Manhattanhenge, New York City’s famous solstice spectacular, is fast approaching. Here are this year’s dates, according to the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium:
- May 29 and 30 (half sun and full sun, respectively)
- July 11 and 12 (full sun and half sun)
What is Manhattanhenge? It’s the four days of the year when the sunset aligns with Manhattan’s street grid, setting directly over the borough’s east-west streets. Also known as the Manhattan Solstice, this astronomical phenomenon portends a torrent of sunset photos on Instagram.
Each set of dates—late spring and early summer—features two chances for the Instagramming masses to capture a #hashtagworthy photo. There’s “Full Sun on the Grid” (pictured above), where the whole of the sun appears to balance on horizon before sinking below, and “Half Sun on the Grid,” when half the sun sits on the horizon and half below. The Hayden Planetarium posts the dates of the phenomenon every year on its website and is considered the official source as to the event's precise timing.
The Best Places to See Manhattanhenge
The Hayden Planetarium page recommends finding a spot as far east as possible in Manhattan that still has a view of New Jersey across the Hudson River. We’ve found that the best views are at the following spots (our picks also take into consideration photogenic Manhattan architecture):
- 14th Street and Broadway (near Union Square)
- 23rd Street and Broadway (near the Flatiron Building)
- 34th Street and Fifth Avenue (near the Empire State Building)
- 42nd Street and Third Avenue (which makes for great shots of the Chrysler Building and of the Park Avenue Viaduct where it crosses above 42nd, pictured below)
- 57th Street and Eighth Avenue (near the Hearst Building)
These streets are best because, as major east-west thoroughfares, they’re wider than most of the other city streets that also fall within the part of the grid that aligns with phenomenon.
The island of Manhattan doesn’t align perfectly north-south. It's rotated off true north by roughly 29° clockwise. Likewise, much of Manhattan’s street grid from Houston Street to 155th Street is rotated to match, per the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, which established the City’s street plan.
Because of that, the sunset aligns with the grid when its azimuth is 29° north of due west, about 20 days before and after the summer solstice. It’s therefore possible to observe the phenomenon on any east-west street on the grid that has an unobstructed view over the Hudson River to New Jersey—though you can sometimes observe it between buildings even without a river view, as in the photo taken in Central Park above.
For practicality’s sake, though, those wider streets mentioned above have the best views and afford more room for crowds. Speaking of which, please be careful not to block traffic or stand in the street when you don’t have a crossing signal. It’s a stellar view, but we don’t want you to get hurt trying to capture it.
Time It Right
Arrive early if you want a good spot for photos—half an hour before should be fine. Here are Manhattanhenge’s exact times as calculated by the Hayden Planetarium:
Half Sun on the Grid
- Wednesday, May 29, 2020; 8:13pm
- Saturday, July 12, 2020; 8:21pm
Full Sun on the Grid
- Thursday, May 30, 2020; 8:14pm
- Friday, July 11, 2020; 8:20pm