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50 Free Things to Do in NYC for Summer 2014

One of the best things about summer in NYC beyond its lack of snow and ice is how many free events and activities there are to do around the city -- don’t miss a single one with our comprehensive calendar

Summer weather doesn’t just bring forth blossoming flowers and chirping birds in New York City. It also introduces an astounding variety of free events and activities, from kayaking on the Hudson River to outdoor opera in the park to boisterous comedy nights and  saucy parades (hello, Mermaid Parade). In between, fill up on complimentary samples at the weekly bountiful farmers’ markets or do some bird-watching. To make the most of your summer, check out our list of the best in free entertainment — arranged in calendar form for maximum ease of use — so you can go for broke in NYC without going broke.

 

Stargazing on the High Line

Stargazing on the High Line (Bereninga/Flickr CC)

June 3: Stargazing on the High Line
Usually, the only stars you’ll see in New York City are at the ritzy restaurants and clubs — but not with the Amateur Astronomers Association. On Tuesdays through October, astronomers host free stargazing nights at New York City’s elevated park (which itself is also always free), where you can gaze up at the stars and planets via high-powered telescopes. Tuesdays through October. High Line between W. 13th St. and W. 14th St. at 10th Ave., 212-500-6035, thehighline.org

June 4: Lecture at El Museo del Barrio
Amigos y amigas: Check out free summer lectures and events at this colorful museum that showcases more than 800 years of Latino art and culture. On June 4 from 11am to 1pm, the museum’s Black Box Theater is featuring a lecture on the book Arráncame la Vida by Ángeles Mastretta Catalina. Also, on the third Saturday of the month (starting in Sept.), the museum hosts Super Sábado, when entry is free, as is the musical entertainment. 1230 Fifth Ave., 212-831-7272, elmuseo.org

June 5: Pharrell as part of the Today Show Toyota Concert Series
Happy? You will be after checking out Pharrell, who’s appearing on June 5 as part of the Today’s Show’s hugely popular Toyota Concert Series on Rockefeller Plaza. Other entertainers coming up this summer include Usher and Maroon 5. Arrive by 5 am for the best view. The performances generally happen during the 8am hour. Through Sept. 5. Rockefeller Plaza, today.com

June 6: An ode to fathers at PowerHouse Arena
Think books are dead? The PowerHouse Bookstore and Arena will change your mind. This innovative bookstore, gallery and boutique is a theater for the mind, with a richly diverse lineup of free events, including a reading on June 6 to celebrate Father’s Day (June 15), with writers from the new anthology When I First Held You sharing stories about fatherhood. 37 Main St., Brooklyn, 718-666-3049, powerhousearena.com

June 6: Villalobos Brothers at Brooklyn Academy of Music
The nation’s oldest performing arts center heats up with free summer concerts, from soul to rock; check out the Villalobos Brothers on June 6 at 9pm, who mesh jazz and classical music. Through June 30. 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, 718-636-4100, bam.org

June 5-7: 21st Annual Red Hook Fest
It’s dancing in the streets — and on the Brooklyn waterfront — at this lively June festival, featuring performances by the Dance Cartel, Dendê and Band and Underground System, along with barbecue, kids’ activities, free kayaking and more. It runs Thu. 6-8pm, Fri. 5:30-7pm and Sat. 12-7pm. Louis J. Valentino Jr. Park and Pier, Brooklyn, dancetheatreetcetera.org

 

Kara Walker's 'A Subtlety'

People view Kara Walker’s ‘A Subtlety’ at the former Domino Sugar Refinery in Brooklyn (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

June 8: Public Art: Kara Walker
NYC is flush with public art, and a top pick for this summer is Kara Walker’s A Subtlety or The Marvelous Sugar Baby, a massive, bare-breasted sphinx covered in sugar presiding over Williamsburg’s Domino Sugar Factory. It’s open Fri. 4-8pm and Sat.-Sun. 12-8pm. Through July 6. Domino Sugar Factory, South 1st St., at Kent Ave., Brooklyn, creativetime.org

June 10: Museum Mile Festival
Celebrate art and architecture during the annual Museum Mile Festival. Nine of New York City’s top museums, all of which also command the finest real estate in the world, on and around Fifth Avenue, open their doors to all, 6-9pm. Fifth Ave., between 82nd and 105th Sts., museummilefestival.org

June 14-15: Pop-Up Audubon in Prospect Park
Birding in Brooklyn? Chirp, chirp — yes. Every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5pm, Prospect Park and Pop-Up Audubon host a variety of activities including Family Bird Watching at 4pm, where you can stroll Lullwater Trail to spy spring migrants. Not a bad way to celebrate Father’s Day weekend. Through Oct. 19. Prospect Park, Brooklyn, nycgovparks.org

June 18: Ping-Pong at Bryant Park
Hone your ping-pong skills this summer at Bryant Park from 11am to 7pm. The park has two tables and free paddles and balls — just sign up with an attendant to reserve a spot. Bryant Park also has many other free activities, including petanque and juggling classes. Through end of September. Behind the New York Public Library, between 40th St. and 42nd St. and Fifth Ave. and Sixth Ave., 212-768-4242, bryantpark.org

 

2013 Mermaid Parade at Coney Island in Brooklyn

Revelers pose at the 2013 Mermaid Parade at Coney Island in Brooklyn (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

June 21: Mermaid Parade
One of New York City’s most colorful (and scantily clad) summer events, the Mermaid Parade shimmies down Surf Avenue in Coney Island in June, starting at 1pm. The very loose guidelines are to come as your favorite aquatic creature, and you’ll spy everything from jellyfish, seahorses and electric eels to narwhals, walruses, sharks and, of course, mermaids. The parade is lined with men in drag, and women who look like they are too, brandishing body paint, sequins, giant eyelashes, neon-green bouffant wigs, platform heels, glitter pasties and seashells covering strategic parts of the body. Surf Ave., Coney Island, Brooklyn, coneyisland.com 

June 21: Summer Solstice at Socrates Sculpture Park
If you’d rather greet nature with clothes on, try the Summer Solstice festival, which features modern dance, face-painting, music and more at this rules-breaking sculpture park that sprawls on a reclaimed riverside landfill in Queens. The event runs from 5pm to dusk. 32-01 Vernon Blvd., Queens, 718-956-1819, socratessculpturepark.org

June 23: Met Opera Summer Recital Series
Enjoy arias under the stars at this phenomenal outdoor opera series at parks across the five boroughs. The series kicks off on June 23 in Central Park, with performances from rising opera stars soprano Amber Wagner and tenor Russell Thomas. June 23-July 10. Central Park and various NYC parks, metoperafamily.com

June 25: Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza Greenmarket
No other farmers’ market in the world can claim proximity to more visiting heads of state than the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza Greenmarket, which fills an elegant plaza across from the U.N. Summer is the best time to hit up the market, when it overflows with seasonal fruits such as strawberries, which usually peak in late June. Open Wed. 8am–6pm year-round. 47th St. at Second Ave., grownyc.org

June 28: Brooklyn Botanic Garden
There’s a lot to love at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, with its 200 cherry trees, 5,000 rose bushes, expansive conservatory and a flourishing summer exhibit, 100 Years and Growing – but it’s the free admission on select days that seals the botanical deal. Free Tue., Sat. 10am–12pm. 1000 Washington Ave., Brooklyn, 718-623-7200, bbg.org

 

2013 New York Gay Pride Parade

Revelers march in the New York Gay Pride Parade in 2013 (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

June 29: NYC Pride March
New York’s streets never lack in colorful style, but the annual Pride March is always the sassiest day of the year. The oldest gay pride parade in the nation kicks off at noon. The event draws more than 500,000 participants and is an enthusiastic display of over-the-top costumes, floats pumping disco music, drag queens (and kings) — and rainbow everything, from flags and wigs to itsy bitsy teenie-weenie bikini briefs. Fifth Ave. to the West Village, nycpride.org 

July 2: Bronx Writers Center
The Bronx Writers Center is “devoted to creating and supporting Bronx voices, readers and writers,” and to that end, the center hosts a series of summer workshops and fellowships and tours. The center also does a good deal to promote the borough and you can get in on that monthly with the First Wednesdays Bronx Trolley Tour from 5 to 8pm (during which you’ll also learn about the center’s mission). First Wednesdays of the month. Bronx Council on the Arts, 1738 Hone Ave., Bronx, 718-931-9500, bronxarts.org 

July 4: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest
Don’t think that eating is a sport? This will change your mind. Since 1916, the country’s most famous hot dog-eating contest draws competitive eaters from around the world to Coney Island on the 4th of July. Cheer on the chowers, starting at noon — but caution: You may never want to eat a hot dog again. 1310 Surf Ave., Brooklyn, nathansfamous.com 

 

Fireworks explode over the Hudson River during the Macy’s fireworks display in NYC (Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

July 4: Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks
Start it with a dog and end it with fireworks, we say. The most dazzling fireworks show of the year is free – just get yourself a view of the East River. After five years of exploding over the Hudson, the fireworks are back on the eastside, where you can watch them light up the sky over the Brooklyn Bridge, starting around 9pm. It doesn’t get much more iconic than that. East River, macys.com

July 4-6: Central Park Skate Circle
Get ready to rock and roll: The nonprofit Central Park Dance Skaters Association is hosting its 20th Season Weekend in Central Park. Everyone’s welcome – just leave the inhibitions behind. Central Park, near the Mall and Bandshell, cpdsa.org 

July 7: Upright Citizens Brigade
From Jack Benny and Rodney Dangerfield to Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld, New York has a long comedy legacy. Happily, this translates into many free comedy showcases including our favorite: the Monday 11pm Whiplash night at Upright Citizens Brigade, NYC’s alternative stand-up comics. Ongoing Monday nights. 307 W. 26th St., 212-366-9176, newyork.ucbtheatre.com

July 8: Late Show with David Letterman
New York City is a boon for late-night shows, talk shows, cooking shows — you name it — all of which give out free tickets to draw a studio audience. David Letterman recently announced that he’s retiring in 2015, so this is the last year you can see him live. Check our article, Be Part of the Studio Audience, for the details, but know that  standby tickets are available by calling 212-247-6497 at 11am on the day of any taping you want to attend. 1697 Broadway, between 53rd and 54th streets.

 

'Manhattanhenge' sunset

Two women take a selfie during the ‘Manhattanhenge’ sunset (Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

July 12: Manhattanenge
Manhattan’s photogenic all year long, but there’s one day that’s better than the rest: Manhattanenge. Named after Stonehenge, this is when the setting sun aligns perfectly with the Manhattan street grid, flooding the streets with a golden light. Various NYC intersections. amnh.org

July 14: New York Philharmonic in the Parks
Ease into the night with soaring classical music at a New York Philharmonic outdoor concert in Central Park on July 14 at 8pm, showcasing among others, Nielsen’s Maskarade Overture and Liszt’s Les Préludes. The Philharmonic in the Parks features concerts around the five boroughs throughout the summer, from Brooklyn to Staten Island. A bonus: The concerts are often followed by fireworks. At parks across New York City, 212-875-5900, nyphil.org

July 18: Free Bikes on Governors Island
Feel the breeze in your hair as you pedal around Governors Island, a former Coast Guard base in the middle of New York harbor. Every weekday morning this summer, the island offers free bikes. Even better, getting here is free too: The ferry to the island, from both Brooklyn and Manhattan, is gratis. Open Labor Day to Memorial Day; New York Harbor, govisland.com

July 19: Deltron 3030 at Celebrate Brooklyn!
Celebrate Brooklyn!, one of the borough’s most popular concert festivals, heats up Prospect Park throughout the summer. Among the highlights are hip-hop greats Deltron 3030 and Nomadic Massive on July 19. June–July, Prospect Park Bandshell, bricartsmedia.org

 

Queens County Farm Museum

Chickens at Queens County Farm Museum (Photo: Queens County Farm Museum)

July 20: Queens County Farm Museum
If the closest your kids get to a garden are the potted plants on the fire escape, then pay a visit to this 47-acre historic working farm, which is featuring a host of summer events, including the Seasonal Farmstead  (starting on June 4), where you can meet farmers and sample country-fresh produce. Plus, kids (human) can play with frisky kids (goats), and tour verdant fields, orchards and vineyards. 73-50 Little Neck Pkwy., Queens, 718-347-3276, queensfarm.org

July 21: Lightning Thief at Theatreworks USA
This venerable nonprofit theater company showcases free summer shows — from Shakespeare to high-kicking musicals — that cater to children and families. The entertaining Lightning Thief is next on the docket at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village. July 21-Aug. 22. 151 W. 26th St., 212-647-1100, theatreworksusa.com

July 24: Animation Block Party at Rooftop Films
One of the best summer deals in NYC are the free outdoor movie screenings. Rooftop Films brings “underground movies outdoors,” from Fort Greene to the Financial District. Free shows this summer include Sundance Film Festival Shorts on June 6 and Animation Block Party on July 24. Locations throughout New York, rooftopfilms.com

July 25: Chelsea Art Walk
Calling all art-lovers. (And free wine lovers). The Chelsea Art Walk (July 25, 5–8pm) showcases the best of Chelsea’s summer arts shows, along with complimentary nibbles and wine. Plus, you’ll get the chance to meet many of the artists, and perhaps walk out with a signed work of art. Chelsea galleries, between 10th and 11th Aves., from W. 18th to W. 28th, artwalkchelsea.com

 

Brooklyn Brewery

People walk past Brooklyn Brewery (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

July 26: Brooklyn Brewery
Guzzle made-in-Brooklyn brews  — including the popular Brooklyn Summer Ale — on a free weekend tour of the handsome Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg. Free weekend afternoon tours. 79 N. 11th St., Brooklyn, 718-486-7422, brooklynbrewery.com

 July 27: Harlem Week
“Where the world meets the world,” is the slogan at this annual festival that’s celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The month-long festival features everything from gospel to fashion to film, but one of its biggest days is kickoff day, July 27. July 27–Aug. 23. Events throughout Harlem, harlemweek.com

July 29: King Lear at Shakespeare in the Park
All the world’s a stage in Central Park. As the Public Theater describes this summer’s show of Shakespeare’s King Lear: “Revenge, rage, grief and delusion thunder upon the Delacorte” with Tony and Emmy Award winner John Lithgow in the title role. The lines to get in are notoriously long, but hey, that’s part of the experience. July 22–Aug. 17. Delacorte Theater, Central Park, 212-967-7555, publictheater.org

Aug. 1: Children’s Museum of Manhattan
Calling all tykes: This colorful, five-floor museum, which is free the first Friday of the month 5-8pm, is filled with interactive exhibits, including the toe-tapping JAZZED! The Changing Beat of 125th Street, which opens at the end of May and surveys the effect the Harlem Renaissance had on the city and the world. Free first Friday of the month. 212 W. 83rd St., 212-721-1223, cmom.org

 

Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum

Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum (Photo: Noguchi Museum)

Aug. 1: Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum
This one is more for the adults. When you think of Queens — home to the roaring jets of JFK and LaGuardia airports — peace and solitude probably don’t leap to mind. But that’s what you’ll find at the quiet sculpture gardens at the Noguchi Museum, which hosts Free First Fridays of the month, including on Aug.1. 9-01 33rd Rd., Queens, 718-204-7088, noguchi.org

Aug 2: The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology)
High fashion isn’t free, but the exhibits at New York City’s leading fashion museum are. Founded in 1969, the museum is known for its creative exhibits like this summer’s Exposed: A History of Lingerie. June 3-Nov. 14. Seventh Ave. at 27th St., 212-217-4558, fitnyc.edu 

Aug. 3: Downtown Boathouse Kayaks
Kayak season is here. The closest that most New Yorkers get to the Hudson River is by strolling along its banks. But, the river is ideal for kayaking, with placid waters and steady breezes, plus gorgeous views of the skyline. Downtown Boathouse offers complimentary kayak rental at a variety of locations on the Hudson River, most are weekends only. All summer, Downtown Boathouse, Hudson River Greenway, Pier 40, Pier 96 and 72nd St., downtownboathouse.org

Aug. 4: Williamsburg Spelling Bee
How do you spell F-U-N? This free monthly spelling bee is a night of silly fun, fueled by cocktails, comedy and competition. Pete’s Candy Store, 709 Lorimer St., Brooklyn, spellingblog4.blogspot.com

Aug. 9: Second Saturday Staten Island
Staten Island is often called New York’s forgotten borough. It shouldn’t be. Explore the island on this monthly art walk on Staten Island’s north shore. Second Saturdays. Staten Island, St. George, secondsaturdaystatenisland.org

Aug. 9: Bronx Museum of the Arts
Perhaps the Bronx is more your speed? If so, check out the innovative, free Bronx Museum of the Arts, which is featuring a host of summer events including a tour of the area around the museum, led by Sam Goodman, an urban planner in the office of the Bronx Borough President on Aug. 9 at 11am, starting inside the museum. 1040 Grand Concourse, the Bronx, 718-681-6000, bronxmuseum.org

Aug. 10: Tai Chi at Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Riverside Park
With its soothing white marble and 12 Corinthian columns, there’s no better spot than this temple-like monument to practice Tai Chi, a graceful and slow-moving martial art. Come by to learn and practice. Summer Sundays, 8-9am through Aug. 17. Riverside Park, nycgovparks.org

 

Brooklyn Bridge

A man rides a unicycle across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Aug. 12: Brooklyn Bridge
One of New York City’s most iconic sights is also completely free. Summer’s the perfect season to trek across the bridge, gazing out at views of the New York Harbor and skyline. Bring the camera. Brooklyn Bridge, 311, nyc.gov

Aug. 15: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
The MoMA offers a double draw: The world’s largest collection of modern art and a unique building, which is a work of contemporary art in itself. Take advantage of free admission on Friday afternoons when you can check out the entire museum, including summer exhibits like Robert Heinecken: Object Matter (through Sept. 7), a superb retrospective on the conceptual photographer. Fri. 4–8pm. 11 W. 53rd St., 212-708-9400, moma.org

Aug. 16-17: Brooklyn Flea
Where can you find everything from a Wonder Woman lunchbox to a pair of bowling shoes? Brooklyn Flea, the moveable weekend flea market with locations around Brooklyn, from Fort Greene to Williamsburg. Also, this year Brooklyn Flea is launching the new SmorgasBar at Jones Beach, with food vendors, beer, slushies, oysters, iced coffee and beach games. Weekends. Locations throughout Brooklyn, brooklynflea.com

 

Danny Brown performs at Afropunk Fest 2013

Danny Brown performs at Afropunk Fest 2013 (Photo: Subsocietal Inc/Flickr CC)

Aug. 20: Staten Island Ferry
The free ferry continues to be one of the greatest deals in New York City — and there’s no better season than summer to jump aboard to take in sweeping views of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty and the glittering Manhattan skyline. Departs from Whitehall Terminal, at South St. and Whitehall St. in Lower Manhattan, 212-639- 9675, nyc.gov

Aug. 21: Live Burlesque: Spanking the Lower East Side
Get naughty at this saucy burlesque show hosted by Calamity Chang on Thursday nights at the inviting bar Nurse Bettie throughout the summer. Thursdays. Nurse Bettie, 106 Norfolk St., 212-477-7515, nursebettie.com

Aug. 23-24: AfroPunk Fest
“The most multicultural festival in the U.S.” is how The New York Times describes this event — and they’re right. The August festival features everything from blues to hip-hop, and has starred Big Freedia, Vintage Trouble and Trash Talk. As the festival organizers put it, come on down and “sweat, mosh and shout.” Aug. 23–24, Commodore Barry Park, Brooklyn, afropunkfest.com

Aug. 29: Phoenix: Xu Bing at the Cathedral
The Phoenix has risen from the ashes and landed in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Chinese artist Xu Bing created the gargantuan Phoenix with detritus collected from construction sites across China. The bird needed a big home in the U.S., and found it at St. John the Divine, the largest cathedral in the world. On view through 2014. 7:30am–6pm daily. Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave., 212-316-7540, stjohndivine.org

Aug. 27: Floating Pool in the Bronx
Skip work (and beat the heat) and have fun at the Floating Pool in the Bronx’s Barretto Point Park. The 25-meter-by-seven-lane pool sits atop a barge, so it’s like floating in the river but in the comfort and safety of filtered chlorinated water. June 26-Sept. 1, nycgovparks.org

Aug. 30-31: Rockaway Beach
The nickname for this peninsula — Rockapulco — may be a bit of a stretch, but this sun-warmed spit of land that juts into the ocean does have some of the NYC’s best beaches — and they’re all free. Just bring the bikini and the sunscreen. Rockaway Peninsula, nycgovparks.org 

For more free things to do, see our list of 50 Free Things to Do in NYC.

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