28 Fun Things to Do with Friends in NYC (That Will Cost You Less Than $20 Each)
When you live in one of the best cities in the world, it’s not hard to find something to do. What’s a little trickier is soaking up all that culture and entertainment without draining your wallet. To help you out, we’ve rounded up 26 fun things to do with friends right now—all for less than $20—so you never have to stop exploring for the sake of your bank account.
1. Grab a scoop at Van LeeuwenWhat started out as a popular ice-cream truck has since turned into a citywide dessert destination and chill hangout spot (pun intended) for you and your friends. Van Leeuwen creates all its flavors from scratch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and distributes them to 17 NYC locations and counting. Their unique seasonal flavors include Brooklyn Brown Sugar Chunk, Honey Basil Shortbread and our personal favorite, Cookie Crumble Strawberry Jam.
2. Hang out on the Met Rooftop
The Cantor Roof Garden Bar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is low-key one of our fave spots for a happy hour with friends. Take an elevator to the fifth floor from the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts galleries to enjoy a seasonal art installation (currently Alicja Kwade’s “ParaPivot”) and a cocktail while overlooking Central Park (a ’Gram opportunity if we’ve ever seen one). If you are a tristate resident or a student, take advantage of the Met’s pay-what-you-wish entry fee for a full day of art and culture.
3. Take a class at Yoga To The PeopleYoga to the People is a completely donation-based studio offering yoga for every level and style. The studio also boasts a packed calendar that includes special meditation events, sound baths and guest speakers. The classes are first come, first served, so arrive with enough time to claim a spot for your mat at any of the five locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Tip: Note that some of the studios are designated purely for hot yoga, if that’s your thing. Suggested donation: $10
4. Check out Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre
UCB Theatre hosts stand-up comedy, improv and variety shows for an intimate audience seven days a week. For less than $20, you and your friends can grab a local beer from the bar and catch a show starring the next Amy Poehler (one of UCB’s founders) or Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (the Broad City creators met while taking classes there).
5. Explore Central ParkBust out the old picnic basket and host a gathering in Sheep Meadow; bring along your favorite games for a full day of fun with the crew. Make a pit stop at the Loeb Boathouse, where you and up to three friends can rent a boat for $15 an hour and travel around the lake at your leisure (just like in all those rom-coms). For bonus points, check out the unique guided walking tours offered from the Central Park Conservancy, each $15 or less, to learn about the rich history of the park in a totally new way.
6. Go to a live TV taping
You live in a city where major TV shows—including a.m. staples Good Morning America and the Today show and nighttime talk shows such as The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver—are recorded in front of a live audience every week. And the best part? The tickets are free. Each show has its own process for tickets, and some are reserved months in advance, so visit their respective websites for more details.
7. Explore Hudson YardsIf you haven’t yet checked out the buzzy West Side hub known as Hudson Yards, now’s the time. After you’ve climbed the Vessel (tickets are free) and spent time in the outdoor public spaces, pop over to the Hudson Yards mall for some window-shopping and churros at Little Spain. Before leaving, stop by the Shed, a new center for art and cultural events that plays host to many free and reasonably priced events including art installations (like the current retrospective of conceptual artist Agnes Denes), concerts and performances.
8. Meet up for book club IRL
The Strand bookstore has been a landmark on Fourth Avenue since 1927, but what you may not know is that it’s constantly hosting events with big-name authors. (This month, we’re bookmarking Elizabeth Strout and Karamo Brown.) Basic admission is the cost of the book, so plan ahead and snag your tickets for incredible front-row access to your favorite storytellers. If you’re based in Brooklyn, check out the endlessly cool events at Books Are Magic, a store owned by best-selling author Emma Straub.
9. Watch a live podcast taping at the Bell House
If you’re a podcast nerd like we are, you know that The Bell House plays host to many live podcast recordings, including Ask Me Another, NPR’s popular trivia and comedy show. The calendar also has plenty of other live entertainment opportunities, including the Moth storytelling series, concerts, comedy and more (and yes, tickets are usually $20 or less).
10. Spend the day at Brooklyn Bridge ParkBrooklyn Bridge Park offers a long list of activities for friends and family alike—all while providing a stunning view of the New York City skyline. Adults and children can enjoy a spin on Jane’s Carousel or take in the views while riding a Citi Bike down the riverside Greenway bike path. Stop by the picnic grove to savor a local bite before checking out live music at Bargemusic (free concerts on Saturdays) or the ongoing family-friendly activities that the park has to offer. The scenic ferry route to Manhattan is entertainment on its own and a much more exciting way to get home than the subway.
11. A (Free) Day at the Museums
Many of New York City’s prestigious museums offer pay-what-you-wish admission or free tours on certain days. We suggest taking advantage of the pay-what-you-wish Saturdays at the Guggenheim (5:45 to 7:45 p.m.; cash only) and Wednesdays at the Frick Collection (2 to 6 p.m.) as well as free entrance to the Brooklyn Museum on the first Saturday of the month (5 to 11 p.m.). While you’re there, take advantage of the super-cute museum cafés (many have happy hours).
12. Watch the latest indie film at the IFC Center
Sometimes a movie date with your girls is just what you need. The IFC Center screens the indie releases you can’t find just anywhere, with a side of organic popcorn with real butter. Catch cult classics Fridays and Saturdays at midnight and special documentary series weekly; you’ll recognize many of the films from the likes of the Tribeca Film Festival and Sundance. After the show, hop on over to Bleecker Street Pizza and Joe’s Pizza for a New York slice face-off. (Spoiler: They’re both delicious.)
13. Go on a tour of Brooklyn BreweryGrab a pint while learning a little about how it’s made: Brooklyn Brewery offers free tours every Saturday and Sunday at its Williamsburg headquarters. Afterward, try the wines, ciders or a $6 draft in the tasting room, where you’ll find games, a rotation of food vendors and even special events like comedy shows and Puppies ’n’ Pints with Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue.
14. Jam to live music on the Lower East Side
Gather your friends and hit the Lower East Side for a night of music at venues like Mercury Lounge, Pianos or Rockwood Music Hall. You can definitely score tickets for less than $20, especially for artists on the rise. Step into Arlene’s Grocery, another popular LES venue, for its one-of-a-kind live music karaoke if you’re ready and willing to sing—while doing your best air guitar moves, of course.
15. Check out the art in Socrates Sculpture Park
Can’t decide between a museum day and a park day? Get the best of both worlds at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City. Spanning five acres on the East River, the outdoor space features waterfront views as a backdrop for rotating large-scale art installations—and admission is totally free. The park also hosts free programming like movie screenings and community festivals.
16. Spend the day on Governors IslandLocated right off the tip of Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York Harbor is Governors Island, a 172-acre public park that was once an abandoned military base. The island is home to loads of arts and cultural events, the city’s longest slide (who knew?) and incredible views of the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan. The sustainable development of the island is at the forefront; free public events focused on conservation are offered on the regular and the vast green space makes you feel much farther away than a mere 800 yards from the Financial District. Want to just chill? Kick your feet up in one of the many available hammocks, grab a bite to eat and take the ferry back home as the sun sets over the harbor.
17. Gallery-hop in Chelsea
The West Side Manhattan nabe is known for its high concentration of art galleries and open-door policy for all those interested in checking out (or purchasing) the latest offerings. You’ll discover new artists and expand your cultural horizons, and there’s a good chance you’ll be offered a complimentary glass of wine as a thank-you for your patronage.
18. Walk the High Line
With the support of the local community, a turn-of-the-century railroad track set for demolition was converted into a beautiful 1.45-mile-long elevated park running from 14th Street to 34th Street. Now beloved by locals and tourists alike, the High Line is home to a lush greenway filled with more than 500 species of plants and trees, contemporary public art and unique community programs—all of which are free. Bonus: The park is also fully wheelchair accessible.
19. Hang at the Ace Hotel
Lucky for us, you don’t need to stay at the Ace Hotel to be considered a welcomed guest. The hip Flatiron spot offers incredible entertainment in the shared spaces for everyone to enjoy. Sip on a beverage from the lobby bar or Stumptown Coffee Roasters and groove to live DJ sets, view special art installations or get a taste of live music.
20. Visit the Union Square GreenmarketEvery Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, Union Square transforms into a farmers market filled with seasonal goods fresh from the source. Stop by the stalls for a taste of apple cider, fresh breads, cheeses and more (and if you’re lucky, you might spot a celebrity doing their weekly grocery shopping). During the colder months, Union Square also hosts a special holiday market filled with kiosks selling unique gifts, plus delicious food and warm drinks to bring home.
21. Make it a game night at Barcade
This unassuming bar-meets-arcade on St. Marks Place is the perfect locale for a low-key game night with your besties (especially if you’re better at pinball than the rest of them). Purchase a handful of game tokens (25 cents each) and order an appetizer before diving into a game of 1980s Tetris.
22. Join a sing-along at Brandy’s Piano Bar
Prepare your best show tunes and arrive early to get a spot at Brandy’s Piano Bar on the Upper East Side. Serving up popular tunes with a totally no-frills attitude, the one-room venue has hosted live music for more than 35 years. The bar is centered around one piano and performer, and as songs are played, the whole room sings along with boozy enthusiasm. It’s an old-school cool that is pure fun—and you can enjoy it all for the cost of a few drinks.
23. Go on a Grand Central Terminal Scavenger HuntGrand Central Terminal has a rich history that’s often overlooked as we spend most of our time there just rushing through the main concourse to catch the 6 train. Many tours are available that reveal objects and spaces hidden in plain sight, including a speakeasy-style bar tucked away deep within the station. If a tour is not your thing, barhop from the landmark Oyster Bar to the hidden Campbell (if you can find it—it will take some searching) for a special drink in a unique locals-only setting.
24. Challenge yourself to The Office-themed trivia at Slattery’s
Slattery’s Midtown Pub is a great place to meet up with friends right after work and get down to business—finally settling who’s watched the most episodes of The Office. Each night has a different trivia theme, including Friends and Harry Potter, so everyone has a good shot at victory.
25. Rent a court at Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club
Never played a game of shuffleboard before? No problem. Pop into the retro-tropical Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Gowanus, Brooklyn, and you’ll be given a five-minute rundown of the rules (they also offer a PDF online). For $40 per court per hour, you and three friends can play the classic game while enjoying tropical drinks and a rotating schedule of food trucks.
26. Check out the Seaport DistrictLower Manhattan’s Seaport District is one of the oldest parts of Manhattan—the cobblestone streets and shipping docks are a charming reminder. More recently, the area once known for maritime trade has become a chic commercial center with loads of bars and restaurants. Bring your friends to a free outdoor movie in the warmer months, or check out a concert on the roof of Pier 17, the neighborhood’s newest performance venue. There’s an abundance of free programming year-round; follow the Seaport District on Instagram for the scoop.
27. Visit the New York Botanical Garden
The beautiful grounds of the New York Botanical Garden are a must-visit any time of year. There are incredible flower features and outdoor activities in the spring and summer, seasonal pumpkin patches and foliage tours in the fall, and winter wonderland attractions in the colder months, including the annual Holiday Train Show. NYBG also offers a selection of conservation classes and educational opportunities for adults and kids, or if you’re more inclined, a popular “Blues, Brews and Botany” celebration. Be sure to take advantage of the free admission on Wednesdays (all day) and Saturdays (from 9 to 10 a.m.).
28. Spend an afternoon at the Noguchi Museum
Founded by American artist Isamu Noguchi, the Noguchi Museum (just around the corner from Socrates Sculpture Park), houses an extensive collection of the artist’s works, including pieces displayed in a serene outdoor sculpture garden. Make sure to go on the first Friday of the month for free admission (so you can spend the $10 saved at the ultra-cool cafe).