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7 Things to Do in New York on Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day weekend in New York. It’s a three-day weekend, it’s the first unofficial weekend of summer—and it’s also a fantastic opportunity to do something fun in the sun. With beaches opening, parks blooming, and free concerts, performances and parades abounding, it’s hard to know where to start your adventure. Lucky for you, we’ve got the skinny on the seven best things to do over Memorial Day weekend in New York.

Memorial Day

U.S. military servicemen unfurl an enormous U.S. flag while aboard the USS Intrepid during a Memorial Day service in New York City. (Photo: David Turnley/Getty Images)

Governors Island
For a day in the park and a bit of military history, Governors Island is your best bet. Just a few hundred yards off the foot of Manhattan, the island was an Army post and command center until 1966, but has now been revitalized as one of NYC’s best public parks. You can bring your bike or rent one on the island, tour military officials’ houses, explore monuments including Fort Jay and Castle Williams, or just take in the incredible views. The weekends-only park opens for the season Saturday, May 25, from 10am to 7pm; a schedule that  continues through Sept. 30. It’s also open on Memorial Day and Labor Day. Free ferry access from 10 South St., Manhattan, and Brooklyn Bridge Park’s East River Pier 6, Brooklyn. nps.gov/gois

Central Park
The appeal of a picnic in Central Park needs no explanation, but if you’re in the park, why not explore its history? On Memorial Day, a special two-hour park walking tour leads visitors through the park’s many monuments, with an eye to how different generations of New Yorkers have commemorated veterans over the years. Meets at 11am at the Maine Monument at Columbus Circle, Central Park West and 59th St., 212-794-4064, support.centralparknyc.org/site/Calendar/1535216986?view=Detail&id=105821

City Beaches Reopen
While some beachfront attractions are still rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy (the Rockaway Beach Boardwalk, for one), all the city’s beaches are open for swimming on May 25, the start of Memorial Day weekend. Consider a trip to Coney Island for a day on the beach followed by a ride on the Wonder Wheel or the Cyclone at Luna Park. Wonder Wheel: 1025 Boardwalk at W. 12th St., 718-372-2592, wonderwheel.com; Luna Park: 1000 Surf Ave., 718-373-5862, lunaparknyc.com

Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade
The Kings County Memorial Day Parade is in its 146th year, which makes it not only NYC’s oldest parade, but also the oldest continuously running Memorial Day parade in the country. Veterans will march through Bay Ridge down to John Paul Jones Park in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, where there will be a wreath laying, flag raising, playing of “Taps” and a 21-gun salute. Starts at 11am at 87th St. and Third Ave. and ends at John Paul Jones Park, brooklynmemorialdayparade.com

New York Philharmonic at St. John the Divine
Show up early to get your tickets for a rare free performance from the esteemed orchestra. The Philharmonic will play Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 in D Minor, at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. (Tickets handed out at 6pm, performance 8pm). 1047 Amsterdam Ave., 212-316-7540, stjohndivine.org/MemorialDay2013.html

Big Apple Circus
With jugglers, high-flying trapeze artists, clowns and acrobats under the big top, Big Apple Circus is about as classic as a circus can get. Its May to June run in Queens includes two Memorial Day performances and more over the long weekend. Cunningham Park, 196th St. and Francis Lewis Boulevard, Fresh Meadows, bigapplecircus.org

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
The USS Intrepid, the WWII-era aircraft carrier-turned-museum docked at Pier 86 in the Hudson, is worth a visit any time of year, but the free Memorial Day Weekend activities are a particular draw. On Friday, there’s a free screening of Top Gun on the flight deck, while lectures, exhibits and performances occur throughout the weekend. The grand finale is the Memorial Day Commemoration Ceremony on Monday. (Most activities free, but some require museum admission.) Pier 86, 12th Ave. and 46th St. intrepidmuseum.org/MemorialDayWeekend2013.aspx