When it comes to capturing the romance of the city, photographers, writers, and flâneurs have long turned to the New York night—with its bright lights and tireless revelers—for inspiration. The morning, not so much. For overprogrammed New Yorkers, obsessed with being productive from the moment they wake to the moment they sleep, mornings tend to be nothing more than a utilitarian stint wherein they roll themselves from bed to computer to gym to job, headphones in the ears and caffeine on the brain. But what a waste of some of the city’s finest—and, in fact, most poetic—hours. Take a look around you before the 9 a.m. rush, and you’ll find it’s a time when impossible things become plausible: You can hear yourself think, stride down vacant sidewalks, be smiled at by passersby, have an omelette by yourself. It’s a slice of day when the chaos of the city is smoothed out, hushed, faintly aglow. As you’ll see in the pages that follow, it’s feasible to get where you’re going and still bask in the city’s post-dawn glory, whether you take a cue from our gallery of early risers who love New York best bright and early (all the better for bird-watching and biking across the bridge), or adopt our expert solutions for various vexing morning dilemmas (maddening car alarms and all), or simply take advantage of the dozens of shops, restaurants, and leg waxers that open well before the stock market.
Reasons to Wake Up
Eerie pink sunrises, naked taxi hailers, Cardinal Dolan sightings—and more proof that the morning is worth getting out of bed for.
The party rages on.
“What I like about the hours between 4 and 7 a.m. is that on my street, people are always coming home from a long night out—you can’t tell the difference between a school night or a weekend. One time around 5 a.m., I finished a shoot for a cosmetics brand and came home on the bus with red sparkly alien makeup all over my face. People didn’t look twice. ” —Christine Reilly, West Village, model
Yet the city slows down.
“There’s something about 6 a.m. that makes everyone seem like they’re in slow motion, out for a leisurely stroll. It’s probably because this hour feels like stolen time.” —Beverly Willett, Carroll Gardens, writer
It’s a great time to get a haircut.
“A few barbershops uptown, like B-way Barber Shop, are open all hours, and they always have customers, even before 5 a.m., which I find both amusing and off-putting. You’ll see men young and old in there, some of whom look like businessmen, and some of whom look like retirees or folks just hanging out—and all of whom look like they’re having a good time.” —Matthew Claiborne, Hamilton Heights, news associate for CBS This Morning
It’s the most productive (and ornithologically interesting) part of the day.
“I write early—my brain isn’t taxed by the details of the day, so I can focus my energies on the work. Even if I walk the dog first, I’m out in the park by 6:30, early enough that not even the other dog walkers are out yet—it’s just weather and trees, my dog, and me. The best thing, though, is that there’s a hawk who frequents a certain tree near 81st and Riverside. Once in a while, I can spot him. That’s always a good omen for the creative process.” —Victoria Redel, Upper West Side, author and professor
The freaks come out.
“I get up at 5:30 for work—I’m in construction—and you see all kinds of things at that hour. Once, we were doing a job at a luxury condo in midtown, which didn’t officially start until seven, because you can’t make noise before then. So we used to sit on the corner every morning and wait. One morning, we see a naked woman on the ledge of the building—I guess she’d climbed out the window. She lowers herself to the street by hanging off the ledge, then drops to the sidewalk and hits the ground running. She hails a cab completely naked and speeds off. I don’t know how you pay for a cab naked in this city, and I don’t want to know.” —Rory Prenderville, Hell’s Kitchen, construction worker
It’s just you and the open road.
“I drive from Jersey to Brooklyn to get to work, and yet because I leave at 4:15 a.m., it’s such a relaxing trip. I really enjoy it, actually. You haven’t experienced Manhattan until you’ve experienced it traffic-free.” —Rona Naseri, Greenpoint, morning supervisor of Ovenly bakery
These are prime bonding-with-child hours.
“It’s lovely to spend time with my 1-year-old, Sorcha, before work—it starts my day off in the best way because she’s rested and happy, and it’s a little window of alone time for us. Plus it’s good eating: I take her out for breakfast at Brooklyn Label, where they bring our food before we sit down (Sorcha’s partial to the smoked salmon), or Le Gamin, on Franklin near Noble (she’s all about their breakfast crêpe). The two words she has down are hi and bye, and she says it to everybody. There’s a little group of us dads, ‘the dawn patrol,’ who walk their kids each morning, waving to each other.” —Tim Fornara, Greenpoint, television producer
“My wife and I live right at the spot where the Harlem River meets the Hudson and Manhattan meets the Bronx, and in the morning, when the sun comes up behind us, it casts this eerie pink-and-yellow glow over the neighborhood. We have an uninterrupted view of the water and Inwood Hill Park, and with that light, it’s both strange and beautiful.” —Jason Minter, Inwood, co-owner of Indian Road Café
It’s a time of curious exercise routines.
“The best thing is watching the older Asian people who walk backward through Doughboy Park. They doit really slowly, with their eyes open, and though I’ve seen several practitioners, they’re always walking alone. I’ve read that it’s an ancient Chinese form of meditation and that it’s actually great exercise—it strengthens your knees and increases balance. Whatever it is, it’s pretty fascinating to behold.” —Nicole Haroutunian, Woodside, museum educator
Everyone is a little more pleasant.
“I walk my kids to school each day, get a cappuccino at Eataly, and socialize with everyone from the security guard at my bank branch, Chris, who preaches me Scripture (I don’t have the heart to tell him I’m Jewish), to the guys who work the freight elevators along 25th Street—they always ask about my kids.” —Anna Rabinowicz, Flatiron, designer at RabLabs
You never know who you’ll run into.
“Every morning, I walk by St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Madison Avenue before the sun rises, and for a while I would see an older man come out in jogging clothes. We would always say good morning. One day last March, I saw him come outside, and there was someone helping him with suitcases into a tinted SUV, with two policemen sitting outside it. It turns out that man was Cardinal Timothy Dolan. That morning, he was on his way to Rome to see if he was going to be the new pope.” —Bradley Gill, Elmhurst, tunnel builder working on the Second Avenue subway line