Friends/Relatives Visiting for the Holidays? Here’s 10 Things That Are Free (or almost free)

Here are at least ten suggestions that are sure to enhance the visits of friends and relatives who descend on you this holiday season. Some of your guests may be so exhausted by the end of all the sightseeing that they won’t have the energy to exhaust your supply of rum spiked egg nog–and neither will their parents. And best of all, many of the suggestions by our intrepid travel reporter Ralph Spielman are free or nearly so (Except that luxury spa on the otherwise low cost Governor’s Island.)

| 21 Dec 2023 | 10:46

Maybe you’ve seen some of these sights, maybe not. But when friends and relatives descend on you this holiday season, here are at least ten things that are mostly free and off the beaten path. (If they do insist on going to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the best time of day is just when they turn the lights on at 5 a.m. each morning and the crowds of tourists are not yet there.) If predawn rising is not your idea of a good thing to do in your down time, there are plenty of other places to go that are free or only a nominal cost.

Plan a stroll on the High Line

Free 90-minute tours are available to anyone who shows up on Wednesday at 10 a.m. and Saturdays at 12 noon. Show up at the Gansevoort Street entrance on the High Line, next to the Whitney Museum for an informative stroll. Tours head north, and depending on the group, tours may end at West 23rd or West 30th Streets. Show up early! Please note that tours are subject to cancellation due to inclement weather.

You can also explore on your own anytime from 7am to 6pm during the week. There is no admission charge at any time as you wander above street level on what was the former elevated tracks of the New York Central Railroad. Did we mention it’s free?

Take sea!

Take a trip on a NY Ferry! On the East Side, board at 90th, 34th or 23rd Streets, head for Wall Street Pier 11; from there, you can take the South Brooklyn Ferry to Governors Island. It’s $4.00, with a transfer included.

Another ferry, operated by the Trust for Governors Island runs daily from 10 South Street from 7am to 6pm daily. (If you are traveling to the Lower Manhattan ferry by cab or livery service, ask to be taken to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Most drivers know that location. They do not always know where the Governors Island waiting room is located.)

The 172-acre island is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. this former military fortress is now a park with excellent views of the Harbor and no admission fee. It the weather is warm, there is a climb­ing boul­der, hills and a picnic vista although this time of year, there are no stores open and only one indoor exhibit. A cafe serves food and beverages. Also on view? Original artwork. If nice weather, there is a bicycle rental that you pedal around a 1.5 mile outer loop and it snowy weather sets in, there is sled rental spot. There’s also a full-service luxury spa, but this is pricey. Half-day tickets start at $88 on weekdays and $100 on weekends. Full-day passes are $110 during the week and $128 on weekends. Entry with a 25-minute massage starts at $200 on weekdays and $222 on weekends.

(Bear in mind, the Island will be closed on Dec. 25.)


Explore Central Park to Riverside Park

The 843-acre Central Park, even during the short days of winter can be a place to walk and chat, as people having been doing since it’s start in 1858. Start out at the East 79th Street entrance to the park, and end up in 253-acre Riverside Park on the West Side.

If you have kids in tow, especially if they’ve seen the 1995 animated adventure movie “Bolto”, head to Central Park’s East Drive at 67th St to see the statue of the Alaskan husky who became an international celebrity back in 1925 when he led a team of sled dogs on the final 90 mile leg of a 1,000 mile journey from Anchorage to Nome, deliver lifesaving serum to combat a deadly outbreak of diptheria, a highly contagious respiratory disease that had already killed two kids before Nome was placed on quarantine.

Located north of the Central Park Zoo the sculpture was dedicated on December 17, 1925. The real life Bolto, who after his historic lifesaving run on the Iditarod Trail, went on national tour with some other sled mates, was actually on hand for its unveiling of the Frederick Roth bronze statue. Children frequently climb the statue to pretend to ride Bolto and he’s still sturdy nearly 100 years later!

If you’re lucky, as you traverse the park, you may see–or hear the hoots of–Flaco, a beloved eagle owl who escaped from the Central Park Zoo after vandals cut through a mesh fence. Flaco has been delighting birdwatchers ever since as he survives out of captivity. After an excursion last month to the East Village, he’s been spotted back in Central Park in recent weeks.

If great views of surrounding landscape are your thing, visit Belvedere Castle. Calvert Vaux and architect Jacob Wrey Mould’s 1872 place perched on Vista Rock and built from native Manhattan schist.

Fans of the Beatles and John Lennon will surely want to see Strawberry Fields, a five-acre memorial to Lennon near West 72nd Street, which includes the Imagine mosaic. It was dedicated in 1985, five years after his tragic murder.

To the west stands the Dakota Apartments. The building was used as the backdrop of Dan Aykrody’s and Bill Murray’s 1984 comedy thriller “Ghostbusters.” Opened in 1884, Henry Hardenburgh’s building is the oldest standing luxury building in New York City. Located at the northwest corner of Central Park West and W. 72nd Street, the German Renaissance building has had many famous residents, including John Lennon (and until recently his widow Yoko Ono), Paul Simon and Leonard Bernstein.

After a quick snack between Columbus Avenue and Broadway, continue west on 72nd Street, you’ll spot the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial. The monument lies at the southern threshold of Riverside Park and is one of a sequence of civic monuments along Riverside Drive that includes French heroine Joan of Arc, Hungarian independence leader Lajos Kossuth, and most recently author Ralph Ellison.Then down the stairs you go to the majestic Hudson River. Should you head south, there are places to sit and relax. No matter whether you head north or south, it’s a scenic walk along the Hudson. Watch barges travel up and down the Hudson, as they have been doing for two centuries.

Three great museums in the oldest part of Manhattan

While many visitors hop on the Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty ferries to sightsee, few realize that there are three great museums close by. A good morning and/or afternoon can be spent visiting them.

The Skyscraper Museum at 39 Battery Place is open Wednesday through Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. Fittingly, it was the first museum in the city to reopen after 9/11 in 2001. Admission is free to all. The 5,800 square-foot museum highlights high-rise buildings as technology, design, construction, and real estate objects, for work and living. While it is not large, it is assuredly unique.

A neighbor, across the street, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, at 36 Battery Place does charge admission ranging from $18 for adults and $12 for veterans, and ADA visitors but there are plenty of free categories. Admission is free for everyone on Thursdays between 4–8 p.m. and children under 12 are always free. It also always offers free admission to Holocaust survivors, active members of the military, first responders, educators with current ID cards, and NYC DOE K-12 students. Backpacks, strollers, large bags, and other large items are not allowed in the galleries.

It is committed to the crucial mission of educating diverse visitors about Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust and is overseen by former publishing head honcho Jack Kliger, who is the son of Holocaust survivors. It sits near the Hudson and commands spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and lower New York Harbor. A kosher restaurant, Lox, offers diverse fare and is open to the public even if not visiting the museum. Backpacks, strollers, large bags, and other large items are not allowed in the galleries.

The National Museum of the American Indian, in the old US Customs House Building, is compact, yet revealing. In it, hundreds of objects revolved around Native Americans, and certainly worth a visit. A café serving indigenous food is available. Like the Skyscraper Museum, the NMAI is also free to visitors.

A Christmas Light Fantasy in Brooklyn

Either take a car or hop on the D Train to 79th St and New Utrecht Ave, Brooklyn, then walk 15 minutes uphill to get to this light display, which ranges from 11th to 13th Avenues and 83rd to 86th Streets. This Dyker Heights neighborhood will astound and amaze you with its phantasm of lights. Try to be there between dusk and 9 p.m. Walking and bus tours are available, with a limited amount of tickets between now and January 5, the last night of this display,

You can walk on your own as well. There are food trucks along the way, but few bathrooms available in this neighborhood, though,

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy these unusual parts of NYC!