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Grand Central Terminal.
Max Touhey

Where to find free air conditioning during a NYC heat wave

Get indoors and cool down

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Grand Central Terminal.
| Max Touhey

When the mercury rises, many New Yorkers’ first instinct is to flee to the nearest public pool or beach (or to flee the city altogether), but sometimes the best solution is some good ol' fashioned, ice-cold air conditioning. Museums and movie theaters are an obvious respite, but who wants to shell out $15 just to stop sweating?

In addition to the city-designated cooling centers, there are dozens of places in New York where you can bask in refrigerated air for free. If your personal A/C comes in the form of a crappy window unit that only succeeds in increasing your electric bill, this map is for you— (and heat-stroked tourists).

This map was originally published on July 7, 2016; it has since been updated with new information.

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Staten Island Ferry

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The Staten Island Ferry is one of the best free activities in New York even if you're not on the hunt for refrigerated air. It's a leisurely 30-minute ride across New York harbor with intimate views of the Statue of Liberty. While the sea breeze is often enough of a cool down, you can also duck inside the cabin and enjoy the A/C in peace as the crowds outside clamor for the best views.

60 Wall Street

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One of the city’s most unique privately-owned public spaces can be found at 60 Wall Street, designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo & Associates in 1989. The delightfully postmodern space is full of palm trees, columns, and plenty of seating—and A/C, of course.

Brookfield Place

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The former Winter Garden at Brookfield Place has a lot of good things going for it. The setting, a glass-enclosed atrium dotted with palm trees, is lovely; there’s free Wi-Fi and access to a ton of subway stations; and like some of the other places on this list, close proximity to plenty of dining should the need arise.

It may be a $4 billion boondoggle, but Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus has the benefit of being a public space with really good air conditioning. If you’re seeking a reprieve from the crowds, head to the corridors off of the main hall; there are also plenty of dining spots and stores to keep you entertained while you cool down.

Fulton Transit Center

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The subway tunnels and platforms at the Fulton Transit Center are a sweaty hellscape this time of year, but the public space that connects them—topped by “Sky Reflector-Net,” which was designed for the space—remains blessedly cool. If you have to commute through that station, consider waiting for your train in the shopping center and avoiding melting into a puddle.

Essex Market

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The new Essex Market is big, bright, and full of cold air—plus, with more than 20 vendors (including many familiar faces from the old Essex Street Market, until recently located across the street) you’ll have plenty to snack on while you cool off. The space will soon be joined by the Market Line, a food hall/shopping center that runs below much of the Essex Crossing megaproject.

Strand Bookstore

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Once upon a time, this beloved bookstore near Union Square didn’t have air conditioning, making shopping there in the summertime an experience only the most dedicated bookworms would undertake. But modernization caught up to the Strand in 2005, and now it’s downright pleasant—meaning you can browse to your heart’s content, even on the muggiest, grossest summer days.

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Chelsea Market

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Head to the Chelsea Market, where you can cool off and do a little window shopping while you’re at it. The High Line neighboring food hall has plenty of places where you can grab a bite to eat, and if you’re feeling up to it, you can head over to the High Line afterward and enjoy the views.

The Shops at Hudson Yards

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The Shops at Hudson Yards is, essentially, a very fancy mall. But malls have one good thing going for them: plentiful air conditioning. If you find yourself on the west side of Manhattan in a heat wave (or have time to kill before catching a MegaBus elsewhere), this is a solid spot to cool off.

The Vessel at Hudson Yards in New York City Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Grand Central Terminal

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One of the benefits of Grand Central Terminal—aside from the free air conditioning—is the fact that there are plenty of ways to pass the time on a truly unbearably warm day. Subway buffs can brush up on transit factoids at the New York Transit Museum Annex; architecture geeks can head to the Guastavino tile-covered Whispering Gallery; or simply grab a seat in the lower-level food court and let the cool air wash over you.

Oliver Foerstner/Shutterstock.com

New York Public Library

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This one is a bit of a no-brainer: There’s no admission fee to the library’s Beaux Arts Fifth Avenue building, and given its location—amid the hustle of Midtown, and close to a bunch of major tourist attractions—it’s perfect for those times when you’re showing out-of-towners around and need a break. Bonus: The library has a stellar gift shop, along with fascinating exhibits that rival those found at institutions like the Met and MoMA.

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The Plaza Hotel

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The Plaza is one of the rare New York hotels where wandering through the public spaces won’t result in odd looks from hotel employees—thanks, in part, to the fact that it’s such a tourist draw. But it’s a good place to pop into if you’re feeling overwhelmed by heat, particularly if you’ve spent an afternoon in nearby Central Park.

Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

IBM Midtown

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This privately-owned public space within the Edward Larabee Barnes-designed IBM Building is a glass-enclosed atrium—it’s so airy that birds occasionally fly through it—with plenty of seating, free Wi-Fi, food kiosks, and more.

David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center

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Privately-owned public spaces are like little secrets hidden throughout the city, and there are dozens inside with climate-controlled environs. The Municipal Art Society keeps a database of them all, and the atrium at Lincoln Center is one of the best-ranked. There's a 20-foot tall living wall designed by Tod Williams Bille Tsien Architects, as well as a floor-to-ceiling fountain, seating, free Wi-Fi, and an exhibition space. Lincoln Center also uses the space for shows.

A post shared by Nelsy Olivo (@nelsyolivo) on

Bronx Museum of the Arts

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One of the Bronx’s best cultural institutions also happens to be totally free—and that includes many of its special events, including First Fridays, a monthly party that often features music, activities based on current exhibits, and more.

MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center

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This is a perk that extends to New York City residents only: MoMA PS1, the arts institution’s Long Island City outpost, is free to all city denizens. (Tickets are still required for the Warm Up dance parties, though.) This summer, its courtyard exhibition, Hórama Rama, which the museum describes as “a panoramic junglescape with a waterfall and hammocks.”

A train to the Rockaways

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Hopping on any subway line is a fantastic way to escape the heat (unless it's rush hour), but the A train to Rockaway provides one of the loveliest rides in the city, gliding over the Jamaica Bay and through a wildlife refuge. Grab a window seat and keep an eye out for dozens of herons, cranes, and sea birds.

A post shared by Rachel Haot (@rachelhaot) on

Empire Stores

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On the Brooklyn waterfront, the revamped Empire Stores warehouse is another great place to both cool down and kill time, thanks to a bevy of shops (including Shinola and West Elm) and a spiffy atrium that leads to Brooklyn Bridge Park. If you’re willing to shell out a bit of cash, the new Brooklyn Historical Society outpost is just $10 (it’s recommended admission) and provides crucial context for the warehouse’s waterfront location.

City Point

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So yes, this is basically a mall. But the good thing about malls is that they’re always chilled to a perfect, sweat-eliminating temperature—and to be fair, this particular shopping center has plenty to keep you entertained, including an outpost of Danish home goods shop Flying Tiger, a spiffy new Trader Joe’s, and—if hunger or the need for a beer arises—the new DeKalb Market Hall.

The Center for Fiction

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A new outpost of the Center for Fiction opened in Fort Greene earlier this year, and it’s a perfect spot for bookworms to chill out for a bit (if you pick up a book or two while you’re there, it technically isn’t free, but that’s okay). They also host a free writing event on Sundays where you can kill two birds with one stone: get cool, and work on that novel that you’ve been pondering for years.

Empire Outlets

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If you’ve already ridden the Staten Island Ferry, walk the short distance to the new Empire Outlets, which has 350,000 square feet of space, all of it blessedly air conditioned. (If you feel like venturing outside, there’s a nice waterfront promenade that links the mall, ferry terminal, and Staten Island Yankees stadium.)

A group of people sits on a pedestrian plaza with planters in between two buildings. Shutterstock

Staten Island Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry is one of the best free activities in New York even if you're not on the hunt for refrigerated air. It's a leisurely 30-minute ride across New York harbor with intimate views of the Statue of Liberty. While the sea breeze is often enough of a cool down, you can also duck inside the cabin and enjoy the A/C in peace as the crowds outside clamor for the best views.

60 Wall Street

One of the city’s most unique privately-owned public spaces can be found at 60 Wall Street, designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo & Associates in 1989. The delightfully postmodern space is full of palm trees, columns, and plenty of seating—and A/C, of course.

Brookfield Place

The former Winter Garden at Brookfield Place has a lot of good things going for it. The setting, a glass-enclosed atrium dotted with palm trees, is lovely; there’s free Wi-Fi and access to a ton of subway stations; and like some of the other places on this list, close proximity to plenty of dining should the need arise.

Oculus

It may be a $4 billion boondoggle, but Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus has the benefit of being a public space with really good air conditioning. If you’re seeking a reprieve from the crowds, head to the corridors off of the main hall; there are also plenty of dining spots and stores to keep you entertained while you cool down.

Fulton Transit Center

The subway tunnels and platforms at the Fulton Transit Center are a sweaty hellscape this time of year, but the public space that connects them—topped by “Sky Reflector-Net,” which was designed for the space—remains blessedly cool. If you have to commute through that station, consider waiting for your train in the shopping center and avoiding melting into a puddle.

Essex Market

The new Essex Market is big, bright, and full of cold air—plus, with more than 20 vendors (including many familiar faces from the old Essex Street Market, until recently located across the street) you’ll have plenty to snack on while you cool off. The space will soon be joined by the Market Line, a food hall/shopping center that runs below much of the Essex Crossing megaproject.

Strand Bookstore

Shutterstock.com

Once upon a time, this beloved bookstore near Union Square didn’t have air conditioning, making shopping there in the summertime an experience only the most dedicated bookworms would undertake. But modernization caught up to the Strand in 2005, and now it’s downright pleasant—meaning you can browse to your heart’s content, even on the muggiest, grossest summer days.

Shutterstock.com

Chelsea Market

Head to the Chelsea Market, where you can cool off and do a little window shopping while you’re at it. The High Line neighboring food hall has plenty of places where you can grab a bite to eat, and if you’re feeling up to it, you can head over to the High Line afterward and enjoy the views.

The Shops at Hudson Yards

The Vessel at Hudson Yards in New York City Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

The Shops at Hudson Yards is, essentially, a very fancy mall. But malls have one good thing going for them: plentiful air conditioning. If you find yourself on the west side of Manhattan in a heat wave (or have time to kill before catching a MegaBus elsewhere), this is a solid spot to cool off.

The Vessel at Hudson Yards in New York City Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Grand Central Terminal

Oliver Foerstner/Shutterstock.com

One of the benefits of Grand Central Terminal—aside from the free air conditioning—is the fact that there are plenty of ways to pass the time on a truly unbearably warm day. Subway buffs can brush up on transit factoids at the New York Transit Museum Annex; architecture geeks can head to the Guastavino tile-covered Whispering Gallery; or simply grab a seat in the lower-level food court and let the cool air wash over you.

Oliver Foerstner/Shutterstock.com

New York Public Library

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

This one is a bit of a no-brainer: There’s no admission fee to the library’s Beaux Arts Fifth Avenue building, and given its location—amid the hustle of Midtown, and close to a bunch of major tourist attractions—it’s perfect for those times when you’re showing out-of-towners around and need a break. Bonus: The library has a stellar gift shop, along with fascinating exhibits that rival those found at institutions like the Met and MoMA.

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

The Plaza Hotel

Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

The Plaza is one of the rare New York hotels where wandering through the public spaces won’t result in odd looks from hotel employees—thanks, in part, to the fact that it’s such a tourist draw. But it’s a good place to pop into if you’re feeling overwhelmed by heat, particularly if you’ve spent an afternoon in nearby Central Park.

Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

IBM Midtown

This privately-owned public space within the Edward Larabee Barnes-designed IBM Building is a glass-enclosed atrium—it’s so airy that birds occasionally fly through it—with plenty of seating, free Wi-Fi, food kiosks, and more.

David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center

Privately-owned public spaces are like little secrets hidden throughout the city, and there are dozens inside with climate-controlled environs. The Municipal Art Society keeps a database of them all, and the atrium at Lincoln Center is one of the best-ranked. There's a 20-foot tall living wall designed by Tod Williams Bille Tsien Architects, as well as a floor-to-ceiling fountain, seating, free Wi-Fi, and an exhibition space. Lincoln Center also uses the space for shows.

A post shared by Nelsy Olivo (@nelsyolivo) on

Bronx Museum of the Arts

One of the Bronx’s best cultural institutions also happens to be totally free—and that includes many of its special events, including First Fridays, a monthly party that often features music, activities based on current exhibits, and more.

MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center

This is a perk that extends to New York City residents only: MoMA PS1, the arts institution’s Long Island City outpost, is free to all city denizens. (Tickets are still required for the Warm Up dance parties, though.) This summer, its courtyard exhibition, Hórama Rama, which the museum describes as “a panoramic junglescape with a waterfall and hammocks.”

A train to the Rockaways

Hopping on any subway line is a fantastic way to escape the heat (unless it's rush hour), but the A train to Rockaway provides one of the loveliest rides in the city, gliding over the Jamaica Bay and through a wildlife refuge. Grab a window seat and keep an eye out for dozens of herons, cranes, and sea birds.

A post shared by Rachel Haot (@rachelhaot) on

Empire Stores

On the Brooklyn waterfront, the revamped Empire Stores warehouse is another great place to both cool down and kill time, thanks to a bevy of shops (including Shinola and West Elm) and a spiffy atrium that leads to Brooklyn Bridge Park. If you’re willing to shell out a bit of cash, the new Brooklyn Historical Society outpost is just $10 (it’s recommended admission) and provides crucial context for the warehouse’s waterfront location.

City Point

So yes, this is basically a mall. But the good thing about malls is that they’re always chilled to a perfect, sweat-eliminating temperature—and to be fair, this particular shopping center has plenty to keep you entertained, including an outpost of Danish home goods shop Flying Tiger, a spiffy new Trader Joe’s, and—if hunger or the need for a beer arises—the new DeKalb Market Hall.

The Center for Fiction

A new outpost of the Center for Fiction opened in Fort Greene earlier this year, and it’s a perfect spot for bookworms to chill out for a bit (if you pick up a book or two while you’re there, it technically isn’t free, but that’s okay). They also host a free writing event on Sundays where you can kill two birds with one stone: get cool, and work on that novel that you’ve been pondering for years.

Empire Outlets

A group of people sits on a pedestrian plaza with planters in between two buildings. Shutterstock

If you’ve already ridden the Staten Island Ferry, walk the short distance to the new Empire Outlets, which has 350,000 square feet of space, all of it blessedly air conditioned. (If you feel like venturing outside, there’s a nice waterfront promenade that links the mall, ferry terminal, and Staten Island Yankees stadium.)

A group of people sits on a pedestrian plaza with planters in between two buildings. Shutterstock