10 Best Things to Do In New York on the 4th of July
New York City is one of the top destinations in the country for people wanting to celebrate the 4th July holiday. A long weekend makes New York the perfect place to escape and really throw the boat out in celebration of independence. There is a lot going on in the City over the holiday, and many different ways to celebrate. Here we guide you through what to do in New York on the 4th of July.
What Is New York Really Like in New York On The 4th of July?
Movies and popular culture have led us to believe New York is a deserted City over the holiday, with the masses heading out of the city, but this is more myth than fact and the City remains busy and upbeat for the entire holiday. Around the 4th it’s as busy as ever and on an actual day while things slow down a bit early on they certainly make up for it in the evening when the City is as busy as ever and millions of revelers take to the streets!
With so much happening we run you through all our favorite things to do on the big day, starting with the obvious and leading you through a full day of 4th July Activities to make the absolute most of the Americas Big Birthday.
1 – Watch the Macy’s 4th July Fireworks
Yes, this is the most obvious answer and one you could probably have come to all by yourselves, but it’s not like we could just ignore it, right? For many, the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks is the number one must-see thing to do on the 4th of July.
This annual ritual sees Macy’s fire off over 25tons of pyrotechnics into the nights sky over Manhattan. It’s a stunning display with over 48,000 shells and cutting-edge effects, Its something everyone in New York should see. However, it’s not always as easy as you would imagine watching a fireworks display. With over 3 million people watching the show every year, it gets a touch crowded. We have a full guide to viewing the fireworks so you can find the best spot to watch the display.
2 – Other Fireworks Displays
It is advisable to arrive at the Macy’s Fireworks display around 4 hours before the show, and a lot earlier if you really want a great spot. We see people bagging spots at pretty much first light! Hunkering down for a day by the river. There will also be 3 million+ people there and it can take 2-3 hours to get out of the areas once it all wraps up. If this is sounding like hell to you, there are other displays in the area. No, they are not on the level of the Macy’s Fireworks, but then nowhere is!
Coney Island has a large fireworks display every year down on the boardwalk by the ocean. It’s nothing compared to the scale of Macy’s but it’s a lot easier to enjoy. After a day soaking in the beach vibes (more on this below) settle down and enjoy a pyrotechnic finish to the day’s festivities.
The other big displays are in New Jersey. A constant rival with the big apple there are several large displays around the state, that may be worth looking into to avoid the crowds of Manhattan.
Really Watching a fireworks display is the single must-do thing on the 4th of July and in New York, you have the biggest in the county to keep you entertained. But this still leaves the rest of the day to fill…
3 – Head to the Beach – Coney Island
Hitting the beach is the number one attraction on the 4th of July, apart from the fireworks, infact it’s probably the overall number one but numbers are hard to come by. But most New Yorkers head to the ocean in some capacity and there are a lot of them.
The number one spot most people head to is Coney Island. This legendary beachfront location has risen again from its near-apocalyptic decline of the past century. While it still relies on a very nostalgic charm, it’s a fun, safe, and vibrant location with loads to see, do, eat, and drink.
Lunar Park is the restored fun fair that lines the boardwalk and offers some pretty decent rides for a seaside attraction. Cyclone is a large wooden coaster that is now a historic landmark while Thunderbolt is a more modern steel coaster with 4 inversions and some steep drops. There is a slingshot ride, Zenobio(130ft 360 swing ride), Astro Tower (drop tower with great views of manhattan!), and Soarin’ Eagles(possibly the most painful coaster we have been on) for the thrill junkies.
The B&B Carousell is a stunningly restored 1906 carousel that is also considered a historic attraction. It is well worth checking out for its beautiful craftsmanship…but also its indoor Aircontioned location. Finally, check out Deno’s Wonderwheel a terrifying and frightening big wheel where the gondolas are not fairly attached to the wheel and instead slide about (intentionally ) as the wheel goes around.
Then there are just the boardwalk, beach, and piers themselves. A leisurely stroll along the boardwalk, out onto the pier to observe the fishermen, and then find a spot by the water to relax and just while the holiday away.
There are also tons of cheap take-out food joints down by the beach, most with practically no queues (mainly as everyone is at
Nathans!) and offering some really good beach food. Drinking is permitted in public and beers are sold by the restaurants to take out and enjoy by the sea. Or bring a cooler and supply your own drinks and food.
How To Get There? – Subway – You can get a Subway Train Direct from Manhattan. D & F (Orange) N & Q (Yellow) trains serve Coney&Stillwell directly
4 – Head to the Beach – Other Options
If the above sounds great, it is most of the time, but the one problem you may find is a lot of people have exactly the same idea on the 4th of July. In the morning expect Coney Island to be BUSY, by early afternoon expect it to be RAMMED! On our last trip, we did a morning session and as we were leaving we could barely get into the Subway Station for people flooding out! The Beach, Boardwalk, and Rides will be packed, and that is before we consider the Carnage the Hotdog Eating Contest Causes (See Below). If you are looking for a relaxed day by the sea, you ain’t gettin’ it here!
But there are still some really nice beach spots you can head to without joining the crowds at Coney Island.
This stretch of sand is attached to Coney Island Beach but is further away from the madness that descends on Coney Island on the 4th of July. You can still expect it to be pretty busy. As you head away from Coney Island the crowds will thin out and you are likely to find a bit more space to make your base.
The same will apply if you head west along Coney Island Beach and around the headland. Here the crowds tend to thin out as well. There is also Manhattan Beach, just to the east of Brighton beach which offers a small sheltered bay great for kids to swim, but again, it’s going to be pretty busy.
How To Get There? – Subway – B(orange) & Q(yellow) Lines run directly from Manhattan
Rockaway Beach is probably our top choice for those wanting to escape the crowds. There are over 10miles of golden sands here with a long boardwalk running most of that length. If you can’t find a quiet spot here then there is little hope anywhere! There is not much in the way of amenities, but you will find restrooms and showers dotted along the coast along with a few restaurants. You are advised to bring your own supplies, however.
The beach has a rugged windswept beauty to it, it’s not a classic looker of a beach, but it has its own charm, and getting out of the City and away from the people is the whole point of this beach.
How To Get There? – Subway – Take the A(Dark Blue) line right to the end of the line to access the beach. It’s a long ride, well over an hour, but it’s great that a remote beach area such as this has a direct Subway line to Manhattan
Jones Beach is even more remote than Rockaway with over 15 miles of remote windswept Atlantic coastline. There are even fewer amenities and you really will struggle to find food. But you will definitely find some peace and open space.
This is mainly because the area is pretty inaccessible. It’s a long train (LIRR) ride out and then a Bus from Freeport. Best suited to those who have a Rental Car, which is no one who is staying in New York if you have any sense.
How To Get There? – Long Island Rail Road to Freeport then a bus connection to the beach (Summer only) – or by car
5 – Nathans Famous Hotdog Eating Contest
We have already mentioned Coney Island but one of the most Iconic things to do on the 4th of July in NYC and Coney Island is to watch the annual Hotdog Eating Contest. This is basically the pinnacle of competitive eating (did you know that was a thing?) The World Cup Final of eating, the Superbowl of chowing down. All the top athletes…err, competitors turn out for this one and it’s a BIG event. At least a big event for what is essentially people stuffing hotdogs into their mouths for 10 mins!
40,000 people come along to see Joey Chesnut stuff 70+ hotdogs down his gullet every year while a large contingent of runner sup shovel between 30-50 dogs away in front of the live ESPN Cameras, with well over 1 million people watching at home. It’s a very bizarre but very American event and well worth checking out.
However, queues for the front of the event start pretty early, around 7 am with the men’s contest not starting until noon. There is plenty going on until then with a mini stage show keeping the masses entertained and the women chow down at 10:45 so it’s a full morning of entertainment.
It really is an expression of American culture (at its best and worst) and just something to be experienced once in your life.
How To Get There? – Subway – You can get a Subway Train Direct from Manhattan. D & F (Orange) N & Q (Yellow) trains serve Coney&Stillwell directly
6 – Head to the Park
If a beach seems a long way out of your way and you prefer to stay in the City, there are heaps of green spaces where you can head with a loaded cooler and plan for a chilled afternoon soaking in the city Vibes.
Naturally, Central Park is going to be a big draw for most people and the leafy paths and walkways offer a real cooling break from the oppressive City Heat. The Sheep Meadow and Great Lawn are the most popular spots or just find a shaded spot under a tree and laze the day away, chances are if you are heading to the fireworks later you will need this rest!
7 – 4th July River Cruise
One of the most civilized ways to see the fireworks and enjoy your independence day is with a relaxing River cruise. Start your evening off with a stunning cruise down the Hudson River, taking in the incredible skyline of Manhattan. Enjoy some great food and classy cocktails as the sun sets before getting a prime location to watch the fireworks light up the east river.
Pretty much every cruise operator will offer a dinner cruise of some kind to see the display and these are normally good 4-5 hour excursions with decent food and drinks and stunning views of the City during the day, sunset and night. They really are wonderful experiences. The only downside, is they are not cheap, but if you really want a splurge on the 4th this is a great option.
Hornblower – Pier 15 – $299
Hornblower – Pier 61 – $299
Circleline Cruises – Pier 83 – $299
8 – 4th July Observations Decks
Most of New York’s Observation Decks close for the evening and transform themselves into rooftop Parties offering drinks, Buffet nibbles, and the best views of the Fireworks display in the City. Each party has its own pros and cons and non of them are cheap, but you get a guaranteed view of the pyrotechnics and the VIP Party Vibe.
The edge is at the far side of Manhattan so the fireworks are going to be pretty distant. But you will get some great views of the City with the fireworks going off behind.
The Summit offers near-perfect views of the east river, you can see the barges, the official viewing areas, and the entire display area. Once the fireworks go off there is basically no better view in the city than here!
Top Of The Rock – Awaiting Confirmation
Empire State Building – $500
A great view, but an incredibly expensive ticket, and remember there will be no view of the Empire State Building when you are standing on it, but the fireworks look great from up here.
One World Observatory – $350
The One World Observatory is a little far off for really good views. But you do get a full and unobstructed view of the east river area when the Barges launch their wares!
9 – 4th July Parties
While New York is filled with many of the trendiest and hottest bars in the world, over the weekend of the 4th and especially on the day itself most bars and clubs will become ticketed events, at least in the evenings. These parties are some of the hottest tickets in town and spending the evening on a rooftop terrace is certainly a great way to spend the evening.
If you are on a rooftop bat then the chance of seeing something of the fireworks is a good bet, but the point of these parties is to cater to the cosmopolitan class of NYC, those who want a private space and intimate bottle service.
Most of the top parties will run to several hundred dollars for a table and even more if you want bottle service. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and some of our favorite bars become high-end expensive ticketed events. But for that VIP feeling these parties are the pinnacle of New York’s bar and club scene.
10 – Take Advantage of the Low Crowds!
With hundreds of thousands of people taking their place along the East River, heading to the beach, or just getting out of the city to see family, New York can experience one of its quietest periods of the year. Up until now, we have focussed on things that are more specifically 4th July Related. But New York is the City that never sleeps and it never really takes a day off for a holiday either!
Most tourist attractions will be open and up and running for most of the day, as will most shops bars, and restaurants. Infact for large parts of the day, there will be very little to really tell it’s actually the 4th of July! The city will obviously be dressed in its birthday colors, but this is true for the days and weeks that surround the holiday.
You will find most attractions do shut down early and attractions such as Observations Decks and Cruises transform into special ticketed events as we discussed above. But for most of the day, you can make use of some of the lowest queues and crowds of any time in the City.
Do not expect the same on the days that surround the 4th, the City overall is very busy, hotels are booked up and the crowds are high, but so many people have other plans of the 4thitself that most attractions really are pretty quiet.
So if you have no specific plans for the 4th or just want to kill some time before heading to the fireworks New Yorks Usual roster of tourist attractions are all there for the taking.
Have Your Say
Let us know your 4th July Plans in New York. Are you going to see the fireworks? Are you planning a big beach day? Maybe you are hitting a bar or taking a cruise? Whatever your plans let us know in the comments. What things have you done in the past or what do you hope to do in the future? Just fire away and any questions just leave a comment and we will get right back to you.