The unofficial start of summer is almost here, and that means it’s time for Memorial Day weekend getaways. As the unofficial launch of the summer season, Memorial Day weekend is typically filled with activities that mark the end of spring and the beginning of warm weather. From picnics to parades, there are plenty of ways to celebrate in New York City. However, since it’s a three-day weekend, many events are either ticketed or require an entrance fee. That said, there are still plenty of free or low-cost options for a memorable day trip. Whether you’re traveling with kids or want a more low-key outing with friends, here are some of the best places to go for Memorial Day weekend in NYC:
New York Aquarium
For a low-key visit to the waterfront, check out the New York Aquarium on the Upper West Side. It has the added benefit of being walk-friendly from most Midtown hotels. The aquarium reopened in the fall of 2018 after a two-year, $95-million renovation that added a new entrance, a larger Ocean Explorer wing, new water-cleaning and filtration systems, and a new underwater near-shore habitat. The price of admission also includes access to the New York Bar and Grill, which has indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the Hudson River. The Aquarium is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. every day except for Mondays. Adult tickets cost $25, and kids ages 2-12 are $19. The aquarium boasts several new exhibits, including the Caribbean Reef, the River Reef, and the Waterside Seashore, which includes a touch tank. There are also new sea turtles that visitors can watch swim, as well as penguins, penguin chicks, and red pandas. The aquarium also has a daily feed of sea lions to keep visitors entertained. Along with new exhibits, there are also new public programs, including behind-the-scenes tours for $40 for adults and $20 for kids.
Top of the Rock
At the top of the list for most visitors is Top of the Rock, the observation deck on the 72nd floor of the Rockefeller Center. The deck reopened in April after a three-month renovation. From the new R-branded gift shop to the redesigned terraces, the views remain just as dazzling as before. Admission is $34 for adults, but children under 12 are free when accompanied by an adult. If you’re looking for a less crowded experience, try visiting on a weekday, as the deck is always quieter on weekdays. During the summer months, there are also free weekend evenings, as well as free entry to the observation deck on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.
Central Park Sightseeing Tours
Central Park is a great place to spend the day, especially during the warm summer months. There are plenty of activities to do with kids — including the Central Park Carousel, the Central Park Zoo, and the Central Park Children’s Zoo, or just exploring the Central Park on foot or on a bike. For a more structured experience, consider taking a sightseeing tour by bus, car, or Segway. Sightseeing tours are offered year-round, and many of them are particularly well-suited for families with young children. Most of the tours depart from the Upper West Side or Midtown, making them easy to reach from most hotels. Tours are about two hours long and cost $45 for adults and $25 for kids. Many of the tours include admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but be sure to check before purchasing a ticket.
Memorial Day Ceremony and Concert
Every year, the city hosts a free Memorial Day ceremony at the 9/11 Tribute Museum. The ceremony includes a procession of veterans and first responders, as well as a performance by the New York Philharmonic. There are also talks by renowned authors, including Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who made headlines during the 2016 presidential election. The museum is open from 10 a.m.-to 6 p.m. all weekend long. The museum is located at the western end of the 9/11 Memorial and has two galleries dedicated to exploring the impact of the attacks. The first gallery talks about the history of the attacks, while the second gallery offers a wider view of the impact of 9/11 around the world. The museum also hosts rotating exhibitions throughout the year.
Museum of Modern Art Free Days
Another option for those looking for a cultural excursion is the Museum of Modern Art. The building is just steps from the subway — which means it’s easy to get to from most Midtown hotels. There are several affordable ways to visit the Museum of Modern Art, including their free admission weekend every first Saturday of the month. The other free admission days are June 9 (National Medal of Arts Day), September 8 (National Hispanic Cultural Day), and November 11 (Veterans Day). There are also other discounts available to visitors, including New York City public transportation discounts and New York City Department of Education student ID discounts. There are also discounts available to seniors, members of the military, and children under 16. For more information, visit the MoMA website.
Food Festivals in Chinatown
Chinatown is always a fun place to explore, but it’s even more colorful in the spring and summer months. July is one of the busiest months in Chinatown, as it hosts a number of food festivals and celebrations. You can enjoy everything from duck-fat fries to NYC-themed sweets at the various festivals. There are also plenty of cultural events for families along the way. The two biggest festivals are the Lunar New Year celebration and the Chinatown Food and Culture Festival. The Lunar New Year celebration takes place over several weekends between February and March, but its biggest celebration takes place on the second weekend in March. The Chinatown Food and Culture Festival takes place in July and includes events like the Taste of Chinatown, the Chinatown Mid-Autumn Festival, and the Chinatown Street Festival.
Liberty Weekend: Celebrating Independence Day in NYC
Another great summer event happening in New York City is Liberty Weekend, a two-day festival celebrating the Fourth of July. The festival is held in various locations around NYC, including Governors Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Battery Park. There are also a number of events happening near these locations, such as concerts at the Brooklyn Philharmonic and an art exhibition at the New York Public Library. The festival itself starts on the evening of July 3 with a fireworks display at the Hudson River. The following day, there are a number of events planned, including the New York Philharmonic’s Fourth of July celebration, the NYC Sinfonietta Fourth of July Concert, and a Fourth of July reading at the New York Public Library, and fireworks display at Battery Park.
These are just some of the best places to go for Memorial Day weekend in NYC. Whether you’re traveling with kids or want a more low-key outing with friends, there are plenty of options available. From a free ceremony to an art exhibition, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the city during the long weekend. With these activities, you’ll make the most of your trip and experience everything that New York City has to offer.