Love the water? In New York City, you can find plenty of places to cool off, year round, for free. There are even free swimming programs, best suited for residents. But visitors to New York can go to free city beaches (they are clean!) and free public pools (also spotless) throughout the five boroughs. So pack your bathing suit when you come to the city.

Doesn't this Brooklyn pool look swanky? Yet it's free in New York City

Pool in Brooklyn Bridge Park, free in New York City. Credit: Etienne Frossard

In NYC, you can buy a day pass to swim at Le Parker Meridien for $100 or you can swim in one of the seasonal outdoor pools for free. I say, save the $100 to spend on great food or a Broadway show, and get wet for free. After all, New York City is surrounded by water; it makes sense that there are also a lot of opportunities for getting into it.

The YMCAs in New York City have their annual Splash Week, a free week of swimming and water safety classes at 19 Y facilities around the city. Two of the YMCAs, in Coney Island and the Rockaways, are both near free city beaches.

Cooling off in Brooklyn

Did you know you can swim for free in New York CityIf your kids aren’t quite ready to jump in a pool, check out Brooklyn Bridge Park, with its extensive water play area. The park also has an outdoor pop-up pool, in its last season; the small pool is ideal for those intimated by large public pools. And Prospect Park transforms its ice skating rinks, LeFrak Center at Lakeside, to a large water play area called Splash Pad.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park pop-up pool distributes wristbands for 45 minute swim sessions, but you can relax on the sand at the man-made beach adjacent to the pool before and after your swim time. The pool is three and half feet deep, with no shallow or deep end, so no diving and no wading.

Free in New York City: Swim Lessons

The NYC Parks Department has free Learn to Swim camps during public school vacations, at eight city-run indoor pools. Both of these programs and the YMCA Splash Week tend to fill up quickly, so mark your calendar for next year.

But in summer, NYC residents and tourists alike can swim with little advance planning. There are pools all over the city, and though rules are strict – no floaties, no jumping, no food – facilities are clean and well, free. What better way to celebrate summer?

What Are the Free NYC Pools Like?

After walking or biking across this, take a dip!

The High Bridge, connecting Manhattan & The Bronx, near a top free NYC pool. Credit: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TravelingMom

We go to the Olympic-sized Sol Goldman Recreation Center, aka the Red Hook pool, a bare bones facility that draws large crowds. On hot days, you may have to wait to get in; NYC public pools close for an hour each day for cleaning (usually from 3 to 4pm), and just after they reopen, there’s often a wait.

The free NYC pools have a host of rules:

  • No food, glass bottles, electronics or even newspapers can be brought into the pool area. So if you like to read the paper while your kids swim, forget about it.
  • You can only cover up with a plain white shirt or white hat at the pool area.
  • You have to bring your own lock for a locker and you definitely don’t want to leave anything sitting out. At the Red Hook pool, you have to show a lock just be let into the pool.
  • You need to bring your own towels.
  • You can’t be in the pool area without a bathing suit on; you won’t be let into the facility at all. Even if you don’t plan on swimming, if you are with your family, wear or bring a swim suit.
  • Lounges and chairs are at a bare minimum.
  • Some pools have special lap swim hours, which are great if you are keeping to a fitness regime on vacation.But this can cut into space for kids to play, so check the hours.
  • No ID is required.

The best places to swim in NYC, for free

Click here for a list of the free NYC pools, broken down by borough. Below, our top choices for swimming free NYC.

  • The McCarren Park Pool and Play Center. Fully renovated in 2012, this pool is in the intersection of hipster Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It is one of the pools originally built by the Works Progress Administration in 1936. It had a second life as a performance space when the pool fell into disrepair, but it is shiny and new.
  • The Barretto Point Park Pool in the Bronx is a floating pool, so it has a constant depth of four feet. It is a low-key pool, on the waterfront.
  • The Astoria Park Pool in Queens is another Olympic sized pool that can handle large crowds.
  • High Bridge Pool, in upper Manhattan, has an Olympic sized pool and a wading pool. It is also near the High Bridge, a pedestrian and bike connector between Manhattan and the Bronx, that reopened in 2015 after being closed for 40 years.

TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to have inexpensive flip flops with you for a visit to free NYC pools.