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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, there is no better time of year to enjoy the city’s balmy charms.

The key to keeping cool in summertime New York City is to forego midtown Manhattan, the Big Apple's "core", filled to bursting with sight-seeing buses and camera-clicking hordes from the 4th of July through to Labor Day. The summer months see Times Square overrun by visitors all scrambling for their "I Heart NYC" t-shirt and matching sun visor, while the Empire State Building's elevator queue can, through the heat-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 or cross-town to find an altogether more authentic slice of city, along with plenty of evidence that keeping cool in summertime New York is far from thirsty work.

Plumping first to 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, 37 cool acres of wooded paths and streams. Heading west from the park, pick up afternoon treats at New York iconic Zabar's food market (2245 Broadway), 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 (W 79th St at the Hudson River) for a huckleberry vodka nightcap.

Meanwhile, farther south down 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 cappuccino in an old-fashioned Italian pavement cafe on Bleecker Street, or cool off Middle-Eastern style with hummus, mint-studded lemonade and chilled salads at Hummus Place (88 MacDougall St). 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.

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 at its 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 Sarah D. Roosevelt Park, where locals congregate to shoot hoops and splash in water fountains, then catch a show or two at August's month-long Fringe NYC festival, which sees more than 200 international theatre groups hit town.

Heading south, forego 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 (1 Water St), housed in a 1920s fireboat house. 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 grey Atlantic Ocean, chow down on knishes, Nathan's famous hot dogs and funnel cake, ride the historic Cyclone rollercoaster and Wonderwheel Ferris wheel, and leave every trace of the Lovin' Spoonful's hot city summer far, far behind. 

© Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Summer in the City: New York City’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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