Summer in NYC can mean hot, sticky, languid days when New Yorkers have traditionally fled the city. The exodus once made for a dull cultural intermission…but no more. Now there is an abundance of Summertime outdoor and cultural treats to delight intrepid New Yorkers and visitors alike. Even better, most of them are completely free! Here some of the best…
1. Governors Island – This island park in New York Harbor (just 800 yards south of Manhattan) is reachable from Manhattan and Brooklyn via quick, free ferries. In addition to its usual outdoor pleasures (strolling, biking, picnicking, Water Taxi Beach, enjoying the stunning views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty), the island will feature Park Ranger tours, boutiques of local artisans, interactive installations including a mini-golf course and tree house, visits to Artists-in-residence studios, hard hat tours of the construction zones for the new park areas, a Pop Up Library, the return of the Jazz Age Lawn Party, Recess Saturdays featuring Badminton and Bocce, and Unicycle and Poetry Festivals.
2. Shakespeare in the Park – One of NYC’s most spectacular annual cultural offerings, the New York Shakespeare Festival presents two stellar productions of Shakespeare in the heart of Central Park. This season begins with Shakespeare’s early farce, The Comedy of Errors, featuring two sets of identical twins, mistaken identities, slapstick antics and, according to NYSF, “general mayhem.” May 28 – June 30. This will be followed by a new musical version of Love’s Labor’s Lost by composer Michael Friedman and director Alex Timbers, the team who created the acclaimed Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson. July 23 – August 18. Check here for information about tickets, policies, etc.
3. NYC Beaches – While the Tristate area has many terrific beaches, the following are within NYC, reachable via public transportation, and free of charge.
- Coney Island – In addition to the sandy beach, this famous pleasure ground features amusement park rides, entertainment like the sideshows and burlesque, exhibits and museums, the New York Aquarium, fireworks displays, and lots of classic summertime food (some believe the hot dog was invented here). Reachable via a few subway lines, the journey from midtown Manhattan takes approx. 1 hour. See Coney Island’s website for more information.
- Rockaway Beach – Beach goers can enjoy the sand and water, food concessions, and the city’s only surfing beach. From Midtown Manhattan, the excursion involves a subway ride (A or E, then transfer to Queens bus Q52 or Q53. The journey should take between 1 hour 25 mins to 1 hour 45 mins. See Google maps for detailed directions.
- Orchard Beach – In the Bronx’s huge Pelham Bay Park, this 1-mile-long beach on Long Island Sound called “The Riviera of New York” includes a promenade, a pavilion with food stores and specialty shops, playgrounds, two picnic areas, and courts for basketball, volleyball, and handball. Take the 6 subway line to its last stop (Pelham Bay Park), then transfer to NYC bus: Bx12, Bx29, Bx5, Bx52
- Franklin D. Roosevelt Beach – Located on Staten Island, just beyond the Narrows and facing the Atlantic, the 2.5 mile sandy stretch includes South Beach and Midland Beach and includes a boardwalk, areas for barbeque, restrooms, a restaurant and service by food trucks. To reach the beach from Midtown Manhattan requires subway (A, E, or 2) to lower Manhattan, transfer to a Staten Island Express bus, then a final bus transfer on the island to the park (approx. 1 hour 25 mins). See the park’s site for directions.
4. Free Culture!
- The annual free concerts by the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic are highlights of every NYC summer. Concerts are held on Central Park’s Great Lawn and city parks in all five boroughs. Check the links above for schedule and information.
- June 4 – Aug 29: Summer Stage – presenting over 100 free concerts, dance, theater, and comedy shows in city parks, including Comedy Central stand-up showcases, Bobby McFerrin, the Martha Graham Dance Company, and a hip-hop musical adaptation of King Kong.
- June 11: Museum Mile Festival: A high-art block party during which 5th Avenue closes to traffic from 82nd – 105th Streets and some of the world’s finest museums open their doors, including the Met, the Guggenheim, Neue Gallery, and el Museo del Barrio. Live music, activities, and food line the posh avenue as well.
- June 15 – July 14: River to River Festival – This lower Manhattan festival, set in various venues, presents concerts, art installations, dance and theatre performances. The roster includes acclaimed choreographers and companies, and even musical stars like Laurie Anderson.
- July 24 – Aug 11: Lincoln Center Out of Doors – free performances by an eclectic mix of international artists across Lincoln Center’s Campus.
In addition to Summer Stage, NYC’s parks will host free concerts of rock, Latin, hip-hop, jazz, classical, folk, gospel, and Broadway casts belting show tunes. Check the NYC Parks website for full calendar.
5. NYC Parks – The city’s glorious parks offer more than strolling, picnics, and sunbathing. The abundance of free activities include guided tours, fitness walks and workouts, dance, garden walks and workshops, bird watching, children’s programing including puppet shows, arts & crafts and a chance to interact with animals, Yoga classes, Tai Chi, Pilates, group runs, art photos exhibitions, fishing, canoeing, sewing, knitting and crochet, stargazing on the High Line, and a Food Truck Rally at Grand Army Plaza. Bryant Park alone offers Petanque, Ping Pong, Juggling, Fencing, Spanish & French Classes, Book Clubs, and Poetry readings. See the NYC Parks site for the extensive events calendar.
One of the great summer adventures is to go camping in the city’s park with Urban Park Rangers.
6. Movies under the Stars – Free summertime outdoor screenings have become so popular in NYC, they’re now presented in all five boroughs every night of the week. Films include everything from recent blockbusters, to indie films and cult classics. Here is a listing of this summer’s numerous free movie screenings.
7. NYC Summertime Events – there are plenty of great annual events during which New Yorkers gather in the streets to celebrate. They include NYC Gay Pride (centered around the march/parade down 5th Ave), Macys 4th of July Fireworks, the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival, Coney Island’s racy Mermaid Parade, West Indian Day Carnival, Harlem Week, and the Bushwick Block Party.
8. Summer Streets – On three Saturdays in August (the 3rd, 10th, and 17th: 7am-1pm) Lafayette Street and Park Avenue will close to vehicles from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park, creating a 6.9-mile pedestrian zone devoted to recreation and fun. While details haven’t been announced, last year there was a 160-foot zip line, a 25-foot climbing wall, yoga, dance, and exercise classes, art installations, musical performances, arts & crafts and, of course, great food.