Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
You will find many of the free things to do during a visit to New York City are also among the best travel experiences available in the Big Apple.
A case in point: Walking the Brooklyn Bridge can become one of your most memorable activities during a visit to New York, and it doesn't cost a penny.
This plan assumes decent weather. Strong winds can make it an unpleasant journey, and you want it to be memorable for all the right reasons.
Expect the walk to take about an hour (two hours round-trip) and don't forget to bring along a camera to capture some nice views of the Manhattan skyline.
If you decide to start on the Brooklyn side and walk toward Manhattan, be sure to get clear directions to the base of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Take a Free Tour
There are worthwhile guided tours in New York City, but most will require an investment on your part. For example, a tour of the NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Center costs $33/person for adults. If you'll be doing multiple tours, consider a City Pass for New York which pays for multiple attractions at one price and allows you to skip ticket lines.
At that level of pricing, you'll want to add a few free things to your itinerary.
One example of such a freebee is Conservatory Garden Tours in Central Park. These are conducted on Saturday mornings from April through October. Check locally for tour times and meeting points.
If you like to look at money as you save it, visit the Federal Reserve Bank, where free 45-minute tours are offered Monday-Friday (except during banking holidays) and reservations are required.
Looking for still more? Check out Free Walking Tours of New York City, where you'll only be asked to tip if you liked the presentation.
We're all trying to save money. But it is always best to offer a gratuity to anyone who gives you a good guided tour. Some will refuse it because it's against the rules to accept money, but it never hurts to try.
Ride the Staten Island Ferry
The trip between Staten Island and Manhattan takes about 25 minutes, and is absolutely free. You'll enjoy views of Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the skyline of lower Manhattan.
Consult a Staten Island Ferry Schedule as you do your planning. It's best to avoid rush hours if you're simply sightseeing.
Some people plan their Staten Island trips for meal time. The ferry cafeteria serves up inexpensive drinks and snacks.
When you look at what boat tours of the harbor will cost, it's easy to recognize this as one of New York's best free things to do.
Rest assured there are more free attractions and landmarks in NYC when you step off the ferry.
Window Shop on Fifth Avenue
This is the glass-dominated entrance to the Apple store on Fifth Ave. This picture was taken early on a Saturday evening.
The exclusive shops along Fifth Avenue host fashion shows that draw designers from around the world. Most of what's offered in these stores is far beyond what we could ever spend for a change of clothing.
Beyond high fashion, FAO Schwartz is a world-famous toy store and technophiles will find stops to suit their tastes, too.
Looking at it all costs nothing. This is one of those experiences that is unique to New York. Try showing up with a healthy budget of imaginary dollars. Compare what you would buy with the imaginary purchases of your travel companions.
The stretch between 34th and 59th streets earns the most raves from window shoppers.
Free Museums and Free Museum Days
Is there a particular museum that interests you? If so, go to its web site and search "free days." Many will offer free admission on certain days.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History list their admission fees, but read carefully. These are "suggested donations" and if you cannot afford to pay those prices, it is possible to pay less.
Want more ideas? Check out a list of museum deals and free admissions from About.com New York City for Visitors.
Watch Street and Subway Performers
In the picture above, a pedestrian hurries past a subway musician at the Union Square station. At another moment in time, people might gather to listen to his offerings and toss some change in his direction. Musicians in the subways enjoy a steady line of fans. How big of a deal is this? The MTA actually maintains a committee for which performers must audition if they expect to claim the busiest platforms.
You can also experience break-dancing and ragtime in the parks. It's tough to plan for these somewhat impromptu performances, but be open to stopping for a while and drinking in this free experience.
Free Juilliard Performances
The Juilliard School attracts famous special guests and the some of the best music, dance and drama students in the world.
Free theater tickets are available at the box office, and sometimes standby tickets are available on the day of a performance.
Make it a point to check the Juilliard Calendar of Events to see how the schedule might match up with the dates of your visit.
Walk through Grand Central Station
Grand Central Terminal is one of the world's most famous train stations, and also among the busiest. The picture above was taken in the immediate aftermath of a major storm that crippled the city. The image of an empty Grand Central was newsworthy at the time.
It is a landmark worthy of a stop on your New York City itinerary, and it won't cost anything to drink in the atmosphere of this place. It opened nearly a century ago, and has recently been renovated to enhance its Beaux-arts features. You can take a free walking tour of Grand Central and learn to appreciate the astronomical murals and galleries.
Visit the New York Public Library
Visiting the local public library might not be on your regular list of things to do when you visit a new city.
But this is no ordinary public library.
The library hosts everything from fashion shows to lectures. Some of those events come with admission fees, but it costs nothing to take an hour or two and look around the place. The New York Public Library's main branch was the largest marble building in the nation when it opened in 1911. There is a free one-hour tour available Tuesday through Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Picnic in Central Park
It's fairly common for budget travelers to substitute picnic lunches for expensive restaurant visits as they try to manage food costs on the road. Weather permitting, New York City's Central Park presents an outstanding opportunity to put that strategy to work.
It's one of the great free things for families to do in NYC. You'll be creating memories your children will carry with them for years to come.
There is no shortage of convenient places to assemble a picnic lunch near Central Park. Put together a picnic and take part in a New York budget travel ritual that's sure to please.