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There’s no season we love more than summer in New York, because for every minute we spend melting on the subway platform, there are many blissful moments of fun (and free!) revelry. Good moods abound, and parks and streets radiate the buzz that is summer in the city.
Here, 25 free events in New York City this summer that we’re particularly excited about:
From parades to festivals to block parties, New Yorkers like to party in the streets.
1. Pride Weekend
As is the case with most things New York, the Pride celebration here is one of the biggest in the world. The parade marches down Fifth Avenue on Sunday, June 30, but festivities fill the weekend, including Dance on the Pier, Rapture on the River and Pride (Poolside). And in this critical year there’s a lot to celebrate, so be sure to come out and join in the fun.
2. Independence Day
Hudson River or Coney Island
There is little that feels more American than the smell of hot dogs, the boom of fireworks or the Fourth of July. The big Macy’s fireworks show lights up the sky over the Hudson, with various access points from 24th Street on up to 54th Street. A hint if you choose to go: Head farther downtown (below 12th Street), where the crowds will be (slightly) smaller. Wherever you go, get there early and bring along blankets for sitting and food for eating.
If you prefer the hot dog aspect of the day, head out to Coney Island to cheer on the big eaters in Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. The fun starts at noon, but arrive early to stake out your spot (and a hot dog).
3. Bastille Day
60th Street between 5th and Lexington Avenues or Smith Street, Brooklyn
France’s answer to Independence Day has several festivities of its own. Manhattan‘s party, on 60th Street from Fifth Avenue to Lexington Avenue, becomes a veritable Franco-wonderland, replete with cheeses, éclairs and crêpes (oh my!), plus crafts, live music and much more. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, you can expect costumes, music and fabulous eats at the Bar Tabac Bastille Day celebration in Cobble Hill.
4. New Museum Block Party
July 20, 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Sara D. Roosevelt Park
Experience art firsthand at this all-day extravaganza with performance art, interactive projects and workshops, plus free public tours of the museum.
5. Harlem Week
July 27 to August 30
Various locations in Harlem
Talk about understatement: Harlem Week lasts a month! Head Uptown for Gospel concerts, a jazzmobile, a fashion showcase, a basketball classic and much more.
6. Summer Streets
Dates and locations to be announced
For a few Saturdays every summer, New Yorkers receive a special gift: their streets. Traffic is diverted so that cyclists can cycle, runners can run and everyone else can walk, skip and cartwheel down the center of the street. Expect fun and games at stops along the way (last year saw a zip line and climbing wall).
Whether you’re keen to cut a rug, groove in place or just sit and watch, outdoor music brings delights, especially the free kind.
7. Celebrate Brooklyn
Prospect Park Bandshell
All summer long, Prospect Park is alive and humming (literally). This year’s lineup includes Shaggy, They Might Be Giants and a live performance of the score from Beasts of the Southern Wild.
8. Midsummer Night’s Swing
June 24 to July 13
For 25 years now, live bands have filled the stellar space outside Lincoln Center with jazz, salsa, swing and disco, so that the good people of summer can jump, jive and jitterbug to their hearts’ content. Skip the $17 admission (which includes a lesson at 6:30 p.m. and admission to the dance floor) to shake and shimmy for free outside the ticketed area.
9. Jazz Age Lawn Party
A live concert and so much more, this 1920s-themed fête is the event of the summer (for this New Yorker, at least). Picture the old-fashioned splendor that is always Governors Island, now aglow with dashing costumes, games and all that jazz courtesy of Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra. A ticket ($30 in advance) gets you into the main area with access to dance floor, vintage clothing booths and food and drink offerings, but you can just as easily pack a picnic, claim a spot on the lawn and enjoy the festivities for free.
Mambo, hip-hop and everything in between. No matter your music preference, Summerstage will have something for you. Free concerts take place in Central Park and other parks throughout the boroughs.
11. Sweet Spot Festival
Select Saturdays through September 22
Jackie Robinson Park or Pier 1
The whole family can partake in this celebration of Harlem culture. In addition to vintage shopping, rotating shows include a reggae party and a roller skating jam.
High culture, out of doors.
12. New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks
Now’s your chance to hear the famed New York Philharmonic, Cheapos. The orchestra spends a week playing at one location in each borough (Prospect Park, Brooklyn; Cunningham Park, Queens; College of Staten Island; Central Park, Manhattan; Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx). There’s something extra magical about classical music under a blanket of stars.
13. Lincoln Center Out of Doors
July 24 to August 11
Once the dancers have had their fill, Lincoln Center opens the floor to all array of entertainment, from Afrobeat with Red Hot + FELA to the jazzy Kronos Quartet to funky Ozomatli. This year also includes the 30th Annual Roots of American Music Festival.
14. Shakespeare in the Park
Through August 18
One of New York’s favorite summer traditions: the Bard, performed live, in Central Park’s lovely Delacorte Theater. Tickets are free, but can be hard to come by. Check out our trusty guide to free Shakespeare in the Park tickets for tips on claiming yours.
15. The Met Summer Recital Series
July 16 to August 1
Just like the Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera brings its art to the masses, with six performances throughout the five boroughs. Bring a blanket, a picnic and your best falsetto.
16. New York Classical Theatre
Through July 28
Free Shakespeare. In parks. (Minus the Shakespeare in the Park lines.)
17. River to River Festival
June 15 to July 14
Theater, art, dance, city… The R2R Festival has it all. Watch open rehearsals, listen to poetry readings, or get your hands dirty at interactive events. The festival takes place on waterfront spaces (Governors Island, South Street Seaport…) throughout the city.
It’s a bit overwhelming how many free movie series there are in New York, and each is awesome in its own way. Here’s the rundown.
18. HBO-Bryant Park Summer Film Festival
Mondays through August 19
The grand daddy of the summer film fests has the throngs arriving hours early (the lawn opens at 5 p.m.) to score a spot. Movies won’t start until dusk, but the wait is part of the pleasure. It’s fun to strike up conversations with strangers, and we can certainly think of worse places to lounge than Bryant Park. Movies here tend toward the tried-and-true (this year’s season closes with E.T the Extra Terrestrial).
19. RiverFlicks for Grown-ups
Wednesdays, July 10 to August 21
Pier 63, Hudson River Park (enter at W 23rd Street)
For more modern selections, movies on the river are a good bet. This year’s theme is “bands of heroes and bands of singers,” so you’ll see everything from Argo to Pitch Perfect. It’s a good chance to catch up on the blockbusters you missed last winter. Plus, the staff passes out free popcorn while supplies last.
20. RiverFlicks for Kids
Fridays, July 12 to August 23
Pier 46, Hudson River Park (enter at Charles Street)
Don’t let the name fool you. This youthful version of RiverFlicks offers nostalgic kid-friendly favorites like Beetlejuice and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Oh, and more free popcorn.
21. Central Park Film Festival
Central Park just north of Sheep Meadow
Classics for a classic. This five-day film festival tends to go retro in its pickings, and this year the “People’s Park” let the people decide the movies. The winners include West Side Story for Classics night, The Shining for horror night and Raiders of the Lost Ark for adventure night. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and movies start at 8 p.m.
Wednesdays, July 10 to August 14
McCarren Park, Williamsburg
This hipster fest kicks off each evening with live music and food trucks at 6 p.m., followed by a ’90s throwback movie (Can’t Hardly Wait, The Goonies…) at sunset. We’d expect no less from the ‘burg.
23. Syfy Movies with a View at Brooklyn Bridge Park
Thursdays, July 11 to August 29
Pier 1 Harbor View Lawn
And the winner for best scenery goes to… With the Brooklyn Bridge looming off to one side, and lower Manhattan as backdrop, the atmosphere at Brooklyn Bridge seems like something from, well, a movie. Snag a spot early and be rewarded by not only a seat but fabulous views and DJ tunes (from 6 p.m.) Feature films—this year kicks it off with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and ends with Lost in Translation—are each preceded by a short.
24. The Intrepid Summer Movie Series
Various dates through August 15
Intrepid Museum, Pier 86 (W 46th Street)
It’s no surprise that this massive aircraft carrier turned museum has the likes of Jaws, Top Gun and The Karate Kid on the docket this year. Space is limited and priority seating is granted to members, so arrive early (doors open at 7:30 p.m.), and note that there is no admission after 8:30 p.m.
25. Films In Tompkins
Thursdays through August 8
Tompkins Square Park
Somehow the thought of watching Rocky Horror Picture Show in the heart of the East Village just feels right. Gates open at 6 p.m., and musical entertainment starts around then too.
Looking for somewhere to sleep?
While you can catch free theater, concerts and movies outdoors, we wouldn’t recommend trying to sleep under the stars while in New York (Cheapo as that may be). For our favorite cheap sleeps in the city, check out our guide to budget hotels in New York.
Anything to add?
Know of any other free events in New York this summer? Feel free to share them in the comment box below. And if you have any questions about the events listed, ask away!