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New York City Guide

New York Special Events & Attractions

As if there wasn't already enough to do, New York is a city of parades, festivals, and special events. On almost every weekend, and often during the week as well, something unusual is going on somewhere. Every large ethnic group has its own parade, most of which march down Fifth Avenue, and there are plenty of unique annual events like antique shows, dog shows, food festivals, film festivals -- each of which has its dedicated fans.

During the summer, especially, the array of New York's special events is mind-boggling. Free concerts ranging from Mozart to rap, and free theater ranging from Shakespeare to performance art, take place in parks all over the city. The JVC Jazz Festival comes to town in June and U.S. Open Tennis Tournament arrives in August. The Mets play Shea Stadium, the Yankees play Yankee Stadium, and horseplayers head to the races at Belmont Park.

Many of Gotham's special attractions are known around the world: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Fifth Avenue, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Central Park. All of these are must-see stops if you've never been to New York before, but with a little bit of planning, you can see them as New Yorkers see them and avoid the tourist traps along the way.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in New York

Before arriving, check to see what special events will be taking place at the time of your visit and plan accordingly. NYC&Company, New York's official visitor and convention bureau, lists special events on its Web site.

The Statue of Liberty is synonymous with New York.
©2006 NYC & Company
No visit to New York is complete
without a visit to the Statue of Liberty.

Those visitors who come to New York in the late winter or early spring are in luck: the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus makes its home in Madison Square Garden for two months beginning in March. On the night before the shows begins, the animals parade into town through the Queens Midtown tunnel around midnight. It's an amazing scene well worth going out of your way to catch.
In June, the city's enormous smorgasbord of free and outdoors summer festivals begins. There's something for everything, from Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic performances on Central Park's Great Lawn uptown to salsa and modern dance in Battery Park and City Hall Park downtown.

One especially enjoyable series is "Shakespeare in the Park," held beneath the stars in the Delacorte Theater, Central Park. Two plays featuring name actors are each presented for about three weeks and the free tickets, limited to two per person, are handed out only on the day of the show. Do as New Yorkers do and get in line mid-afternoon with picnic basket and bottle of wine in hand.

Don't have the time or inclination to wait in line? Another excellent Central Park festival is hosted by SummerStage, which presents a mixed line-up of dozens of mostly free music, movies, dance, and spoken word events at the Central Park bandstand throughout the summer.

Lincoln Center hosts a plethora of wonderful warm weather events as well, some free, some not. Classical music fans swear by the Center's indoors "Mostly Mozart Festival," held in August, while populists flock to "Lincoln Center Out of Doors," which showcases top dancers and musicians, also in August. But perhaps the Center's most unusual summer festival is Midsummer Night Swing, held on the plaza near the famous fountain in late June through July. Live bands play everything from samba to salsa beneath the stars, attracting some of the best dancers in the city. Beginners are welcome, and instructors are on hand early in the evening.

Spring, summer, and early fall are great times to be a sports fan in the Big Apple. From April through October, take the No. 7 subway out to Shea Stadium in Queens to see a Mets game or the No. 4 train out to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to see a Yankees game. Tickets are usually available at the box offices and it's easy to find the stadiums -- just follow the crowds. The U.S. Open is held in late August and early September; tickets go on sale May 31st and sell out quickly.

If baseball bores you and you don't like to buy tickets for events far ahead, spend a day at the races instead. The attractive horse track at Belmont Park, planted with lots of red and white geraniums, operates May through July and September through mid-October. To get there, take the Long Island Railroad from Pennsylvania Station to Belmont, Queens. A second horse track, Aqueduct, operates in the winter, but this is a much smaller affair.

With the end of the year come some of New York's most famous special events -- the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center. Both attract hordes of tourists, but are worth attending at least once in a lifetime.

New York is home to countless cultural institutions, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the New York Philharmonic. On the next page, read more about New York's arts and culture.