Last Updated on February 2, 2020 by travelingwithsunscreen
First of all, let’s get this out of the way: New York City is great to visit at any time of year. If you have a set time for your vacation and you’re thinking about visiting New York, fine! Go for it. NYC is one of the greatest cities in the world, and you’ll love it year round! But if you do have flexibility in your schedule, there are a few factors to keep in mind when choosing the best time to visit New York City.
Crowds: tourist attractions can be overwhelmingly crowded, or relatively empty, depending on the time of the year. If crowds bother you, and you’ll be visiting a lot of tourist sites, avoid the busy seasons. If you’ll be staying off the beaten path, or if you don’t mind a crowd, this might not matter as much. (Here is where I got the data for the crowds. It varies a little year by year, but it’s interesting to look over!)
Weather: New York has four full seasons, and each one is wildly different from the last. Plus, in a city that’s so pedestrian-oriented, you can bet you’ll be spending time outside. Plan accordingly.
Special events: New York always has something going on, but some times of the year are a little extra special. It just might be worth planning your trip around one of these special events!
Here is our month-by-month guide to choosing the best time to go to New York City!
New York in January
- Crowds: minimal
- Weather: freezing
- Special events: Restaurant Week, Broadway Week, Must-See Week
January is cold and inhospitable. It’s also a great time to avoid other tourists. Kids are back at school, adults are back to work, the holidays are over, and no one wants to be out touristing in a snowy, slushy New York City.
And snowy and slushy it will be. It does snow in New York, but snow doesn’t last long in a city of over 8 million. Before long, it’s gray, wet, grimy slush. It’s piled at street crossings and it’s tracked into subway stations. It’s everywhere. Bring boots.
BUT the lack of tourist action means that a couple of special events are put on for locals. You, too, can take part! First is Restaurant Week, which is actually about three weeks at the end of January and beginning of February. If you’re looking to try out some great NYC restaurants on a budget, this is the time for you to visit. Participating restaurants (and there are a lot of them) provide deep discounts on fixed lunch and dinner menus, allowing you to eat fancy for less money! The best deals can be had at lunch, when regular New Yorkers are stuck at work.
That same three-week period is also Broadway Week. The vast majority of shows offer two-for-one tickets during this time. If you’re hoping to catch multiple Broadway productions during your visit, it might be worth braving the cold and snow for the massive savings available in January.
And finally, there’s Must-See Week, when you can get 2-for-1 tickets for attractions like the Bronx Zoo and the Empire State Building Observatory. It’s a great time to check some sites off your bucket list!
New York in February
- Crowds: still minimal
- Weather: still freezing
- Special events: Restaurant Week continues, Broadway Week continues, Must-See Week continues, Lunar New Year Parade
Is February a good time to visit New York? Well, the weather in February really isn’t much better than it is in January. If anything, New Yorkers that you meet will be especially grouchy, because they’re more than ready for spring.
BUT! Before you rule it out as a time to visit, bear in mind that February hosts the final week of Restaurant Week, Broadway Week, and Must-See Week. Furthermore, February is when you can catch the Lunar New Year Parade, an all-day affair in Chinatown. This parade is cool; it’s definitely worth it to stand in the cold for a few hours to enjoy it. And, when you’re ready to warm up, there are no shortage of excellent restaurants all over Chinatown!
New York in March
- Crowds: starting to get busy
- Weather: starting to warm up if you’re lucky, but it’s still basically winter
- Special events: Saint Patrick’s Day Parade
As the saying goes, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Usually. Well, sometimes. If you’re visiting NYC in March, definitely plan on a winter-y vibe, but who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky and it will feel like spring! Probably because of the inhospitable weather, tourism remains pretty low in March, and crowds shouldn’t be a huge concern.
New York City has a strong Irish past, and nowhere is this celebrated more than at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. If you want to fill your NYC trip with bagpipers, marching bands, and more, then March may be the month for you to visit!
So, is March a good time to visit New York? It’s basically the luck of the draw. It might be a lovely, early spring, or it might be a slushy, mushy winter. You’ll just have to wait and see!
New York in April
- Crowds: getting crowded, but not yet at peak tourism
- Weather: springy and often pleasant, but often rainy and gray
- Special events: Cherry Blossom Festival, Smorgasburg opens
April is a solid, best-of-all-worlds month to visit NYC. The weather’s not perfect, but it’s not bad. You’ll have a pleasant-enough time strolling Fifth Avenue and Central Park and taking the Staten Island Ferry, if you make sure to check the weather report in the morning. Plus, it’s starting to get busy, but it’s still less crowded than it will be for most of the rest of the year.
April does have one special event, the Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Cherry blossoms are lovely, of course, but if you’re dreaming of a cherry-filled vacation, it may be better to stick to DC or Japan. The Botanic Garden tends to be packed for this festival, so don’t count on a relaxing amble under the cherry blossoms.
April is also the month when Smorgasburg opens for the season in its original Williamsburg location. This food extravaganza takes place every weekend throughout the summer. The best food vendors from across the city meet in one place to sell you some of the most delicious food-truck-style food you’ve ever tasted. Sure, Smorgasburg continues to operate in other locations throughout the year, but the original location is by far the best. Have a huge lunch on the lawn overlooking the lower Manhattan skyline. It’ll be a day to remember!
New York in May
- Crowds: as busy as it gets
- Weather: lovely – neither too hot, nor too cold. Outdoor sections of restaurants should be open!
- Special events: Fleet Week, Shakespeare in the Park begins
May is a lovely month. You’ll catch New Yorkers in some of their best moods all year. Winter is over at last and the sun is out, but there’s no need for air conditioning yet. Picnics can be had in parks and wine can be sipped on patios. Tourists know this, too, so expect most tourist sites to be at pretty much peak capacity.
May in NYC means Fleet Week. This is when a host of Navy vessels dock in NYC. The streets are full of sailors clad in white, and there are plenty of events open to the public, including a Parade of Ships on the Hudson River, ship tours, and more.
May is also the beginning of Shakespeare in the Park, the famed free Shakespeare plays put on in Central Park by the Public Theater. These shows are suuuuper popular. Prepare to spend most of the day queuing up in order to get tickets, although online lotteries are now sometimes an option. The advantage of going in May is that most New Yorkers aren’t yet aware that the season has begun, and the competition for tickets may be a little yet fierce!
New York in June
- Crowds: as busy as it gets
- Weather: hot, but not yet maximum heat
- Special events: Coney Island Mermaid Parade, Governors Ball Music Festival, NYC Pride March, Puerto Rican Day Parade, Brew at the Zoo, Summerstage begins, Shakespeare in the Park continues
June is a busy month in NYC. It’s crowded, it’s busy, but there’s just so much to see and do. The weather is getting hot, but it’s not yet unbearable. Let’s get to the events!
June is a huge month for parades! For the artistically-minded, there’s the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. The costumes are incredible and the atmosphere is festive! A quick warning to those with children – mermaids are often quiiite scantily-clad. It’s just part of being a sea-dweller!
The Puerto Rican Day Parade is another huuge event in NYC. Nearly a tenth of New York City’s population is of Puerto Rican descent, and their cultural footprint is huge. Come take part in the festivities!
And, of course, one of the biggest parades in New York all year is the NYC Pride March. Naturally, the city that’s home to Stonewall would have the biggest Pride celebration in the world. This is an event not to be missed, for members of the LGBT+ community and for allies!
June is also the month of music! The Governors Ball Music Festival on Randall’s Island takes place each year in June. The lineups are usually big, and tickets sell out pretty early on. If you’re planning on attending, you should buy your ticket by early spring to make sure you have a spot!
For music-lovers who aren’t so into the festival scene, June is also the beginning of Summerstage, which is less festival, more concert series. Throughout the summer, the City Parks Foundation invites a huge variety of acts to perform in parks throughout the five boroughs. There will be big pop groups. There will be opera. There will be dance. Some of the shows are free and others are paid. I particularly love the ones right in Central Park – what a quintessential New York experience! Regardless of your preferences, there will be something for you.
But that’s still not all that June has going on! Love animals? Love beer? Check out Brew at the Zoo. The Bronx Zoo should be on any tourist’s radar, even when beer is not flowing.
New York in July
- Crowds: as busy as it gets
- Weather: hot hot hot
- Special events: July 4 fireworks and hot dog eating contest, Restaurant Week begins, Broadway Week begins, free outdoor movie screenings start, Summerstage continues, Shakespeare in the Park continues
July anywhere in the United States means one thing: Independence Day! The fourth of July is a day of fireworks, barbecues, parades, and celebrations, and NYC is no exception.
Even those who aren’t from the city are likely familiar with Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island. Many people will say “gross,” but some will say, “that sounds just like something I’d like to go see!” In case you are in the latter group, it couldn’t be easier to attend. Head down to Coney Island early in the morning on July 4. The event isn’t ticketed, but you should definitely expect crowds.
If speed-eating isn’t your scene, perhaps you’d prefer to spend your Fourth of July scouting out a spot for the Macy’s 4th of July Firework Show. These are some of the biggest and most elaborate July 4th fireworks in the country. The spectacle is amazing, but expect crowds, crowds crowds.
July is also the beginning of one of the most relaxing NYC seasons: free outdoor movie screening season! Parks across the city host free movie nights. Bring a picnic blanket, snacks, and friends, and settle in for a movie under the stars.
In general, July is a hot and crowded month in the city. Unless you’re dying to hit up some Independence Day events, we’d generally recommend you choose a slightly cooler, slightly less busy month to visit if you want to enjoy your NYC visit to the max.
New York in August
- Crowds: as busy as it gets
- Weather: still super hot
- Special events: Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival, Restaurant Week continues, Broadway Week continues, free outdoor movie screenings continue, Summerstage continues, Shakespeare in the Park continues
August, like July, is generally hot, and generally crowded. Summer favorites like Summerstage and Shakespeare in the Park are still on, and Restaurant Week and Broadway Week are coming to a close, but there aren’t too many special events.
The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival is a cultural festival worth checking out. In addition to dragon boat races, there is food and cultural performances. It’s a great opportunity to check out Queens!
Otherwise, though, maybe best to choose another month. August is sweltering, crowded, and expensive.
New York in September
- Crowds: still as busy as it gets
- Weather: just lovely
- Special events: Feast of San Gennaro, Global Citizen Festival, Electric Zoo music festival
September, for example, is likely a better choice for your visit! The weather is amazing. Still mostly warm, but with a little bit of a fall tinge in the air.
By September, the summer events have mostly wrapped up, but there’s still plenty to do! The Global Citizen Festival is a totally free, day-long music festival in Central Park. The lineup tends to be incredible, and everyone is there for a good cause. The mission of Global Citizen is to help end global poverty. So, while you can’t buy tickets to this festival, you do have to earn them. Prior to the festival, you can download the Global Citizen app and complete an array of challenges, such as calling your congresspeople about anti-poverty legislation, or signing petitions in support of good causes. Complete enough of them, and you’ll be eligible to win free tickets!
If electronic music is really your thing, you probably already know about Electric Zoo. Held on Randall’s Island every Labor Day weekend, this is a major event for electronic music lovers.
And, if you’d really just rather eat (and celebrate Italian culture and heritage), then the Feast of San Gennaro is for you. This is the one time of year when actual New Yorkers hit up Little Italy. (Don’t be fooled; it’s usually a tourist trap.) There’s a parade, there’s a cannoli-eating contest, and there is Italian food galore! If you live for pizza and pasta, NYC in September might be perfect!
New York in October
- Crowds: still as busy as it gets. In fact, October is sometimes the busiest month of the year!
- Weather: getting a little chilly but generally great
- Special events: NYC Comic Con, Greenwich Village Halloween Parade
October is, surprisingly, still completely at peak on the tourism front. Who, you may ask, are all of these people who decide to take their vacation in October? Frankly, we have no idea.
Not to say that NYC in October is in any way a bad idea. It’s the season of the classic New York fall. Leaves changing in Central Park, crisp fall air, sweaters everywhere. October really is pretty pleasant.
What’s going on in October in New York? This is the month of Comic Con, which you surely know about if that’s your thing. But that’s not the biggest costumed event in NYC in October.
The Village Halloween Parade is a sight to behold. There are dancers, bands, giant puppets, and mostly: people in costume! You can even march in the parade – instructions here! Just make sure your costume is great. The creativity on display at this parade is a sight to behold. If you’re in New York at Halloween, this is an experience not to be missed.
New York in November
- Crowds: a tiny bit less busy, but still pretty crowded
- Weather: starting to get pretty wintry
- Special events: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York City Marathon
November is really the beginning of winter. Sometimes NYC sees its first snow in November. Often, the temperatures get chilly.
If you’re in NYC in early November, find a spot along the (long) route to check out the New York City Marathon. Every year, some of the best runners in the world compete, along with ordinary people achieving their marathon dreams! You can stand along the sidelines to cheer them on, or you can even sign up to work as a volunteer! Just remember to dress for the potential cold weather!
Later in the month is the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There are marching bands, floats, pop stars, giant balloons, and, of course, Santa Claus. As you might expect, the parade is very crowded. For a calmer experience, you can head the night before to the American Museum of Natural History to watch the balloons be inflated. If you do really want to see the parade, find a spot along the route early (like, 6 AM early). Bear in mind that the bleachers spots are reserved for Macy’s employees and others who help out with the parade, so if you want a good view, you have to be right on the curb! (If you can afford the splurge, getting a hotel room with a view of the parade route is also worth considering).
New York in December
- Crowds: not quite at peak, but still pretty crowded
- Weather: fully cold
- Special events: 5th Avenue Window Displays, Rockettes, Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting, the Nutcracker, holiday markets, Santacon, Times Square Ball Drop
December really is a lovely time to visit New York City, despite the chilly weather. That’s because New York at Christmastime is pretty iconic. If you haven’t experienced it before, it’s worth the trip!
There’s the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. The stores along 5th Avenue put out their famous holiday window displays. The Rockettes are Rocketting at Radio City, and the ballet is Nutcrackering at the Lincoln Center. Each of these holiday favorites is spectacular in its own right, and together, they make up a full NYC Christmas. The holiday season hits NYC hard.
December is also the season of holiday markets. All across the city, these markets feature local artisans. They’re a one-stop shop for gift-buying. The food sold at the markets is also pretty great. My favorite is the Bryant Park market (“the Winter Village”), which also features an ice skating rink!
For those looking for something slightly less wholesome, there’s Santacon, the event in which fratty young men and women dress up like Santa Claus in the East Village and day-drink all day long. A unique, New-York-only way to celebrate the holidays!
And then, of course, there’s the infamous Times Square Ball Drop. New Yorkers avoid this like the plague. It’s cold and it’s crowded, and realistically you have to get there hours and hours in advance to be able to see the show. But, I hear rumors that the crowd is particularly cheerful and convivial, and that the atmosphere is fun and lively. If you get there a couple of hours before midnight, you’ll be a few blocks away from Times Square itself, but you’ll still be able to get the gist of the event without risking frostbite from a full day in the cold.
That’s our guide! What do you think it’s the best time to travel to New York City? Did we leave out some great events? (We definitely did, this city’s amazing!) Let us know in the comments!