An insider’s survival guide to New Year’s Eve in New York City

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Understandably, “The City That Never Sleeps” is a popular place to spend New Year’s Eve. While the iconic ball drop at the stroke of midnight in Times Square attracts one million revelers, and one billion people are expected to watch remotely, there are many other ways to ring in the New Year in New York City. Brush up on “Auld Lang Syne on your flight (which you found on Cheapflights.com, of course) and get ready to toast to 2017 with our survival guide.

Even if you aren’t traveling to the Big Apple for New Year’s Eve, you can still participate by submitting your wishes for the New Year via the New Year’s Eve Virtual Wishing Wall. Wishes submitted by Dec. 28 are printed on the thousands of confetti pieces that rain down on revelers in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

For those who can’t wait for 2016 to end, the countdown to 2017 begins with Good Riddance Day, a day to bid farewell to bad memories. Folks can shred old love letters, pink slips and more via mobile Shred-it shredding trucks, take a mallet and destroy items like cellphones in person on Dec. 28 from noon to 1 p.m. in Times Square or submit items via shredit.com or on Twitter with the hashtag #GoodRiddanceDay.

Tips for travelers planning a trip to NYC for New Year’s Eve

New Year's Eve
Countdown to 2017 with family and friends (Image: Joonbug.com).
  • Make your plans early and buy tickets in advance, advises Jon Gabel, CEO of Joonbug.com, the country’s largest producer of NYE events.
  • If you can, avoid LaGuardia Airport, which is undergoing a multi-million dollar reconstruction of the entire airport that has caused massive traffic on the airport’s access roads. If you have already made travel plans to fly in or out of the airport, double or triple your planned extra travel time for getting to and from the airport.
  • If you’re flying into or out of John F. Kennedy International Airport, which is the second closest airport after LaGuardia, take the free AirTrain, which connects to New York City’s subways, buses and the Long Island Railroad.
  • If you are flying into or out of Newark International Airport, take the AirTrain, which connects to NJ Transit and rail lines that run on the Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Line.
  • Follow New York City’s trio of airports on social media or sign up for email or text alerts for airport alerts and advisories.
  • Save on hotels by purchasing New Year’s Eve packages, which often include perks like upgrades, free breakfast or Champagne. Many packages also include discounted tickets to the hotel’s New Year’s Eve parties.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and dress in warm layers to be prepared for anything, from standing in extra long lines at venues to waiting for midnight.
  • Go to the venue early and give enough time to get to the event as traffic on the road and public transportation is heavy on New Year’s Eve.
  • Download the MTA’s subway and bus apps to access maps, view updates and more. Taking public transportation is the best option, particularly those headed to Times Square. Get off a stop or two before 42nd Street/Times Square station to avoid the crowds and closed station entrances and exits.
  • Set up a nice dinner to get a full stomach prior to your event if you want to be full for the night. Most events offer food, but unless it is a sit-down dining event, the food will be light fare (no matter how they advertise it, according to Gabel).
  • If you insist on taking a taxi, save money by taking Via, an on-demand, ride-sharing app that provides rides for a flat $5 fee. To use Via, download the free mobile app.
  • If you want to be in Times Square but don’t want to brave the crowds or the cold, buy a ticket to an event at a Times Square-area venue that offers views of the ball drop.
  • Ask your hotel concierge for help. They are happy to assist you and often have access to the hottest parties in town, advises Gabel.

Times Square parties

New Years Eve, Times Square, Manhattan
Three, two, one…Happy New Year! (Image: NYC & Company/Julienne Schaer)

Many visitors who come to New York for New Year’s come for the largest party in Times Square.

  • Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball Drop: The 110-year-old tradition continues this year with the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball Drop. One million revelers brave the cold to watch a 12-foot-diameter, 11,875 pounds geodesic sphere – covered in 2,688 Waterford crystals and powered by 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LED lights – begin its descent atop One Times Square at 11:59 p.m. If you choose to join the free party, you will have to arrive early (some partiers begin arriving in the morning) and plan to stay put as people are penned in barricades and streets close long before the party. Once inside the barricade, you can’t leave, even to use the bathroom. If you can’t stand the wait or the thought of not using the bathroom for a dozen hours or more, there are plenty of parties hosted in Times Square, many which provide views of the ball.
  • Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest: Since 1972, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve has kicked off New Year’s Eve celebrations live from Times Square. For the past 10 years, host Ryan Seacrest has hosted the five-hour party. Comedian Jenny McCarthy co-hosts this year’s festivities. Pop star Fergie is co-hosting the companion Billboard Hollywood Party, which will feature celebrity performances throughout the night.
  • Other Times Square parties: If standing outside in freezing temps elbow to elbow with thousands of people is not how you wish to countdown to 2017, but you really want to be in Times Square, there are plenty of places to celebrate. There are many companies that claim to sell access to Times Square venues, but NYC & Co., the official destination marketing organization for New York City, recommends BallDrop.com. Joonbug.com also offers numerous ticket packages for New Year’s Eve events in Times Square and beyond, from family-friendly parties to club events. Two of the most popular events are the family-friendly AMC Times Square NYE Family Fun Fest on level 3, an all-ages party with a Top 40 live DJ, food, drinks for adults, PG-13 films and party favors, and AMC Times Square NYE Ball Drop Live View on the top floor terrace, a high-end party with a five-hour open bar, passed food, midnight Champagne toast, party favors and enviable views of Times Square and the ball.

Fun fêtes

Prospect Park
Have a dazzling New Year complete with fireworks (Image: Andrew Gardner).

Times Square isn’t the only famous New Year’s Eve party in town.

  • Black & White Masquerade Ball: The annual Black & White Masquerade Ball at Soho Grand Hotel is the place to people watch and be seen. Inspired by Truman Capote’s Grand Masked Ball of 1966, the black-tie soiree in the hotel’s lobby is one of the most coveted tickets in town. The New Year’s Eve package includes 10 percent off room rates, 20 percent off party tickets, a bottle of Laurent Perrier Champagne and two masks to wear to the party.
  • Coney Island USA: For those who want to experience the thrill of the ball drop without the crowds of Times Square, Coney Island has you covered, with an LED ball drop simulated on the iconic Parachute Jump. There is a 3D laser light show and a circus sideshow fire finale. Then, ride The Thunderbolt and B&B Carousel.
  • Prospect Park Fireworks: Bucolic Prospect Park in Brooklyn presents one of the best fireworks displays, the Prospect Park Fireworks. This year’s free show celebrates the 150th anniversary of the park. Grand Army Plaza, West Drive in Prospect Park and Prospect Park West between Grand Army Plaza and 95th Street are the best places to see the spectacular fireworks show. Live entertainment at Grand Army Plaza begins at 11 p.m.

Foodie-focused parties

En Japanese Brasserie
Eat, drink, and be merry (Image: En Japanese Brasserie).

Times Square area

Escape the crowds, but be in the center of it all by reserving a seat at these hot tables. Combine entry with a hotel stay for added savings.

  • Hyatt Centric Times Square: Head to Bar 54, the hotel’s rooftop lounge, which offers spectacular views of the ball drop from the outdoor terrace. Tickets include a premium five-hour open bar and three hours of passed appetizers.
  • InterContinental New York Times Square: Chef Todd English’s new bar space The Stinger Cocktail Bar & Kitchen is hosting a farewell to 2016 party that includes an open bar, unlimited passed hors d’oeuvres, live DJ, a live viewing of the ball drop and a New Year’s toast. Email info@thestingernyc.com to book a package.
  • New York Marriott Marquis: Partake in a roaring 1920s-themed gala at The View, located atop the New York Marriott Marquis. The restaurant is serving a five-course dinner and entry includes a premium open bar, complete with dancing and live streaming of the ball drop at midnight. Special overnight accommodations are also available.

Central Park

  • Tavern on the Green: Central Park’s iconic Tavern on the Green is serving prix-fixe specials on New Year’s Eve, including a brunch on Dec. 31 and a New Year’s Eve three-course dinner and six-course chef’s menu, complete with Central Park firework views, live jazz and dancing.

Lower Manhattan

  • En Japanese Brasserie: Far from the crowds in Times Square, En Japanese Brasserie in the West Village in Lower Manhattan offers an authentic Japanese New Year celebration. The New Year’s prix fixe menu is $180 per person and includes soba (buckwheat) noodles which symbolize longevity — chewing the noodles is said to “cut ties with the past year.” Diners can participate in mochi rice cake pounding with executive chef Hiroki Abe, which symbolizes “sticking together” and “sticking to one’s ambitions and goals.” Later seatings include a countdown to midnight in the open kitchen when the staff cracks open a sake barrel, which signifies good luck and dispenses any bad luck from the prior year.

Let’s get physical

Coney Island
Watch the ball drop in Coney Island (NYC & Company/Alexander Thompson).

There are a trio of ways to work up a sweat to ring in the New Year and burn off the calories of a night of excess.

  • Time’s Up 19th Annual New Year’s Eve Bike Ride: Bikers and skaters meet at 9:45 p.m. on the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge, then ride through Washington Square Park and Madison Square Park before partying the night away at Belvedere Castle in Central Park.
  • New York Road Runners Midnight Run: Countdown to 2017 with music and dancing beginning at 10 p.m. in Central Park as part of the NYRR Midnight Run. At the stroke of midnight, fireworks erupt over Central Park as runners complete a four-mile run.
  • Coney Island Polar Bear Club Annual New Year’s Day Swim: On New Year’s Day 2017, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club invites those brave enough to take a plunge into the Atlantic Ocean to bring in the New Year and to benefit Camp Sunshine, a charity for children with life-threatening illnesses. The yearly tradition starts at 1 p.m. at the Stillwell Avenue boardwalk entrance, with free admission to the New York Aquarium for registered attendees.

More travel inspo for your New York City getaway

20 things to do in New York for under $5
I took a New York helicopter tour and this is what I saw
QUIZ: Which New York City neighborhood are you?

Not ringing in NYE in NYC? Keep it in mind for next year and search for flights on Cheapflights.com.

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Where are you ringing in the New Year?  Share with us in the comments.

Main image: iStockPhoto/AleksandarNakic

An insider’s survival guide to New Year’s Eve in New York City was last modified: December 29th, 2016 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (245 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.