1. Movies in the outdoors
New York is not only home to multiple film locations, but also spoils us with open air cinema.
Multiple outdoor film initiatives are taking place in the city’s most scenic locations. The HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival provides some relaxation in busy Midtown with classics such as North By Northwest and Dirty Dancing. The Tribeca Film Festival is hosting screenings of movies set in NYC (Ghostbusters, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, West Side Story…) at the World Trade Center’s Oculus Plaza. You can also watch Casablanca (among others) by a breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s “Movies With A View”. Prospect Park, for its part, is screening family-friendly films such as Moonrise Kingdom and Zootopia. If you’re looking for more of a seaside setting, Coney Island Flicks on the Beach will perk up your Mondays with a variety of movies, from Finding Dory to La La Land. As for me, I’ll be catching Donnie Darko at McCarren Park’s SummerScreen film festival (my favorite open-air cinema snack? Tacos.)
Some outdoor film initiatives also cater to genre-driven movie buffs. Films on the Green, the brainchild of the French embassy and NYC Parks, is currently showing various subtitled French movies handpicked by celebrities at different locations throughout the city. If you’re more into soul cinema, you can still catch the fascinating movies screened by ImageNation Outdoors Film & Music Festival.
Bring friends, food, blankets and arrive early – most screenings feature great live music before the movie starts.
2. Complimentary concerts
Summer concerts truly are roller coasters of emotion. One minute you’re excited to hear your favorite band will be playing in town, then comes the heartache upon seeing exorbitant ticket prices.
Another reason why New York is so amazing is the chance to see great live music without breaking your piggy bank. For one, Good Morning America and the Today show are filmed here! That means free performances from guests such as Zedd and Alessia Cara, Hailee Steinfeld, Imagine Dragons, DNCE and Linkin Park. The concerts take place on Friday mornings in Rumsey Playfield for GMA and at the TODAY Plaza for the Today show. The headliners tend to attract huge crowds, so be sure to arrive early.
You don’t have to rely on talk shows though. Many neighborhood staples host free shows, and Brooklynites are especially spoiled in this regard. BRIC’s Celebrate Brooklyn! festival is bringing an amazing line-up in Prospect Park with acts like Amadou & Mariam, Mashrou’ Leila and Andrew Bird. BRIC also hosts B-Side, a series of intimate live in-studio performances showcasing local artists and open to the public. Punk rock lovers can catch their favorite bands at House of Vans during its annual free summer concert series in Greenpoint. Beloved Williamsburg venue Union Pool is holding a multitude of free gigs as part of their Summer Thunder concerts (along with drink specials).
And another thing: keep an eye on your favorite musical acts who also double as performance artists. Famed rapper and transgender icon Mykki Blanco, for example, will be performing alongside other artists at the Met Breuer’s Theater of the Resist, an event open to the public.
3. Support public theater
No more waiting to win the Hamilton ticket lottery!
You can catch a wide array of outdoor plays throughout the summer. Marcus Garvey Park’s amphitheater is a notable host to Alexandre Dumas’ swashbuckling tale The Three Musketeers. If musicals are more your thing, on and off Broadway shows will be performing their greatest hits in Midtown for Broadway in Bryant Park. And last but not least, the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park has always been an NYC favorite, even more so after their controversial production of Julius Caesar shook Donald Trump’s White House. The shows take place in Central Park and are wildly popular, so you would need to grab your free admission tickets on the day of the show. That means waking up early to join the long line at the Delacorte Theater and score your two tickets before they run out.
4. Burn calories, not cash
Looking to break a sweat?
Shape Up NYC is an initiative holding various free drop-in workout classes around the city, such as yoga and zumba.
Brooklyn Bridge Park also feature a variety of free fitness classes with a view which include basketball, kayaking, double dutch, ballet and hip-hop.
Socrates Sculpture Park, a Long Island City gem, offers its own set of complimentary weekend classes ranging from self-defense to canoeing.
BTW, there is free access to recreation centers every first Monday of the month, so feel free to sample any sport or class you may be interested in. This is a good time as ever to remind everyone that NYC Parks offer free swimming lessons to New Yorkers of all ages. Swimming is a life skill so please learn!
5. Free. Food.
That’s right, it is possible to eat for free in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Multiple bars and restaurants across the city serve complimentary food with the purchase of a drink. The Crocodile Lounge, located around Gramercy Park (with a sister bar in Williamsburg), offers free personal pizza pies with your drink. Order a sangria at the Spain restaurant in Greenwich Village and you score free tapas. A trip to the bar at Bowery’s Cucina Di Pesce gets you complimentary mussels. If you’re a popcorn aficionado, The Dead Poet in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Fourth Avenue Pub in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill both pop kernels in their old-school popcorn machines. On Monday nights, Williamsburg’s Huckleberry Bar hosts movie screenings with complimentary mac n cheese to accompany your drink.
For its part, the East Village is filled with bars who spoil their patrons. Rudy’s Bar & Grill, a historic Hell’s Kitchen dive bar, serves hot dogs on the house all day, every day. The aptly-named Burp Castle offers free fries and dips from the neighboring Pommes Frites on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5 to 8PM, and all day Sunday. The Thirsty Scholar is a tad more generous: they offer a complimentary hot entree to go with their drinks. And sports fans rejoice: Standings serves free Atomic Wings on select nights (such as Monday Night Football) and complimentary pizza on Fridays nights.
And hey – if you’re not big on booze, you can always hit The Watering Hole for a free hot buffet (which includes pizza, chicken wings and fries) on weekdays from 5:30 to 6:30PM.
6. Museum Happy Hours
Museums are the perfect places to avoid sunburns and summer rain. There is a surprisingly big number of places you can just waltz into. Many museums in New York actually operate on a pay-what-you-wish basis, meaning you can get in on a dollar (or less) if you’re broke. Free admission/pay-what-you-wish museums include the Met, the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Museum, MoMa PS1, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the American Folk Art Museum, El Museo del Barrio, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Queens Museum, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Storefront for Art and Architecture and SculptureCenter. If you’d rather see outdoor installations, you can visit the High Line and the Socrates Sculpture Park for stunning art under the sun.
Don’t see the museum you were itching to check out? Don’t fret– other establishments occasionally open their doors to those on a budget. Some have monthly and weekly free/pay-what-you-wish hours. You can visit the MoMa (Fridays 4-8PM), the Whitney (pay-what-you-wish Fridays 7-9:30PM), the Guggenheim (pay-what-you-wish Saturdays 5:45-7:45PM), the 9/11 Memorial Museum (Tuesdays 5-8PM), the Museum of Jewish Heritage (Wednesdays and Thursdays 4-8PM), the New Museum (Thursdays 7-9PM), the Museum of Arts and Design (pay-as-you-wish Thursdays 6-9PM) and – my personal favorite – the Neue Galerie (first Friday of the month 6-8PM).
Free hours do tend to be crowded though, so be prepared for long lines.
Enjoy, and keep the change!