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The 9 Most Fun Festivals in NYC to Attend This Year

New York City Festivals
by Matador Creators Apr 11, 2023

New York City is one of the most vibrant and dynamic cities in the world. Known for its towering skyscrapers, world-renowned museums like the MET and the MOMA, and sprawling and famous Central Park, the city offers an endless array of experiences and attractions – and that doesn’t even include any of the city’s offerings for visitors relating to TV and entertainment.

Because so many television shows are in New York City, guests can sit in on a taping of “The Daily Show”, stand in the background of a morning show, or even sit in the audience for “Saturday Night Live”. NYC is known as “the city that never sleeps,” and considering that the last call in all five boroughs is 4 AM, that name is pretty apt.

But NYC isn’t a city to rest on its laurels, and there’s even more happening year-round thanks to hundreds of festivals in New York City. From the Japan Festival to the Italian Festival to a celebration at Coney Island and one of the biggest Pride celebrations in the country, these are nine awesome festivals in NYC that show off the best of the city’s melting pot of culture.

How many festivals are there in NYC?

festivals in nyc - coney island mermaid parade

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Between major festivals in NYC, music festivals, food festivals, conventions, events, and free showings, it’s impossible to say just how many festivals in NYC happen on any given year. But it’s probably fair to say it’s in the thousands. If you look at NYC’s official list of official major events, you’ll find more than 100 listed — and that’s only “major” events. If you include local events and neighborhood festivals, you’ll probably find a dozen ever weekend happening across the city.

The list below includes many of the best NYC festivals, but there are so many to choose from that it’s hardly exhaustive. Other events like Broadway Week (January and September), Fashion Week (mid-February), Summer on the Hudson, and the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival (October) are just some of the many additional fabulous events not listed below.

Some, like the Coney Island Mermaid Festival, are small and quirky, attracting just a few thousand people. Others attracts hundreds of thousands of attendees and are known around the world. There’s literally always something going on in NYC.

January: Winter Jazzfest


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Winter Jazzfest is an annual music festival in NYC showcasing a wide variety of jazz, blues, and other experimental music. The festival was founded in 2005 and has since grown in popularity, attracting jazz enthusiasts and music lovers from around the world. The festival’s mission is to showcase new and innovative jazz music, as well as promote emerging artists and support the local jazz scene in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and beyond.

Shows are held over the course of 10 days or so, depending on the year, and usually more than dozen venues and stages around the boroughs. While it does book well-known jazz artists like Donny McCaslin, Mark Guiliana, and Samara Joy, it’s mostly known for choosing intimate venues and facilitating collaborations between musicians.

The festival offers various ticket options, including single tickets, multi-day passes, and all-access VIP passes. Visitors can also attend the festival’s workshops, panel discussions, and other special events, many of which are free and open to the public.

  • Admission fee: Individual shows range from free to $40 or so, passes for the primary weekend shows start at $110
  • Address: Various
  • Usual dates: Second or third week of January

April: Japan Festival NYC

It’s really, really easy to attend this NYC festival since JapanFes takes place at locations throughout the city all summer. It’s the biggest Japanese food festival in the world with more than 750 vendors and more than 250,000 attendees. There are more than 20 mini-festivals around NYC, but the first and usually biggest ones are in Chelsea and the East Village.

Some vendors come from Japan, while others are from other countries around the world. And many are local, too, including both Japanese restaurants and other well-known NYC restaurants trying their hand at making Japanese dishes like ramen, yakisoba, mochi, dorayaki, and more.

And speaking of ramen: in addition to food vendors, the festival features live music, cooking contests, non-food vendors and artists, art and cultural demonstrations, and more. You don’t need tickets, but you do need to pay for whatever food you want to buy. Fortunately, most food items start at under $10.

  • Admission fee: Free to enter, costs for food, etc.
  • Address: Various
  • Usual dates: Weekends, starting early April

May – August: Shakespeare in the Park


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Shakespeare in the Park is one of the most popular outdoor theater festivals in NYC, held in the open-air Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The festival is produced by the Public Theater and has been a beloved tradition in New York since it began in 1962.

The first production of Shakespeare in the Park was a performance of “The Merchant of Venice”, starring George C. Scott and James Earl Jones. Since then, the festival has presented over 150 Shakespeare plays as well as other classic stage productions.

The best part about the festival is that it’s completely free and open to the public, though you’ll need to get tickets in advance. You can do that by entering the online lottery system, or trying to get a day-of ticket by waiting at the box office before the show. The online lottery is day-of, too: enter by noon and you’ll find out by 3 PM if you’ve gotten tickets to the show that night.

In 2023, the Public Theater will be performing “Hamlet,” with three or four performances a week. Because tickets are very in-demand, you’ll want to try to leave a few evenings free in case you don’t get them on the first night you hoped.

  • Admission fee: Free
  • Address: Delacorte Theater: 81 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
  • Usual dates: Weekends June – August

June: Coney Island Mermaid Parade


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The Coney Island Mermaid Parade is an annual parade held in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn and is certainly one of the quirkiest festivals in NYC (well, festivals in Brooklyn, technically). The parade celebrates the beginning of summer and was first created by artists and local residents in 1983 to encourage the revival of the Coney Island neighborhood.

The parade is typically held on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice, usually in late June. It features thousands of participants dressed in elaborate costumes depicting mermaids, mermen, sea creatures, and other ocean-related themes. The parade also includes marching bands, floats, and performances by dancers and acrobats. Coney Island is quirky, artist, weird, vintage, funky, and decidedly not corporate, so go with an open mind and you’ll have a great time.

The parade route typically runs along Surf Avenue and the Coney Island boardwalk, and it’s recommended to arrive early to secure a good viewing spot. Go as you are, or rock your own mermaid costume – everyone and everything is welcome.

  • Admission fee: Free
  • Address: Near the Ford Amphitheater (3052 W 21st St, Brooklyn, NY 11224)
  • Usual dates: Last Saturday in June

June: NYC Pride Festival

Pride Week is an annual event held to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and their ongoing struggle for equal rights. The first Pride event was held in New York in June of 1970 on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which marked a turning point in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

Pride Week is typically held in late June and features a wide variety of events, including a parade, concerts, parties, marches, and rallies. One of the key features of Pride Week is the Pride Parade, usually on the last Sunday in June. The parade features colorful floats, marching bands, dancers, and other performers, and attracts millions of spectators along its route through the streets of Manhattan.

Visitors attending Pride Week can expect to see colorful costumes, rainbow flags, and displays of LGBTQ+ pride and solidarity throughout the city. While attending the city’s Pride Parade is always a good time, the whole idea behind the festival is to fight for LGBTQ+ rights and justice, so if you’re in town, use this NYC festival as an opportunity to learn to become a better ally – not just to party.

  • Admission fee: The parades and many events are free, but some official events like brunches and shows range from $20 and up
  • Address: The parade starts at 25th and 5th Ave, but events are held throughout the city
  • Usual dates: All of June, but the parade is usually the last Sunday of June

September: NYC Italian Festival


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This NYC festival, also called the Feast of San Gennaro, takes place annually in NYC’s Little Italy and it is a celebration of Italian culture, food, and tradition. The festival is named after San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, Italy. The festival dates to 1926 when Italian immigrants first started the event to honor their patron saint.

The festival runs for 11 days and attracts over a million visitors each year, with a variety of events like parades, live music, street performers, carnival games, and, of course, lots of traditional and modern Italian food. Many local restaurants participate in the event, offering a range of traditional and modern Italian cuisine through special menus or events.

One of the highlights of the festival is the procession of the statue of San Gennaro through the streets of Little Italy, which takes place on the first day of the festival. But the cannoli- and meatball-eating contests are also extremely popular (and yes, anyone can sign up).

This is one of the most family-friendly festivals in NYC and has plenty to offer whether you’re Italian or not. Most of the events are free, outdoor, and open to the public, though there’s a fee for restaurant events, tasting menus, private events, and the like.

  • Admission fee: Free
  • Address: Mulberry Street, NYC (near SoHo)
  • Usual dates: 10 days in mid-September

September and October: The New York Film Festival


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The New York Film Festival is an annual festival in NYC and one of the most prestigious in the world, showcasing a diverse range of films from both established and emerging filmmakers.

The festival was founded in 1963 by film critics Richard Roud and Amos Vogel, who wanted to create a showcase for international films that were not being screened in the United States at the time. The first festival featured 24 films from 14 countries and was held at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Now, the New York Film Festival takes place over two weeks in September and October. It features a lineup of new films from around the world, including mainstream cinema, narrative features, documentaries, and shorts. The festival also hosts panel discussions, filmmaker Q&As, and other special events. Films that have debuted at the festival in past years include 2010’s “The Social Network” and Martin Scorsese’s 1970’s crime thriller “Mean Streets.”

You’ll need to buy tickets to shows and events online in advance. Events sell out, so try to get your tickets as soon as they become available. Day-of box office tickets are also sometimes available.

By the way: this is not the same as the Tribeca Film Fest, a totally different festival held every June.

October: New York Comic Con


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New York Comic Con is an annual comic book and pop culture convention. Comic-Con started way back in the 1970s as a small gathering in San Diego, CA, but now, the NYC Comic Con is the biggest in the US. It attracted more than 200,000 people in 2022 and is considered to be the biggest fan gathering of any type in the US.

This is one of the best festivals in NYC for anyone who likes comics, sci-fi, action movies, video games, or basically anything else vaguely related to those topics. It’s also one of the best festivals in NYC if you like doing cosplay (dressing up like characters inspired by comic books, movies, TV shows, and video games), since that’s a huge component of the festival.

Festival events include celebrity autograph sessions, photo ops, Q&As and lectures, performances, merchandise booths, and  an “artist alley” where fans can meet and interact with their favorite comic book creators. Tickets usually go on sale in June and there’s a complicated process for securing them, including a pre-sale for so-called verified fans, so keep an eye on the ticketing website if you’re interested in going.

  • Admission fee: Tickets range from around $70 for a single day pass to $400 or more for a full weekend pass
  • Address: Javits Center (429 11th Ave, New York, NY 10001)
  • Usual dates: Second or third weekend of October

November: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade


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The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is an annual parade held on Thanksgiving Day in New York City – it’s the parade you’ve likely seen shown on news shows on Thanksgiving morning.

Interestingly, the parade was originally held on Christmas, starting in 1924. It included live animals from the Central Park Zoo and was supposed to promote the opening of what was then billed as the “World’s Largest Store” — Macy’s in NYC’s Herald Square. But it was such a hit that Macy’s decided to make it an annual event, moving it to Thanksgiving Day in 1927 to kick off the holiday shopping season.

The parade is known for massive balloons in the shape of popular cartoon characters, floats, marching bands, celebrity performances, and more. The balloons are the main attraction and are guided by teams of handlers. There are usually about 15-20 balloons, and each one has around 90 handlers ensuring it doesn’t fly away (though sometimes it does anyway).

People attending the parade should expect large crowds and arrive early to secure a good viewing spot – like, early early. It’s not unusual to see people lining up by 5:30 AM.

The parade typically starts at 9 AM on Thanksgiving Day and follows a 2.5-mile route through Manhattan, from Central Park West to Herald Square.

  • Admission fee: Free, though many restaurants along the route sell viewing space
  • Address: You can stand anywhere around the route, but find a spot around 34th St. or Bryant Park to be near the musical performances
  • Usual dates: Thanksgiving

Where to stay in New York City

festivals in nyc - dominick hotel bedroom

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It’s pretty easy to get around NYC, though the subway system has some areas that are easier to reach than others. In general, if you stay south of Central Park, you’ll have a subway station nearby — but the Upper East and Upper West are a bit harder to reach and you may have to walk a bit to reach a station.

Usually, the best spot for most tourists is to stay somewhere near Times Square. While it can be loud if you’re on a low floor, it’s in the center of the city and walkable to attractions like Rockefeller Plaza and the New York Public Library, near lots of bars and restaurants, and is close to stations for most of NYC 36 subway lines (and is within walking distance of the Javits Center).

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

The Dominick

festivals in nyc - dominick hotel soho

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The Dominick Hotel is a large luxury hotel in SoHo, south of Times Square and closer to the main celebratory areas for events like Pride Week and NYC’s Japan Festival. The hotel’s architecture and design are supposedly inspired by SoHo’s original artistic and avant-garde roots, with modern art and furnishings throughout the property.

Most guest rooms have skyline views and some have balconies. The hotel also has a chic rooftop lounge and pool with a hip ‘afternoon-cocktails’ vibe. A Matador writer did a full review on her experience there and found it quite posh. Rooms start around $525 per night.

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Pod 51

festivals in nyc - pod 51. hotel rooftop

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Pod 51 is a budget-friendly hotel in Midtown Manhattan, just a short walk from Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). If you want a small hotel near Grand Central Station and subway stations, this is it.

Pod 51 features a variety of room types, including standard, double, and queen rooms, most with private bathrooms. If you’re planning to spend most of your time at festivals in NYC and just want to save money on your room while still staying somewhere clean and comfortable, this is it. There’s also a lot of shared social space on the rooftop and in the lobby and lounges. Rooms start around $109 per night.

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Courtyard Marriott New York Manhattan/Midtown West

festivals in nyc - courtyard marriott

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Courtyard Marriott hotels are reliably comfortable, clean, and filled with modern features like extra USB plugs and small work areas with couches. The rooms at this Courtyard near Times Square are quite large considering the low cost, and there’s a nice on-site bar and restaurant with space to socialize or work if you don’t feel like hanging in your room. It’s just a few blocks from the Javits Center and very close to Times Square, meaning it’s walkable to fantastic restaurants and bars, too. Rates start around $200 per night, but get a lot pricier in the summer.

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