Manhattanhenge, also called the Manhattan Solstice, is a breathtaking natural phenomenon. The event occurs when the setting or rising sun aligns with the east-west streets of Manhattan’s main street grid. Precise dates can be verified with the New York Museum of Natural History, so that you can book your vacation rental in New York City on time to catch the solstice. This perfect alignment happens four times a year. The dazzling glow illuminates the north and south sides of iconic New York buildings, framing epic sunset photographs that are recognizable around the world.
Manhattanhenge, named by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in 2002, is a reference to a prehistoric monument of large vertical rocks set in a circle. Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England was constructed to frame the rising sun from the center of the monument, signifying the changing of seasons. Tyson speculates that if future civilizations excavate Manhattan Island and find the carefully laid-out grid of the city’s streets and avenues, they might presume astronomical importance, just as scientists have long speculated about Stonehenge. Because the two days of Manhattanhenge correspond with Memorial Day and MLB’s All-Star break, deGrasse Tyson playfully wonders if future anthropologists might conclude that the American people worshiped war and baseball. Without further ado, here’s the rundown of Manhattanhenge.
Why Manhattanhenge Happens
According to the New York Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, the streets of Manhattan are set 29 degrees from a true east-west direction which is why Manhattanhenge doesn’t fall on the actual solstice dates. The spinning planet causes the sun to set at a different angle each day. When the sun lines up at 29 degrees, it’s actually 29 degrees off due-west in the city, and the sunset comes into perfect view on each Manhattan street that crosses the island.
When Manhattanhenge Occurs
Manhattanhenge is an eagerly anticipated and popular event for New Yorkers and visitors who flock to the streets, cameras in hand. This spectacular event happens around the summer solstice, appearing twice in May and twice in July. Manhattanhenge is basically a view of the sun setting down exactly between the towering city buildings. The view can be full or partially visible above the skyline, and how vibrant the sighting is depends on the weather.
Why Manhattanhenge Became a “Thing”
Manhattanhenge has been around ever since the streets of Manhattan existed and surely not ignored. However, its popularity has burgeoned in recent years due to dazzling photographs shared on social media sites such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Scenes of majestic skyscrapers framing a burning sun that flows the length of a thoroughfare captured hearts and imaginations worldwide. It’s also a perfect excuse to gather in Central Park, the West Village, or Bryant Park for a picnic and finding a vacation rental close to the action is a snap.
Each year, the Museum of Natural History announces the precise dates of when Manhattanhenge is expected to appear and the best places to see it. Prior to the event, the museum presents a public program at the Hayden Planetarium that explains the science behind Manhattanhenge, highlighting the history and astronomy of this celestial spectacle.
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Making the Most of the Manhattanhenge Experience
The Museum of Natural History advises that spectators arrive at least 30 minutes early to find a comfortable spot and set up photographic equipment. Tyson advises the very best place to observe Manhattanhenge is at the easternmost point of Manhattan. When looking west across the avenues, ensure that New Jersey is still in sight. The Empire State and Chrysler buildings have exceptionally beautiful vistas from 34th and 42nd Streets. Several streets adjacent to 14th, 23rd, and 57th streets are also prime viewing areas. You can also get an amazing view from across the river in Queens.
The Meatpacking District, once somewhat rough and plain, has flourished in recent years and abounds with excellent nightlife and an array of restaurants. High Line, an elevated freight line and once the site of a supply train service to and from Manhattan’s industrial district, was transformed to a lush, green, public terrace in 2009. The park runs down the West Side from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street between 10th and 12th Avenues, a leisurely one-mile walk where you can breathe in the fragrances of spring and summer on your way Uptown. For the past several years, High Line Park has become a popular place to enjoy Manhattanhenge.
Other Henge-like Cityscapes to Visit
Although Manhattanhenge is the most celebrated, the henge-like phenomenon also happens in other cities with a uniform street grid such as Chicago, Toronto, and Montreal. Chicagohenge happens twice a year, first in March and when the autumnal equinox occurs in September. Skywatchers can catch the setting sun reflected along the east-west corridors, but the views from the Loop are the most spectacular and popular, especially for photographers. In February, you can catch Torontohenge in mid-February along downtown east-west aligned streets such as Adelaide Street W, Richmond Street W or Queen Street W. Stroll along Park Avenue in Montrealhenge during June for some spectacular sunsets that happen to the north rather than the west due to the city’s positioning. When the sun sets over Maui, you can enjoy a ‘henge’ moment everyday at the Makena State Park. A pristine white beach, crashing waves, and the sunset highlighting the prominent cinder cone of Pu’u Ola’i make a visit to the 50th state a photographer’s dream.
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