After last season’s strange pandemic fireworks show—held over the course of several nights from “surprise” locations around the city and then stitched together for TV—this Sunday marks the return of the traditional Macy’s Fourth of July grand spectacle, with some 65,000 shells and aerial effects packed onto five barges and towed out onto the East River between 23rd and 42nd Streets.
The show starts on Sunday at about 9:25 p.m. and lasts for 25 minutes. Macy’s promises it will be their biggest fireworks display ever, which means it will also definitely be the largest July 4th celebration anywhere in the country. If you want to see it live, either right up close or maybe somewhere a little more chill, here are the best spots on either side of the river.
The FDR Drive
There are few better vantage points for the show than up on the FDR Drive, which this year will have spectator entrances at 23rd, 34th, and 42nd Streets. The NYPD usually opens the “gates” around 6:30 p.m., so whether this is the right spot for you involves that classic personal-comfort-versus-snagging-the-front-row calculation. You can’t bring chairs up here, or spread out blankets, and some police officers won’t even let you sit on the concrete (restrictions do tend to ease up once each spectator pen is filled), so be prepared to stand around for hours doing not much.
Oh, and clusterf-ck alert: all spectators entering the FDR will reportedly have to pass through a metal detector first which, if you’ve ever witnessed the massive waves of humanity streaming up the ramps before showtime, seems like a logistical nightmare. That said, the FDR is usually the default spot for out-of-towners, and with tourism still way down in NYC, it’s hard to predict just how crowded it will actually get.
Long Island City
The other prime viewing spot is across the river in Long Island City, at both Gantry Plaza State Park and Hunters Point South Park, though much of the latter was used as Macy’s HQ, and closed to the public, the last time we did this in Midtown. If your level of commitment is high, this is the spot to spend the day (and night), spread out on the grassy lawns for a multiple-meal picnic, or relaxing on one of those wooden chaise lounges down by the water. But even late-comers should be able to find a place to stand along Center Boulevard. Bonus: the LIC location gives you a great shot of the Empire State Building, from which fireworks will be launched from the 72nd, 86th, and 103rd floors during the big show.
It’s not the front row, but with 65,000 shells exploding you will be able to see more than enough to feel satisfied from the riverfront parks of North Brooklyn. In Greenpoint, that means WNYC Transmitter Park, which is small but has a decent lawn, some seating, and a pier (which may or may be open), and also allows for a quick getaway after the show.
There’s tons of unobstructed room at Marsha P. Johnson State Park and Bushwick Inlet Park in Williamsburg, though all that fencing could turn the entrances into chokepoints. And the neighborhood’s enormously popular Domino Park will likely be packed with locals all day, with easy access to high quality sustenance from the likes of Roberta’s, Other Half Brewing, Oddfellows, and Meckelburg’s right across the street.
Williamsburg Wild Card: if the NYPD allows spectators out onto the North 5th Street Pier, this could be an ideal viewing spot.
Lower East Side
If you don’t really care about the fireworks but just want to soak up some NYC Fourth of July barbecue vibes, there’s no better place to take a stroll and maybe cadge a couple of burgers than along the East River Park adjacent to Alphabet City, and on down to Corlears Hook. If you’re staying for the show, know that the sightlines aren’t great here, and the action’s pretty far away, but it’s definitely a fun party.
Nothing to do with Macy’s, but Coney Island is also back at the blasting-explosives game with the triumphant return of the Steeplechase Spectacular Fourth of July Fireworks Show, which can be seen from anywhere along the boardwalk between West 10th to West 23rd Streets, which is basically from the Cyclone to the Childs Building. The Steeplechase Spectacular doesn’t launch until 10 p.m.—right after the Macy’s one ends— but like all big boardwalk parties out here at Coney, it promises to be a raucous affair.
Note: You will not be able to see much of anything from Brooklyn Bridge Park and Brooklyn Heights Promenade, except maybe the ones that explode really high, though it’s always a festive scene on July 4th around these parts.