20 Fun Things to do in New York in Fall

This article has links to products and services we love, which we may make commission from.

Are you planning a trip to NYC this fall? It’s such an action-packed time of year that if you blink, you might miss something; there are holidays, festivals, events, and more – where do you even begin to make the most out of your trip?

Although New York is beloved year-round, it is incredibly wonderful in Autumn; as Tom Hanks’ character said in You’ve Got Mail, “Don’t you just love New York in the fall?”

Don’t waste your time figuring out the best way to experience fall in New York City; this guide will help you navigate through 20 things to do.

We’ll cover everything from the best spots to see the leaves change to the spookiest ghost tours in the city and everything in between – there is so much to do in New York in fall!

You may also like our guide to Upstate New York in fall.

Best Time to Visit NYC in Fall 

The autumn season technically runs roughly from September 21 to December 21, surprisingly but we tend to refer to fall as September, October and November.

November is sometimes included as part of the winter season.

However, New York weather will often have you believe that September is still part of summer, and the city will often reflect that.

If you can’t wait to wear a thick turtleneck and leather boots, you should aim to come no earlier than the end of September; New York fall temperatures vary.

Top of the Rock view of Empire State Building in New York City

Still, you can expect from 76° to 61° in September, 64° to 50° in October, 55° to 42° in November, and 44° to 31° in December. 

If seeing those gorgeous colors on the leaves is your primary motivation, it can be difficult to nail a specific date but October and the start of November are the safest bet.

Check out this foliage map where locals report on leaf color change.

New York loves to celebrate a holiday, Halloween festivities will often start in mid-October, and Christmas lights start going up the week before Thanksgiving.

Since winter festivities tends to fall under November and December, we’ve mostly focused on September and October but do keep in mind that fall colors have been known to show as late into the third week in November.

As always with fall vacations, we recommend to not visit an East Coast destination solely for leaf peeping or keep your fall dates super flexible so you can follow the foliage maps and decide when to visit according to reports.

Best Things to do in New York in Fall

1. Visit Governors Island Before it Closes

Governors Island is popular with the locals for its big-name art installations, green spaces, and relaxing atmosphere but is often overlooked by tourists.

This 172-acre Island sits just south of Manhattan and to the west of Brooklyn and can only be accessed by ferry between May 31 and October 31.

You’ll feel like you’ve escaped the hustle and bustle of the city and get a fantastic view of the New York City skyline as well as the Statue of Liberty at the same time. 

Blue skies over historic Governors Island New York City

2. Take a Hudson River Cruise 

If seeing New York in fall is on your bucket list, you might as well do it in style and take a Hudson River Cruise. 

There are many options; you can take a daytime or nighttime cruise, rent the boat out as a private event, enjoy a romantic date night or do something the whole family can enjoy. 

The Hudson River is on the west side of Manhattan and is famous for its views of the city and its fall foliage; it is like a feast for your eyes. 

You can even take a 1920’s Yacht Cruise to see the leaves in all of their colorful glory.

Hudson River is packed with unusual things to do in New York.

3. Rent a Rowboat in Central Park 

Is there a better way to spend fall in New York than in Central Park? You can stroll down the winding lanes, take a bike ride to cover more of the vast grounds, or, my personal favorite, take a rowboat ride at the Loeb Boathouse.

Whether you’re on a solo trip, a romantic getaway, or a family holiday, a trip on a rowboat will be a lasting memory, and at $20 per rowboat that seats 4 for an hour, it is an NYC bargain; the boathouse is only open until November so be sure to get a ride while you can. 

If you prefer to stay on dry land, you can rent a bike, giving you a better chance to see as many of the 843 acres as possible. 

If seeing NYC fall foliage is at the top of your “to-do” list, this is the place to be. 

Boats on water at pond in Central Park in NYC. Bridge lined with trees.

4. Visit the Brooklyn Book Festival 

Something about September and books just go hand in hand, don’t you think?

If you’re a book lover, you will adore the Brooklyn Book Festival

It is New York City’s largest free literary festival occurring annually at the end of September. 

It was created in 2006 as a free city-wide “hip, smart, and diverse” literary event. 

It has grown from that into an eight-day event that connects readers with authors, projects new authors into the spotlight, and brings a community of people who love books together.

Sunset or sunrise over Brooklyn Bridge in New York City

5. Catch a Flick at the New York Film Festival

If you’re more into movies than books, don’t miss the New York Film Festival!

This annual 2-week event is always hosted at Lincoln Center, located on the Upper West Side on 66th street and Broadway. 

The NYFF has 25-30 feature-length films with various subjects and styles, documentaries, an experimental showcase, shorts, special events, and more. 

This is one of the most prestigious film events in the country. 

Passes go on sale in the summer and often sell quickly, so act fast if this is your idea of a perfect way to spend fall in NYC.

DUMBO view of Manhattan Bridge New York City with red stone buildings framing the bridge

6. See a Broadway Show

Every summer, the Broadway season dwindles but always comes back with a roar in September with brand new plays and musicals. 

If you’ve got your eye on a specific show on a particular date, it is well worth buying tickets in advance – especially if there is a celebrity in the cast. 

If you’re feeling more casual, you can head to the TKTS booth in Times Square and get last-minute discounted tickets. 

If you don’t know where to start, you can always take a walking tour of the theatre district, learn about the history behind the shows and theatres, and get some tips on the must-see shows of the season. 

You may also find our guide on things to do in NYC at night useful.

Times Square signs lit up in New York City

7. Taste the Feast of San Gennaro

The peak of NYC in fall is the Feast of San Gennaro.

It started in the early 20th century as a small gathering of Italian Immigrants to pay their respects to the San Januarius, the Patron Saint of Naples, on September 19.

It is now an 11-day festival that falls in the latter half of the month and is a significant tourist attraction. 

It takes place in Little Italy, mainly on Mulberry Street, and features a full-on carnival with games, a parade, rides, and street vendors.

The most popular reason to go is the food; you cannot attend without trying the sausages, zeppole, and cannoli. There’s even a cannoli-eating contest! 

If you can’t get enough of Little Italy (and who can?!), take an Italian food tasting tour to eat your way through learning more about the history and culture. 

8. New York’s Village Halloween Parade

The Village Halloween Parade is one of the top fall activities in NYC; this iconic parade has been running since the 70s and will probably never stop. 

This is the world’s largest Halloween parade and is attended and watched by hundreds of thousands of people each year. 

Anyone can join in the parade, but you must be in costume; you’ll be joined by hundreds of giant puppets, dozens of bands playing music from around the world, and what will seem like every New Yorker in the city in their best costume!

Every year, a theme is decided, and the puppets are all crafted to match that theme. 

If you want to watch it, it takes place on Sixth Avenue from Spring Street to 16th Street every Halloween night from 7-10.

9. Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade

The Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade occurs annually in October, usually a week or two before Halloween. 

This is not your average Halloween dog parade; hundreds of New York’s furry best friends hit the streets dressed as cultural icons, topical events, avant-garde designs, and more. 

Whether you have a dog or not, many New Yorkers will tell you this is one of their favorite things to do in NYC in the fall. 

10. Experience The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze

If you like your Halloween to resemble Christmas, the Van Cortlandt Manor Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze is the best of both worlds, well worth the trek (about a 1-hour drive north) outside of the city. 

The 17th property is lit up with over 7,000 illuminated jack o’ lanterns hand-carved by a team of on-site artists. 

You’ll spend about 90 minutes taking in the sights and sounds – they even curate an original soundtrack for the synchronized light show; what could be a more excellent way to enjoy autumn in New York?

This event features in our guide to the best things to do in Upstate New York during fall.

11. Go to an NFL Game 

New York is home to two teams in the NFL, the New York Giants and the New York Jets.

Whether you’re a sports lover or not, if you can snag a ticket to one of these games, you are in for a treat.

Football season starts in early September and goes through early January, but tickets always sell fast, so you’ll need to plan if you want to attend a game.

 Both teams play their home games at the MetLife Stadium, which is actually in New Jersey, but you’ll be surrounded by so many New Yorkers you won’t even notice that you’ve crossed state lines.

12. Take a Haunted Mansion/Ghost Tour… If You Dare

New York has many haunted mansions and ghost tours to choose from if you want to get spooky. 

If you’re looking for a haunted house experience, try Blood Manor in the Lower East Side, Haunted Hayride in Randall’s Island, The Gravesend Inn in Dumbo, or Bane Haunted House in Midtown. 

If you want to get scared out of your wits while taking in the city sights, you can take a walking ghost tour; popular spots are Greenwich Village, Green-Wood Cemetery in Sunset Park, Astoria, and Brooklyn Heights.

If you don’t fancy a ghost tour but still want to see the city at best at night, check out this comparison guide to the best NYC observations.

City skyline and Empire State Building at night in a dark NYC

13. Down a Pint at Oktoberfest

Even though New York is a few thousand miles away from Germany, you’d never know it once Oktoberfest hits!

The festival runs every year from mid-September to mid-October daily, and the beer, pretzels, & schnitzel are free-flowing. 

You can enjoy this celebration with adult friends or the whole family at the Watermark Bar in the Financial District, where you’ll also get some fantastic views. 

It’s free to attend, but you can reserve tables and express entry options if you’d like, and while you don’t have to, traditional dress is encouraged.

14. Run (or Watch) the NYC Marathon

You know it’s November when it’s time for the New York City Marathon; this is the largest marathon in the world; in 2019, over 53,000 people finished the race. 

The marathon began in 1970 and always takes place on the first Sunday in November.

Much of the city shut down to accommodate the runners who compete in this historical event, so check your itinerary if you’re visiting on this day. 

The course covers all five boroughs of New York, starting in Staten Island, to Brooklyn, Queens, to Manhattan, to the Bronx, and back to Manhattan, where it finishes in Central Park. 

Due to its prestige and popularity, runners are selected by a lottery system; you can, however, join the ranks of the other spectators and cheer on the runners during their last mile.

Helicopter aerial view of lower Manhattan New York City and the Hudson River

15. Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Is there a better-known icon to signify Autumn in NYC than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? 

The parade began in 1924 and has grown to become the largest parade globally and is attended by thousands and watched by millions. 

The parade takes place in the morning on Thanksgiving Day each year; it is best known for its spectacular balloons, live music from high school and college bands and musical groups, performances from The Radio City Rockettes, various Broadway musicals, cheerleaders, and dancers. 

If you want to catch a glimpse, be sure to stake out a spot early in the morning along the parade’s route, which stretches from 77th Street and Central Park West down to Columbus Circle to Central Park East to Sixth Avenue, where it finishes at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue, in front of Macy’s.

16. Walk the Highline

If you want to see some of the best fall colors of NYC, The Highline is the place to go.

This elevated train line lay neglected for decades. After a public outcry, the Highline was opened in 2009 and continued to be built upon until its completion in 2014 as a free, 1.5-mile long space full of hundreds of plant and tree species, art installations, food pop-ups, and more. It also boasts impressive views of the southwest part of the city.

It is a great spot to feel like you can escape the city while never even leaving Manhattan. 

If you want to learn more about The Highline, take a walking tour to learn some of the behind-the-scenes secrets. 

Green and blooming elevated park, The High Line in New York

17. Have a Pint at CiderFeast NYC

You can’t celebrate being in New York in the fall without at least one delicious cider, and if you’d like, you can attend an entire festival dedicated to them!

The ticketed event kicks off in Williamsburg in early October, where you can sample ciders from all over the state and some surrounding areas as well as fill up on bread, cheese, ham, and more from local suppliers. 

One World Trade Center Tower (AKA Freedom Tower) over Hudson NYC River

18. Union Square Farmers Market 

One of my favorite things to do in the fall when I lived in NYC was to go to the Union Square Farmer’s Market.

It’s opened year-round, but the fall harvest always made me feel it was the best time to go. Plus, you can get hot or cold (non-alcoholic) apple cider, pick pumpkins, and get apple cider donuts. 

This is a great place to pick up your regular produce and get plants, baked goods and find something new to try. 

19. Visit the (Indoor) Brooklyn Flea

Not only is the Brooklyn Flea a cultural institution, but it is also a great indoor escape if the NYC fall weather is a little chillier than you anticipated during the colder months. 

You can purchase everything from furniture to vintage clothing to handmade jewelry and even fresh food. 

It’s like a treasure trove to look at everything for sale; even if you are on the strictest of budgets, you’ll probably begin to wavier after 10 minutes.

20. The New York Botanical Garden

The fall season in New York isn’t complete without a trip to the New York Botanical Garden, although gorgeous year-round, I think this is when it truly shines.

The NYBG is located in the Bronx and it is 250 acres of pure majesty with over 1 million living plants!

With a variety of events, installations and campaigns there is often something new to see but if you come during Autumn you’ll get to see the most spectacular leaves.

How to Dress in New York in Fall

It’s always tough to decide what to wear in New York in fall; on the one hand, you’ll want to be stylish for the ‘gram, but on the other hand, you don’t want to be miserably cold once those temps drop. 

Since the start of fall can be sunny and warm, you might get away with arms and legs on show but remember to carry layers for the evening chill or off days.

If visiting from late September onwards, a warm coat is a recommended, preferably with a lining but even better if it comes with a bit of insulation. 

I always opted for a coat that came down to my thighs from late October to help trap in body heat. 

From the start of October, you’ll be amiss if you don’t bring a hat, scarf, and gloves; you’ll spend more time outside than you might realize, and you’re better off having them in a bag and not needing them than having your ears and fingers feel like they’re going to freeze right off. 

Footwear is another big consideration; no matter what time of year you come, you’ll walk miles and miles every day; shoes that are a little broken in and are comfortable and have some support are a must.

The ground can become extremely slippery if there are fallen wet leaves, snow, or ice and the last thing you want to do is spend your trip hobbling on crutches so something with a grip on the bottom can be very helpful too.

Sticking around until winter? Here’s our guide on how to dress in NYC at Christmas and the best things to do in December.

ew York city at twilight.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to see why everyone falls in love with New York in the Fall; in the span of a few weeks, you will get warm afternoons with gorgeous leaves, to Halloween parades with those same leaves crunching underfoot, to the biggest parade in the world with Christmas just around the corner.

If you’re visiting for one week or one month, there will always be something you feel like you missed out on – there are just so many options and so little time!

Save for later!

Text: Fall things to do in New York City. Images fall color trees, pumpkin

Enjoy Our NYC Travel Guides

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *