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A Survival Guide to New Year’s Eve in NYC

When you think of New Year’s Eve, what do you see? The Times Square Ball Drop. Being a New Year’s baby (I was born at 12:04am on January 1st) with a dream to go to New York City, I knew getting to visit around my birthday would be a literal dream come true. And oh, it was. Here is my advice for spending New Year’s Eve in NYC for the first time, because it’s the Wild, Wild {Ea}st.

book accommodations far in advance

If you are on a budget, book accommodations way in advance. We ended up staying at Novotel New York Times Square because it was a 22nd birthday present for me and a once-in-a-lifetime trip for my mom, but it was pricey. If you know months, even a year, in advance that you plan to visit NYC around this time, book it ASAP. You may even find more affordable hotels and/or Airbnbs available.

One caveat is that New York isn’t too crazy about Airbnb, so be careful if you choose to use their service in the City. I love Airbnb and always consider it first when researching a place to stay, but their relationship with this destination isn’t the best. Just go into that with your eyes wide open!

determine how you plan to see the ball drop

If you’re operating with a more fluid budget, a popular option is to buy tickets to a NYE party at one of the restaurants or bars located near the ball drop. Tickets usually run in the hundreds of dollars, and often include food, drinks (alcoholic and non), and a viewing area of the ball drop.

Pay close attention to what your ticket includes, because some do not include any seating while others do. We didn’t go this route, but we did consider it for a week leading up to our trip.

Many of the hotels in Times Square offer for their guests to view the ball drop for free. I saw it from the balcony of Novotel with no extra cost, and without standing in the below-freezing temperatures for hours on end. (Seriously, the year I visited was the second-coldest NYE on record in New York. It was brutal.)

Before choosing a place, know that many can only offer a limited view of the ball drop, no matter what they may say. I am satisfied with the view that I got from Novotel, but it was not an angle where you could see it as clearly as the people who wait from noon to get spots right near the Rockin’ Eve stage. Who knows, maybe I’ll be crazy enough to do that in the future…

New Year's Eve in NYC: Times Square
the best place in the world to ring in the new year

the low-down on navigating times square the day of NYE

Your mobility in the Times Square area will be severely limited all day long on December 31st. People start arriving to wait in the bull pens for the ball drop around 12pm, sometimes even earlier. We only went to Whole Foods to stock up our hotel room with snacks and to get food from their hot bar. It was easy to reach on foot, and we knew the process of getting back to our hotel could be complicated.

Novotel gave us bracelets showing we were staying with them, which NYPD needed to see to even let us near Times Square at all early in the day. If you want to be near other people watching the ball drop in the bull pens, but you don’t want to be stuck there, pay attention to NYPD. They will close off specific sections once they are full of viewers, so just walk out of it before they do that. I’ve heard that once you’re out, you can’t be let back in. However, I did not experience or witness this when I was visiting.

what to do aside from nye: see the holiday lights

I highly recommend planning your trip to have a few extra days aside from New Year’s Eve and Day. I found a free walking tour of the holiday storefront decorations around the city and many famous landmarks. Our guide, Mary, was so knowledgable, personable, and highly deserving of tips! If you’re interested, don’t forget to reserve online in advance.

statue of liberty and ellis island

We also visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which we loved. At Ellis Island, you can learn the history of the journey many immigrants took to reach a new life. You can see different exhibits about people who were turned away from their American Dream, and how much they gave to get there in the first place. It was so eye-opening, and surreal to be standing in a place I had only ever learned about in school and seen on TV.

New Year's Eve in NYC: girl in plaid coat in Times Square
mood: ecstatic, but frozen

the met

While my mom and her friend did some shopping, I had a whole day to myself–and I was itching to see some art. I chose to spend my solo time at the Met by way of Central Park , and it did not disappoint.

I was enthralled by the collections, of their beauty and history. On exhibit was some furniture from Versailles. I recognized the designs from my visit to the Palace a few months prior. I spent at least 20 minutes apiece on Monet’s paintings, a captive to his ability to transport you to a more ethereal place. Naturally, I loved every second of my time at the Met. I’m convinced I could spend the rest of my days there.

No trip to New York is complete for a music-lover without seeing a show on (or off!) Broadway. Even if musicals aren’t your thing, I would still encourage you to find out what’s showing while you’re in NYC. You never know if something will catch your eye!

Anastasia recently premiered when I visited. I’ve loved the story since I was a little girl, so it was the obvious choice for me. My evening there was perfect. The costumes, music, lighting, dance, and characters all made it a beautiful experience.

this is where i leave you

Even with everything we got to see, there are places we still didn’t get to visit. New York is a dream destination for a reason! There is so much to see there that it can be overwhelming. I enjoyed my visit because we went at our own pace. Regardless of what you see during your trip, you are still one of the lucky ones just by virtue of physically being amidst all of New York’s timeless energy.

. . .

If you have any questions about my experience that I didn’t address here, please contact me!

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Background: Times Square
Text: Survival Guide to New Year's Eve in NYC

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