New York is an incredible whirlwind at any time of the year. In the frostiness of winter, the city becomes a labyrinth of cosy pit stops as you navigate the streets, such as Fifth Avenue, with a sense of deja vu. No, you might not have walked them before, but you’ve undoubtedly seen them in countless Hollywood blockbusters.
As spring comes out, so too do New Yorkers who walk around as though the lingering chill in the morning doesn’t exist, too excited at the prospect of warmer days and the beginning baseball season.
Then, as the Big Apple starts to warm up, that’s when the rooftop parties, long weekends and outdoor cinemas begin to really bring the city to life. From Shakespeare in the Park to the US Open, there’s so much to see and do in NYC in the summer... and all year long.
It’s when the leaves start turning golden that New York begins to hum with excitement at the prospect of cooler weather. It’s when jumpers come out (though in the USA they call them sweaters) and all of the comfort food is just warming up, starting, of course, with a pumpkin spice latte. In New York, autumn – or “fall” to the locals – also brings with it a visual feast as all of the city’s expansive parks start to paint themselves a warm palette of golden browns and deep maroons.
A great way to see this take place is on the Chelsea High Line, a 2.3km stretch of elevated park. Built on a disused section of the New York Central Railroad, the linear park runs from the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street where you can enjoy a free walking tour, morning meditation sessions or even stargazing every Tuesday until October.
To get in the spirit of the season and venture outside of the city, a New Yorkers’ favourite thing to do is go apple picking at the start of the crisp fall season, when the apples are just ripe. Upstate in the Hudson Valley there are a number of orchards, cider mills and pumpkin patches for all of the family to enjoy.
If you haven’t had enough pumpkin by this stage, then head to the famous Brooklyn Brewery in the trendy area of Williamsburg to taste some of its seasonal beers, especially the Post Road Pumpkin Ale. Hundreds of kilograms of pumpkins are blended into the mash of each batch, creating a beer with an orange-amber colour, warm pumpkin aroma, biscuity malt centre, and a crisp finish.
What a memorable time to see New York, when the city isn’t as crowded and starts to twinkle under the Christmas lights strung high above the streets. You can even watch as the Rockefeller Center switches on the lights on its colossal 21m Christmas tree above the iconic ice-skating rink and gold Prometheus statue.
Or, for more room to practise your pirouettes, head to two of the city’s other stunning and equally iconic rinks, Central Park’s Wollman Rink and the more quaint Bryant Park Ice Rink. The latter, which sits next to the historic New York Public Library, is free to use if you happen to have your own skates, otherwise you can hire a pair there.
Then, just a short walk down Sixth Avenue, you can enjoy the famous Rockettes dance company perform its annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular, seen by more than 75 million people since the New York holiday tradition officially began in 1933.
One of the best times to discover the glamorous old Grand Central Station is during winter, as it provides a beautiful escape from the cold outside. The station joins together New York and the surrounding area’s different train lines in a mammoth labyrinth of secret bars and tracks. One of the most unusual clandestine features of the station is its echo chamber or ‘whispering gallery’, where you can stand on one side of a walkway, whisper into the wall, and have someone hear you on the other side thanks to the vaulted ceiling design.
If adrenaline, sports and local bar culture are the way you like to get to know a city, then make sure you’re in town during the National Football League’s Super Bowl to experience one of the most important days in American sport, which happens each February. Even if you aren’t a big sports fan, ordering a basket of chicken wings, drinking a Budweiser, and soaking up the atmosphere in a warm and rowdy sports bar is an entertaining experience.
As the city’s five boroughs roar to life in the early weeks of spring, it’s Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden that stands tall above the rest with its annual Cherry Blossom Festival: Sakura Matsuir. Opening in late April each year, the festival celebrates traditional and contemporary Japanese culture under the falling petals of the vast cherry blossom garden. While it might seem odd to visit a cherry blossom garden in New York, the festival signals the start of spring to many locals who head to the enchanting garden each year, and is symbolic of the city’s many multicultural roots.
For a step inside one of New York’s most well-known exports, its film industry, there’s the annual Tribeca Film Festival, which runs in mid-April and whose founders include Hollywood actor-director Robert De Niro. Beginning in 2003 in the area of Tribeca in Lower Manhattan, the festival showcases a variety of films around the world, from documentaries to shorts and features. The well-known festival is open to the public to attend, but with a good chance you’ll spot a celebrity or two.
Another way New York’s most arty residents like to enjoy the warmer weather is with a trip to nearby Randall’s Island for the annual Frieze Art Festival. Take in more than 1,000 contemporary and 20th-century artworks housed temporarily on the vivid green lawn of the island, with a background of the looming Manhattan skyline. The early May festival also makes for good people watching as a who’s who of the entertainment, art and fashion worlds all convene in one place.
One of the city’s most hotly anticipated summer fixtures is the Smorgasburg food market, which happens every Saturday in the hipster hotspot of Williamsburg, at the East River State Park. Foodies are able to enjoy the flavoursome world tour of cuisine from about 100 different vendors, all with the stunning Manhattan skyline as a backdrop. If the variety of food isn’t enough to entice you to Brooklyn, then there’s always Smorgasburg’s sister market, the Brooklyn Flea, which happens next door simultaneously. This trendy flea market features vintage clothing and furniture, flowers, arts, crafts, jewellery and heaps more – a trash and treasure fiend’s delight. If you miss out on the Saturday market don’t worry, because Brooklyn Flea then moves south on a Sunday to the area of Dumbo just under the Manhattan Bridge Archway.
Come summer, the amount of activities, concerts and events around the city dials up a notch... or five. Most notable is the free SummerStage concert series that happens at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park, with the 2017 line-up including acts such as Elvis Costello, PJ Harvey, Regina Spektor and Cold War Kids. The concerts begin in mid-June and run until September, with more and more gigs added throughout the summer, so check centralpark.com for more details.
Another fun and left-of-centre activity to enjoy in Central Park is rollerblading. Explore the expansive park by hiring a pair of blades, or alternatively there are plenty of places to hire a bike and go for a leisurely ride with the whole family. With just under three and a half square kilometres of park to explore, you’ll be sure to find adventure, however many wheels you choose.
By Sam Aldenton