This year marks the 240th anniversary of our nation’s freedom, and most Fourth of July festivities will include grills, day drinks, fireworks — and maybe even getaways to the Hamptons for those who can swing it. However, in a city like New York, those events are far from the only things taking place to help celebrate the occasion. Here’s a list of 12 alternative activities (without exclusive red-white-and-blue dress codes) you can do this coming Fourth of July weekend. 

1. Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center

For 28 years, Lincoln Center has been hosting its Midsummer Night Swing event, which celebrates the spirit and energy of the 1920s and 1930s. On Friday, June 30, listen to the musical stylings of Margi & the Dapper Dots and take Foxtrot and Waltz lessons with instructors Jerry Feldman and Celia Gianfrancesco. Then on Saturday, July 1, come out for “An Evening of Swinging’ Rhythm and Blues” with The Binky Griptite Orchestra, followed by an opportunity to try your hand — or feet — at a Jump Blues style of dance.

2. You Are So Lucky

Although not on July 4th weekend, the inaugural You Are So Lucky summer event is not to miss. Taking place on July 7, 8 and 9, the weekend-long festivities include dozens of artists, performers and musicians, who will take over a once abandoned, 72-room gothic mansion, located on the north edge of the city. Across acres of mansion grounds, music performances, hidden experiences and live performances  of “ritual and spectacle” will take place in celebration of art. Purchase a ticket here.

3. French Restaurant Week Across all 5 Boroughs

Starting on July 3, and running until July 10, New York City is hosting the 8th iteration of French Restaurant Week. In honor of Bastille Week (French National Day), a number of French restaurants around the city are inviting residents to “Eat. Drink. Be French,” by offering special prix fixe menus. Most of the restaurants will be offering their food at three patriotic special prices: $17.89, $38 and $178.90.

Participating restaurants include Le Penguin in Greenwich Village, Orsay in the Upper East Side, and Kingsley in the East Village, among 39 other restaurants across the tri-state area. Reserve your spot at restaurants online with one of the partners of French Restaurant Week, OpenTable.

4. HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival

Catch some Vitamin D and enjoy free movies all summer long at the HBO Bryant Park Film Festival. On July 3, there will be a screening of the family-friendly flick, The Muppets Take Manhattan. The lawn opens at 5PM to give guests time to lay out their blankets, chairs and food for picnicking. At 8 or 9PM, depending on when the sun sets, the movie will begin playing.

Also take a look at the full list of films being shown at Bryant Park this summer, or check out the rest of the outdoor summer movie schedule for New York City.

5. Tour and Wine Tasting at Rooftop Reds, the World’s First Rooftop Vineyard

Rooftop Reds-Brooklyn Navy Yard Vineyard-NYC

On July 2, Untapped Cities is hosting a Tour and Wine Tasting of Rooftop Reds, the world’s first rooftop vineyard. The tour is led by one of the Rooftop Reds’ founders, who will share his winemaking secrets, including the urban planter system that is used to sustain the vineyard. Enjoy four samples of wine paired with an amazing view on the 14,800 square foot rooftop. As a bonus, all guests will get 20 percent off all Rooftop Reds wines. All participants must be 21 and older. Tickets for this event can be purchased below.

Wine Tasting & Tour of Rooftop Reds, the World’s First Rooftop Vineyard!

6. International African Arts Festival, Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn

July 1 through 4, New Yorkers can experience the 46th annual International African Arts Festival at Brooklyn’s Commodore Barry Park. The Festival, which started in 1971, acts both as a celebration of African culture as well as a fundraiser to support African arts. Enjoy performances by many musical artists such as Ismael & the Radiant Select, Tito Puente Jr. and Denroy Morgan among several others.

There will also be vendors selling handcrafted merchandise such as jewelry, furniture and sculptures, in addition to an outdoor food court that will serve diverse options of savory African, Caribbean and Latin American cuisine. The suggested donation is $5 at the gate, but anything one can or is willing to give is welcome. For more information, call 718-638-6700 or email [email protected].

7. Independence Day at Historic Richmond Town

Leap through time into Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island, originally founded in 1856 as the Staten Island historical Society. Technically speaking, it’s a museum dedicated to an authentic portrayal of colonial America through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. A fascinating feature of Historic Richmond Town is its many preserved government buildings and farm houses, some of which were relocated from other parts of Staten Island.

Independence Day at Historic Richmond is an afternoon event open to all, featuring old-fashioned pie and ice cream-making demonstrations, museum tours, appearances from historical figures, and a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence. For all those with young kids in need of a proper Independence Day education. Find more information here.

8. SummerStage Music Festival in Central Park


Throughout Fourth of July weekend, enjoy free shows with SummerStage music festival, hosted by the City Parks Foundation. On July 1st, a musical homage will take place, celebrating 100 years of American music, the arrival of Jazz on the shores of the United States in 1917 and the “cross pollination” of French and U.S. culture.

Co-produced by La Missiondu Centenaire de la Première Guerre Mondiale and the Cultural Services, in partnership with New York Hot Jazz Festival, the lineup includes Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks with Catherine Russell; Avalon Jazz Band; and Aurora. Head to the Rumsey Playground at 5PM for the event, and visit the City Parks foundation website for more information on the artists and the full lineup of the SummerStage festival.

9. Fourth of July Fireworks Cruise With Statue Cruises

Summer has finally arrived and Independence Day is just around the corner. For those seeking an adventure, Statue Cruises — the official ferry boat service to the Statue of Liberty and the Ellis Island Memorial Museum — is hosting a special, one-day fireworks cruise in celebration of the holiday. Forgo the standard barbecue and grill in exchange for a unique experience, where guests will have the opportunity to watch the sun set behind Lady Liberty, and see New York City’s legendary skyline light up during a dazzling fireworks display.

Fourth of July Fireworks Cruise With Statue Cruises

10. New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) at Lincoln Center

If foreign films are your thing, the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) is the way to go. NYAFF is celebrating its 16th year with a screening of Asian films at the Walter Reade Theater at Film Society of Lincoln Center. On July 4th, the films that will be played are:

  • 12:30 PM: Fantasy of the Girls
  • 2:45 PM: Ordinary Person
  • 5:15 PM: The Long Excuse
  • 8 PM: Wet Woman in the Wind
  • 10:30 PM: Dawn of the Felines

The festival is happening June 30 through July 16. For a full lineup of the festivals films and for ticket information (both individual and packages) visit the festival’s official site.

11. The Bridge 2017 Race at the Verrazano Bridge

As part of its year-long cultural and educational program, “How 1917 Changed the World: A Centennial Commemoration of the United States Entrance Into World War One,” the French Mission du centenaire de la première Guerre Mondiale, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States and the French Consulate in New York are presenting a series of free and open events to the public.

On July 1st, head to the Verrazano Bridge to see the final stretch of The Bridge 2017, a race from Saint-Nazaire to New York between the Queen Mary 2 and the fastest trimarans in the sea racing world. The time is yet to be announced, but the ships are expected to dock on the morning of July 1, granting you spectacular photo opportunities.

12. Tour of The Remnants of Dutch New Amsterdam

At first glance, it might seem like there’s not much left of Dutch New Amsterdam, but there’s much more than meets the eye. This includes the massive one hidden in plain sight: the original street grid embedded in lower Manhattan grid today. Discover the many hidden Dutch relics south of Wall Street, as you trace the streets of Manhattan in 1667. You’ll walk along the city’s original coast line, see the remains of Manhattan’s first City Hall and hear about New York’s founding myths and facts while standing in the very spots they all happened.

Tour of The Remnants of Dutch New Amsterdam

BONUS: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island

Although the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest isn’t necessarily “less-traditional,” like New York City’s many other eating contests, this annual competition is a sight to behold. This year, 2015 former champion Matt Stonie will try and reclaim his title from Joey Chestnut, who nabbed the contest record last year, downing 70 hot dogs in 10 minutes. The event takes place at Coney Island on July 4th at 10am and is free to the public. Also catch it live on ESPN.

Before you go, brush up on your Nathan’s Famous history and secrets with our guide.

Next, read Celebrating July 4th in NYC: Remembering the Stockbridge Indian Massacre in Van Cortlandt Park. Get in Touch with the Author: @Erika_A_Stark