Despite being one of the highest cost-of-living counties in the country, Westchester offers many great opportunities to do things cost-free — you just have to know where to look. From gratis alfresco yoga classes to complimentary art exhibitions and audio history tours, there are lots of activities in any given month that don’t cost a dime.
By Nick Brandi, Michelle Gillan Larkin, and Elizabeth Strattner
Get in touch with nature the way “Mother” intended — quietly! This short, guided hike around the lake and farm trails of this iconic preserve will focus on staying quiet, to allow the senses to better attune to the surroundings. (Skill level: easy to moderate)
Enjoy the preserve in the dark on a guided “after hours” hike. Bring a flashlight or headlamp. (All levels welcome.)
Daily (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Open to walkers, joggers, and cyclists, the 3.6-mile path affords breathtaking views of the Hudson, Palisades, and NYC in the distance, along with not-to-be-missed food-truck fare (at both ends) and inspiring work from local artists.
Daily (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Strap on your own snowshoes or skis and zip along the trails of this 960-acre site to your heart’s content.
Daily (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Bring a pole, bait, and patience to enjoy ice fishing when the lake and/or pond freeze over.
April to November, Sundays
With the help of a docent, tour the bucolic grounds and blooming gardens of this stunning estate, which dates back to 1862.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Wednesdays (6:45 p.m. to 8 p.m.)
Enjoy traditional and authentic Sun Salutations as the sun sets over the Hudson or the Sound, depending on whether you take part at Croton Point Park, Playland, or New Rochelle’s Flowers City Park. All levels welcome; just bring your own mat and an open heart. Hosted by the Westchester Parks Foundation and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
May through September, select Sundays (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
A Westchester tradition since 1974, Bicycle Sundays allows cruising up and down the Bronx River Parkway atop a two-wheeler or courtesy of your own two feet. A good workout is guaranteed — the full loop is a whopping 13.1 miles.
August (2021 date TBD)
Bring your own yoga mat and twist yourself into a pretzel surrounded by fresh air and a hundred or so of your closest friends at this yearly event sponsored by the White Plains BID. No experience necessary, just a willingness to learn and stretch.
Indoor and outdoor “play” is endless for kids and their caretakers, too, at this 33-acre nature preserve, which features hiking and walking trails, outdoor animal displays, a vernal pond, a native-plant meadow, Native American-replica village, barnyard, playground, and organic garden.
The streets of downtown Armonk will be transformed into a winter wonderland for the 11th year running, with dancers, singers, and marching bands hailing the arrival of Frosty the Snowman (and Santa, too!) amid blocks of activities like face-painting, cookie decorating, a mini-train, a bubble truck, a parade, and Christmas-tree lighting.
(2021 date TBD)
Like sneaking broccoli into kids’ brownies, learning is disguised as play at this yearly fall festival that celebrates the importance of play in a child’s life, featuring dozens of hands-on activities centered around creativity, science, music, dance, fitness, sensory experiences, building, tech, and more.
Spring & Summer
Culture and community are celebrated throughout the clement months at these colorful and lively gatherings. Among the people and traditions in the spotlight: Polish, Asian, Italian, Hispanic, Indian, African American, Albanian, Muslim, and Jewish.
Croton-on-Hudson, June to Aug (7 p.m.)
Magic, storytelling, puppets, comedy, and circus acts are among the weekly summertime entertainment extravaganzas hosted by Croton’s Parks & Rec.
July, Mondays to Thursdays (7 p.m.)
Bring a blanket or a couple of chairs to enjoy music, movies, magic, and more at a number of parks across the city.
Enjoy crowd-pleasing, sky-topped cinema at a number of parks around the county, including Bedford, Cortlandt, Mamaroneck, Hastings-on-Hudson, Peekskill, Rye, and others.
Croton Summer Movie Series, Senasqua Park, Croton-on-Hudson
June to August, Dusk
One showing per week and fun for the whole family.
Movies Under the Stars, Kensico Dam, Valhalla
July to August, Dusk (entertainment begins at 6 p.m.)
A movie in July and another in August is the M.O. at the Dam, with family-friendly entertainment before each screening.
Movie Mondays at Ridge Hill, Yonkers
July to August, Sunset (activities begin at 7 p.m.)
Town Square is transformed into an outdoor movie theater with complimentary popcorn, courtesy of Whole Foods. Music and kids’ activities, like beanbag tosses, before each show.
Outdoor Movie Night and DJ Dance Party, Jack DeVito Veterans Memorial Park, Yorktown
Watch a weeknight movie under the sky or dance the night away — or both!
May (2021 date TBD)
Join other comics lovers to enjoy a day of superhero- and comics-related events, such as panels, performances, classes, films, and more, at this yearly local Con. Come dressed as your favorite character!
June through August
Every third Thursday of the summer, the Armonk Chamber of Commerce hosts fun activities for children and parents alike. Experience a classic-car show, concert in the park, or chili cook-off, among other fun happenings, or shop the third-Thursday sales at businesses throughout Armonk.
July (2021 dates TBD)
Hang out and listen to live music from the town gazebo. Stroll the quaint downtown at this community event that includes stores staying open late and specials from your favorite restaurants.
August (2021 date TBD)
Head down to the farmers’ market to treat yourself to feel-good summer food, like an ear of locally grown corn roasted over a coal fire. The market gives them away each year as a thank-you to the community for their support.
September (2021 date TBD)
Head to Mount Vernon’s annual Comic Expo to experience the passion of these playful souls across the county. This outdoor event features a children’s activity area, vendors, gaming tournaments, food trucks, and cosplayers interacting with attendees.
September (2021 date TBD)
Have a full day of fall fun at this annual festival while enjoying fresh doughnuts, apple cider, and other yummy treats. There are activities for both kids and parents, including a 5k run, face painting, live music, a pie-eating contest, and more. All proceeds will be donated to children’s programs at the North Castle Library, the Armonk Chamber of Commerce, and the Byram Hills Preschool Association (BHPA).
Hours of operation listed on website
If you’re searching for art in unexpected places, the PepsiCo corporate office boasts the magnificent Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens, located outside their building. Download the map or app from the PepsiCo website to enhance your touring experience or simply stroll around at your leisure.
Mark your calendar for the annual weekend-long ArtsFest in New Rochelle. Celebrate the arts through live music and dance, spoken-word performances, art exhibits, open artists’ studios, and more. To dive deeper, try an interactive art project or chat with one of the artists themselves.
February (2021 date TBD)
Come to this event to experience the Yonkers Philharmonic and celebrate one of the greatest musicians of all time. Bring friends, kids, or parents — this concert is suitable for all ages.
February (2021 date TBD)
Enjoy this Valentine-themed concert and learn about the historical backgrounds and contexts behind the musical pieces played. Candy and crafts will be offered in addition to timeless music.
July (2021 dates TBD)
Enjoy an evening with live music on the water at this weekly concert series. The series features a diverse group of new and returning musical groups for all to appreciate. Chairs, blankets, and snacks are encouraged.
August through September (2021 dates TBD)
Spend an evening listening to skilled artists perform in the museum’s beautiful amphitheater. There will be performances across disciplines and genres that pay homage to both classic artists and up-and-comers.
September (2021 date TBD)
This celebration of community is the largest free festival in Westchester County. Enjoy games, rides, live music, arts and crafts, and more at this event that caters to all ages. A variety of foods, including international cuisines, will be available.
September (2021 dates TBD)
This annual, week-long festival features performances by talented jazz musicians from Westchester County and NYC. There will be celebration of both established musicians who have shaped the course of jazz and newcomers who are taking it in new directions.
Westchester County abounds with free summer concerts for kids, adults, and everyone in between.
Ardsley Summer Concert in the Park: www.ardsleyvillage.com
Cortlandt Concert and Movie Nights: www.townofcortlandt.com
Croton-on-Hudson Summer Concert Series: www.crotononhudson-ny.gov
Outdoor Concerts in Memorial Park: www.townofmamaroneckny.org
Ossining Family Concert Series: www.villageofossining.org
Peekskill Concert Series and 4th of July Celebration: www.cityofpeekskill.com
Rye’s Twilight Concert Series: www.townofryeny.com
Tarrytown’s Music in the Open Air: www.tarrytowngov.com
Town of Pelham Concert Series: www.pelhamrecreation.com
White Plains’ Father’s Day Concert in the Park: www.cityofwhiteplains.com
Yonkers’ Summer Arts in the Amphitheater: www.hrm.org/amphitheater
Ongoing, Fridays through Sundays
Set in the mansion’s cavernous unrestored Roman bath, designed by Helen Gould to serve the Gilded Age elite, Watershed Moment is a multidisciplinary installation by artist and historic-preservation expert Jorge Otero-Pailos that explores the Hudson Valley’s lush abundance of water resources. This imaginative synthesis of the natural and manmade is free, though drivers will need to purchase a daily grounds pass.
Ongoing, Saturdays and Sundays
This live, interactive show at the planetarium treats stargazers of all stripes to a tour of the infinite sky from our local perspective. Every show is unique, with planetarium educators discoursing on celestial subjects ranging from stars, planets, and the Milky Way to comets, meteor showers, seasonal constellations, black holes, and more.
Ongoing, first Thursday of each month
This coterie of (typically) five Yonkers galleries (Blue Door Art Center, Philipse Manor Hall, Riverfront Art Gallery, Warburton Galerie, US+U Art Gallery) opens its doors to the public for free on the first Thursday of the month. In addition to the visual stimulation of cutting-edge contemporary art from emerging and established artists, discounts and coupons from some local restaurants are available.
Gather up the kids or your besties for a uniquely charming road trip along Route 9, from Yonkers to Peekskill, as HHRT audio guides lecture tourgoers about the region’s history, culture, landmarks, illustrious characters, and scenic beauty via the TravelStorys free downloadable app, which uses GPS tech to track where you are at any given time and automatically shares the fascinating details of that location.
New Rochelle is rapidly evolving into one of the county’s most exciting cities, and the eight sensational building murals that constitute “NRNY Artsy Murals” are a vivid testament to that sentiment. Curated by Street Art for Mankind (SAM), the works celebrate both NewRo’s history and rich cultural diversity.
Pro tip: Download “Behind the Wall,” a free app that combines augmented reality content
and audio-guide features, making the murals truly interactive.
Check website for performance dates/times
The acclaimed Calpulli Mexican Dance Company has been bringing its vibrant performances and fun dance workshops to the New Rochelle Public Library since 2012. With its authentic, colorful costumes and talented performers, the company teaches local kids and students about Mexico’s diverse cultural traditions through dances from a variety of regions.
One of the myriad ways the city of Yonkers serves up enrichment activities to its citizens is with Folk Art Fridays, when participants not only delve into a variety of culturally inspired art techniques from around the world but also explore special projects that range from bookmaking and printmaking to painting and mosaics.
Yonkers’ oldest building is the site of a trip back in time, where you can learn what it was like to be a kid during Colonial times. Attendees can dress in recreated period clothing and play period games, including learning about their history and how they have evolved over the generations.
Looking for a free activity in Westchester that will make your heart swell? Then put yourself on the baby-cuddling waiting list at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, where, under the auspices of Hour Children, volunteer cuddlers have the privilege of rocking, singing to, feeding, and playing with precious babies from a few weeks’ old to 18 months (and they don’t even have to change diapers!).
Obviously, there are rules to follow and a mandatory orientation on the path to optional morning or afternoon cuddling modules that run Monday through Friday. Volunteers must undergo an in-depth background check, but once you make it through the screening process, you’re guaranteed to get back so much more than you’ve put in.
Contact Elizabeth Hamilton, Infant Center Manager, at 914.241.3100, x4050 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Open your home to two adorable puppies for three to five days as part of this popular program, which has seen more than 1,000 local families step up to help. Guiding Eyes for the Blind gives you the training and equipment you need to help prepare these pups for careers as guide dogs. All you need to provide is the love and attention.
Most of us claim to love Westchester’s bucolic public spaces, but with this program, you can actually roll up your sleeves and become their champion. Pitch in for the Parks allows individuals, families, and larger groups to do everything from rake, paint, and clear paths to plant flower beds, build footbridges and boardwalks, and restore wildlife habitats.
Sadly, not all graffiti is a work of art, in which case Thalle Industries deploys (on behalf of the Westchester Parks Foundation) the annual Graffiti Squad of volunteers, who restore sites throughout the county. This year’s location will on the Bronx River Reservation in Bronxville. Volunteers should be at least 14 years of age.
Westchesterites enjoy the nation’s most beautiful waterway, and it’s our responsibility to help keep it that way. Fortunately, the intrepid Riverkeeper’s annual Sweep makes it easier. At this year’s event, volunteers will canvas the Hudson River’s shoreline and tributaries from the Adirondacks to Brooklyn and remove tons of debris, plant trees and native grasses, as well as remove invasive species.
Any Westchesterite who wants to give back owes it to themselves to visit VNY!’s website, which abounds with humanitarian opportunities. Most programs work with your schedule and can include everything from food-pantry volunteers, reading tutors, and making masks for healthcare workers, essential workers, and neighbors in need to writing cards and letters to lonely seniors or driving them to appointments.
Due to the ongoing risk of COVID-19, all events are subject to change or cancellation.