Free Things To Do in New York
The Big Apple is every solo girl’s dream. This vibrant city will have you lost in movie-scene nostalgia, in a shopping frenzy at famous department stores, and at dizzying heights at the top of world-renowned landmarks.
But spending time here can come with a price-tag as high as the Empire State Building. For those penny conscious solos amongst us, here is the best way to spend 24 hours in New York on a budget.
Getting from the Airport
New York City isn’t a city where you’ll need to drive due to its great Metro system and famous yellow taxis. From JFK airport you can take a train to New York Penn Station for approximately $12, changing at Jamaica. There's also a NYC Express Bus for $20 each way. A taxi costs from $50 depending on where you are staying in the city or pre-book an airport transfer if you prefer to have someone waiting at the airport for you.
9am – 10am. Grand Central Station
It may seem strange to begin your day in one of the world’s greatest cities but this Grand Central Terminal has movie-star status, having appeared in movies such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, amongst others. Grand Central Terminal is the busiest train station in America. It’s huge!
You can do tours here which come at a price but this historic landmark is free to just look around and admire the painted constellations on the high ceilings. If you’re a film buff you may recognise it from the flash dance scene in the movie Friends With Benefits.
- Find it at: 89 E. 42nd Street (at Park Avenue), New York, NY 10017
- Opens at: 5.30 am – 2.00 am
- Costs: Free (a tour is an additional $25)
- Website: Grand Central Terminal
11am – 1pm. Times Square
Just fifteen minutes on foot are the neon lights of Times Square. Named so after the New York Times headquarters moved there. With giant adverts adorning buildings and over-the-top glitz, Times Square is a tourist attraction in itself and you won’t feel as though you’ve truly experienced New York City without visiting this vibrant area.
Don’t forget to walk (or just sit) on the famous red glass steps, where Alicia Keys and Jay-Z performed the amazing song, Empire State of Mind.
Lunch. 12pm – 1pm
Depending on what time you get peckish, you can either enjoy a bite to eat at Times Square or head over to the next stop – Central Park. Times Square may sound as though it’s going to be expensive but if you buy your lunch from one of the street carts you can find here, you’ll save yourself on a sit down meal.
- Find it at: Times Square. Various opening hours. Just look for your nearest street cart offering tasty meals.
Our favourite in Central Park is Tavern on the Green – an iconic landmark in itself offering soups, classic caesar salads and wild mushroom risottos all in an elegant atmosphere.
- Find it at: Central Park West & 67th Street, New York, NY 10023
- Opens at: 11am – 11pm
- Costs: Soup starts at $14 (more costly than street food but eating in a gorgeous courtyard is worth it.
- Website: Tavern on the Green
Ready for the afternoon?
Optional – Roosevelt Island Tram
Okay so this isn’t free but if you’ve already paid for a Metro ticket you can use your ticket on the Roosevelt Island tram to get a good view of the city from the air. With a height of 250 feet, this is one of the cheapest views in the city. Only 30 minutes from Times Square on foot.
- Find it at: E 59th St & 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10022
- Opens at: 6am – 2am
- Costs: The price of a metro ticket
- Website: Roosevelt Island Tram
2pm – 4pm. Central Park
No matter which season you are visiting New York, Central Park is beautiful, whether in the Fall or in a snow-covered winter. The park is huge and perfect for strolling around and people watching as you go.
If you are a Beatles fan, the Strawberry Fields area of Central Park has an “Imagine” plaque surrounded by colourful flowers – a tribute to John Lennon. If you’re lucky you may hear some buskers playing Beatles tunes down the way.
- Find it at: New York (no address)
- Opens at: 6am – 2am
- Costs: Free
- Website: Central Park
Early Evening (2 options)
5pm – 7pm. Fifth Avenue
Every girl loves to shop and even if it’s only window shopping whilst in New York, what better place to do it than at America’s most-known flagships at the prestigious Fifth Avenue.
Lose yourself in sparkly window displays of jewels at Tiffany & Co, browse the World’s most famous department store at Macy’s and get giddy at sight of the 86 story-high Trump Towers. If you are feeling flush, treat yourself to a New York souvenir.
- Find it at: Fifth Avenue. The best shopping is from 39th to 60th Street.
- Opens at: 10am – 7pm
- Costs: Free to look!
5pm – 8pm. Museum of Modern Art
Visit New York on a Friday night and you’ll get a free pass to the Museum of Modern Art. Spend time marvelling at a Monet whilst mingling with the distinguished evening crowd. A great way to spend an arty and cultural evening with the potential to meet others too.
- Find it at: 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019
- Opens at: 10.30am – 5.30pm
- Costs: Free on Friday evenings from 5pm
- Website: MOMA
Head to 32nd street and pop into the Korean food court for a cheap bite to eat or find cheap New York Street food such as a slice of pizza or hot dog.
Listen to a concert
You’re in New York baby! There are always free events happening in the evenings in New York depending on which day you are here. If you visit during the summer, the best way to spend a night in NYC is enjoying a concert in Prospect Park – for free.
Watch a screening
If acting is more your style (watching it that is), then watch one of the free film screenings in various spots in the city during the summer months. Look at Rooftop Films for listings.
If you can’t find any local events on for the time that you’re there, find a killer happy hour and sit at the bar chatting to the barman.
Longer than 24 Hours in NYC
With only 24 hours in the city, you’ll be pushed to see everything. This itinerary shows you the best of NYC with some window shopping thrown in. If you have 48 hours, head across to the Staten Island Ferry (which is free), walk along Brooklyn Bridge, and visit the 9/11 Memorial (free from 7.30am to 9pm).
There is so much more of the city to see. If you have longer than 48 hours, we recommend the following tour companies for New York attractions and day tours.
New York Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide helps you to find top-rated activities and day tours in worldwide destinations including New York. Choose from a Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island tour, a private Manhattan walking tour, or a 9/11 Memorial & World Trade Centre tour with a museum ticket. There are several to choose from including a Catacombs by Candlelight tour, and a half-day photography tour, and it’s really simple to use. Just check the reviews, price and availability then book online. Read my Get Your Guide review or click the link below for all their tours.
Viator Tours New York – Viator are similar to Get Your Guide. They are an American company and a tour platform with more than 345,000 tours and worldwide activities. Choose from a skip-the-line ticket for the Empire State Building, a One World Observatory ticket, or a guided one day sightseeing tour. You can even take a Manhattan Sky Tour on a helicopter flight. Read my Viator review or click the link for all their tours.
Intrepid Travel – If you’re searching for some company to explore the USA with, Intrepid Travel is a responsible travel company that offers a group tour from New York to New Orleans for 18 to 29 years olds. Over 9 days follow a historical and musical trail of the USA from the Big Apple to the Big Easy. Intrepid operate a flexible booking policy so you can change your travel plans up to 21 days before departure. Read our Intrepid Review here or click on the link below for their tours.
Tip – If you don't mind splashing the cash to pay for some of New York's other attractions, consider buying a New York Pass which allows you to see over 80 of the city's attractions. You can save up to 70% even if you only plan to visit three attractions a day. Download your free New York guidebook with travel information to help you plan where to go, what to do and how to get there. Click here
Staying in NYC
New York City was once home of the landmark women-only Barbizon hotel that has seen the likes of several female Hollywood starlets such as Liza Minnelli, Betsey Johnson and Joan Crawford. Today, you can find any accommodation from 3 to 5-star international hotels to boutique hotels, pod hotels and hostels in the city. But New York isn’t cheap so expect to pay a lot to stay in the city. The further out you stay the less expensive the accommodation is.
Plus there’s Airbnb which offers rooms with a local and rental accommodation in New York on a short-term basis. If you are travelling during peak seasons and the prices are too high, Airbnb can be a good alternative. Save $20 off your first stay with this Airbnb link.
All of the accommodation below have been recommended by solo female travellers from our Girls about the Globe community and come with our Solo Female Friendly endorsement. For all other accommodation in New York, click on the link below.
HI NYC Hostel – $
For those on a budget, the HI NYC Hostel is a great option. Located near to Central Park and metro lines. HI NYC Hostel has a great atmosphere and plenty of opportunities for social interaction with daily activities such as pub crawls and comedy nights. There’s a laundry room, a pool table to break the ice with other guests and a cinema area. The beds have reading lights and charging stations and there are even hairdryers in the bathrooms. Because it’s so sociable expect the hostel to be noisy. Choose from a bed in a mixed dorm room or a female-only dorm.
- Prices from £32/$46 USD per night for a bed in a mixed dorm
- To book, check prices or availability for HI NYC Hostel
Moxy NYC Chelsea – $$
There’s a reason this 4-star hotel is popular. It’s trendy, stylish and oh so boutique with large windows and a view of the Empire State Building. Located near a subway station and a 15 minute walk from Macy’s, the hotel is in an ideal location in the city. There’s a fitness centre, a 24-hour front desk and friendly staff. The rooms are small but perfect for solos and all come with an air purifier, air-conditioning and heating so it doesn’t matter what time of year you visit New York. Choose from a double room, a king room, or a double or king room with a city view.
- Prices from £133 / $188 USD per night for a double room
- To book, check prices or availability for Moxy NYC Chelsea
Located in midtown Manhattan, this classy hotel is close to Times Square and walking distance to many of the main sites. The staff are very attentive and can help with anything you need. Iroquois has everything that you expect from a 5-star hotel including a cafe in the lobby, a restaurant and a Finnish sauna. Rooms come with an MP3 docking station, your very own bathrobe and some with a heated bathroom floor. Choose from a superior, deluxe or premium queen room, a deluxe or premium king room, or a one-bedroom suite.
- Prices from £175 / $248 USD per night for a superior queen room
- To book, check prices or availability for Iroquois Hotel Times Square
Getting to NYC
The best way to get to New York is by flying. John F. Kennedy airport is the main airport and has several flights from the UK. If your local airport is too pricey, Just click on ‘add nearby airports’ when creating your search and see if a short drive, bus or train journey could save you pounds.
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