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Highly entertaining free things to do in New York City

by Michael on November 29, 2012

There are so many free things to do in New York it’s tough to know where to begin. Here are a few involving entertainment, nature and culture.

1. Watch a TV show or movie being filmed


Golden Boy tv show taping New York

This realistic looking press conference at the Manhattan courthouse is actually a taping for the upcoming TV series Golden Boy.

If you have a favorite show that films in NYC, you can find daily filming locations info on http://www.onlocationvacations.com/ (look a the once-a-day locations post). Their twitter @olv also posts updates throughout the day.

Stars I’ve stumbled on filming include: Julia Roberts, JLo, Pierce Brosnan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the cast of Gossip Girl. If you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll also see celebrities just walking around. I always do.

 2. Attend a free taping of The View


The view TV show studio

Wait on line outside the studio.

Going to TV show tapings is a combination of fun and torture. There’s a lot of waiting and you’re likely to be cramped and hot. But, it’s exciting to see how TV is made. My favorite taping was seeing the ladies of The View. (I don’t recommend going to a taping of a half hour TV show because the ratio of waiting time to action isn’t worth it).

For The View, you can request tickets in advance or try standby tickets. Since I live outside the US, I can’t sign up for advance tickets, so I ended up going standby. I’ve tried 4 times and got tickets twice. Both times I got up very early to be first, or close to first, in the standby line. I got there by 6am. The studio is 320 W 66th St.

If you’re trying standby, you can increase your chances by doing the following: go on a day with a less popular guest, when it’s raining, or a day they are taping two shows (you’ll need to swing by the studio at the beginning of the week to ask which is their two show day as it changes from week to week). The View typically tapes 4 days a week. And you know never what free gift they might be giving out that day.

3. Attend a free reading by your favorite author

I love seeing authors on book tour. Since NYC is the publishing capital of the world, there’s always an author event scheduled.

The best location for big name authors is the flagship Barnes and Noble on Union Square. Sometimes independent bookstores also host big names or authors who have a cult following. Try McNally Jackson (see their event calendar) or Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore. The Skint  lists author events, and lists many other free or cheap activities that well off the tourist trail.

4. Take a moonlight bike ride around Central Park

An environmental group called Times Up organizes a free 10PM nighttime ride around Central Park.  It’s only held once a month but it’s an amazing experience! Check their calendar here. If you’re not in NYC at the right time for the moonlight bike ride, you can take various free walking tours of sections of Central Park. Details here.

5. Bryant Park

Bryant Park New York CityBryant Park is on 42nd street, just a few blocks from Times Square. In winter there’s an ice skating rink that’s free if you bring your own skates. Any time of year Bryant Park is just a lovely place to sit out and people watch. If you need to do any work, you can also step inside to the reading room at the next door NYC public library (ye,s the famous one). Hundreds of desks are equipped with laptop points and free wifi, all in a historic setting. Authors, and aspiring ones too, often go there for inspiration.

6. Free Friday nights at the Museum of Modern Art

Admission to MOMA is free on Fridays from 4pm till 8pm.  It’s better to go later as it’s less crowded. The normal adult rate is $25 so this is a great saving. It’s the perfect way to start your weekend in the city that never sleeps!

Kate of 30traveler writes a blog about travel beyond backpacking, featuring short and long trips with a focus on  vegan/vegetarian travel. Check it out or follow @30traveler onTwitter orFacebook.

What free activities do you recommend in New York?

Conner November 29, 2012 at 8:16 am

The Staten Island ferry is free and has a great view of the Statue of Liberty.

Michael December 3, 2012 at 11:28 pm

It’s one of the first things we did when we got back to the US. It’s funny how the boat tilts as everyone stands on the Statue of Liberty side to take in the view.

Fred Allen Barfoot November 29, 2012 at 9:50 am

Hey, guys, you’ve got to add the High Line! It’s a phenomenal success for locals as well as tourists, any time of year. Also, Bryant Park has free movies on a huge screen during the summer. Governors Island may soon be open regularly, and my visit there this summer was free and filled with activities. The just-opened FDR Four Foundations monument on Roosevelt Island in the East River is a powerful experience, which was free when I visited in September but it may require a charge after its “soft opening.”

Michael December 3, 2012 at 11:30 pm

My memory of Governor’s Island dates back several decades for an Army physical. Hope it’s more fun now. We definitely have to make it to the High Line.

Becki November 29, 2012 at 10:02 am

New York is one of those cities where I could spend hours just walking around and soaking up the atmosphere. I love to take people from out of town to Times Square, where we sit on the grandstand in the center of it all for a while and just absorb the activity swirling around us.

But I didn’t know about all the bookshop stuff-definitely going to check that out-Thanks!

Michael December 3, 2012 at 11:31 pm

We love Times Square. The hippest we felt was a few years ago when it was so late that Times Square was deserted. That doesn’t happen too often for us.

Steve November 29, 2012 at 10:14 am

Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to the promenade in Brooklyn Heights for the best view of lower Manhattan.

Michael December 3, 2012 at 11:32 pm

We got a picture of Little Rocky doing just that.

Thanks for checking in!

Barbara December 5, 2012 at 2:49 am

Hi Michael & Larissa,
I am going to admit to having spent very little time in NYC. I of course, would love to in the future.
How cool for seeing a shoooting of films & TV shows! When we were in Quebec, we would often stumble upon Radio Canada news crews quite reguarly in the streets.
Parks and gardens are always a freebie hit. I love hitting that free option button often.

Kate @ 30Traveler December 8, 2012 at 6:48 am

Thanks to those who took the time to comment on this post above, and thanks to Michael and Larissa for hosting it!

Loving the Danny Devito pic in the sidebar Larissa. One of my London highlights was seeing Stockard Channing in a play. Theater was tiny, stage wasn’t raised, and got to sit in the front row, so was pretty on top of her for the entire play. Super exciting!

Larissa December 8, 2012 at 8:17 am

Happy to have your post, Kate. It was a welcome addition to the site!

Danny DeVito was very gracious. We had just seen him in “The Sunshine Boys”, and he knows the Rocky/Philly phenomenon from his TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. He’s my new best friend 😉

Simion Alb February 5, 2016 at 6:50 pm

Thank you for the great suggestions !

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