The Book of Hov. Courtesy, Brooklyn Public Library
There are a surprising amount of free and low-cost events for arts, culture and entertainment lovers in NYC. Some programs—outdoor concerts and movie series in city parks, for example—take place primarily in summer, but many options are available year-round. They all promise good times and post-worthy backdrops for your social media feeds. Read on for budget-friendly activities that will make your visit to the City a memorable (and more affordable) one.
Seaport Cinema. Photo: Jane Kratochvil. Courtesy, Howard Hughes Corporation
What happens: Attend seasonal free outdoor screenings and ongoing reduced-priced Tuesday movie theater showings of cult classics, recently released films, and everything in between.
Why go: You can catch a wave of nostalgia or see a blockbuster you may have missed; either way, you’ll enjoy the unspoken camaraderie of experiencing cinema among a group of strangers. Free screenings are often offered during the summer season at locations like Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Rooftop at Pier 17’s Seaport Cinema and Socrates Sculpture Park, while Brooklyn’s (despite the name, you can also bike or walk to the venue) stays open the rest of the year—see classic horror films there, including Friday the 13th and The Exorcist, through this fall. Limited seating is available, so be sure to secure your tickets early. (with locations in Lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn and Staten Island), AMC and Regal Theaters offer discounted tickets year-round on Tuesdays.
Richard Rodgers Theatre. Photo: Lucía Vázquez
What happens: The offer last-minute tickets at a fraction of the cost on the day before or day of a show; Broadway theaters also have an array of rush, standing-room and other discounted seats (and some shows hold lotteries for inexpensive tickets—Hamilton’s are $10, naturally). We’ve got an article detailing . Remember, too, that twice a year NYC Tourism sponsors , during which participating shows offer two-for-one tickets.
Why go: Get the only-in-New York City experience of a Broadway show, and maybe even the chance to meet, or see up close, one of your favorite actors after the performance—or at least get some autographs from cast members. Make an event of it by grabbing a meal at one of many restaurants in the area (a number of Theatre District restaurants offer prix-fixe meals) before or after.
Cost: Up to 50 percent off tickets (Broadway tickets average around $125 but generally start around half that)
What happens: Daytime and late-night TV shows (taped during the day) with live audiences offer free tickets to tapings around the City.
Why go: For the chance to get swept up in the excitement of a live taping: the dancing, the clapping, the possibility of seeing a beloved celebrity or of having your own 15 seconds of fame on screen. Give your mom the gift of bragging rights: use to learn more about how to be a member of Today Show audience. Tickets to attend other live tapings can be found at . Also, we’ve got a guide for this with .
The Book of Hov. Courtesy, Brooklyn Public Library
What happens: NYC libraries host thousands of free events including book readings, talks, social events, classes and culturally and historically significant exhibits. Some require reservations and tickets often go quickly, so sign up early to secure your spot.
Why go: To gather and commemorate with fellow NYC residents and visitors from around the world for once-in-a-lifetime occasions such as , which celebrates Brooklyn native Jay-Z at the borough’s Central Library. Other popular spots for events include the in Harlem, the and, of course, the near Bryant Park, which is an attraction in itself.
BAM Live at Fort Greene Park. Courtesy, BAM
What happens: Musicians come together to perform scheduled and spontaneous concerts in parks and other venues across NYC.
Why go: To be inspired and entertained by stars and rising talents, and to commune with fellow music lovers. Well-known spots such as Washington Square Park, Central Park, Prospect Park and Lincoln Center hold free concerts throughout the summer, but there’s plenty more then and in other seasons (one good reference: the ). Check out, for example, fall’s at Fort Greene Park (which also typically holds a fall series by , though it didn't take place this year) and the ongoing , with free classical performances by the water.
Courtesy, Museum of Modern Art
What happens: Museums throughout the City host free entry and donation-based days and evenings. MoMA and The Met are free (with reservation) on the first Friday of each month for NYC residents. On Saturdays, the Guggenheim is “pay what you wish” for admission, with a suggested donation of $10 and a minimum of $1. Those are just a few ideas; take a look at our rundown of for many more.
Why go: Shake up your routine, see interesting and thought-provoking art, artifacts, and exhibits, and be a part of cultural conversations. MoMA even offers a chance to tap into your own inner artist during your visit with a that is free with admission.
Cost: Free–donation based
Raque Ford, detail of Good Liar. Courtesy, BRIC
What happens: Art galleries, community and civic organizations exhibit the work of and a sit-down (or stand up) talk with, and introduction to, featured artists. Gallery districts such as and typically have Thursday evening receptions, or gallery “crawls,” in addition to their normal hours.
Why go: To catch a wave of inspiration, and to meet fellow art lovers and maybe even the featured artists themselves. With the often-complimentary wine and refreshments, it’s bound to be a good time. BRIC, the organization that runs Celebrate Brooklyn, has for seasonal exhibitions at its Fulton Street home.
What happens: Dance schools, parks and venues across the City offer opportunities to shake your tail feather at a class, workshop, social, or party on weekends, or even during the week.
Why go: To learn a few new moves, sing along to familiar tunes and for photo ops that show you living it up in the City on a school night. Have an appetite for salsa? The Parks Department nycgovparks.gov hosts Salsa Socials at Garibaldi Plaza in Washington Square Park (Wednesdays evenings) and Summertime Salsa in Central Park’s Naumburg Bandshell; there’s also Salsa by the Water in Domino Park. , which has locations throughout NYC, offers weekly Beginner Salsa dance classes with a free trial class for new students. For the chance to dance and party your blues away to sounds from across the globe, head to at Kimoto Rooftop Garden Lounge, which is free before midnight.
Cost: Free–$25 for additional classes
What happens: Up-and-coming and veteran comedians frequent comedy venues across NYC to work out material on the City’s infamously tough audiences. Many of the locations are bars with back-room stages or smaller clubs that manage to keep entry costs low.
Why go: For the release of shared laughs amongst strangers. Check out for free comedy shows (Mondays are a regular night for that), or visit on Tuesday nights for free laughs (for the first 20 RSVPs; $5–10 otherwise) and free pizza.