Free Things to Do in New York City

How to experience NYC culture on a budget

When it comes to naming expensive cities, New York often finds itself near the top of the list, which can be an intimidating prospect for travellers. But summertime is an especially budget-friendly season in the Big Apple, when the city is full of events that cost nothing at all.

Book Club 

Since launching in 2012, Books Beneath the Bridge at Brooklyn Bridge Park (Monday nights through July and August) has lured big names like Paul Auster and Emma Straub. And, with the iconic Brooklyn Bridge in the background, there might not be a more picturesque destination for readings, Q&As and signings.

Comedy Break

Hosted by comedy club veteran Aparna Nancherla (an accomplished comedian whose credits include TBS’ Conan), Upright Citizens Brigade’s free weekly standup show, Whiplash, is a great place to discover some of New York’s best up-and-coming comics (Mondays at 11 p.m. at the UCB Theater in Chelsea). But don’t be surprised if more established jokesters end up taking the mic: Chris Rock, Louis C.K. and many others have made appearances. You’ll want to make online reservations way in advance. 

Lincoln Center Out of Doors 

From July 20 to Aug. 7, Lincoln Center offers myriad free programming, including a performance by punk legend Patti Smith on July 20 and a day-long celebration of singer Lou Reed that features tai chi, a late-night film screening and a sound installation. July 23 is Family Day, when dance parties and concerts are suitable for all ages.

Mixed Media

For more than five decades, the always-free American Folk Art Museum has dedicated itself to showcasing the works of self-taught creatives. All summer long, walls of the museum will feature the large-scale, mixed-media works of American artist Ronald Lockett. More than 80 other pieces (Native American effigies, wood ex-votos from Brazil and more) have been brought in to complement Lockett’s canvases.

Happy Hour

For an hour at lunchtime every Thursday in July and August, songs and dances from the most famous shows on Broadway—think Wicked, Stomp and Mamma Mia!—are performed by cast members in beautiful Bryant Park. Bring a blanket and grab a sandwich from one of the many nearby delis for a midday musical break.