Summer is one of the best times to visit New York City. Many of the locals leave their urban confines for their summer homes, kids go away to camp, and everyone else seems to leave on the weekends. You almost have the city to yourself. Thus, the city provides a variety of cheap and free things to do to stave off the sometimes sweltering city summers, making appealing not only for visitors but for the locals who love a summer in the city. There’s lot to do in summer, so here are our Top 8 free and cheap things to do while you’re there.
#1 Ride the Staten Island FerryNearly always first on the list of free things to do in New York City, the Staten Island Ferry offers a free ride past two of the most iconic New York City sites: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. And what’s better on a warm summer day than a ride out on New York Harbor? You’ll also get great views of Battery Park, the skyline, Brooklyn Bridge and Governor’s Island. The ferry even has an inexpensive on-board cafeteria where you can buy beer and snacks.
#2 Catch a Free ConcertParks and plazas around the city host many free concerts throughout the season. One of the most popular is the Central Park SummerStage, which hosts a diverse selection of afternoon and evening concerts from top jazz and rock to African and reggae performers. At Rockefeller Center, arrive in the wee hours of the morning to catch the hottest rock and pop acts perform at NBC’s Summer Concert series every Friday morning. At the Prospect Park Bandshell, Celebrate Brooklyn presents an eclectic concert program focusing on the borough’s diverse community.
#3 Art for FreeForego the expensive admissions to the Museum of Modern Art or the Whitney and spend a day touring the galleries sprinkled throughout the city. The best part is that galleries are free to the public and they’re clustered in neighborhoods, enabling you to hit a number a galleries in one day. Uptown, most galleries are around Fifth Avenue and 57th Street and feature American and European contemporary art.
Chelsea is home to a number of cutting-edge galleries, located in the West 20s, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. The main “gallery row,” if you like, is on W. 26th Street. Other areas to check out include West Broadway in SoHo, and DUMBO in Brooklyn, just below the Brooklyn Bridge.
#4 Take to the Streets!It’s no secret that New York City is the most walkable city in the world. On an afternoon stroll, you’ll encounter such a visual feast, the next thing you know you’ve walked from Times Square down to SoHo – some 50 blocks! No matter, walking in New York City is easy. The city is laid out on a grid; avenues run north and south, and streets go east and west. Below 14th Street to the Battery, parts of the city follow the grid pattern, while others zigzag through neighborhoods.
Some of the best places to walk are Greenwich Village, especially along Bleecker Street; SoHo, the blocks between Broadway to Sixth Avenue; Fifth Avenue, from the corner of Central Park South to 110th Street, which borders the park; and the Brooklyn Bridge, where stunning views of New York Harbor unfold. Wherever you choose to walk, New York City doesn’t disappoint.
#5 Take a Free Ferry to Governors IslandOne of the newest attractions in New York City is this former military base which once played an important role in the Revolutionary War. In 2010, the city took it over and declared it a public park. And it’s pretty cool, too. To get there, jump on the free ferry at the Battery Terminal for the 5-minute ride across New York Harbor to the island. Once on the island, you can enjoy a car-free environment, see live music, wander through art galleries, take a free yoga class, relax in the sun on Water Taxi Beach or rent a bicycle or quadracycle.
Governors Island also hosts a number of free events through the summer and September. The island is open Friday through Sunday, and all Monday holidays. In fact, ‘4 Heads Art Fair’ opens this weekend – just in time now that Hurricane Irene has finished her passage through town!
#6 Kayaking on the Hudson RiverOkay, maybe you don’t think of New York City as a water destination, but the city does take its water seriously. Thus, in summer you can enjoy a number of water activities, most of them free.
One of my favorite activities is taking a kayak out on the Hudson. The Downtown Boathouse, at Pier 40 at Houston Street, gives out kayaks on a first-come, first-served basis. They even give free lessons and paddling tours! Then it’s out on the Hudson you go, paddling through the fairly calm waters for awesome views of New York City and New Jersey.
#7 Eating Cheap and EasyYou don’t have to splash out for prix fixe meals at Per Se or Jean-Georges to enjoy some of the finest cuisine NYC has to offer. Even the least expensive food is some of the tastiest in the city. For cheap eats, check out the ethnic flavors from street vendors or stop for a slice of pizza. Union Square greenmarket is a great place to pick up fresh organically grown produce, cheeses and fresh breads. The food court in Grand Central Station houses an array of easy-on-the-wallet counters, from Indian food and wraps to sushi and noodles. Bring your appetite!
#8 Free Summer MoviesLooking for a mellow New York City evening? Join the locals for free movie events in parks around the city, from drama to adventure, from musicals to blockbusters. Try RiverFlicks for Grownups for movies along the Hudson River, and Syfy Movies with a View at Brooklyn Bridge Park. HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival puts on weekly screenings of classics like Easy Rider, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Airplane! Best of all, it’s free!