Free (and Cheap) Things to Do in NYC This Summer

New York is notorious for being one of the most expensive cities in the world—but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time if you’re staying in the City over the summer.

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New York is notorious for being one of the most expensive cities in the world—but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time if you’re staying in the City over the summer. There are plenty of free and cheap summer activities you can enjoy in the City even on the shoestring budget of a college student.

Here are just a few of the things you can do to have a ridiculously good time in NYC this summer—without breaking the bank.

What to EAT:

Dumplings and Bubble Tea. A staple of NYC students’ diets, ridiculously cheap and delectably filling dumplings can be found throughout the city, but the best are in Chinatown. Check out Prosperity Dumpling on the Lower East Side, where you can get five dumplings for $1, or Vanessa’s (also on the LES), where you can get four dumplings for $1 and you’ll also find delicious, cold bubble tea to beat the summer heat! If you’re just looking for tea, check out ViVi Bubble Tea—they’re located throughout the City, but there’s one on John Street, conveniently close to the TKC campus.

Street Cart food.  Halal, falafel, hot dogs…you can’t beat street carts for variety and (often) surprisingly good taste. It’s hit-or-miss as far as quality goes, but typically, street fare is cheap enough that your conscience won’t be too bothered by a subpar gyro. Ask around or do some Googling if you want to know where the best street carts make their rounds! Notable carts include The Halal Guys and Cinnamon Snail.

Smorgasburg. An open-air food market that appears every Sunday at Brooklyn Bridge Park throughout the summer, the variety of cuisines that this event provides is astonishing. While most of the food is not cheap, there are a few inexpensive options—and you can walk around and enjoy the sights, smells, and atmosphere for free, which is half the fun.

Dollar Pizza. Dollar pizza is an invaluable part of the NYC college students’ life. Dollar pizza shops are all over the city, with the most famous chain probably being 2 Bros. You can pick up a slice of plain cheese pizza for 99¢, or two slices and a soda for only $2.75.

Where to GO:

The Staten Island Ferry. The Staten Island Ferry runs from Lower Manhattan to Staten Island and back countless times each day. It’s completely free to ride, and the experience is both relaxing and fun (and you get a great view of the Statue of Liberty along the way). Many commuters use the ferry as their transportation to work, so it is typically filled with a pleasant mixture of residents and tourists. Riding the ferry is a scenic way to escape from the hot weather and sit back for a while. Get more information on the Staten Island Ferry here.

Governor’s Island. For a $2 ferry fare (and for free at certain times during the weekends), you can visit this island in the middle of New York Harbor. Festivals, exhibits, and tours abound on Governor’s Island, which only opened to the public in 2003. Check out the website—including ferry schedules and event times—here.

Central Park. Summer is park season, and NYC has some of the most beautiful parks in the world. The most obvious choice for summer park-goers is, of course, Central Park, and for good reason—this humongous rectangle of serene nature, set in the middle of the city and filled with both quiet spaces and fun events, is the ideal place to wander around on a summer day.

Bryant Park. Near 42nd St. in Midtown, Bryant is another gem of a park that offers many free events and activities throughout the summer (such as fencing lessons and ping pong tournaments). Find Bryant Park’s summer event schedule here.

Washington Square Park. This Greenwich Village landmark is known for its distinctive arch commemorating George Washington and the historic fountain that sits at its center. There is always something interesting going on at Washington Square Park, which is known for attracting artists, musicians, and tourists. It’s a great place to sit, watch performances, and enjoy the Village.

Prospect Park. This sprawling green Brooklyn park is the ideal picnic spot. The park boasts a 90-foot lawn, a lake, and even a forest. It’s an escape into nature and the perfect shady place to spend a hot summer day.

Botanical Gardens. The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens is a refreshing place to spend a summer day escaping from the bustle of the concrete jungle. Though it usually costs money to go inside, students with IDs can enter for a discounted price of only $5, while Saturday mornings (10:00am-12:00 noon) and Tuesdays are free for everyone. Check out the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens website for more information here.  The New York Botanical Garden offers another floral escape from the glass-and-concrete City. Slightly more expensive than the Brooklyn gardens (though still only $6 for students), the grounds are open to everyone from 9:00-10:00am on Wednesday mornings. More information about the New York Botanical Garden can be found here.

Museums. New York is filled with museums, and while many of them cost money, most ask only for “suggested donations”—which means you can get in with just a few dollars (especially as most museums are generally understanding of college students’ financial situations). This is the case for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, and many others.  In addition to this, many paid museums offer student discounts and free days/times when you can enter without paying the price for admission—for instance the Museum of Modern Art, though usually $14 for students, is free on Fridays from 4:00-8:00pm, and the Brooklyn Museum is free the first Saturday of every month.

What to WATCH:

Summer Concerts. NYC is home to many free summer concerts, usually outdoors in parks. Do some research online to see when and where these are—the diverse selection means that you will almost definitely be able to find an artist, genre, or style that you enjoy.Check out this list of free summer concerts in the City.

TV Show Tapings. So many talk shows film in NYC, including Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman, and Seth Myers–and many of these tapings are fairly easy to attend, though it takes some time and planning. Check online for information on specific shows; typically, you can call ahead, register for a lottery on the web, or line up for standby tickets the day of the show. This is a free way to get an evening’s entertainment and see some celebrities! View NYC talk show schedules here.

Comedy. The Upright Citizens Brigade is a comedy club in Chelsea. They do a performance of some sort every night, at times charging a low fee ($5-$15), but there is always a free improv show on Sunday night and free standup on Monday night. You never know who might show up to perform here. View the Upright Citizens Brigade schedule here.

Shakespeare in the Park.Put on by the Public Theater, Shakespeare in the Park provides quality entertainment for free. Shakespeare’s classic works are performed by renowned actors and actresses beneath the stars. Shows take place at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, and are absolutely free—the only cost to you will be time spent waiting in line to get a ticket. Get more information on showtimes and tickets here.

Outdoor Movies.A variety of parks and arenas throughout the city hold outdoor movie festivals where they set up a gigantic projector and screen facing a lawn. You can set up a chair or lounge on the grass while you enjoy the cool summer night and a movie at the same time.  Many places hold such viewings, including South Street Seaport, Bryant Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. Check out a comprehensive list of outdoor summer NYC movies here.


And that’s just a start! The city is full of fun things to do during the summer—so get out there and start exploring. There’s always something new happening in NYC —different opportunities crop up nearly every day. Check out sites like Timeout which update daily with information about current and upcoming events. You’ll be surprised at how many adventures you find!

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