Free Summer Activities in Boston and New York

When it comes to warm-weather fun, spending a lot of money does not have to be part of the equation.
free summer activities

A variety of free summer activities are scheduled in Boston and New York City in the next few months, each offering a surefire good time that won’t hurt your wallet. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of options that don’t cost a dime.

Here are a few highlights in each of the Northeast’s two largest cities.

Free Summer Activities in Boston

Boston Harborfest

Billed as one of the country’s largest Fourth of July festivals, Boston Harborfest will celebrate its 40th year with four days of free summer activities, beginning July 1. The long weekend kicks off with opening ceremonies in Downtown Crossing. This year’s schedule has everything from live music and a classic car show to a chowder tasting and historic re-enactments, including a costumed interpreter performing a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence at the Old State House on Independence Day. While some events do require an entry fee, many of Harbofest’s highlights are free.

Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular

Following a three-year hiatus, the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular is back! The Boston Pops will continue the beloved tradition of free music and fireworks at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade on July 4, from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Get your seat early. The event is massively popular and it’s easy to see why. What other occasion do you have to celebrate the most patriotic day of the year along a scenic river in one of the nation’s most historic cities?

Concerts in the Courtyard, Boston Public Library

Combine an awesome musical performance with a beautiful setting, and you’ve got a memorable event. Boston’s Central Library, in Copley Square, will host free, one-hour concerts Fridays and Wednesday throughout the summer in its courtyard. Jazz, classical and folk are just some of the genres on tap.

Lowell Folk Festival

A bit outside Boston, but worth the trip. The 2022 Lowell Folk Festival takes place from July 29-31 and will feature over 20 performers on stages throughout downtown Lowell. Check out music and food from around the world, crafts and a family fun area with street performers, hands-on activities, face painting and other free summer activities.

Shakespeare on the Common

The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company returns to Boston Common this summer with “Much Ado About Nothing.” Performances will be held every night at 8 p.m. from July 20 through Aug. 7. Bring a blanket/chairs and snacks.

 

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Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival

Taking place on Revere Beach from July 22-24, this festival is a perfect summer outing. Come and gawk at incredible and gigantic sculptures made entirely of sand. This year’s theme is “Wonders of the World.”

Payson Park Kiddie Concerts

If you are looking for free summer activities for kids in Boston, Payson Park has children’s concerts on Friday mornings, July 8-29. The kids get to play outside while listening to the stylings of kiddie rockers like Vanessa Trien & the Jumping Monkeys and Matt Heaton & the Outside Toys. On rainy days, shows are played at Belmont Public Library.

Free Summer Activities in New York City

River to River Festival

Through June 26, the annual River to River Festival, presented by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, most certainly has something you’ll enjoy. Festivities include performances such as dance, music, theater and the visual arts at sites across Lower Manhattan and Governor’s Island.

Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks

It wouldn’t be Independence Day in New York without this annual, humongous fireworks show – a highlight of the many free summer activities in New York. More than 3 million people come from far and wide to see the spectacle. Check out the barge map for the best places to view the show.

Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest

You haven’t seen it all until you’ve witnessed this annual showdown, arguably the best-known event in the world of competitive eating. Crowds gather at the flagship Nathan’s Famous on Coney Island every Independence Day to see who can eat the most hot dogs in 10 minutes. The festivities begin at 10 a.m. with music and dance performances. The women’s competition begins at 11 a.m., followed by the men’s competition at 12:30 p.m. Will 14-time champ Joey Chestnut beat his record of 76 hot dogs and buns?

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Free Summer Movies

Battling a tough case of the Mondays? Head over to Bryant Park for Movie Nights on the lawn. 10 screenings will be shown this summer through Aug. 15. The lawn opens at 5 p.m. for picnicking and films begin at 8 p.m.

Movies With a View, at Brooklyn Bridge Park, is another free film option, plus food and music to round out your night. Movies are shown every Thursday evening from July 7 through Aug. 25 on the Pier 1 Harbor View Lawn. Food vendors open and live music starts at 5:00 p.m., the lawn opens at 6:00 p.m. and movies begin at sundown.

Lincoln Center Summer for the City

Lincoln Center is celebrating the return of togetherness in a big way. Enjoy 300+ free events and select choose-what-you-pay performances through Aug. 14. Dance the night away under a 10-foot disco ball, participate in family workshops, enjoy free comedy and jazz, and much more!

SummerStage

Residents and visitors alike will enjoy another season of free concerts around the city thanks to SummerStage. Billed as the city’s largest free outdoor performing arts festival, and a great example of free summer activities in New York, the annual event includes more than 90 free and benefit shows in Central Park and twelve neighborhood parks throughout the five boroughs. Genres performed throughout the summer will include indie rock, hip hop, jazz, R&B, salsa, bhangra and opera in different languages. In addition, poetry and contemporary dance are also scheduled.

The Bronx Zoo

Every Wednesday at the Bronx Zoo is free admission day (advanced timed tickets required). The Bronx Zoo is one of the greatest zoos in America, with an intense focus on conservation and education, and it’s one of the all-time best summer activities for kids in New York. Can’t make it on a Wednesday? Save up to 20%  when you purchase tickets in advance online with AAA.

Recommend your favorite free summer activities in Boston and New York City in the comments below. 

This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated. 

Top photo: Movies on the Bryant Park lawn. (batuhanozdel / Editorial RF / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus)

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