Free in NYC


by Erin O'Hara and Alyssa Grossman, 07/02/2012

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There's always something exciting to do and see around the five boroughs that doesn't cost a dime. See our special Fourth of July double edition of picks below, and visit our calendar and special offers section for more free events.

July 3–17

Tuesday, July 3
Stargazing on the High Line
When dusk rolls around, head to the High Line for a chance to view some celestial sights above the twinkling lights of New York's tall buildings. Through high-powered telescopes, you'll get an up-close view of the stars, the planets and the moon, which should be fully illuminated that night. This is a great time for stargazing newbies to learn a thing or two about studying the sky from members of the Amateur Astronomers Association, who will be happy to answer questions and fill you in on the upcoming meteor showers this summer. The event takes place every Tuesday from 6:30 to 9:30pm and is weather permitting. For more information, visit

Wednesday, July 4
Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest and
Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks
Food and fireworks are essential elements of the Fourth of July celebration, and New York City offers the best of both. First, the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest takes place, as always, in Coney Island. The event is attended by tens of thousands and televised on ESPN to more than a million viewers each year, and the Mustard Yellow Belt given to the winner is the holy grail of competitive eating worldwide. Celebrate the Fourth on the famous Coney Island boardwalk and watch as fan-favorite Joey Chestnut tries to defend his championship and win his sixth title. The 97th edition of the competition starts at 3pm. In the evening, enjoy another treasured tradition: the Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks, now in its 36th year. The largest fireworks display in the United States is also broadcast nationwide on NBC, starting at 9pm, but nothing compares with seeing the colorful bursts over the Hudson River in person. For the best places to view the display, see our roundup.

Thursday, July 5
Syfy Movies with a View: E.T.
Everyone's favorite extraterrestrial visits Brooklyn Bridge Park for Syfy Movies with a View. E.T., the 1982 Steven Spielberg classic about an adorable alien stranded on Earth and his heartwarming friendship with a 10-year-old boy, is one of the best-loved sci-fi movies of all time. It was the breakout role for Hollywood starlet Drew Barrymore, then only 7 years old. The movie begins at sunset, but get there early to claim a good spot and enjoy music from Brooklyn Radio DJs starting at 6pm.

Friday, July 6
Cut Up
Immerse yourself in the work of local artists at Storefront Bushwick. The show Cut Up features 11 artists, all living and working in New York City, who create works in a variety of media by cutting, shredding, chopping or otherwise disassembling materials and arranging the pieces in a new and unexpected way. The opening reception takes place on July 6 from 6 to 9pm, but the exhibition will be on view through August 5. While you're there, visit Ghost in the Machine—a solo painting exhibition by Julie Torres—in the project space.

Saturday, July 7
CBGB Festival: Guided By Voices, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Cloud Nothings
The CBGB Festival revives the spirit of the legendary punk-rock club on the Bowery, showcasing 300 up-and-coming rock bands at 30 venues throughout the City. At 3pm on July 7, Central Park SummerStage hosts the festival's big free show, which features Guided By Voices, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Cloud Nothings and more. Admission to Rumsey Playfield is free, but spaces are first come, first served—so get there early. Doors open an hour before the show.

Sunday, July 8
Comedy Night @ The Knit with Hannibal Buress
Hannibal Buress is quickly becoming a household name. The comedian has written for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, co-hosts The Eric Andre Show and premiered a new Comedy Central special in May. On Sunday nights, you can catch him at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn—where he cracks up the locals, brings together impressive lineups of stand-up comics and deftly humiliates the occasional heckler. (For more on Buress, see our recent interview with him.)

Monday, July 9
River to River Festival: Side by Side
Side by Side, a documentary narrated by Keanu Reeves, takes viewers on a journey through the history of film and the digital revolution in filmmaking. It features interviews with lots of movie magicians, including James Cameron, David Fincher, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Robert Rodriguez and Steven Soderbergh. A screening of the film, on the Elevated Acre in Lower Manhattan—part of the annual River to River Festival—starts at sunset (approximately 8pm). Attendees may arrive anytime after 6pm to snag seats.

Tuesday, July 10
Shape Up NYC: Zumba on the Beach
Shape Up NYC is a campaign to encourage healthy lifestyles and improve self-esteem by getting New Yorkers up, out and in shape in noncompetitive environments. Zumba is a Latin-fusion dance workout that has swept the nation, in part because it makes working out less of a chore and more of a party. The practice combines fast and slow dance moves targeting different muscles. This seaside class, which starts at 7pm at Beach 17th Street at Rockaway Beach, is suitable for people of all skill levels. Hit the beach, have fun and sculpt a healthy bathing-suit body; it's a summer-Tuesday trifecta.

Wednesday, July 11
New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks
Classical music lovers are sure to migrate en masse to the New York Philharmonic's free concerts throughout the five boroughs: in parks in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx and indoors on Staten Island. On July 11, the series comes to Prospect Park. Conductor Alan Gilbert leads the program, which features Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 and Ottorino Respighi's Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome. The show starts at 8pm, but we recommend getting there early to claim your spot under the stars.

Thursday, July 12 
Broadway in Bryant Park
Each Thursday, through August 16, pack your lunch and head to Bryant Park for a midday, hour-long performance from Broadway's most popular shows. Spectators can nab one of the picnic tables or chairs set up on the lawn or bring their own blankets and settle on the grass. On July 12, experience Stomp, The Phantom of the Opera, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, War Horse and The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. The cast of each show will perform two or three numbers starting at 12:30pm. 

Friday, July 13
Target Passport Fridays: Mexico
The popular free Friday-night series is back at the Queens Museum of Art, offering outdoor entertainment from a variety of cultures across the globe. On July 13 at 6:30pm, travel to Mexico for a night of music and film. The group Las Cafeteras will take the stage for a high-energy showcase of their Veracruz roots. Expect singing, dancing and stories infused with Afro-Caribbean and Native American instruments. Then, the Argentinean and Mexican artists who make up Paté de Fuá share their unique sound, drawing influences from jazz, tango, Dixieland and more. At the end of the evening, settle in for a screening of Alamar, a Mexican independent film set in a fishing village; the story follows a Mayan man and his 5-year-old son who set sail on a trip together before having to part ways.

Saturday, July 14
City of Water Day
Despite its sometimes heavily industrialized shoreline, New York City is still a waterfront town. The annual City of Water Day festival, from 10am to 4pm on Governors Island, will serve as a reminder of just that, featuring free entertainment and education for kids and adults alike about the ways in which the five boroughs interact with the sea. There will be opportunities to go fishing and take boat tours, and children can check out a critter touch tank, fishing clinics and games.

Sunday, July 15
MoonDance: George Gee Swing Orchestra
Once a week, Hudson River Park's Pier 84 transforms into a dance floor. No experience is needed for this under-the-stars series, which always kicks things off with complimentary lessons from Dance Manhattan at 6:30pm and is held on Sundays through August 12. On July 15, it's all about swing as the George Gee Swing Orchestra brings its big-band style to the Manhattan waterfront. Get there early to claim your spot. 

Monday, July 16 
Sandbox Dance
Central Park's Sandbox Program turns playgrounds across Manhattan's biggest green space into so much more than swings and slides. On July 16, make your way to Heckscher Playground (enter at Central Park West and West 63rd Street) to move and shake with a pro instructor starting at 11am. Special guest Michael Wimberley will set the beat for the hour-long session with his African djembe sound. The park also offers music, puppetry and storytelling series through the Sandbox Program through mid-August.

Tuesday, July 17 
Victor Cruz: Out of the Blue
The latest athlete to enter the publishing world is New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. His tale, Out of the Blue, gives readers an inside look at his life leading up to his record-breaking moments on the field, achieving 82 receptions for 1,536 yards in just 16 games. The autobiography chronicles Cruz's difficult rise to fame, growing up in Patterson, New Jersey, long before he gained a reputation for his signature post-touchdown salsa celebration. Cruz will be at the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue at noon to present and sign copies of his book.

related venues/(6)

  1. 1
    Brooklyn Bridge Park
    334 Furman St.
    Brooklyn – DUMBO
    NY 11201
  2. 2
    16 Wilson Ave
  3. 3
    Central Park's Rumsey Playfield
    Enter Central Park at Fifth Avenue & 69th Street
    Manhattan – Central Park
  1. 4
    Elevated Acre
    55 Water St
    Manhattan – Financial District
  2. 5
    Bryant Park
    Sixth Ave. between 40th and 42nd Sts.
    Manhattan – Midtown West
  3. 6
    Governors Island
    New York Harbor
    Manhattan – Financial District
    NY 10004

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