Free Things to do in NYC
When we arrived in New York, it was covered in snow which was rather magical. However, the sun was shining in the morning and we wanted to make the most of it. So, in this post, I’m going to share our itinerary for exploring New York in 2 days. Also, since this was the beginning of a long trip we wanted to keep costs down. So, it’s also a guide to free things to do in NYC. Or, at least, how to do New York in 2 days on the cheap!
Where to Stay in New York
Firstly, we needed somewhere to stay and unfortunately, accommodation in Near York can be expensive. We stayed at the Cambria Hotel due to its location near to Penn Station. It was also reasonably priced for New York and had good reviews. The hotel is in the Chelsea district of New York and I think it makes a good base.
We’ve visited New York before and previously stayed in Ties Square. The Cambria Hotel is in a quieter area and I preferred it. If you want to check availability then follow this link. Like a lot of US hotels, you get a fridge and microwave which is handy for quick meals. If you prefer to eat out on holiday then there is a rooftop bar and restaurant. Plus, of course, you have all the options of New York just outside the door.
Using the Subway
We began our day with a quick subway trip to the northernmost end of Central Park. To use the New York Subway, you can buy a single journey ticket or purchase a Metro Card. Single tickets are available from ticket machines and cost $2.75.
If you are making more than 1 trip a Metro card is handy. There are several places to buy them but the easiest is at the ticket machine or ticket booth in any subway station. You pay $1 for the card when you first buy it and you must put at least $5.50 credit on it.
Be aware that when you buy a card from some machines it will ask for your zip code. Of course, if you’re not from the US you won’t have one. Just put in ‘99999’ instead.
Each journey costs $2.75 and you just swipe the metro card as you enter the subway. Then top it up as you need to. If you are staying longer in New York then you can buy a 7-day unlimited card for $33 but it’s not cost-effective for 2 days.
You only need 1 metro card for up to 4 people. For example, for two people. When you enter the subway, the first person in the group should swipe the card twice. The second person then follows them through the turnstile. Also, note that up to 3 children can travel free for each paying adult. So, it’s very good value for families.
Now, because we have visited New York before we wanted to do some different things from our first visit. So, you won’t find the major headline attractions here such as the Empire State building, galleries and museums. Those are all fabulous things to do though so do consider them if it’s your first trip.
However, our itinerary for New York in 2 days started in one of it’s most iconic free attractions, Central Park. We walked around part of the park last time we visited too and I was keen to go back. It’s also totally free to enjoy and wonderful green space in the centre of the city.
Explore the Park
After taking the subway to the northernmost post, we then walked south through the park. Don’t just walk in a straight line though as there are so many things to enjoy. When we visited children were ice skating at the rink and snow covered many of the pathways. However, the main routes are kept clear. The roads were also closed to traffic so we saw plenty of New Yorkers out jogging and cycling as we walked south. The park is deceptively large, just as you think you’re nearly at the end, a new stretch appears.
There are plenty of places to explore just by following your nose. We found the Jackie Kennedy reservoir and the Alice in Wonderland statue (which is really quite impressive). There’s a zoo in the park too and you can find several museums and galleries nearby. The Museum of Modern Art is right in the park and the Natural History Museum is on the opposite side. We spent most of the day just exploring Central Park. It’s the ultimate free thing to do in New York.
Finally reaching the south end of the park, we headed east towards the Queensborough bridge. We took the aerial tram to Roosevelt Island which gives great views of the river and bridge. I noticed a lot of people went straight into the queue for the return tram when they arrived on the island. As it turns out this is because there is nothing to do or see on the island. There is a memorial park but the pathway was blocked by the massive construction projects going on. You get the best views from the tram so we had a quick look around and headed back. It’s still worth the trip though as the tram ride is fun.
Penn Station Again
On our second day in New York, we had a full day before taking the overnight train to Chicago. We checked out of the Cambria hotel and headed back to Penn station to check our baggage through to Chicago. It is very handy that you can check in your bags anytime. The baggage check is always open so no need to wait until later in the day.
Bagless, we headed east along 28th street to find the High Line. This is a raised walkway on an abandoned elevated train track which has been converted to a garden/ park area which stretches down to 14th. It’s a great way to see NY without having to worry about the traffic and we got some good views of the Hudson River.
World Trade Center
At the end of the walkway, we found the subway and headed further south to see the new One World Trade Center. They were building this last time we were here and the area is quite different now. Now, it’s a new and impressive building although it’s easier to see it from further away. There is an observatory where you can go to the top but despite my success in getting Paul up the bottle opener tower in Shanghai, he wasn’t keen to go up. Of course, the cost was a factor as well.
We wandered past the 9/11 memorial which is now in an open area at the foot of the new tower. We visited it last time but it was all sealed up and we had to go through masses of security to get in. It is much nicer to see it open and accessible now. It is such an impressive memorial, the bottomless fountain seems so appropriate. I’m a fan as you can tell.
From there it is a short walk down to Battery Park for views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We viewed from the shoreline this time but if we come back I’d like to make the trip over to the Immigration Museum. Last time, we took a sightseeing boat trip out for a close-up view of the statue. However, we weren’t able to dock that time due to storm damage. Never mind, I’m sure we’ll visit New York again.
New York in 2 Days
As you can see, there is plenty of things to do quite cheaply in New York in 2 days. Of course, it’s a big city and there are plenty of opportunities to spend money. However, if like us, you love walking and exploring then you can enjoy New York for free.