12 Most Favorite, Fantastically-Free Things to Do in NYC
New York, New York — the city so nice they named it twice, also happens to be one of the more expensive places on earth. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Having lived and worked in The City (as NYC is known to locals) for many years, my favorite things to do have always been those not requiring expensive ticket purchases. I’m here to tell you why.
New York City inspires me, and in it, I am always a tourist. A friend of mine used to make note of how I would always walk through its streets as if it was my first time; looking up, down and around. Even when walking to work each day, I would take different routes in hopes of catching glimpses of and discovering things I hadn’t seen before. I was rarely let down.
Magnificent in the sun, New York City glistens as light bounces off the Chrysler Building, turning it into a shimmering upside-down icicle. But in the rain, the City is moody, magical, and every bit as special.
Here is proof that you can find endless entertainment there, no matter what the weather, without spending a lot of money:
1. Wander aimlessly
Exploring the City’s streets on foot is always an adventure. The diverse array of stores, art galleries, alleyways and nooks and crannies have given me some of my biggest kicks while living and working in Manhattan, not to mention some of my best photographs. Even with a young child in tow, the multitude of languages spoken, world music played and sights to behold is sure to stimulate all of our baby Einsteins.
Surprises at every turn, this is where one can do everything from strolling through Strawberry Fields as John and Yoko once did, to climbing the steps of Belvedere Castle, riding an antique carousel, jogging around the Reservoir, watching street performers of all types, roller-bladers and even the occasional passerby with a ten-foot boa constrictor. All the same day.
About a mile each way, this iconic bridge offers grand views. Walking it is like walking history. Both sides of the bridge have much to offer, with the South Street Seaport on the Manhattan side and Brooklyn Heights on the other. By the way, there is a separate level for walkers above the cars, so one need not worry too much about safety.
A treasure trove of books, both new and old, the Strand is nothing short of a New York City landmark. One can get lost in its stacks for hours during the day, only to exit when dark. Many people leave several pounds heavier, lugging giant bags packed with their newly-purchased discoveries. But sticking to the theme of “free”, you can do all your reading in the store.
Renowned as a place where busy commuters act out scenes of turbo-charged urban chaos on a daily basis, there are also hidden secrets lurking in its quieter corners. I have ventured behind the giant windows that make up the iconic facades at both ends, and walked across their thick glass floors. I have witnessed the “Whispering Gallery” in action, which is a nifty acoustical trick near the famed Oyster Bar & Restaurant. Along with a few other noteworthy restaurants and bars, the Station is also home to a wonderful gourmet market, several great stores, and the annual Holiday Market at which I have found many unique, handcrafted gifts over the years.
This new city oasis is an inspired idea, transforming areas once left to rot into a place of beauty and reflection. The old elevated railroad tracks on the west side have gone through a spectacular metamorphosis, not unlike the butterflies which inhabit its gardens. Now a park hovering 20 feet above the street, it is wonderfully designed with both places to wander and benches to sit and ponder. Within the nuanced urban landscaping, the artist’s hand is ever present, including the many sculptures and other works scattered about. This spot is a jewel to behold.
7. Find a street fair
Especially during the Summer months, street fairs in New York are as common as the yellow cabs themselves. I find the ethni-specific ones to be especially fascinating, as they have different wares being pedalled from the tents than the more ordinary street fairs and always new, interesting foods to experience.
8. Visit the Chelsea art galleries
Home to hundreds of galleries, this is where the most interesting art is found these days. The streets outside capture much of the same creativity energy you will find inside, except the art is directly on the walls, rather than hanging in front.
9. Rummage through Canal Street
From millions of strange little plastic doohickies, odd mechanical parts from an era gone by, mirrors of all shapes and sizes, every kind of art supply imaginable and just general bric-a-brac, Canal Street is a dizzying experience to behold. Bordering on Chinatown, one will also find Peking Ducks hanging in windows and fish so fresh, they at times jump right off the ice at the outdoor markets, sometimes even landing at your feet (happened to me!).
This great, massive institution can only be appreciated by experiencing it firsthand. Huge, dark and musty, it is a relic to times past. Outside in front, the steps are a popular place to take a breather and perhaps catch a mime doing his thing. In back, Bryant Park is another jewel of the City that must not be missed. A favorite lunch hour spot, it is a far cry from it’s less-than-spectacular past, when it was dark and dingy with drug dealing so rampant it was nicknamed “Needle Park”.
Located beneath the famed Brill Building, the Colony is another great place to get lost for awhile. With the feel of a flea market, it is just plain fun to rediscover music from the past; from records and CDs to sheet music and memorabilia. If you couldn’t find it someplace else, you will likely find it here. I once saw Dwight Gooden picking through the thousands of CDs — same as I, except I didn’t have to pitch that night’s game.
I never thought I’d be saying this, but sitting right in the middle of Times Square at an outdoor cafe is a safe, enjoyable experience. It is also a great way to feel the beat of the City at its heart, and watch the many different people go by. If you had tried doing this just a few years ago, you would have likely been run over by a car.
Now please understand, this is a post for 12 Most, but I could have easily also filled a list for 24 Most. Fortunately, there is plenty of room for comments below, and I look forward to seeing what your favorite, fantastically-free things are to do in NYC!
Photo Credit: Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN
Article by Paul Biedermann