Many locals agree that fall is the absolute best time to be in NYC, thanks to refreshingly crisp days, a bustling cultural calendar, and Mother Nature's vibrant autumnal display. Happily, even in the midst of Manhattan's concrete jungle, patches of nature abound, and fall leaf-peepers will be rewarded with kaleidoscopic displays of crimson red, golden yellow, and fiery orange leaves. Of course you have to get your timing and your scouting locations just right. So before you rush out of the city in search of fall's finest hues, we've done the leaf-crunching legwork to round up this list of five fun ways to see fall foliage in the Big Apple.
Tip: NYC foliage typically peaks in late October (right around Halloween, another fall rite of passage that NYC does right!). You can keep up-to-date on just when those bursts of fall color are most likely to appear via New York State’s helpful fall foliage report.
Central Park has 20,000 trees, making it an ideal place to see the fall foliage. Whether you are walking, biking, or hiking through the park, you'll be sure to see some color.
While the entire park has color, there are some spots that provide exceptional views. On the southern side of the park head to the pond, the mall, or the ramble. At the reservoir, situated in the middle of the park, you'll see the trees reflected in the water. If you're at the north end head to the north meadow, north woods, the conservatory garden, and the pool.
You'll see a variety of trees including cherry trees, hickories, gray birches, and American elms. For added fun rent a rowboat from the Loeb Boathouse or consider signing up for an official Central Park walking tour. You'll get expert insights into park history, flora, and fauna.
There are plenty of great parks in Manhattan beyond Central Park. Many of them are located on the north side of the borough.
One of the best places to see fall foliage is the 30,000 acre Fort Tyron Park that overlooks the Hudson River. It is also home to the Cloisters Museum, which is part of the Met and showcases medieval art. For the best views in the park look no further than Linden Terrace, one of the highest points in Manhattan. You'll see the Palisades lit up in colors across the river.
Another tree-filled area nearby is Highbridge Park. Check out the trail along the Harlem River which passes the landmarked High Bridge and High Bridge Water Tower.
Inwood Hill Park also overlooks the Hudson River and has native tree-lined trails with oaks, hickories and tulip poplars.
Set out on a Foliage Sightseeing Cruise
Several sightseeing cruises whisk away guests from Manhattan up the Hudson River, affording them front-row seats to some spectacular fall foliage along the riverbanks.
Classic Harbor Line, with its classic fleet of sailing schooners and 1920s-style yachts, is one of our very favorites for fall sailing. Try their almost 3-hour brunch or 4-hour lunch sailings that board at Chelsea Pier. You'll go north on the Hudson River sailing past landmarks like the George Washington Bridge, the Cloisters, the Palisades, the Little Red Light House, and the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Another top pick is Circle Line's full-day Oktoberfest Bear Mountain cruises, which bring guests on weekend outings up to Bear Mountain from Midtown. Guests will be serenaded by polka bands while they enjoy German beer and traditional Oktoberfest dishes like schnitzel and bratwurst. There's ample time to disembark at Bear Mountain State Park to enjoy the foliage via a hike or stroll before returning to the vessel for the trip back to the city.
Other fun options include New York Water Taxi's fall foliage sailings from the South Street Seaport to the Hudson Valley. The line also runs ferries to Sleep Hollow that are primed for foliage – and Halloween – season.
Head out on a Hudson River Bike Ride
Biking up the Hudson River waterfront is easy with wide, bike lanes that stretch from lower to upper Manhattan. There are plenty of places to pull over and see the foliage on your journey. You'll see sweeping skyline views as well as pretty park landscapes and panoramas of the Hudson River and New Jersey waterfront.
If you don't have your own bike, don't worry. You can rent one from CitiBike or a bike shop like Blazing Saddles.You also can join a guided bike tour along the route. Bike and Roll NYC, for instance, offers a Waterfront & Central Park Tour meaning ample opportunities for leaf viewings. The 2- to 3-hour tour runs for about 9 miles.
Pick a Primo Rooftop Perch
For a birds-eye perspective of the fall spectacle, paired with a tipple or two, consider taking your leaf-peeping to new heights – literally. In a city that's gaga for rooftop bars you can pick out one with some stellar views over Central Park for a brilliant fall-inspired backdrop. A few top contenders that meet the leaf-peeping criteria: The Roof at the Viceroy New York; Cantor Rooftop Garden Bar at the Met; or the Bar SixtyFive in the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center.