New York: (Nearly) Free Things to See and Do

I went to NYC earlier this year. A few of you may have been keeping up with my constant stream of Instagram stories during my travels. And while it was absolutely bloody fantastic, it’s also expensive. Very very expensive.

So while I was living the solo backpacker life (keep those eyes peeled for upcoming posts) I had to think outside the box a bit. Instead of caning the rooftop cocktail bars, I decided to see if I could make my money last that bit longer by trying out a few free attractions in Manhattan.

If you haven’t been to New York before, there’s no doubt that you’ll still want to do all the main hotspots, but if you’re looking for a budget-friendly trip, you can still make the most of your time without spending a single cent. If anything, it pushes you away from the crowds of Times Square to something a bit more authentic.

So here’s some tried and tested options for you, some more famous than others. I’m planning another trip to New York at some point in the not too distant future, so if you have any of your own recommendations please give me a shout!

Chelsea Market

This fast became my favourite hang-out, despite being insanely busy during lunch hours.

It’s a definite treat to road test some of the culinary delights of the market- they have everything from crepes to sushi to currywurst. I’d highly recommend Amy’s Bread for a cheeky breakfast sesh, as the cream cheese bagels are beyond sublime.

If you’re strapped for cash though, test out a few free samples and indulge in a spot of window shopping. You can still easily spend an entire afternoon browsing the independent shops and soaking up the atmosphere. Make sure you pay a visit to Mok Bar for pure aesthetic thrills.

Music Inn World Instruments

I absolutely implore you to give this place a visit. It’s been nestled in Greenwich Village since 1958, and has built a reputation as one of the most eminent shops in NYC.

Originally opening as a record shop, The Music Inn began to acquire a small hoard of guitars by local musicians. The shop’s owner, Jerry Halpern, had a particular interest in African music and instruments, and soon broadened his musical supplies to include percussion. In the end, there were more instruments than records. It now resembles something as an Aladdin’s cave, crammed from floor to ceiling with an exotic array of instruments that the staff will fully encourage you to try out.

The Music Inn has welcomed a steady stream of famous visitors, including the likes of Bob Dylan and John Lennon (Bob Dylan actually lived just a few doors down from the shop at one point). Be sure to ask the current owner, Jeff Slatnick, about the shop’s colourful past. He’s delightfully bonkers, and will entertain you with stories whilst teaching you about various instruments.

The shop also plays host to live music events, poetry slam nights, and impromptu parties. Jeff may even invite you to come and stay if you make a good impression.

The High Line

The High Line is a public park that’s built on an elevated freight rail line, giving you excellent views of the streets below. Make sure you take a decent camera with you, as you’ll get some quality shots of Manhattan’s Insta-worthy West Side.

Running from Hudson’s Yard to Chelsea, it’s a great way to take in the sights of the city and explore new neighbourhoods. It also functions as a kind of hybrid space full of plants and cutting-edge exhibitions from local artists, so there’s plenty to get involved with along the way.

It takes approximately half an hour to complete the full line. It can take much longer if you’re stopping for photos though (it took me nearly an hour in the end) and be aware that the platforms can get super busy during the Summer months.

Central Park

An obvious one I know, but still worth mentioning because it’s great.

If you haven’t visited NYC before, there are plenty of free walking tours that take you through the highlights of the park while learning about its history.

The park itself stretches across an impressive 843 acres, spanning from 59th Street to 110th Street from Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. In essence, its bloody massive, so you can easily spend a good couple of days here if you’re keen to escape the crowds. Go for a wander around the lake, admire the architecture at Bethesda Terrace, or take in the buskers and street performers. I usually favoured Cherry Hill when I visited, as it has picturesque views and quiet surroundings. Take a good book and a picnic and you’re good to go.

The New York Public Library

This was the place I probably spent most of my time. The building itself is on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Street, and is an absolute wonder to behold. Immerse yourself in the Beaux-Arts style architecture, or take a look at the library’s latest exhibitions and showcases.

The library houses world-renowned collections in humanities, social sciences and fine arts, and is one of the NYPL network’s four research centres. You can also visit the library after hours for specialist events, so be sure to check their calendar if you’re in the city.

As an avid reader and lover of all things literature, this was a personal highlight. You’re free to wander around the halls and divisions as you please, but you’ll have to be quiet when visiting the reading rooms.

This is just a small selection of cent-saving options available to you in NYC, so don’t be afraid to veer off the beaten track and explore new areas. It is the most sprawling, diverse, and downright fantastic city I’ve ever visited, so do free to drop me a line if you fancy adding a few more recommendations to your itinerary.

By the way, it’s my first post for a while. Cheers for sticking around.

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