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Shakespeare in the Park
Photograph: Courtesy Shakespeare in the Park

22 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 and beyond.

Written by Shaye Weaver in association with City Cruises
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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 as well as several outdoor performance series to catch. 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, sunblock and mask. 

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

Best things to do outside in New York

  • Restaurants
  • Eating

'Tis the season for dining on the river! Boat-restaurants are opening up their decks, including The North River Lobster Company, which offers trips on its three-story yacht and a summery menu by executive chef Gil Martinez that includes mouth-watering lobster rolls and an indulgent raw bar. All you need is a boarding pass for $10 to hop on the boat and go for a sale. Just check northriverlobsterco.com for sailing times.

  • Things to do
  • City Life

Seastreak, the high-speed ferry company based out of Highlands, NJ, will offer whale watching cruises departing directly Manhattan beginning on May 8. The new cruises, which depart from the public ferry docks at East 35th St and the Battery Maritime Building, will last for three hours, providing ample opportunity to catch sight of whales and other marine life. Though you’ll probably be scanning the waters for the duration of the cruise to nab that perfect Instagram shot, the experience onboard the ships will also offer plenty of comfort with luxury seating, fully stocked bars and TV monitors displaying relevant education content. Meanwhile, the top deck provides panoramic 360-degree ocean views. During the cruise, passengers will also pass iconic local land-bound landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Governors Island, Staten Island and Fort Hamilton. In order to provide an extra level of safety, capacity on the ships will be limited to 50 percent. 

 

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

It wouldn't be a New York City summer without catching a live concert in Central Park. Finally, after a long year without live music, New Yorkers will be able to return to the park for Capital One City Parks Foundation SummerStage, which just announced that in-person performances will be back this summer. There isn't a schedule posted yet, but SummerStage's season will feature hip-hop, Latin, indie rock, contemporary dance, and global performances as well as the annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. The only other announced performance is Dawes on Friday, September 16. Tickets for this show go on sale on Friday at 10am at axs.com.

  • 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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  • Things to do
  • City Life

Remember those mini backyards on the waterfront at Pier 17 that delighted New Yorkers last summer? Well, they're coming back!  The Greens, as the destination is dubbed, is made up of 32 mini lawns that are 10x10 square feet in size and seat up to eight people each. Each pod it outfitted with a sun umbrella, multiple lounge chairs and a love seat.  Scanning a QR code on your phone will catapult you to a delicious-looking, touch-less menu of summer treats, including an everything-crusted Bavarian soft pretzel, a shaved onion smashed burger, lamb kebabs, and PopBar popsicles, among others. Yes, there will also obviously be cocktails on offer. You can check out the full food and drink menu right here. Just like last year, there will also be a giant, 32-foot-wide LED screen. Guests can also expect live music and DJ sets.

  • Things to do
  • City Life

As part of Restart Stages, Lincoln Center is hosting a slew of free outdoor events and pop-up performances that run the genre gamut from music to drama, dance and more at its brand new space called The Green, a park-like public space it's creating for the summer. So grab some free tickets to all upcoming events and head over for some free performances including one by singer/songwriter Martha Redbone and another by Tony-nominated Broadway actor Norm Lewis.

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  • Things to do

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. And if you're looking to stay on the island overnight, consider glamping with Collective Governors Island.

  • 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. 

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  • Shopping

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.

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  • 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.

  • Theater
  • Drama

New York’s coveted (and free-of-charge) outdoor theater—Shakespeare in the Park—returns for the warm-weather season in July. This year, it'll be a new adaptation of Merry Wives of Windsor by Jocelyn Bioh that will run from July 5 through August 29 in the park. This version of the Bard’s comedy will be set in South Harlem amidst a vibrant community of West African immigrants and the Public says it will serve as a “celebration of Black joy, laughter and vitality. A New York story about the tricks of the heart, performed in the heart of the City.” The production will feature 12 actors and will be intermission-free. 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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  • Things to do
  • City Life

Green-Wood Cemetery is always a safe bet for a history-filled walk, albeit a little grim. This spring and summer, the massive graveyard will be the setting for The Angel’s Share, a series produced by Death Of Classical in partnership with Green-Wood. You can check out this season’s recently announced full lineup of performances here. Perhaps most notably, the kickoff event on June 3, 4 and 5 called “Hymn to the City,” will bring the New York Philharmonic to the cemetery for a sprawling, immersive event. Performances are preceded by 30-minute whisky tastings. 

 

  • 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! 

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  • Things to do

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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  • Attractions

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.

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  • Things to do
  • Festivals

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. 

See iconic botanical gardens and other top New York City attractions with a New York Pass.

  • Things to do

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. Beaches open for the season on Memorial Day weekend.

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  • Things to do

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. The city's pools open for the season on June 26.

This feature is brought to you by City Cruises anchored by Hornblower, who are ready to whisk you off on a breathtaking cruise in cities across the country. Fresh air and unforgettable views are waiting at a dock near you, from San Diego and LA to San Francisco, all the way to Chicago, DC and New York. Click below to discover five reasons why a City Cruise is the perfect way to make the most of your time outdoors in a beautiful city. Non-stop sightseeing, delicious dining and the freedom of feeling the wind through your hair are just the beginning... 

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