Best free events and festivals in NYC
At this massive grub hub, there’s only one rule: Come hungry. The Brooklyn Flea spin-off draws more than 10,000 visitors per day with a slew of 75 to 100 incredible food vendors. Our pro tip? Make sure you peruse the lineup before you go—those mouthwatering scents and the bevy of choices can make you dizzy (and the dense crowds can make you hangry).
After spending nearly a year getting sequins and glitter out of their bedsheets, NYC’s mermaids and seamen are ready to undo all their hard work. Join a packed crowd on Coney Island’s streets for an epic procession of wild floats, barely clad revelers and beachside celebrating. Now in its 35th year, the world’s largest arts parade welcomes partyers of all ages to rejoice in kitsch, camp and craft, but those who are serious about their scales can register to win iconic titles, including best sea creature, best motorized float, King Neptune and Queen Mermaid.
This city tradition feels fresh every spring when artists following in the footsteps of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning set up shop in the park. Hundreds of exhibitors, from NYU students to artists who remember the Village as a creative enclave, display their paintings, sculptures, photography, jewelry and woodcraft.
Nothing strengthens a relationship like wading into water and having to count on your partner to keep a skinny boat afloat, so bring your dad along to kayak on the Hudson. You'll get to go out on the water for 20-minute sessions, after a brief lesson, of course, which is just enough time to bond before your arms get tired.
Get down at an old-school honky-tonk at Johnny Utah’s every Wednesday night, featuring covers and new music from the charming country performer Ben O’Connor. To make the night more interesting, try your hand at the mechanical bull, or order dangerous drinks like the Dixie Tea and Texas Mule. Plus, sample the bar’s beloved baby back ribs.
Immerse yourself in the cultural delights of the Jewish, Chinese and Puerto Rican communities of Chinatown and the Lower East Side at this block party. While Peking Opera performers and klezmer bands take the outdoor stage, you can catch free language lessons, master your mah-jongg game and, best of all, learn how to prepare empanadas, Chinese dumplings and kreplachandchallah bread. Endless grub will be available for sale.
Anyone who’s spent time in landlocked parts of the country will tell you that a city without water is like, er, a city without water. The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance celebrates NYC’s best accessory at Governors Island (and other locations, too!), offering activities that remind us just how good we have it. Get gratis access to a plethora of water-going vessels, including canoes, kayaks and rowboats; or fish, bike or kick back with food and music on dry land. Locations vary; visit cityofwaterday.org for details.
Catholic war veterans lead Brooklyn service organizations in honor of fallen soldiers and their families in one of the oldest parades in Brooklyn—in fact, it's now in its 150th year. Sponsored by the United Military Veterans of Kings County, the ceremony kicks off at 11am on Third Avenue and 78th Street in Bay Ridge, then proceeds along Fourth Avenue and ends with a 21-gun salute by the U.S. Army at Fort Hamilton. The NYPD and FDNY will also march, Brooklyn high-school bands will perform, and antique fire trucks and autos will be on display.
Honor fallen members of the United States Armed Forces at the largest of the city’s Memorial Day parades. Bring your handheld Old Glory and cheer on local members of the military, veterans, marching bands, Brownie troops and Boy Scouts as they march westward along Northern Boulevard in Queens from Great Neck to Douglaston. The parade is preceded by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Veterans Monument in the courtyard of the St. Anastasia Church. Go to lndmemorialdayparade.org for more information.
David Byrne opens the media incubator’s spring celebration with “Reasons to Be Cheerful,” a musing on current affairs. We can already think of one: This entire four-day fest—featuring dance performances, classes, live theater, art and more—won’t cost you a penny (so long as you R.S.V.P.)!
Wander through bars and bookstores with a merry band of brainiacs at this bar-crawl literary-convention mash-up. Listen to readings from novelists and poets at Dashwood Books, Court Street Grocers and other spots, play Sexist Bingo! at KGB Bar and guess the novel based on its opening sentence at The Gray Mare, all while throwing back shots with writers, publishers and readers. This year’s event features conversations and readings with Lila Zemborain, Francine Prose, Bae Suah, Mitch Jackson and other literati who are down for a good drink.
This annual event is more than just an opportunity to profess your love for the sweet leaf; it's the longest-running public expression of drug policy reform in New York's history. Gather at W 31st St and Broadway at 11am before marching down to Union Square at 12:30pm for four hours of speeches and entertainment aimed at raising awareness around the harmful effects of the war on drugs, plus steps New York can take right now, like the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.