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Summer’s the time in New York City to get out of your hotel room, out onto the streets and into the parks and other outdoor venues to enjoy the sights and hear the sounds of the countless concerts and festivals that seem to be taking place in every corner of the Big Apple.
Here’s a short list of summertime fests where the sound is as big as the city. And better yet (most of) the fests are free!
Every Friday morning through late August and early September CityPASS holders on their way to Top of the Rock have the added bonus of a free music concert outside of Rockefeller Center courtesy of The Today Show who hosts the biggest acts both nationally and internationally. Bonus: You might end up on television! Even better: It’s free!
Summergarden: New Music for New York is held Sundays in July. In keeping with MoMA’s history of presenting jazz and classical music in the Sculpture Garden, this year’s concert series once again welcomes the participation of The Juilliard School and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Entitled “New Music for New York,” the series comprises four evenings of adventurous contemporary music, with premieres each night. Gate opens at 7:00 p.m.; concerts begin at 8 p.m. Free with MoMA admission.
New York’s most beloved playground, Central Park, turns into a full-blown concert venue every summer. SummerStage is the site for top-notch musical acts—from Jennifer Lopez to Joan Baez—as well as more high-minded opera and theatrical events and numerous dance and spoken word performances throughout the summer. Some of the shows are free, while others will require tickets. Visit the SummerStage calendar for a full schedule of shows and events.
NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC AND METROPOLITAN OPERA IN THE PARKS
If it's July then that means that both The New York Philharmonic (July 10-16) and The Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series (July 16-August 1) will be performing concerts in the parks of all five of New York boroughs (the one on Staten Island will take place inside). All concerts are free.
This bustling New York artistic hive busts opens it doors every summer for “Lincoln Center Out of Doors.” For three weeks during July and August the plazas of Lincoln Center hosts at least three dozen different events featuring the best in music, dance and performance art as well as events that are geared toward families. And it’s free!
RANDALLS ISLAND PARK
One of the hottest tickets of the summer is Electric Zoo at Randalls Island Park floating on the East River. This “zoo” features the latest stars in the world of Euro-flavored dance music and is three days of nothing but house, electronic and techno music. Not for everybody but the kids will eat it up!
I grew up in New England, and some of my best childhood memories are from summer vacations by the shore: playing on sandy beaches, having clambakes at sunset, catching fireflies at twilight, taking hikes through the woods, picnicking in grassy fields, and taking ferry boat rides across the harbor.
While I’ll never get those precious sun-drenched childhood days back (don’t we all wish we could!), I can help my own kids create seashore memories like these on a day trip or camping trip to the Boston Harbor Islands, a group of islands and peninsulas just off the coast of Massachusetts. Out of 34 islands, 12 (Georges, Spectacle, Lovells, Bumpkin, Grape, Peddocks, Thompson, Little Brewster, Deer, World’s End, Webb Memorial, and Nut Island) are open to the public and, combined, offer summertime activities, outdoor recreation, history, arts, picnicking, camping and more, with the islands’ incomparable view of the Boston skyline providing the backdrop for our summer fun.
Although several of the recreation areas – Deer, Nut, World’s End and Webb Memorial – are accessible by car, first-time visitors should plan to take the ferry from Boston (Long Wharf-North) to one of the two “hub” islands, Georges Island and Spectacle Island. At Georges, the most popular of the islands, there are two essential stops: its visitor center, where you can enjoy seafood at the Snack Shack and purchase books and gifts at the gift shop; and Fort Warren, a Civil-War era fort that housed Confederate soldiers and political prisoners during the war. Park ranger-guided tours are free, as is the museum dedicated to the fort’s role in history; also keep a lookout for the Lady in Black, a ghost that reputedly haunts the fort’s corridors and arches. The grassy areas on Georges are ideal for picnicking, with a wonderful view of the other islands and the Boston skyline.
Like Georges, Spectacle Island is an excellent jumping-off point for your island adventures, with ferries that travel directly from Boston and a “green” visitor center with a snack shack and exhibits on the history of the islands. Spectacle also has a lifeguard-supervised beach for a lazy afternoon of sun and sand, as well as hiking trails that take you up the tallest hill on the islands for an unparalleled view at the top. Spectacle’s also a great place to end your day trip, with sunset clambakes on Thursday and Friday evenings in the summer before hopping the ferry back to the mainland.
Sea Kayaking and Camping
Feeling adventurous? The islands are a popular destination for boating and sea kayaking. While most boats found in the area are privately owned, visitors can take a sea kayaking tour with a certified kayak trip leader. These tours are limited to five kayakers per guide; other restrictions apply, so visit Boston Harbor Islands' website for details.
Boston Harbor National Islands is also a favorite destination for campers; several of its islands – Lovells, Bumpkin, Grape and Peddocks – offer campsites. (If you’re less interested in “roughing it” than you are in having running water, you should opt for Peddocks, which offers yurts and a visitor center with fresh water and flushing toilets.)
In addition to getting back to nature in one of the loveliest and most scenic campsites in New England, camping on one of the islands will offer you the opportunity to see Boston from the water at night and at sunrise – surely an experience you’ll never forget. Campsites are reservation-based only, so be sure to visit the website to make arrangements.
Another unforgettable experience is the Boston Light Tour, where you’ll take a three-hour tour by ferry of the harbor, viewing two centuries-old lighthouses from the water (Graves Lighthouse and the Long Island Light), and disembarking at Little Brewster Island to take a tour of the third, and most historic lighthouse, Boston Light. The site of the oldest lighthouse in the United States, you’ll be able to climb Boston Light’s 76 steps and two ladders to access the top of the tower staircase. Along the way, you’ll hear stories of the lighthouse’s rich and compelling role in history: its first construction in 1716, the role it played in the American Revolution and other wars, and tales of the lighthouse keepers, sailors and soldiers who lived and (in some cases) died by its light.
Music, yoga, field trips and more
What’s also wonderful about visiting the Boston Harbor Islands is the way you can customize your experience to reflect your interests. Many activities take place throughout the summer: musical concerts, plays, historic re-enactments, arts and crafts for children, family fitness, kite flying, island yoga, painting and photography field trips, and so much more. The islands’ website provides an extensive calendar of events to help you make the most of your visit. No matter what you choose to do there, you’ll find a hundred different ways to celebrate the joys of summertime, and a hundred different reasons to return and try something new on your next visit.
Want to feel like a “real” New Yorker? Then break out your best walking shoes and hit the street. But where should you go? And what should you do? That’s where a great walking tour guide comes in handy. And one of the best is Garry Zafrani, founder of Manhattan Walking Tour.
A native of Brooklyn, the 60-something Zafrani grew up in New York City and loves every inch of it. That’s why he decided to share his love of his hometown on foot. And that’s why he heads out on a daily basis with a small group of visitors to share the joy of discovering the many sights, sounds, tastes and complex history New York has to offer. CityPASS had a chance to visit with Garry, a man who can really talk the walk when it comes to the Big Apple.
Why should a visitor take a walking tour of New York City?
It is how you get to know a deeper history of New York City. On a bus you see a building and you might get a year and the architects name from the guide before he is on to something else. With a self-guided book about half the time your not even sure you are in the right place. But with a great walking tour guide you find out why Brownstones have so many steps, who lived on what floors, how much one costs in NYC today and what life was like then and now!
What can people expect to see on a walking tour that they might not see otherwise?
Manhattan Walking Tour specializes in finding the stuff not in the books; places where poems were written about the house you’re looking at. Wall Street has a lot of big buildings but somewhere in the middle are several streets that haven't changed much since the 1800s. You won't see that otherwise. And on those streets are some of the best beer and spirits spots in the city. A good guide gives you many pieces of information you might want when you strike out on your own.
How long have you been a tour guide to NYC?
I had 20 years at the Guest Services Desk at a major hotel advising people where to go before I started the Manhattan Walking Tour Company.
You've grown up with the city. How has New York City shaped who you are?
We are a reflection of each other; strong, feisty, resilient and filled with a lot of energy. I am NYC. NYC is me.
How has your city changed in your eyes?
New York is safer and friendlier (don't tell anyone, we like to surprise them) and people seem to be willing to help each other. Also the energy now is filed with a great aura.
Is there anything special that a walking tour person should bring on a tour? Shoes? Snacks? Camera?
Of course you will want to wear good walking shoes and bring a camera. But our tours have 8 people or less so what you really need to bring is your smile because we will be friends by the end of the tour. Most of our tours have stops that include food and NYC is one of the best places to eat in the world. So let us feed you.
What are a few different walking tours of the city that you might take a visitor on?
These are my favorite combos: New York's High Line was ranked as one of the Top Ten places to visit in the whole world last year! Manhattan Walking Tour has seen this brand new park grow from its beginnings as an elevated train line, and we'll tell you the inside stories you can't get anywhere else. The High Line is a great New York story of industry, history, and everyday New Yorkers working to make our city even better. On top of the amazing stories, the High Line is a work of art in itself, with views of the dynamic neighborhoods and cutting-edge architecture around it. Pair the High Line with our Greenwich Village Food Tour, and you'll have your finger on the pulse of New York City and some of the most incredible food in NYC.
Times Square has an iconic stature and fun history. It was shaped from the mid 1800's to the present. Included on the tour are architectural styles (Beaux arts, tenement housing, use of white terracotta, etc.), and all the highlights you see on TV like the New Year's Eve ball drop.
Greenwich Village is my favorite for several reasons. It’s a historic part of town (1640s to 1900) so there are many styles of architecture. There are great places to snack on the tree-lined cozy streets. It has been rich and poor many times so the styles reflect the artist community and affluent aristocratic New Yorker. It answers the question, “how the village has maintained its unique character throughout the years.” The tour is a little over 2 hours, but combined with Times Square about 3.5 hours, and the history spans 300 years for a great overall view of NYC.
Other great walking tours include: Chinatown and Historic Downtown are paired for their Immigrant experience, and the international foundations from which our country started. It’s not just one group, but Dutch, Irish, Chinese, English, Italian, German and Jewish waves, all of which lived in the same houses at different times. The food in Chinatown is world famous. We will help you make a reservation for the 9/11 memorial, since we end a couple of blocks away, for 4:30 pm.
Hell’s Kitchen and Central Park are paired for the way they look at the great social experiment that is NYC, with over 160 languages spoken. Two hundred countries are represented in NYC, and many of those countries have more people here than in their own capitols. This is an amazing food lover’s tour. Our Central Park is the culmination of this great social experiment equalizing rich and poor. With all the food in Hell's Kitchen you will need Central Park just to walk it off.
Do you ever run into celebrities on a walking tour?
The list goes on and on, but I loved when one of those open top Double Decker bus guides started saying over the mic: "Look a true NY star sighting. It's Garry, one of NYC's best handball players and a great tour guide." My whole group looked up in amazement!
If you had to pick one neighborhood in New York to walk around, what would be it?
Way too limiting! The great thing about it is you can go to Korea town for BBQ and later in another place have the best Druze food in the city. You can do Trapeze school on one side of town and then head for great music in another part. It's all only 20 minutes by subway. I love it all. Please don't make me choose!
Anything else people should know about Manhattan Walking Tour?
Our secret Formula is 8 persons or less: Facts. Fun. Food. And we hope that will make us Friends.
Anything special that CityPASS holders should know?
New York CityPass is a great way to see the major attractions, and Manhattan Walking Tour is way to know our NYC soul.
For more information visit manhattanwalkingtour.com
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