There’s arguably no better place to be in the summer than New York City. Here, from June through August, the weather stays warm late into the night, the locals come out to celebrate the end of another dreary winter, and the city opens up an endless array of seasonal events, parks, bars, and more for New Yorkers and visitors alike. Check out our locals’ guide to the best free and cheap experiences you can only have in the summertime in NYC.
Plenty of cities put on free or cheap public entertainment in the summertime, but in NYC, the talent is world-class. Locals line up by the hundreds outside Central Park’s Delacorte Theater each summer for the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park productions, in which award-winning directors and big-name actors put on evening performances of classic Bard plays. Shows take place almost nightly under the stars in the open-air Delacorte, and all you have to do to get your free tickets is get to the theater early and camp out until noon, when tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis for same-day shows. The Delacorte’s easy to access from HI New York City Hostel; just hop on the subway and head south a few stops, then enter the park at 81st Street and Central Park West.
If you’re more in the mood for music, make your way to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for a Celebrate Brooklyn Concert. Held throughout the summer at the bandshell in Brooklyn’s impossibly scenic answer to Manhattan’s Central Park, this series features a diverse line-up of musicians from all eras, languages, and backgrounds. Most shows are free; just get there early and bring a blanket to claim your spot on the lawn.
You can also dance to an outdoor DJ set at a Museum of Modern Art PS1 Warm Up Party. These parties are all-day affairs taking place Saturdays in July and August at MoMA’s PS1 location in Queens, which is dedicated to exhibiting experimental, contemporary art. Tickets are $18 in advance and $22 at the door.
For a classic NYC experience, try watching a free movie outdoors under the stars in July and August. Spend a warm evening at a screening in Bryant Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, or any number of smaller venues throughout the five boroughs. Bring a blanket, a picnic, and a bottle of wine for the full experience.
From May through October, Governor’s Island is one of New Yorkers’ favorite warm-weather playgrounds. Hop on the ferry downtown (tickets are $3) and in a matter of minutes, you’ll be transported to this island park with panoramic views of NYC’s skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and more. You can spend hours walking or biking around the island, lazing around the hammock grove, and exploring the outdoor art installations.
On summer weekends, you can also get out on the water by renting a free kayak from one of the community boat houses on the Hudson river. It’s a great way to cool off and get a unique view of the west side of the city.
For a real slice of Americana, and a refreshing dip in the Atlantic, hop on the A train (it picks up just a few blocks from HI NYC hostel) or, if you’re downtown, a public ferry boat, and take it all the down to Rockaway Beach in Queens. You’ll find New Yorkers enjoying a respite from the heat, surfers riding the elusive NYC waves, and a classic boardwalk with food, drinks, and endless people-watching. You can also head to Brooklyn’s Coney Island for a different kind of beach day full of carnival rides and games, a sideshow, and a famous Nathan’s hot dog.
NYC’s got a ton of outdoor bars and restaurants that are perfect for meeting new people, especially in the summer. Especially on Fridays, don’t miss the Frying Pan, an old Coast Guard ship docked on the Hudson river at Pier 66, where you’ll find a young after-work crowd enjoying drinks, dancing, and epic sunsets on summer evenings.
For something old-school, head out to the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria, Queens. This historic outdoor venue was built in the early 1900s; today it’s still the best place to dance to live polka music, feast on bratwurst and pretzels, and make new friends over a stein of beer at a communal picnic table.
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