When fall hits New York City, the possibilities for free fun multiply like leaves on the ground. From festivals to tours, exhibits to community events, the five boroughs offer a slew of budget-friendly activities for everyone. Want to enjoy the perks of the season without spending a cent? With this list covering the best free things to do in NYC in the fall, you are sure to soak up all the sights, sounds, and flavors of the Big Apple without emptying your wallet.
Morningside Park to the Columbia University campus (September 30, 2023)
Other Attraction in Morningside Heights
Join the spectacular neighborhood tradition that illuminates the sky with thousands of lights and brings the community together. This year’s theme, “The Open Book”, celebrates the power of literature and the joy of reading. On Saturday, September 30, 2023, you can watch the dazzling display of custom-made lanterns in a procession that marches from Morningside Park to the Columbia University campus. Don’t miss your chance to be part of this magic – there is a no-charge lantern-building workshop one week before the parade.
Bronx Night Market
Other Events in Bronx
The Bronx Night Market is one of the best places to find foods that celebrate New York City’s most northern borough. Each spring, this event supports the Bronx’s food scene by offering world-class events that are affordable. Be ready to celebrate cuisine and culture, as it represents NYC’s diverse offerings and encourages people from all around the city to experience this borough.
You’ll find just about every type of food, from ice cream, latkes, and pastries, to tamales, soul food, and vegan options. There are also other types of local merchants and live entertainment.
When? Every Saturday till end of October from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m..
Park in Midtown Manhattan
With over 800 acres to explore, Central Park has something for everyone. In fact, this sprawling urban oasis is the crown jewel of free things to do in NYC in the fall. Here, you can admire the breathtaking scenery, find relaxation on emerald lawns, engage in various sports activities, or indulge in bird watching. Do you prefer sightseeing? The list of must-see attractions includes Bow Bridge, Bethesda Fountain, The Mall, The Ramble, Strawberry Fields, and Belvedere Castle.
My tip: check out my article When is the Best Time to See Fall Foliage in NYC in 2023?
Village Halloween Parade (October 31, 2023)
Parade in West Village
Join the spooktacular Village Halloween Parade, the largest and most creative public Halloween celebration in the whole country. Gathering thousands of participants, it showcases costumes of all kinds ranging from scary to funny and bizarre. The parade is much-loved for its giant puppets, floats, bands, and dancers. You can join the procession without spending a dime, although you’ll need a costume. The fun starts at 7 p.m. on October 31 and lasts for about three hours.
Love Me (Bar)Tender (October 5 + 6, 2023)
Bar in East Village
Get ready to rock and roll with Elvis at a pop-up bar inspired by The Jungle Room, the den at his Graceland mansion. The pop-up wittily called “Love Me (Bar)Tender,” will transport you to 1965 with its Hawaiian-themed decor, including green shag carpet on the floor and ceiling, a rock waterfall, and a tiki bar. The things to enjoy include Elvis-themed cocktails, music from Memphis bands, a photo booth, and many others. The pop-up is free to visit on October 5 and 6 with advance registration, yet the exact location is a secret until September.
Brooklyn Book Festival (September 24 to October 2, 2023)
Other Events in Downtown Brooklyn
If books are your thing, there is one more place to go, the Brooklyn Book Festival. From September 24 to October 2, 2023, this year’s edition of the biggest free literary event in NYC features writers of all possible genres and backgrounds. A plethora of readings, panels, workshops, and signings, as well as the largest book market in the Northeast, are there to satisfy your bibliophilic itching.
The highlight of the festival takes place on October 1, when seven stages around Downtown Brooklyn’s Borough Hall and other venues will host performances by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors as well as The Best of Brooklyn award presentation.
My tip: There a plenty of other amazing Fall festivals in NYC to choose from!
Hudson Kayaking (Until October 8, 2023)
Pier in Dumbo
Feel the crisp fall air on your face as you paddle down the mighty Hudson! Manhattan Community Boathouse at Pier 96 invites you on fantastic aquatic adventures along Riverside Park. Kayaks, gears, changing rooms, and lockers are available for free (or for a small donation). This year, kayaking ends on October 8th, 2023, so don’t miss this opportunity to experience NYC from a different perspective.
Socrates Sculpture Park
Park in Long Island City
Before, it was once an illegal garbage dump, now you’ll find the beautiful Socrates Sculpture Park. The park is an open-air museum for local artists and creative residents. At the same time, it’s an exceptional recreational area located right next to the East River. There are many events that occur on this park throughout the year, such as an outdoor cinema during the warmer months.
Big Screen at Hudson Yards
Other Events in Hudson Yards
From May to October, major international sporting events are shown on the big screen at The Big Screen at The Backyard at Hudson Yards. Sports enthusiasts can watch soccer, Formula 1, golf, tennis tournaments, baseball playoffs, women’s soccer and more on the approximately 30-foot screen.
Starting in September, there will be additional Movie Nights here again, where you can watch big blockbusters.
This is the schedule:
- September 15: Miss Congeniality
- September 22: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
- October 6: What a Girl Wants
- October 13: Practical Magic
- October 20: The Witches (1990)
- October 22: Crazy Stupid Love
Friday Nights at the MoMA
Museum in Midtown Manhattan
The Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA, is a beacon for art enthusiasts. With its expansive collection of modern and contemporary works, it provides a deep dive into the art world’s evolutions and revolutions. Come fall, the museum opens its doors for free every Friday evening, granting locals a golden opportunity. Surrounded by the rustling leaves of nearby trees and the cool autumnal air, diving into art at MoMA becomes an even more immersive experience.
My tip: Here you find all free museums in NYC (free admission!)
Other Attraction in Park Slope
While cemeteries might not be on everyone’s list of places to visit, Green-Wood in Brooklyn is an exception. It’s not just a resting place but also a historical landmark and a green space offering tranquility. During the fall, its rolling hills, serene ponds, and Gothic architecture become even more enchanting, draped in the colors of the season. This free-to-visit locale offers both a peaceful environment and a touchstone to New York’s rich history, making it a unique spot for autumn contemplation.
Queens County Farm Museum (Amazing Maize Maze + Autumn Dance Celebration)
Other Events in Queens
The Queens treasure and the city’s longest continually operated farm – this is all about Queens County Farm Museum. Covering 47 acres of land, it offers activities for all ages: barnyard animal feeding, hayrides, pumpkin shopping, just to name a few. Along with that, you can challenge yourself to find your way out of the Amazing Maize Maze or join the Autumn Dance Celebration (November 13, 2023). Admission is free except on special ticketed event days. Don’t miss the on-site market stocked with fresh produce before leaving.
The High Line (+ free guided walking tour!)
Park in Meatpacking District
Once a railroad track, today it is one of the most breathtaking parks, offering a perfect escape for those seeking free things to do in NYC in the fall. The 1.45-mile elevated green space provides stunning views of the city and the Hudson River, along with well-maintained gardens, multiple art installations, and food vendors. It is beautiful year-round, but in fall, as the leaves change color and create a striking contrast with the urban landscape, it radiates even more charm.
You can access the High Line from various points, but we recommend starting your journey from the Vessel at Hudson Yards and gradually making your way to the Edge, the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere.
My tip: There is also a free guided walking tour from September til October – check out the events page here.
- Tuesdays, 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
- Wednesdays, 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
- Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Visit on of the Chelsea NYC Art Galleries
Gallery in Chelsea
After exploring the High Line’s landscaped parks and city views, make a stop at Chelsea’s art galleries– they are in the same neighborhood. Just walk over to view groundbreaking contemporary art at venues like Gagosian, David Zwirner, Pace Gallery, and dozens of others. Although displays change all the time, you are guaranteed to come across stunning paintings, sculptures, prints, and installations from world-known and aspiring young artists alike. Every Thursday night is a chance to get to know New York’s vibrant art scene for free. Oh, and there are also complimentary wine and snacks!
The Feast of San Gennaro (September 14 – 24, 2023)
Other Events in Little Italy
Since 1926, The Feast of San Gennaro has been a stunning display of Italian culture and traditions in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Spanning 11 days (from Thursday, September 14 through Sunday, September 24), the festival features processions, music performances, pizza and cannoli eating contests, carnival games and rides, and of course, lots of delicious Italian food. With so much entertainment on multiple stages, this is a quintessential New York experience worth adding to your travel calendar.
Ghost Tour of Greenwich Village NYC
Walking Tour in Greenwich Village
If you’re a sucker for a spooky and thrilling experience, ghost tours in NYC are just what the doctor ordered. While visiting historic sites where ghosts and spirits are said to linger, you’ll hear stories of power struggles, plaques, and murders that haunt the city’s past. There are two free-of-charge walking ghost tours available – in Greenwich Village and on the Brooklyn Bridge – and each covers about 1.5 miles. Check the tour calendar here.
My tip: Here you can find my personal best ghost tours in NYC.
Oktoberfest NYC (September 8, 2023 – October 29, 2023)
American Restaurant in Financial District
Watermark Restaurant & Bar Pier 15 NYC
You don’t have to go to Germany to celebrate Oktoberfest. You can do it right here, in NYC. Running from September 8th to October 29th, the Big Apple’s festival features beer, pretzels, schnitzel, and other authentic German delicacies. While free to attend, it is a good idea to reserve tables or buy express entry. Don lederhosen or dirndls and revel in festivities. Prost!
Park in Park Slope
Often dubbed Brooklyn’s Central Park, Prospect Park offers a sprawling green space for residents to escape urban life. As autumn approaches, the park comes alive in a riot of colors, with its vast tree canopy transitioning from green to golds, reds, and browns. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll, a weekend picnic, or simply some quiet reflection by the lake, Prospect Park’s fall scenery provides a free and soulful retreat for locals.
New York Public Library
Building in Midtown Manhattan
Nestled in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, the New York Public Library’s main branch is more than a repository of books—it’s an architectural masterpiece. With its majestic lion statues guarding the entrance and its intricate interiors, visiting the library is akin to stepping back in time. And in the fall, as the adjacent Bryant Park dons its autumnal attire, there’s something magical about diving into a good book within this historic setting. Best of all, it’s free for all to explore and get lost in its vast corridors of knowledge.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Park in Park Slope
Spanning more than 50 acres, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a veritable oasis in the heart of the city. Especially during the fall, the garden transforms into a magnificent spectacle of vibrant colors and textures. From the golden hues of gingko trees to the deep reds of Japanese maples, the garden offers a free respite every Tuesday. It’s an unmissable opportunity for locals to immerse themselves in a breathtaking tableau of autumnal flora without leaving the confines of the city.
Staten Island Ferry
Cruise in Staten Island
A ride on the Staten Island Ferry isn’t just a commute—it’s an experience. As autumn sets in, the ferry becomes an unmatched vantage point for witnessing the transformation of the city’s skyline. With the shimmering waters reflecting fall colors and the iconic sights of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in the distance, this free journey offers both residents and tourists a picturesque, moving panorama of New York in its autumnal glory.
Enjoy Public Art
Other Events in Theatre District
New York City’s streets and parks become an open-air museum in the fall, with public art installations cropping up citywide. These pieces, ranging from contemporary to avant-garde, offer both aesthetic and cultural value. As the leaves turn and the city adopts a more muted, golden tone, these installations stand out, offering a free, enriching experience for locals keen on blending their art appreciation with the seasonal beauty around them.
Building in Dumbo
The Brooklyn Bridge, a marvel of 19th-century engineering, provides a free and immersive experience, especially in the fall. As locals traverse its pedestrian path, they are met with unmatched views of Manhattan’s skyline and the East River. Autumn adds a special touch, with the crisp air and changing colors of nearby foliage enhancing the experience. The bridge connects two iconic boroughs, making it not just a pathway, but a journey through history and culture. Walking its length offers a unique perspective of the city’s vastness, all under the canopy of a fall sky. For NYC residents, it’s a refreshing escape and a reminder of the city’s enduring grandeur.
Almost free: Roosevelt Island Tramway
Other Tours in Midtown Manhattan
Roosevelt Island, positioned between Manhattan and Queens, is a fall haven for locals. With its walking paths framed by vibrant autumn leaves, it offers clear views of the city’s skyline. The Roosevelt Island Tramway, a unique mode of transport, provides aerial views of the East River and surrounding foliage. Historical sites like the Blackwell House and Renwick Ruin stand as quiet testaments to the area’s past, further enriched by the season’s colors. For New Yorkers seeking a straightforward autumn escape close to home, Roosevelt Island is a top choice.