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Free things to do in New York this summer for culture lovers

Summer is chock full of free things to do in New York, particularly for fans of the performing arts, music and outdoor installations.

 (Photograph: Courtesy Shakespeare in the Park)
Photograph: Courtesy Shakespeare in the Park

May 28–Jun 30; Jul 23–Aug 18: Shakespeare in the Park

 (Photograph: Virginia Rollison)
Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Jun 4–Aug 29: SummerStage

 (Photograph: Ryan Muir)
Photograph: Ryan Muir

Jun 5–Aug 10: Celebrate Brooklyn!

 (Photograph: Alessandro Bologna)
Photograph: Alessandro Bologna

Jun 8–9: Figment


Jun 15–Jul 14: River to River

 (Photograph: ┬ęStephanie Berger)
Photograph: ┬ęStephanie Berger

Jul 24–Aug 11: Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Come the warm months, there’s a wealth of free things to do in New York. And if you’re a cash-strapped arts aficionado looking for gratis theater, concerts, dance, comedy and more, this city is the place to be. Check out our list of the summer’s best no-cost fests, which offer everything from dance performances in Lincoln Center to rock shows in Central Park, all under the open sky.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to things to do in the summer in NYC


Shakespeare in the Park

Each year, the Public Theater’s festival brings droves of culture lovers to Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. First up this year is The Comedy of Errors (May 28–June 30), one of the Bard’s sillier farces, starring company vets Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) and Hamish Linklater (The Big C). The big news this year is a musical adaptation of battle-of-the-sexes comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost (July 23–Aug 18) from Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, who last collaborated on the very fun Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. 212-539-8500, shakespeareinthepark.org. Tickets free, two per person; see website for details.

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This cultural behemoth brings more than 100 free shows to parks in all five boroughs, from concerts and DJ events to theater, comedy and dance performances. Check out ’60s pop act the Zombies (June 15), hip-hop MC Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def, June 24), soul singer Shuggie Otis (Aug 11), vocal acrobat Bobby McFerrin (Aug 20) and many, many more. Other offerings include a Comedy Central stand-up showcase featuring Nick Kroll and Amy Schumer (June 26), a performance from the acclaimed Martha Graham Dance Company (July 23, 24), and a new hip-hop stage adaptation of King Kong from alt-theater whizzes Randy Weiner and Alfred Preisser (July 30–Aug 22). Visit summerstage.org for details. Free, except benefit shows.

Celebrate Brooklyn!

Celebrate Brooklyn!

Most of the shows at this stellar outdoor-performance series in Prospect Park are technically free. But we recommend that you support its organizers, BRIC, by donating $3 at the gate. The diverse offerings and relaxed, neighborhood vibe at the park bandshell are worth it. A lot of this year’s gratis lineup is still TBA, but you can look forward to an opening performance from alt-country favorite Patty Griffin (June 5), R&B legend Mavis Staples and crowd-pleasing neosoul man Cody Chetnutt (June 14), and multidisciplinary dance troupe Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (Aug 1). More concerts, movie screenings and performances will be announced mid-May. 718-855-7882, bricartsmedia.org/celebrate. Suggested donation $3, except benefit events.


Figment NYC


This two-day art happening takes over Governors Island, turning it into a Seussian wonderland filled with fantastical installations and sculptures. This year’s schedule is still in the offing, but last year’s included offerings such as a multi-artist minigolf course and The Intergalactic Travel Bureau, in which visitors could book a trip to Mars. Festgoers are invited to get into the spirit and join in on the arty, free-spirited vibe. (A what-to-bring list suggests items like squirt guns, costumes and kites.) Visit newyork.figmentproject.org for details. 10am–6pm; free.

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Until Sun Jun 7
River to River

River to River

Lower Manhattan erupts in hundreds of free cultural and musical events for a month each summer thanks to this massive festival. Of the many amazing concerts, art installations, dance and theatrical performances this year, highlights include the Bang on a Can Marathon, the beloved all-day alt-classical-music session (June 16); Roadside Attraction, a new site-specific theater piece from the boundary-busting Third Rail Projects (June 23–26, July 1, 2); a collaborative work from legendary performance artist Laurie Anderson and musician Bill Laswell (June 18, 19); pieces from renowned choreographers Stephen Petronio (June 29) and Luciana Achugar (July 2); and Ecstatic Summer, a genre-spanning concert put on by members of Deerhoof, Akron/Family, Bon Iver, the National and more (June 29, 30). Whew! Visit rivertorivernyc.com for details. Free.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Each summer, Lincoln Center’s sprawling campus comes alive with dozens of free-of-charge performances by musicians, dancers and other artists from all over the world. Check out the five-day celebration of string superstars the Kronos Quartet, who will perform alongside indie-folk project My Brightest Diamond (July 25), one-man electro force Dan Deacon (July 28) and others. Festival au Désert in Exile—Caravan for Peace brings Mali’s Tuareg music fest to NYC for the first time, featuring shows by African acts such as refugee group Tartit (July 31). Dance fans can see Kyle Abraham/Abraham.in.Motion’s gang-violence-inspired Pavement (Aug 31). Expect punk-cabaret kids to crowd in for an appearance from Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra (Aug 9). Visit lcoutofdoors.org for details. Free.