Offbeat New York

Free Attractions and Tours

Think you can't get something for free in New York City? Here are some of the wonderful and free tours and attractions available in New York City

Read about MORE free tours and attractions

Free Attractions

Central Park
One of New York's gem parks everyone knows there are free performances, a skating rink, a boat basin, miles of trails and delightful suprises. But there are also Central Park Conservancy Tours that allow visitors to discover the park's history, ecology, and design on free, volunteer-led walking tours. There are garden tours, history of the park tours, Belvedere Castle tours and more. Something doing almost every day. But if you enjoy it, do consider supporting the excellent work of the Conservancy. Plus! The Dana Discovery Center (212-860-1370) in the northeast corner of Central Park will lend you a pole for an afternoon of catch-and-release fishing in the Harlem Meer, a beautiful lake also frequented by numerous species of wild birds. Take advantage of the center's educational workshops for children, or grab a pair of binoculars and sharpen your bird-watching eye. The center is free to all and is open daily, April to October, from 10am to 5pm (4pm in winter).

City Hall
It's the oldest City Hall in the nation that still houses its original governmental functions, and considered one of the finest architectural achievements of the early 1800s designed in the Federal style, with clear French influences.

Featuring a formal staircase that sweeps up to the one-story portico fronting the building, the Governor’s Room has served as a museum and reception room celebrating the civic history of New York and the nation. It houses one of the most important collections of 19th century American portraiture as well as historic furnishings, including pieces by Charles Christian and Honoré Lannuier, and other notable artifacts, such as George Washington’s desk. Many distinguished guests have visited the Governor’s Room, including the Marquis de Lafayette and Albert Einstein. The Room hosted President-elect Abraham Lincoln in 1861 and then served as the backdrop for his coffin in 1865 as he lay in state. For more information call 212-NEW-YORK.

Fashion Institute of Technology
Phone: 212-217-5800

shows off thousands of designer costumes and accessories, fabrics from around the world and the work of renowned fashion photographers in the institute's free museum.

Federal Hall National Memorial
26 Wall Street
Ranger Desk (212) 825-6888

One of Downtown's most historic landmarks, has reopened to the public after a 16-month, $16 million restoration. The Birthplace of American Government -- It was here on the corner of Broad and Wall Street, that General George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States. Home to the first congress, supreme court, and executive offices, the original Federal Hall was trully the birthplace of the current government of the United States. The current structure, a Greek revivial style Customs House, later served as part of the US Sub-Treasury. The building still serves the Federal Government as a museum and memorial to the first president and the beginnings of the United States of America. For more information visit NPS.gov/FEHA.

Forbes Magazine Galleries
62 Fifth Avenue (at 12th Street)
Tuesday – Saturday (Thursdays - group tours only)
10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Phone: 212 206-5548

Enjoy toy boats -- over 500 tin, cast iron and paper lithograph toy boats, and soldiers -- inch-high Aztecs and conquistadors, Indians encircled by a stagecoach, bands marching, knights jousting, and doughboys fighting mock battles. Of particular interest is the collection of Monopoly® games including Monopoly® game’s forerunner, the Landlord’s Game (1920); Charles Todd’s rendition introducing Atlantic City street names (1932); and Charles Darrow’s homemade set (1933). Guided tours of the collection are available free of charge, but reservations must be made one month in advance.

Gracie Mansion
89th Street & East End Avenue
New York, NY 10128

Museum Administered by: Gracie Mansion Conservancy
Open to the public:
End of March through mid-November:
Tours on Wednesdays, by reservation only.
For more information, call (212) 570-4751.
In 1799, a prosperous New York merchant named Archibald Gracie decided to build a country house overlooking a bend in the East River. At the time, the location he selected was five miles north of the City that was clustered at the lower tip of Manhattan. However, two decades later, his finances took a turn for the worse and Gracie had to sell his house to Joseph Foulke. Eventually the City of New York appropriated the estate in 1896, incorporating its 11 acres of grounds into the newly-formed Carl Schurz Park.

The building itself didn't fare very well, ending up as a concession stand and restrooms for the park. Happily, Gracie Mansion was restored and became the first home of the Museum of the City of New York, then a historic house museum run by the Parks Department. Parks Commissioner Robert Moses convinced City authorities to designate it as the official residence of the Mayor, and in 1942, Fiorello H. La Guardia moved in. The house was enlarged in 1966 with the addition of the Susan E. Wagner Wing, which includes a grand ballroom and two intimate reception rooms.

Restoration in 2002 transformed it into the People's House with increased accessibility to the public and to City agencies. Today the Gracie Mansion Conservancy is a private not-for-profit corporation established to preserve, maintain and enhance Gracie Mansion - one of the oldest surviving wood structures in Manhattan and a member of The Historic House Trust. The main floor is open to the public and is a showcase for art and antiques created by New York designers, cabinetmakers, painters and sculptors. Several pieces belonged to the Gracie family. At the center of the faux-marble entryway floor, a painted compass recalls the ships that built the Gracie fortune.

Grand Central Terminal
The Municipal Art Society offers a free tour of the magnificent Beaux-Arts Grand Central Terminal Wednesdays at 12:30pm. Tours depart from Grand Central Terminal''s information booth. Although the tour is free, consider making a donation (they do pass a hat at the very end) to support their excellent work. Learn more about GST and the Municipal Art Society. Learn more about the tour and the history at Grand Central Terminal.

The Juilliard School
Yes, it's a New York icon for great performers in training, but it's also a great venue for free performances. And a great library for rare and special collections. The Peter Jay Sharp Special Collections Room are the following includes hundreds of individual manuscript scores and autograph letters including two songs by Johannes Brahms, almost 200 first and early editions of Franz Liszt’s original piano works, transcriptions, and arrangements. As for the free performances -- check the website for what's new and free.

National Museum of the American Indian
One Bowling Green
New York, NY 10004
Phone 212-514-3700

Part of the Smithsonian Institution, it is said to be the largest collection in the world devoted to North, Central, and South American Indian cultures. Opened in October 1994, the George Gustav Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian is in lower Manhattan at the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, a truly gorgeous building on the water. Permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as public programs — including music and dance performances, films, and symposia. Admission is free.

New York Public Library
42nd Street and Fifth Avenue

The majestic Beaux Arts building opened in 1911 with over one million books available to the public. Besides admiring the building (inside and outside), the Library offers some wonderful biblio treats. Free exhibits, concert, films and other special events in Bryant Park which has become one of midtown's best urban parks.

Socrates Sculpture Park
21-01 Vernon Boulevard at Broadway
Long Island City, NY 11106
Phone: 718 956-1819

Socrates Sculpture Park, a free outdoor museum located on the East River, presents exhibitions of sculpture and multimedia installations as well as a variety of community events and an outdoor summer film series with impressive Manhattan views. Open daily until sunset.

Sony Wonder Technology Lab
550 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10022
Phone 212-833-8100

A hands-on communication technology and entertainment museum for all ages. Admission to the Lab is free to be enjoyed by both adults and children. Occupying four floors and 14,000 square feet, from the very beginning visitors know this is something special. In the lobby there’s an robot who actually interacts with the children waiting to enter the Lab. It’s not until later in the visit that the secret is revealed. The robot is actually controlled by an unseen master using goggles and gloves to make the robot an extension of operator’s own body.

Visitors start at the fourth floor by logging into the computer network. The sophisticated computer system records your face and voice when you first log in (all of the logs are wiped clean every evening) and codes it on a plastic card you swipe at each of the exhibits. This enables the personalization of their displays. Walking along the history of communication bridge for example, which provides 150 years of communication and entertainment history, you may see your face on the video displays. Although all the exhibits are fun and informative, there is a particularly special experience called Shadow Garden and Sand Interactive. A very long and fancy name for playing with shadows, with a twist. Visitors stand in front of a translucent wall which displays the image of cascading nuggets. But the wall interacts with shadows cast by visitors, and the sand nuggets accumulate on visitors’ shadows, pooling on shoulders, heaping in cupped hands. Soon visitors discover that they can link shadows and strangers learn to work together to pass the sand back and forth. There’s also movies screened in their High Definition television theater. All exhibits are wheelchair accessible and the Lab also offers American Sign Language tours. Reservations for these ASL tours are available for individual families and groups.

Staten Island Ferry runs 24 hours a day and is free at all times. Enjoy the ride to and from Staten Island and Lower Manhattan, the visit to Staten Island, and the spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, New York harbor and the Statue of Liberty. Ferry information: 718-815-BOAT.

Trinity Church
Broadway at Wall Street
Phone: 212-602-0872

Explore their museum and experience the rich history of Trinity Church. Tours take place 7 days a week at 2 pm. There is an additional tour following the 11:15 Holy Eucharist every Sunday. For groups of 5 or more to arrange your tour. Admission is free.

Tweed Courthouse
The Old New York County Courthouse, better known as Tweed Courthouse, is the legacy of Tammany Hall boss William M. Tweed, who used the construction of the building in the mid 1800s to embezzle large sums from the budget. Boss Tweed was tried in 1873 in an unfinished courtroom in this building and was convicted and jailed. After the Tweed Ring was broken up, work stopped on the building from 1872 to 1876. Construction progressed slowly after the Tweed years, and it was not until 1881 that the building was finally completed.

In 1999, a comprehensive restoration began to return Tweed to its original grandeur and today Tweed is home to the Department of Education. The first floor features the City Hall Academy, which serves approximately 200 elementary and middle school students each day from schools throughout the City. The school offers public school children an inter-disciplinary approach to the study of New York City and its history.

Winter Garden
Enjoy concerts and dance performances under palm trees at the World Financial Center's Winter Garden a stunning, glass-enclosed shopping and business complex on Lower Manhattan's waterfront.

Free Tours

Brooklyn Brewery
The Brooklyn Brewery offers free tours on Saturday (yes, there's a tasting included) starting at 1 PM. Hey, it's genuine New York City beer, who could resist?

Union Square Tours
On Saturdays at 2pm, take a free walking tour offered by the 14th Street-Union Square Business Improvement District including stops at New York's first film studios, opera houses, grand theaters and nickelodeons, "Ladies' Mile" and Union Square Park. Call first at 212-460-1204

NYC by Foot These free tours are offered by a group of young (and young at heart) licensed tour guides with the goal to provide short, fun and high energy walking tours at a price everyone can afford: FREE. They offer two tours. The Lower Manhattan tour takes place every day at 10am and the Midtown Manhattan tour takes place every day at 2pm. Check the website for more information.


For more information on the three city-owned buildings vist the Official New York City website: www.nyc.gov/visitors.

 
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