One of my favourite parts in the Stepbrothers movie starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly is when they stack their bunk beds on top of each and then jump excitedly around the room stating “there’s so much room for ACTIVITIES!”
Guys, I can relate. I too, love activities. What is better then, than free activities? There is no doubt that New York is an expensive city. Relieve some of the cost by doing free activities and saving your money for all of the delicious food that NY has to offer.
Afternoon stroll: Central Park
Evening activity: Times Square
Early morning boat ride: Staten Island Ferry
Not to miss: 9/11 Memorial
Afternoon stroll: Brooklyn Bridge
Early morning kayak: The Downtown Boathouse
Not to miss: Grand Central Station
Afternoon stroll: The Highline
Ahhh, the classic New York Experience. There are SO MANY WAYS to enjoy this Manhattan feature: walking the paths, taking selfies with the features, watching the rowboats on the lake and the sailboats in the fountain… Don’t waste the whole weekend putting it off, because you might enjoy the park so much that you decide to come back the next day!
Central Park lives up to the hype and is 150% worth an afternoon (or five) exploring all that the park has to offer. BE PREPARED: the park is huge. And I mean HUGE. It is so big that it has 2 police stations inside. I didn’t realize that I could not only get truly lost in the park but actually get search and rescue lost in the park.
We rented bikes in an effort to see the whole park (worth it) and did the bike loop around the exterior in just under an hour. The bike paths made for some nice easy riding around the park, but beware the giant hill at the North West corner of the park, which was appropriately titled “The Big Hill.” I’m pretty sure my husband thought that I had gotten lost on the way (a true possibility).
Impossible to visit but not to miss, Times Square is as wild in person as it is in photos. The advertisements are really something to witness. Big, bright, and all around, make sure to catch the glittering New Year’s ball high above all the rest. Watch the buskers and the crowds, and be sure to peek into some cool places, like the Disney, M&M or Lego Store.
I was personally overwhelmed and underwhelmed by Times Square all at the same time. There are so many people that it takes forever just to cross the street, and you are packed like sardines at every photo stop. I do believe that you need to see it to believe it, but come with patience and adjusted expectations.
Staten Island Ferry
A fun, free activity for the whole family! Who doesn’t love a good boat ride, especially when there is so much to see? Hop on, cruise by, and be sure to take a couple pics of Lady L.
When you ride the Staten Island Ferry, you will HAVE to get off at Staten Island. Not to worry, you will be able to turn around and hop right back on. The funniest part is that everyone else is also doing this so….just follow the crowds! A quick loop around the station and you will be back in business heading to Manhattan.
What the MTA does not recommend: if you are a tourist and are visiting during the week, please do NOT attempt this during commuting hours (between 7-9 am and between 3 and 5 pm). The ferry runs every 30 minutes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so you have many more opportunities to ride the ferry for fun without attempting to navigate the hordes of people trying to get to work.
Regardless of where you are staying in the city, you will have to take the Red Line 1 all the way down to the Bowling Green station. You can literally walk out of the station and into the Ferry terminal.
Time spent on this activity: 25-minute ride there, 25-minute ride back. One hour of free fun!
The disaster that put the World Trade Centre on the map, the 9/11 Memorial is on the same footprint as the original Twin Towers. These gorgeous pools were chosen as the winner of the design competition from more than 5,200 submissions. The waterfalls affect both your visual and auditory senses, the soothing sounds working with the vast size of the plaza.
The 9/11 Museum and Memorial complement each other nicely. While the Museum examines the deaths of the fallen, the Memorial honors their lives. They even place a rose in the engraved name when it is their birthday, a nice gesture that adds beauty to the memorial. If you decide to spend the money, I would recommend the 9/11 Museum as well.
That iconic picture of the symmetrical cables is an Instagram favourite, but crossing the Brooklyn Bridge will be a harder feat than you anticipated. The bridge span is over a MILE (almost two kilometres) long, and that doesn’t count the distance you walk from the subway station or, the distance you walk on the other side when you head to what I assume is DUMBO park.
Please, oh, please, do not attempt to cross the Brooklyn Bridge under the scorching hot sun in the middle of summer. There are no drink stations (or shade!), and you will most likely be tired from a lot of walking that day already. Come prepared with water, snacks, and lots of time to rest if necessary when making this trek across the river.
Upon arrival in Brooklyn, you will have to keep to the left of the fork in the path to head in the direction of DUMBO, which, in case you didn’t know, is the acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. This is also a location of iconic Instagram photos if you are into that sort of thing.
Kayaking on the Hudson River
Possibly the MOST FUN thing I did this weekend. Paddling out on the water is amazing no matter where you are, but it is a whole other experience to paddle around the pier and look at both the Manhattan and New Jersey skylines.
Located at Pier 26, I cannot say enough good things about this program at the Downtown Boathouse. They provide boats, life jackets, and even a free locker for your belongings so you can truly enjoy the experience. They do run strictly on donations so if you have a great time, be sure to leave them something so others can continue to participate in the future.
This program was started in an effort to have more people interact with the Hudson River and it has been wildly successful. The waterfront is still busy with barges, ferries and tour boats, but this little pocket of Manhattan brings a calm vacation vibe to the city. You can check out more information on their website at Kayaking at the Hudson River Park.
Grand Central Station
The third Grand Central to occupy the site, this station, which opened in 1913, cost the equivalent of $2 billion in today’s dollars, and you can tell. Decorated in a Beaux-Arts design, the clock in the main concourse alone is valued at 10 million.
Grand Central is considered one of the ten most visited tourist attractions. Covering an area of 48 acres, it is the largest railway station in the world.
In all truthfulness, this is the stuff of movies. Although I didn’t happen to see a flash mob while I was there, I did see many people reuniting with others. The station definitely lives up to its meeting place reputation!
The High Line
Evidently you are getting a lot of exercise this weekend, as the High Line is another almost-2-mile hike. Built on an old railway line, this park extends from the Whitney Museum of American Art to the Hudson Yards Railway Station. We hopped on the High Line after having lunch in Chelsea Market and headed north.
The High Line is easily separated into two parts – the foliage/park section and the exposed section. We did both (didn’t go all the way to New York to do something halfway!), but there is an obvious sign at West 30th Street if you wish to skip the last bit. The exposed section of the High Line loops around Hudson Yards and proves to be more difficult due to lack of shade, no park benches and wind from the river.
The High Line is a great afternoon walk and is known for its beautiful views. You can catch gorgeous views of the river and views of some iconic landmarks while strolling through this park.
BONUS: Roosevelt Island Tram
This one may not technically be free, but it is included in the unlimited Metro Pass, so if you plan on buying the 7 or 30-day pass, be sure to include this activity. How often do you have the opportunity to ride a cable car above New York City?
There is no air conditioning in the tram, but it was surprisingly cool. They open the windows and there is a nice breeze coming across the East River. It was much better than we had anticipated (which was basically a greenhouse in the air).
Like the Staten Island Ferry, there will be some people who will hop off, head around the platform and hop right back on. We did this, and it was no problem. But BEWARE! Since the tramway is only a 10-minute ride, you will need to pay attention to the time at which you swiped your Unlimited Metro Pass. It will only (supposedly) work 18 minutes after your last swipe. This is to prevent more than one person using the Unlimited Pass. My husband had a hunch that this may only be the case if you attempt it at the same station twice as we didn’t have any issues.
I traveled here in August 2018. As always, be sure to check your country’s travel advisories before booking any trips or excursions. You can check out the Canadian opinion here.
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