Editor's note: Due to remaining closures and precautions in New York City, most Memorial Day events have been canceled, and many businesses related to the arts and entertainment will not be open for Memorial Day this year.
Each spring New York City comes alive during the last weekend in May. With budding trees, green parks, and warm temperatures, both New Yorkers and visitors revel in the unofficial start to summer. The long Memorial Day weekend makes for a great time to visit the city before the summer crowds appear. And in the city that never sleeps, there are plenty of free things to do—perfect for families on a budget.
During your stay, pay homage to our servicemen and women, enjoy an outdoor concert, run wild on Governor's Island, immerse yourself in New York City's art and culture scene, and more.
New York City visitors can experience the true meaning of Memorial Day by attending the Intrepid Museum's Fleet Week. This free annual celebration honors U.S. Military servicemen and women with a jam-packed lineup of presentations, activities, and concerts.
Attendees of the free event can take a guided tour of the ship, meet NASA astronauts, and watch a patriotic Memorial Day commemoration ceremony that includes the unfurling of a 100-foot American flag, the playing of Taps, a ceremonial wreath laying, and a three-volley rifle salute. You can also attend the popular Battle of the Big Bands on the flight deck of the military ship.
Snag a seat (tickets are distributed on a first-come, first served basis) for a free annual hour-long concert performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Held at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine—a spectacle in itself— this remarkable concert offers a spiritual way to remember those who lost their lives while serving our country.
Tickets for are traditionally distributed starting at 6 p.m. on the day of the performance. But if you miss will call, you can listen to the audio simulcast on the adjacent Pulpit Green.
Open from May through October, Governors Island, a 43-acre-park offers something for everyone in the family. The island is accessed easily by ferries from both Brooklyn and Manhattan. While there visitors can ride bikes, take in arts and cultural exhibits, swing in the hammock zone, and explore the castle and fort. Each year, the island hosts different Memorial Day activities like music festivals and a family fun day.
The Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit showcases the works of New York metropolitan area artisans as well as those from around the globe. This twice-a-year sidewalk show happens every Memorial Day weekend and the following weekend. A stroll down the streets of Greenwich Village brings you contemporary paintings, ceramics, jewelry, pottery and more. It's located on University Place between 13th Street and Washington Square Park.
Editor's note: This year, the Lower East Side Festival of the Arts will be held virtually. Streaming begins on Friday, May 22 at 6 p.m. and ends Sunday, May 24 at 11:59 p.m.
The Theater for the New City presents a free lineup of theater, music, dance, comedy, film, and art for three days during the holiday weekend. The Lower East Side Festival of the Arts highlights Lower East Side and East Village performers, both past and present.
Live showings include poetry readings, acting and dance performances, and cabarets. On Saturday, a street fair held on East 10th Street includes food and goods sold by local merchants interspersed with performances by poets and musicians. Catch the children's program performed by local students and the film festival which runs into the evening on Saturday.
While the New York metro area hosts regional weekend parades, the Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade and the Little-Neck Douglaston Memorial Day Parade are among the best. And with one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, you may be able to attend them both (traffic dependent).
In Brooklyn enjoy bagpipe and marching bands while honoring the United Military Veterans of Kings County's Grand Marshall and Deputy Grand Marshals. The parade route commences in a memorial on Fourth Avenue.
In Douglaston men and women in uniform march alongside bands, town officials pick the winner of the art and poetry-essay contest, and complimentary food and beverages are served in the Divine Wisdom Catholic Academy schoolyard.
If you get to New York early, take advantage of Bryant Park's free yoga classes on Thursday evenings. The class will help you to relax and unwind before the weekend festivities begin. Get your fitness on with a one-hour yoga class for all levels, while taking the time to dedicate your practice to those who have served.
The Staten Island Ferry, a New York historical icon, was used to transport people from Manhattan to its boroughs long before bridges were built. Now the free ferry service shuttles commuters and visitors back and forth between Staten Island and Manhattan.
While aboard you will have the perfect view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, as well as the city's skyscrapers and bridges. Schedule your trip wisely—during rush hour ferries are packed. Weekend trips can be much more leisurely with three commuter-free boats operating all weekend long.
A trip to the beach on Memorial Day weekend will have you breathing salt air, free of the Fourth-of-July crowd scene. In New York City you can hop public transit to Rockaway Beach to enjoy surfing (bring your board), sunbathing, and swimming (if you're the cold-hardy type).
Coney Island, with its boardwalk and amusement park, might be a little more crowded. But if the weather goes south you can always hop into the nearby New York Aquarium or MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team.
Central Parks' free tours aren't your run-of-the-mill walks through the park. Choose from guided bird tours of the North Woods, an hour-long Southern Welcome Tour, and a Heart of the Park Tour that meets near the zoo. Bird lovers will love the bird tour where you learn to identify a few of Central Park's 270 species of wild migrating birds.
The Welcome Tour takes you on a jaunt past the Pond, the Wollman Rinck, and the Chess and Checkers House. Check out Cherry Hill, the Loeb Boathouse, and a plethora of scenic, sculptural, and architectural elements by embarking on the Heart of the Park Tour.
In lower Manhattan, the 9/11 Memorial sits in the exact spot of the fallen towers. This intricate work of art—complete with two enormous waterfalls and a reflecting pool—will take your breath away.
The 16-acre complex also boasts over 400 trees that, over Memorial Day weekend, lend the promise of spring with their budding green leaves. Take a walk around this contemplative space during the holiday weekend to pay respect to those who perished and their surviving families.
Stroll Through a Museum
New York City is home to some of the best museums in the world—and many offer free admission on certain days of the week. Fans of movies will adore the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, with no admission charge Friday night from 4:00–8:00 p.m, while art lovers can explore emerging talents at the Museum of Modern Art for free each Friday evening.
A great day trip is heading north to the Bronx, explore the culinary scene and swing by The Bronx Museum of the Arts, where there is no charge ever for entry.
No reservations are required to join urban historians Peter Laskowich and Madeleine Levi on a 90-minute walking tour of the Grand Central neighborhood. Participants get an overview of historic buildings and sites like Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, and Pershing Square while learning details about the architecture and origins of each location.
Tours are every Friday at 12:30 pm. Meet the guides in the atrium at 120 Park Avenue, directly across from Grand Central Terminal. Check the tour on the website.
Opened in 2009, the High Line is a public park built atop the defunct remains of old train tracks. The 1.45-mile-long path stretches from the Hudson Yards to the top edge of Chelsea and showcases installation art, tons of greenery, and amazing views from the raised platform above the streets below.
For the best views of Manhattan, you actually need to leave the island. The sprawling Brooklyn Bridge Park has a stunning backdrop of the city skyline and tons of grassy areas to plop down for a picnic and enjoy the view. If you are bringing the kids along, don't miss the playground area with swings, ropes, and sandboxes—but best of all is the Water Lab at Pier 6 where jets of cool mists will help them beat the heat.
For over 25 years the Red Hook Fest has welcomed guests to the riverfront of Brooklyn for free barbecue, a dance party, and live performances by local musicians. There are also scavenger hunts, a kids play area, and a shopping section featuring the creations of local artisans. A short walk away is the landing where anyone can grab a free kayak and paddle along the harbor.
The New York Public Library at Bryant Park one of the most iconic buildings in the city—after grabbing a photo with Patience and Fortitude, the pair of majestic lion statues out front, head inside to marvel at the design and architecture.
Officially dubbed the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, this Beaux-Arts landmark has free tours of the facilities and hosts exhibitions, performances, and regular talks by noted literary wordsmiths in the beautiful event hall.