The borough of Queens will keep you busy with free events in the parks and at cultural centers. There are gardens to stroll, museums to visit, and interesting streets to wander in this eclectic borough.
Queens, New York, is the easternmost borough of New York City and has a rich history going back to colonial times when the area was settled by the English and Dutch fleeing religious persecution. Geographically, Queens is part of Long Island.
Several local museums offer free admission or have a specified time each month when admission is free (or sometimes "pay what you wish").
- MoMa's P.S. 1's Warm Up is an annual concert series featuring live and electronic music performances during the summer. The museum is one of the largest in Queens and is housed in a former public school.
- NY Hall of Science is a science museum located in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Free hours are Friday: 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday: 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
- The Noguchi Museum, with Japanese art and design, was created by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. The museum offers extended evening hours on the First Friday of the month from May through September, 5 to 8 p.m., with free admission all day.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Most public recreation spots—parks, beaches, pools—are free or nearly free. The NYC parks, plus the Gateway National Recreation area, provide everything from busy soccer fields to wild marshland along bays.
Events in the parks are popular like free kayaking in the East River every Sunday in the summer or exploring the climbing wall at Alley Pond Park. Favorite parks in Queens are places to escape the city and enjoy some outdoor recreation.
Outdoor public pools in Queens are free, and the indoor pools have a small fee for adults but are free for kids under 18. Recommended are the beautiful Astoria Pool in the summer and the indoor Flushing Meadows Corona Park Pool and Rink for the rest of the year.
You'll find some beaches in the Queens area such as the Jacob Riis Beach, Fort Tilden, and Breezy Point. People's Beach at the Jacob Riis Park is a historic beach which was originally opened in 1932. You can visit the restored Art Deco bathhouse which has historical exhibits and houses ranger-led programs.
Beaches in Queens are perfect in the summer and open all year for free, scenic strolls.
Enjoy Championship Tennis
The biggest secret to the U.S. Open is the free Qualifying Tournament that runs the week before the Open proper. This is the time to see stars in the making. It's free and the views are great.
Arthur Ashe Kids Day is another free day at the Open for families and kids. The premier concert at Arthur Ashe costs money, but there's more than enough to do for free—tennis clinics, games, more live music, and chances to meet tennis stars.
Take in Special Events
Throughout the year, you can find free events happening at local parks, theaters, and community centers, plus parades and street festivals. The borough maintains a calendar of events, many of which are free. NYC Parks and Recreation also provides a calendar of classes and events which are free or low cost.
Fun festivals include the annual Pride Parade and Queens Pride events, the Meadows Music and Arts Festival at Citi Field, and the Annual Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting Celebration in Astoria Park.
Wander Flushing Meadows
Flushing Meadows Corona Park is one of the biggest parks in NYC. It's been home to a lot of history including two Worlds Fairs and one gathering of the United Nations. It's a great place not just for sports, but for free exploring. Within the park, you'll find such oddities as an ancient pillar which was originally erected in 120 AD by Romans in the ancient Jordanian city of Jerash, then known as Gerasa.
This large park has fields where you can watch baseball, soccer, tennis, and cricket. The park houses a zoo, science and art museums, and a botanical garden. Walkers will enjoy the Flushing Bay Promenade.
See the World in a Walk
Queens is famous for the diversity of its immigrant neighborhoods. You can literally taste tour the world in a single day of exploring and eating. Add to that the diversity of landscapes—urban, suburban, seaside—and history that goes back to colonial days, and you have a number of great destinations for urban explorers, including:
- Flushing, where you will find NYC's second largest Chinatown, is a diverse community with restaurants featuring Asian and Near East cuisine and interesting Chinese stores.
- The 7 train line, known as the International Express, which takes you through a string of intriguing neighborhoods is fun to ride.
- Long Island City (LIC) is an area where you can spend the afternoon exploring some of the interesting neighborhoods. One of the most notable neighborhoods is Astoria, it's a diverse, cosmopolitan neighborhood with great restaurants and an old-fashioned beer garden.
- Little Guyana in South Richmond Hill has a large Indo-Guyanese immigrant community and so the shops, bakeries, and restaurants reflect that culture.
- Little India in Jackson Heights is known for Indian food, Bollywood films, and some great import shops.
Go Mall Walking and Shopping
Shopping isn't free but window shopping is. Go early in the day to one of the Queens Malls and do a little free mall walking, too.
The Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst is the biggest mall in Queens and is one of the most popular in the nation. Go early to avoid the parking charge and find a spot to park on the street.
Enjoy the Plants at the Queens Botanical Garden
The 39-acre Queens Botanical Garden began as part of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Located in an area along Kissena Creek, the 39-acre botanical garden is known for its bee garden, perennial garden, rose garden and LEED-certified visitors center. There are also classes and special events such as the summer "Music in the Garden."
Admission is free from November through March.
Visit Civil War History
Take a ranger-led tour of Fort Totten, the old Civil War fortress looking out across the Long Island Sound or explore the batteries and tunnels on your own.
Fort Totten Park is a draw for those enjoying the natural beauty of the area as well as the historic buildings. You can swim in the pool at the park for free and take your canoe out on Long Island Sound. Birders love the natural area where, during the winter, you can see migrating birds as they stop for rest and to feed in the protected area.
See the Sculptures
Socrates Sculpture Park, once an abandoned landfill, is now a beautiful five-acre park and arts center. You can tour the outdoor sculptures for free and even watch sculptors and artists at work. The park, in support of a wide range of art forms, also offers free festivals, outdoor performances, and movies.
Sled in the Snow
Juniper Valley Park offers free sledding and snowman-building contests on snowy days. There are special "Snow Days" sponsored by NYC Parks where you can borrow a sled for free. If you have your own sled or saucer, you can go sliding anytime there is sufficient snow.
Find the Birds
The 9,000-acre Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places in NYC to see the different migrating species. There is open bay, salt marsh, mudflats, fields and woods, and ponds to explore and find birds. This Wildlife Refuge is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.
Have Fun at Rockaway Beach
The boundary of Queens stretches around Brooklyn to the Atlantic Ocean where you'll find the Rockaway Peninsula which is where the fun Rockaway Beach is located. Rockaway is a surfing beach and has a great summer boardwalk featuring live music and plenty of beach food. You can get to Rockaway Beach via subway—take the A line—or by ferry.
Bike Ride at Alley Pond Park
Certainly, you can go birding at Alley Pond Park but you can also grab your bike and pedal along a bike trail that once was William Vanderbilt’s Long Island Motor Parkway (LIMP). The bike path runs from Cunningham Park east to Winchester Boulevard along the road route which was built in the early 1900s coinciding with the advent of auto touring and racing.
Tour the Queens Museum
Take a guided tour of the Queens Museum for free on Sundays or a self-guided tour at other times. The Queens Museum is an art museum with a permanent collection which includes glass artwork of Louis C. Tiffany and World's Fair memorabilia as well as visiting exhibits. There are free drop-in art education sessions for children.
The New York City Building, which today houses the Queens Museum, was built for the 1939 World’s Fair. It is now the only surviving building from the 1939 Fair. The Queens Museum has built an amazing light-filled contemporary expansion to house more collections and is worth visiting just for the architectural beauty.
The museum admission is free, however, a donation amount is suggested.
Get Down on the Farm
The Queens County Farm Museum, on property dating back to 1697, is still a working farm. The 47-acre site includes historic farm buildings, greenhouses, livestock, farm vehicles and implements, planting fields, an orchard and herb garden.
Admission is free except during special events.