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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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1. Staten Island Ferry

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4 South St
New York, NY
(212) 839-3061
Visit Website

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.

2. 60 Wall Street

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60 Wall St
New York, NY 10005

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.

3. Brookfield Place

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230 Vesey St
New York, NY
(212) 417-7000
Visit Website

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.

4. Oculus

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Liberty St & Church Ave
New York, NY

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.

5. 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.

6. Essex Market

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88 Essex St
New York, NY 10002
(917) 881-7096
Visit Website

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.

7. Strand Bookstore

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828 Broadway
New York, NY
(212) 473-1452
Visit Website

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

8. Chelsea Market

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75 9th Ave
New York, NY 10011
(212) 652-2110
Visit Website

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.

9. The Shops at Hudson Yards

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Hudson Yards
New York, NY 10001

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

10. Grand Central Terminal

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87 E 42nd St
New York, NY
(212) 532-4900
Visit Website

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

11. New York Public Library

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476 5th Ave
New York, NY
(212) 930-0800
Visit Website

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

12. The Plaza Hotel

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768 5th Ave
New York, NY
(212) 759-3000
Visit Website

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

13. IBM Midtown

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590 Madison Ave
New York, NY

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.

14. David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center

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61 W 62nd St
New York, NY
(212) 875-5350
Visit Website

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.

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15. Bronx Museum of the Arts

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1040 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY
(718) 681-6000
Visit Website

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.

16. MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center

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2225 Jackson Ave
Queens, NY
(718) 784-2084
Visit Website

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.”

17. A train to the Rockaways

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W Rd.
Broad Channel, NY

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.

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18. Empire Stores

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53-83 Water St
Brooklyn, NY

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.

19. City Point

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445 Albee Square
Brooklyn, NY

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.

20. The Center for Fiction

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15 Lafayette Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(212) 755-6710
Visit Website

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.

21. Empire Outlets

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55 Richmond Terrace
Staten Island, NY 10301
(929) 262-6710
Visit Website

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

1. Staten Island Ferry

4 South St, New York, NY

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.

4 South St
New York, NY

2. 60 Wall Street

60 Wall St, New York, NY 10005

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.

60 Wall St
New York, NY 10005

3. Brookfield Place

230 Vesey St, New York, NY

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.

230 Vesey St
New York, NY

4. Oculus

Liberty St & Church Ave, New York, NY

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.

Liberty St & Church Ave
New York, NY

5. Fulton Transit Center

New York, NY 10038

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.

6. Essex Market

88 Essex St, New York, NY 10002

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.

88 Essex St
New York, NY 10002

7. Strand Bookstore

828 Broadway, New York, NY
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.

828 Broadway
New York, NY

8. Chelsea Market

75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011

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.

75 9th Ave
New York, NY 10011

9. The Shops at Hudson Yards

Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001
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.

Hudson Yards
New York, NY 10001

10. Grand Central Terminal

87 E 42nd St, New York, NY
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.

87 E 42nd St
New York, NY

11. New York Public Library

476 5th Ave, New York, NY
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.

476 5th Ave
New York, NY

12. The Plaza Hotel

768 5th Ave, New York, NY
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.

768 5th Ave
New York, NY

13. IBM Midtown

590 Madison Ave, New York, NY

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.

590 Madison Ave
New York, NY

14. David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center

61 W 62nd St, New York, NY

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.

61 W 62nd St
New York, NY

15. Bronx Museum of the Arts

1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY

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.

1040 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY

16. MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center

2225 Jackson Ave, Queens, NY

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.”

2225 Jackson Ave
Queens, NY

17. A train to the Rockaways

W Rd., Broad Channel, NY

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.

W Rd.
Broad Channel, NY

18. Empire Stores

53-83 Water St, Brooklyn, NY

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.

53-83 Water St
Brooklyn, NY

19. City Point

445 Albee Square, Brooklyn, NY

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.

445 Albee Square
Brooklyn, NY

20. The Center for Fiction

15 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217

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.

15 Lafayette Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217

21. Empire Outlets

55 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, NY 10301
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.)

55 Richmond Terrace
Staten Island, NY 10301