If you are broke or just weary of endlessly reaching for your wallet, take advantage of Manhattan's free cultural treasures. These seven day trips will amuse you, educate you or air you out without taking you far from the city's commercial heart.
In a city where money flows from your pockets like water, sometimes you need a break from being broke. Here are seven ways I have entertained my friends and myself when funds were low. Actually, I’d recommend them even if you aren't broke – they are all things every New Yorker should do at least once. Full disclosure requires me to point out that only six of them are truly free, as one will require at least a token donation, and then of course you should budget for the subway fare to get there. I’ve given some hints on optional refreshments as well. Still, a water tour, the shade of fronded palms, an ancient temple, the wheels of justice, gilded treasures, ancient tomes and the glitter of faraway stars are all yours for the taking without draining the treasury!
There and Back on the Staten Island Ferry
A free alternative to the Circle Line, the Staten Island Ferry provides a wonderful view of downtown Manhattan as you pull away from the dock, plus a closer look at the Statue of Liberty. If it’s a hot summer day, you can refresh yourself with beer in a plastic cup to ease the separation anxiety. The best times to do this are obviously NOT in the middle of morning or evening rush hour. Mid-day and sunset are good times, and of course it’s more enjoyable during clear weather. On a freezing cold day you can sit inside, and watch the ice floating in the harbor. If anyone tells you that the ferry is not romantic, remind him or her that people have gotten engaged during this ride, even if in Working Girl Melanie Griffith’s character had to go off-island to find a guy with some class.
The ferry has been run by the city of New York since 1898, and five ferries make 104 trips daily during the week. With so many crossings, planning ahead isn’t necessary. The ferries leave every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour with a somewhat lighter schedule on weekends. Lines will form well ahead of departure time during busier times. The trip itself takes 25 minutes.
To get there by subway, take the 1 or 9 to the South Ferry station, and follow the signs to the Ferry Terminal, or simply walk all the way down Broadway. The ferry leaves every half hour.
If you like to spend some time on Staten Island and aren’t completely broke, the $5 it costs ($3 for students and seniors) to visit the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art (plus the bus fare) is a worthwhile investment. This house contains the collection of Edna Coblentz, a.k.a. Jacques Marchais, who owned an Asian Art gallery in the 1930’s and in 1945 built two buildings in a Tibetan style to bring her collection to the public. The pilgrimage is made easy by the fact that the S74 bus meets every ferry (follow the crowd to the bus lanes behind the St. Georges Ferry Terminal on Staten Island). Take the bus to Lighthouse Avenue (about 30 min.) and you will have only a short walk up the hill to the Museum. It is only open limited hours and days: on Wednesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.