Spectators Guide for the New York City Marathon

Runners on the NYC marathon course

Afton Almaraz / Getty Images

Each year, more than 3 million spectators line the streets of the five boroughs of New York City as they watch and cheer more than 50,000 runners competing in the world-famous New York City Marathon. While watching the marathon is not as tough as running in it, spectators still need to be prepared if they hope to have a good viewing experience.

Pre-Race Spectator Prep

If you hope to see friends or family members running in the New York Marathon, make sure to do some homework before race day. You'll want to gather key information and pack some essentials.

Get Runner Info

Discuss with your runner in advance and find out expected pace per mile, so you can plan where to be on race day.

Get your runner's wave start time and estimated pace, so you can figure out when you might expect to see them (assume it will take them no more than 10 minutes to cross the start) at which mile. Once you have that information, review the race course map to figure out your plan.

Find out in advance what your runner will be wearing so you know what to look for. You'll be watching dozens of runners run by every second, and spotting clothing is easier than picking out a face from the crowd.

It also doesn't hurt to tell your runner what you'll be wearing, so they know what to look for. Make sure you also let your runner know which side of the street you'll be on from the runner's perspective.

Pack Essentials

You'll probably be standing and walking a lot, so make sure you're wearing comfortable shoes. Early November weather in New York City can vary a lot even during the course of one day. Make sure you dress in layers and have rain gear available if rain is in the forecast.

Other essentials for watching the New York City marathon include a copy of the course map, a subway map, cell phone or wireless handheld device, cash, a Metro card (for the subway), snacks, and drinks. You can use the MTA planner to plan your stops if you're hoping to see your runner more than once. And don't forget your signs to support your runners. The signs can be funny, inspiring, or motivational.

Spectators in any Central Park or Central Park West location will have any bags inspected before being allowed to enter the area, and the race suggests not bringing a bag. You will not be allowed to bring a stroller, cart, or cooler into those areas.

Where to Watch

Since the race travels through New York's five boroughs, it's tough to see runners at multiple locations. Moving from one viewing spot to the next is possible if you plan in advance, take the subways, and don't mind walking quickly to stay on schedule. Here are some great viewing locations in each borough

Staten Island

Staten Island is the first borough of the marathon, but there's not a feasible cheering place here. Marathoners gather in the Fort Wadsworth start village until the cannon fire occurs on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. There are no spectators on the bridge.


Brooklyn Academy of Music (Mile 8). Lots of people and entertainment are at this spot, making this a fun viewing location. Runners are still feeling fairly strong at this point. If you're hoping to catch your runner at a few spots, you can easily hop on the subway and head to Manhattan to see him again.


 Just past the Pulaski Bridge (Mile 14). Good-sized crowds here support runners as they pass the halfway point. There are about 2 miles of raceway through Queens.


First Avenue (Miles 16–19). The biggest crowds on the course line the streets on First Avenue, giving the runners a boost as they head toward the Bronx. After you see your runner go by, you can walk west to 5th Avenue or Central Park to catch him again before they finish. If you plan on doing this, just make sure you stand on the left or west side of First Avenue, since crossing First Avenue can be almost impossible.

Don't get stuck on the right or east side of First Avenue unless you want to camp out there. If you're going to watch here, it's very important to tell your runner exactly where you'll be (for example, northwest corner of 87th and First) so they'll know where to look. The crowds are so deep on First Avenue that it's very easy to miss people. Holding balloons or a big sign is a good way for your runner to find out. Spectators do tend to thin out above 96th Street.


138th Street (Mile 20). This is when some runners hit "The Wall," where they start to slow down and really need support. Crowds tend to be smaller here, so it's a good place to cheer.


Fifth Avenue (Mile 23): Runners go up a gradual incline as they run up Fifth Avenue, and they'll definitely be seeking motivation at this point. If you were watching on First Avenue above E. 90th Street, you have plenty of time to see your runners around mile 18 or 19 and then walk west to 5th Avenue to catch them again. Just make sure you spectate on the west side of First Avenue so you don't have to cross the racecourse to walk west. 

Central Park South (Mile 25): Huge crowds here support the runners as they head toward the finish line. This is a great spot to watch the drama unfold if the elite race is close.

How to Get Around

  • Brooklyn: Stop at Bay Ridge-95th Street on the R line. Get on and off the R train along Fourth Avenue as marathoners race through Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, and Park Slope.
  • Queens: Take the 7 train to Hunters Point Avenue, Vernon Boulevard, or Jackson Avenue. Alternatively, take the G train to 21st Street.
  • Manhattan: Use the subway 6 line to see runners along First Avenue from 110th Street to 125th Street as they approach mile 20.
  • Bronx: Take the 6 line to Brook Avenue or Third Avenue-138th Street. Alternatively, take the 4 and 5 lines to 138th Street-Grand Concourse
  • Manhattan: Take the 4, 5, 6, or Q lines to get to the finish at Central Park at Fifth Avenue from East 105th to East 90th Street.

Finish Line Tips for Spectators

Manhattan's Central Park is home to the last three miles of the race, including the finish line on West Drive at West 67th Street, next to the former Tavern on the Green restaurant. Central Park will be packed with runners, spectators, and race officials, and some access points will be blocked. So getting around the park is difficult.

Here are some ways you can maneuver around the park on race day:

  • Crossing Park Drive (where the runners will be) is prohibited, but you can get across the busy road by going underneath it. Use these underpasses: Greywacke Arch at 80th Street, Trefoil Arch at 73rd Street, Willowdell Arch at 67th Street, and Inscope Arch at 62nd Street.
  • Get a spot in the park between East 90th and East 86th streets. This area is a little less crowded than points farther south, and you'll be able to get across the park via the Transverse Road at 85th Street.
  • Park Drive below East 72nd Street gets crowded. But if you go to the East Green at East 69th Street, there is more room, and you can get quick access to the 65th Street Transverse.

Spectating Tip

If your runner will write their name on their shirt, use another name (last name or nickname) to yell at them when you spot them. There will be so many strangers yelling out their names that they may not pay attention when someone they know is cheering for them.

If you're expecting to watch your runner cross that finish line at Tavern on the Green, don't get your hopes up. Unless you're a race participant, finish line volunteer, race official, or have reserved seats in the bleachers; you won't be able to see much.

Before the race, make plans with your runner to meet at a designated spot outside the park. If they've checked their cell phone in their race bag (or can borrow another finisher's phone), they'll be able to give you a call once they're done.

A Word From Verywell

With over 3 million spectators lining the streets of the five boroughs of New York City to cheer on the New York City Marathon participants, it's essential to know where to watch and how to get there. Don't forget to bring your own supplies and essentials, and perhaps, a sign to cheer on your runner.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.