Boathouse also offers free paddling and safety classes. So if you’ve ever wanted to get better at kayaking or simply want to go sightseeing on the Hudson, we encourage you to take up this opportunity.
Every Wednesday in Mid’s Park in July and early August, the Lake Placid Sinfonietta holds a free concert. Whether you want to enjoy a nice evening of music with your family or spend a romantic night out with your partner, this is an ideal event. The Lake Placid Sinfonietta, or the Orchestra of the Adirondacks, are a collection of twenty professional musicians from across the country. The orchestra formed in 1917 and has been providing the public with top notch performances ever since.
As the second largest public library in the United States offering almost 53 million items, this is a spot you must visit even if you aren’t a big reader. The New York Public Library, which is over 100 years old, greets you with two marble lions (named Patience and Fortitude) situated at the front of the phenomenal structure. The reading room can hold up to 500 people but if you’re not looking to read, you can visit some of the historical exhibits such as a display boasting a copy of the original Declaration of Independence. From 11 am to 2 pm Monday through Saturday, the library offers free tours as well.
Every summer, Oswego hosts a four-day festival by the shores of Lake Ontario offering the best live music, food and other activities to the public. The concerts are free and every year the festival brings in about 250,000 people. Watch as jazz and blues musicians as well as tribute bands from all over grace the stage. At the end of the four-day event, there is a large fireworks show to top off the fun.
Some more Brooklyn fun! Who doesn’t love to experience free live music? Especially in a place that is so rich in culture, boasting an eclectic mixture of popular and underground artists. As part of “Celebrate Brooklyn!” the city offers free concerts to the public on summer evenings in Prospect Park. Over 2,000 musical acts have performed here since it first began in 1979. Over 250,000 visit each year to catch some talented artists and bands which include famous acts like psychedelic-rock group Tame Impala, the Violent Femmes, and Alvvays. So grab a blanket, bring some food and some friends, and enjoy the show!
National Geographic named this spot the greatest rock climbing on the East Coast. This 12-mile long and 300-foot high area overlooks that Hudson River Valley is one of the most beautiful mountainous areas in the country. Nicknamed “The Gunks,” these mountains are known for their biodiversity as they have a wide variety of plant and animal life living in the area. Head up there for a day of adventures.
This outdoor museum which was once a landfill was converted into a fascinating space with unique sculptures and other works of art. Since 1986, the area located in Long Island City features an assortment of exhibits and collections that rotate in and out. Enjoy special treats in the summertime such as performances of Shakespeare in the Park. 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of this park. One of the current exhibits is titled Concave Room for Bees. The work is 70 feet in diameter and according to the website, “is a living sculptural installation that will evolve over time” and is comprised of more than 300 cubic yards of fertile soil planted with various flowers and herbs.
This free, outdoor summer concert series presents another opportunity to hear the best live music for no cost in the city. And it’s not just live music. According to their website, this concert series has been going on for three decades and hosts a “slate of more than 100 free performances, including readings by famous authors, kid-friendly events, parties with bands from around the world and theatrical and dance productions.” Some artists that have made appearances here include Cage the Elephant and Public Enemy.
It is a lot easier than you might think to get on television. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon doesn’t cost a dime to sit in the studio audience, where you can experience humorous monologues from the hilarious host or watch live interviews with famous celebrity guests. The only issue is that these seats go fast. Everyone wants to be in the audience for this show. You can request tickets and join the waitlist, which goes out every month but they are in high demand. Keep up with Twitter and other forms of social media to stay up to date with show information.
28. Utica Zoo
On July 25 and August 29, the Utica Zoo is offering free admission for everyone from 5 pm to 7:45 pm. All of the exhibit animals will be out and Voss’ food truck will be open, according to their website. But make sure to get their early so you can get in! The Utica Zoo is a great spot for families as children (and parents) get the opportunity to have an up close look at some of nature’s most magnificent animals.
Who doesn’t love a little free wine? This wine shop in the Upper West Side offers free wine tastings on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 4-7 pm. Not bad. Their website states they are celebrating their 75th anniversary and the spot is regularly rated as one of the best wine shops in the city. With a long list of wines from all over the world to select from, stop by this place before a night out on the town to throw back some great wine for free.
30. Yaddo Gardens
From 8 am until dusk every day of the week, Yaddo Gardens in Saratoga Springs is open to the public. Located on a 400-acre estate, the Yaddo Garden Association was founded in 1991 and according to its website, “is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the gardens at Yaddo.” There are rose and rock gardens at the location where volunteers come to care for the area. The public is encouraged to come and behold the beauty of this space. For a serene escape from the busier parts of New York, take a step inside of this garden paradise.