Looking for free places to visit in New York City? Reed-Travel picks 7 free places to visit in New York City. From strolling through Central Park to the Art Deco buildings of the Rockefeller Centre.
1. Central Park
With great foresight, the founders of New York set aside 340 hectares (840 acres) of central Manhattan as a public space. Central Park officially opened in 1873. Today it provides an essential green lung within the concrete jungle that is New York. Originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. The park contains themed gardens, tennis courts, lakes, and even a small zoo. Much of the park is infused by the city’s bustle and on nice days it swarms with joggers, skaters, buskers, and tourists. There are areas beyond the range of baseballs and frisbees where tranquillity can be found in this beautifully landscaped park. It also hosts performances of everything from rock music to Shakespeare. During winter, two ice-skating rinks open up in Central Park. The Wollman Rink, found mid-Park at 62nd St, is one of the most picturesque in the world and set among the trees and rolling hills, against the backdrop of Manhattan’s skyscrapers.
2. Brooklyn Bridge
The sheer scope of New York City is hard to understand until you have traversed the Brooklyn Bridge. Inaugurated in 1883, it crosses 5,989 feet (1,825 m) of the East River and connects two of New York’s biggest metropoles, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. The construction of the bridge was an impressive feat of engineering ingenuity and upon completion it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Today, it is a treasured landmark of the city, colourfully illuminated at night to highlight the architectural towers and hangings. There is a pedestrian walkway from which visitors can savour vistas of both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Photographers looking for quintessential New York cityscapes should be sure to walk the bridge.
3. Times Square
Though it is ultimately just an intersection at the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street, Times Square has achieved iconic status. In a single frame, it successfully represents the hive of activity that is New York City. Flashing advertisement and huge billboards produce a headache-inducing but memorable sight. Times Square is used in countless films, televisions, programmes, and literature. It is the base for ABC’s Good Morning America programs and MTV’s popular Total Request Live. Thousands gather annually for New Year’s Eve in the square to see the famous ball-dropping ceremony. Since 2009, Times Square closed to traffic and visitors can now enjoy strolling and sitting at their leisure, not worrying about the city’s notorious taxis and bustling vehicles.
4. Staten Island Ferry
The ferry from Battery Park to Staten Island and back is a great way to see the Lower Manhattan skyline and Hudson River life while resting your feet. It’s a must-see New York attraction that doesn’t cost a thing. The ferry also skirts the Statue of Liberty affording decent views of this iconic structure. Most tourists stay on-board for the return leg, but it’s worth hopping off and exploring a bit of Staten Island while you’re there. Staten Island is a borough of New York City and a fun neighbourhood to explore, but the ferry journey, mainly used by commuters, is actually the main attraction. The ferry leaves roughly every 30 minutes or every hour and takes 25 minutes each way. Schedules are available on the official website.
5. Grand Central Station
One of New York’s most famous and best loved landmarks, Grand Central was opened in 1913 opposite Rockefeller Center. It is one of the world’s largest train stations, with 44 platforms, but its true distinction is its magnificent architecture. Its striking ambience, anchored by enormous windows and the refurbished ceiling, covered by a detailed astronomical fresco. The terminal houses a number of good restaurants, budget-friendly eateries, and speciality shops. The 12,000 sq ft Vanderbilt Hall regularly houses public events. Don’t miss the one-hour guided tour; book several weeks ahead in peak season to avoid disappointment. Grand Central sees about double the amount of visitors every day as it does commuters.
6. Coney Island
Coney Island has been a tourist attraction in New York City since the 1830s, when New Yorkers would flock to the beaches. Its movie theatres, amusement parks, museums, circus, aquarium, and restaurants still attract crowds each summer. Claiming to be the birthplace of the hotdog, a visit to Coney Island isn’t complete without sampling the yummy street food along the boardwalk. While filling one’s stomach, they can gaze upon the fireworks which light up the sky each Friday around 9.30pm. The activities and amusements at Coney Island are in full swing from May to September, but many attractions close outside these months. There is no accommodation on Coney Island, but it makes a great day out for the whole family.
7. Rockefeller Center
Named for the man who developed the space, the world’s first dollar billionaire, John D Rockefeller, this 22 acre (8ha) land houses a plethora of iconic New York City attractions. Radio City Music Hall used to be the most popular tourist venue in the city and still ranks highly among visitors. Radio City has hosted multiple awards shows such as the Grammies, Emmies and MTV Music Awards. It is also a concert venue frequented by today’s popular performers. The GE Building, the address for which the popular TV series 30 Rockis named, is the home to Saturday Night Live and the site from which the eerie ‘Lunchtime atop a skyscraper’ photograph was taken. At the base of the GE building is the Rockefeller Ice Rink with the golden statue of Prometheus at its head. Underneath Rockefeller Plaza is the Concourse, an underground pedestrian mall boasting designer brands and food outlets. Best views of New York City? The Rockefeller Center’s eight level viewing platform and the pinnacle of the Empire State building duke it out for top honours in this contest. The winner might be the Rock because it alone offers great views of the iconic Empire State building among its 360 degree vistas of the city below. There are both indoor and outdoor viewing areas, so it’s suitable to visit in all weather. The best and most popular time to visit is half an hour before sunset when one can experience both the day and night time views. Book ahead online and skip the queue for your slot.