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Top 15 Free (or Nearly Free) Outdoor Experiences for Spring in NYC


Few places on earth are as full of bustling, ecstatic life as New York City in the spring and summer. Here’s how to capture a piece of that New York magic without breaking the bank.

The Top 10

Window Shop in the West Village

It’s easy to feel like a local, not a tourist, while shopping in the West Village. Unlike 5th Avenue or SoHo, the pace is slower, the streets relatively quiet, and the scale small. This is the place to come for unusual finds rather than global-brand goods, so people-watching is great. For a low-budget refuel try Magnolia Bakery, Amy’s Bread, or Cones.

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Ask the Forums:We have one day to shop in NYC—where should we go and stay?

Plan ahead: Explore our guide to shopping in NYC

Walk Around the Reservoir in Central Park (+ the Carousel)

North of the Great Lawn and the 86th Street transverse is a popular gathering place for New Yorkers and visitors alike, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Rain or shine, you’ll see runners of all ages and paces heading counterclockwise around the 1.58-mi path. The path in turn is surrounded by hundreds of trees that burst into color in the spring. Be sure to stop at the Friedsam Memorial Carousel, built in 1908. It has 58 nearly life-size hand-carved horses and remains a favorite among young and old.

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

“A drive-through cathedral” is how the critic James Wolcott describes one of New York’s noblest and most recognized landmarks. Spanning the East River, the bridge connects Manhattan island to the borough of Brooklyn. A leisurely hour’s stroll on the pedestrian walkway (which you’ll share with bicyclists and rollerbladers) is an essential New York City experience.

Ask the Forums: “Which way should we walk on the bridge?”

Coming Up: Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition Spring Show

Plan ahead: Explore our Brooklyn guide

Grab a Soda in the Café at Rock Center

Though it’s the site of the world’s most famous ice-skating rink during the winter, the Lower Plaza at Rockefeller Center becomes a café in the spring. It’s the perfect spot to take a break from the hectic rush of midtown.

Rainy day? Check out one of the city’s under-hyped museums

Watch the Broadway Performers by the TKTS booth

If you’re looking for discount tickets to Broadway shows, this Times Square booth is the place to grab them. Tickets to participating productions may be discounted 25%-50%. Hang out long enough (whether or not you plan to buy a ticket) and you’ll see mini-performances from the shows themselves.

Ask the Forums: NYC Broadway play recommendations?

Plan ahead: Browse Fodor’s Midtown and Theatre District Hotel Reviews

Catch a Free Outdoor Concert

A classic New York City summer pastime is to catch a performance by the New York Philharmonic (first show July 14th) and the Metropolitan Opera (first show July 14th) in Central Park on the Great Lawn. Get there early to stake out a spot, and be sure to pack a picnic. You’re in it for the long haul (consider arriving as early as 6 for an 8 o’clock performance), but few New York City experiences can beat the amount of bang-for-your-buck. There are also many free outdoor concerts held in conjunction with two popular summer music festivals—SummerStage and the River to River Festival. Another option is to catch the morning tv tapings or smaller acts in just about every park in the city.

Ride the Staten Island Ferry

One of New York City’s biggest attractions is free—the phenomenal view of the downtown skyline and the Statue of Liberty afforded by the 25-minute ferry ride to Staten Island. Ride the starboard side on the way out to catch a view of Lady Liberty.

Tour the Conservatory Gardens at Central Park

The Central Park Conservatory gives nine different free walking tours of the park on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, based on the season. The walks provide a perfect opportunity to explore the Ramble without getting lost, become well versed in the Park’s history, or get clued into “hidden” aspects you might otherwise have missed. Most tours are 60 to 90 minutes, and custom tours are also available.

Ask the Forums: Which of the Central Park walking tours should we take?

Visit the NY Botanical Garden

Considered one of the leading botany centers of the world, this 250-acre garden is one of the best reasons to make a trip to the Bronx. Be astounded by the captivating fragrance of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden’s 2,700 plants of more than 250 varieties; see intricate orchids that look like science fiction; relax in the quiet forest or the calm of the Conservatory; or take a jaunt through the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden. Best of all, there’s free admission all day Wednesday and 10AM to 12PM on Saturday.

Hoof it Past Great Architecture

A stroll down Park Avenue from 53rd Street to 47th Street takes you past some legendary New York buildings. The Waldorf Astoria (301 Park Ave) is a riot of art deco prowess. Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building (375 Park Ave) single-handedly brought the International Style to America, and Gordon Bunshaft’s Lever House (390 Park Ave) popularized the glass curtain wall in American architecture.

5 Others to Consider

–Sit in Bryant Park by the Public Library with a book, people-watching and sipping coffee

–Take a run on the Hudson River Park path near the Chelsea Piers

–Eat a hot pretzel and check out the spring flowers in Rockefeller Center

–Escape to Brooklyn, where you can have a picnic and people-watch in McCarren Park

–Grab a Burger at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park

Thanks to Our Tweeps

A special thanks for those who tweeted or sent us their suggestions for this story, including @purplepassport, @kel2981, @marisagreen, @luxcruisebible, @fishbone96, @TickledPinkKnit, @mcguiganm, @Samando, @TravelTweet, yk, and Erin M.

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