Free and Cheap Things to Do in NYC for College Students

Times Square, Manhattan in New York City
By Toni Critelli

New York City (NYC) is renowned for its excitement, diversity, and endless possibilities. But it can also be a costly city to visit—especially for college students on a budget.

This blog post explores the best free and affordable activities college students can enjoy in New York City. Whether you seek city culture, scenic views, or thrilling adventures, there’s something on this list for everyone.

Discovering New York City: The Five Boroughs 

New York City comprises five boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. Manhattan is well-known for being the center of New York City. However, it is recommended to explore all five boroughs. Each borough has its distinct neighborhoods and offers exciting opportunities.

Related: Explore NYC Go's Interactive Map of the five boroughs. 


12 Things to Do in NYC for Free or Cheap.

Broadway play scene of Hadestown
Image Credit: Hadestown

1) Make the most of Broadway shows with student discounts.

Going to see a Broadway show in New York City can be a memorable experience, but it can also be costly. Fortunately, several colleges and universities—St. John’s University is one of them—provides student discount Broadway tickets.

If you want to get discounted tickets, reach out to your college campus concierge to learn more. If your campus does not provide discounted tickets, waiting for New York’s Broadway Week is advisable. During this event, you can get two tickets for the price of one. This offer applies to many widely known Broadway shows.


Beekeeper outdoors in New York City
Image credit: Canva Stock

2) Try something fun and unique at Bryant or Central Park.

Has a juggling class or a beekeeping class been on your bucket list? You can do many free activities at famous parks like Bryant Park and Central Park throughout the year. 

Visit the Bryant Park and Central Park events pages to stay informed on the latest and upcoming events. 


Young Couple Taking a Selfie in Front of the New York City Brooklyn Bridge
Image Credit: Canva Stock

3) Capture an iconic selfie at the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge.

The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line on Manhattan’s west side. It offers stunning 360-degree views of the Manhattan skyline, making it a great place to take a selfie. Brooklyn Bridge is another picture-perfect destination offering spectacular views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline. 


New York City Queensborough Bridge
Image Credit: Canva Stock

4) Take a scenic stroll along the Brooklyn and Queensboro Bridge.

Walking on either bridge is a simple and free way to see the Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty, and East River. Both places are easily accessible by public transportation, so you can save money on taxis or Uber by getting there quickly.

You can visit Brooklyn Heights Promenade on the Brooklyn Bridge for great city views. On the Queensboro Bridge, you can visit Roosevelt Island for a different city perspective.


Outdoor music festival or concert: microphone with defocused audience
Image Credit: Canva Stock

5) Attend a free concert or theatre performance. 

New York City has many free concerts and theatre performances, particularly during the summer. A great example is Summer Stage in Central Park, which hosts various outdoor concerts from June to October featuring multiple artists. Additionally, Central Park hosts various free outdoor performances at Delacorte Theater, including Shakespeare in the Park. Another option is the Bryant Park Picnic Performances, a free outdoor concert series showcasing multiple artists.  

You can check out NYC Parks and Time Out New York to find free concerts in NYC. They provide information on events in all five boroughs. 

Camera Recording Live Television in New York City
Image Credit: Canva Stock

6) Experience a free live television show recording.

Have you ever been curious about what it feels like to be part of a television show audience behind the scenes? Well, you’re in luck! There are many free live TV show recordings happening in NYC. 

After the Writers Guild of America strike is resolved, you can join the live audience for exciting cooking contests such as Beat Bobby Flay. Additionally, you can watch the taping of talk shows, including The Drew Barrymore Show, Tamron Hall, and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.


Front of the Met Museum in New York City
Image Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

7) Explore several NYC museums on a budget. 

NYC has top museums, some with free or discounted entry, or you can pay what you want. 

Explore free admission at the following NYC museums and exhibits: 

  • American Museum of Natural History 
  • Brooklyn Museum 
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) 
  • The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
  • Museum of the Moving Image  

Additionally, the following NYC museums offer pay-what-you-wish or discounted admission: 

  • The Met Cloisters  
  • The New Museum 
  • The Queens Hall of Science
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  • The Whitney Museum of American Art 


Greenery and city view from Roosevelt Island in New York City
Image Credit: Canva Stock

8) Explore hidden treasures on the smaller islands of Manhattan.

When most students think of Manhattan, the city’s busy, fast-paced streets often come to mind. However, other smaller, slow-paced islands in Manhattan are worth exploring, including Roosevelt Island, Governor’s Island, and Randall’s Island.

  • Roosevelt Island has the Roosevelt Island Tramway and the Four Freedoms Park. It memorializes Franklin D. Roosevelt and his belief in four essential freedoms: speech, worship, want, and fear.
  • Governor’s Island is a former military island now open to the public. It’s an excellent place to walk, picnic, or see historical sites like Fort Jay, the old army headquarters.
  • Randall’s Island is a place for sports and recreation. It has the Randall’s Island Park Alliance, a nonprofit that takes care of the park and creates programs there. It’s a great place to go for a run, play some basketball, or take a swim. 


View of crowds at Smorgasburg Brooklyn in New York City
Image Credit: Samuel Hollenshead / @samhollenshead

9) Visit various NYC food halls and markets.

If you’re a food enthusiast, you’ll love exploring the famous food halls and markets across the boroughs. These places offer a variety of cultural dishes that you can enjoy and split with a group of friends. Some of the well-known food halls and markets spread across the five boroughs are

  • The Bronx Night Market in the Bronx
  • Chelsea Market in Manhattan
  • DeKalb Market Hall in Brooklyn  
  • Industry City Food Hall in Brooklyn  
  • Queens Night Market in Queens 
  • Smorgasburg in Brooklyn and Manhattan 
  • The Market Line in Manhattan 
  • Timeout Market in Brooklyn 


Elephants at the Bronx Zoo in New York City
Image Credit: Canva Stock

10) Interact with New York City animals and wildlife.

New York City offers many options to explore its lively and varied wildlife. Visit the Bronx, Central Park, Prospect Park, and Queens Zoo to see different animals and learn. For a deeper understanding of nature and wildlife in the city, go to Wave Hill House.


New york city botanical garden display of flowers and greenery
Image Credit: Canva Stock

11) Take a peaceful getaway to the serene gardens across New York City. 

Why not take a break from your studies and relax in one of the tranquil gardens located in New York City? You can immerse yourself in nature while enjoying a serene atmosphere, and many visits are free or affordable. You have choices like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Central Park Conservatory Garden, New York Botanical Garden, and Queens Botanical Garden. Each garden offers a unique experience to help you unwind and clear your mind.


Staten Island ferry approaching Manhattan New York City
Image Credit: Canva Stock

12) Take a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry. 

The Staten Island Ferry is a free ferry between Manhattan and Staten Island. You can see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island up close and enjoy a different view of the city.

Young female professional

Toni Critelli

Digital Content Creator

Toni Critelli is a full-time staff writer for Johnnie's Blog. Through engaging content, she captures the essence of the institution, its students, faculty, and alums.