Best time for a first time visit to NYC
March 3, 2014 9:48 AM   Subscribe

A close family member will be turning 21 next January (toward the end of the month). I'd like to surprise her with a weekend trip to NYC in honor of her birthday. She has never been before and loves to travel, and I think it will make a great memory. Here's the rub: I can't decide whether to 1) go on her actual birthday (pro: we'll be there on her actual birthday and con: January is kinda dreary), 2) celebrate her birthday early and go during the Christmas season (pro: Christmastime in NYC is so special), or 3) celebrate her birthday at home and go when it warms up, possibly late May (pro: it will be nice to stroll the neighborhoods and not shiver). What do you guys think?
posted by gardenbex to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (22 answers total)
I think you should go for her actual birthday. January can be dreary, but it can also be a really beautiful time with snow and hanging in nice cozy restaurants by a fire. I'd avoid Christmas, it is a really heavy tourist time here and everything is a crowded mess. May would be nice but it seems more exciting for her to be told you can celebrate your actual day elsewhere on a special trip vs. a more generic future trip.
posted by coupdefoudre at 9:55 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Personally, I would vote for mid to late spring. It's warm enough to enjoy walking/sight seeing but not too hot yet that you can't enjoy it.

If you were dead set on a winter visit I guess December would be better than January if for no other reason than just to get in the NYC Holiday stuff at the same time.
posted by Captain_Science at 9:56 AM on March 3, 2014

I would avoid going before her birthday, just in case part of celebrating her 21st birthday involves going out for cocktails.
posted by elvissa at 10:00 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Late May is the best, best time to be here. Christmas is a close second.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:01 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think January & February are nice months to visit NYC, if you can deal with the cold. It's not crowded so it's easy to get into everything. Spring is nice, too. I would not recommend coming at Christmas; all the Christmas stuff is nice but it's INSANELY CROWDED to the point that you usually wish you stayed home.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:02 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also vote for spring. My first visit was during a cool spell in early June--so more like late April temps I think. The weather was perfect, and I just walked everywhere.

It might also be worth trying to do a mid-week visit if possible. Fewer lines, cheaper hotels, etc.
posted by sevenless at 10:03 AM on March 3, 2014

It's actually not bad in January/February usually (this year being the exception). Even if it snows, there are cool things to see in the parks; I make a point of trying to get to the Central Park Zoo in winter because they have Japanese snow monkeys in an enclosure there and it's kind of fun seeing them there. Christmas here has a lot to offer, but the tradeoff is that a lot of people are also here to see it.

As for a spring visit: you may want to time a spring visit to coincide with the Sakura festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which is usually late April/early May (the botanists guess at when everything is in full bloom each year). It's a gorgeous photo op, and it's also a huge Japanese culture fest that weekend. If she's especially into anime or cosplay, as well, she will FLIP HER SHIT.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:13 AM on March 3, 2014

Somewhat like what elvissa said earlier, but I would wait until after her birthday in case her plans for her birthday include getting intoxicated with her friends and/or family locally. I don't know what her social life is like, or if she drinks/will drink, but most of my friends would have been relatively upset to learn that their 21st birthday plans were being imposed on them. Even if it meant a great trip with a loving family member. Kids these days....

Another vote for May.
posted by papayaninja at 10:18 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

It really depends what your priorities are.

Going for her actual birthday presents one obvious pro you don't mention here -- it's the low season and things will be cheaper. It will also be a lot easier to get into places, stuff will be less crowded, and in general life will feel a lot saner. Though, yes, it will be cold.

The holidays is a popular time for tourists to come to New York, and if you really like festive Holiday stuff (department store windows, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, etc) it can be a great time to go. However, it will be crazy crowded and insane and ALSO cold/gloomy/weather.

May is a WONDERFUL time of year to be in New York. The weather is glorious, and everyone starts coming out of their shells and the local mood is great. Depending on when in May you go, some of the cool summer events might be starting up. In my opinion all this getting out and enjoying the city can make things more hectic and crowded, but usually in a good way (especially if you're in vacation mode rather than "ugh ugh why is this bar so crowded" grumpy local like yours truly).
posted by Sara C. at 10:23 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to bring up the possibility that she might have plans to go out with friends for drinks on her actual 21st birthday, so it might not be great to surprise her with tickets for that day.
posted by unreasonable at 10:31 AM on March 3, 2014

Re the "plans on 21st birthday" thing, keep in mind that January is a year from now. As long as you don't surprise her with the trip on the actual day, it should be pretty easy to plan everything so that you guys can go on a birthday trip on her actual birthday and she has ample notice.

Unless you are a teetotaler who was planning to take her out for ice cream on her birthday, I think it's completely OK to take a 21st birthday trip with a relative. She's going to be excited to get to drink legally. There are lots of bars in New York. In my experience turning 21 isn't usually a two week bender with hookers and cocaine. You can probably facilitate a perfectly appropriate First Legal Drinks Yay outing during the trip on her actual birthday, and let her have the big blowout with friends the following week or whenever. She's still going to be able to get into bars after you guys get home.

Besides, nothing is better for a hangover than NYC diner breakfast.

Maybe talk to her about it in advance and make sure it's not a big surprise?
posted by Sara C. at 10:41 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd vote for January on her birthday as well. You'll be able to take advantage of deals, she'll be able to enjoy a cocktail in the big apple and I like walking around in the brisk cold.

Lots to see and do indoors.

You can always return in some future spring, but celbrating your birthday would be so special in NY.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:45 AM on March 3, 2014

What kind of person is she? Is she used to the cold? Would she be ok walking around the city bundled up ? Or is she going to love Central park in the spring with all the flowers blooming, and being able to stroll and take her time window shopping during the non-drinking hours?

I think a lot of this depends on her - NYC is fantastic whenever you decide to go
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 11:01 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

May, definitely. Rooftop drinking is pretty awesome.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:11 AM on March 3, 2014

Response by poster: Great questions. Drinking is not her thing, so I know she's not anticipating an alcohol-fueled blowout at a bar. We live in a city known for its cold weather, so the cold isn't a major thing -- it's just a downer. She loves fashion, art, and exploring. I know she'll love the Village and SoHo.

So far, I can safely say that I've crossed out Christmastime. You guys are right - it is very crowded during the Holidays, but even more, I want it to feel like a birthday celebration rather than a Christmas celebration. Down to January or May. Thanks for your input, everyone!
posted by gardenbex at 11:18 AM on March 3, 2014

I just visited NYC as a tourist in early February and loved it. We did mostly touristy things and it all was fine. There was a snowstorm and we went to Central Park, and the only people there were us, a handful of other tourists who took our photo, and two cops on horseback. The Natural History museum wasn't too crowded. We could get tables in restaurants. The only problems we had were that my boots leaked and that the High Line was closed because of wind.

I used to live there so I know it's great at other times of year, too. But there's no reason to avoid it in January or February.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:34 AM on March 3, 2014

One point for May is that it's the time of year everybody busts out their new spring clothes. If she likes fashion in a street style sense, that's a much more fun time of year to be in New York than January, when everybody mostly just wearing coats and boots.

If she likes fashion in the sense of "what are hip people going to be wearing this summer", go in May for sure.
posted by Sara C. at 11:35 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

My vote is for late May. January isn't always awful, but it's usually quite cold and the days are very short. A lot of fun outdoors stuff sucks in January, and much of it isn't even open. For example, Governor's Island doesn't open until May 24th.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 12:10 PM on March 3, 2014

She loves fashion, art, and exploring. I know she'll love the Village and SoHo.

You'll want to go to Williamsburg/Bushwick too, since those are the center of the young art/fashion/design world these days and will be very fun for a 21-year-old. You might even want to stay in Williamsburg (in an Airbnb) and use that as your base.
posted by lunasol at 12:55 PM on March 3, 2014

I know you didn't ask about this, but is there any chance you could come in October? Fall in New York is glorious, and our best stretch of weather, year-in and year-out, tends to be from about mid-September to mid-November.

Between January and May, I'd pick May. January can be OK - best-case scenario, you get highs in the 40s and relative dryness - but it can also be very cold and snowy. May is usually nice, but be forewarned that short springs are not unusual around here. It could be hotter/more humid than you imagine. The big upside to May is that more things are going on, and more people are out and about - the locals tend to hunker down a bit in January and February, especially if it's a bad winter (like this one). Outdoor dining, rooftop drinking, outdoor concerts, and cool events in parks generally do not happen in the wintertime.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:57 PM on March 3, 2014

Come in May! NYC is gorgeous not just because there are specific things to do, but because it's one of the most walkable cities in the world, with so many people. Don't miss out on that crucial aspect. Everyone becomes a lot more happier and brighter in the spring, when things are melting and people are shedding their coats like skin, and it's an absolutely glorious time.
posted by suedehead at 1:26 PM on March 3, 2014

Even better than May (for tourism) is September, if you can swing it. Schools back in session, the worst of the out of towner influx is over and the weather is still fine. (This assumes proximity to birthday sentimentality has little bearing on the matter, of course.)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:36 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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