Last Updated on January 18, 2021 by Anisa
New York is expensive! The good news is that during the summer there are lots of great free events that you would have to pay for in many other cities. I have been going to these free summer events in NYC for years and they are always so much fun. I want you to take advantage of them too! And good news some of these are great summer events for kids too!
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Summer in New York City
Many locals like to head for the beaches during the summer, but personally, I think its the best time to visit New York City. I like the warm weather – ok sometimes it can be downright hot and humid. It’s nice to be able to eat outside, enjoy the rooftop bars, or even do an ice cream tour in Manhattan. These free events are a nice bonus!
The 9 Best Free NYC Summer Events
Whether you live in New York City or are just visiting, take advantage of these NYC free summer events if you can. As you might have expected, these great summer outdoor events are popular, so you have to be prepared for the crowds. You can’t complain, these are free events!
#1 Outdoor Movies
I am not a movie person but I love going to outdoor movies. It is so fun to picnic, lie in the grass, and watch a movie. In NYC, there is no shortage of options, so everyone can find something they like. My favorite free summer movie venue is Bryant Park. They usually show classic films.
Each venue differs in the schedule, type of movie, and setup. Some allow chairs, while others only allow blankets. There are some venues that will sell food, so you don’t even have to pack a picnic. You should check the website for the outdoor movie you would like to attend to find out the rules and other important information.
Just be sure to get there early to get your spot. At Bryant Park, there is the running of the blankets at 5 pm when they open the lawn. Everyone runs to get the best spots. You don’t have to get there that early, but don’t expect to arrive a few minutes before the show starts and have room.
Check out this complete listing of outdoor movies in NYC.
#2 Philharmonic in the Park
Philharmonic in the Park is one of my favorite events. The NYC Philharmonic Orchestra puts on a free show in various NYC parks. Everyone picnics and enjoys the music, and then there is a fireworks show immediately afterward. The show includes one intermission.
I usually go to the show on the Great Lawn in northern part of Central Park. Around 50,000 people attend the show in Central Park each year. You will want to get there early to get a good spot. While you don’t need to be close to the stage, you will want to make sure you have enough room for your group. You can picnic while you wait, so the time will fly by.
Just keep your fingers crossed that the weather cooperates. One year, we had a downpour in the middle of the performance, so they had to end early. While it was disappointing the show was cut short, we still had a fun time.
Check out the schedule for the Philharmonic in the Park Shows.
#3 Summer Streets
During Summer Streets New York, seven miles of streets are closed to car traffic so that the public can bike, run or walk on them. It’s so fun to be able to walk in the middle of the street without worrying about cars. They also have special attractions each year that are unique. In the past, you could do zip lining in NYC, go down a huge waterslide, or do rock climbing.
From 7:00 am to 1:00 pm on select Saturdays in August, Summer Streets extends from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park, along Park Avenue and connecting streets. You can enter at any point along the route.
Check out more details about Summer Streets.
Note: If you enjoy biking, be sure to also try biking in Central Park during your time in NYC.
#4 Outdoor Yoga Events in NYC
Yoga is one of the best forms of exercise there is, and being able to do it outside in the middle of NYC is something special. In the midst of the craziness of midtown Manhattan, you can find some zen in Bryant Park each Tuesday and Thursday. You don’t even need to bring a yoga mat, it will be provided for you. Plus, you can earn vouchers for credits toward yoga classes after you attend 10 sessions of free outdoor yoga in Bryant Park.
The Tuesday Bryant Park yoga class is smaller and held on the upper terrace in the morning. Thursday at 6 pm the class held on the lawn is huge with over 1,000 yogis. It is amazing seeing that many people move in sync. The classes are good for all levels. The teachers usually give some options for those that are more advanced.
Check out more details about Bryant Park Yoga.
#5 Macy’s Fireworks
The Macy’s Fireworks show has become a tradition in each Fourth of July in New York City. While they may switch up the location each year, they always have multiple barges and lots of fireworks synchronized to music. The show is nationally televised with pre-recorded musical performances leading up to the main event. Sometime they have an NYPD helicopter flyover and an FDNY waterboat show will kick off the celebration.
Prime viewing locations will get crowded, so again I recommend getting there early and picnicking while you wait. If you want to splurge, many rooftop bars will have watching parties or you can do a boat cruise.
Check out more details about the Macy’s Fireworks.
#6 Shakespeare in the Park
Each summer, the Public Theatre puts on a few different Shakespeare plays for free. The productions often feature big-name celebrities – bonus! One year, I saw Meryl Streep. Additionally, there are usually celebrities in the audience. I remember one year I spotted Cynthia Nixon.
The Delacorte Theatre (in Central Park) is not that big, so there are no bad seats. Even if you are not interested in the particular play, I would recommend going for the experience.
As you can imagine, demand for tickets is very high. You will need to get up early and wait in line for tickets to be distributed at the theater at noon for that evening’s performance. I would aim to be in line by 8 am. Or if you are feeling lucky, you can enter the online lottery. On some days, a limited number of vouchers are distributed at locations in each of the five boroughs between 12 pm and 2 pm.
The shows are usually Tuesday through Sunday at 8 pm. Unfortunately, if the show is canceled because of weather, the tickets cannot be exchanged for another date.
Check out more information about Shakespeare in the Park.
#7 Outdoor Concerts in NYC
You can see some of the top musical acts in NYC for free! In most cases, all you need to do is get there in time to get a good spot! Many are part of the morning talk shows, so you might need to wake up early, but for the chance to see one of your favorites it’s a small price to pay.
My favorite free concert memory is when I saw Bon Jovi in Central Park for free! I don’t think I will ever forget singing along to those hits along with my 50,000 closest friends.
Check out this list of free summer concerts in NYC.
#8 Museum Mile Festival
Each year, there is one day when the seven museums along the northern stretch of 5th Avenue, from 82nd Street to 105th Street known as the Museum Mile, open their doors for free. This includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum.
Get there as early as you can because there will be lines. They also usually have some activities on the street and street vendors selling food. It’s a great event for the whole family.
Get more information about the Museum Mile Festival.
Pretty much every weekend there is a parade in NYC. You may be familiar with some of the big ones like the Gay Pride Parade or the Puerto Rican Day Parade. It is like the Seinfeld episode. And there are many more. Some also have street fairs, fun runs, or even festivals to go along with the parade.
Be sure to use mass transit to get to the parade as there will be street closures. Also, it may be difficult to cross the street when the parade is going by. You can always ask one of the police officers and they will direct you to where they are allowing people to cross.
I could not find a comprehensive list, but here is a list of the largest parades.
Where to Stay in NYC in the Summer
Location is key when choosing a place to stay in NYC. You can save so much travel time. With all the different neighborhoods in NYC, it can be hard to narrow down where to stay when you are in NYC. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, it is going to depend on your personal preferences and budget.
I created a cheatsheet to help you choose the right accomodation in NYC for you. It goes over the pros and cons of each neighborhood and provides a few hotel recommendations for various price ranges. Grab your free copy of my NYC Hotel Cheatsheet here.
Is Visiting NYC in the Summer Worth It?
The summer is my favorite time in NYC, but it is also one of the most popular with tourists. It can also be hot and uncomfortable at times, so you may be wondering if summer is a good time to visit NYC.
If you manage your expectations, you will have a wonderful time in NYC in the summer. There are so many fun summer events in NYC and it’s so nice that many of them are free!
Have you been to any of these events? What free summer events in NYC are your favorite?
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