The best free things to do in New York

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Ellis Island

Search for a lost ancestor at Ellis Island

For more than 60 years from 1892, Ellis Island served as one of the main immigration processing centres in the United States. It’s estimated that 40 per cent of living Americans today can trace at least one ancestor whose gateway to America was through this island just off the coast of Manhattan, many escaping war and famine. Today the place is a fascinating monument to human immigration. Visit the restored Main Arrivals Hall and the museum which is a self-guided tour through the complex’s history. At the American Family Immigration History Center, visitors can do multimedia searches through the archives. Who knows? You might just find a lost ancestor.

Governer’s Island

Explore a lesser known corner of New York City

This 172-acre island south of the Brooklyn Bridge off the southern tip of Manhattan is one of the city’s most beloved green spaces. Between May and October, you can access it by ferry from the Battery Maritime Building (10 South Street) in Manhattan or from Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO. With bikes for hire, a beach, acres of lawns, and a promenade around the perimetre, it’s perfect for a stroll, or an afternoon picnic taking in views of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Statue of Liberty. There are number of food trucks and vendors operating on the island, and a line-up of summer-long events from the Jazz Age Lawn Party to pop-up dinners.

Financial District

Visit the 9/11 Memorial Monument

There are few places in New York City as emotionally, politically and patriotically loaded as this spot in lower Manhattan. The memorial consists of the footprints of the two towers, today, two giant reflecting pools with the names of the victims inscribed along the periphery. Another powerful monument to the victims who lost their lives on 11 September, 2001 is inside St. Paul’s Chapel, the diminutive church from 1766 across the street from the reflecting pools, houses photos, fliers, and mementos related to the attacks. Fans of contemporary architecture should take a look at the new Santiago Calatrava-designed subway station that looks like the skeleton of a stegosaurus.

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