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It is no secret that New York City is one of the greatest winter destinations in the world. Every winter this immense city has a certain way to turn itself into a real life winter wonderland. With the magic of the upcoming holidays in the air, there is no better time to visit the Big Apple.
This ultimate guide to winter in New York City will go into details on how to spend winter in New York and all the best things to do in New York in winter. Fortunately for you, despite the below freezing temperatures, New York is filled with some amazing winter activities.
This post was partially written by Caresa, Minimalist, traveler, blogger and owner of This Spontaneous Life. You can read her take on New York in winter on her blog. She recently sold all my belongings to be able to travel the world.
Karen, the editor of Wanderlustingk, was born in New York City and has edited this post to add insider travel tips for visiting New York in winter and some off the beaten path activities perfect for winter in New York!
Insider tips for visiting New York in winter
Book your room early! This is one of the most popular times of the year for people to visit New York City. As a result, you’ll want to book your room as quickly as possible! Click for tips for finding an affordable room in New York City!
If you’re set on staying in Manhattan, check the Leon Hotel for an affordable hotel with amazing views and a convenient location close to Chinatown. Otherwise, consider staying in Long Island City at the Paper Factory, a boutique hotel just a subway hop away from Midtown!
Take the subway. One massive mistake that a lot of people make is trying to walk everywhere. When it’s cold, it’s nice to be able to descend underground to hop onto a warm subway or get on a heated bus. Don’t be afraid of public transit in New York City.
Be aware of weather. It’s going to be cold, so don’t assume you’ll be okay spending the entire period outside. Try to break up your schedule to include breaks getting a hot chocolate or a few hours in a museum.
Dress warmly. New York is quite a bit colder than many people realize in winter. I generally recommend wearing layers, so that you can take things off once you go inside. I’d recommend jeans, a comfortable pair of boots/booties, a t-shirt, a sweater, and a warm jacket. You can read my packing tips here.
Give yourself enough time. I generally recommend five days in New York City without even doing anything Christmas or winter related! I’d say a week in New York around Christmas would be perfect in terms of allowing you to see more of New York without the stress of rushing around.
Start early. Don’t underestimate the insanity of the crowds. If you’re going to a popular attraction, head there early as possible to enjoy it before the tour groups and crowds arrive. You don’t generally need to buy tickets for museums if you’re good about arriving when a museum opens.
Avoid rush hour, holidays, and weekends (if possible). All the winter attractions also attract people who live in the Tri-State region to visit New York. As a result,
How to experience New York in winter
Check out one of NYC’s winter pop-up shops
Over the last few years, pop-up shows have become quite the talk of the town. Every winter a vast variety of pop-up shops set base around New York City to sell you some pretty amazing things.
Every item is unique, handmade, beautiful and everything we didn’t know we needed. You can also find some really cool vintage items so make sure to check out one of NYC’s many pop-up shops this winter season.
Visit the Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building
Visiting the top of the Rockefeller Center is a well known New York activity that can be done throughout the year despite the season. Although, taking a trip to the Top of The Rock during the wintertime has a certain magic touch to it as you will see the city of New York covered by a beautiful blanket of snow. You really can’t beat witnessing something from a bird’s eye point of view. The Empire State Building is also a classic.
Pro-Tip: Make sure to dress extra warm as not only the NYC temperatures are freezing at that time but at 872 feet in the air, it will be extra cold. Brrrr! You can click for my packing list for New York City in winter!
Watch a Broadway Show
New York City is famous for its over-the-top theatrical broadway productions. If you’re looking for fun things to do in New York in winter, how about grabbing a couple of tickets and enjoying one of NYC’s many productions?
With millions of dollars going into each show, they are sure not to disappoint (beyond not getting tickets for Hamilton). Wanderlustingk editor is a fan of off broadway shows, which often have discounted tickets. You’ll still get the theatre experience, but for a fraction of the cost.
Go Ice Skating
Around the wintertime, New York starts to open up all their ice skating rinks to the public. The bright side is that everyone is welcomed to go ice skating no matter their level of expertise and it is friendly for all ages which makes for a perfect family activity in winter in New York. It is amongst one of the most popular things to do in New York in winter.
Bryant Park hosts one of the most popular skating rinks in New York although for the iconic views, you can head to Wollman rink (shown above). To get away from the crowds, head to Prospect Park to ice skate.
Visit the NYC Botanical Gardens
Located in the Bronx, the NYC’s Botanical Gardens are a national historic landmark. The Botanical Gardens are built on over 250 acres of land and contain over 50 different gardens.
Whether you’re visiting New York in winter, summer, fall or spring, the NYBG is a must-do for anyone visiting the Big Apple. The only downside is that during the wintertime, there won’t be many (if any at all) blooms.
Go sledding or build a snowman at Central Park
Remember when I said that New York turns into a winter wonderland during the wintertime? Well, did you know that the famous Central Park turns into a playground for people from all over the world?
With this 840 acres park covered in snow, people let their inner child come out by going sledding in the park, having snowball fights, making snow angels and more. When is the last time you played in the snow? I think that is one of the best things about New York in winter.
Check out the NYC Winter Wine Festival
Let’s be honest here, who doesn’t enjoy some fine wine? Every year, during the wintertime, New York hosts its annual winter wine festival. You can expect to find everything from good food to live music and of course, hundreds of different, delicious wines.
Grab a drink at one of NYC’s many bars with a fireplace
Get out of the cold and grab yourself a nice, refreshing drink. New York has a variety of different bars who have fireplaces to cozy up by. What better way to warm yourself up than with an alcoholic beverage and a fireplace?
A nice bar with a fireplace is the perfect way to spend any evening as you socialize and enjoy good company. You’ll find a number of themed bars perfect for cozying up with a Christmas beverage in an over-the-top bar that can only be found in New York.
*This section forward was written by Karen.
See the Christmas windows
One of my favorite activities in New York during winter is to see the Christmas windows. These iconic winters go up around Thanksgiving and remain up through the holiday season. Macy’s always aims to impress, however I recommend walking along 5th Avenue to see what Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue have to offer. It’s free and it can be crowded…
Take the Staten Island Ferry
For the best views of New York no matter the season, head on a free ferry ride to Staten Island (and back) that operates year-round. You’ll be able to see the Statue of Liberty as well as Manhattan’s skyline for those iconic photos. If you’re not feeling the weather, you can always head back inside after braving the cold.
Get away from the crowds to explore some of the other boroughs
I’m not the biggest fan of the crowds in winter. I strongly recommend getting out of New York to head to one of the four other boroughs. Manhattan isn’t the only destination in New York. For a bit of Christmas spirit, head to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx for Italian food.
For some amazing Greek food and hipster stuff, head to Astoria in Queens. For antique shopping and brownstones, head to Brooklyn Heights. Last, but not least, head to Staten Island for a glimpse into what New York used to look like in Richmondtown.
See the Christmas lights in Dyker Heights
Dyker Heights in Brooklyn is one of the premier destinations for winter in New York City. This Brooklyn neighborhood goes all out for Christmas with spectacular lights. Come here at night and be prepared to be blown away by the Christmas spirit. 😉
Celebrate Chinese New Year in Flushing or Chinatown
New York has so much diversity! One of the best times to experience Chinatown or Flushing is during Chinese New Year. (Check the date, but usually occurs in January.) This is a great chance to see the parades as well as enjoy some of the delicious foods that are traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year at authentic Chinese restaurants.
See one of the holiday classics live: The Nutcracker and Radio City Christmas Spectacular
One of the “essential” New York shows to see is the Nutcracker Ballet performed by the New York City Ballet. This winter classic is guaranteed to blow you away if you’re a lover of classic ballet.
For a modern classic, head to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes kicking high during the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Is there anything as iconic as these stunning ladies doing their high kicks to the holiday favorites?
Warm up with a delicious soup or dim sum in Flushing
If you’re tired of the cold, head to Flushing for something different. This neighborhood in Queens is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in New York and it’s home to some of the best Chinese food in NYC! I recommend stepping into one of the many Asian restaurants for a warm tea or soup.
I’m a fan of the silky tofu soup at SGD Tofu House in Murray Hill/Flushing border. Otherwise, head to one of the handmade noodle shops for warm dumplings. Warm soup dumplings can also be the perfect antidote to a cold day.
Explore the pretty streets of Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village covered in snow is so pretty. If you’re stuck in New York during a snow storm, you’ll see why I loved wandering around this area. I particularly love Washington Mews, which is easy to miss, but beautiful.
Pay your respects at the 9/11 memorial
The 9/11 memorial is open 365 days. Please consider coming here to pay your respects to those who were lost on 9/11. The memorial itself is free to visit although the museum costs extra. If you wish to skip the line, you can reserve ahead online. Admission to the museum is free on Tuesday nights.
See the famous Rockefeller Tree
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is a must. It’s free to visit although I find that the crowds can make it quite intense to visit close to Christmas and Thanksgiving. The tree is its most magical right around dusk when the lights are starting to turn on….
Even if you’re missing many of the classic New York winter activities, at least walk past Rockefeller Center for a glimpse of the tree. (This iconic Christmas tree is generally up from late November until early January.)
If you dare, experience Santacon
Santacon is its own…entity. This infamous event that has now spread across the country is a 21+ event for Santa aficionados to dress up in Christmas-themed costumes and spend a night partying across Manhattan. It’s certainly not for the tame, but if you’re looking for something unique and fun, you might want to look into tickets.
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge has a free pedestrian path that will give you great views of Manhattan. I love bringing guests here as it’s always fun to walk across the bridge prior to spending the day exploring Brooklyn.
Shop local in Williamsburg
If you’re looking for some unique gifts to bring home with you, don’t head to the department stores; shop local! Head to the boutiques in Williamsburg for a glimpse into the hipster world that everyone is talking about. Head to Bedford Avenue to browse the various boutiques!
See the countdown ball in Times Square
I’m personally not the biggest fan of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. You’re far better off seeing the famous crystal ball while you’re in Times Square, where it’s displayed in public view.
If your heart is set on spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square, I recommend purchasing tickets for one of the parties above Times Square where you’ll actually be able to consume food and drinks. If you’re down in the pen, it’s far from glamorous. (Trust me!)
Sip a hot chocolate
New York City has a couple of famous places for a great hot chocolate. I’d recommend stopping by City Bakery or Max Banner if you pass either. It’s the perfect treat on a cold day!
Enjoy a long lazy brunch
There’s something about the cold weather that makes me just want to not get out of bed. Obviously if you’re visiting New York for the first time, you don’t have that luxury but you can at least understand why New Yorkers love brunch so much. There’s something about mulling over brunch while you wake up and get ready for a full day (or take a nap). Click for my favorite brunch places in New York!
Have a delicious pizza
Can you ever go wrong with pizza in New York? (Don’t answer this rhetorical question if you’re from Chicago.) On a cold day, there’s nothing like walking into a pizza parlor and having a delicious warm slice of pizza. There’s a fierce debate over who makes the best pizza… You’ll need to try a few to decide.
Take in free museums on Friday night
First Fridays are the only reason you’ll be saying TGIF (not the chain restaurant; skip that!). I recommend heading to the stunning Morgan Library if you’re a bibliophile or MoMA for contemporary art for the cost of a coffee. Alternatively, you can see Klimt’s stunning “Woman in Gold.” It’s a hard decision deciding which museum to visit, so choose carefully. Click for more tips for visiting NYC on a budget.
Go to a live taping of a show
One of the best things to do in New York is to see your celebrity favorites live! I’ve seen Stephen Colbert live, which was a dream come true. (If you’re reading this: I love you!) Tapings are typically free to attend although you may need to get up early and/or wait in line for a while. My friends have gone to a number of morning shows and gotten awesome prizes.
Dream your Home Alone dreams at F.A.O. Schwarz
F.A.O. Schwarz was one of my favorite places to visit as a child. Although this famous toy store shut down for a period, it’s back! Be sure to enjoy the giant keyboard as well as browse the giant plushies. My fingers are crossed that it will stay in business this time!
Shop the holiday sales
I strongly recommend browsing the sales. Although most people go crazy for Black Friday, I find that January is the best time to shop the post-holiday sales in New York. My go-to store for designer goods for a fraction of the price is Century21, a massive department store that is impossible to walk out of without something…
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