In New York: Free or Pretty Darn Cheap

I've written before about how I think big cities can be explored on the cheap if you're willing to do a bit of research and legwork. So if you're in New York and you're on a budget, here are some fun things to see and do. In fact, you'll probably enjoy them even if money isn't tight ;)

People Watch 
New York is home to some pretty wacky characters and one of my favourite things to do is watch them go by. Find a bench in a park (Washington Square Park on a weekend afternoon is particularly good) or hop on the subway and just watch. Better yet, bring a friend along and come up with imaginary life stories for the people you see. It's an interesting kind of fun and it won't cost you a dime.
Explore the Neighbourhoods
One of the things about New York that I find to be overwhelmingly awesome is the number of amazing neighbourhoods to explore. Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Little Italy and ChinaTown and the East and West Villages are all amazing and significantly less busy than Midtown and Downtown (also cool, but a lot more crowded and a lot more touristy). Or in Brooklyn, Park Slope and Williamsburg are both beautiful and interesting. You can spend hours just wandering the streets, snapping photos and appreciating your surroundings. Catch a glimpse of the less hectic side the city has to offer.

Get a Cheap Mani/Pedi or Massage in Manhattan
With all the hustle and bustle, relaxation in Manhattan can be difficult to come by. After a long day of navigating the streets and subways and gallery hopping, I loved getting a cheap manicure. In New York you can score a regular manicure for around ten dollars, 30 for gel. A lot of these places, like Fresh Spa, where I went, also offer massages by the minute. Even a fifteen minute shoulder massage can make a world of difference. It's a nice way to relax and mix things up for very little money, and you don't have to belong to the estrogen club to take part. This is New York, trust me, men get manicures too.

Hop on a Free Ferry
Some of New York's ferries are free. You can take one to Governer's Island on weekends, or do what I did and take the ferry from the southern tip of Manhattan out to Staten Island. Whether or not you spend time on Staten Island, the ferry offers amazing views of the downtown Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty all completely free of charge.
Kid Around at the Children's Book Exhibit at The New York Public Library
The last time Chris and I were in New York, we walked by The New York Public LIbrary again and again, but we never looked inside. This time around, not only did we have a chance to peek in at the famous study halls, we checked out the exhibit The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter. It was totally awesome. We had the chance to read about the histories and sometimes scandalous backstories of our favourite books as children. What I love about this exhibit is that it connects with both adults and children. We had a blast, and it was all for free (although donations are encouraged).

Kayak the East River or The Hudson
There are a few organizations that offer completely free kayaking in the rivers surrounding Manhattan. If you're over eighteen (or have a parent with you) and can swim, all you have to do is show up, sign a waver, and you're allowed twenty minutes of paddling around various harbours. The skyscrapers look amazing from the water and it's a nice way to beat the heat on a summer day in New York.

Visit City Parks
Central Park is huge and amazing, but it's not the only park New York has to offer. My personal favourite is The Highline. Initially used to keep freight traffic out of the way of New York City motorists, the once abandoned structure has been converted into a breathtaking park. Beautiful plant life, independent food vendors and incomparable views of the NYC skyline: this park has it all. After strolling The Highline, check out Chelsea's Artists & Fleas below. Sometimes the fun is just in looking.

I hope these suggestions are helpful to you, whether you're planning a trip to New York, arranging to move there, or have lived there for years. And if my fellow travellers or New York locals have anything to add or suggest, feel free to do so in the comments. You can expect a post on cheap (delicious) food in New York this Friday. I have so many suggestions, I thought they deserved their own post!