You do not need me to tell you that New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world. It is also (IMO) one of the greatest cities in the world and as with all amazing cities, there are of course loads of free things to do so you do not have to worry about a trip to The Big Apple breaking the bank – especially if the bank is already broken after having bought all your Christmas presents.
Lewis and I headed to NYC last weekend to see Bon Iver (which certainly was not free or cheap) and as we had both already done the major tourist stuff before, our agenda was simply to discover some new areas, soak up the Christmas spirit and have a jolly good time (all the while not spending too much money). So here are my top five free things to do in New York City that we did during a whirlwind 48 hours in the city. My New York vlog is coming this Sunday to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL so watch out for that!
1. The High Line & Greenwich Village
In the quest of finding the alternative sights of Manhattan, on Saturday morning we took ourselves to W34th St where begins The High Line – a 2.5km stretch of old railway tracks which have been converted into a green (in the summer) walkway above the gorgeous area of Chelsea. It was amazing to get a different view of the city, being slightly raised up, and there are lots of interesting buildings to see, both old and new. We strolled until W16th St where we gave into our cold toes and went to Chelsea Market to warm up and grab a bagel.
From Chelsea Market we headed to the neighbouring Greenwich Village which has fast become my favourite area of Manhattan so far. Although it is still full of people, it feels less intense than further uptown thanks to the smaller buildings and neighbourhood vibe. If you are a Friends fan you have to stop off at Grove and Bedford to see the building where they supposedly lived, although once you walk about the area you will see how unrealistic that actually was! It was a lovely weekend activity and if you are tired after all that walking, I would recommend John’s of Bleecker Street pizza which we had on the Friday night and it was delicious!
2. Central Park
Ok I know that Central Park is a very obvious must-do in New York City but as strolling through a beautiful park is one of my favourite free things to do on holiday, I just had to include it. We were both so excited to see that ice rink that has been in so many films and it is just such a stunning setting with the backdrop of skyscrapers. There are lots of other things to see and do in the park if you are not there during the festive season such as visiting Strawberry Fields, strolling through Bethesda Terrace and boating on the lake!
3. See the lights
There is no doubt about it that New York is made so special by its lights and being there just before Christmas, we were treated to even more lights. As dusk fell on Central Park, we headed south on Fifth Avenue towards to famous Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. On our way we got distracted by the endless but beautiful shop window displays and an impressive light show on the front of Saks Fifth Avenue. It is all about the tree though – it is seriously surreal standing in front of that iconic tree, watching the ice skaters below and getting that inevitable feeling of being in a film.
If you are in New York at any other time of year, never fear – head to Times Square after nightfall for your fix of lights. I know Times Square is a super obvious “travel tip” but as a girl who finds more beauty in raw, bustling cities than serene countryside, the lights of Times Square are simply unmissable.
4. Views from Brooklyn
It is always so tempting to spend all the time in Manhattan because it is staggering, breathtaking and iconic, however the other boroughs of New York City should not be forgotten. Although I still feel that I have only scratched the surface in my exploration of Brooklyn, we made sure to give this quirky part of NYC the time it deserves. We were actually staying in Kensington, Brooklyn right next to Greenwood Cemetery and just south of Prospect Park, which are another two amazing free things to visit that go under the radar. On our last day, we went up to the ever-so-hip Williamsburg which boasts not only some cracking brunch places (check out EGG) and shops but also an incredible view of Manhattan. I would also recommend walking over Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan at dusk to get a great view of the city lighting up for the night.
5. Friday evenings at MoMA
Thanks to stumbling into Uniqlo to check out their thermals – glamourous, I know – we found out that MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art), in collaboration with Uniqlo, is free on Friday evenings between 4pm and 8pm. I remember going to MoMA on my first trip to New York when I was sixteen and loving it so I was excited to spontaneously go again, while avoiding the usual 25$ admission fee. We only had time to do one floor so we headed straight for the 1960s where I had expected to see a lot more Andy Warhol than there actually was. It was still amazing though and backs up what I already knew – that the sixties was just simply the best for all things art, fashion and music. So if you are in New York on a Friday evening, I highly recommend catching a bit of culture at Uniqlo’s free Friday evenings at MoMA before heading for dinner and/or drinks elsewhere in the city.