While many things have changed over the years, some good old American family traditions remain, like a spring or summer trip to New York City, a treat for the entire family especially for the kids and the kids at heart. But a New York vacation can be costly – dining, theater, cabs and bus rides plus expensive entrance passes to high-profile city events. If you are small on funds but pining for some big apple adventures, there’s plenty of what to do in NYC without blowing your cash away.
Skip the paid events, stick to Grand Central station fares or embark on a walking tour if you can. Enjoy the cheapest yet most rewarding ways to go around Lady Liberty and come back for more. There are major NYC annual events that are absolutely free, especially in the summertime ranging from theater, music, art, nature and many more. Some go on for weeks on end, providing long entertainment and things to do on the cheap.
Here are summer’s absolutely free major New York events to go to.
Manhattanhenge happens from end-May up to July, marking about four times when the setting sun aligns perfectly with the Manhattan street grid, resulting to radiant lights illuminating the streets of the borough’s grid.
Sort of the American counterpart to the Stonehenge, the Manhattanhenge is not just a specific solar spectacle. The entire city offers pocket public events for free while families on vacation and individuals build their own activities around these days, like street camping, picnics and sightseeing walks great for solo, couple or family outings. Shutterbugs also have the time of their lives snapping rare photos of orb-illuminated Manhattan days.
Absolutely one of New York City’s beloved summer traditions, Shakespeare in the Park brings the bard’s plays in Central Park for free! This has been the norm for the past 50 years, and the event continues to provide the impetus for stage and theater appreciation for both New Yorkers and tourists alike. Two full Shakespeare plays are shown between May and August, thus a person can get two free tickets, one for each production.
The website provides detailed how to’s and policies to get free tickets, the schedules of performances and other important information for a truly enjoyable free Shakespeare. Another cost-saving feature: playgoers can bring their own food and drinks inside the Delacorte theater (but no glass containers please). It is also family-friendly, with a lap-seat voucher for small kids.
The NYC Summerscreen is a full two months of outdoor film screenings (from July to August) for free held in Brooklyn’s McCarren Park. The free movie lineup is curated ahead of the screening by respected cineastes, ensuring high quality and exciting genre mix every year. No wonder, Summerscreen is one of the most popular summertime events with great free stuff aside from the movies like rock concerts and games. Cheap food and beer can be bought right from ubiquitous NYC food trucks in the park while waiting for the sundown movie to start.
The site has all the updates, the complete movie lineup and things to look forward to in the latest Summerscreen event. The details on how to vote for the winner of the Summerscreen finale movie to be shown on the last day is also up, making the last screening day in August an absolutely exciting people’s choice day.
Summertime New York is not complete without the beach, and Memorial Day is eagerly anticipated as the day when NYC beaches open to the public for free! Work out a tan in some of the most famous seaside escapes, which include Coney Island beach, Rockaway Beach and the mile-long Orchard Beach, called “The Riviera of New York.”
This season’s open beaches event holds sentimental value after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation in 2012 which left most New Your city beaches unfit for public enjoyment. The site offers detailed guides on beaches reopening and closing schedules, specific beaches with minimum service charge and of course the free ones, plus directions and things to do.
Everybody will surely see somebody in September, when summer is gone and it’s time to go home, but not without the last free hurray to close the season. This is no doubt the Feast of San Gennaro, an 11-day merry-making commemorating the patron saint of Naples in lower Manhattan’s historic Little Italy.
This website has the latest feast lineup all ready, plus loads of photos and information about the event itself and past celebrations. Revelers can look forward to cannoli-eating competition, multitudes of food vendors offering ethnic delicacies, processions and parades and daily musical performances, regaling not just American-Italian communities in NYC but a million visitors every year from all over the world.
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