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Yoga in the Park
Photograph: John Herr

The best free things to do in NYC this week

The best free things to do in NYC this week include free outdoor performances, kayaking and art exhibits

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
&
Katie Zepf
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There's a lot going on in NYC, so you're gonna need this list of the best free things to do in NYC if you are to have any hope of avoiding serious FOMO. First and foremost, don't miss out on Little Island, NYC's new "floating park," the free yoga classes at Bryant Park or dance parties at Hot Honey Sundays.

RECOMMENDED: Find out more free things to do in NYC

Free things to do in NYC this week

  • Theater

Every summer, the Public Theater produces a beloved NYC democratic tradition and one of the best free things to do in NYC: Shakespeare in the Park, presented at the open-air Delacorte Theater in Central Park. There’s nothing quite like hearing the Bard’s immortal words performed outside in New York, with a backdrop of natural splendor and the Belvedere Castle looming in the background like the world’s most impressive set decoration. Shakespeare in the Park’s popularity means that tickets aren’t easy to come by—but if you persevere, you can get seats. Here’s our guide to navigating the system in 2021.

  • Things to do

Searching for a fun Sunday family activity, or a unique water sport experience? Look no further than the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse! Until the end of August, the Pier 4 beach in Brooklyn Bridge Park offers free kayaking at various times throughout the week. Every Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 7pm, and Saturday from 10am to 3pm, visitors can kayak 20 minutes down the NYC harbor. Boats, paddles, and life vests are all provided free of charge. Every Sunday starting July 11, from noon to 2:30pm, the kayaks will be reserved for kids 7 and up to paddle with a parent (as on-water safety boaters are present throughout). For those looking to try out a new sport, kayak polo, a mix of basketball, water polo, and kayaking, is available during the summer. Masks must be worn at all times at the shore, and due to limited space, reservations are required (and may be booked up to two weeks in advance). Easily accessible from Manhattan by Subway or the NYC ferry, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse is the perfect place to cool down on a hot summer day. 

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

For those looking for a new green space on the Upper West Side, Lincoln Center’s Josie Robertson Plaza has recently welcomed back visitors to The Green, a 20,000 square foot public art installation. In accompany Lincoln Center’s “Restart Stages” initiative, which has helped bring safe performances and family activities to audiences outdoors, The Green features an artificial made of recyclable material by SYNLawn New York. Open every day at 8am, the Green is built around the spectacular Revson fountain, currently illuminated by rainbow lights in honor of Pride month. The lawn also features multiple performance stages (including one underground) that are set to host numerous musicians this month, as well as an outdoor library stand set up by the New York Public Library. Whether you wish to relax on the Green with a good book, or enjoy a peaceful outdoor concert, the Green is a prime location for those looking for a unique artistic setting. 

  • Attractions
  • West Village

New York City’s hottest new attraction, Little Island, opened to the public in May 2021 and has since brought in plenty of visitors who flocked to see Manhattan’s newest “floating” greenspace. Open from 6am to 1am, the park is filled with open lawns, colorful shrubs and trees and a secret garden. While entry is free to the park throughout the day, entering between noon and close requires a reservation. For those feeling peckish, there are affordable food and drink options offered by Savory Hospitality. The park’s amphitheaters, The Glade and The Amph, offer a spectacular view of the Hudson River, with a majority of the events being free throughout the summer. Every Monday night at 6pm, the theater hosts Savory Talks & Performances, a free dialogue around food sustainability and industry trends. The lineup includes local farms and sustainable meat and fish companies, discussing the future of food production, including "elements of storytelling and dance" from Perform in the Park artists.

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Walk around The Bushwick Collective
Photogrpah: Shutterstock

5. Walk around The Bushwick Collective

This outdoor street art gallery has gathered quite the social media presence, as it has garnered over 125,000 followers on its Instagram page. Located just off of Flushing Avenue in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, the project features murals by both local and international artists. While there are many street art walking tours throughout the city, The Bushwick Collective consists of almost 100 blocks of art, and one can easily spend an entire day exploring the creative works that lay here. The collective’s 10th-anniversary celebration is this August and will include music, food trucks, and local vendors to complement the colorful artwork.

  • Things to do
  • City Life

Located at 935 Broadway in the Flatiron District, this recently-opened store has been the talk of the town for Potterheads and tourists alike. The 21,000 square foot store features three floors of the magical world of Harry Potter, with 15 different themed areas. The store features over 1,000 props on display (including some from the films). For those who wish to just browse, the store features various photo ops, including the British Ministry of Magic photobooth, a “life-size” cardboard cutout of Hagrid and his gigantic shoes (which you can try on for yourself), and a giant Hippogriff statue. The shop also features candy from Honeydukes, the candy store from the franchise, a Butterbeer Bar, and two virtual reality games that customers can participate in for free. While the line for this hotspot may be long, customers can join a virtual queue by scanning a QR code upon initial arrival that will notify them when it is their turn to step into the wizarding world of Harry Potter. 

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  • Sports and fitness
  • Sports & Fitness

Calling all Yogis! Beginning June 16, Bryant Park’s annual summer yoga series returns. From 6pm to 7pm every Wednesday, yoga enthusiasts can either roll out their mats on the park’s lawn, or follow along at home on the official Instagram page (@bryantparknyc). Each week’s class is led by a different instructor, including teachers from the popular studio chain Y7 and the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. All levels of practice are welcome, and in-person participants must bring their own mat and pre-register for the class on the park’s website. Social distancing is enforced on the lawn, and COVID safety precautions are taken to ensure a safe and fun practice for all this summer.

Visit The Cloisters
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Washington Heights
  • price 2 of 4

A branch of the renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters is a lesser-known gem found at Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights. This museum takes you back in time to the Middle Ages (particularly the Romanesque and Gothic periods), and is filled with European medieval art and stunning gardens. While exploring is always encouraged, visitors may also choose one of three travel routes: The Builders’ Tale (focusing on the architecture of churches, castles, and monasteries), The Gardners’ Tale (highlighting the gardens full of plants that served medical, visual, and artistic purposes), or The Artists’ Tale (admiring the murals, music, and paintings). The museum is open from 10am to 5pm Thursday through Monday, and while reservations are required for visitors and encouraged for members, for those from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the fee for entrance is up to you!

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  • Things to do

Throughout the five boroughs, there are plenty of beaches to explore when the city streets become unbearable (free of entry, of course!). For those looking for a beach and boardwalk experience, Coney Island and Rockaway both offer great experiences if you wish to be active, or simply just sunbathe. Brighton and Manhattan Beaches are both great for families, and South Beach in Staten Island offers a lovely view of the Verrazano Bridge, along with scenic bike trails. Whether you wish to venture off to Queens or Brooklyn for a day trip to the beach, there is something for everyone in this city.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Chelsea

With over 8 million visitors annually, the High Line is easily a classic New York favorite. Located along the west side of Manhattan on a former New York Central Railroad track, the park requires free reservations on the weekends, with open access and no reservation required on weekdays. The park currently is operating at reduced capacity and asks all visitors to wear a mask to ensure a safe visit. While the park believes that the best way to experience it is “simply to wander,” there are many interesting features to be noticed while you are exploring the High Line. Pathways filled with greenery make up a majority of this park, with various viewing decks of Chelsea, old train tracks, and the Diller-Von Furstenberg sundeck and water viewing area. Whether you choose the High Line as a destination for sunbathing or simply take it on your way to work, it provides a unique combination of greenery and transportation history of the city of New York.

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  • Art
  • Art

On your trip uptown, you may want to pay a visit to Lady Liberty...who seems to be taking a nap at Morningside Park. Brooklyn-based artist Zaq Landsberg debuted this 25-foot statue last month at 120th Street and Morningside Avenue, giving it the fitting name Reclining Liberty. Landsberg describes the sculpture as a cross between the famous Statue of Liberty and the reclining Buddha statues that can be found throughout Asia. While the wait to visit the actual Statue of Liberty may be tedious for some, Landsberg’s fun twist at the landmark can be easily accessible by a short subway ride or taxi, no tickets or reservations required!

Swing down to Pier 35
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Swing down to Pier 35

Along the East River, you take a trip down memory lane...on a swing! With gorgeous waterfront views, four giant swings hang from a canopy on a raised platform along Pier 35, tucked under the FDR highway on the Lower East Side. These swings allow for either the perfect morning swing session to start your day off on a light note, or a beautiful sunset viewing location. The installation was created by Ken Smith Workshop, in an effort to create a sustainable structure in an urban setting. Fun for all ages, these swings are sure to help you capture both the stunning city skylines and the memories from the childhood playground all at once!

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

The new Allison and Roberto Mignone Hall of Gems and Minerals features more than 5,000 specimens from 98 countries. The educational exhibit tells the origin story of our planet’s diverse species of minerals, as well as how they are classified and studied by scientists, and how we use them to our benefit in everyday life. As this exhibit has a limited capacity, visitors must join a virtual line upon arrival at the Museum of Natural History. The magnificent Hall of Gems houses over 2,000 gems, carvings, and jewelry items from all different time periods. Beautiful Creatures, a special exhibit in the new Melissa and Keith Meister Hall, displays both modern and antique jewelry inspired by the animal kingdom, featuring gem and mineral detailing. For residents from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, access to the exhibit can be free through the “pay what you wish” option for museum access.

  • Things to do
  • Greenpoint

Greenpoint Terminal is playing host to a new outdoor dance party every Sunday at 2pm called Hot Honey Sundays. Resident DJs @JKriv@DeoJorge, and @AnnaCollecta will provide tunes for dancers starting at 2pm. The events are BYOB but food can be found at Greenpoint Terminal. The best part? You'll have sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline as you dance. Organizers say there will be enough space to safely get down on the dance floor.  "It’s a safe space where people can get back together, share their passion for good music, dance away, get weird, feel sexy, enjoy the sunset, spread love, and celebrate life above all."

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  • Comedy
  • Stand-up
  • Williamsburg

Catch a free comedy show at Gerti's covered back patio. Comedians Natasha Vaynblat (Comedy Central), CJ Hunt (The Daily Show), and James Hamilton (the Moth) host this weekly standup show full of NYC's best comedians, including Kenice Mobley (Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon), Dylan Adler (Hulu), Ashley Brooke Roberts (NPR's Ask Me Another) and Sam Evans (Just for Laughs). Gertie will be releasing a brand new menu of bar snacks and drinks for the event.

  • Art
  • Art

A quirky new immersive art installation at Manhattan West, a mixed-use property, adds a citrusy, subtropical vibe that positively contrasts to the gray towers popping up around the area. Think Florida, but in Midtown. According to Fast Company, the project, titled Citrovia, is part of developer Brookfield Properties making creative use of ongoing construction occurring on the $5 billion development that is Manhattan West (which, once entirely completed in 2023, will feature a 62-story residential tower, office space, and a hotel). So, in a community-minded effort to beautify construction efforts, giant lemon slices and poppy artificial lemon trees now sit underneath a construction shed. The lush landscape, like something plucked straight out of a Gabriel García Márquez novel, makes for the perfect social media post. Each lemon on the 16-and-a-half foot lemon trees was painted by hand. 

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  • Art
  • Civic Center

Brighter Days is a series of six sculptures by Melvin Edwards created from 1970 to 1996 and one in 2020—each one incorporates some form of chain. Sitting in City Hall Park, historical associations are made to slavery and violence. City Park Hall was once the site of the African Burial Ground, a colonial-era cemetery for enslaved and freed individuals of African descent. More recently it became a geographic center of Black Lives Matter protests with the occupation of City Hall. Brighter Days affirms Edwards' optimistic view of our shared future.

 

  • Things to do

Beat the heat this summer by taking a dip in the various public pools NYC offers for folks who love swimming and lounging poolside. Staring June 26, you certainly have your pick of options as there are more than 60 public swimming pools scattered around New York’s five boroughs. Here's our comprehensive list to the squeaky clean—and totally free—swimming pools in NYC. Since we don't condone sneaking a flask past the locker room, we've suggested some post-sunbathing spots to rehydrate with frozen cocktails while munching on some tasty bar food and snacks. Want to make a splash above ground level? Several of the best hotels in NYC have rooftop pools that allow non-hotel guests to enjoy the facilities (for a price, of course).

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

A major performing arts festival coming to Little Island next month will cost less-than-a-little money to attend. The island’s operators announced yesterday that a free month-long arts festival is heading to the island in August that will feature more than 450 artists in over 160 performances. Among the lineup will be music, dance, poetry and comedy shows. Wondering just who you’ll be able to see perform live at the city’s unique new floating park? It may be easier to review the ones that you won’t be able to catch. Currently on the docket are well-known comedians Michelle Buteau, Ziwe and Bowen Yang, dance performances that will be curated by Misty Copeland, Robert Garland and Georgina Pazcoguin, live musicians like pianists Jenny Lin and Adam Tendler and composer Tyshawn Sorey and more. You can find a full, very long, list of everyone participating in the festival here.

 

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