Hot town, Summer in the city, Back of my neck gettin’ dirty and gritty ... For many New Yorkers, the words of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s classic ring all too true as summer sends the mercury soaring across Manhattan, and residents flee in droves to the cooler climes of Long Island, the Adirondacks and the Hamptons. But while pounding New York’s pavements at the height of midsummer might not seem the obvious recreational choice, the city has some surprising balmy charms.

The key to keeping cool in summertime New York City is to forego midtown Manhattan, the Big Apple’s 'core,' which is bursting with sightseeing buses and camera-clicking hordes from the Fourth of July to Labor Day. The summer months see Times Square overrun by visitors scrambling for their 'I Heart NYC' t-shirt and Yankees cap, while the Empire State Building's elevator line can, through the heated haze, seem to extend as far horizontally as the iconic building stretches for the skies. Instead, pick any point on the compass and strike out uptown, downtown, cross-town or over a bridge to find an altogether cooler slice of city.

Bow Bridge stretches across Central Park Lake on a summer day; ways to enjoy New York City in the summer
Central Park is at its best in the summer © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

Shady Uptown escapes

To first explore the city’s northern reaches, take a stroll through Central Park’s astoundingly uncrowded avenues, from Columbus Circle all the way up to Central Park North. Pause for a swim at the glorious outdoor Lasker Pool (between 108th and 109th Streets), then catch one of the myriad free concerts – from Philharmonic to children’s jazz to dub reggae – that grace the summer calendar. Plant your picnic blanket among the lunching office workers on the Great Lawn, or swap people-watching for bird-watching along The Ramble, 38 cool acres of wooded paths and streams. Heading west from the park, pick up afternoon treats at New York's iconic Zabar’s food market, and later, as dusk unfolds, meander the serene firefly-flecked Riverside Park amid the Upper West Side’s manifold joggers, strollers and dog owners, to the stunning outdoor 79th Street Boat Basin Cafe.

Exterior shot of Big Gay Ice Cream Shop in New York City, with a rainbow cone and a unicorn painted on the facade; ways to enjoy New York City in the summer
Indulge in a cool treat on a hot day © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

Summer fun along the Hudson

Meanwhile, further south along the Hudson are the shady, tree-lined streets of the West and Greenwich villages. Fill up on organic blueberries and heirloom tomatoes at the Union Square Greenmarket, then wander past the students and chess players in Washington Square Park to linger over cappuccinos in an old-fashioned Italian pavement cafe on Bleecker Street. Top off the afternoon with a Salty Pimp cone (soft serve covered in chocolate and dulce de leche) at Big Gay Ice Cream. As the sun sets slowly over Hoboken, make for the Hudson River Park, where classics such as The Wizard of Oz are screened alfresco beneath the stars, and three water-themed playgrounds provide the perfect antidote to childhood (and parental) meltdowns.

Keeping it cool in the East Village

East across town, the streets and squares of the East Village offer magnificent boutique browsing, well away from the chain-store crowds of Broadway. Peruse the rare cheeses and charcuteries of the historic Essex Street Market, select a smoothie (or a cake ball) at Tra-La-La Juice Bar, and rediscover your inner child at Economy Candy on Rivington Street, where retro delights such as Cherry Lips and Pixie Sticks abound. Eat your treats outdoors at the Sara D. Roosevelt Park, where locals congregate to shoot hoops and splash in water fountains. If you’re still feeling the heat, you may also want to slip into indie movie house Metrograph, for a foreign film and some blessed air conditioning.

Seeking breezes and water views

Heading south, forgo the tourist boat tours to Liberty Island and instead climb aboard the Staten Island Ferry, alongside the commuters, for a terrific view – free of charge – of Ellis Island, Lower Manhattan and Lady Liberty herself. Next, head across the Brooklyn Bridge to stroll the deliciously breezy Brooklyn Heights Promenade, catch an outdoor Shakespeare performance in Brooklyn’s vast green Prospect Park, and scoop up a butter pecan sundae at the waterfront Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, housed in a 1920s fireboat house.

The wonder wheel Ferris Wheel is lit up over Coney Island amusement park in New York at night; ways to enjoy New York City in the summer
Wander the boardwalk and enjoy the magic of Coney Island © lazyllama / shutterstock

Classic summer fun on Coney Island

Finally, take the N-Train right out to Coney Island – the epitome of an old-fashioned seaside summer – to dip your toes in the great gray Atlantic Ocean. While you’re there you can chow down on knishes, Nathan’s famous hot dogs and funnel cake, ride the historic Cyclone rollercoaster and Wonder Wheel Ferris wheel, and leave every trace of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s hot city summer far, far behind.

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This article was originally published in 2010. It was updated in June 2019.

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