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May 18, 2011 8:57 AM   Subscribe

What's New York City like on the 4th of July?

I'm planning a trip to New York City from July 1-5 to take advantage of the Canada Day long weekend. Being neither American nor a New Yorker, I have no idea what to expect on July 4th (Monday).

Do shops and museums close for the 4th of July or is it mostly business as usual?

What special events are worth seeing - I know about the Coney Island hot dog eating contest, and the fireworks (related AskMe), both of which I suspect will be insanely crowded. We want to see Coney Island, is it worth going on the 4th or not?

And will the city be less active than usual as residents empty out for the long weekend, or busier as more tourists come in?
posted by Gortuk to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Central Park can be nice on the 4th. Bring a picnic. If you're relatively discreet, you probably won't get hassled if you bring a bottle of wine. A lot of people get out of town if they can, so it can be a bit quieter--with the obvious exception of lining up for the fireworks and Coney Island. I could not be persuaded to go to either unless I were being paid. However, if you do scope out someplace to see the fireworks, bring a radio or walkman or something; they do a simulcast score, and it's fun.

Some museums will be closed. Most shops and restaurants won't. Go to Coney Island on the 2nd or 3rd, along with any museums you'll want to visit that might be shuttered.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:07 AM on May 18, 2011


I would not go to Coney Island on the 4th.

Manhattan will be very crowded in the evening, less so during the day. Expect it to be hot and muggy. If you decide you want to do a picnic in Central Park, or wherever, make sure you have a way to get out of the sun for a few hours before the evening fireworks start.

Take a look at nyc.gov in the coming months; information on what roads (the West Side Highway, etc.) will be closed off on the evening of the 4th.

Use public transportation.

Most places in Manhattan do not close on the 4th.
posted by dfriedman at 9:10 AM on May 18, 2011


Sorry, I meant: Take a look at nyc.gov in the coming months; information will be given on what roads (the West Side Highway, etc.) will be closed off on the evening of the 4th.
posted by dfriedman at 9:10 AM on May 18, 2011


It'll be nice and quiet. Stores and museums will be open, but businesses will be closed so the usual throngs of commuters won't be there, and a lot of New Yorkers will be out of town to visit friends and family. It's like having the city all to yourself.
posted by monospace at 9:19 AM on May 18, 2011


Hot, humid, and crowded if you want to go to some big public event like the big fireworks show or the Coney Island hot dog eating contest.

Museums, shops, and the like will not be closed. In fact, doing some vaguely more "classy" or "elegant" activity on the actual 4th might be a better option, since most locals take that day to barbecue, be outdoorsy, or go see some ridiculous spectacle like the hot dog contest. This year the Fourth falls on a Monday, which means the Met will probably do a special "Holiday Monday" opening.

Picnicking in Central Park would be nice, though again as it's a Monday and everyone will have a three-day weekend, expect crowds. If you brave the crowds, don't bring a bottle of wine. Either bring wine decanted into something plastic or one of those tetra-pak litres of wine that are starting to pop up everywhere.

Don't expect things to be empty/uncrowded or that you'll "have the whole city to yourself". This may be true if you're a born Manhattanite who thinks "empty" means you actually got a seat on the subway. If you're coming as a tourist from out of town, Fourth of July will definitely still seem crowded to you.
posted by Sara C. at 9:30 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


i lived there for about 9 years and my favorite place to watch the fireworks was brooklyn (and, being a huge zip-code snob, brooklyn was not a place i usually went)...the way they light up manhattan is truly magical. (you want to be north of the williamsburg bridge...IIRC they launch from the end of roosevelt island)
seconding 'bring a radio'...but google around a bit first ('NYC firworks simulcast'?) as there are alternatives to the standard 'american anthem' version...the 'techno/house' soundtrack was pretty cheezy, but the funk version we listened to one year was nothing short of bad-ass.
since you're going to want to get over there pretty early to avoid crowds, you might want to check out the brooklyn museum...indoor activities in general will be good...manhattan is HOT in the summer...
posted by sexyrobot at 9:48 AM on May 18, 2011


Most museums and shops may be open. The Fireworks viewing stands will be RIDICULOUSLY crowded; so will the Hot Dog contest. The main patch of Coney Island around the amusement park will be also crowded; although, if you slip further down the boardwalk, the crowd may thin out rather a bit.

The parks are also good for a picnic (even one you buy yourself five minutes before at a sandwich shop); but since Central Park will be pretty crowded too, consider one of the other big parks; Prospect Park in Brooklyn is very convenient to Manhattan, and is bigger than Central Park (and better, in my humble opinion).

There may also be events at Governors' Island; Governors' Island is a former military base in New York Harbor, which has since been decommisioned and has just recently been picked up as a National Park/NYC recreational space. During the day, there are free ferryboats that take you to and from Governors' Island, leaving from either Manhattan or Brooklyn. Once on the island, you can rent a bike to get around the island proper (it's all entirely flat, and no cars are allowed for much of the island); there's some hammocks in the green space at the southern tip, affording fantastic views of the Statue of Liberty. (That may be the place for your picnic, in fact.) They may also have free concerts and other similar events. Or if you stay up near the north end, they have a restaurant/bar, and you can explore the old officers' housing (the houses themselves aren't open now, except for the admirals' house; but you can peep in windows). Unfortunately, it's not located in a spot where you would be able to see the fireworks, but it's a good way to kill the day, and then you can take the ferry back in time to find a spot on the West Side for the fireworks (or find a bar where they'll have them on TV).

More info about Governors' Island is here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:49 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, just saw sexyrobot's entry -- they have changed the location, unfortunately, and do not shoot off the fireworks from where he is stating. They've moved the fireworks shoot from the east side of Manhattan to the West side, so you will not be able to see the fireworks from Brooklyn. (As a Brooklynite, this is something that displeases me greatly, because some friends of mine had an amazing view from their roof.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:52 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


i lived there for about 9 years and my favorite place to watch the fireworks was brooklyn (and, being a huge zip-code snob, brooklyn was not a place i usually went)...the way they light up manhattan is truly magical. (you want to be north of the williamsburg bridge...IIRC they launch from the end of roosevelt island)

Note that the fireworks no longer happen on the East River. They are now on the Hudson. Which makes Brooklyn a singularly horrible place to watch fireworks from.

If you want to watch the fireworks light up Manhattan, you now have to go to New Jersey. Which makes the entire thing completely pointless.
posted by Sara C. at 9:52 AM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Actually I saw them on Roosevelt Island last summer. Still kind of pointless to Sara C.'s point.
posted by sweetkid at 9:54 AM on May 18, 2011


Per Empress Callypigos, if I wanted to have a less crowded but still "traditional" Fourth of July, I would either go to one of the crazy Russian beach-front restaurants along the boardwalk in Brighton Beach, or have a picnic in Prospect Park. Expect both to be what you'd consider "crowded" as an out-of-towner, but not "Oh fuck get me out of here why did I want to do this" crowded as other planned outdoor events will be.

Governor's Island is also a good bet - something deep in the back of my mind is telling me they're doing a free concert on the fourth this year?

That's another Big Crowded Outdoor Spectacle that New Yorkers like to throng out for on the Fourth - concerts and music festivals. Be warned if you want to be in Battery Park or South Street Seaport, as these are likely locations for horrible crowd bottlenecks at free outdoor concerts. The nice thing about a concert at Governor's Island, if in fact it's happening for real and not in my imagination, is that the crowd control options are a lot better. Since you have to take a boat to the island, once they've reached capacity they'll stop letting people in.
posted by Sara C. at 10:00 AM on May 18, 2011


I think Roosevelt Island and maybe some parts of the Queens waterfront can be an OK vantage point, because they're much closer to the action even when the fireworks are happening on the Hudson. Looking at a map, most of Brooklyn, even the waterfront parts, is much further to the south and east thanks to Corlears Hook.
posted by Sara C. at 10:03 AM on May 18, 2011


The Met Museum is normally closed on Mondays, but on certain "Met Holiday Mondays" including the 4th of July, it is open.
posted by Jahaza at 10:15 AM on May 18, 2011


I think Roosevelt Island and maybe some parts of the Queens waterfront can be an OK vantage point, because they're much closer to the action even when the fireworks are happening on the Hudson.

Yep. Geographically, Queens and Roosevelt Island are closer to the launch site (the Hudson River, at about 42nd Street or thereabouts); Brooklyn is just a bit too far south.

The Governors' Island web site doesn't have anything listed for July 4th proper yet, but it's still only May; they may not have announced it yet. (They do have a listing for a concert on July 2nd, though.) Last year Governors' Island had a free concert by "She and Him".

Even if they don't have a concert they have all sorts of things like art displays and minature golf and a trapeze school and a craft fair and tours of the grounds and such. And figuring out something to do with yourself during the day is wise; New York doesn't have much in the way of "daytime" July 4th traditions as such (the hot dog eating at Coney Island is it, so far as I know). There's the fireworks, and that's it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:17 AM on May 18, 2011


Several years ago I saw Belle & Sebastian in Battery Park and then went and watched the fireworks from a friend's brownstone roof in Park Slope. I thought that was a pretty ideal 4th of July and would recommend it. (Hopefully you have a friend with a brownstone in Jersey City instead.)

Does anyone know how crazy the fireworks crowds get in NJ? Can you hop over to Hoboken or is it just nuts?
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:23 AM on May 18, 2011


Crowded and hot as heck. I live here, though, so I'm particularly biased against it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:44 AM on May 18, 2011


The majority of museums are closed on Mondays, but my favorite museum growing up, and even now, is the Natural History Museum. I also can't stress enough that the admission price is SUGGESTED, and that goes for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, too.

Now, I imagine it will be crowded, hot, and perhaps even inaccessible, but there is a restaurant called the Frying Pan which I imagine would be quite a bit of fun for the 4th. It's an old barge with a ship docked to it, and it's been converted into a bar with a modest food menu. It's on the Hudson, too, so you'd definitely have a view of the fireworks. Or just head over there some other time if you feel like eating a hot dog on a barge during your visit.
posted by CookieNose at 11:23 AM on May 18, 2011


I am only giving this away because I no longer live in New York City.

The single best place to watch the fireworks without crowds is on the walkway/bike path that runs alongside the Hudson River in Riverside Park on the Upper West Side. Go to 79th St and Riverside Drive, and follow the pedestrian paths under the West Side Highway, all the way to the edge of the river. Walk south for about half a mile...far enough to discourage the lazy folks. Or if south looks crowded, go north. Enjoy a marvelous and PEACEFUL view of the fireworks - last year, the closest people were about 10 feet away from our small group, and we had a pretty much unobstructed view...no need to even get there early or anything.

Riverside Park is also a great place for a picnic...quieter than Central Park and at least as nice. It's also not too far of a walk from the Museum of Natural History, Shake Shack (corner of 77th and Columbus) or Zabar's (80th and Broadway) or Fairway (75th and Broadway) if you want to lay in supplies for a picnic.
posted by psycheslamp at 2:28 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Frying Pan is cool but last year they were charging $100 to get in on the Fourth of July. Before any food/drink! The facilities themselves aren't that nice, but they have a great location.

Here's the official Macy's 2011 fireworks press release. Once again Jersey City has cut their fireworks for budgetary reasons. Here's information on last year's fireworks celebration, so you know roughly what to expect.

I'd check Newyorkology's events calendar, too, for cool stuff happening that weekend. Right now on the 4th, she's got:

July 4 - Fraunces Tavern Museum’s 9th Annual Nighttime Walking Tour of Revolutionary War New York from 2 to 6 a.m.
July 4 - Macy’s 4th of July fireworks for 2011
July 4 - New York Water Taxi Fourth of July Fireworks Cruise departs from the South Street Seaport
July 4 - Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island
July 4 - Met Museum opens on a holiday Monday schedule, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
July 4 - Museum of the City of New York is open for the holiday
July 4 - New York Philharmonic plays Sousa and Gershwin at its Star-Spangled Celebration at 8 p.m. with conductor Bramwell Tovey at 3 p.m.


psycheslamp's idea sounds awesome. For more picnic wares, I would go to Salumeria Rosi (for cured meats), Grandaisy (room temperature Roman style pizza), Bouchon Bakery (some bouchons or doughnuts or TKOs), Jacques Torres (maybe some chocolate chip cookies), Magnolia Bakery (icebox cake).

That is, assuming it's not pouring rain, which it does tend to do here in the summer months, so be prepared!

In terms of what is closed, most restaurants and bars will be open; however, if my memory serves correctly only very high end restaurants (like Eleven Madison Park) and some cocktail lounges were closed last year. It never hurts to call beforehand to ask!

Additionally, you might think the High Line is a good place to go and watch the fireworks, but the NYPD closed off the park last year.
posted by kathryn at 12:29 PM on May 19, 2011


Does anyone know how crazy the fireworks crowds get in NJ? Can you hop over to Hoboken or is it just nuts?

Hoboken gets pretty crowded for the fireworks (as well as the Path trains that night), but still way less crowded than Coney Island. If the fireworks really are on the Hudson this year, then the view is amazing. If they are on the East River, I would say it's not worth the trip.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 1:05 PM on May 20, 2011


Just an update in case anyone is looking at this question for a future year... I ended up taking psycheslamp's suggestion and heading to Riverside Park around 8 PM. It was pretty obvious as soon as we got off the subway that there are at least a few thousand other people who read Metafilter, because there was a steady stream of people heading down to the park.

There was a bit of a choke point as we went down the stairs (past the cafe inside a traffic circle, which looks fantastic). Riverside Park was busy, but nowhere near the crowds I've seen at Symphony of Fire in Vancouver, so I'm sure it was also nowhere near as crazy as the crowds in midtown. We could actually walk around, and although it wasn't as empty as suggested above, we were able to find a patch of lawn beside the path to sit down on for a while. As it got dark, the fireflies came out - I haven't seen them since I was a kid so that was like getting the light show started early. The sunset was unbelievable - that photo is pretty much out of the camera.

We walked south to almost 72nd. At a couple of points we could have grabbed a bench or a spot right near the waterfront railing if we'd wanted. As it was we just sat on the lawn until 9:15 then got up and stood on the bike path to watch the fireworks.

Suggestion: do try to grab a spot right near the railing without anyone in front of you, because every damn person was holding their mobile device at eye level to photograph or record the fireworks. Macy's should consider broadcasting this event, so that people could record it at home instead of on their tiny blurry device. Maybe it could be on a major TV network in HD or something.

The fireworks were pretty great, although it was obvious we were well north of the intended viewing area. I assumed someone in the crowd would have a radio going with the score, but no... still pretty nice, and they went on forever. I kind of feel like I never need to see fireworks again in my life. Part of me wishes I'd walked over from our midtown hotel to the crowd to see the fireworks as they were intended, arrayed in front of us instead of watching from an oblique angle. The other part of me remembers the Vancouver Symphony of Fire and imagines that x10 with New Yorkers instead of Vancouverites.

Leaving the park was a bit of a hassle. I wish I'd gone with my original idea of just sitting on a bench in the cool summer evening for a while; instead we headed toward the subway and were faced with some major crowding at one of the few exits to the park. The NYPD had set up some choke points deliberately, which I'm sure they have a good reason for. The scariest part was going through the underpass, which reminded me a lot of that place in Germany where all those people got trampled to death. But then someone came along fighting their way downstream holding a couple of pizza boxes aloft, and the entire crowd started chanting "PIZZA! PIZZA! PIZZA" and it felt like a pretty awesome New York moment and I stopped worrying about imminent death.

Surprisingly, there was almost no lineup for the subway at 72nd, which was my major fear. It was a little too busy to buy a Grey's Papaya though.

The next day we went to Coney Island and it was very peaceful.

TL;DR: I don't blame you.
posted by Gortuk at 10:41 AM on July 10, 2011


Macy's should consider broadcasting this event, so that people could record it at home instead of on their tiny blurry device. Maybe it could be on a major TV network in HD or something.

I think perhaps you are being sarcastic, but just in case you're not, they do broadcast the fireworks on NBC.
posted by Jahaza at 5:46 PM on July 10, 2011


You need your sarcasm detector recalibrated, Jahaza. Or maybe I do.
posted by Gortuk at 6:45 AM on July 11, 2011


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