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Photograph: Shutterstock

20 best things to do outside in New York

The best things to do outside in New York will take you to parks, beaches, Coney Island anad beyond.

By Jennifer Picht and Time Out contributors
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Note: As New York slowly opens up, venue openings and activities on offer are constantly changing. Check ahead before you go. 

When the sun is shining, New Yorkers from all walks of life leave their apartments and convene all over the city to indulge in the best things to do outside in New York. Of course, we've got no shortage of outdoor bars and restaurants, where you can soak up some much-needed vitamin D while you gorge and imbibe, but there are also plenty of other activities offered at NYC parks. When the temperature really rises, you'll want to cool off while visiting the city's beaches (although currently closed for swimming, there are open to the public). Whatever activity you choose to partake in, don't forget to bring along your sunglasses and sunblock. 

RECOMMENDED: Guides for things to do in spring and things to do in summer in NYC

Best things to do outside in New York

Bryant Park
Bryant Park
Photograph: Courtesy Bryant Park Corporation

1. Crush your picnic game at the park

Things to do

Say sayonara to ridiculous brunch lines and leave the ramen at home for once, because you have the chance to make an epic sandwich and lay back on the grass at one of the city’s lovely and lush parks. You’ll never want to eat indoors again after dining alfresco by the shore at Clove Lakes Park, under the bridge at Astoria Park or on one of Governors Island’s man-made hills. And don’t forget to bring a few dollars so you can hit the shaved ice cart! 

Street art
Street art
Photograph: Raydene Salinas

2. Take a walking tour in your neighborhood

Things to do

You don’t have to be a tourist to explore the bastion of history and culture that is NYC. And with niche walking tours springing up at every corner—including ghost hunts in the Upper East Side, Harlem foodie adventures and literary pub crawls in the East Village—there’s plenty of incentive to make your parents proud and actually learn something about the city you call home.

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Fort Greene Park Greenmarket
Fort Greene Park Greenmarket
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Ethan Oringel

3. Become a regular at your local farmers market

Restaurants

Note: Certain farmers' markets are open across the city, following social distancing guidelines. Check specific listings for more details.

From Fort Greene to the Bronx, there are plenty of stellar outdoor gatherings of local and organic vendors in town. Rather than lose your sanity in traumatizing Sunday Trader Joe’s lines, head to your local market and smell the fresh fruits and veggies. After restocking your pantry, make sure to pick up a bouquet of blooms so you can bring a bit of the outdoors inside your humble abode. 

Photograph: Courtesy Dylan Johnson

4. Be a beach bum

Things to do

Note: Although all New York City beaches are currently closed for swimming, visitors may still access facilities and sand.

If you’re strapped for cash and sick of burning through your mom’s Netflix account, all you need is subway fare and a towel to enjoy some of the best beaches in NYC. There’s likely a sandy shore for whatever mood you're in: partygoers can have a drink at Jacob Riis Park Beach, those looking to relax and get away from summer crowds should hit Fort Tilden; and Coney Island Beach is jam-packed with all the shore-side carnival festivities you could ask for.

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The best tennis courts in NYC
The best tennis courts in NYC
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Get hyped for the U.S. Open at these tennis courts

Things to do

On top of being the greatest city on earth, New York is also home to one of the world’s biggest sporting events: the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Don’t just be a spectator, though! There are plenty of tennis courts—including some in the the city’s best parks—that you can reserve without breaking the bank. 

“Flow .12”: Nathan Gwynne, Famous Faces of Randall’s IslandGwynne’s aluminum cutout figures depict personages associated with the history of Randalls Island, including this one of Robert Moses, New York’s imperious Parks Commissioner during the city’s m
“Flow .12”: Nathan Gwynne, Famous Faces of Randall’s IslandGwynne’s aluminum cutout figures depict personages associated with the history of Randalls Island, including this one of Robert Moses, New York’s imperious Parks Commissioner during the city’s m
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

6. Visit yet another island

Things to do

Escape to Randalls Island and bask in some outdoor fun while enjoying killer views of the East River. Islanders of all ages can bring a blanket and pack a picnic for free movie nights starting in May. Art lovers can peep—and actually touch—the works on display during the island’s outdoor exhibition dubbed “Flow.17”, which features interactive projects by Bronx Museum artists. And fitness junkies can take advantage of the park’s gratis yoga and dance bootcamp classes held along the water.

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Photograph: Courtesy Bryant Park

7. Join a Dance Party in Bryant Park

Things to do

Note: Although Bryant Park is open and accessible to the public, all programming has been suspended.

Aside from the gratis yoga and tai chi classes held on the lawn of Bryant Park, the green space coaxes toe-tappers to its nearly 10-acre expanse with a fun and free Dance Party on Wednesday evenings starting in May. Folks can cut a rug and learn new styles led by experts starting at 6pm, when instructors walk you through how to swing, tango, salsa or bachata. An hour later, a live band plays the appropriate tunes so you can show off your new steps under the stars.

8. Drink at an outdoor rooftop bar

Bars

Note: Not all bars are open or operating at full capacity. Check before you go.

Cocktails above the clouds? Alcohol is scientifically proven to taste better from higher altitudes (okay, we’re just joshin’ you).  But it’s undeniable that when the weather is gorgeous, New Yorkers instantly flock to the best outdoor rooftop bars for a beverage (or six). We can’t get enough of the views at spots such as Northern Territory in Greenpoint and Gallow Green in Chelsea.

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Governors Island
Governors Island
Photograph: Courtesy Timothy Schenck

9. Go ziplining at Governors Island (CLOSED)

Things to do

Governors Island is currently closed to the public indefinitely.

Governors Island already has an impressive playground (including slides for adults), but the landmark’s Adventure zone—a destination for recreational entertainment— makes summer in NYC extra fun. Enjoy thrilling attractions such as a Flywire Zip Line (just imagine those killer views of the Statue of Liberty while soaring through the island breeze), a 3D Climbing Challenge and the Amazen' Maze.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Alec Perkins

10. Hit the river for some free kayaking (CLOSED)

Things to do

Note: Although Hudson River Park is open and accessible to the public, all programming—including kayaking—has been suspended until further notice.

Contrary to popular belief, the Hudson River is not yet radioactive, and hitting the water can provide a riveting time and some one-of-a-kind views of the city. Many of the city’s most popular boathouses provide free rides, so there’s no reason for you to resist the 20-minute rush of riding on the water.

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Luna Park Coney Island
Luna Park Coney Island
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Have an old-school date at Coney Island (CLOSED)

Attractions

Note: Luna Park in Coney Island is currently closed until further notice.

Live like Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith for just a day and take a fabulous spin around this nationally beloved kitschy playground. There's a good time to be had wherever you turn: Luna Park features some mighty roller coasters, including the nearly century-old Cyclone, and the dames of Burlesque at the Beach perform wild routines year round. The trip is worth it alone for stuffing your piehole with an authentic Nathan’s Hot Dog.

Classic bike tour of Brooklyn
Classic bike tour of Brooklyn
Photograph: Courtesy Get Up and Ride

12. Be a cool rider (CLOSED)

Things to do Walks and tours

Note: Most bike tours are currently not operating. Check specific listings for more details.

For those looking to experience NYC like the locals, hop on two wheels and join of the best bike tours NYC has to offer. Bicycle tours are the ideal option for first-time visitors to explore a specific area or see the top New York attractions at their own pace. From a breezy ride down the idyllic Brooklyn waterfront to a cruise through Central Park, grab your two-wheeler and disover the city at a different speed. 

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Takumi Taco
Takumi Taco
Photograph: Noah Devereaux

13. Go ham at Smorgasburg (CLOSED)

Restaurants

Note: Smorgasburg is currently on hiatus.

New Yorkers love eating outside, whether it’s at one of the city’s best waterfront restaurants, elevated rooftop bars or open-air food flea markets like Brooklyn’s famed Smorgasburg. A favorite amongst locals and tourists alike, Smorg features nearly 100 vendors selling seriously delicious and graciously cheap snacks. This is your handy guide to everything Smorgasburg 2019 has to offer.  

Photograph: Courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden/Julie Markes

14. Visit one of New York's Botanical Gardens (CLOSED)

Things to do Festivals

Note: The New York Botanical Garden, the Queens Botanical Garden and Brooklyn Botanic Garden are temporarily closed.

Sure, the New York Botanical Garden, Queens Botanical Garden and Brooklyn Botanic Garden are open year-round, but there is a lot more flora and greenery to see during the warmer months. Staring in spring, these attractions host can't-miss events like the infamous Cherry Blossom Festival, which celebrates Japanese culture, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Make sure to check their (and our) calendar for news on upcoming exhibits and shows. 

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Hester Street Fair
Hester Street Fair
Photograph: Courtesy Hester Street Fair

15. Eat street meat at a street fair (CLOSED)

Things to do

Note: Street fairs are currently on hiatus.

NYC seems to have the monopoly on psychics, vintage comic book salesmen and incense peddlers at just about every corner, but its signature street fairs take the fun-finds to a whole new level. Whether you’re saving your cash for Smorgasburg, Crafts on Columbus or the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit, you’re guaranteed to leave with a full belly and bags of rare tchotchkes, jewelry and bizarre creations.

Hamilton Fish Pool
Hamilton Fish Pool
Photograph: Courtesy Daniel Avila

16. Swim in a pool that's not your bathtub (CLOSED)

Things to do

Note: Public New York City pools will remain closed through the summer. Check specific listings for more details.

Apparently, not all NYC pools are hidden in expensive sports clubs you can’t afford to join. Dip into the nostalgic rapture of childhood swimming at outdoor pools in every borough—including the sprawling Astoria Pool or the fun-sized Tony Dapolito Recreation Center—before learning (the hard way) that New Yorkers still get sunburns.

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Photograph: Courtesy John von Pamer

17. Hunt for vintage duds at a flea market (CLOSED)

Shopping

Note: All flea markets are currently on hiatus.

If you’re a vintage-sifting feign, a foodie or, hell, a New Yorker, then you need to hit one of the best flea markets in NYC. We have a full-guide about how flea-goers can navigate the city’s bazaar scene, so satisfy the itch and start shopping for craft jewels and antiques and indulge on gourmet eats from our favorites such as the Brooklyn Flea, LIC Flea and Food and Queens Night Market.

The High Line
The High Line
Photograph: Courtesy Iwan Baan

18. Soak up the sun on the High Line (CLOSED)

Things to do

Note: The High Line is currently closed.

This beautiful, one-of-a-kind park has locals and tourists alike flocking to take in its scenic views and greenery. And you never know what kind of outdoor artwork, nearby food trucks or performances you might stumble upon while you’re there! Running a span of more than 15 blocks, the High Line allows for tons of opportunities to stop by an adjacent fun-having spot.

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19. Catch a flick beneath the stars (CLOSED)

Movies

Note: Rooftop Films' programming is currently suspended.

There’s nothing like popcorn and Bill Murray movies under the stars. Thankfully, NYC’s Parks Department and several independent purveyors know how to throw an outdoor show. From Rooftop Films’ high-art indies to crowd-pleasing classics at Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC has options for any kind of film buff in town.

Shakespeare in the Park
Shakespeare in the Park
Photograph: Courtesy Shakespeare in the Park

20. See a Shakespeare play in the open-air (CLOSED)

Theater Drama

Note: Shakespeare in the Park is cancelled.

New York’s coveted (and free-of-charge) outdoor theater—Shakespeare in the Park—returns for the warm-weather season. This year, Tony Award winner Kenny Leon directs a modernized version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a comedic tale about romantic retribution and miscommunication (y’know, themes not unfamiliar to our dating-app culture). Tickets are distributed each performance day at noon at the Delacorte Theater, but the line for tickets is always bananas. Our advice? Get there by no later than 10am.

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