New York City is nicknamed the “city that never sleeps" for a reason. There's just so much to see and do that it doesn't seem right to waste any time snoozing. That's never more true than in the summertime, when warm days and mild evenings usher in a whole new menu of outdoor options to supplement NYC's year-round indoor attractions. Indeed, you can spend almost all of your time outdoors during a summer visit. Well, except when you must sleep.
A superb way to begin any visit to NYC is to see it from above — because it's hard to get the big picture in the Big Apple from the skyscraper canyons of the sidewalks. Two of the best bird's-eye views are from two of its most famous landmarks, one old and one new.
Ferries to the Statue of Liberty National Monument bring you to the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration and Liberty Island, where a panoramic view awaits atop 162 stairs leading to the 130-year-old “Lady Liberty's" crown. You can climb even higher at One World Trade Center, aka the Freedom Tower, the Western Hemisphere's tallest building. From its One World Observatory, which opened in 2015 and boasts viewing spaces and restaurants on floors 100 to 102, the views are breathtaking.
On- and Off-Broadway live theater is part of what makes NYC a world-class city. But the balmy evenings of summer bring additional entertainment to New York — and unlike Broadway plays, much of it is free or low cost. Performances of all kinds fill city parks during SummerStage through September, including Central Park concerts by the Go-Go's, Phillip Phillips and Matt Nathanson. Also taking place in Central Park are Shakespeare in the Park performances of Troilus and Cressida through August 14, and free outdoor movies during the Central Park Conservancy Film Festival from August 24 to 27 — just one of 25 free outdoor movie series playing in NYC this summer.
You may want to take a break from the sun on warm afternoons and duck into an air-conditioned museum. And it's no surprise that NYC's museums are among the best in the world. Two blocks from the Freedom Tower, you can visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which opened in 2014. “Hope at Ground Zero" (through May 2017) is an exhibition of photos showing the weeks of rescue work following 9/11. The Whitney Museum of American Art moved into its nine-story, Renzo Piano-designed building in 2015. A third recent addition to the Lower Manhattan museum landscape is the National Museum of Mathematics, where the floor numbers are mathematically correct (Floor 0 and Floor 1). Also new is the National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island, which opened in 2015.
That doesn't mean you should neglect NYC's more established museums. The American Museum of Natural History along Central Park, of Night at the Museum fame, dates back to 1869. Two dinosaur exhibitions are featured for the rest of the year. The massive Metropolitan Museum of Art is another must-see, and its newest addition, the Met Breuer, opened in March, adding five more floors of modern art to admire.
Enjoying a meal, a bottle of wine or a pitcher of beer outdoors with friends or family on a warm summer day is a memorable way to spend time in the city. After all of the exploring, you'll eventually need to rest your feet . Many NYC restaurants, cafés, taverns and beer gardens offer more outdoor than indoor seating during the summer.
Alfresco dining overlooking NYC's two great rivers is a romantic option. Riverpark (farm-to-table fine dining) offers views of the East River, while you can choose among the Pier i Café (casual dining on a pier), Grand Banks (an oyster bar aboard a wooden schooner) and the newly opened Fish Bar (on a 160-foot yacht) for views of the Hudson River. While in Central Park, consider dining at the storied Tavern on the Green or the Loeb Boathouse, where you can also rent a rowboat. The Lower East Side is bustling with beer gardens like Loreley, Royale and Zum Schneider — and not to be outdone, the West Side serves up beer gardens and alfresco dining at spots like Santina, Cookshop, the Standard Biergarten and Untitled at the Whitney. The restaurant you choose may even be one of the hundreds that are part of NYC Restaurant Week (through Aug. 19), which lets you enjoy three-course prix-fixe meals at greatly reduced prices.
Fabulous festivals and celebrated sporting events
You can find a festival almost every weekend in NYC. Many celebrate the city's multicultural diversity, such as the inaugural Harlem/Havana Music & Cultural Festival (August 15–21) and the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival (August 6–7) featuring dragon-boat races, lion dances and martial arts demonstrations in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. Also in Flushing Meadows (August 29–September 11) is the U.S. Open, America's most prestigious tennis tournament, where Roger Federer and Serena Williams are household names. Then there's the New York International Fringe Festival (Aug. 12–28), a juried multi-arts potpourri with 200 alternative dance, theater and performance art companies delivering 1,100 performances throughout Lower Manhattan.
Central Park is a colorful mass of humanity on summer weekends, with the six-mile Park Drive loop closed to traffic each weekday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. — and the entire weekend from 7 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Monday . During those times, “the loop" is taken over by a river of walkers, runners, skaters and cyclists — young, old, locals and tourists. Thousands more follow the multiuse paths that hug the Hudson and East rivers as they encircle most of Manhattan. Whether in the park or on the waterfront, you'll pass many recognizable landmarks and may see more people in an hour than you do in a week back home.
Besides seeing the sights in NYC and riding rental bikes through Central Park or across the waterfront, families can head to historic Governors Island park, which is partially a national monument. Just completed on the island in July: “The Hills," four man-made grassy slopes that rise to 70 feet above the East River for dramatic views of New York Harbor and the city skyline. Pack a picnic!
Of course, there's always Coney Island, which also has a rich history. The 5,000-seat Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk opened in June, with 17 concerts already scheduled for August. Kids and adult Trekkies will also like the new Star Trek Starfleet Academy Experience (July 9–October 31) at NYC's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.