Post overview: Manhattanhenge Guide (2023)
Whether you’re visiting New York City in the summer or you’re a local, one thing is for certain: you’ll be dazzled by the sunsets. But what if I told you there was an annual occurence that made the sunset even more electric?
During Manhattanhenge the city’s street grid lines up with the setting sun creating a spectacle you have to see to believe. The sun dips inbetween Manhattan’s buildings flooding the streets in a sea of orange light.
But where do you go? What time is it at? What do you need? You might be wondering how you can make the most of Manhattanhenge 2023. That’s why I’m here to help!
I’m a local whose birthday happens to be during Manhattanhenge so seeing it has become a bit of a tradition. I’ve found the best spots to see it and also include tips so you can make the evening one you won’t forget.
Although short and inconsequential, Manhattanhenge is a free, innocent, beautiful way to spend an evening in NYC. So without further ado, let’s get into all you need to know about Manhattanhenge!
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
Manhattanhenge Guide (2023)
What is Manhattanhenge?
Manhattanhenge is a solar phenomena where the sun lines up perfectly with Manhattan’s streets running east to west.
The term was first coined by astrophysicist (and fellow New Yorker) Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, which is part of the American Museum of Natural History.
He named the event after Stonehenge, the prehistoric English monument that is believed to have been used as an astronomical observatory. At Stonehenge the monoliths can be used to predict an eclipse, solstice and solar equinox (but its original purpose is still a heated debate that I don’t want to get tangled up in).
Although Manhattanhenge is sometimes called the Manhattan solstice, the term is actually incorrect. A solstice is when the the earth’s tilt is most or least inclined towards the sun. Because Manhattan’s grid doesn’t follow true north, the solstice is off by a few days.
Thanks to the canyon-like buildings and streets, when Manhattanhenge occurs the sun sets perfectly in the middle of the street. I like to describe it as a basketabll hitting nothing but net as it swishes through a basket.
When is Manhattanhenge?
In short Manhattanhenge happens twice a year, once in late-May and another in mid-July. Each event has a “half sun” day where the sun is partially tucked behind the horizon, as well as a “full sun” day where Manhattanhenge is in full effect.
It lasts for only a few minutes as the sun sets. You’re going to want to be in position waiting for sunset a few minutes before it happens so you don’t miss any of it.
What’s reverse Manhattanhenge?
So we talked about Manhattanhenge for sunset, but what about for sunrise? Reverse Manhattanhenge happens in the winter, in November and January and will see you wake up at the crack of dawn to get into position.
The same rules as Manhattanhenge apply – but in reverse. The sun will rise in the east, so don’t miss it by looking in the wrong direction. Sunrise happens around 7AM.
Where to see Manhattanhenge
You can see Manhattanhenge from just about anywhere on the island of Manhattan that has an east to west, numbered street. The grid begins north of Houston Street in Lower Manhattan and runs until 155th Street in Harlem.
Having said that there are definitely some viewpoints that are better than others. You have to consider what you’re there to see, the sunset being cradled by New York City and not every part of Manhattan looks the same.
Stay away from scaffold-riddled, tree-lined, industrial looking streets. Wider thoroughfares (with traffic running in both directions) like 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd and 57th provide better, unobstructed views.
Also, the further away you are from the setting sun, you’ll have more buildings in front of you to create a narrow, “canyon-like” feeling. The obvious drawback though is that you’re further away from the sun.
Other Manhattanhenge viewpoints suggested by the American Museum of Natural History include the Tudor City Bridge and Hunter’s Point South Park in Long Island City, Queens.
The most unfortunate part of Manhattanhenge however is its own popularity. The popular viewpoints get swamped with crowds, and getting a good photo can be a shot in the dark.
My suggestion (if time allows) is to head out the week before Manhattanhenge, scoping nearby streets with potential. Find a street you like somewhere away from the major viewpoints and enjoy it all to yourself.
Here’s the quick round-up of the best places to see Manhattanhenge:
- 14th Street
- 23rd Street
- 34th Street
- 42nd Street
- 57th Street
Tips for the best Manhattanhenge in NYC
There are a few things to consider when partaking in Manhattanhenge, the first of which is the weather. Cloudy, stormy days can block your view of the sunset, ruining the day. Keep an eye on your weather app!
Another is that if you’re going to bring a camera, bring a tripod too. A high aperture setting will help you get it all in focus and a tripod will help you keep it steady.
Manhattanhenge also draws thousands of folks into the streets, so arrive at your spot early and stake your claim. If you do have a swarm of folks in front of you, use it to your advantage. Take a photo of the crowd, with Manhattanhenge in the distance.
Lastly, be safe. The best views of Manhattanhenge are in the middle of the street and New Yorkers are not known for flawless driving. Bring a friend to give you a heads up when cars are coming and keep an eye on the streetlights.
Does Manhattanhenge happen anywhere else?
Althouth Manhattanhenge is a New York City tradition, “henge” solar events happen elsehwere too.
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) there is what’s known as the “Infinite Corridor” which runs a staggering 800+ feet through the campus’ main buildings. In November and January MITHenge stuns both students and faculty alike.
In Philadelphia Phillyhenge shines over Market Street and across the northern border Torontohenge stuns Canadians every February and October.
Even the Mayan civilization had their own “henge” at Chichen Itza during the equinox. The pyramid creates a shadow that makes the staircase look like a serpent slithering down from the sky.
In 2023 Manhattanhenge will happen on May 29th and 30th a little after 8:10PM then again on July 12th and 13th at about 8:20PM.
Major intersections along 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd and 57th streets create the best views of Manhattanhenge.
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