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Brooklyn Bridge
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Andrea Schaffer

The best time of year to visit the biggest New York attractions

Avoid unnecessary crowds with our guide to the best time of year to visit the biggest New York attractions

By Annalise Mantz
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Wading through the slog of pedestrians in Times Square on December 31 is a hopeless proposition. Likewise, attempting to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of summer vacation season isn’t going to be any fun. Sightsee smarter with our guide to the best time of year to visit the biggest New York attractions. Whether you’re dying to experience Christmas in New York, want to spend a peaceful afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or absolutely need to see one of the best Broadway shows in NYC, we’ve got you covered.

RELATED: Full guide to New York attractions

Spring

The High Line
Photograph: Shutterstock

The High Line

Attractions Parks and gardens Chelsea

Nice weather makes this public park built on an elevated rail line infinitely more enjoyable. The only problem? Everyone has the same idea, and during summer weekends, foot traffic slows to a crawl as hundreds of tourists try to walk the High Line all at once. Instead, take advantage of the relatively empty footpath on one of the first warm spring days. Though you might still need a jacket, the personal space you gain is well worth being slightly cold.

Broadway Shows
Photograph: Shutterstock/Andrey Bayda

Theater District

Theater

You can see Broadway shows all year round, but you can find some of the best deals in early spring (January–March). All of the holiday tourists have vacated the city and the weather’s still too dreadful to entice many local visitors. But if you’re looking for the latest and greatest shows, you might want to time your trip to early April. A big batch of new plays and musicals tends to open then, just before the cutoff for Tony Award eligibility.

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Installation view of the 2014 Whitney Biennial
Photograph: Lauren Spinelli

Whitney Museum of American Art

Museums Art and design Meatpacking District

Every two years, the Whitney puts on its widely discussed Biennial, a curated survey of contemporary American art that promises to be eclectic, boundary-pushing and controversial. Whether you love it or love to hate it, it’s a must-see exhibition at the Meatpacking District museum. The Whitney Biennial usually opens in the spring, but check the museum’s website for exact dates.

Times Square
Photograph: Shutterstock

Times Square

We’re not suggesting anyone travel to NYC just to get a look at this hectic, LED-lit span of Broadway, but we understand that some first-time visitors consider it an essential part of the city. If you must take your selfie, visit in early spring after the holiday crowds have dispersed but before the summer tourists settle in.

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Attractions Parks and gardens Prospect Park

The sight of hundreds of pale pink cherry blossoms in bloom is truly something spectacular to behold. Planning a trip to New York to line up with Mother Nature can be tricky, though—no one really knows when the trees will start to blossom. The Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a safe bet. This festival celebrating all things Japanese—the tea ceremony, silk kimonos, traditional dancing and the stunning flowers—usually occurs in April.

Summer

Met Rooftop Garden & Cocktail Bar
Photographer: Evan Y Lee

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museums Art and design Central Park

The vast galleries of New York’s most encyclopedic art museum are a wonderful place to spend the day anytime of year, but the air-conditioning is especially welcome during the sticky summer months. Once you’ve had your fill of antiquities, head upstairs to the summer-only rooftop for a drink and a look at this year’s newest art installation. The museum also hosts its star-studded Met Gala each year in early May, though most of us would never be able to score an invite. Still, the Costume Institute usually puts on an exhibit to accompany the gala. Us plebeians can still admire the couture during regular museum hours.

New York Botanical Garden
Photograph: Shutterstock

New York Botanical Garden

Attractions Parks and gardens The Bronx

Hordes of green thumbs and amateur photographers flock to the New York Botanical Garden each spring for its admittedly breathtaking orchid show. But summer isn’t too shabby, either: Colorful posies bloom all over the lush grounds. Bring a picnic to enjoy in the Clay Family Picnic Pavilion, then spend an afternoon wandering the 250-acre lawns and gardens. The garden also hosts summer concerts and a solstice celebration that featured yoga, poetry readings and live music this year.

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Coney Island Cyclone
Photograph: Marielle Solan

Coney Island Cyclone

Attractions Arcades and amusements Coney Island

As Luna Park only opens from April through October each year, roller coaster enthusiasts have no choice but to go during the peak summer season. It also happens to be the most fun time to be on the boardwalk. After you ride the 90-year-old wooden Cyclone and heart-pumping Thunderbolt, grab an Italian ice and walk along the beach to cool down.

Fall

Fall foliage in New York
Photograph: Shutterstock

Central Park

This 843-acre expanse in the middle of Manhattan is the place for leaf peeping in NYC. On the north end of the park, start at the Conservatory Garden to see red crabapples, bronze star magnolias and multicolored mums, then walk into the North Woods to find black cherry trees, scarlet oaks, golden American elms and red maples. Further south, your best bet is the 38-acre Ramble. Stroll the meandering paths lined with purple and red sweet gums, russet brown pin oaks, more red maples and end at the enormous tupelo tree in Tupelo Meadow.

Brooklyn Bridge
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Andrea Schaffer

Brooklyn Bridge

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Manhattan

Every visitor to NYC has to check the Brooklyn Bridge off their list at some point. During the peak summer travel season, though, crowds on the pedestrian level of the bridge can be overwhelming. Wait until early fall to walk or bike across this magnificent suspension bridge. It will be much less crowded, and the weather should still be pleasant enough for outdoor activities.

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Empire State Building
Photograph: Shutterstock

Empire State Building

Attractions Monuments and memorials Midtown West

The Empire State Building really is an all weather attraction: Rain, snow or sunshine, the view from the 102nd floor is extraordinary. Fall has a slight edge over the other seasons, though, since the changing leaves add a few pops of color to the otherwise monochromatic skyline.

Bronx Zoo
Photograph: Shutterstock

Bronx Zoo Wildlife Conservation Society

Attractions Zoo and aquariums The Bronx

Giraffes and baboons and snow leopards, oh my! The Bronx Zoo recommends visitors buy tickets in the fall for two reasons: The crowds dwindle as kids go back to school and the crisp fall air makes the animals more active. And if it starts to rain, you can seek shelter inside the World of Reptiles or Aquatic Bird House.

Winter

AMNH Origami Tree
Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

American Museum of Natural History

Museums Science and technology Upper West Side

Don’t let the tree at Rockefeller Center get all the attention: the Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History is pretty spectacular, too. Volunteers start folding hundreds of delicate models in April. The theme always on the museum’s exhibits—last year, it was Dinosaurs Among Us. To avoid the holiday crowds, make time to visit in late November or early January.

New York attractions
Photograph: Jessica Lin

Macy’s Herald Square

Shopping Department stores Midtown West

Looking for your Miracle on 34th Street moment in Macy’s at Christmastime? You better be prepared to wait until after New Year’s Day. Department stores keep their decorations up through the first week of January, so you can still get the holiday experience you're looking for without having to fight for space on a crowded sidewalk.

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Rockefeller Center

Things to do Midtown West

We’d be remiss to overlook the holiday extravaganza at Rockefeller Center. Yes, the amount of tourists in Midtown can be overwhelming, but you can avoid it. Either wait to get your skate on until after Christmas, or come early in the morning on a weekday. If you’re just here for the decorations and holiday lights, come late at night—think 11pm at the earliest—to catch a glimpse of the illuminated tree.

One World Observatory

Attractions Towers and viewpoints Financial District

Pro tip: The nastier the winter weather, the easier it will be to get into a sold-out Broadway show, busy restaurant or popular attraction. (The exception being blizzards that shut down the city.) The view from One World Observatory doesn’t change much from season to season, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t wait until the dead of winter to visit the overlook. You might even have it to yourself.

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