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13 totally free and fun ways to enjoy New York City this July


July is around the corner, and it’s time to make the most of the sunshine, Summer Fridays and the emptier streets resulting from those lucky enough to decamp the hot and humid city streets for cooler climes.

Have you begun checking off items on your summer bucket list? If not, now is the time to get started. To help spur you into action, we’ve put together a list of free activities — they cost $0 — that will get you out of your apartment and into the thick of the action.

A scene from a previous year’s Harlem Meer

Courtesy Central Park Conservancy

Take in the Harlem Meer Performance Festival

Starting July 14, the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, located in the northernmost portion of Central Park, will put on the Harlem Meer Performance Festival.

The events take place on Sundays at 2 p.m. and run through Aug. 18. The festival aims to highlight the work of local artists who want to make a difference in their community.

Opening day features Music on the Inside, a jazz program that brings together highly regarded performers and formerly incarcerated artists. On July 21, you can see Aurora and Zon del Barrio’s “intergenerational, creative blend of Latin music genres,” and July 28 features the Greenhouse Arts Center, a Harlem-based dance studio that will showcase performers in several styles of dance.

Watch competitive eaters gorge on dogs at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

There will be a new top hot dog eater for the first time since 2015, as Joey Chestnut’s streak of eight straight victories comes to a halt due to his banning following a sponsorship deal with Impossible Foods. That 2015 upset loss was Chestnut’s only defeat since 2006, so this year promises to open the door for a new competitor to claim Independence Day glory.

Go cheer on the new winner at Nathan’s iconic Coney Island location, which hosts the July 4 event. Get there before 10 a.m. to catch the pre-show festivities, then watch the women’s contest at 11 a.m., followed by the men’s division at 12:30 p.m.

Check out the Met’s new 81st Street Studio

The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its newest space in September 2023, and it’s already a hit. The 81st Street Studio is designed to help kids understand the science and material processes that go into making world-renowned art. The studio is free for all children and their accompanying parents or caregivers.

Anyone with kids or young visitors should have this on their to-do list. Children of all ages have the opportunity to participate in hands-on artmaking, including building drums and woodblock printing.

The 81st Street Studio is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday through Sunday. No advance tickets are available and you’ll need to scan a QR code at the Met to sign up for a timed entry slot, so make sure you have enough time to do that.

A tutu worn by Alexandra Danilova (1903–1997) is on view at the New York Public Library.

Photo by Tara Fedoriw-Morris / Courtesy of the NYPL

Visit the New York Public Library’s Polonsky Exhibit

Despite budget cuts that have created an ongoing series of challenges for the New York Public Library system, it remains one of the best institutions in the city.

Its permanent Polonsky Exhibit is a highlight of NYPL’s collection work over the years. The library aptly calls this exhibit “Treasures,” and it features manuscripts, art, recordings and more spanning a 4,000-year history.

Visitors can view the collection during normal library hours. Free 45-minute tours are available at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Monday through Saturday at the flagship branch in Midtown.

July is a great time to get out of the heat and explore the new James Baldwin exhibit culled from the Polonsky Collection.

Bab L’Bluz

Photo by Brice Bottin / Courtesy of BRIC

Go to Habibi Festival in Prospect Park

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! is the city’s longest-running free outdoor performance arts festival. This year’s lineup is a treasure trove of international talent.

One of the highlights is Habibi Festival, which takes place on Saturday, July 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Prospect Park Bandshell. The festival showcases work by artists from Southwest Asia and North Africa.

The headliner this year is Bab L’ Bluz, billed as “a Franco-Moroccan psychedelic rock group captivating audiences from Marrakech to Baghdad to Brooklyn.”

Photo by Sean Jamar

See MIKE’s Young World IV in Bed-Stuy

Summerstage, one of the city’s most popular series of free concerts, returns this year with dozens of free shows across the five boroughs. Among them: Mike’s Young World IV at Herbert Von King Park in Bed-Stuy, brought to you by MIKE. This year’s lineup includes Earl Sweatshirt, Myaap, Stahhr and Stacy Epps. It happens on Saturday, July 13 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and it’s free.

Scott Heins / Gothamist

Visit Little Island

Because New York apparently doesn’t have enough islands, someone decided it would be a good idea to build a new one. Little Island, opened in 2021, is an artificial floating island built on the Hudson River, just off Pier 54 near West 13th Street.

While you can purchase tickets to various performances on the island, it’s also completely free to explore and boasts incredible views. There are a host of free shows and free activities that are great for kids and families. You can also take a self-guided tour narrated by the lead architect behind the island’s construction.

Connect to New York’s agricultural roots at the Queens County Farm Museum

It may not look like it now, but New York City used to be a thriving agricultural hotspot — when it was known as New Amsterdam. The Queens County Farm Museum carries on this centuries-old tradition, serving both as a historical site and one of the oldest continually farmed sites in the state.

The museum, which is on the border of Long Island and Queens, is free most days and generally open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you want to get a taste of the unique Queens terroir, you can also go to the Farmstand to purchase fresh produce grown on the farm.

Help compose a concert at Lincoln Center

No prior classical music training necessary! Ultimately, the crowd makes the decisions in this experience that’s part of the Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City lineup.

The Symphony of Choice, as it’s called, bills itself as a “crowd-composed concert.” It allows audience members to vote by text to determine the song lineup and doubles as a preview of the Festival Orchestra’s Summer Season. It happens on July 20 at 7:30 p.m. at David Geffen Hall. Tickets are pay what you wish, with a suggested price of $35.

Contemplate the life worth living at Socrates Sculpture Park

One thing former landfills are good for? Parks. Just north of the Noguchi Museum in Queens sits Socrates Sculpture Park, which is putting on the “We are nomads, we are dreamers” exhibition by Suchitra Mattai. It “celebrates the migratory oceanic journeys of past, present and future diasporic communities.”

Since 1986, when sculptor Mark di Suvero transformed the former “abandoned riverside landfill and illegal dumpsite” into a public art space, visitors have been able to examine their own lives alongside groundbreaking sculpture set against the Manhattan skyline. Make it a point to visit this summer.

See Hurray for the Riff Raff live

If you haven’t listened to Hurray for the Riff Raff’s excellent new album, “The Past Is Still Alive,” you should do so immediately. Then you can catch the singer-songwriter showing off her impressive vocals live at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City as part of the free River and Blues music series.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 18, and if you can’t make Hurray for the Riff Raff, you can consider Los Lobos on July 11 or Leela James on July 25.

Watch world-class soccer

This summer, two major continental tournaments will converge, with Euro 2024 and Copa America taking place at roughly the same time. Both finals take place on Sunday, July 14, which happens to be Bastille Day. You could perhaps head to Boerum Hill for the wild and crazy Bastille Day celebrations at Bar Tabac, which would go nicely with the atmosphere of a European championship. If Les Bleus make the final, expect an even more frenetic scene.

In the evening, the Copa America final will kick off to crown the South American champion (which could potentially be the United States, one of the invited competitors). Some of the city’s more popular soccer bars are Smithfield Hall, Football Factory at Legends, Banter and Crossbar. But there’s sure to be a local pub or bar in your neighborhood that will be willing to put a match on TV if you ask.

Enjoy the fireworks

It’s July in the city: You have to watch the fireworks! For the first time in a decade, the Macy’s fireworks show will fire off barges on the Hudson River, which makes viewing more difficult for outer borough residents.

The good news is that there are plenty of public viewing spaces along the West Side. Or, you could befriend a wealthy Chelsea art collector with a rooftop that they’re willing to share.





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