20 Actually Cool Things to Do in NYC This Summer

From three days of music at Governors Ball to stellar outdoor food market and trippy art exhibits, cheers to a season bursting with chilled-out fun.

Pier 17
Seaport Cinema at The Greens | Pier 17
Seaport Cinema at The Greens | Pier 17

Summertime in NYC signals a time for boundless new dining experiences, weekends filled with outdoor activities, and well, just a whole lot more fun, tbh (we'll attribute some of that to those breezy Summer Fridays). And let’s be real, nowadays, the seasons seem to just fly by so why not use these next few months as a chance to metaphorically (or literally) let your hair down.

This year, there’s just something in the summertime air that feels like it’s going to be a really good one. From the talent-packed return of Gov Ball to SummerStage performances in Central Park, to loads of outdoor food markets across the boroughs and al fresco movie showings, there’s something for everyone to look forward to. So if you’re not out of town all season on an extended weekend getaway, and after cooling off at an idyllic beach or pool, here’s our guide to summer in the city.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to fluctuate rapidly and NYC currently is experiencing a rise in infection rates due to Omicron variants. If you’re venturing out, triple-check safety protocols and be safe out there.
Interior at "Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure"
Interior at 'Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure' | Photo by Ivane Katamashvili

Throughout summer
Chelsea
When it comes to famous New York artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat definitely tops the list, and his paintings regularly reach more than $100 million when sold at auction. Now, New Yorkers have a chance to learn more about the talented artist who has become a cultural phenomenon and helped shape 1980s pop art (alongside fellow famed creatives like Keith Haring and Andy Warhol). At Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure through renderings of childhood homes; video plus audio recordings; and more than 200-never-before-seen works of art, artifacts, and ephemera spread out within the storied Starrett-Lehigh Building, guests can delve into Basquiat’s heritage, intimate family moments, and personal life.
Cost: Tickets from $35 Monday–Thursday and $45 Friday–Sunday

SummerStage NYC
SummerStage NYC

Starting Saturday, June 4, through summer
Central Park
A frolic around the idyllic fields and pathways of Central Park is always in order. And starting in June, do so in between concerts from some of the top musical acts out there with tickets for Capital One City Parks SummerStage at Rumsey Playfield. A wide range of shows with performances are a part of the SummerStage program including indie rock band Modest Mouse on Wednesday, June 8; legendary jazz pianist and composer Herbie Hancock on Saturday, June 11; and many more. Shows will also be hosted at 12 other locations across the boroughs including Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem; Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO; Clove Lakes Park on Staten Island; and the Williamsbridge Oval in the Norwood neighborhood of the Bronx.
Cost: Tickets range from free to $49 and up

Rooftop Cinema Club Midtown
Rooftop Cinema Club Midtown | Photo by Eric Scire

Spread a blanket (or snag a lawn chair) and watch a classic flick on a big screen outdoors

Various locations
While we’ve all grown accustomed to streaming movies at home in our pajamas the past few years, it’s time to escape our tiny screens (and even tinier apartments) for some flicks on big movie screens outdoors instead. This summer, breathe new life into your filmgoing repertoire with open city air and sci-fi flicks at Pier 86 as part of the Intrepid Museum’s Summer Movie Series; a selection of soon-to-be announced films (for right now, we know for sure that The Birdcage is showing on June 7) at Seaport Cinema at The Greens; and an immersion into a tropical, bohemian aesthetic for 2000s and 90s classics atop the Skylawn Embassy Suites at Rooftop Cinema Club Midtown.
Cost: Varies

Governors Ball
Governors Ball | Photo by @jnsilva

Friday, June 10 to Sunday, June 12
Flushing Meadows
In a city whose soundtrack is a cacophony of emergency vehicle sirens, the screeching of subway tracks, and our next door neighbors fighting, one place where 311 won’t receive noise complaints for are sprawling outdoor music festivals. Topping the charts for such events is the annual NYC-born Governors Ball, which spans over three days in the parking lot of the Mets’ homebase at Citi Field. This year, among the slew of musicians and bands, the buzzy headliners this year includes Kid Cudi, Halsey, and J. Cole. Across the three main stages, expect loads of local food options (including Roberta’s Pizza, Sweet Chick, and La Newyorkina); in addition to beer, wine, non-alcoholic beverages, and liquor lounges (for VIP tickets). Tickets are on sale now via the website.
Cost: 1-day GA tickets from $129; 3-day GA tickets from $319

Hutong New York
Hutong New York

Throughout summer
Midtown
We’re going to share a well-known secret that many locals live by: The best days to go out in NYC are Mondays to Thursdays because the weekends always get way too crowded. This summer, we’re declaring Friday Jr. as the new muse of the week and for your next Thursday outing, head to Hutong in Midtown. Known for its swanky art deco interior with multiple floors/dining areas, a brightly lit hallway stacked with champagne, and expert Northern Chinese cuisine and dim sum, the restaurant has dubbed Thursdays as a special celebration called Shanghai Nights. Each week, the front bar and lounge space will transform into a Roaring 20s inspired fête, complete with DJ sets, live performances, and curated selections of guest favorite bites like Caviar King Crab Shumai and Wagyu Beef Millefeuille.
Cost: Free to enter

Team at Grilla in Manila at Queens Night Market
Grilla in Manila at Queens Night Market | Photo by Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for Thrillist

Embark on a culinary excursion across the borough’s best outdoor food markets

Various locations
Al fresco dining certainly has its main character moment during summer, but outdoor food markets are also a great way to grab bites with fresh air. Up first, there’s the Queens Night Market in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Kicking off its seventh season—the program was recently spotlighted in Thrillist’s Night Market series—and is renowned for its hallmark rule of all food having a $5 price cap. Expect more than 50 vendors offering international fare (like Pan Fried Noodles from Hong Kong Street Food; Shangri-La Chicken Dumplings courtesy of NoMad Dumplings; and Samosas from Bengali Street Eats); and a range of handmade goods, local art, and live performances. For Smorgasburg, locations include Williamsburg (opening in June) and Prospect Park, in Brooklyn; The Oculus at the World Trade Center; and also Jersey City for popular vendors like K-Dog, Birria LES, and Mao’s Baos. Lastly, helming the upper reaches of Manhattan is the Uptown Night Market which focuses on highlighting small businesses and the Harlem community. Drop by on Thursday nights for a slew of global cuisine and a wide range of musical performances like jazz, R&B, and DJ sets.
Cost: Free entry, prices inside vary

Friday, June 17 to Sunday, June 19
East New York
After finally being recognized by the U.S. as a federal holiday in 2021, Juneteenth celebrations this year are going to be filled with extra levels of community vibrance and cultural solidarity. One special way to honor the day is by heading over to East New York in Brooklyn for The 13th Annual Juneteenth NY Festival 2022. The event—which is centered around creating economic and creative opportunities for small, Black-owned businesses—will kick off with a virtual series that includes several panel discussions on family health and wellbeing; online photo booths; and special giveaways. The in-person portion of the program starts on Saturday, June 18, in Linden Park with live music by local talent; a range of vendors offering handmade goods; and a Festival Food Market filled with bites courtesy of NYC-based, Black-owned restaurants. For sports lovers, the famed local teams the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty will also be hosting a basketball clinic with contests and drills for children aged 6-17. Wrapping up the weekend, on Sunday a fashion exhibition will shine a spotlight on hot new designers accompanied by a performance from R&B duo Zhané as well as Renée Neufville, with more to be announced.
Cost: Tickets are free

"Life of a Neuron"
'Life of a Neuron' | Photo courtesy of ARTECHOUSE

Throughout summer
Chelsea Market
One of this summer’s can’t-misses for a trippy immersive experience is located from Artechouse located inside Chelsea Market. The newest exhibition to debut is titled Life of a Neuron and is a project created in collaboration with the Society of Neuroscience. Delving into how the brain shapes our individual human experiences (it’ll undoubtedly have you contemplating your own existence several times), the exhibit itself is made up of a captivating experience complete with large projections and 3D cellular models, which meld art and science together. In addition, as a nice perk for New York and New Jersey residents, tickets are discounted by $5 during weekdays.
Cost: Tickets from $25

Miss Lily's
Photo courtesy of Miss Lily's

Throughout summer
East Village
Spicing up your summer nights is made that much more easy with this East Village hotspot’s popular nighttime programming dubbed Late Nights. Every week from Thursdays to Saturdays starting at 10 pm and running until well…late, drop by the restaurant for a night filled with DJ sets, rum drinks, dishes like the signature Miss Lily’s World Famous Jerk Chicken, and more, all within the vibrant space of this Caribbean oasis. When it comes to the tunes, dance to Lion Dub on Thursdays, rotating artists on Fridays, and DJ Top Notch on Saturdays. Needless to say, dancing is highly encouraged and generally appreciated here.
Cost: Free for entry, specialty cocktails from $13

Throughout summer
Prospect Heights
Particularly perfect for all your warm evening jaunts, this popular program—that started in 2021 to help local businesses during the pandemic—is once again back in BK. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, Open Streets on Vanderbilt Avenue runs between Atlantic Avenue to Park Place from 5 pm-10 pm and offers six blocks of car-free strolling on this major Brooklyn street. Get better acquainted with the area and explore neighborhood spots like Ample Hills Creamery, Ciao, Gloria, and the recently debuted Patti Ann’s, while soaking up the convivial ambiance.
Cost: Free

'A Strange Loop'
'A Strange Loop' | Photo by Marc J. Franklin

Throughout summer
Theater District
After a hiatus and pauses due to the pandemic, it’s truly a pleasure to witness the return of Broadway shows. Since the slow comeback began in September of 2021, theater-lovers are once again able to catch a multitude of new and long-beloved shows, from A Strange Loop and Six to Company and The Music Man. Also no need to stress about your budget, we’ve got all the best tips on how to snag cheap tickets and whether for before an opening number or after the final curtain closes, we’ve got you covered on pre- and post-show eats at the best restaurants in the Theater District and Midtown West.

Roller rink at Rockefeller Center
Roller rink at Rockefeller Center | Rendering by ImageFiction

Throughout summer
Midtown
Now that we’ve officially switched out those laces from ice skates to roller skates, time to work on looking cool while pushing around courtesy of The Rink at Rockefeller Center. Opened in April, it’s hard to ignore this bumping new activity space, which draws inspiration from the original Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace, an iconic Los Angeles-based rink and hangout spot of the late ‘70s and ‘80s created by Ian “Flipper” Ross. Marking the first time since 1940 that The Rink is offering roller skating, show off your best moves for the mass of tourists looking into the sunken plaza then reward your efforts with a drink at the nearby Pebble Bar before hopping over to all of the other best new bars in NYC.
Cost: Tickets from $12

The Joy of Sake
The Joy of Sake

Thursday, August 4 from 6:30 pm–9:30 pm
Chelsea
After a two-year pause due to the pandemic, this celebration centered around all things sake returns to the Big Apple. Marking its 17th anniversary, The Joy of Sake is held at the Metropolitan Pavilion and features nearly 600 kinds of sake from Japan. While we all know the sneaky creep up of tipsy-to-full inebriation that any unlimited alcohol tasting can encourage, there’s complimentary bites to help out from lauded local eateries like Hot Fried Chicken from Momofuku Ssäm Bar; Yukhew (Beef Tartare) from Insa; and Yellowtail Poke from Lobster Club.
Cost: Tickets at $110 per person

Veselka
Veselka | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Throughout summer
Citywide
Sure, we have the best pizza and bagels in the world, but those are hardly the only iconic dishes in our food-obsessed city. Plan a day this spring to taste some of NYC’s other famed eats and it’ll make you fall in love with living here all over again. While it’s impossible to list them all, here are a few of our favorites to get you started: a towering pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen; soul food at Sylvia’s; dim sum at Nom Wah Tea Parlor; steak at Peter Luger’s; cheesecake at Junior’s; hot dogs at Gray’s Papaya; cookies from Levain Bakery; a cheeseburger at J.G. Melon; a pierogi brunch at Veselka; and more.
Cost: Varies

Summit One Vanderbilt
Summit One Vanderbilt | Photo courtesy of SL Green

Remember why you love NYC from its many observation decks

Throughout summer
Multiple locations
With new skyscrapers popping up all over, there has never been a better time to explore our city’s wonderful collection of sky-high observation decks. What should be on your punch list? The Empire State Building, of course, but we also recommend One World Observatory (the tallest building in NYC), Edge (the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere), and Top of the Rock for Midtown’s most spectacular views. Diehard view seekers might want to pick up a New York CityPASS C3, which offers access to all but One World Observatory on a single ticket. Also check out the Big Apple’s most recent addition, Summit One Vanderbilt, which features glass floors, immersive exhibits, and multiple cocktail bars.
Cost: Varies

Russ & Daughters
Russ & Daughters

Throughout summer
Citywide
Remind yourself of NYC’s supremacy with dough on a whirlwind tour of bagels. Eat your weight in lox, schmear, and poppy seeds with Tompkins Square Bagels, Russ & Daughters, Black Seed Bagels, and newer epot’s like Edith’s. Moreover, this will also come in handy whenever that inevitable “best bagel spot” debate arises (because trust us, it eventually will), so think of this as a crucial culinary lesson taken in preparation.
Cost: Varies

Staten Island Ferry
Staten Island Ferry | John Penney/Shutterstock

Throughout summer
St. George/Financial District
There are few pleasures greater than hopping on a boat for a spin between the boroughs. And while that may seem like a fancy pastime, never overlook The Staten Island Ferry, which is free and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The 25-minute ride boasts incredible views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and Manhattan’s glittering skyline. Oh, and did we mention they serve beer on board?
Cost: Free

Central Park
Central Park | EarthScape ImageGraphy/Shutterstock

Throughout summer
Citywide
While the city’s parks can sometimes be packed on weekends, head to the road less traveled for some more fresh air: an off-hours (in the middle of the weekday? early in the morning?) hike. With plenty of spacious options in every borough, our lesser-known parks have miles and miles of hiking trails for some serenity from our city sidewalks. Pick a path in your local park, layer up, leave the headphones off for the chorus of nature, and get some crisp spring air in your lungs.
Cost: Free

New York City skyline
New York City skyline | mapman/Shutterstock

Throughout summer
Citywide
As crucial havens especially amid spikes in COVID-19 cases across the city, NYC boasts some pretty sweet riverside parks. When in need of a change from non-existent views and stale air in your apartment, remind yourself of the city’s awesomeness with a stroll that has waterfront panoramas. Pack your favorite bites, grab a crew, and take in the natural beauty along either the Hudson and East Rivers from Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively.
Cost: Free

TTstudio/Shutterstock

Throughout summer
City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge Park
Cars aren’t the only ones who can enjoy the Brooklyn Bridge. This iconic NYC landmark has long been one the city's most popular destinations for anyone in need of fresh air and looking to cross over the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan. To take in the blooming weather, this spring, treat yourself to a scoop (or two) of ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory as your starting point in Brooklyn, then reward yourself once crossing over into Manhattan with a grand meal from award-winning chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud’s gorgeous new homage to Lyon called Le Gratin. As you turn back around for your return trip over the bridge, make sure to have your camera handy to capture more skyline and the once-in-a-lifetime views.
Cost: Free to cross; food and drink prices vary

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Izzy Baskette is a Staff Writer for Thrillist New York. Find her on Instagram.
Juliet Izon is a Thrillist contributor.
Rachel Pelz lives and writes in Brooklyn.