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.  Our tour schedule goes into full swing in May with more than 8 tours offered every day. See our full listings of pay-what-you-wish walking tours by clicking here, and check our definitive Things to Do in NYC  guide. If you are coming at the beginning of the month or at the end, check our posts on things to do in New York in April and in June.

Top Things to Do
Night Activities
Free Things to Do
How’s the Weather
Free Tours by Foot


Below is our list of the top 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.

Visit Governors Island 

Slide Hill

Governors Island is a small, recreational, vehicle-free island just 7 minutes by ferry from Lower Manhattan.  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 open 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.

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 MuseumThere 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. 

Attend a 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:

  • Bon Jovi
  • Billy Joel
  • Alice in Chains
  • Steve Martin Martin Short
  • Jackson Browne
  • Yanni
  • Kygo
  • The Temptations

TD Five Boro Bike Tour   May 6, 2018

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. 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 New York Bike Tours and Rentals to see what’s available. 

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. 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.

The Annual Ethnic Festival in Harlem  May 19, 2018

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. There will be multi-cultural entertainment on an outdoor stage, over 50 local vendors will be lining the streets, and fun activities for all age groups will take place. This is exactly the kind of festival that native New Yorkers love.

If you can’t attend the festival, but you are interested in seeing Harlem, you should! There are so many ways to experience this iconic New York neighborhood. 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.

Holi Hai   May 12, 2018, 11 am-6 pm

This traditional Indian festival 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.

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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

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. Our picks for the best Rooftop Bars can be seen here. 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! Find out more about visiting this art deco beauty by clicking here.

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.

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Here is just a handful of the dozens and dozens of free things to do in May in New York City. For year-round free things to do see our comprehensive post, Free Things to Do in NYCAlso, 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!

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, fun activity. There are many pier houses that offer free kayaking, usually for short amounts of time. Others offer longer excursions, also free.  Find out more from our post about free boat rides and tours. 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  May 28-30 12pm-6pm

This is a New York perennial favorite event.  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   All month, last day is May 28

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. 

Dance Parade  May 19, 2018  

The 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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