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Monday, May 20, 2024

7 free things you can do in New York City

Being touristy in New York City can be a costly affair, starting from cramped but costly hotel rooms, to expensive tickets for iconic sites like the Empire State Building, to food that you’ll eat at the city’s finest diners. Visiting NYC can be a memorable holiday, with zero money spent, if you knew what most tourists don’t. Here’s the secret:

1. Walk through Central Park

If you are in New York City and want to do what New Yorkers do—grab a coffee and get ready to get lost in 843 acres of manmade wonder. There are 5 waterfalls located in the North woods, supplied by NYC drinking water. You can walk along the Central Park Lake, watch folks boating at the Loeb boathouse, or go greet penguins at the Central Park Zoo.

If you prefer nature in the wild, you can spend time bird-watching 230 species, including the local Egret, or lay down your picnic basket to people watch at the 15-acre sprawl of Sheep Meadow. If you are an art aficionado, like most New Yorkers are, you’ll be happy to know that Central Park has its own share of bronze statues, which include Romeo and Juliet looking into each other’s eyes and Alice in Wonderland, often surrounded by kids trying to dangle in her arms.

2. Get on the Staten Island Ferry

If you are visiting NYC like a tourist, you’ll want to make the customary trip to Times Square, take a walk across Brooklyn Bridge, and buy ferry tickets to see Lady Liberty. Ditch the ticket and take the Staten Island ferry instead. It makes 109 rounds a day, transporting 70,000 people from St. George in Staten Island to Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan, not including the trips made during weekends.

If you are in a mood to get romantic, riding the ferry to watch Manhattan’s skyscrapers against the evening sky is a cool idea. You can bring your own beer or buy a glass on the deck for $5. The ferry ride stretches across 5-miles, offering a 25-minute escape from the city’s concrete shores, with breathtaking views of the New York Harbor. Long before bridges linked NYC and its boroughs, the New York ferry system transported people from coast-to-coast. The Staten Island Ferry is the last remaining trace of the city’s unfailing ferry network.


3. Get high on the High Line

The High line is an elevated railroad track turned urban park that zigzags from Ganservoort Street in the south to 34th street, close to the Hudson. The park offers views of the city traffic from a glass amphitheatre-like vantage point on 18<sup>th</sup> street. It also offers views of graffiti painted across walls and many art installations along the way. 10 staircases that link the High Line to streets below, allow visitors to enter and exit the park as they wish.

Photographer Joel Sternfeld documented images of the park in his book Walking the High Line. Long before the park was transformed into what we see today, nature had taken over the abandoned railroad, transforming the railway track into a wild park of its own. The architects who designed The High Line, tried to preserve what nature had created by accident, in their plans. The park also uses sustainable furniture in Section 2, where benches have been repurposed from the hardwood of demolished buildings.

4. Get literary at the New York Public Library

Once you get inside the New York Public Library’s flagship building, called the Stephen A. Shwarzman, made out of 530,000 cubic feet of marble, 12-inches thick on the outside, flanked by two regal looking lions called ‘Patience’ and ‘Fortitude’, into the reading room made to seat 500 people—it’s easy to not read the book you’ve brought along and get blown away by the building’s regal beauty instead.

For history nerds, the library is a treasure trove—showcasing the Gutenberg Bible, a copy of the original Declaration of Independence, and maps that are 431,000 years old. The library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, founded in 1925 during the Harlem Renaissance, also has more than 10 million items documenting the descent of African people around the world.


5. Take the ferry to Governor’s Island for summer time fun

The Governor’s Island is 172-acres of an island that you can visit for free from a ferry at the Battery Maritime Building, Slip 7 in lower Manhattan. You can also get to the island from the Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO. If you enjoy the open greens, want to bike across a 2.2-mile promenade, enjoy picnicking by the waterside, or playing golf, all for free—spending an afternoon here is imperative.

The Governor’s island has an Admiral’s House for those interested in military history, and food trucks for those who enjoy the simple pleasures of feasting. During summertime, the island is a great location for jazz concerts, but just taking in the sights of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Statue of Liberty combined can be soul satisfying.


6. Take a grand tour of Grand Central Station

The Grand Central Station was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt and opened to the public on February 12, 1913. It replaced an older structure called the Grand Central Depot, built in 1881. Every Friday at 12.30 pm two historians organize a free 90-minute tour of the sights of NYC, which includes a stopover at Grand Central. The station’s building has secrets unknown to New Yorkers themselves that you can discover on this tour.

For instance, no one knows the mystery behind the construction of the Whispering Gallery, which is tucked between the Main Concourse and Vanderbilt Hall. The gallery allows sound to travel in hush tones across the 2,000 sq-foot chamber from one corner to another.

The station also has a hidden bar called The Campbell Apartment, which served as a virtual museum of New York’s high society of the 1920s. The apartment belonged to John W. Campbell, a business magnate, who was rumored to sit behind his desk in boxers to make sure his trousers remained unwrinkled. However, to access this bar you need to be more than appropriately suited.


7. Watch live tapings of late night TV shows

Oftentimes, New Yorkers never get the chance to explore their own city. TV shows such as Good Morning AmericaSaturday Night Live, and The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon present an opportunity to see live tapings of many popular TV shows for free.

Each show has its own set of rules to reserve the free seat, different times during the year to apply for tickets, and different ways to participate in a lottery. The good news is that if you get tickets to a show, you’ll know well in advance to plan your visit to the city, or to take a holiday from work. The bad news is that many of these shows are taped during weekdays. However, watching the making of one and being in the same room as John Oliver or Stephen Colbert is well worth the trouble of figuring it all out.