Those with friends living in New York know two things: New York can be an expensive city and New Yorkers tend not to have spare rooms. This can come as a bit of a shock when you’ve been secretly delighted your friend has emigrated, then dreams of a handy available bed evaporate. The trick is to spend your money on a wonderful place to stay and then discover that New York abounds in brilliant things to do that don’t cost a red cent.
Location is key so I settled on the Viceroy Central Park, which while it opened just three years ago, has that art deco appeal that makes it look as if it has been in Manhattan since the age of Mad Men (see viceroyhotelsandresorts.com, rooms from $381/€339). It's utterly glamorous with the added bonus of astonishingly comfy beds. With glorious views over Central Park, you're in a prime spot to get started on free fun. As one of the best free things you can do in New York is people-watching, head up to the Viceroy's hot spot roof terrace to soak up the city and its occupants. And no, the cocktails aren't free but with a view like this who's complaining?
The Museum of Modern Art (moma.org) is just around the corner on 53rd Street, and while admission is $25 (€22) you can go for free every Friday, 4pm-8pm. Skip the worst of the queues by coming after six and don’t bring a backpack. All large bags have to be checked in and that takes ages on free nights. All the major museums have free or reduced admission hours, so check websites.
Alongside the big museums, arguably the best free art show in the world takes place in Chelsea and around the Lower East Side. Here the world's most famous galleries and the best of the young pretenders show extraordinary contemporary art. While the price tags can be shocking, you don't have to pay to look. Smile, ignore any snooty assistants (some are surprisingly friendly) and see chelseagallerymap.com and lesgalleriesnyc.com to plan your route.
Back to Central Park for free walks and celebrity spotting and if you time it right, check out the performances at the Summer Stage Festival at Rumsey Playfield. It runs until the end of this month. Many events are free, but space is limited so arrive early.
Go to cityparksfoundation.org/events to find listings, plus more free events in New York’s public parks. And if you’re finding the city too hot, cool off with a free swim at Central Park’s Olympic-sized Lasker Pool, 11am-7pm, with a break between 3pm and 4pm (centralpark.com/events).
Go downtown and walk the Highline. The gorgeous park on a disused elevated railway line runs from Gansevoort Street to West 34th. It’s lovely all by itself but free events and activities include Tai Chi, stargazing, meditation, cabaret, art and nature walks. You can register for free events online (thehighline.org/activities).
Wander over to the Chelsea Market at the Gansevoort Street end of the Highline for some brilliant lunchtime eating options, or go later as the first Friday of every month sees the free Chelsea Nights concert series of cool and funky bands from 6.30pm (chelseamarket.com).
If you're feeling energetic, try fencing in Bryant Park (bryantpark.org), kayaking on the Hudson (downtownboathouse.org), or yoga in Washington Square Park (yogavida.com) – and yes, they all cost nada.
Finally some spots in New York are just so gorgeous or iconic, you feel you're having a fabulous experience simply by being there. These include the concourse at Grand Central Station (check out the Oyster Bar while you're at it), walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, taking the F-train out to Coney Island, and seeing the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry.
New York food and drink doesn't tend to be free, although you can tour the Brooklyn Brewery for nothing every Saturday (brooklynbrewery.com). But we decided we had earned a treat, so after a heady day spending only on subway fares, we came back to the Viceroy for dinner at the Kingside (kingside-restaurant.com).
It’s a lovely and super-atmospheric restaurant where you get Marc Murphy’s modern American take on classic dishes, plus heavenly martinis in one of those black-and-white tiled spaces with wood and leather booths that make you feel suave just by being there.
We loved the beet hummus, crispy baby artichokes and though we tried the shaved brussels sprouts with mint, lemon and pine nuts out of curiosity, it was an unexpected winner. Glamorously delicious Manhattan surprises? As they say in those adverts – priceless.
And if you do have they type of friends in New York with spare rooms, then this article is probably not for you, but please do give me their number.
Go to nycgo.com/free for details on more free events and activities.