Free Things to Do in Newark
From sporting events to arts and entertainment, there’s something exciting to do in Newark every day. While the cost of entry is usually gentler than you’ll find for similar experiences in Manhattan or Brooklyn, it’s still going to cost you some bucks for tickets.
Fortunately, there are lots of great options for people who want to experience the best of the city that won’t break the bank. In fact, you’ll find plenty to do that’s fun AND free. Best of all, many are equally appealing across the age spectrum.
The display of cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., may get more recognition, but I’ll take Newark’s Branch Brook Park. Part of the reason is how well those impressive blossoms blend into the scene of this bustling urban park. In fact, the park has the largest amount of cherry blossom trees in the world outside Japan! While the cherry trees are the focus during a short stretch of spring, there’s so much to do year-round in this Olmstead-designed green space (think New York’s Central Park), including plenty that’s free. There are miles of well-maintained pathways are perfect for runners, joggers, walkers and bikers and playgrounds for the little ones, plus tennis courts and athletic fields for baseball, softball, soccer, Frisbee and other sports. There’s even a unique opportunity to fish for trout stocked in the park’s lake (with appropriate N.J. license).
From the park, it’s a short walk to the Cathedral Basilica, on Ridge Street. While Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral draws thousands of tourists, Newark’s own cathedral is as impressive as its New York neighbor and is the fifth largest in North America. Music performances draw people in addition to those attending Catholic Masses and other religious observances. Free tours are offered that provide a wealth of information on the magnificent stained glass windows, the impressive pipe organ, architectural elements, and the cathedral’s long history since its cornerstone was laid in 1899.
An architectural gem and major educational resource in the middle of the city’s downtown cultural center, the Newark Public Library is host to a fascinating exhibit, Newark at 350: Settlement, Growth, Renewal through the end of the year. In addition a scale model of Newark in 2016 includes every structure, landmark and park in the state’s largest city. The exhibit and a plethora of free programs throughout the city’s five wards marks Newark’s 350th anniversary since its founding in 1666. Check them out on the commemorative committee’s website here.
The colossal “Wars of America” monument by Gutzon Borglum (who also sculpted Mt. Rushmore) seemed trapped on a deserted island for many years before the amazing transformation of Military Park in Newark’s Downtown District. The completely renovated park now buzzes with energy and activities ranging from live music and movies, to yoga and Zumba classes, ping pong and chess. There are lots of comfortable places to just sit back, relax and enjoy the scene.
From Military Park, cross Park Place to visit the museum and library of the New Jersey Historical Society. The non-profit organization has amassed a vast collection of everything from costumes, furniture, paintings and tools to manuscripts, reference and rare books, photographs and maps. All paint a vivid portrait of New Jersey’s history. A visit to the society’s headquarters is free, but donations are welcomed. Members of the NJHS lead free walking tours of Military Park weekly until December 30.
Not far from Newark’s busy downtown is a green oasis that attracts birds, butterflies and wildlife, as well as people of all ages. Greater Newark Conservancy’s Outdoor Learning Center includes 10 themed gardens on 1.5 lush acres, including sensory gardens and a Nelson Mandela Garden inspired by the small plot he tended while imprisoned on Robben Island in South Africa. There’s even a bridge over a tranquil pond, with benches throughout the gardens for quiet contemplation. While the Conservancy offers a wide range of programs, special events and activities at the center, it’s equally captivating for a quick getaway to de-stress and relax.
A bright orange boardwalk and similarly hued sculpture known as the “Orange Sticks” stand out against the backdrop of the Passaic River. While perhaps Riverfront Park’s most iconic features, they serve as a gateway to baseball diamonds and artificial turf soccer fields, running tracks, picnic tables and playgrounds. The summer months bring free movies under the stars, plus reasonably priced boat tours on the Passaic River. Skateboarders and roller-bladers join joggers and bicyclists cruising to the Ironbound’s distinctive mix of World Music reflecting the surrounding area’s diverse cultural influences.
You can get an authentic Old World experience in Newark for nothing more than the price of gas and tolls, or a bus or train ticket. A stroll down Ferry Street in the Ironbound District will transport you across the ocean in the blink of an eye. Savor the smell of hardwood charcoal burning at local barbecue restaurants and enjoy the sound of people speaking Portuguese and Spanish, with a backing soundtrack of fado, flamenco or funky Brazilian jazz. Take in the fashions and jewelry that are on display in local boutiques.
Newark Bound Magazine: It's all about Newark. Flip through the glossy for an in-depth look at Newark's world-class attractions, endless dining options, upscale and discount shopping, accommodations, and more. NewarkBound explores and reports on the highlights, trends, celebrities, humor, history and perspective that reflect life in and around New Jersey's largest city.
Story By: Vince Baglivo