Top Things to Do in New York in May

This post is about things to do in NYC in May, including a top 10 list as well as sections on free, family-friendly and nighttime things to do, updated for 2018. See our full listings of pay-what-you-wish walking tours by clicking here, and check our definitive Things to Do in NYC  guide.

Watch our May Weather and Things to Do Video.



Below is our list of the top 10 things to do in May.  If you are considering visiting many of NYC’s top attractions, then you might want to consider a tourist discount pass, which could save you considerable money.  Read our post comparing the different tourist discount passes.  Several bus tour companies, including hop-on-hop-off buses, also offer discounts and deals.

(1) Visit Governors Island 

Slide HillOn May 1st, Governors Island, a small, recreational, vehicle-free island just 7 minutes by ferry from Lower Manhattan, opens for the summer season.  You can rent bikes, kayak for free, picnic, visit the various playgrounds, and try out the longest slide in NYC — three stories high and 57-feet long! Read our post on Governors Island for information on ferry hours, how to get there and what activities are offered. 

Now that Governors Island has completed their project, The Hills, you will have one of the best views of the Statue of Liberty and all of New York Harbor.  

Another great way to see Lady Liberty up close is to take a ride on the FREE Staten Island Ferry, a New York “must-do” activity. 

(2) Fleet Week   May 23-29, 2018

 Fleet Week is a time to celebrate America’s men and women of our forces at sea as they arrive in NYC for a week of fun. You’ll be able to tour all sorts of sea vessels used by the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Many of the activities, such as interactive experiences and educational talks, occur at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. There will be a Parade of Ships that includes a flotilla of visiting vessels and tall ships that cruise along the Hudson River.  For best views, head down to Battery Park to see the harbor and greet the ships.

TIP: If you aren’t here during Fleet Week but want to visit the Intrepid, see our post on how to get discount tickets for an otherwise pricey attraction. 

(3) Attend a Concert

Smoothie Center concert

May’s line-up of arena concerts is outstanding, filled with audience favorites like Billy Joel and Jackson Browne to a display of comedic genius with Steve Martin and Martin Short together on one stage. Here are our picks for the best concerts:

(4) TD Five Boro Bike Tour

Anyone can register to participate in this annual bike ride that takes you through parts of New York City that you might not otherwise visit. The ride is the world’s biggest charitable bike ride, so your registration fee will go towards funding free bike education programs.  May 6, 2018.  Learn more on their website.

If you aren’t up for a 40-mile ride with 30,000 other riders, you might want to take a more relaxing bike tour.

See our post on New York bike tours and rentals to see what’s available. 

(5) Take a Carriage Ride in Central Park

 In May, Central Park’s trees and flowers are blooming and a carriage ride through the park is an unforgettable way to enjoy the beauty of spring. Click here to find out about the best carriage rides in NYC.  We also offer pay-what-you-like walking tours, as well as GPS, enabled audio tours of Central Park, which you could take any time you like.

The park is so large that even if you do take a carriage ride, you may want to revisit the park on foot. Check out our Guide to Things to Do in Central Park

(6) The Annual Ethnic Festival in Harlem  

On May 19, this day-long celebration takes place in East Harlem and showcases Harlem’s unique culture through music, dance, arts and crafts, ethnic cuisine and educational activities for all ages. Festival details can be found on their website.

To find out about things to do in Harlem, see our Harlem Guide which includes a self-guided walking tour. We also offer pay-what-you-wish guided walking tours, and we have a GPS audio tour that will guide you to all the best sights. 

(7) Holi Hai

This traditional Indian festival, which takes place on May 12 from 11 am-6 pm, celebrates the coming of spring on the most colorful way possible – by throwing colored powder all around, including on each other!  The festival is held on Governors Island which is a fun place to visit on any occasion. The festival features musical performances, delicious Indian food, and an afternoon of messy, free fun!

Make sure to wear white because this party gets colorful. Entry is free but it is highly recommended that you register 

(8) Lower East Side Festival of the Arts

LES Festival

This free festival, which takes place between May 25 – 27, showcases dance, film, music, poetry, theater, and visual art at the Theater for the New City. There is an outdoor fair on Saturday with performances and food vendors. There will be indoor activities for youth including plays for kids by kids! This festival is a great sampler of the arts being created on the Lower East Side today.

If you would like to learn more about the Lower East Side history, culture and food you may be interested in on of our Lower East Side tours.

We have a guided food tour or if you prefer, you can take our self-guided tour. In any case, it is not a neighborhood to miss during your visit. 

(9) Memorial Day

Shakespeare in The Park

In addition to parades, commemorations, and events honoring our Armed Services, Memorial Day, Monday, May 28th, marks the beginning of summer in New York City.  Not only do our really nice beaches open up, but many free music performances and film series begin this weekend. So if you are here at the end of May, you are in luck.

Here are just a few great free things to do: See world-famous Coney Island, catch a free concert in Central Park at Summerstage, watch a performance of Shakespeare in the Park. For more things to do, see our extensive New York City Summer Guide

(10) Dance Parade

Dance Parade

Taking place on May 19th, this is one of the most popular and carefree spring events in NYC. Each stretch of the route emphasizes different global music.  After gathering between 22nd and 21st between Park and Fifth Avenue, the Parade will kick off at 1 pm. The parade continues through Union Square down to Eighth Street and Salsa, Tango, and Waltz over to the East Village.  At Astor Place, the parade stops for demonstrations of hula, stilt and break dance then continue along St. Marks Place to Tompkins Square Park where you can join in the free DanceFest.


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Many of the activities included in our Top Ten above can be enjoyed at night as well, for example, you can take a Central Park Carriage Ride at night, or attend a concert. Below are more ways to spend your nights in New York City.

For even more ideas, see our post on Top 10 Things to Do in New York City at Night and our New York Night Tours




Midtown Manhattan Night Tour

Warm and comfortable evenings means nighttime sightseeing is something to consider.  During June, we offer our Midtown Manhattan Night Tour at least 2x every week (Thursdays and Saturdays), though we may offer it more if demand warrants it. 

We also offer a night 911 Memorial and Brooklyn Bridge Night Tour, ghost tours, as well as evening tours of the High Line and Central Park.  See our full page of night tours in NYC for more info on these tours as well as bus and   

Visit a Rooftop Bar 

New York has dozens of rooftop bars of all atmospheres and price ranges. Even if you don’t really want a cocktail or beer, go and order a soda and enjoy the incredible views.  If you are here on May 1st, take advantage of the rooftop bars that have views of the Empire State Building which will be lit with white sparkles in celebration of its birthday! 

Our picks for the best Rooftop Bars

Take a sunset walk over the Brooklyn Bridge 

You can walk over the bridge any time you want but a sunset stroll is especially beautiful. The weather in May is quite comfortable for a night stroll on this historic bridge. Watch the city turn from day to night with an incredible view of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the harbor.

We offer a night tour of the Brooklyn Bridge and 9/11 Memorial several evenings each week.  

You could, of course, also walk the bridge yourself, but we recommend downloading our GPS-enabled audio tour of the bridge.


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Here is just a handful of the numerous free things to do in May in New York City.  Be sure to check out the other sections of this post, as many of the activities and events listed are free. For example, attending events during Fleet Week visiting Governors Island will cost you only $2 for the ferry, and while it may not be free, what you get for that $2 is well worth it!

For year-round free things to do, see our comprehensive post, Free Things to Do in NYC.



Go Kayaking 

Seriously. Go kayaking in New York City! This may be the least expected activity you pictured yourself doing here. But you will not be disappointed by this free and fun activity. There are many boat houses that offer free kayaking, usually for short amounts of time. Others offer longer excursions, which are also free.  Most open by May 1st.

Find out more from our post about free boat rides and tours, which also includes the very inexpensive NYC ferries. If you’d prefer something a less unusual, see our post comparing the many paid boat tours and cruises in NYC.

Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit

This is a New York perennial favorite event.  From May 28-30, from 12pm-6pm, the streets surrounding Washington Square Park become mini art galleries of artists and craft artisans from around the world. It’s a great place to purchase wonderful artworks at very affordable prices. The type of art shown includes Mixed Media, Oils & Acrylic and Watercolor paintings, Photography, Sculpture, Jewelry, Metal Work, Ceramics, Glass Mixed Media, Fiber, and Wood. displayed.

The event is right smack in the middle of Greenwich Village, so why not take one of our pay-what-you-wish Greenwich Village walking tours.


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As you can see in the Top Ten and Free Things to Do sections above, there are activities which are kid-friendly, including kayaking or seeing a baseball game. Below are even more activities that your kids will love.

Be sure to see our posts Top 10 Things to Do with Kids in New York City, our 3-day itinerary for families and our list of over 100 things to do in New York City which includes dozens of kid-friendly activities. 

Butterfly Conservatory at the American Museum of Natural History   

If you are here in May you are just in time to catch the butterflies  – literally – at this spectacular exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Step inside the museum’s 1,200-square-foot vivarium, where there are over 500 butterflies of multiple species flying freely. Some may even land on you! This is a great exhibit for families.

The AMNH could keep you occupied for hours with its 45 exhibit halls filled with dinosaur fossils, life-size dioramas of the world’s peoples, birds, and mammals and the incredible Wall of Biodiversity. You can also visit the Rose Center for Earth and Space to gain a glimpse into the past, present, and future of the cosmos.

Look at our post to plan your visit and also to see what discounts and special deals are available. 

Visit The Bronx Zoo  all month – FREE Wednesdays

This incredible zoo is the largest city zoo in the United States and houses 4,000 animals of more than 650 different species across 265 acres of land. The cost of a ticket to all exhibits can add up for a family, so take advantage of either going on tree Wednesdays or hunt down some discounts.  Our post, Bronx Zoo Discounts, Coupons and Promo Codes can help you find some deals.  

When you get to the zoo, you may want to focus on a few highlights. Try to see the Himalayan Snow Leopards – they are an endangered species, so now is a good time to visit them before its too late. You may even see some cubs! For a glimpse of some unique looking animals, see the Baby Angolan colobus monkey, with their furry white manes. Be sure to say hello to the three Komodo dragons! They are rare creatures and from the 1950s until just a few years ago, the Bronx Zoo didn’t have ANY!  

While you are in the Bronx, grab some authentic Italian food on Arthur Avenue using our self-guided tour


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