Cheap activities are actually easier to find than you think.
Ride the Staten Island Ferry.Giphy
Although it doesn't sound particularly glamorous, riding the Staten Island Ferry is a great way to get a nice view of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. All you have to do is take the 1 train all the way down to South Ferry, cross the street towards the big STATEN ISLAND FERRY sign, board the boat (it's free) and enjoy the ride. The ferry takes you right through New York Harbor, passing just hundreds of feet within the Statue of Liberty and offering a straight shot view of Jersey City and the new World Trade Center. I recommend going at sunset (or in the rain, to make it more memorable) and sitting on the outside area of the ferry.
Ride the subway over the Brooklyn Bridge.Giphy
You've probably heard about people walking or biking over the Brooklyn Bridge, which is fun and all, but very tiring considering that the bridge takes you literally across two boroughs of the city. A better, lesser known idea is to take the B, D, N, or Q train over the Brooklyn Bridge (again, preferably at sunset) and enjoy a beautiful view of the water and lower Manhattan from your comfortable seat on the subway. Not only will you enjoy your ride, but you'll also get a priceless experience for the price of one metro card swipe: "only" $2.75!
Ride the carousel in Central Park.Giphy
Ok, I know what you're thinking. You clicked on this article because you wanted to know what to do that isn't touristy in NYC, not what to do with your kids in NYC. However, the carousel in Central Park is a staple for all ages and something that is either not known about or is often forgotten. The old-fashioned ride is located behind the baseball fields in Central Park and features ornately decorated wooden horses and a fantastical, sweet melody that will send you back to your childhood or to the latter pages of "The Catcher in the Rye". All this and more for only $3.50!
Ride the subway to City Hall Station.
City Hall Station is an abandoned subway station in lower Manhattan one stop away from the Brooklyn Bridge on the downtown 6 train. It is the place the 6 train goes after completing its route to turn around and continue uptown. The station went out of use in the 1900s after the style of subway train changed, causing there to be too large of a gap for people to step off the train. Passengers on the subway are permitted to stay on after the Brooklyn Bridge stop to experience the beautiful architecture of the station, complete with chandeliers, intricate tiling, and inspiration from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. A beautiful and magical experience, again for only $2.75.
Visit the Berlin Wall--in New York.
After its fall in 1989, sections of the Berlin Wall were sent around the world. Currently, on 520 Madison Ave in New York, you can see a partition of the original wall as it stood decades ago in Germany. You can experience one of the world's many wonders for free in your own city.
Whisper in Grand Central Station.
You should definitely pay a visit to Grand Central Station, but not to take a train. A secret of the station is that under one of the grand arcs located by the Oyster Bar, you will be able to whisper into the wall and someone on the other side will be able to hear you. Try out the arcs with a friend or significant other and enjoy the wonder and magic of Grand Central for no price at all.
Get your New York Public Library card.
If you're a student in New York City or just looking for some good reads, remember that you can always sign up for a free New York Public Library Card that can be used at any library in the city, in any borough. The NYPL offers a great place to study if you want to get off campus, and it has an endless supply of books for academic or pleasure reading. Also, the stone lions in front are pretty cool.
See a hidden waterfall.
In Greenacre Park located on 51st street between 2nd and 3rd Ave, you can witness a 25-foot waterfall flowing in the middle of the city's urban jungle. The serene, flowing water will send you miles away from the bustling taxi cabs and wailing sirens just feet beyond the boundaries of the park.
Shop at the Strand Bookstore.
The Strand, located in Lower Manhattan near Union Square Park, is a huge bookstore (we're talking multiple floors) complete with not only nooks but pins, socks, and greeting cards. Possibly the best part of the store is the outdoor racks selling $1, $2, or $ used books for all ages.
Shop at the Union Square Farmer's Market.
On Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays year-round, you can visit the farmer's market in Union Square Park to buy either handmade artisan goods or farm-grown fruits, veggies, spices, or flowers. Support the local economy (and go green) by exploring the city and meeting local producers.
Fall in love in Central Park.
Around Central Park, various benches have been inscribed with love quotes which people have signed and dated. If you find yourself in Central Park with a loved one, be sure to visit the various benches together and take a trip through others' romances. There are also other quote plaques on the benches, such as one that says, "Life is best taken a day at a time."