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The best things to do in the summer in NYC

Soak up the sun as well as our list of recommendations for the best things to do during summer in New York

By Time Out New York editors, Jennifer Picht, Jillian Anthony and Will Gleason
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Buy a new swimsuit and stock up on sunblock—you’re going to need ‘em when the time comes to start checking off our sensational list of things to do in summer in NYC. The city gains a boundless energy once the heat cranks up. And some of the most popular New York attractions provide an endless list of things to do outside. From rooftop movies and free dance parties in Gotham’s best parks to can’t-miss music festivals and more, here’s how to make the absolute most of these steamy summer nights. Tip: You may want to request off for a few staycation days too so you can spend some time relaxing at a few rooftop pools during the week when they’re less crowded.

Best things to do in the summer

Photograph: Loren Wohl

1. Warm up the dance floor at MoMA PS1

Clubs

It's easy to see why the 22nd annual Warm Up party series is so popular: You get to drink beer, eye contemporary art and dance beneath a large-scale outdoor installation. And then there's the quality of the musical lineup, which in previous years has included Questlove, the Scissor Sisters, Lizzo, Solange and LCD Soundsystem. This year, check out a sick lineup of artists and DJs, and other big acts to be announced. Block off Saturday afternoons for this: It's going to be worth it.

Photograph: David Gettens

2. See a free SummerStage show

Music

Never take for granted how lucky we are to be in a city where a free show in the park has become a quintessential summer experience (even when you're stuck in the interminable line for said free show). For New York's largest free performing-arts festival, various parks around the city offer gratis programming, with Central Park's Mainstage at the center of the action. 

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3. Devour an ice cream cone at Ample Hills Creamery

Restaurants Ice cream parlors Prospect Heights

Twenty-four rotating flavors—made with Battenkill Valley Creamery milk, organic cane sugar and cage-free eggs—are on offer at this sunny artisanal ice cream parlor. Take a seat at the L-shaped marble counter, or watch the creamy treats being made through the production-room window. Flavors range from simple and seasonal, such as strawberry and pumpkin, to more baroque creations like The Munchies: pretzel-infused ice cream with Ritz crackers, potato chips, pretzels and mini M&Ms.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade 2015
Coney Island Mermaid Parade 2015
Photograph: Filip Wolak

4. Party with creatures of the sea

Things to do

Half-naked mermaids and mermen and other creatures covered in glitter and scales invade the streets of Coney Island for this annual bacchanal by the sea. Leading the procession this year? Musicians Nora Guthrie as Queen Mermaid and Arlo Guthrie as King Neptune. 

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Atlantic Antic 2013
Atlantic Antic 2013
Photograph: Alex Strada

5. Eat, drink and shop in the streets

Things to do

If you need another reason to get excited for summer, NYC street fairs take over various blocks in all five boroughs when the weather gets warmer. While frolicking through these vehicle-free roads, snack on sensational eats from the best restaurants and score stellar throwback wares and antiques as you would find at our city’s finest vintage clothing stores. 

Floating Pool at Barretto Point Park
Floating Pool at Barretto Point Park
Photograph: Courtesy NYC Parks

6. Cool off in the city's pools

Things to do

When the pavement starts to emit more heat than your apartment's radiator and the mass of shiny, reflective skyscrapers offers no escape, it's time to book it to the closest swimming hole. That would be any of the city's outdoor pools, opening sometime in June. 

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Jazz Age Lawn Party 2015
Jazz Age Lawn Party 2015
Photograph: Lauren Spinelli

7. Lindy Hop at the Jazz Age Lawn Party

Music

Bust out your best Daisy Buchanan frock or Gatsby suit for this '20s-themed fete. Old-timey tunes from Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra, cocktails and complimentary dance lessons will complete a day of throwback revelry. Try your steps out in the Charleston contest!

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9. Take a trip to Governors Island

Things to do

Can’t afford a tropical vacation? Hitch a ferry to New York’s car-free island, and once you’re there, get a tan as you chill in one of its hammocks. But it’s not all about taking a load off here. After launching the appropriately named 10-acre park the Hills, GI continues to expand with exciting openings of attractions like a Collective Retreats camp site, so you can sleep under the stars on the island.

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13. Scream your guts out at Luna Park

Attractions Theme parks Coney Island

In a sure sign that summer's on its way, NYC's largest amusement park is back for another season of rollicking good times. The Coney Island institution boasts more than 50 attractions, including the iconic Cyclone, the high-flying Air Race and the Endeavor. Try your luck at dozens of carnival games, or refuel with a burger at Cyclone Cafe. Keep an eye out for the Summer Series, which brings parties, concerts and performances to the park starting weekends in July.

The High Line
The High Line
Photograph: Courtesy Iwan Baan

14. Go stargazing on the High Line

Things to do

Every Tuesday, this dreamy affair gives you an astronautworthy view of the stars from the high-powered telescopes of the Amateur Astronomers Association. And here we all thought we couldn't gaze at constellations in New York City! Just in case you're worried you'll have no idea what you are looking at, the AAA leads the star-spotting expeditions, pointing out celestial bodies above the park. Follow the High Line’s Twitter feed (@highlinenyc) for updates in the event of inclement weather.

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Go Topless Day!
Go Topless Day!
Photograph: Matt Marquez

15. Free the nipple during Go Topless Day

Things to do

The Times Square ladies won’t be the only ones baring their chests during Go Topless Day. In fact, all those who support gender equality are welcome to free the nipple and proudly march through Manhattan during the Pride Parade. If you didn’t already know, it’s 100% legal to roam around New York topless (yes, even out in the open at the best NYC parks), so unhinge your bra, take your top off and screw the patriarchy during one of the best and most scantily-clad events in August.

16. Play mini-golf at Figment Festival

Art

Arts group Figment takes over Roosevelt Island with its usual hodgepodge of mind-bending, genre-crossing projects. For its opening weekend, wander through more than 300 projects, which include live performances. Certain installations will be up all summer long and there's usually always a minigolf course. 

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SPRAY! Fire Island Beach Party
SPRAY! Fire Island Beach Party
Photograph: Courtesy SPRAY! Fire Island Beach Party

18. Wear a speedo at Fire Island

LGBTQ+

As a LGBT vacation staple since the 1960’s, Fire Island is known to host some of the best and most outlandish parties every year. There are tons of shindigs this summer, so check out our list. Warning: You might need to hose yourself down after attending this batch with events ranging from circuit parties to beach gatherings with questionable swimwear choices.

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

19. Dance the night away at Midsummer Night Swing

Things to do

Midsummer Night Swing brings together the best of music, dance and things to do outside, but we have a few tips to help you make the most of the two-week festival. Lovely Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center can get crowded, so be sure to book in advance, get there when the dance floor opens at 6pm and remember that purses and backpacks must be left at the bag check—ladies, you’ll need a dancing frock with pockets.

Summer Streets NYC
Summer Streets NYC
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/NYC DOT

20. Tackle the water slide at Summer Streets

Things to do

During Summer Streets, seven miles of Gotham turf along Lafayette Street and Park Avenue is completely cleared of vehicles in order to create a pedestrian paradise. Hundreds and thousands of revelers descend upon the asphalt for invigorating sight-filled tours, plus free activities including a rock climbing wall, a zipline, outdoor art installations, misting stations and a water slide.

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Christina McHale seen playing in the US Open
Christina McHale seen playing in the US Open
Photograph: Matthew Stockman

22. Attend a tennis match during the U.S. Open

Things to do Festivals

In case you didn’t know, the U.S. Open—New York’s most-attended sporting event—is one of the most exciting this to do in Queens. For two weeks, Flushing Meadows­–Corona Park will be the tennis capital of the world during the legendary tournament. New Yorkers bring the party to the National Tennis Center with a celebrity-studded crowd (past famous attendees include Oprah, Alec Baldwin and Jimmy Fallon), while local food trucks bring the yummies, and live musicians performing on the grounds. Oh, and you can also check out the top pros in tennis.

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Bryant Park
Bryant Park
Photograph: Courtesy Bryant Park Corporation

23. Have a picnic in the park

Things to do

One of the best things to do in summer is pack a picnic basket and partake in some outdoor dining at one of the best picnic spots NYC has to offer. There are plenty of NYC parks, at which you can sprawl out and enjoy an alfresco feast. However, we've chosen a few of our favorite grassy refuges from all corners of Gotham, as well as the best places for grabbing snacks nearby, to help you decide the best spot to pick.

More things to do in the summer in NYC

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Summer holidays and festivals

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Summer events calendars

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Best summer music

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Summer eating & drinking

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