10 Great, Free Things to Do in New York City This Summer

Cornelia Parker Psycho House MET Museum NYC
Photo: Photograph by Hyla Skopitz, Imaging Department, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Copyright 2016.

Summer is here, and hot, in the teeming metropolis of New York City. Those who live here may not love the humidity, but we go crazy for the fun stuff happening all over town, from performance art to concerts to cruises to films to sporting events—many of which are free. Yes, free. Every year unleashes a new set of options to amuse New Yorkers and visitors alike. Here are a few faves in 2016. Alex Van Buren is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her onTwitterand Instagram@alexvanburen.

01 of 10

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park
Courtesy of Socrates Sculpture Park

Among the city’s many free settings for films, the Socrates Sculpture Park is arguably the least discovered. Nestled along the East River in a beautiful part of Queens, the outdoor sculpture park’s cinema series is fantastic. This year’s lineup features lesser-known international offerings and classics, such as The African Queen.

02 of 10

Or Hang Out at Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden

Brooklyn Botanical Garden
Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is famously mobbed during the spring cherry blossom festival, but what even some locals don’t know is that it’s admission-free on Tuesdays and Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon. It’s a fabulous way to get your nature fix after spending a day sweating your way through the sticky city.

03 of 10

Fly by Night

Fly By Night Brooklyn Navy Yards
© Bruce Monroe via Flickr Creative Commons

Artist Duke Riley’s decades-in-the-making effort involves wrangling 2,000 pigeons each weekend night, gently attaching LED lights to their legs, and setting them free in the air above the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Free tickets to Fly by Night are sold out, but organizers recommend two smart places to watch the birds in flight—a lovely rooftop winery called Rooftop Reds, where bottles of Riesling are cheap and cheerful, and the East River Park ampitheater, to which you can bring your own picnic.

04 of 10

Cruise Down the Hudson

North River Lobster Company Cruise Hudson River
Courtesy of North River Lobster Company

Yes, you can take the Staten Island ferry for free, too, and we recommend it, but North River Lobster Company will take you out on the Hudson to gawk at the skyline for 45 minutes—and ply you with cocktails and lobster rolls, to boot. The drinks and eats cost money, but the cruise is gratis.

05 of 10

See a New Secret Part of Central Park

Central Park New York
Getty Images

Central Park aficionados went gaga for the news that a secret section of Central Park had reopened. The park conservancy has been working to restore a section of the park for decades, and has at last opened it to the public. Just check the schedule in advance; it’s only open a few afternoons every week.

06 of 10

Take a Picnic to Governor’s Island

Governors Island Picnic
Getty Images

Speaking of sweating, New Yorkers know that one of the breeziest places to hang out in July and August is Governor’s Island, a short ferry ride from the southern tip of Manhattan or Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn. Filled with art sculptures, two 1812-era forts, bike-able paths and food vendors, it’s a city treasure. Before noon on Saturdays and Sundays, the ferry is free. (The rest of the time, it’s two bucks—roundtrip!)

07 of 10

See Music by the Water

Celebrate Brooklyn Prospect Park
Al Pereira/WireImage

There is a staggering amount of free music to see come summer, from the Prospect Park “Celebrate Brooklyn!” festival to Central Park’s SummerStage, and everything in between. If you have a chance to watch a show by the water—especially as boats bob up and down behind the band at South Street Seaport—you should do it. We’re loving the looks of the 4Knots Festival on July 9, headlined by Guided by Voices.

08 of 10

Kayak Along the Hudson

Kayak Hudson River
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Wonderful and terrifying at once are the 20-minute kayak trips off pier 26 in lower Manhattan and adjacent to Governor’s Island. (We’d put our money on the island; you can dry off while lazing on the grass afterwards.)

09 of 10


Lincoln Center Stargaze
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Take a minute to forget about the hubbub of the city by just… looking… up. After you ramble around Central Park, head west to Lincoln Center, where on Fridays and Saturdays you can borrow a high-powered telescope to check out the planets and stars glimmering above.

10 of 10

Go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cornelia Parker Psycho House MET Museum NYC
Photograph by Hyla Skopitz, Imaging Department, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Copyright 2016.

Sure, it’s a renowned tourist lure, but what many don’t know is that the Met is admission-free, and the “suggested donation” is just that: suggested. Spend time in the Zen Chinese garden, marvel at the replica of the Psycho house on the roof, be dazzled by the gargantuan Temple of Dendur, see the noir crime photography exhibit, or really do whatever you want: It’s the Met, and even those who live here need years to see it all.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles