Give Your Weary Wallet a Rest and Enjoy Free NYC
By Courtney Sunday
New York and Toronto Local Expert
You could spend all day, every day, walking around New York City and still not get bored, seeing only a fraction of what the city has to offer. This list will guide you through some of the treasured locations that tell a different, fascinating NYC story. Even better, they won't make a dent in your pocketbook, having the rare New York City price of free.
This list of attractions will take you to must-see staples such as Central Park, Times Square and the Staten Island Ferry. These locations are vital parts of New York history that amaze and educate both the inquisitive visitor and the jaded local. The architecture is mind boggling and the familiar history is exciting.
It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the big lights of Manhattan. A list such as this one is a good way to narrow your options, yet keep your schedule bursting with activity, culture and the communities that present their own unique points of view.
With so much great stuff to see for free, you might be tempted to leave your wallet at home, unless you plan on refuelling with some food, which we are sorry to say will probably cost you a little more than nothing. There is only so much that we can do.
"You can't leave New York. You're the Chrysler building!" claimed Carrie to her on-again, off-again beau in Sex and The City. That was quite a compliment, as the Chrysler building is one of the most famous buildings in New York. It was even the tallest building for a brief 11 months prior to the Empire State building. Except for the glorious shiny steel needle crowning the structure, some would characterize the brick exterior of the building as simple. Don't be fooled: the lobby is exquisite. Beautiful marble work, elevator doors displaying rare wood marquetry and chrome stair banisters make this 77-story, 1,048-foot building a beauty all its own. A mixture of city history and the building's magnificence keep this a beloved treasure. (212-682-3070)
The Coney Island website declares that it is "defending the honor of American popular culture." American popular culture sure is diverse. With a history of destruction and rebuilding efforts, Coney Island is an example of fortitude. The popular theme park was originally built between 1880 and WWII, providing the illusion of a proper vacation for those who couldn't travel too far from Manhattan. Three of the rides that exist today (which are far more modern than 1880) are protected as designated New York City landmarks. Although the theme park does cost, other activities in the area, such as the 4km beach and the surrounding Riegelmann Boardwalk, are free. A walk with a picnic is a great way to enjoy the sweltering summer.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
Serving as New York's seat of the archbishop, this gothic-style building has distinct American features while maintaining a European feel in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. New York architect James Renwick, also known for designing "The Castle" (the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC), completed work on the church in 1879. Renwick also designed the New York Public Library and the former facade of the New York Stock Exchange. The largest church in New York, St. Patrick's seats over 2,000. New Yorkers consider the cathedral's steps a good, scenic meeting spot. Download the Cathedral Tour App in advance for a self-guided audio tour narrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and rector Msgr. Robert Ritchie. (212-753-2261)
New York Public Library
Even if going to a library isn't on your list of "must see" attractions back home, be sure to make an exception for the New York Public Library. This system holds one of the world's largest and most comprehensive collections. Books, periodicals, maps, videos, CD-ROMs, musical scores and other electronically formatted items make up the more than 52 million items currently being held. Special collections include art and architecture, print, photography, rare books, manuscripts and archives. The library also hosts special events, exhibits, instruction and classes (adult literacy, Internet workshops, etc.). In addition to beautiful gotham-style architecture, the New York public library is also the site of classic scenes from the movie Ghost Busters. (212-930-0830)
Socrates Sculpture Park
Socrates Sculpture Park was founded in 1986 to provide artists with the opportunities and the space to exhibit large-scale sculptures and multi-media presentations. In this unique outdoor environment, trees are dwarfed by the results of creative expression. Prior to 1986, the location was an illegal dumpsite. Artist Mark di Suvero transformed it into an open studio but the space has expanded from there. During the summer, crowds gather for everything from kite flying events to circus performances. Free yoga classes are designed for every level and there is even an eight-week outdoor cinema program that celebrates the cultural diversity of Queens. (718-956-1819)
Built primarily during the Great Depression, Rockefeller Center has been the backdrop for countless Hollywood films (including Gone With The Wind) as well as memorable vacations. John D. Rockefeller Jr's vision was to build a "city within a city" with expansive art deco demonstrating Rockefeller's belief that art itself is an act of global citizenship. Walk around and marvel at the sculptures and famous buildings like Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Plaza. Although some of the major attractions do cost, walking around this slice of New York City is a free way to get exercise and some great photos. Rockefeller believed in "the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Pursue your happiness at full throttle by visiting in December to get into the Christmas spirit. (212-332-6868)
Grand Central Terminal
Said to be "Manhattan's only remaining great gateway," Grand Central Terminal (not "station" as it is often mistakenly called) is a magnificent example of art meeting functionality. The Beaux Arts facade that stretches along 42nd Street features a beautiful clock and crowning statues of Minerva, Mercury and Hercules. Inside the terminal, a vast blue ceiling twinkles with fiber optic lighting depicting the zodiac constellations, while one level below, sixty railroad tracks transport over 500,000 commuters a day. Since the building's revitalization, Grand Central has enticed visitors and locals alike, with quick bites and delicacies located in the Grand Central Market, fine cuisine in the Dining Concourse and free arts events in Vanderbilt Hall. Walking around could easily turn into a day's excursion. (212-532-4900, 212-340-2345)
For nearly a century, the brightest lights, the biggest music, the longest parties and all the star power you could ask for have stemmed from along a few blocks of a street called Broadway. Some of the hardest working performers converge here in the Great White Way for the chance to entertain the world. At one time, this area was a haven for decadence. Seedy sex shops and peep shows infested the area until a successful revitalization effort and the arrival of tenants like David Letterman paved the way for a new Times Square. Now, it's one of the most influential theater districts in the world. Times Square also hosts the largest New Year's Eve celebration in the country. Half a million people flock to the square every year to bid the old year goodbye and to welcome in the New Year, New York party style. (212-768-1560)
Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry had the pragmatic purpose of transporting people between Manhattan and its boroughs, before any bridges were in place. Now, there may be other options, but the 5-mile, 25-minute ride grants spectacular views that are all the more spectacular because they are free. Leaving Manhattan, gaze at the most enduring symbol of the city, the Statue of Liberty, ahead on the right, with the sleek Verrazano-Narrows Bridge dominating the left. Skyscrapers in lower Manhattan fade into the distance and assume postcard dimensions of grandeur behind you. It is New York, even America, at its best, a truly thrilling experience.
Grab a book or a hot dog and head into this oasis within a busy city. Walk, take a pedicab, rent a bike or even ride in a horse-drawn carriage through Central Park's 843 acres. Attractions such as the Central Park Zoo, carousel, various statues, 21 playgrounds, 2 ice skating rinks and other sporting facilities make this a draw for tourists and residents alike. Let's not forget about the greenery: there are over 21,500 trees and seasonal blooming plants in Central Park. Take a volunteer-led walking tour sponsored by the Central Park Conservancy. Download the Central Park App for easier navigation. (212-360-3456)
About Courtney Sunday
Courtney Sunday lived in Canterbury, England and Luzern, Switzerland before returning to Toronto in 2010. Yoga teaching and freelance writing became her full-time professions, as she learned the true meaning of the statement: "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." Courtney now divides her time between Philadelphia and Toronto. She loves the cafe culture of both cities and the ever-expanding group of foodies. When not leading small yoga teacher trainings around the globe she explores her cities by foot: www.courtneysunday.com, @Omathomeyoga.
Read more about Courtney Sunday here.