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Seeing the bulk of New York City's biggest attractions can mean spending a hefty chunk of a trip's budget on tickets. Empire State Building? $20. The Met? $20. The Guggenheim and Whitney go for $18 each. Even the Frick is $15. But there is a lifetime of fun to be had without ever handing over a cent, and not just by taking on park trails, bike paths or window browsing. (Plus some ticket-admission spots have free times too – see the end of the story.)

Free New York travellers, get busy!

1. African Burial Ground
One of Lower Manhattan's most fascinating, and controversial, stories of recent years circulates around the new African Burial Ground National Monument site. It began when a construction project in 1991 uncovered a burial ground of slaves - more than 400 caskets were found - from an age when New York had more slaves than any American city outside Charleston, South Carolina. Outside you can see part of the site now enveloped by buildings, and the compact visitors centre does a masterful job at retelling African-American history in the city. See Lonely Planet's 76-Second Travel Show episode on the museum's opening.

2. Brooklyn Brewery tours
Free Saturday tours of Williamsburg's Brooklyn Brewery run half an hour from 1 pm to 4pm.

3. Central Park
It does not take brilliant travel minds to tell you that a park is free to visit - most parks are. But most parks are not Central Park, Manhattan's famed claim to thinking ahead (even if it was designed in the 1860s to boost real-estate value uptown). It is filled with free events, statues, people-watching and sites like Strawberry Fields, an "Imagine" mosaic near the Dakota, where John Lennon was killed in 1980. Another site is "the Pond", at the southeastern corner, where Holden Caulfield kept turning to in "The Catcher in the Rye", wondering where those ducks go when it is cold. (For the answer, watch this video.)

4. Chelsea galleries
New York's most concentrated area for a gallery crawl is in Chelsea, mostly in the 20s streets between 10th and 11th avenues. Check Gallery Guide or for listings. All are free, no pressure to buy. And try timing for wine-and-cheese openings on Thursday evenings.

5. City Hall
Home to New York City's government since 1812, City Hall tours take in its cupola-topped marble hall, the governor's room as well as the spot where Abraham Lincoln's coffin lay in state briefly in 1865. Tours must be reserved in advance.

6. Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Museum
It is always Fashion Week in the FIT Museum, which features rotating exhibits by students and a surprisingly interesting and detailed collection of the country's first gallery of fashion, picked from a collection of 50,000 garments dating from the 18th Century to present.

7. Federal Hall
Two presidents were inaugurated in New York City, beginning with the first "Dubya", George Washington, who took the oath in Federal Hall in 1789, back when New York was the first capital. (Chester A Arthur was the second.) There is a nice statue outside, overlooking the New York Stock Exchange across Wall Street, and a small, recently renovated museum on post-colonial New York inside.

8. Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Reserve at least a week ahead (sometimes a month!) to visit the Federal Reserve Bank. It is most rewarding just to ogle the facility's high-security vault - useful considering more than 10,000 tons of gold reserves reside here, 80 feet below ground. There are also exhibits on counterfeit currency as well as a serious coin collection of the American Numismatic Society. A tour is the only way to get in.

9. Forbes Collection
The lobby galleries of Forbes magazine have some various curios from the late Malcolm Forbes' collection, most notably early versions of Monopoly boards. (Or watch Lonely Planet's tour of Monopoly sites around the properties' namesakes at Atlantic City, New Jersey.)

10. General Ulysses S Grant National Memorial
Also called "Grant's Tomb", the $600,000 granite structure that holds the remains of the Civil War hero and 18th president (and his wife Julia) is the largest mausoleum in the US, and is patterned after Mausolus' tomb at Halicarnassus, making it a plagiarized version of one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

11. Governor's Island
The ferry to Governor's Island is free, as is access to the 172-acre island which opened to the public only in 2003. There is a 2.2-mile bike path, mini golf, a picnic area, plus military sites such as Admiral's House and a "ghost town" of sorts at Nolan Park.

12. Grand Central Partnership Walking Tours
Two historians lead free 90-minute walking tours at 12:30 pm every Friday, hitting places like Grand Central Terminal's "whispering gallery" and the Chrysler Building.

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