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Everything to Do for Free in NYC This Fall

Trips to NYC aren't the most bank account-friendly, what with gourmet dining, ultra-luxe accommodations and high-end shopping pulling at your purse strings. To save you some cash (the holidays are coming up, if you can believe it!), we've rounded up the city's best fall freebies.

A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.

See recent posts by Chelsea Stuart

Peep Some Fall Foliage

NYC may be lacking in the sprawling wilderness department, but what little we have does the trick quite nicely each fall. Take to Central Park for free guided tours of the Ramble and Hallett Nature Sanctuary, or check out the highlights on an iconic views trek; walk yourself around the Met Cloisters (where museum admission is up to you) and Fort Tryon Park; or if you’re in Brooklyn, catch the changing leaves in Prospect Park.

Beyond the city’s public parks, you can catch native flora and fauna as well as the season’s best blooms – flowering maples, dahlias, and pumpkins – at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Free admission on Tuesdays and Saturdays means stocking your Insta with enviable panoramas without dipping into your funds.

The Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens also treats visitors to free admission – in this case, all day everyday – making it well worth the trip to Astoria. Built on an abandoned landfill, the four-acre expanse features permanent and temporary multi-media installations year-round.

From out of town or in need of a little more guidance? NYC By Foot offers more than 30 different tours – all pay-what-you-wish-style – around the city, so you can get your fill of neighborhoods like Harlem, the Lower East Side, SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown, and DUMBO.

Nothing says the season’s arrived like visiting a pumpkin patch – a lofty feat in NYC. But if you hop an express bus or fire up your Uber app for a ride to the Queens County Farm Museum, right on the outskirts of town, you’ll find 47-acres of bonafide farm with livestock, greenhouses, herb gardens, and yes, pumpkins. Visit any day they’re not hosting an event, and you can roam the grounds, say hi to the animals or go on a guided tour (Saturdays and Sundays) all for free.

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Brooklyn Botanic Garden

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NYC by Foot

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The Cloisters / Fort Tryon Park

Get Down at a Festival or Parade

Fifth Ave will overflow with more than 35,000 marchers this October 10th for the annual Columbus Day Parade which starts at 44th Street and runs to 72nd. A celebration of Italian-American culture, folk dance performances, musical acts and floats from 100+ groups draw out crowds of more than 500 thousand.

The annual Marco Polo Festival pairs two of NYC’s richest and most iconic communities – Little Italy and Chinatown – for a day of hand-in-hand celebration and recognition. Now in its 8th year, on October 15th, you can catch a theatrical reenactment of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan’s encounter on the Silk Road.

This October 31st marks the 43rd annual Village Halloween Parade. A festive Greenwich Village fave that attracts some 50,000 costumed bystanders with the promise of massive puppets and outlandish musical acts and dance performances.

On November 11, join locals in a neighborhood-wide Veteran’s Day Parade Block Party which sets up shop between 53rd Street from 6th Ave to Madison Ave.

Anyone with access to a TV knows about this one, but the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade simply isn’t something we could gloss over, especially not when 2016 rings in 90 years of epic balloon-accompanied processionals. The two-and-a-half-mile parade route will fill up extra quick this November 24, so be sure to park your camping chairs early.

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Village Halloween Parade

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Courtesy of Sunny Kam, Marco Polo Festival

Get Cultured

October and Archtober are basically synonymous in New York as the city sets aside 31 straight days for celebrating architecture and design. While some events do require paid admission, peruse the calendar and you’ll find all sorts of free lectures, films, activities, and exhibitions in some of the savviest structures around.

For one weekend each October – this year the 15th and 16th – the city also hosts Open House New York, an event that grants visitors free access to hundreds of rare sites across the five boroughs. OHNY is your free ticket to tours, lectures and performances in some of NYC’s most historical and hard-to-access buildings.

Fall or not, NYC consistently rocks it in the museum category, with free, or pay-as-you-wish, admission to some of the city’s top institutions on lock every day of the year. Don’t believe us? Peep a sample itinerary: Monday – the Bronx Museum of the Arts (free all day); Tuesday – the 9/11 Memorial & Museum (free 5pm to close); Wednesday – the Museum of Jewish Heritage (free 4pm to 8pm); Thursday – the Brooklyn Children’s Museum (free 2pm to 6pm); Friday – the MoMA (free 4pm to 8pm); Saturday – the Guggenheim (pay-what-you-wish 5:45pm to 7:45pm); Sunday – the Studio Museum Harlem (free all day).

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Archtober - featuring the Met Breuer

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Open House NY Weekend (image courtesy Graham Haber)

Feast on Free Food (Samples)

Head down to Little Italy from September 15-25 and you’ll find the Feast of San Gennaro 11 whole days of festivities and food that draw more than one million people each year. Sure, the (amazing) food costs money, but listening to live music, following the parade route, and witnessing the cannoli eating competition are all free of charge.

Sunday September 25th, Orchard Street between Delancey and East Houston will swell with 20+ vendors hawking every conceivable variety of pickled treat in honor of Lower East Side Pickle Day. The bazaar also plays host to live music, a home pickling contest and tons of pickle-themed games.

NYC is home to handfuls of year-round farmer’s markets, but once fall officially hits, out comes the apple cider doughnuts and freshly harvested pumpkins and squash. Practically every neighborhood you can think of has a market, but our favorites include: the Union Square Greenmarket, the Park Slope Farmers’ Market, and the Greenpoint / McCarren Park Greenmarket.

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LES Pickle Day / Potatoes at the Union Sq. Farmers Market courtesy of Edsel Little

Fit in the Whole Family

The Bronx Zoo’s free Wednesdays mean your entire clan can enjoy a day-long outing without breaking the bank. Bonus: this summer saw the addition of lots of babies, so don’t miss your chance to catch infant squirrel monkeys, little blue penguins, Mongolian horse foals, and sea lion pups.

For curious kiddos who don’t understand the "no touching" policy of most museums, the American Museum of Natural History is an engaging and interactive change of pace. Free admission to the Discovery Room means examining actual fossils, handling real-deal telescopes, and piecing together life-size cast skeletons of prehistoric animals. For the particularly inquisitive, the museum hosts regular ‘Meet the Scientist’ events for older children, and ‘Gateway Storytime’ for the younger crowd. Other museum highlights include the Children’s Museum of the Arts (which has by donation Thursdays), where daily workshops include crafts like a clay bar, puppet making, and movie soundtrack scoring; and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, where admission is free the first Friday of the month, and more than 80 workshops, classes and performances are held weekly.

Those who are musically inclined will get a kick out of Bargemusic’s ‘Music in Motion,’ every Saturday at 4pm. Along with a family-friendly one-hour performance, the event involves a post-show Q&A session with the musicians.

As if traversing lower Manhattan on an elevated train track weren’t already cool enough, the High Line hosts a bunch of fun activities for tots and adults. The Haunted High Line Halloween, on October 29, throws a photo booth, ghost-themed scavenger hunt, puppet show and a bit of High Line history into the mix, while regular Tuesday night Stargazing sessions mean busting out the high-powered telescopes for stellar celestial views.

RELATED: Hidden New York

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Bronx Zoo (Courtesy of Julie Larsen Maher)

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Haunted High Line Halloween

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Stargazing at the High Line

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