Top 10 free things to do in Manhattan, New York
The city that doesn’t sleep isn’t cheap. In fact, you’ll find it hard to find free things to do, but here are 10 of our favourites.
Planning on going to New York? Well, as a gay traveller there are certain things you have to do, like visiting the Stonewall Inn or even planning a night out at the infamous Cock bar. But, if you’re on a budget here are some of our favourite things to do for free, or just the price of a drink, in one of the greatest cities in the world.
Staten Island Ferry
This is one of the go-to free things to do while in the city of New York. The 5.2-mile trip takes you right past the Statue of Liberty giving you an outstanding opportunity to take a full-on frontal picture of the great lady. The cruise takes about 25 minutes and runs every 15 to 30 minutes depending on the time of day. Many people disembark once arriving at Staten Island and get straight back on the boat for the return journey.
The Central Park Reservoir
On a sunny day, the 1.5-mile walk around Central Park’s reservoir will enliven the senses and make you feel like you’re a world away from the hustle and bustle of Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. It stretches from 86th to 96th Street (very close to the Guggenheim Museum).
The decommissioned reservoir holds over a billion US gallons of water and covers 106 acres. One of the best times of year to walk around the reservoir is when the cherry blossoms are blooming.
The High Line
Take a stroll along the disused and abandoned railway track set above the streets of Lower Manhattan. It’s a 1.45-mile walk which leads you through landscaped gardens over the roads. The High Line has been repurposed from a former railroad, which was created to ship goods from one part of the city to the other. It runs from 34th Street to Gansevoort Street, in the Meatpacking District. After “getting off” the high line, head for the Bus Stop Cafe on the corner of Bethune and Hudson for a spot of lunch.
Where it all began. The birth of the modern gay rights movement in the USA. Located in the gay/gay-friendly neighbourhood on Christopher Street, a trip to the famous Stonewall Inn should be high on your list of gay things to do in New York. Entry is free, but please do buy a drink and support this historic, legendary venue.
Situated outside the Stonewall Inn in the centre of Christopher Street is Christoper Park. Christopher Street is the oldest street in the West Village and in the 1970s became the “Main Street” of gay New York. Over the decades, numerous shops, bars and other businesses that cater for the LGBT community have populated the street. Make sure you get your photo at the Gay Street sign which coincidentally intersects with Christopher Street.
In Christopher Park, there’s a Gay Liberation Monument where numerous bonze statuses, covered in white lacquer sculptures commemorate the Stonewall Riots, which took place in 1969. It features four people. Two men and two women.
9/11 Memorial Park
A humbling experience awaits in the mass of skyscrapers at the lower end of Manhattan. This is where, in the footprints of the original World Trade Centre twin towers, you’ll find the names of nearly 3000 people, who died on September 11th, 2001, etched into bronze, on the outer rim of the two reflecting pools where the towers once stood. There is a museum as well. However, queue lines are long, and the entry ticket costs a whopping $44 each for admission and the tour. You can get significantly reduced entry by purchasing a New York CityPASS.
One of greatest attractions of New York is its buildings and where NYC is concerned, bigger is best. Across Manhattan, you’ll discover icon after icon. There’s the Empire State Building, The Rockefeller Center, Radio City, Carnegie Hall, New York Times, Times Square, The Chrysler Building, The United Nations building, One World Trade Center, the former PamAm building (now MetLife), The Guggenheim and Madison Square Gardens. The list goes on and on.
If you’ve ever watched Paris Is Burning, you’ll know that the piers played a considerable part in LGBT+ life in New York especially during the 70s, 80s and 90s. The dilapidated piers reaching out into the Hudson River became a hang out for those on the fringes of society. Some of the piers have been redeveloped and given a new lease of life. Take a walk to the piers at the end of Christopher Street. It’s not uncommon to find all manner of activities taking place, like dance classes or music to listen to.
This year’s pride parade takes place on the 24th June. Check out the parade route here.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
This famous bridge is well worth the walk – despite the crowds (apparently 10,000 people use the footbridge part every day). The views of Lower Manhattan from the centre are breathtaking. The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest bridges in the USA. It was finished in 1883 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. Look out for the 3500 bikers who use the bridge every day too. They aren’t particularly friendly towards pedestrians who walk on the cycle lane!
Once in Brooklyn make the short walk to Brooklyn Bridge Park for some impressive views of the waterway between Brooklyn and Manhattan and the famous NYC skyline.
Big Apple Greeter
Believe it or not, you can get a free walking tour with the Big Apple Greeter organisation, whose team of volunteers will show you New York in a totally personal light. You should request your greeter at least three to four weeks before your trip to New York. The Big Apple Greeter has a no tipping policy, but they do ask you to consider donating to help continue the non-profit service.
Marie’s Crisis Bar
Ask anyone where to go for a good night out that’s camp and gay and they’ll probably suggest this legendary piano bar, where show tunes and awesome singers are the promised offering. It’s a gay bar just off 7th Avenue behind Christopher Street on Grove Street. Be prepared for how busy it gets and bring cash for drinks and tips. We loved this Yelp review from Niall and it pretty much sums up this venue:
“While this is a gay bar it is also a musical bar. There are two types here; gays who love musicals and everyone else who loves musicals. If you are a member of either tribe you are family, if not, please keep it moving!”
How to get to NYC?
Wondering on the cheapest way to get to Manhattan after arriving from JFK – check out our guide here.
Our top tip is if you’re going to be a total tourist – which you totally should be in this magnificent city, then purchase yourself a CityPASS. It will give you access to numerous tourist destinations, like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty for 40 percent off. It costs around £96.27 and is well worth the price if you plan on visiting all of the destinations on offer.