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10 Totally Free Things to Do in NYC This Summer

New York City Insider Guides Budget Travel
by Aryana Azari Jun 7, 2018

As someone who was born and raised in New York City, I often get asked by other people for recommendations on things to do. As one of the most iconic urban centers in the world, it can get pretty expensive. But just because you’re in the Big Apple doesn’t mean you have to bring out the big bucks. Here are 10 experiences worth having — and none of them will break the bank.

1. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and see the sunset.

The Brooklyn Bridge was constructed in 1883, making it one of the oldest bridges in the United States. It’s a mix between a suspension and cable-stayed bridge and connects Manhattan and Brooklyn, and it’s a local favorite to walk across. The best way to tackle this is by starting out from the Manhattan end a little before sunset so you have enough time to take pictures of and on the bridge while it’s still daylight out. Marvel at the sights on either side while the sun begins to set and make it to Brooklyn Bridge Park right as the colors blend and the painted sky really behind the iconic New York City skyline.

2. Catch a flick outdoors.

Grab a blanket and see some of your favorite movies outdoors at one of NYC Parks’ many movie showings throughout the city. Some of the films on the agenda this summer include Wonder Woman at John Jay Park in Manhattan, The Lego Batman Movie at the Paradise on Earth in the Bronx, Black Panther at Brookville Park in Queens, The Lion King at Brevoort Playground in Brooklyn, and West Side Story at the Greenbelt Recreation Center in Staten Island. And unlike the regular movie theaters, bringing your own snacks is encouraged, so feel free to go crazy on the Red Vines.

3. Go on a location hunt.

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A ton of popular movies and television shows were shot in New York City, and going on paid group location tours, like the Sex and the City bus tour, is a tourist favorite. But there’s a sense of accomplishment to navigating and finding spots on your own — and the price is just right. So download Google Maps and make a list of what you want to see. There’s the iconic Friends apartment building, the Met steps where Blair and Serena spent their mornings before school on Gossip Girl, the Plaza Hotel where Kevin McAllister from Home Alone and Eloise caused chaos, and so many more.

4. Have your own “Night at the Museum.”

Museums in NYC typically close around 5 pm, which isn’t a lot of time if you’re trying to see a lot at different locations. But over the summer, places like the Natural History Museum and The Guggenheim open up their doors beyond normal admission hours to allow visitors to experience a whole new side of the museum. Instead of running around trying to cram multiple museums in one day and rushing your visits at all of them, you have the opportunity to take your time and truly take everything in. A lot of museums in New York are always free (the displayed price is often a suggested donation), but many of the ticketed museums also offer free nights during weekdays in summer.

5. Hear the Bard’s tales under the stars.

Warm weather means everyone wants to head outside, and thespians are no exception. Actors post up all around town in public spaces to put on shows and usually, it’ll be one of Shakespeare’s works. Even if you’re not a huge fan, the shows are worth seeing because the theatrics of these live public shows are often more interesting than a conventional play. Shakespeare in the Park is a popular event that occurs every summer; plays like “Much Ado About Nothing,” “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream,” and “King Lear” will be performed at the open-air Delacorte Theater in Central Park. It’s free, but you’ll still need tickets to get in. To get them, register for the online lottery or wait in line on the day of a performance.

6. Tickle your funny bone.

Founded in 1987, the Knitting Factory holds free stand-up comedy shows every Sunday. The venue is great for discovering up-and-coming comics, but you might also see established comedians like Ilana Glazer and Hannibal Buress return to their old stomping grounds to perform.

7. Climb and zip through greenery.

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The Alley Pond Adventure Course offers free climbing and zip lining every Sunday between May and October. You can either pick the 9:30 a.m. or 1 p.m. slot, and reservations aren’t required unless you want to go in July or August. Generally, if you arrive a half hour before it starts, you should be able to get in. For reservations during the second half of the summer, it’s done through a lottery system where you have to register, specify the number of participants up to a maximum of 4, and then the tickets will be given out at random.

8. Hit up a street festival.

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Every weekend, many city blocks will be closed off to car traffic for some sort of festival. The New York Poetry Festival celebrates the written word, while the Coney Island Mermaid Parade pays homage to the wondrous creatures of the ocean. It’s not uncommon to walk along random streets and suddenly find yourself in the midst of throngs of people and hundreds of stalls selling everything from food to clothes. Be sure to search online to see if there’s a themed festival going on while you’re here or just hit the streets and see what you find.

9. Treat your ears.

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Summer is a season for music festivals and outdoor concerts, and thanks to our prime location, we actually bring in the biggest acts in the world for these free events. Programs like The TODAY Show and Good Morning America have weekly concerts with Top 40 artists like Imagine Dragons, Alicia Keys, and Pitbull. Then there’s SummerStage, a festival that’s run by the City Parks Foundation. Every week, different acts are booked to perform in Central Park. You could find yourself listening to the stylings of a hot new DJ or an up and coming indie band — there’ll be something for everyone.

10. Stay in shape.

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In a city so full of people obsessed with wellness, there’s no shortage of free fitness classes available, so why not try something that’ll keep you healthy and could be fun? Take a yoga class in the middle of Times Square or Zumba in South Street Seaport. For those people who are less inclined to sweat in public, head indoors to where many gyms offer trial kickboxing, tai chi, pilates, and general body conditioning classes.

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