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Summer in NYC: Free & Inexpensive Activities to Do

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, NYC
Bethesda Terrace, Central Park, New York

Summer in cities are particularly festive times. Yes, events are held as tourist attractions but it is a time for locals to also join in the fun and to explore and experience their own town. Of course, there's much more than this list. This should get you started and at the end, there's links to click for more information.

Get out and about in New York City and have some free and inexpensive fun.

Roller Coaster, Coney Island, Brooklyn
The Cyclone at Coney Island


Coney Island: Technically, it does not cost to explore the Coney Island amusement parks area. You can wander around the amusement parks without having to buy a ticket to ride anything. Admission is free. Likewise for the beach and boardwalk. The New York Aquarium and Maimonides Park (formerly MCU or Keyspan Park) will cost you. But, it's worth about 20 bucks or so to see up and coming baseball stars playing on the NY Mets affiliated Brooklyn Cyclones minor league team. The Aquarium is pricier and will run you about $26-$33.

Unisphere, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, NYC
The Unisphere at Flushing Meadows Corona Park


Flushing Meadows Corona Park: Nothing beats hanging like a local at Flushing Meadows. It's in the international spotlight once a year when the US Tennis Open is running, but other than that, it's a purely NYC affair. Ride a bike, play tennis, swim, ice skate, peddle a paddle boat, picnic or catch local soccer leagues in action. Catch the current exhibits at the Hall of Science (good for families) or even cheer on The New York Mets across the way at Citi Field. Even if you think you do not like baseball, Citi Field is an experience so fun you'll forget to watch the game (alas, sometimes a good thing). The US Open usually has some free events prior to the big matches, such as Fan Week during the qualifying matches and Arthur Ashe Kids Day, check their website.

Wave Hill grounds, Bronx, NYC
The awesome view at Wave Hill, Bronx

The Bronx:

You can spend an entire summer in Van Cortlandt Park and never finish exploring it. Picnic, ride a bike, hike, explore history, play golf, meet the locals, catch a movie under the stars, and much more. There's even a family camping event (on a lottery basis). Yes, camping in the city of New York! Through out the park, look for historical monuments.

Wave Hill (mansion, gardens, park, awesome views) offers free admission on certain days. Check their website. Likewise The Bronx Zoo , but beware: every summer program also knows that the Zoo offers free admission and it's a complicated process. The reservation window for the Wednesday opens up on Monday, so check the website for all details.

Historic Richmond Town, Staten Island, NYC
Historic Richmond Town, Staten Island, NY

Staten Island:

Staten Islanders love their borough and it seems that they don't want us to know about it! Too late: there's more there than you think. First of all, the ferry is free. Travel to lower Manhattan and board a free, quick cruise across New York Harbor. Once there, catch a bus or car service to Historic Richmond Town to see our very own colonial village (admission may not be free). Check their website for events that may be seasonal.

To cool off, stroll along Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk and Beach and meet the locals, catch views of other boroughs and enjoy Lower Bay which flows out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Snug Harbor is a cultural center and botanical gardens. The grounds are free but other buildings, exhibits and events may require a ticket. Other museums are housed there, so check out those on the website for more information.

View of the Freedom Tower, Hudson River Park, NYC
Hudson River Park, New York City


Start at the Battery and the Battery Park Esplanade and head uptown on the west side. If you don't want to pay for the ferry and admission to the Statue of Liberty, you can wave at it for free from here. As you wander along the Hudson River, you'll run into several parks and their events. If you're ambitious, you can ride, skate, or walk all the way to the George Washington Bridge and not run out of things to do. The Hudson River Park goes from Pier 25 at West and N. Moore Streets up to Pier 97, somewhere around 12th Avenue and 57th Street. All of it is part of the Hudson River Greenway which in itself is part of the Empire State Trail. Feel free to continue upstate to Albany or Buffalo! Or you can explore Riverside Park, from West 72 to West 153 Streets and get in just as much adventure.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York
View of the Brooklyn Bridge from the East Side Esplanade

Not to be outdone by the West Side, the East Side is undergoing renovation along the East River but you can enjoy just as much fun. Head the opposite direction from the Battery and get a cheap ticket to Governors Island, a great way to feel like you're going out of town without going out of town. Take the ferry for a cheap fee and if you really want to save money, bring a picnic lunch. Of support the small businesses and visit the food trucks and other outdoor eateries. There's a small farm with real sheep who live there. And there's a spa! You don't have to originate from Manhattan, either. There's ferry access from Brooklyn.

Governors Island Map, New York City
Governors Island Map, New York City

When construction is completed along the bike trail along the east side, visit the East Side Esplanade. It's small, but a nice place to rest as you move along uptown. Another hot spot is Carl Schultz Park, East End Ave and East 84 Street. For six blocks, enjoy the good folks of the east side and views along the East River.

Along the Hudson River, Little Island gives you the opportunity to walk out across the Hudson via the "tulips" suspended above the water.

The NYC Traveler Tip For Your Trip: Many museums have a suggested general admission charge but many also have a pay what you wish policy. Try your luck!

Finally, there are the usual offerings in Central Park, Bryant Park, the hundreds of street fairs throughout the city and more. See the links below to start making your itinerary!

Bryant Park, New York City
Bryant Park, Manhattan

Happy Travels.

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