It’s no secret that COVID-19 truly changed the world as we know it. For students and residents alike, New York Cityʼs social scene shifted from a city that never sleeps to a city in hibernation. And like all meccas of the world, the gradual transition back into public spaces has been met by a spectrum of valid feelings—from excitement to apprehension.

The reality is, re-emerging in a bustling city has evolved to plug mindfulness and safety into the social scene’s eclectic current. So, if you’re new to New York City or looking for options that make acclimating to city life post-COVID a little easier, check out these highlights: 

For the Love of Art...

Much like New York City itself, you can likely find a museum for every interest you might come across, whether it’s art, history, science, or more unconventional subjects. Outside of browsing through irreplaceable artifacts indoors, the art scene is also making its way onto the streets! 

My personal favorite? The Brooklyn Museumʼs First Saturdays is moving outdoors into a giant neighborhood block party. True to the title, every first Saturday of the month, you can enjoy DJ sets, local vendors, and art activities inspired by current exhibitions on display. Summertime brings the heat, so you can balance your time with an indoor gallery stroll, too! 

Art is often a reflection of a moment in time, and great works have emerged in the last year. Check out more galleries to visit here.

The Brooklyn Museum at night.

FYI: This past spring indoor museums and zoos increased to 50 percent capacity. Outside of the standard 6-feet spacing, staggered entry helps minimize traffic. In addition, museums provide timed tickets for advance purchase, so you’ll have time to plan your day accordingly!

Back in Theatres 2021...

While we can all appreciate an at-home movie release, supplied by endless streaming services, nothing quite beats a night out of entertainment. Movie theatres and Broadway shows are re-opening, but why not try something a little old school? Drive-in theatres are making quite a comeback, allowing spectators to view the silver screen from the comfort of their own cars.

But like many spaces in New York City, a drive-in theatre can be more than what it appears. For example, take Radial Park. It’s also a live performance venue. You can go from watching Selena one night to experiencing a musical comedy projected from stage to screen. No ride? No sweat! Picnic tables are available for seating.

Radial Park at night.

FYI: Broadway is open at 100 percent capacity, so make sure to book a ticket before they’re all gone! Other entertainment venues are open at 33 percent capacity. With proof of a negative test, that equates to 150 people indoors and 500 people outdoors. So if you’re vaccinated, keep your card handy.

Flower to the People...

This may come as a surprise to some, but New York City’s yearlong sabbatical allowed many residents to re-discover nature. You heard that correctly. It’s not all concrete and glass in the Big Apple. Outside of botanical gardens that feature an array of blooms, you can also enjoy the fresh air for free, in many parks across the boroughs.

Plan a picnic with friends on oversized lawns, stroll through the winding pathways that go on for miles, and find hidden pockets to contemplate. But if you’re looking for something a little more, well, dramatic, Central Park might be up your alley.

Shakespeare in the Park, produced by the Public Theater, is back with performances in the sprawling open-air venue. Watch adaptations of the writer’s famous works, often reimagined for the new age. For instance, the most recent production of Merry Wives features a cast of West African immigrants living in New York City as an ode to Black joy.

A production of Shakespeare in the Park.

FYI: Parks are a great way to enjoy the fresh air without a mask on. But just make sure to adhere to the 6-feet social distancing rule if you’re planning to picnic on a lawn. Plus, keep a mask handy for a quick indoor run to the restroom or indoor dining spots.

I’m All the Way Up...

Aerial views, a cityscape worthy of an Insta post, and a chance to revel at the fact that you’ve made it to the greatest city in the world. That’s what a rooftop visit can offer! And luckily, there are engaging activities on these high-rises to complement the view.

While I personally enjoy a good meal courtesy of a rooftop restaurant, you can also work off those calories in the same place. Hudson Yards offers Sky-High Yoga at the Edge, an eco-friendly outdoor sky deck with astounding views. Get your flow going and release the rush of adrenaline atop a glass observation deck 1,100 feet up in the air!

People practicing yoga on a rooftop.

Good Food and Dim Sum...

Last but certainly not least, New York City’s global cuisine. The necessary shut down of restaurants was perhaps one of the greatest social side effects of COVID-19. But outdoor dining has truly changed the game. That being said, drastic decrease in foot traffic truly impacted the industry. So, this is the perfect opportunity to support a local restaurant or even a local cause.

Chinatown is packed with souvenir stores and fresh food markets. But nothing can compare to the vibrant cuisine dispersed throughout the neighborhood. In response to anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobia, residents, nonprofit organizations, and culinary historians like Grace Young are advocating for neighborhood eateries and small businesses.

Good food and good deeds sounds like the right meal combination to me! If you’re new to the scene, my first recommendation is Nom Wah Tea Parlor!

Nom Wah Tea Parlor.

FYI: Indoor dining at New York City restaurants is operating at 50 percent capacity in Manhattan and 75 percent in other boroughs. You’ll find many restaurants with an outdoor option, but if you opt to dine inside, be prepared for temperature checks, social distanced tables, and a mask-on policy when not seated.

Keeping Up with the...Phases

As New York City continues to reopen to the public, guidelines and regulations may be subject to change, so make sure to stay informed!

Follow New York Forward for CDC guidelines and updates across all industries. Keep your pulse on the social scene by signing up for newsletters. My go-to is the Thrillist. Happy trails!

Dashka Gabriel, called Dash by most, is one of the Assistant Directors of Special Events and Visitor Relations in the Office of Enrollment Management. An alumna of NYU’s Public Relations M.S. program, she’s passionate about creating experiences that bring people of all backgrounds to the greatest city in the world. When she’s not running around behind the scenes, she enjoys exploring her Brooklyn neighborhood, playing (and winning!) Broadway musical lotteries, and having a solo movie night at the Alamo Drafthouse.