New York Insider: Free Tours

New York Insider: Free Tours - New York, United States

OK, so we’ve told you how to sleep and eat in New York for cheap, but you’re coming to New York City for more than a bed and a few meals, now, aren’t you? You want to see the sights and take your own bite out of the Big Apple like everyone else.

Before you rush to the nearest bus and trolley tours, you should consider the impact these tours will inevitably have on your checking account. An adult fare on the Gray Line New York Sightseeing All Loops tour, for example, costs between $39 and $54 per person.

Happily, there are several alternatives to the standard bus and trolley tours, enabling visitors to check out New York without spending a cent. These tours are perfect for visiting and resident Cheapos alike.

The Federal Reserve Bank

It feels somewhat righteous to stare at billions of dollars worth of real gold bricks when it won’t even cost you a copper penny of your own to do so. Where could you possibly be privy to such a store of riches, you ask? At the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, of course.

The free tour takes you beneath the bank, 50 feet below sea level, to a vault that holds gold from approximately 60 countries. There are also other exhibits, including the interactive FedWorks, which demonstrates how the bank operates and handles large sums of money.

When: Tours run Monday through Friday (except bank holidays), every hour on the half hour from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Note that there are no tours in the 12:30 p.m. hour.)

Where: 33 Liberty Street, between Nassau and William streets in lower Manhattan. Take the 2, 3, 4, 5, A or C train to Fulton Street.

What’s the catch? You need to call at least a week ahead to reserve a place on a tour (or a month in advance for a small group).

For more information: Visit the Federal Reserve Bank online or call 212-720-6130.

Grand Central Terminal

New York’s legendary hub has a fascinating past. The free walking tour highlights much of its social and architectural history. Learn why the ceiling’s Zodiac mural was intentionally painted backwards, which of the two Grand staircases isn’t original and about the station's Kissing Room.

When: Every Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.

Where: Visitors meet at the famous four-sided clock in the main concourse, inside Grand Central Terminal, on 42nd Street and Park Avenue. Take the 5, 6, 7 or S train to the Grand Central stop, follow subway exit signs for the station and the staircase leading out of the subway will land you directly inside.

What’s the catch? On a first come, first served model, tours are limited to the first 50 people. Arrive early. (Note that there is a suggested donation of $10, but the tour is technically free.)

For more information: Visit the Grand Central Terminal Web site or call 212-935-3960.

Times Square

You can go to Times Square and gawk at all the bright lights as long as you please, free of charge. But if you want to know more about how those lights got to flashing in the first place, join a free walking tour. Learn how the square was named, how the invention of neon lights shaped the square’s facade and how it developed into a commercial and entertainment mecca. You'll also learn about its deliciously sordid past.

When: Visitors meet every Friday at noon.

Where: The Times Square Information Center at 1560 Broadway, on the block of Seventh Avenue between 46th and 47th streets. Take the N, Q, R, W, S, 1, 2, 3, 7 or 9 to 42nd Street/Times Square, and you’ll be in the thick of it all.

What’s the catch? Arrive early because the tour leaves on schedule. Be prepared for the weather, as this tour takes place outside.

For more information: Visit Times Square online (again, scroll down for tour details) or call 212-768-1560.

Brooklyn Brewery

If you love a frothy mug of beer, try a free brewery tour. Learn about the beer creation process, as green hops and brown barley are turned into golden liquid. You can even taste the finished product at the end (as long as you’re older than 21, of course). Just fight your urge to dive into the casks.

When: Saturdays, every hour on the hour from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., Sundays, every hour on the hour from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m.

Where: 1 Brewer’s Row, 79 N. 11th Street, Brooklyn, NY. Take the L train to Bedford Avenue. You’ll exit the subway on North 7th Street and Bedford Avenue. Walk up Bedford to North 11th Street, and make a left for the brewery.

What’s the catch? There's no catch! You may want to be on time, but you don’t need to be particularly early. Reservations are not required.

For more information: Visit Brooklyn Brewery online or call 718-486-7422.

Big Apple Greeters

Big Apple Greeters is a non-profit organization that connects New York City visitors with knowledgeable New Yorkers. These New Yorkers, or "greeters," volunteer their time to show people around the city they know and love. The goal of the program is to share information about the ethnic and cultural diversity of the city. Accordingly, neighborhoods off the beaten tourist track are prioritized by the Greeters. What better guide could you have than an informed native?

When: You coordinate the time with your greeter-to-be.

Where: Also to be determined.

What’s the catch? You need to submit an application three to four weeks ahead of your desired tour. Tours are limited to six people.

For more information: Visit Big Apple Greeters online or call 212-669-8159.

Free Tours on Foot

Free Tours on Foot offers, you guessed it, free walking tours of New York City! (Although it does also offer some bike and bus tours.) The company's guides work exclusively for tips, so even though the tour is technically free, it's really more of a name-your-price arrangement (if you do feel obligated to leave a tip, that is). Nonetheless, this is a very affordable way to see the city, with tours from Wall Street to Harlem. The company also offers food and shopping themed tours.

When: Depends on which tour, though most leave at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m.

Where: Varies by tour. Call or check their website to find out.

What's the catch? Though they advertise as free, the tours are tip-based and you'll probably feel obligated to leave something. (And with good reason, we always recommend tipping your tour guide!)

For more information: Visit their website or call at 646-450-6831.

Other Options

If you’re not wild with excitement over any of these options, you can peruse many more free attractions on the NYC Tourism Web site, and find something better suited to your interests that won't bleed you dry.

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