Seeing the bulk of New York City’s biggest attractions can mean spending a hefty chunk of a school trip’s budget on tickets. Empire State Building? $20. The Met? $20. The Guggenheim and Whitney go for $18 each. Even the Frick is $15. But there’s a lifetime of fun to be had without ever handing over a cent, and not just by taking on park trails, bike paths or window browsing.
1. African Burial Ground
One of Lower Manhattan’s most fascinating, and controversial, stories of recent years circulates around the new African Burial Ground National Monument site. It began when a construction project in 1991 uncovered a burial ground of slaves – more than 400 caskets were found – from an age when New York had more slaves than any American city outside Charleston, South Carolina. Outside you can see part of the site now enveloped by buildings, and the compact visitors center does a masterful job at retelling African-American history in the city. 290 Broadway between Duane & Elk Sts, Lower Manhattan.
2. Central Park
It doesn’t take brilliant travel minds to tell you that a park is free to visit – most parks are. But most parks aren’t Central Park, Manhattan’s famed claim to thinking ahead (even if it was designed in the 1860s to boost real-estate value uptown). It’s filled with free events, statues, people-watching and sites like Strawberry Fields, an ‘Imagine’ mosaic near the Dakota, where John Lennon was killed in 1980. Another site is ‘the Pond,’ at the southeastern corner, where Holden Caulfield kept turning to in ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’.
3. Staten Island Ferry
Everyone wants to see the Statue of Liberty. Ferry tours there start at $12. But the Staten Island Ferry for commuters, cutting across the New York Harbor, is absolutely free and has long held the distinction as the single greatest free attraction on the Eastern Seaboard. Around since 1905, the ferry carries 19 million across the harbor each year. Technically for transport in between Staten Island and Manhattan, most visitors simply hop back on to get back to New York. It never gets old. East end of Battery Park, Lower Manhattan.
4. City Hall
Home to New York City’s government since 1812, City Hall tours take in its cupola-topped marble hall, the governor’s room as well as the spot where Abraham Lincoln’s coffin lay in state briefly in 1865. Tours must be reserved in advance and one of EA's school travel consultants can do this for you. City Hall Park, facing the Brooklyn Bridge, Lower Manhattan.
5. Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Museum
It’s always Fashion Week in the FIT Museum, which features rotating exhibits by students and a surprisingly interesting and detailed collection of the country’s first gallery of fashion, picked from a collection of 50,000 garments dating from the 18th century to present. Seventh Ave & 27th St, Garment District, Midtown West.
6. Socrates Sculpture Park
On the East River, overlooking Roosevelt Island and the Upper East Side, the Socrates Sculpture Park, a former dump site, now has interesting art installations, light shows and movies on Wednesdays in summer. Broadway at Vernon Blvd, Astoria, Queens.
7. New York Public Library
Remember the Dewey Decimal System? The New York Public Library, New York’s most famous library (aka the Stephen A Schwarzman Building), which turns 100 in 2011, is situated in a grand Beaux Arts icon east of Times Square. It’s fronted by marble lions named ‘Patience’ and ‘Fortitude,’ and is just a jaw-dropper to walk through, particularly the reading room fit for 500 patrons reading with the aid of the library’s original Carre-and-Hastings lamps. There’s exhibits too, including a copy of the original Declaration of Independence, a Gutenburg Bible, plus 431,000 old maps. There are free tours at 11am and 2pm Monday to Saturday, 2pm Sunday. Fifth Ave at 42nd St, Midtown East.
8. New York Earth Room
Now for something completely different: the Earth Room, Walter De Maria’s 1977 art installation, a single room filled with 280,000 pounds of dirt, combines the framework of an ordinary office with the scent of a wet forest. 141 Wooster St, SoHo
9. National Museum of the American Indian
This Smithsonian ex-pat, just off the historic Bowling Green and Battery Park, is neighbors to frenetic commuters and tourists heading to the Statue of Liberty but often gets missed. Situation in the spectacular former US Customs House (1907), the National Museum of the American Indian is actually one of the country’s finest collections of Native American art. The focus is on culture, not history, and does so with many of its million-plus items. There’s also many programs. 1 Bowling Green, Lower Manhattan.
10. Chelsea galleries
New York’s most concentrated area for a gallery crawl is in Chelsea, mostly in the 20s Streets between 10th and 11th Avenues. Check Gallery Guide or westchelseaarts.com for listings. All are free, no pressure to buy. And try timing for wine-and-cheese openings on Thursday evenings.
These great attractions can all be included in our Performing Arts and Culture School trips to New York. Our specialist school travel consultants can add these attractions into your tour, or can recommend over 30 other free attractions in New York to be included in your itinerary! Contact us for more information. Remember we provide your school tour with local qualified guides to make your trip as easy as possible for you the Teacher.
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