Great news! NYC’s free outdoor swimming pools are among the many, many things that are reopening for the summer 2021 season. The outdoor pool season starts June 26 and runs to September 12. NYC is home to numerous free, public pools — including the pool from that In the Heights scene.) Whether you want to just splash around or work on swimming skills with your kids, there’s a pool for you. Here are the best outdoor pools in NYC where you can beat the heat free of charge this summer.
Know Before You Go
Before we tell you the top pools, here's what you need to know about swimming at NYC pools this summer. Outdoor pool hours are free and open to the public from 11 a.m. through 7 p.m., with a break for pool cleaning between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Early morning and late night adult lap swim hours are also available at some locations.
In the past, the city has offered free swimming lessons through the Learn to Swim program. It is still being determined if the program will take place in 2021. More info is available here.
Be Cool, Know the Rules: New York City Public Pool Rules
Before you head to one of the pools to take a quick dip, be sure to read all of the rules carefully—and be prepared to take them seriously. Staff is on hand checking all pool guests to make sure they adhere to the rules, and they are not messing around. First, don't be surprised if you have to show your padlock (regardless of whether you intend to put anything in a locker or not, you'll need this to get in the door) and bathing suit before they'll let you in.
Other rules include: only white tees are allowed in the pool (over the top of suits), no water toys or floatation devices are allowed, and you must take a shower in the locker room before entering the pool. Don't plan on taking more than the essentials (towels, goggles, sunscreen) on the pool deck. Beach chairs, baby strollers ("We make our best effort to secure strollers," they say), bags, blankets, beach balls, phones and cameras are all prohibited on the pool deck. Despite all the rules, we promise a dip in a public pool can be a fun, mini vacation when the mercury rises in NYC. (For a full list of every free NYC pool, head here.)
Cool Pools: New & Improved Spots to Splish & Splash
In recent years, the city has rolled out the "Cool Pools." These pools haven't undergone improvements since the 1970s, and are located in under-served areas (one in each borough). The pools are spruced up with more green plantings, fun summer wall art, cabana-style structures for shade, and lounge chairs. The most recent batch of Cool Pools can be found here:
Red Hook: Sol Goldman Pool
This Olympic-sized pool is near a recreation center, ball fields, IKEA and cafes. Make a day trip of it and stuff yourself after your swim at a food truck (during the summer they usually park at the edge of the park), or try a hipster cafe on Van Brunt Street.
Insider Tip: This pool is usually a lot quieter than most public pools and includes a large splash area perfect for toddlers. Get there early and you can even score one of the few provided lounge chairs.
Sol Goldman Pool
155 Bay St. btwn Clinton and Henry
Red Hook, Brooklyn
Nearest transportation: Smith - 9 Streets Station (F, G)
Greenpoint: McCarren Park Pool
Another Olympic-size pool, Greenpoint’s McCarren Pool is located in the 35-acre McCarren Park. After being closed for a couple of decades in the 80s and 90s, the pool became a spot for concerts and events. In 2012 it re-opened as a public pool, with the bathhouse and dramatic entry arch preserved.
Go: McCarren Park Pool
776 Lorimer St.
Nearest transportation: Bedford Avenue or Lorimer Station (L), Metropolitan Avenue Station (G)
Astoria: Astoria Park Pool
Astoria Park has the largest pool in New York City, at 330-feet long. As well as the main, Olympic-sized pool and diving pool, you'll also find a wading pool here.
Insider Tip: They have a great area for kids that has been recently upgraded with sprinklers. The pool also has lounge chairs for use if you can find one free.
Astoria Park Pool
19th St. and 23rd Dr.
Nearest transportation: Astoria Blvd Station, Astoria-Ditmars Blvd Station (N, Q)
Upper East Side: John Jay Pool
For Uptown Manhattanites, this is the go-to pool, and not surprisingly it's packed with families. Besides having a 145-foot pool and a special diving area (a rare public pool find), the recreation area also boasts a 2011-renovated playground. With a "rivers edge" theme, you'll find a Whitehall row boat to play in, an elevated sand table, a water play area, wavy decks and a climbing net.
Insider Tip: Arrive at least 30 minutes before the pool opens if you're braving a weekend here. Prep the kids before you go, that you might not actually get to go swimming. Lines can get ridiculously long here.
John Jay Pool
East of York Ave. on 77th St.
Upper East Side
Nearest transportation: 77th St. Station (6)
Staten Island: Lyons Pool
One of 11 Olympic-sized pools built in 1936, Lyons Pool is known for its distinctive chimney feature, which is a well-known Staten Island landmark. From the top of the recreation center you can see Downtown Brooklyn.
Insider Tip: This is one of the few pools with a diving pool. It also features a wading pool for kiddos to enjoy.
6 Victory Blvd
Nearest transportation: Tompkinsville Station (SIR)
Lower East Side: Hamilton Fish Park
This beautiful pool is an oasis of calm and cleanliness on the Lower East Side. It has such a great reputation that the U.S. Olympic Team used it for practice sessions on their way to the 1952 Helsinki Games.
Insider Tip: The locker rooms don't have benches to sit on or to place your things, while you get ready, so be prepared to juggle. There also isn't much in the way of deck furniture, so bring a large towel or picnic blanket to sit on if you're planning on hanging around for a while.
Hamilton Fish Park
Pitt St. and Houston St.
Lower East Side
Nearest transportation: Essex St Station (J, M, Z), Delancey St Station (F), 2 Av Station (F)
Bronx: Van Cortlandt Park Pool
The largest non-Olympic sized public pool in NYC (it’s 164-feet long), Van Cortlandt Park Pool is edged by trees, a rarity in NYC!
Insider Tip: Expect a long line to get in, but don't be put off by the hordes of people — there's enough room inside for everyone. Want to beat the queue? Plan to get there an hour before it opens.
Van Cortlandt Park Pool
6000 Broadway and 242 St.
Nearest transportation: Van Cortlandt Park - 242nd St. (1)
— Christine Knight & Julie Seguss
Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of NYC Parks
Cover photo: David F. via Yelp