Top 10 Free Things To Do In New York City This Summer

Top 10 Free Things To Do In New York City This Summer

1) Explore Governors Island

Long an unpopulated 172-acre island sitting enticingly off the tip of Manhattan, Governors Island was recently taken over by the city and opened up to the public for free access.

A ferry shuttles visitors from Friday – Sunday from Manhattan and Brooklyn to the island and drops them off, free to explore the island by bike, picnic on the former military base’s parade ground, or to check out one of the many art exhibits or music events scheduled for the summer (including concerts on June 18 featuring Girl Talk, Empire of the Sun and Big Boi, as well as Dave Matthews on August 26).

For directions, a calendar of events, and a map, visit the Governors Island site here.

2) Street Fairs

It’s guaranteed that whenever you’re in New York, there’s going to be a free street fair happening somewhere in one of the five boroughs, much to the consternation of the locals whose parking spots are taken over by vendors. There are neighborhood fairs, fairs for Bastille Day, Italian feast fairs — pretty much any excuse to get outside.

Time Out has this comprehensive list updated every week.

Top 10 Free Things To Do In New York City This Summer3) Live Music At South Street Seaport

New Yorkers avoid the outdoor mall/tourist trap that is South Street Seaport like the plague. But come summer, the pier hosts some of the best indie rock shows of the season, all for free. This year’s shows include performances from The Radio Dept., Dirty Beaches and The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger, with others to be announced.

(Tip: Avoid the tourist-priced drinks at the show and buy a 32-ounce, portable Styrofoam cup from Jeremy’s Ale House nearby for a fraction of the price.)

The full list can be found at the River To River Festival’s page.

4) Visit The Alexander McQueen Exhibit At The Met

On track to be one of the most popular exhibits ever in the Met’s history, the Alexander McQueen retrospective at the Metroplitan Museum of Art entitled “Savage Beauty” has been causing lines to form down the museum steps since the exhibit opened in early May, and has even been garnering a sideshow of fashion watchers enamored by the design students coming and going to the show.

The exhibit itself is free with admission to the museum, and despite suggested prices, if you’re really in a bind, you can pay whatever you want to enter the museum (though, be prepared for a scowl from the staff if you just pony up spare change from your pocket).

The exhibit is open until August 7, and information about it can be found here.

5) Shakespeare In The Park

Okay, this one’s not exactly a revelation. Shakespeare in the Park has been attracting crowds for over half a century, and a look at the number of people who line up every day for tickets is proof it’s as popular as ever. This year the two productions being performed are All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure.

You could line up like everyone else at the theater in the morning, hoping to snag a couple of tickets as they’re given away at 1 p.m. But, for those in the know, those days of waiting on line are a distant memory. Now you can simply get in line virtually by signing up here on the day of the show. If you’re picked, you’ll get an e-mail telling you about your free pair of tickets. If not picked, just try again the next day.

Top 10 Free Things To Do In New York City This Summer6) Shop And Eat At Brooklyn Flea Markets

The Brooklyn Flea began and is still held in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and features over 125 vendors selling everything from apricot cupcakes, vintage postcards and silk-screen t-shirts. It’s a go-to spot for locals, and is even garnering press as one of the city’s best pick-up spots!

Due to to overwhelming demand, the South Brooklyn market now now has a sister market in Williamsburg (North Brooklyn) on Sundays, along with a food-only market on the same spot called Smorgasburg on Saturdays. All are completely free, and a couple of hours can be spent wandering around under the sun on a weekend afternoon with plenty of people-watching and oddity-hunting.

For directions and a vendor list, visit the Brooklyn Flea’s website.

7) See The World In Jackson Heights

Just a short ride on the subway from Manhattan is Jackson Heights, Queens, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city, with over 65% of the population made up of immigrants. Most notable is Little Colombia, where immigrants have opened restaurants and bakeries featuring the best of their country’s delicacies.

The best part? You’ll have visited a part of New York few other travelers — and New Yorkers — have ever been. Yes, off-the-beaten-path is possible in one of the country’s most popular cities.

8) Visit Famous Graves

Okay, stay with me here. Where do travelers flock in Paris? Père Lachaise Cemetery to see Jim Morrison’s grave. How about Buenos Aires? Recoleta Cemetery for Eva Peron. Well, New York has its share of famous graves, most of which go unvisited by travelers (even though the price to do so is free).

Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is famous for the great jazz legends buried there. In fact, so many are there, the cemetery has its own “jazz corner,” where such greats such as Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis and Max Roach are found.

Over in Queens is Saint John’s Cemetery, home to the city’s most notorious mafioso, including John Gotti, Lucky Luciano, Joe Colombo, Carlo Gambino and Vito Genovese.

And perhaps most famous, Green-Wood Cemetery in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, is the city’s most scenic final resting place. Here you can find the graves of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Henry Ward Beecher, Leonard Bernstein, William “Bill The Butcher” Poole (of Gangs of New York fame), and William Marcy “Boss” Tweed.

Woodlawn offers self-guided tours. Directions and information can be found on their site.

You’re on your own at Saint John’s, but plot locations can be found here.

The Green-Wood Cemetery site can be found here.

9) Prospect Park

Prospect Park, in the heart of Brooklyn, is really a city unto itself. Every Saturday, at the entrance at Grand Army Plaza, is a farmer’s market. At drummer’s grove, just inside the Parkside Ave./Ocean Ave. entrance, you can join in on the city’s largest, daily drum circle. And 2 1/2 miles of nature trails, where free tours are offered by the park, begin just inside the Lincoln Rd./Ocean Ave. entrance. Sorry, no sleeping overnight, you’re going to have to leave come 1 a.m.

Also, the park’s bandshell is home to some of the best free shows of the summer in the entire city. This year alone features shows from Andrew Bird, Los Lobos, Sean Kuti, Dr. John and Ra Ra Riot.

Info, maps and directions can be found at Prospect Park’s website.

Click here for a full list of the free shows.

Top 10 Free Things To Do In New York City This Summer10) Hit The Beach

Visitors to New York are usually surprised by this, but New York City actually has some very close and nice beaches. Both Rockaway Beach and Coney Island are less than an hour away, and both are accessible by the subway that drops visitors off steps from the sand. Beside the famous history and boardwalk of Coney Island, at Rockaway visitors can rent surfboards and even take lessons.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has information on both Rockaway Beach and Coney Island.

By Matt Stabile

Top 10 Free Things To Do In New York City This Summer


Top 10 Free Things To Do In New York City This SummerMatt Stabile is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of You can read his writings, watch his travel videos, purchase the book he co-edited or contact him via email at any time at (@TheExpeditioner)

Published on May 31, 2010