May 28–Jun 30; Jul 23–Aug 18: Shakespeare in the Park
Jun 4–Aug 29: SummerStage
Jun 5–Aug 10: Celebrate Brooklyn!
Jun 8–9: Figment
Jun 15–Jul 14: River to River
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Though Ryan’s Daughter only opened in 1979, there has been a bar at the same Upper East Side location since the Prohibition era. Over the years, the pub has maintained the same welcoming feel and today, it still plays host to plenty of neighborhood events. Stop by on the first Wednesday of every month to watch the unofficial UES poll championships. From time to time, the upstairs bar even hosts performances of plays written by local thespians. During the colder months, sip on an Irish coffee to warm up—Ryan’s Daughter offers both the classic recipe and one spiked with whiskey and Bailey’s—or a hot toddy. The bar has an extensive list of beers on tap, including their own house ale ($5), Paulaner hefeweizen ($6) and Six Point “The Crisp” Pilz ($6). The usual suspects—Budweiser ($5), Corona ($6) and Pabst Blue Ribbon ($4)—appear in bottles or cans, but the best deal might be the pairing of a can of Narragansett Del’s Shandy with a well shot ($9).
Venue says: “Join us every Monday night for themed quizzes in our cozy second floor bar. $50 bar tab to the winning team. Prizes for the "losers" too”