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What's the Best Time to Visit New York City?

New York City Travel
by Julie Schwietert May 9, 2011

COMING TO A CONSENSUS about the best time to visit New York City has not been an easy task.

I’ve lived here since May of 1999, so you think I’d have this figured out, but I decided to ask a couple other Matador locals as well; I didn’t want you to rely solely on my opinion, which is highly subjective and deeply influenced by my disgust for winter.

If you just asked me, though, I’d tell you to avoid winter here at all costs: it’s cold, grey, and overrun with tourists in town for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (gigantic balloons!), followed by Christmas (department store windows! ice skating!), followed by New Year’s Eve (millions of people crammed into a relatively tiny space, the majority half-drunk or well past half, waiting for a glittering ball to slide down a short pole!).

But what do I know? Matador contributor Jenny Williams says winter is one of her favorite times in the city, and has been a favorite season of visiting friends, too.

“Secretly, I love the snowstorms,” she says, “when the city seems to stop altogether, buried in stillness and white. Friends who come in January and February have loved the coziness of warm bars on cold nights, dim lights behind frosted glass.”

Eva Sandoval, another Matador contributor who’s spent a lot of time in New York City, is inclined to warn you off winter, though, noting that plane tickets to LGA or JFK rise dramatically in the colder months; unless you’re arriving by car, train, or bus, you’d best leave travel to NYC for another season.

Her favorite times of year in the city are what travel writers and editors refer to as “shoulder seasons,” those periods that are most comfortable, temperature-wise, and which also tend to see fewer tourists. “It’s October and May for my money,” Eva says, “just after and just before summer tourist season and the weather is lovely.”

Jenny agrees that the shoulder seasons are the best times to visit:

I usually tell people to come to NYC in May or September, May for the flowers, the way the city transforms miraculously, almost overnight, into blossom, and you can feel the promise of summer like a warm breath on the back of your neck; and September when the worst of the summer heat has passed but it’s still slip-on-a-shirt-and-picnic-in-the-park warm….

She recommends avoiding summer and its “humidity, the sinking feeling of sweat-slicked skin….”

I hate that feeling, too — and the accompanying sweat-piss-heat smell of the subway in summer — but I still think the hot months (mid- to late-June through the end of August) are an incredible time to be here, especially if you’re on a budget. You could spend the whole summer here seeing concerts that people in other places pay $40-$150 a ticket to see… for free.

Events like the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival, Shakespeare in the Park, SummerStage, and Celebrate Brooklyn could keep you busy all summer. Tolerating the heat and humidity is definitely easier when you’re distracted by so many possibilities.

So, what’s the best time to visit New York City?

Short answer: May and September-October; summer (late June to late August) if you can stand the heat and humidity.

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For what to do once you get here, check out our New York Focus Page.

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