Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Best Month to Visit NYC

  What's the best time to come visit New York? It's a question fraught with variables. What are the crowds like? What is the traffic like? What's the weather like? And while any guidebook can provide some basics about average temperature, precipitation, and price, what you really need is an in-depth idea of the experience of visiting at a certain time. And each visitor is looking for something different. Some are travelling on a budget and so they need the best deals. Some want to experience the city at its most vibrant and energetic. Some want to see the big sights but don't want to wait in long lines. And some just hate the biting cold of winter of the harsh heat of summer.So we're going to take this month-by-month and give you an idea of what NYC is all about at different times of year. Best of all, there isn't really a bad time of year to visit. Every month has its pros and cons and there is something special about any time of year in New York. And first up is the first calendar month, is the least popular month to visit.




January

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  Falling right after the holidays, January is cold and dark and any potential visitors are poor, fat, and hungover. It's just psychologically a time when prudence and restraint wins out over spending money traveling. Plus it really is cold. But I actually think it's one of the better times of year to visit New York, especially because...

Cost - DEALS! DEALS! DEALS! January is absolutely the best time of year to save money on a trip to New York. Hotel rates are discounted 40% from the peak prices. Shops are shelling out post-holiday sales. NYC promotes deals for dinner and theater. Restaurant Week lasts most of January and offers prix-fixe dinners and lunches at hundreds of restaurants. Broadway Week runs most of the month as well and offers 2 for 1 tickets to lots of shows. This especially good for long running shows. There aren't as many shows on because slow ticket sales give theaters a chance to change over to new sets. But most of the long run shows offer some great deals. I would say you can reasonably expect a January visit to cost almost a third less than warmer months.

Weather - I should say right away that New York's weather is not predictable. Whatever time you visit could conceivably have a 50 degree Fahrenheit range of possible temperatures. And precipitation totals are similar almost every month, but it's impossible to guess which days exactly will have rain or snow. Precipitation is just going to be a roll of the dice whenever you come. As for January, it's cold. Winter temperatures are usually around 37F (3C) in the afternoon and more like 25F (-4C) at night. A cold snap can drop daytime temps down to the teens or even single digits F. My record for a tour was two years ago when the start of the tour registered 2F (-17C). And that day featured the typical arctic wind out of the northwest. So you will need to be prepared. Hats, scarves, jackets, gloves, and long underwear should all be on the packing list. For me, the most important winter gear is a good pair of waterproof boots. Thin thermal socks are great too--thick socks make my feet sweat which just chills them more. And you should make sure they are waterproof because snow, rain, ice, and slush is a definite possibility. New York gets about 30 inches of snow a year, mostly falling in January and February. Even if it doesn't snow while you're here, there may be slushy curbs and sidewalks left over from previous snows. But it's not always freezing cold. There are warm spells too. Those can actually be worse if they bring cold rain with them, which I always find harder to deal with than snow. But there can also be some lovely sunny days with temperatures in the 40s or 50s. I even remember one January day that got up to 70F (21C)! The biggest problem with winter weather isn't getting around or enjoying yourself though. It's flight delays. New York actually runs very well in the snow. Subway and taxis are running, shops and restaurants are open even in bad snowstorms. But our perpetually delayed airports get hammered in bad snow or ice. It's the biggest risk for a winter visit that you might not get here at all. Try to give yourself some leeway on travel days and times, and make the investment in trip insurance for your flight.

Crowds - January is easily the least crowded month to visit New York. There are virtually no lines for attractions like the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building. Restaurants have tables available all the time, especially on weekdays. Hot selling Broadway seats suddenly become available. You can have galleries at the Met or MoMA to yourself. Traffic is light. Subways are a little less crowded. The crowds in Midtown and on subways really can be stifling so this is a great time of year if you hate dealing with crowds or waiting in lines. There are also very few global school holidays in January so visitor numbers are pushed even further down.

Atmosphere & Events - The lack of crowds is so stark at this time of year, that it can almost be a negative thing. Part of the fun of NYC is seeing the crowded streets. Not only that, public spaces where New Yorkers hang out are stark and empty due to the cold. Washington Square doesn't have its normal vibrant energy. There's no performers on the streets or in the parks. New York is never a ghost town--although 5 AM on a January Sunday comes close--but everyone huddling indoors does diminish some of the fun of walking the streets and people watching that the rest of the year brings. There are also no major events happening in January to draw a big crowd. The sun goes down very early in January, making the evening rush hour a gloomy affair. And the city turns very dull and grey without the summer greenery. It's not the most beautiful time of year, except for the magic of falling snow. Snowfall's trance can be short lived though as it turns to muddy slush within hours on our streets. But when it's coming down and everything is lightly covered in white the city is magical. The parks turn into arctic playlands with kids sledding and adults playing and even skiing along the snowy paths. The stoops and brownstones of the side streets look festive and bright. Even the lights of Midtown look great behind a wall of snowflakes. You'll be the star of your instagram feed if you get some fresh snow during your visit.

Verdict - It's a great time of year for budget travelers or a more sightseeing oriented trip. It's less good for those wanting the experience of the city at its most energetic or exciting. Hope for snow, but not on the days you fly. I would actually come at the end of January, when the chance of snow is highest and there's no leftover New Year's crowds.

February

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 It's pretty much just like January, but with a little more stuff going on, and a little more sunlight. But it's still the dead of winter. So pack accordingly.

Cost - There's the same savings on hotels as in January, Close to 40% off peak prices. Broadway Week still runs into the first week of February, as does Restaurant Week. So the deals are slightly better in January, but the hotel costs are still low. Prices can be slightly higher in Mid-February however due to school holidays and the Spring Fashion week around the second weekend of February.

Weather - It's pretty much identical to January. The chance of snow is a little higher earlier in the month, but it'll be cold the whole time. It does start warming up a teensy bit at the end of the month, with average high temps creeping up to 42F (6C). But don't expect it to suddenly feel like Florida. 

Crowds - It's still really quiet in February. There won't be any big lines to get into attractions or museums. There might be a slight uptick the second week of February due to fashion week and school holidays, but it's not a popular enough travel time to cause any big crowds.

Atmosphere & Events - Fashion Week is always fun in the middle of winter. If you're anywhere near the runway shows, stop by and watch fashionistas in high heels walk through slush puddles. Chinese New Year takes place early in the month and has events over the course of the whole week. It usually starts with a firecracker display, followed by parades of dragons and drums. And if you're a fan of the classic film "Best in Show" you can head to Madison Square Garden for the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. It's the Garden's oldest event dating all the way back to the 1870s. Even if you have no idea how the dogs are being judged, it's still a lot of fun to go and watch them trot around the Garden floor. They're all so cute! But on the whole, February is another quiet month with most everyone still huddled inside. The city is still missing the vibrancy that warmer weather brings.

Verdict - I think if I was coming in the winter, I would just come in January. There's better deals to be had in January and you're not getting a better experience by coming in February. On the flip side, if you're tied to the school calendar and do visit during the mid-February school break there will be some fun events going on. 

March

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  Spring Break! Well, kind of. March is definitely a school break for kids all over the U.S. and abroad. But in New York, spring's arrival can be difficult to predict. Mid-March can feel like the time winter gives up, but sometimes old man winter can hang on until April. But even if the weather doesn't pick up, the crowds do.

Cost - Hotels won't be as cheap as in mid-winter, but they will still be relatively inexpensive. The prices are still about 25% less than peak periods, though the prices do rise a bit as you approach the end of the month. Flights also stay close to their winter lows until the end of the month. What can get confusing is the arrival of Easter, which usually falls in April but can also occur on the last weekend of March. If this happens, as it will in 2016, rates go way up for flights and hotels that weekend since it is one of the busiest weekends of the year as almost all European, South American, and some American and Australian families have school break. In fact, an early Easter means even more American students will have that week off since their usual March break will be taken that week rather than earlier. But even with students and families arriving in early March, prices stay low until Easter.

Weather - In like a lion, out like a lamb is the old saying about March, and it's generally true. Early March still has overnight temps below freezing and days in the 40s, but by the end of the month the average day time temp has climbed up to 53F (11C). Often that middle week in March can feel like the first day when big puffy coats can be put away. Plus it's staying lighter later, and the start of Daylight Saving Time in mid-March pushes sunset back an extra hour. In a mild winter, March is often lovely. But in a hard winter, March sucks. We have had recent winters where snow and cold persisted into April. And while the temperatures may warm slightly, that often just means a cold rain or melting snowpack. Snowy days are great, and days when the accumulated snow are melting are kinda crummy. Slush and mud is persistent on those melt days and it can make walking around a soggy proposition. Even on warm days, there's no signs of spring yet. Flowers, grass, and trees don't actually start blooming until April, so the parks and streets are still drab and grey, except instead of snow it's more likely to rain. Overall, it's my least favorite month of weather.

Crowds - March can actually bring big crowds, especially on major school holidays. So you will likely run into lots of families, especially at major attractions. The lines for things like Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty can run pretty long. It's also a popular time for large groups of students to travel together. High school bands, choirs, or sports teams will travel in huge groups, sometimes hundreds of kids and it can bog down big attractions as they move through. But outside the major sights, it's not a busy time of year for business or local travel so streets and restaurants aren't too busy. March joins the other winter months as one of the best months for Manhattan traffic. 

Atmosphere & Events - March marks the beginning of months of major parades in New York with the venerable St. Patrick's Day parade on March 17th. It's a great event with hundreds of groups of pipes and drums marching up 5th Avenue. Plus it's just fun to see people with bagpipes and cable knit sweaters on the subway. The parade falls just at that moment where winter either gives way to lovely weather or hangs on for a couple more weeks. We have had parades in beautiful warm sunshine and parades with a few inches of snow. The Big East college basketball tournament plays in the second week of March at Madison Square Garden. The conference has been rearranged and its not as big as it once was, but it still draws fans from different schools all over the northeast for the four day tournament. The atmosphere in the city just depends on the warm weather. That first warm day of spring always is a great one as New Yorkers rush to the parks and open spaces to enjoy the warm sunshine. There's just no telling if that happens in March or not. 

Verdict - March is actually my least favorite month to visit. The weather is usually still crummy, everything's a little muddy, the city isn't really beautiful looking in a wintry or spring way. There are big crowds at a lot of attractions, but the city itself isn't too lively yet. The first week of March is still cheap and uncrowded, but the rest of the month is, for my money, the worst time to visit.

April

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  Ah, spring! The warm weather finally arrives! And while it is said the April showers bring May flowers, the truth is that April isn't rainier than any other month. In fact, May averages slightly more rain. The flowers are truly in bloom and New York shakes off the March blues. But the prices are starting to go up.

Costs - Hotel prices have crept up, but they're still not at peak prices yet. Rooms are still 15-20% below peak prices. Though you can expect to pay more on Easter week. Flights are also still reasonable as long as its not around Easter. There's not going to be too many sweet deals on offer in town, but it's still a fairly moderately priced month to visit.

Weather - No more snow! The last frost of the year is usually around late April, so the fountains around town are turned on around the end of the month. The flowers are starting to bloom everywhere. There are tulips, daffodils, azaleas are in bloom in parks and streets everywhere. The flowering trees are in even more beautiful with the white pear trees, pink cherry blossoms, and the amazing redbuds all starting to bloom. But don't think it's all short sleeve days. It's still jacket weather with temps still dropping below freezing on some early April nights. But the days warm up as the month goes on and by the end of the month days are averaging 63F (17C). It's a great month for layers and light coats, which is always fashionable. Mild days also mean you won't be a sweaty mess at the end of the day, so there's less running back to the hotel to change or shower. You can stay outside all day and all night. Just don't forget the rain gear. You'll need boots and coats if a rainy day hits during your visit. 

Crowds - Easter week is one of the busiest of the whole year in New York. There are tons of travelers from all over the world who descend on New York. Schools in New York are out for the week of Passover, which sometimes matches up with Easter and sometimes doesn't. In 2016 it falls a month after Easter towards the end of April. So that means that this year on Easter most locals will still be in town, adding to the crowds on the streets. Lines for popular attractions are huge for Easter week. When NYC does have its April school break it has a mixed effect on the crowds. Some families leave town, but others stay and do things around town. If you can avoid Easter and Passover, April is not a terribly crowded time of year.

Atmosphere & Events - The nice weather means New York finally starts to shed its winter coats and enjoy the city. People will take the chance to eat outside at sidewalk cafes or a quick lunch in the parks or streets. Nightlife picks up as a night on the town no longer requires a parka and long underwear. Street musicians appear. The color starts to return to the streets. The Callory Pear trees are particularly awesome as they can line whole blocks with beautiful white blossoms for weeks. There's a lot going on around town as well. The Tribeca Film Festival takes place over a two week span in mid-April, so the restaurants and bars downtown are bustling with the film industry. The screenings cost more than a typical multiplex, but it's a cool opportunity for a unique movie experience. One of the most popular festivals of the year is the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It takes place at the end of April and celebrates Japanese culture and it highlights the BBG's awesome cherry trees. But even if you can't make it to the festival, it's a beautiful time of year to be in New York.

Verdict - April is one of my favorite times of year, as long as you avoid Easter weekend if at all possible. The costs aren't too expensive, the crowds aren't too bad, the city is lively, and the scenery is beautiful. The exact best week will always be a little different, but the end of April is a wonderful time to come to New York

May

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   New York has officially hit its stride for the year in May. There's all kinds of things going on. The weather is beautiful, when its not raining. And school is still in session which keeps away huge crowds. And the city is in full bloom and turning green. But all these advantages have a price.

Cost - May is one of the more expensive hotel months, though its still not as bad as in the fall. It's still a little off of peak prices but only by about 10%. Flights are still inexpensive though, at least at the beginning of the month. But as you get closer to Memorial Day weekend, flight and hotel prices jump up. Even so, the prices aren't as high as some other times of year. It's not a bargain, but it's not super expensive.

Weather - In short, it's beautiful. Temps at the beginning of the month are around 65F (C) and by the end of the month have climbed to 73F (C). It's not quite summer yet so you still need to pack a light jacket or sweater. But there are lots of days perfect for jeans and a t-shirt. This is definitely a month to check the exact forecast before you pack. It's quite possible to have chilly nights all through the month. May is technically the rainiest month, but the odds of rain aren't really all that different than any other month. Pack some boots and coats but you'll most likely have sunny days during your visit. One thing to be ready for is the first heat wave of the season. It's quite possible, especially late in the month, to have temps rise to the high 80s or even low 90s. So bring some shorts and be prepared for a little extra heat.

Crowds - May is one of the busiest month for the city's infrastructure. Traffic begins to snarl more regularly as more locals are out socializing, business conferences are in session, and students and trade workers are in high gear. The subways, sidewalks, bars, and restaurants are all just a little busier. But all these people everywhere aren't necessarily tourists. The end of school arriving means more families at home preparing for exams and fewer travelling on holidays. Lines at the major attractions are only medium length. And then on the last weekend of May, the whole thing gets flipped round. On Memorial Day weekend, the whole city empties out quite a bit. Locals head to the beach or the mountains for a well deserved three day weekend. And in their place come a wave of tourists. Schools are out in many parts of America and Australia and the summer tourist crowds really begin. There will be huge lines and crowds at the Statue of Liberty, 9/11 Museum, Empire State Building, High Line and more that weekend. But many things are actually less crowded. It's one of the best weekends of the year for popular restaurant tables--assuming it's not somewhere like Ellen's Stardust that caters exclusively to tourists. Brunch and dinner reservations are much easier to come by. Traffic is very light, and subways are emptier. So it's a bad weekend for sightseeing but a great one for dining out.

Atmosphere & Events - New York feels great in May. The weather is usually warm but comfortable. There's musicians and performers everywhere. The people watching is excellent. I especially love that first truly warm day where everyone rushes to the park to play or just lay out and try to get rid of the winter paleness. Central Park is particularly resplendent in May. Azaleas, rhododendrons, magnolia trees, and even some roses are in full bloom. It's an awesome atmosphere throughout the city. There's no big blockbuster events going on in May but there are lots of fun little events happening. The 9th Avenue food festival celebrates the world of culinary options found in Hell's Kitchen. The Manhattan Cocktail Classic offers hundreds of specialty cocktails at bars all over the island. Outdoor performances like Shakespeare in the Park begin in late May. As do some of the summer morning concerts from Good Morning America and the Today Show. The biggest event of the month is the 5 Boro Bike Tour in early May. It crowds Central Park for the weekend but generally doesn't disrupt things too much. But the classic May event is Fleet Week, taking place on and around Memorial Day. A half dozen or so U.S. Navy ships dock in New York for some much needed R&R for the sailors. There are parades and tours of the ships available. But mostly its just the sight of uniformed sailors and marines in Times Square, at shows, and at bars of course, that is an important part of the annual rhythms  of New York.

Verdict - Early May is one of the absolute best times to visit New York. The streets are crowded but the attractions aren't. The weather is warm but pleasant. There's things going on but nothing too disruptive. The streets are beautiful, the fashion is on point, and even the rainy days are a little warmer. But do be ready for big lines and crowds if you're doing any sightseeing on Memorial Day weekend.

June

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   It's the start of summer! Summer unofficially begins on Memorial Day, but NYC schools aren't actually let out until the end of June. So it's not quite summer yet. Nevertheless the temperature is rising and the many NYC summer events begin. But the locals haven't yet left for the summer so it's still bustling in the city. 

Cost - It may seem counter-intuitive, but hotel prices actually begin to fall in the summer. It's because spring and fall are when the major media/fashion/business events are in town. So hotels are still full in the summer but the prices aren't as high. June hotel costs are actually closer to the rates in April when hotels are 15-20% below peak, especially later in June. However, the cost of flights jumps up. You could pay close to 30% more than in March or April for flights. So there's not much overall price difference from the spring. But if you can find a cheap flight or pay for the flight with miles or points, you can enjoy some hotel savings, especially later in the month.

Weather - Early June is a lovely summery time of year. The constant heat of midsummer hasn't quite arrived but the temperatures are still perfect for short sleeves. Some days might bring heat waves of tropical heat, or possibly some days of cool rain and clouds. But the averages daytime temperatures hover around the mid 70s farenheit (25 C). As the month goes on, summer heat becomes more persistent and unpleasant. June is also a relatively dry month. While there's not much difference in rain from month to month, June does average around a half inch less of rain than the spring months. June is the month when roses are in bloom in gardens, yards, and parks all over the city. June also sees the trees fully greened and the parks and streets take on a summer sheen of green leaves. It's certainly more pleasant than the hotter months of July and August and early June still can have the feel of a warm spring day.

Crowds - June is a transition month for crowds in NYC. Many schools around the world are still in session, including in NYC. That means most New Yorkers are still in town so roads and subways are still busy. However, many schools in the south and west of America are already on summer break by the first of June and the big crowds of summer tourists are beginning to be felt. But overall, the fact that only some families have the time off means that crowds aren't at their worst for major attractions. There will still be lines, but not the interminable ones of midsummer. Plus the fact that locals are still around gives the city some extra crowds but a lot of vibrancy as well. But by the last week of June everyone is on summer break and the weather has heated up and the tourist crowds have swelled.

Atmosphere & Events - The mix of tourists and locals in the first three weeks of June make for a great vibrant mixture on the streets. Public spaces like Washington Square and Union Square are humming with folks performing, sunbathing, walking their dogs, and soaking up the nice weather and atmosphere. Restaurants, bars, attractions, and parks are all busy but not overwhelmed. Some of the summer's free events kick into gear all over the city. NYC's under appreciated beaches open for summer swimming and the boardwalk at Coney Island's weird wonderful attractions jump back to life. Some of the city's major parades take places like the Puerto Rican Day parade and its 2 million attendees in mid-June and the uninhibited fun of the Gay Pride parade on the last Sunday of June. Coney Island's nautical-themed burlesque Mermaid Parade occurs in mid-June. The Museum Mile festival in early June features an evening of street entertainment as well as free admission to the great museums along 5th Avenue. June is also usually when the New York Philharmonic performs for free in Central Park. If you can avoid any major heat waves, June has one of the best atmospheres of any month on the calendar. Plus the wonderful late sunsets of the summer solstice give the late nights an even livelier feel than normal.

Verdict - Early June continues late May's great vibe and weather. There's not a lot of cost savings, but the first few weeks of June make for one of the best times of the year to visit. Late June cuts down on the locals in town, adds more visitors, and increases the heat so I like early weeks of the month the best.

July

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   Hot town, summer in the city. Back of my neck gettin' dirty and gritty. The Lovin' Spoonful classic "Summer in the City" seems like the perfect description of a stifling summer heat wave in New York. I admit to not dealing with well with the heat. It seems like I have to buy a whole new wardrobe of shirts after a summer of sweating through them. But at least there's all kinds of things going on to keep busy.

Cost - Surprisingly, midsummer is not the most expensive time for a visit to New York, even though tourism is at its peak. Hotels are still full, but since family travelers increase and business travelers decrease in these months the rates drop a little bit. Rates actually drop back to where they were in March or April, about a 20% cut from peak weeks. Flights are at their most expensive however. Flights on major holidays are the most expensive but summer flights are still a little pricier than other times of year. On the other hand, there are a ton of free events in summer and even a midsummer version of restaurant week starting in late July. So other than the airfare, its a very reasonable time to visit.

Weather - Get ready to sweat! New York's summers are actually not always steaming hot, but you can be sure at some point every July the mercury will climb to uncomfortable temperatures. On a nice July day cloud cover or dry air can make for a pleasant 80 degree (27 C) day. But during a heat wave--which can last just a few days or sometimes weeks--the temperature shoots up to the 90s and can even hit 100 degrees (38 C). Any trip to NYC is going to involve walking around, and the summer heat makes this a lot harder to endure. You'll have to factor in time back at the hotel after a day on the town for showering and freshening up before heading back out in the evening. July also is a somewhat rainier month but this isn't as bad as it sounds. Summer rain in New York tends to be the tropical variety where a sunny humid day is capped off by a brief afternoon or evening thunderstorm. It's pretty rare for a summer day to be a total washout. Besides, summer storms can be exciting and refreshing.   

Crowds - July marks the peak period for summer tourist crowds. All American schools are out, as are Canadian, European, and Australian schools. Expect big waits for bus tours and attractions and bigger crowds in museums and busy tourist spots like Chelsea Market and the High Line. Tickets to big Broadway shows will be hardest to get at this time of year. The lines for discount tickets at TKTS are at their longest. Popular eateries with visitors like Carmine's or Katz's get really crowded, especially on weekends. It's a good time of year to start your days early. The early morning hours are bright but cool and the big crowds don't appear until closer to 10 AM. But there is a counterpoint to the crowds. It's the time of year when NYC residents take their weekends or even whole weeks outside the city. Every Friday a mass exodus of cars head to Manhattan's bridges and tunnels for weekends at the beach or in the country. So restaurant tables in Manhattan's neighborhoods are a little easier to get. Shops aren't quite as crazy as during the spring or fall and some even have sales going on. This pattern is amplified on the July 4th weekend. Neighborhood restaurants and bars can feel empty but the big attractions are at their most crowded. It's a great weekend for hitting trendy restaurants and bars. And the big holiday weekend means less traffic in the subways and on the streets. 

Events & Atmosphere - There's so much going on! There's outdoor concerts and block parties all over the city all July long. Celebrate Brooklyn! brings great free shows to Prospect Park. River to River Festival features bands and stages in parks all over Manhattan. Central Park Summerstage is featuring free concerts multiple times a week. Good Morning America and Today are both featuring free morning concerts. Shakespeare in the Park tickets are hard to get sometimes but it's a great free night of theater in Central Park. Lincoln Center features free and ticketed outdoor performances. Street fairs run every weekend all over the city. And nowhere goes as big as NYC for Indepenedence Day fireworks. The location of the fireworks shifts from year to year but they're always somewhere along New York's waterways. It's a 25 minute barrage of ballistic beauty to celebrate America's birthday. Plus there's smaller fireworks throughout the city, not to mention the illegal backyard variety in every neighborhood. Coney Island once again let's its freak flag fly with the annual 4th of July hot dog eating contest, which is televised on ESPN these days. And speaking of sports the Mets or Yankees have a baseball game almost every day. The parades take a break for midsummer, but regardless if you can't find something to do in July you aren't looking very hard. The only downside is that with so many locals out of the city, it can sometimes feel like the city is only made up of tourists and for me that puts a little bit of a damper on the atmosphere. I think it's always nicer when NYC feels more lived-in and less like a theme park.

Verdict - The heat and the crowds are a lot to handle and it makes it a challenging time to visit, especially for a classic sightseeing trip. But it's not all bad because of all the activities and things happening around town. It wouldn't be my first choice of when to visit, but for a week spent hanging out and soaking up the restaurants, bars, and events July can work very well. And the small cost savings can make it appealing for a more budget-minded traveler. 

August

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   The dog days of summer are in full force. The subway platforms are sweltering at almost 100 degrees and the streets aren't much better. Summer weather tends to persist right through to the end of August, as do school holidays. So everything stays pretty much the same as July.

Cost - Hotels remain somewhat cheaper and flights remain somewhat more expensive. Restaurant week runs into the third week of August. And free events continue throughout the city. Everything is pretty much the same as July.

Weather - More of the same from July. There are warm days punctuated by heat waves. Rain usually is brief and contained to the afternoon and evening. As you reach the last week of August the average high temperature does start to fall a bit to 78 degrees (25 C), but in my experience the days still feel hot sticky all the way to September. It's just that the odds of a massive heat wave are less at the end of the month than at the beginning. It's still shorts and t-shirt weather though.

Crowds - The crowds are slightly less overwhelming after the first week of August. Some schools in the US are back in session, but NYC schools remain out until early September. August is famously empty in wealthy Manhattan neighborhoods like the Upper East Side or Tribeca as those who can afford a beach or country house make good use of it. Subways too are a little less crowded without the students riding and the traffic on the streets eases a little bit. So just like July attractions remain very busy but perhaps a bit less so, and local hangouts are emptier and quieter. You'll still have to get up early to avoid waiting for an hour at the Empire State Building though.

Events & Atmosphere - Early August still features all the free events mentioned in July but they start to wind down by the middle of the month. The Dominican Day Parade is the big event of August as America's largest Dominican community celebrates their culture with millions of revelers along 5th Avenue. There's also Indian and Pakistani parades later in the month. A new event called Summer Streets takes place in August on Sunday mornings when Park Avenue and Lafayette Street are closed for 4 miles of car free jogging, biking, and entertainment until 1 PM. It's almost like the largest street fair of the year with water slides, food, and other diversions all along the route. Just like July, the tourist crowds are big but the local crowds are small, giving the city a bit of a them park feel at times. But if you can take the heat and spend more time away from the big attractions it can be a quiet and enjoyable time to visit. But you will miss out on some of the free summer events if you come the last week of August.

Verdict - If you can take the heat it makes for a nice time of year to enjoy some quieter times in the neighborhoods of New York. But the tourist sights are still overwhelmed by the summer crowds. So it's great for a budget-conscious trip where you amble through the city. It's less good for seeing the big attractions. And it's terrible in a heat wave.

September

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   Fall is my favorite time of year in New York. The changing colors are beautiful, there's lots of things happening all over town, and I look good in cardigans. But the perfect weather and sweater-based fashion has a downside. It's the most expensive time of year to visit.

Cost - September begins the most expensive season for a visit to New York. Hotel costs are the biggest drivers. Major events bring big crowds but its also a busy time of year for conferences and business travel. The month starts with a major holiday weekend for Labor Day which means flights and hotels will all be expensive. The flights drop off a little the rest of the month, but not down the the prices in April or May. There won't be any discounts found for shows or shops either. I should say that traveling in other months like April and May will only drop about 15% or so off the price of a trip so it's not as if there's a huge difference--except for January and February. But if budget is a major factor in your trip planning, this probably isn't the time to visit.

Weather - There are lots of reasons September is such and expensive time to visit, but the weather is one of them. Labor Day Weekend at the beginning of the month typically marks the last warm summer weather. It's one last chance to get to Rockaway Beach, Coney Island, or the Jersey Shore. Most years, the difference is weather is noticeable just in the first week or two of September. Fall, like spring, is a variable time of year. Cold nights can begin as early as labor day, or summer heat can crop up until the end of the month. But a normal September day is lovely with daytime high around 75 degrees (24 C) and evenings only down to the mid 50s (13 C). It's perfect t-shirt days and jacket nights.

Crowds - Labor Day weekend feels a lot like Memorial Day. Locals have rushed out of town to make the best of summer's last weekend--and the ones who stay all seem to be on Coney Island. But it's a huge weekend for travelers, especially American ones to spend the weekend in NYC. So attractions and museums are packed to the brim. But as soon as Labor Day passes, the city changes. All of a sudden the huge hordes of other tourists diminish and more locals and business travelers return. It means that crowds for the big-ticket items are suddenly a lot easier to handle, especially during the week. But the roads and subways are a little busier than in the August doldrums, especially once NYC's schools go back in session after Labor Day. Tables at trendy restaurants and clubs are harder to get while Statue of Liberty access is easier.

Events & Atmosphere - While the free summer events wind down by Labor Day, the city doesn't really slow down a bit. The first major event of September is the U.S. Open Tennis tournament in Queens. It's a hugely popular event that runs for two weeks and draws hundreds of thousands of fans. Most stay in Manhattan hotels and take the subway to Flushing Meadows so the 7 train can be extra crowded. The early days are actually the busiest because there are matches constantly until the field gets whittled down. Right on the heels of the Open is Fall Fashion Week. Because of the nicer weather this is the much bigger of the two fashion week events. There's a lot more extraneous events around town and more partying at bars or restaurants. There are parades throughout the month. The biggest is the West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn on Labor Day, but the rest of the month are smaller Midtown parades for Muslims, Mexicans, and the actual Labor Day Parade. In terms of atmosphere, it's one of the absolute best times of year for a visit. In the last week of the month is the general assembly of the United Nations. This, of course, closes the UN for visitors but it also creates a traffic situation. Having a hundred world leaders in one place is a security nightmare and the entire area around East Midtown is blocked off and many Midtown streets will be temporarily blocked for motorcades. It's definitely a week when you want to take the subway instead of a taxi. All this excitement makes for a fun visit. There are events, parades, performers, and people watching galore. Plus the beautiful weather generally means people can stay out all afternoon and night. This is NYC at its best.

Verdict - It's not a great time to visit if you're on a budget. But otherwise, September is one of the top months for a visit. The tourists recede and the New Yorkers return giving the city a great energy. Whether you want to see the big sights or just soak up the vibe it's a wonderful time of year.

October

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   This is my absolute favorite month of the year. The changing seasons begins to add some glorious amber hues to the cityscape by early October and by the end of the month the whole city is aflame with the red, yellows, and oranges of the turning leaves. 

Cost -  October continues the high costs of September. Hotel and flight rates stay very high for the whole month and can even go up during the mid month holiday weekend. There will be very few discounts around town. Be prepared for a full price holiday this time of year and make your hotel bookings early. 

Weather - It's cool, crisp, and gorgeous. It's still possible to have t-shirt weather in the first two weeks of the month, but days will normally be around 65 degrees (18 C) with nights requiring a few layers. By the end of the month, the chill in the air is more noticeable and days dip to the upper 50s (14 C). October is one of the driest times of year, but if rain is in the forecast it can be the cold dreary kind, so dig out a raincoat and waterproof boots in case you get a little spot of rain during your stay. But the best part is the changing colors of the leaves, especially in the parks. Most places in the American Northeast have their leaves turn in mid-October, but New York's urban heat bubble keeps the leaves mostly green until Columbus Day. The bright orange maples will be turning in mid-October but most everything else waits until the last week of the month. If I had to guess which week will be the most colorful it will either be the last week of October of the first week of November. 

Crowds - The tourist crowds aren't too bad, with one major exception. In recent years, huge crowds are visiting in the second weekend of October. It's a three day weekend in the US for Columbus Day. It's not a huge holiday but it's enough to boost the crowds. Canada also has a major holiday on the same day for their Thanksgiving. And lots of European schools have a midterm break. Because it's not a huge holiday for locals to leave town--lots of offices are open on Columbus Day--that weekend is one of the most crowded of the year. October is also when subways are at their most crowded. Recent Octobers have seen days of more than 6 million rides in a day on the subway. But other than the holiday in the middle of the month, tourist attractions aren't too crowded, even if the subways are. 

Events & Atmosphere - The chill in the air isn't sharp enough to drive people inside just yet, so the city remains lively and bustling. As if the crowds on Columbus Day weekend weren't big enough, that weekend is also the most popular convention of the year, New York Comic Con. The convention brings out costumed fans of comics, video games, and movies congregating at the Javits Center on the West Side. Mid-October also is Open House New York, a great weekend of events featuring tours and access to buildings, studios, and historic sites that are normally off limits to the public. There's more parades as well, two for Columbus Day, small parades for Polish and Korean New Yorkers, and the fun-filled Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village. The Halloween Parade is one of my favorites since it's sort of a free-for-all where anyone in costume can join in the parade along with the troupes of performers. It's another great month for people watching as the parks, bars, and restaurants are filled with people enjoying the great weather and ambiance. 

Verdict - This is my favorite month of the year to visit New York, as long as you avoid the Comic Con/Columbus Day/Thanksgiving holiday weekend. In fact, if I had to pick a single favorite week of the year, it would be the last weekend of October. The color is peaking on the trees, the crowds are negligible, it's cool without being cold, there's fun holiday stuff happening for Halloween but none of the crazy crowds since its not a school holiday, and the city's residents are out and about enjoying the season. The only downside is the high cost of travel in October. So it's not good for those on a budget. But if you can afford to, it's my favorite time of year for a visit. There's only one potential wrench in visiting the last week of October and it has to do with the scheduling of November's major event...

November

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   November is a bi-polar month. There are two of the busiest weeks of the year sandwiching two of the quietest. Thanksgiving and the New York Marathon define the calendar for the month. But other than those major events, it's a pretty slow month.

Cost - Because of the bi-polar nature of the month, costs can vary week to week. Flights stay pretty close to their Autumn highs, but can shoot up around Thanksgiving week. Hotels are a little cheaper than in peak time in September or October but still a little pricier than in Spring. But there is variation since Marathon and Thanksgiving weekends are high demand but the in between weeks are much less so. There aren't much discounts for food or entertainment, but there are always the "black Friday" sales beginning the day after Thanksgiving. You have to be a bit of a masochist to brave Macy's on black Friday but there are smaller stores offering discounts and the crowds might actually be less than suburban shopping malls. 

Weather - The first weeks of November are still glorious. Some years the fall color doesn't actually hit its peak until the first or even second week of November. But after mid-November things can start getting a little gloomy. The end of daylight saving time means sunset suddenly occurs before 5 PM. When rain comes, it can often be a cold, dreary, drizzly kind. And without any leaves on the trees, those damp November days can seem awfully dour. But there are lots of lovely, cool, sunny days too. But beware the end of November when temperatures really begin to feel chilly. Daytime temperatures are down to the high 40s (9 C) and nights are close to freezing. It's even possible to get snow or sleet in November, though rain is much more likely. So come the first week or two for great days, but by Thanksgiving don't expect lovely weather.

Crowds - It's almost best to take this week by week. The marathon week is a busy one. The hotel rooms are jammed full, but the attractions aren't too bad. Some runners and their rooters take the time to do some sightseeing but others are just focused on the race. It's not as bad for visiting the sights as a major holiday weekend but it's still busy. The next two or three weeks until Thanksgiving are the quietest of the year outside of January and February. Our tour business always experiences a slight lull during these few weeks. Crowds for major attractions are minimal and waits are short. Locals are still in town though and so as long as the weather's nice everything is still lively around town. Roads and trains are still busy. But once Thanksgiving week hits, things flip around. NYC schools and offices are still open at the beginning of the week though the tourist crowds start to filter in. Then on Wednesday there is a mass exodus from train stations, bus stations, tunnels, and bridges all over town as New Yorkers leave to see family outside the city. The next day is quiet all over town except for the massive amounts of visitors in town for the holiday weekend. It's one of those tourist-centric weekends that makes for poor sightseeing and an easy time getting restaurant tables outside of Midtown. 

Events & Atmosphere - The New York Marathon brings 40,000 runners to the streets of New York and tens of thousands more spectators to the sidewalks. It's a great atmosphere as New Yorker's and visitors alike turn out to cheer on the runners through all five boroughs. Luckily, the race's Manhattan section is only above 59th street so if you want to do sightseeing anywhere in Manhattan south of Central Park the race doesn't get in the way. The marathon is always on the first Sunday of November so the crowds leading up to it are usually on the first week of November, but if the marathon falls on the 1st or 2nd of the month, as it did this year, that pushes the crowds back to October's final week. The rest of the month is quiet. There is a Veteran's Day Parade on the 11th, but most of the street fairs and outdoor events have packed up for the season. The other major event is the Thanksgiving Parade on the 4th Thursday of the month. It's a big event with hundreds of thousands of spectators. But because locals who don't go to the parade are mostly seeing family it's a quiet day for traffic and transit. Most shops are closed as well that day, but they open with a vengeance and big sales on Friday. It's not a busy weekend for neighborhood crowds, but the lines at attractions and museums are some of the busiest of the year.

Verdict - I think the first two weeks of the month are a great time to visit, especially if you can avoid marathon weekend. Those looking for avoiding crowds at the major attractions but also avoiding the dead of winter should look to come the middle weeks of November. The weather and scenery is also really nice in early November. But as the month goes on it becomes less appealing to visit. The city looks a bit more dull without leaves or snow, and cold rain really is crummy for walking around. And Thanksgiving weekend isn't a great feel for the city at its most lively. Prices vary a lot so it can be a good deal depending on when you come. I think of the second week of November as the perfect spot in the month.

December

A photo posted by Shawn (@nytourguy) on

   Christmas in New York is a special time of year. Christmas tree markets bring the scent of fresh pine to the sidewalks, shop windows are bedecked with intricate displays, and light snow covers the city in white. At least that's what it looks like in the movies. So how much of it is real and how much of it is Hollywood magic?

Cost - December is not a discounted month at all, but it can vary a lot based on when exactly you visit. Flights are expensive, especially around the actual Christmas holiday. Hotel rates are expensive in the weeks before Christmas and then drop somewhat around the actual holiday. Then they go way up for the week between Christmas and New Year's. There are still some shopping deals early in the month, as well as the week after Christmas. But unless you come on the days around Christmas itself, it's an expensive month for travel.

Weather - Here's the dirty little secret about the Christmas season in New York. It probably won't snow. In fact, the average first snowfall for the year in New York is December 17th, only a week before Christmas. So if you visit in the first half of December, the temperature will probably be in the 40s (5-7 C) and if it does precipitate, it will probably be a cold rain. In the second half of the month, snow is more likely. But even as the odds improve, New York only has snow on the ground for Christmas about once every five years. So plan for cold rain on a Christmas visit, but bring the winter gear too. While it may not be probable, it's certainly possible to have frigid temperatures and snow, especially by the end of the month. 

Crowds - Let's start at the end. The week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day is the busiest of the whole year for tourism. There's always crowds so thick you can barely move around 5th Avenue and Times Square. Lines are epic to get into major attractions. I even saw a half hour wait and a line around the corner to get into the Museum of Natural History this year. Trying to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree on the weekend after Christmas is almost impossible because of the sheer volume of people. And the weekends before Christmas aren't much better. The heavy tourist crowds are augmented by lots of families coming in from the suburbs for a day of shopping, shows, and a festive holiday meal. The very first weekend of December isn't too bad but the rest of them are really busy. That being said, the first three weeks of December aren't too bad Monday to Friday. Most folks are still at work or school and so the big crowds keep away. The crowds begin to arrive the weekend before Christmas, but they actually thin out on Christmas Day and the day before and after. Christmas Day itself is as quiet as you will ever see New York as most everything is closed and folks are celebrating with family. Traffic is snarled pretty good for much of December, and big crowds remain on the subway up until Christmas Eve and then thin out for the rest of the month.

Atmosphere & Events - The whole month of December is all about Christmas--and being such a Jewish city Hanukkah as well. Radio City Music Hall is doing four shows a day of the Christmas Spectacular, great trees are lit not just in Rockefeller Center but on Wall Street and at the South Street Seaport and all over town. People carry shopping bags home, or even carry their Christmas trees home. The Christmas tree stands are everywhere. Half a dozen holiday markets selling crafts and gifts open up all over Manhattan. Skaters glide through rinks in Central Park, Bryant Park, and Rockefeller Center. Shop window displays amaze every year. And homes, shops, restaurants, and bars are all decked out for the season. It's no wonder people want to come here, Christmas really is a fun and special time of year. Sure the crowds can make it a challenge to enjoy it, especially in Midtown. But if you go and see the big things like Rockefeller Center later at night you can avoid a lot of the crowds there for work or for the day. And then, of course, the month ends with New Year's Eve. I will admit to being a killjoy about NYE in NYC. The idea of standing in Times Square for 8 hours in the cold to see the ball drop strikes me as nuts. And most of the bars and restaurants are overcrowded and gouging their prices. There's certainly plenty going on with fireworks in Central Park and in the harbor to augment the Times Square craziness, but I've always enjoyed a quiet NYE with friends so it's one of my least favorite holidays. If you want to have a great night on the town in NYC, do it some other night when the rest of the known universe doesn't have the same idea.

Verdict - Christmas is really a great time of year in New York. The city really does look and feel great. Just be prepared for big crowds and be prepared for cold rain and no snow, especially early in December. But there's ways of enjoying the season if you avoid seeing the most popular things on weekend

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