It’s been a long quiet year and we’re all so ready to emerge. New York City is waiting and the good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy it. In fact, there are so many things to do that won’t cost you anything, there’s no reason to stay home.
Parks in Your Backyard
New York is a city of parks. From Central Park in Manhattan to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, from The High Line on Manhattan’s West Side to Carl Schurz Park along the East River, you can clock many steps while you breathe fresh air, commune with nature, and enjoy the people watching that’s about as good as any movie you might see elsewhere.
Of these, I highly recommend Central Park. It’s New York City’s lungs, the green area where everyone congregates to play ball, schmooze, picnic, run, cycle and tour. There are plenty of landmarks to explore like the city’s notable folly, Belvedere Castle, where the official temperature for NYC is recorded daily. Or The Ramble, a tangle of paths and trees that is a sanctuary for migrating birds. Bring your binoculars and be on the watch for the park’s newest occupant, the snowy owl. Rumor has it he likes to hang out by the garbage bins. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir is where runners and walkers spend their time, circling the beautiful body of water with its fountains and itinerant ducks. Bring the kids to the Ancient Playground or let them climb on the Alice in Wonderland Statue by Conservatory Water, where kids of all ages love to sail their toy motorboats.
Conservatory Garden is one of Manhattan’s hidden gems. In plain view on Fifth Avenue (but behind the ornate Vanderbilt Gate), three immaculately designed gardens, one English, one Italian, and one French in style, are seasonally planted to provide a quiet oasis with benches, fountains, and a wisteria-covered pergola for mid-afternoon shade.
The High Line
The High Line is a popular attraction, so busy now that it requires a timed entry. The 1.45-mile park is a prime example of urban ingenuity and renewal, taking a decaying elevated railroad structure and converting it into walks, plantings, seats and relaxation areas. Along the route, artists show their innovative works and food vendors offer NYC-centric treats like Brooklyn brisket or frozen pops.
Culture at No Cost
Culture doesn’t have to be expensive in New York City. Many museums have days or evenings where admission is free. The Jewish Museum is free on Saturday, the Bronx and Brooklyn botanic gardens each have free days, and quite a few museums are free to the public on the First Friday of every month. Other museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art have pay-as-you-wish entry or are always free like the National Museum of the American Indian.
Outdoor art is always free and New York City is a showplace for works all over the city. The mall on Park Avenue has frequent exhibits of a single artist. Other pieces such as the sculptures by Jim Rennert beg you to take your picture aside their oversized presence. In Times Square, the city’s distinctive video and art screens blaze with color. For a small fee, you can enter the subway and explore the underground artwork that decorates stations like the brilliant mosaics of the Q train stops and the quirky “Life Underground” by sculptor Tom Otterness at Eighth Avenue at 14th Street. Take the L train to Jefferson Street to visit The Bushwick Collective, NYC’s epicenter of street art and graffiti.
It’s All About the Views
Views of the city are free for the taking. Two of the best no-charge sightseeing experiences leave from downtown Manhattan and show off New York Harbor, Manhattan and Brooklyn, and neighboring Randall’s, Governors and Ellis Islands.
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, heading towards Brooklyn. At the midpoint, where you can read about the building of the bridge and John Roebling, the engineer who died during its construction, stop and look in all directions. To the left, you’ll see the outline of the city towards the Triboro Bridge, Queens and the Bronx. Look right and it’s a downtown view with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in the distance. Ahead of you lies the beginning of DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights, two of Brooklyn’s most fashionable neighborhoods. You can stop off for a taste of Old New York with DUMBO’s cobblestoned streets and iconic view of the Manhattan Bridge. From Brooklyn Bridge Park, you’ll have a camera-perfect view of Manhattan. Then return to the bridge and walk back to Manhattan, this time taking note of the city skyline looming ahead and becoming more into focus at every step. And a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry roundtrip offers jaw-dropping views of the island.
Buildings and Architecture
The city is a mélange of styles, from the newest skinny towers hovering over 57th Street, to tiny mews and alleys hidden away or sandwiched between streets. Plan a trip to connect the dots of history strolling by Strivers' Row, Henderson Place, Patchin Place and Jumel Terrace to enhance your tour of landmarks like Lever House, the Seagram Building and City Hall. Grab a map and be adventurous — a personal walking tour is always free.