As I’ve been wrapping up my summer in New York City, I sat down and looked back on all the things that made this summer a truly unforgettable time for me. I extended my stay not once, not twice, but three times in order to soak up as much summer as possible in the city I love so much.
In addition to the things I list below, there were about a gazillion other things I loved, but I had to draw a line somewhere. The best part about this list: most of these things don’t cost a penny! While New York City certainly can be expensive, it’s also possible to have an amazing time on a small budget – and that’s not holed up in your apartment watching YouTube videos, but with an action-packed summer mainly spent outside. If you have experienced a summer in New York, feel free to share the things you love(d) most about it in the comments below.
1 The nearby beaches
I love how fast you can get to a beach from most places in New York, no matter which borough you’re in. And most of them are only a cheap $2.75 subway ride away (if you don’t have an unlimited ride subway card anyway). In Brooklyn, you can head to the Rockaways or Coney Island, in the Bronx you can visit Orchard Beach or City Island, or take a ferry from Manhattan to Sandy Hook in New Jersey. Beaches are plentiful and give you a nice break from the sweltering heat that New York experiences every summer. And if you don’t want to leave the city, there are plenty of pools in NYC, many of them even FREE!
2 Enjoying a drink in one of the many rooftop bars
A city with a skyline like New York beckons to have rooftop bars, and there are dozens to choose from around town. From The Ides on top of the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg / Brooklyn to Manhattan classics like the Gansevoort Park rooftop, PHD, 230 Fifth, Le Bain on top of The Standard Hotel or the Jimmy Lounge on top of The James Hotel, there are enough rooftop bars to offer you different views of the city every time you go out. If you only have a few nights in town, you can even join a rooftop bar crawl to experience several bars in one night! My favorite time for a rooftop bar is at sunset and watching how the city lights turn on one by one.
3 Open fire hydrants
Because it is so hot, some neighborhoods open fire hydrants so that the water blasts out at all times. I loved watching exciting kids enjoying the cool water, squealing with excitement, having fun chasing each other around the hydrants or pouring buckets of the water over bypassing cyclists. I even saw some grown-up runners run through them for some refreshment – I would’ve done the same if I didn’t always have my iPod with me on my runs! (Note: I know that it is in fact quite wasteful to open them, and actually illegal, unless you use a spray cap, which reduces the water output per minute from 1,000 gallons to 20 – 25 gallons per minute. I only approve of those that have spray caps.)
4 Reliable summer weather
I am from Germany, and spent four summers in the UK – I don’t take summer weather for granted. There are years when Germany has a lovely summer, but during others (like this year!) temperatures barely hit 20 C / 68 F, and it stays chilly most of the summer except for a few hot days. England was even worse, with lots of rain in the mix, and I remember barely ever leaving the house in flip flops or without a jacket. In New York though, summer means hot weather. I hung my jacket in the closet in May and didn’t take it back out all summer. I love that even at night it is still hot enough to walk around without a jacket or long-sleeved shirt. As a summer chaser and sun addict, I really appreciate the hot weather (whereas most New Yorkers complain about it – hey guys, enjoy it while it lasts! The first blizzard is not far).
5 Free open air movies
Parks, neighborhood squares or a pier – take an outdoor space large enough to fit at least a couple of hundred people and you’re likely to have a venue for a free open air movie night. In NYC, they were even showing free outdoor movies on the Intrepid (a former aircraft carrier)! My favorite spaces to catch an outdoor movie were Pier 63 on the Hudson River (look at this sunset!), Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge Park.
6 Free open air music events
This goes in line with #5 – If you aren’t a big movie goer, you might prefer the free music events that are put on every summer in the city’s park and outside the Lincoln Center. Lovers of classic music can enjoy free recitals of famous operas or watch the Philharmonic Orchestra play in scenic surroundings like Central Park or the Brooklyn Bridge Park. In addition, there is the Summer Stage with free concerts of all genres and DJ sets. Pack a picnic and enjoy a warm summer night in the park with some great live music to go with – the music events that I went to were some of my summer highlights.
7 The food markets
I am talking about the Smorgasburg Flea Food Markets in particular, a food market that takes place every Saturday and Sunday in two Brooklyn locations. I spent countless Saturdays roaming the Williamsburg market in search of a new dish to try (picture anything from vegan donuts, lobster, pizza, Bolivian empanadas, BBQ sandwiches, ramen burgers and ice cream sandwiches) to enjoy it with a view of the Manhattan skyline across the river. On Sunday, the same market moves over to Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5, with even better skyline views, the same insane amount of food stalls, and free kayaking on top of it!
Hop on the Staten Island ferry about 40 minutes before the sun sets and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular sunset vistas over the Statue Of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline, as it starts to twinkle like a million little stars on the way back. And the best thing: The ferry is free!
I loved how when the first hot days arrived in May, half of the girls in the parks just dropped their clothes and tanned in their bikinis – no matter if it’s the huge Sheep Meadow in Central Park or the tiny green spaces in Washington Square Park, you’ll see girls in bikinis everywhere all summer long.
I experienced New York City during a snowstorm once and was shocked to see runners still out in Central Park, running through the deep snow, packed warmly in several layers. Running in the summer is much more my cup of tea, and thousands of people feel the same way – all the running paths are packed at any time of day, and there’s nothing better than a sunset run along the Hudson River or a morning run through Central Park.
11 Rooftop BBQs
New Yorkers love their rooftops, and they love to barbeque. I was lucky enough to get to know several rooftops in Manhattan and Brooklyn and all the BBQs I went to were fantastic. Stunning views, great food, a cool breeze and good company – what’s not to love.
12 Ice cream donuts
13 Street fairs
I still haven’t quite figured out how to know where exactly they are on which weekend, but I kept just stumbling across these street fairs that are a mix of market and food stalls. Several blocks of a main streets like Fifth Avenue are completely blocked off for traffic and you can enjoy walking on the street for a few hours while shopping for clothes or accessories, and munch on some fresh watermelon, Mexican tacos or another delicacy.
The New York Summer Streets were another car-free event I enjoyed – Park Avenue was closed off for traffic for seven miles, and there were free bike rentals, you could zipline and rock climb and visit a cool art & sound installation in the Park Avenue tunnel.
The Mermaid Parade takes place on the Saturday closest to the official first day of summer (21 June), so this is a quintessential New York summer kick-off event and I loved experiencing the artsy, crazy, unique and sometimes explicit parade. The Mermaid Parade just belongs to summer and New York!
As if kayaking on the East River or the Hudson River wasn’t cool enough – New York is offering it FOR FREE on weekends! I already mentioned it briefly in #7, and you can also kayak for free in Riverside Park on the Upper West Side, in Red Hook and on Staten Island.
I love exploring the different neighborhoods, getting lost while walking down random streets and taking in the atmosphere – especially at night. This is my favorite way to get to know New York’s neighborhoods better – and at night it’s not too hot anymore and there are less people in the streets. Best enjoyed with a cup of frozen yogurt in your hands!
17 Frozen yogurt everywhere!
Speaking of frozen yogurt – it seems like there is frozen yogurt everywhere in New York. Every few blocks you find a store, and many of them offer self-service which makes it super easy to end up with a massive cup of fro-yo piled with loads of toppings. Not necessarily a low-calorie snack, but so worth it on a hot summer day.
I am not sure when the High Line Park, a linear park built on a former elevated railroad track that winds its way through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea, became so popular, but it seems more and more busy every time I go. The mornings are lovely though – the tourists still enjoy their hotel breakfasts and you’ll find some space on one of the sunloungers to read a book on the High Line for sure. Grab a cup of coffee at Blue Bottle (next to Chelsea Market, and from 9am also right on the High Line between 16th and 15th Street) and a pastry at Amy’s Bread in Chelsea Market and enjoy the green oasis that is the High Line.
New York seems to be the center of the creative world, be it TV, movies, music or art, which is why you’ll always find some wonderfully creative exhibitions around town. The art exhibitions are always fantastic, especially in progressive galleries like the MoMA’s PS1 outpost where you always find some innovative and experimental art exhibits. My favorites in 2014: Kara Walker’s ‘A Subtlety’ exhibit in the old Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg (you can read more about it here) and female street artist Swoon’s ‘Submerged Motherlands’ exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.
20 Flea markets
I could spend all weekend roaming the flea markets around town – no matter if it’s the one in Williamsburg, Fort Greene or Hell’s Kitchen (some of my favorites – you can find a list of all my favorite New York City flea and food markets here). As long as the sun is shining and I’ve got an iced coffee in my hands, I’m good to rummage through vintage clothes, old books and all sorts of flea market knick knack for hours 🙂
I had almost forgotten how much fun dance parties are, and even better: outdoor daytime dance parties! I had a blast at the Warm Up party, which was held every Saturday from 3pm to 9pm in the MoMA’s PS1 art gallery in Long Island City. Mixing art and electro music – it can’t get any better than this and you’ll find me there next summer again for sure. Other outdoor dance parties that deserve a mention are the Sundays on the Roof on top of the Output Club in Brooklyn and the Summer Stage DJ Sets in Central Park.
I love me a good picnic, and I sure did have my fair share of them during the past few months. From French pastry breakfast picnics to Philharmonic Orchestra picnics with homemade salads and freshly baked cookies, I had too many picnics to count this summer and each one was special in its own way. And there are enough picnic spots in New York to keep you busy all summer long.
And should it rain, you can head to Grand Central Station and have an indoor picnic:
23 Going on a quick island getaway
An island getaway doesn’t have to involve flights and lots of money – just pack some food and take the ferry to Governors Island and enjoy a day away from the city in Upper New York Bay, while still enjoying the views of Manhattan. The artificial sand beach at the Governors Beach Club comes with stunning vistas of Manhattan’s southern tip, and if you decide to head over here for an event like the Fringe Festival or the Jazz Age Lawn, you’ll even get some free entertainment.
Roosevelt Island is another lovely island getaway, located in the East River. You even get a free scenic aerial tramway ride when you go there (included in your MTA subway pass) and there are some lovely lawns for picnics with a side of Manhattan. (Read more about both these places in Five Things To Discover In New York That Tourists (And Locals) Never Do).
If you’d like to venture further, why not spend the weekend on Fire Island, a classic New York weekend escape.
While I have a love-hate-relationship with New York’s Citibike bike sharing program, I sure don’t have any complaints about the city’s extensive and ever-growing bike lane network. I enjoyed cycling around town with a breeze to cool me off so much – being able to take in the different neighborhoods and awe-inspiring skyscrapers is so much better than being stuck in a packed subway car,! I’ve already decided that I need to get myself my own bike when I spend another summer in New York.
I couldn’t get enough of the Botanical Gardens this spring and summer and loved seeing how the flora inside the gardens changed from tulips to cherry blossoms to roses and hibiscus flowers. Luckily, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens offer free admission twice a week (Tuesdays all day and Saturdays before noon) and the Bronx Botanical Gardens once a week (every Wednesday). Pack a book, your camera and a snack and recharge your batteries here for an afternoon.
I mean, nothing can beat a BBQ with this view, right? The public BBQ areas in New York are fabulous!
I had a lot of sunset picnics over the summer – anywhere from Prospect Park to Riverside Park to Central Park and the Hudson River Park, but my absolute favorite spot is Pebble Beach, a tiny beach right in between the Brooklyn and the Manhattan Bridge. Get have a pie from Juliana’s and watch the sun set over Manhattan – it can’t get much better than that.
28 Summer Sunsets
Not only Pebble Beach has great sunsets though – there are so many great sunset spots in the city. Check out any of the places I mentioned in #27 or get inspired by TimeOut’s Top Ten Sunsets Spots in NYC. Everybody who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for sunsets, and for me there is no better way to wind down after a busy day than with a breathtaking sunset.
Have you been to New York City in the summer? Share what you love about the Big Apple in the summertime in the comments below!