Best Free Views of the Manhattan Skyline
The Staten Island Ferry
A free public transit ride plus Lady Liberty views
A well-kept secret for a no-cost cruise is a secret no more: Hop on New York City's Staten Island Ferry to enjoy a scenic ride across New York Harbor, free of charge. Take in the views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Lower Manhattan in the distance. The ferry even offers free Wi-Fi and runs 24 hours a day, so spontaneous travelers can hop aboard at Battery Park for a daytime sail or evening cruise—whatever fits your schedule.
Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges
Turn-of-the-century East River landmarks
If you're up for a brisk walk, don't miss the skyline views from two of New York City's walkable bridges: the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. Both offer pedestrian walkways, so you can amble along and snap photos of the skyline while you stroll. Though the Manhattan Bridge can be noisy due to the subway trains that run along its expanse, this landmark offers something its counterpart does not: views of the Brooklyn Bridge itself. Both bridges are accessible via the subway, and each of the end-to-end strolls take about 30 minutes.
Gantry Plaza State Park
Renovated expanse on the Queens waterfront
If you're up for a trip to Long Island City—one of the trendiest up-and-coming Queens neighborhoods—you can find a photo-worthy look at Midtown and East River landmarks such as the United Nations Headquarters and the Chrysler Building. The renovated piers of Gantry Plaza State Park also feature a vintage Pepsi-Cola sign. From Grand Central Station, it's only one stop to the Queens waterfront on the 7 train.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
A historic neighborhood plus panoramic vistas
It's worth leaving Manhattan for a jaunt to Brooklyn Heights. This historic, waterfront neighborhood is known for its elegant brownstones, tree-lined streets, and must-see Brooklyn Heights Promenade. At the elevated city park, you can relax on benches facing the city to take in sweeping views of landmarks including One World Trade Center and the Brooklyn Bridge.
The High Line
A unique vantage point in Manhattan
For perhaps one of the highest free views on the West Side, the High Line is a prime destination. Running from the Meatpacking District to Hudson Yards, this flora-covered converted freight line is one of the premier urban hiking destinations in NYC. As you stroll, you can see the Empire State Building and the lauded public art installation known as the Vessel.
Brooklyn Rooftop Bars
Cocktails with an NYC backdrop
For an observation deck experience without a steep price tag, head to one of Brooklyn's rooftop bars. Although it's courteous to buy at least a snack or a drink, you'll get to enjoy the views and a quick bite. The chic William Vale Hotel in Williamsburg has a 22nd-floor bar, while the Wythe Hotel offers a terrace bar six floors above the Brooklyn streets. If you're looking for a less-swanky option, the nearby Berry Park rooftop beer garden is a great choice. The second floor offers a spacious outdoor deck and down-to-earth crowd. All three destinations are just a short walk from the Bedford Avenue subway stop.
The Roosevelt Island Tramway
An aerial tram with views of Manhattan and Queens
Though not completely free, one swipe of your MetroCard offers access to the Roosevelt Island Tramway and some of the most towering views in all of NYC. After departing from East 59th Street, you're whisked above the Queensborough Bridge for fantastic views up the East River. Since you need to hop off on Roosevelt Island before heading back, stretch your legs on a loop along the promenade, with only the river between you and the Big Apple.