After sharing a photo on Facebook of my recent trip to New York City, several people reached out asking for tips on what to do in The Big Apple. One question about recommendations for a teen itinerary made me smile, because I planned that trip not very long ago.
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Last year, my teenage daughter and I took our first ever “ladies only” vacation to New York City, leaving the rest of the family behind for the weekend. I bought discounted tickets for Broadway shows (for the best deals, visit during Broadway Week or Kids’ Night on Broadway), and we filled in the rest of our visit with mostly free fun. If you ask my daughter about the trip, it’s those budget-friendly adventures she’ll tell you about. She still talks about the restaurant in Chinatown that served “the best Chinese food ever,” her first experience on the Subway, exploring the huge stores, and spotting The Naked Cowboy in Times Square. We made a lot of memories on that short trip.
I’m headed back to New York City this weekend, to see an advance screening of Ricki and the Flash, a movie about navigating the mother/daughter relationship, and to interview stars Meryl Streep and her real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer. I won’t be taking my daughter along this time, but planning for the trip sparked conversations about how much fun we had together last year, and what we’d like to do the next time we visit together. My daughter helped me to come up with this list of free things to do in New York City.
- The 9/11 Memorial – The National September 11 Memorial is breathtaking. Sitting in the footprint of where the Twin Towers once stood, you can now find two reflecting pools, with the largest manmade waterfalls in North America. The names of every person who died in the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, as well as those who died in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, are etched into bronze panels which line the pools. The 9/11 Memorial is free of charge and open to the public daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Central Park – I’m sure whole books have probably been written about all there is to do in the 843 acres that make up this incredible urban park. There is an awesome playground with splash pad (pictured above), a zoo, gardens, bike paths, a small carnival, buskers, artists, and even free Shakespeare in the Park. Central Park was my daughter’s favorite: “It was like being in a movie. There were performers everywhere. There were gymnasts, a dog riding a skateboard, a guy juggling violins, musicians, a puppeteer, a singer/songwriter selling her album cover artwork. The park is beautiful and there is so much to see.”
- Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – Admission is free for all visitors during UNIQLO Free Friday Nights, held every Friday evening from 4 to 8 p.m. Tickets for UNIQLO Free Friday Nights are not available in advance, so be prepared to wait in line to get in.
- Staten Island Ferry – Take a 25-minute ferry ride past the Statue of Liberty. The service is free and a ferry arrives every 15 to 30 minutes. Service runs 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week. Vehicles are not allowed on the ferries, but during rush hour, the ferries are packed with people, so try to avoid riding during those times.
- The Bronx Zoo – Wednesday admission is by pay-what-you-wish donation.
- Splash Pad at Pier 84 – This free play area at Pier 84 overlooks the Hudson River. New York City has tons of free splash parks and water playgrounds, and some of them are pretty amazing!
- Guggenheim – Pay What You Wish on Saturdays from 5:45–7:45 p.m. This is a big deal, since regular adult admission is $25.
- Times Square – Times Square is the ultimate in sensory overload. There are larger than life flashing billboards, music blaring, taxis honking, and so many people crammed onto the sidewalks you can barely move. Stores have their own DJs, costumed characters from Elsa and Anna to Cookie Monster are photo-ready for tips, a sweet chocolate smell is pumped out of M & M’s world, and a ferris wheel awaits inside Toys ‘R Us (although, according to CNN Money, the flagship store is closing at the end of January 2016). Browsing and people watching are free!
- New York Aquarium – Friday late afternoon, starting at 4 p.m., admission is by pay-what-you-wish donation.
- The New York Botanical Garden – Grounds admission is free to everyone all day on Wednesdays and from 9 a.m. – 10 a.m. on Saturdays.