Last Updated on January 18, 2021 by Anisa
New York City is definitely my favorite city in the world. I love the energy, the culture, the food, the scenery, and the people. The weather in the winter, not so much.
Even with the cold weather, NYC has a lot to offer people visiting during the winter. The Christmas atmosphere can’t be beat and there are plenty of attractions where you can stay warm.
After 14 years of living through winter in NYC, I have learned a few things. Keep reading for my recommendations for the best things to do in NYC in the winter.
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Covid-19 Notice: Please follow government advice. There may be changes to some of the attractions and events due to coronavirus, so please double check before visiting.
Winter in New York: What to Expect
Winter in NYC is cold. Sometimes the wind can be brutal and New York does get a decent amount of snow. To be honest, New York winters can be unpleasant.
Coming from Texas, the first few winters I spent in NYC were rough. I did learn to deal with the cold and not let it stop me from enjoying NYC. The key is to choose things to do in New York in winter that minimize your time outdoors and take advantage of some of the indoor attractions.
You won’t be able to avoid the outdoors completely though. Even with indoor attractions, there is the walk to and from the subway or the wait for your cab/uber. Additionally, there are definitely some outdoor spots worth spending time exploring even in the winter.
Make sure you come to NYC prepared! It’s important to be able to be outside in the winter without absolutely freezing. Check out my list of winter essentials.
Things to Do In New York in the Winter
It may be winter and it may be cold but that does not mean it is time to hibernate. Especially if you are visiting NYC for the first time!
There are plenty of options for things to do in the winter in NYC. Some attractions are indoors so you can forget about the weather for a bit, while others take advantage of the snow.
#1 Visit Museums
Visiting museums is one of the best things to do in the winter because it keeps you inside. Luckily, NYC has plenty of museums and some are among the best in the world.
If you only have time for one museum then I would recommend the Metropolitan Museum of Art or MOMA. Some of my other favorites are the National September 11th Museum, the Tenament Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum. If you have teenagers, they would also love Madame Tussaud’s.
The one downside is that the admission prices to these museums can add up fast. Most museums do have select days and times where they allow free entry – click here to find out more. If the timing of your visit lines up, then lucky you. If not, consider buying one of the NYC passes. (Click here for more information about the NY Pass.)
#2 See Broadway Shows
One of my favorite ways to spend an evening in New York is going to a Broadway show. There is always so much talent on those stages. I also never run out of shows to see because it seems like new ones are opening all the time.
I tend to prefer musicals over plays, and you can’t go wrong with one of the Broadway classics. Also, I try to take advantage of some of the pre-theatre dinner specials nearby to save money at expensive restaurants.
The only downside of Broadway shows is the ticket price. The good news is that you don’t have to pay full price (unless you have your heart set on a specific show). There are several easy ways to get cheap Broadway tickets and they don’t all require you to stand in line!
#3 Explore Central Park
Central Park is always one of the most beautiful places in NYC, but when it snows it is hard to think of a place that is prettier. My favorite spot to admire the scenery in the winter is the pond at the southeast corner of the park.
It is definitely a winter wonderland. After it snows, it’s fun to watch the kids sled down the hills and there is plenty of space to make snow angels. I have ever heard of some people going snowshoeing.
Before you head out for a stroll in Central Park in the winter, be sure to bundle up and wear appropriate footwear as the paths can be treacherous. Bring your camera!
Note: You can also go ice skating (more on that below) in Central Park.
#4 Experience the Christmas Season
If your NYC winter trip happens to be between Thanksgiving and the first week of January, you must see the Christmas decorations and experience some of the special holiday events in NYC. Throughout the city, you will find Christmas markets that have unique gifts and fun foods to try.
In Manhattan, you must see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and the department store windows. In Brooklyn, the Dyker Heights neighborhood goes all out for the holiday season. The Botanical Garden in the Bronx has a special Christmas model train display.
There are usually some Christmas-themed shows on Broadway, but the most iconic show to see during the holiday season in NYC is the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Claim your free NYC Christmas map here. It includes all the must-dos in NYC during Christmas time!
#5 Go Ice Skating
If you like ice skating, there are plenty of options for you in NYC in the winter. The most iconic ice rink is at Rockefeller Center, but it’s expensive, small, and can get crowded.
Those on a budget should head to Bryant Park. The ice skating is free if you bring your own skates (or you can rent skates there). Other places in NYC where you can go ice skating include Central Park (Wollman Rink), Brookfield Place (in Downtown Manhattan), and the Standard Hotel by the High Line.
#6 Check out the Views from the Rooftops
Most people think of rooftop bars as a summer activity in New York City, but some are fun to visit during the winter too. They have indoor areas where you can enjoy a beverage and amazing views. There are also some rooftop bars that have outdoor sections with heaters.
One of the most popular rooftop bars in NYC, 230 Fifth, has igloos and provides red robes so you can stay warm. Other roof bars in Manhattan that are open during the winter include Mr. Purple, Le Bain, Gallow Green, and the Refinery Hotel Rooftop. Across the East River in Brooklyn, Westlight is a popular winter rooftop hangout.
#7 Try Some Authentic Ramen
I think the best food for cold weather is Ramen and I am not talking about those cheap packets of noodles you can get in the grocery stores. When you visit New York City in the winter, you must try one of the authentic Ramen places.
There are several you can choose from, but my favorites are Ippudo, Ivan Ramen, and Totto Ramen. If you are traveling solo, you might want to try Ichiran Ramen. It’s been named one of the best places to dine by yourself because each person gets their own private cubby or “flavor concentration booth.”
On the plus side, Ramen is a cheap and filling meal. The only negative is that these Ramen places are popular and don’t take reservations, so you may have a bit of a wait. Plan accordingly.
#8 Sing Karaoke
I think NYC is one of the best places to do karaoke in the US. There are many places where you can rent a private room and do karaoke with your friends. It makes for a fun evening indoors.
If you plan on doing a karaoke night, I recommend heading to Koreatown (32nd – 35th streets between 5th and 6th avenues). Start with dinner at one of the Korean BBQ joints before heading to the karaoke bar.
#9 Go Shopping for Bargains
Winter may be the best time of year to go shopping in New York City because there will be a lot of sales. Plus, if you are looking for unique gift ideas there are several Christmas markets around the city with boutique retailers.
You can find some of the best deals at Nordstrom Rack, Century 21, and TJ Maxx. I wouldn’t recommend going to Woodbury Commons in the winter since it’s an outdoor shopping mall.
#10 Taste the Best Hot Chocolate
A warm beverage is one of the best ways to warm up when you are cold. My favorite would be hot chocolate, and more specifically hot chocolate from City Bakery, an NYC institution that has been around for over 25 years.
Their hot chocolate is so rich and comes with a giant marshmallow. Each February they create special hot chocolate flavors as part of their Hot Chocolate Festival. They also have lots of delicious baked goods to pair with your drink.
UPDATE October 2019: Unfortunately due to financial reasons, City Bakery has closed. I suggest you try Max Brenner or Jacques Torres Chocolate for hot chocolate.
#11 Go Behind the Scenes
Many popular tv shows are taped in New York. If you plan ahead, it’s not difficult to get tickets for these tapings. Click here to read more about how to get tickets for tv shows filmed in New York.
It’s fascinating to get a behind the scenes look at the tv business and see some celebrities up close. You do have to be patient though, the experience does usually involve some waiting, but for me, it was worth it. Keep in mind, that for some tapings you will have to wait outside to enter the studio.
Another way to get an inside look into television is by going on an NBC Studio tour. You get to go inside 30 Rock and see some studios and you may bump into some tv personalities as well.
#12 Have a Boozy Brunch
Some NYers say that brunch is the most important meal of the day. It is engrained in the culture. I think it’s a fabulous way to spend a winter afternoon (or morning for those early birds!) in NYC.
Boozy brunches include unlimited alcoholic drinks for a set amount of time. Some will just include refills of the same cocktail while others will let you try different ones. Be sure to pace yourself, you still have some sightseeing to do. There are also places where you can just pay for what you drink.
Some of my favorite restaurants for boozy brunches are Poco, Hotel Chantelle, Maya, and Dos Caminos. Of course, you don’t have to have a boozy brunch but some places require everyone at the table to choose the same drink option.
#13 Go to a Comedy Club
Comedy Clubs are always good for a laugh, but in NYC there is also the chance you may see someone famous perform. Sometime you will see a celebrity as the headliner and other times the celebrities will just show up.
There is no shortage of quality comedy clubs in New York, so you will have plenty to choose from. Some of the most famous are Caroline’s, Comedy Cellar, Gotham, and Upright’s Citizens Brigade (UCB). Depending on the show, it might be best to get tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
Sometimes you will run into people in Times Square offering comedy tickets. These tickets may be free or cost a small amount, but beware these places usually have a drink minimum. In most cases though, seeing a comedy show will be cheaper than say a Broadway musical.
#14 Visit the NY Public Library
The NY Public Library is as beautiful on the interior as it is on the exterior. It’s definitely worth exploring for its architectural details alone.
The best way to see the library is to take one of the free docent-led tours. On the one hour tour, they will take you to see the Rose Main Reading Room and the Library’s exhibitions.
The tours run on the hour from 11:00 am until 2:00 pm Monday through Saturdays and at 2:00 pm on Sundays. Tours are available on a first-come basis and are limited to 25 people. Meet the tour at the reception desk in Astor Hall.
#15 Take a Bus Tour
A bus tour is a fun way to see NYC without being outside in the cold much. Here are a few suggestions:
- If it’s your first time visiting NYC, you may enjoy one of the hop-on-hop-off buses. It’s an easy way to get an overview of the city. Buy your bus ticket here.
- For those who looking for a high-tech tour, try the Downtown Experience. It uses virtual-reality to help teach about the history of downtown Manhattan. Book your tour here.
- TV and movie buffs will enjoy the When Harry Met Seinfeld tour that takes you to many different tv show and movie filming locations.
- Pizza lovers will enjoy trying some of the best pizzas in the city on this half-day bus tour.
#16 Explore Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central may be a train station but it’s an attraction in its own right. It is over 100 years old! The building is imposing and full of interesting details. Don’t miss the zodiac ceiling in the main hall or the whispering gallery downstairs.
There are also lots of shops and places to grab a bite.
#17 Go Skiing
If the snow in NYC is not enough for you there are mountains nearby that will have more. You can even plan a day trip to go skiing. Some of the most popular options that are not too far away are Hunter Mountain, Thunder Ridge, and Windham Mountain.
It is possible to do a skiing day trip from NYC on public transportation but it might be easier to do a tour like this one where you can also rent gear.
Where to Stay in NYC in the Winter
Location is key when choosing a place to stay in NYC in the winter so that you can minimize your time outside in the cold. With all the different neighborhoods in NYC, it can be hard to narrow down where to stay when you are in NYC. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, it is going to depend on your personal preferences.
I created a cheatsheet to help you choose the right accomodation in NYC for you. It goes over the pros and cons of each neighborhood and provides a few hotel recommendations for various price ranges. Grab your free copy of my NYC Hotel Cheatsheet here.
Is Visiting NYC in Winter Worth It?
Yes! While I think I prefer NYC when it is warmer, there are some special experiences that you can only have during the winter. If you come prepared, hopefully, the weather won’t feel so bad. If you think you won’t be able to enjoy yourself in the cold, consider postponing and visiting NYC in the spring.
I do think the Christmas season is the best time to visit NYC in the winter. Keep in mind though that hotels will be more expensive and there will be more crowds. It’s best to book your accommodations early! (Click here to check out the options.)
January and February are far less crowded. You won’t be able to see much of the holiday decorations or events (unless you come the first week of January), but you can still enjoy ice skating and the other indoor attractions.
Have you been to NYC during the winter? What have been some of your favorite things to do?
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