What to Do on New Year's Eve in New York
It's not all about the ball drop.
The Times Square ball drop, first organized in 1907 by then-owner of the New York Times, Adolph Ochs, continues to draw over a million spectators to the technicolor plaza. The current ball, designed by Waterford Crystal in partnership with Philips' custom LED lamps, is the seventh iteration. And since 1929, live musical performances in New York have been broadcast across the country and the world, first on radio stations and later, television. Today, viewers tune in for the updated—and completely essential—New Year's Rockin' Eve.
No place does New Year's Eve quite like New York City. From the iconic ball drop in Times Square to the epic parties thrown in grand venues across the city, New York lives up to its name as the city that never sleeps. And whether you want to participate in a midnight run, jam out at Phish's annual concert in Madison Square Garden, or celebrate without spending a dime, there's really no excuse for not partaking in a bit of New Year's revelry.
The Ball Drop at Times Square
So you went to the ball drop. We can’t really blame you—it’s New York's (and arguably the world’s) most iconic New Year’s Eve celebration. The ball drops from the top of One Times Square and is best seen from the north, up Broadway between 43rd and 50th, and on Seventh Avenue between 43rd and 59th. Arrive early (really, really early), dress warmly (do not be ashamed to wear multiple pairs of mittens), and bring plenty of snacks and water. Keep in mind that there’s no alcohol allowed in any New York City public space and—perhaps more importantly—there will no public, portable restrooms in Times Square either. Just plan accordingly, please?
New York Harbor Fireworks
Fireworks are launched from multiple places once the clock strikes midnight—even at Times Square, but it’s so bright and loud there already you probably won't notice. The most picturesque of these presentations is certainly the show over New York Harbor, which are set off from Liberty Island. They can be viewed from downtown Manhattan’s Battery Park, the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, or by boat in the harbor. Several companies offer cruise packages for the evening with food and drinks, though they can be pricey. If you’re on a budget, hop aboard the cheapest cruise in town: the free Staten Island ferry.
Grand Army Plaza Fireworks
Though Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza doesn’t have the water-bound drama of the Statue of Liberty, it’s pound for pound the most charming fireworks display in New York City. Set against the backdrop of the triumphal Beaux-Arts Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch, Prospect Park, and the bronze gateway of the Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch, it’s also the celebration that’s the most neighborhood-oriented. Hosted by the Brooklyn borough president and the Prospect Park Alliance, the party starts up at 11pm with live music and free hot chocolate. Fireworks go off at midnight.
Central Park Fireworks
The Central Park fireworks display is visible from just about everywhere in the park, or from any location where a good portion of the park is visible. Though it’s not exactly picnic weather come December 31, there are plenty of well-lit, lively, and pretty places in the park to settle in for the show. Unlike Times Square, Central Park food and drink vendors will still be serving hot warm snacks and sips to visitors. The fireworks are set off from the Naumburg Bandshell around 70th Street, just south of the Bethesda Fountain.
Time’s Up New Year’s Eve Ride
The environmental organization Time’s Up organizes a free ride (bikes and skates welcome) from Washington Square Park to Central Park’s Belvedere Castle. Bikers and skaters leave from Washington Square at 10 PM. Alternate start points depart from the Brooklyn entrance of the Williamsburg Bridge at 9:45 PM and Madison Square Park at 10:20 PM. If wheels really aren't your thing, you can always just show up to the Belvedere Castle at a quarter to midnight. Participants and spectators are encouraged to dress extra f, and to bring along food and drink. Expect a wild, albeit chilly, open air dance party at the end. You'll even get to enjoy those epic Central Park fireworks exploding overhead.
Go on (or Cheer on) a Midnight Run
New York Road Runners organizes a jubilant run (plus dancing) in Central Park every year at the stroke of midnight—so technically this event happens on New Year’s Day. The Central Park fireworks serve as the starting pistol, and runners take off for a four-mile loop through the park in sequins, wigs and, on occasion, giant Christmas tree costumes. Fees range from $20 to $65, but the totally free festival at Naumburg Bandshell, full of music and dancing, will be pumping from 10 PM through 1 AM. Hydrate with a glass of sparkling cider!
New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at Saint John the Divine
This annual free concert, founded in 1984 by composer and New York Philharmonic music director Leonard Bernstein, is a chance to welcome the New Year in a reflective (rather than very bright and very loud) way. Held in the beautiful nave of Saint John the Divine—the largest cathedral in the world—its varied program (recently ranging from Vivaldi to “This Little Light of Mine”) always begins at 7 p.m. General admission seats are free, but reserved seats are also available starting at $100.
Silent Reflection at the Jivamukti Yoga Center
For several years, Manhattan’s Jivamukti Yoga Center has made a name for itself as an alternative way to celebrate the New Year. From 9 p.m. until midnight every December 31, founders Sharon Gannon and David Life open their studio to the public for a free group meditation, or mauna. Midnight is marked with the chanting of a mantra, but before then quiet reigns. After all, mauna is the Sanskrit word for silence. For $108, practitioners can join Jivamukti for a two hour class and a vegan dinner before the meditation begins.
Phish at Madison Square Garden
Phish’s marathon New Year’s Eve concerts at Madison Square Garden are the stuff of legend. They’ve appeared at the iconic venue on December 31 at least nine times since 1995, and are likely to return most years—if not all. Regularly stretching their performances across several hours and, in 2015, three sets and an encore, you can count on having a full night. It's the perfect way to ring in the New Year if that’s, you know, your jam.
Sleep No More
Since it opened in 2011, the immersive theater Sleep No More has made holiday celebrations its specialty. New Year’s Eve is no different, with a variety of packages that offering access to Sleep No More itself, a Royal Fest, and the McKittrick Hotel’s Winter Masquerade. The dress code is strictly enforced: come wearing something suitable for royalty, and don’t forget to wear the pre-approved color palette—2015’s was black, silver, and gold.
Head to a Hotel Party
Many of New York’s best-loved boutique hotels throw something together for New Year’s Eve, whether it’s glam or grungy. The Roxy Hotel has hosted a Dali-inspired Surrealist Ball, while the Soho Grand presents its own take on Truman Capote’s famous 1966 Black and White Masquerade Ball. The Bowery, meanwhile, has offered up something for everyone: historically combining themed Prohibition, Anna Karenina, and Mexican hacienda rooms in one wide-ranging party. Expect a steep up-front cost, but you'll be rewarded with an all-night open bar.
The Poetry Project’s Marathon Reading
Admittedly, this event takes place on January 1. But what better way to cure your hangover than with poetry? Stick with us. The Poetry Project’s New Year’s Day Poetry Marathon, first established in 1974 by poet Anne Waldman, has hosted luminaries like Eileen Myles, Patti Smith, Philip Class, Yoko Ono, Kathy Aker, Amiri Baraka, and Allen Ginsberg. Tickets are $25, but the program lasts all day—from 2 p.m. to 1 a.m. Stay as long or as little as you like: either way, you’re bound to hear something of interest.