Are you looking for the best things to do in New York during the winter? NYC in winter has many indoor attractions, Holiday-themed events, and special winter activities like ice rinks and more. Read our guide now to explore the best winter things to do in New York City.
The first time that I visited New York was in winter – on Christmas to be precise! Yes, I have been in NYC on Christmas Day but no, I didn’t see the Rockefeller Christmas tree. Or any of the holiday displays in store windows.
My first trip to New York in winter was a big disaster and basically, a giant list of what not to do in New York in winter. For starters, we took the Staten Island Ferry in an attempt to save money. We sat inside but the few times I ventured outside to catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, it was so windy that I had tears in my eyes. The ferry dropped us in Lower Manhattan – far away from all the major attractions. Then, we chose to walk the Brooklyn Bridge – in the icy winds! Add to that, I wasn’t dressed for the weather. I lived in Chicago and thought I could wing it in New York in basic leggings and a stylish winter coat. Oh, how I would love to step back in time and give myself a knock on the head!
Thankfully, I did learn a lot from my first winter trip to New York and my subsequent trips were much more fun. And armed with that knowledge, I’m here to help you plan the most fantabulous trip to New York City in the winter.
In this holiday special blog post, we talk about the winter special or holiday-themed things to do in New York City. If this is your first visit to the city, then you should also check out our post on 37 Best Things to do in New York for the first time visitors where we focus on year-round attractions including Empire State Building Observation Deck, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, One World Center, 9/11 Memorial, and more.
Where to stay in New York in winter
During the summer or peak tourist season, I’d totally recommend you to find a cheap hotel away from Manhattan to save money. However, winter is not the time to try getting to New York from outside downtown, trust me! The wind and the cold will leave you so tired that you won’t have much energy to see the attractions. Instead, book as early as you can and find accommodation close enough to all the major tourist attractions. Also, try to find a Manhattan hotel near the subway station so you can easily take public transport.
What to pack for visiting Manhattan in winter
As I already mentioned, it is going to feel colder than you think. You need to pack for the weather and dress in layers – lots and lots of them. Find trendy coats and jackets that are warm by all means but if you have to pick between dressing for fashion and dressing for warmth, then chose that ugly, cozy, snow jacket every time.
Also, pack in a scarf, gloves, and a warm hat. The accessories are vital in keeping you warm and protected in the chilly air. You also need a sensible pair of walking shoes that can stand the snow and are waterproof. As far as jeans and t-shirts, blouses, or sweaters are concerned – I always recommend packing a capsule wardrobe. That way you can pack everything in a carry on and still have cool mix of outfits for the day.
Travel tips for visiting New York in winter
Don’t plan a day trip and book your accommodations early! When we visited New York for the first time, I had recently moved to Philly and thought we could do a day trip. Bad idea! Life in New York may be fast and everyone may always be in a hurry but the city is meant to be explored leisurely. You need to plan at least a 2-day to a 3-day trip to see New York, especially in the winter, because it gets dark quite early. If you have 4 days, then that is really ideal. You also need to book your accommodation in advance as rooms can get too expensive or sold out fast, more so on busy weekends.
You need to plan your transportation. Don’t plan to walk everywhere like us as it eats into your time plus you are out in the cold all the time. The subway is the best because it is cheap and fast – plus everyone in New York uses the subway, so you would be exploring like a true local. Traffic in Manhattan is as bad as you have heard and avoid cabs, uber, or your own car at all costs.
It gets colder than you would think, so you need to keep hopping indoors and outdoors to stay warm and last for the whole day. I was ready to sleep in my warm cozy bed back after spending about 5 chilly hours outside in New York on my first visit. While planning your trip, group a few outdoor attractions with indoor things to do each day to see as much as you can.
Best Outdoor Things to do in New York City in the winter
New York City in winter is beautiful. You must have heard this a hundred times, but honestly, New York looks different in every season. In spring, the cherry blossom trees steal the show while summer is all about festivals, concerts, and just chilling out in the Big Apple. Fall is where Central Park bursts with colors and looks spectacular. In winter, New York is the urban winter wonderland.
Take in the spectacular holiday lights or watch the mesmerizing department store displays. Pose for photos by the gigantic Christmas trees that you will see everywhere. Skate the ice rink at Rockefeller Center. You won’t catch much snow in downtown – it all gets cleared up immediately but head north towards Central Park and you will see iced streams and lakes, snow-covered bridges, and frosted trees – a wonderful spectacle. Attend the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve and then dance till you drop.
Here are some of our favorite things to do in New York in winter. We have also gone further and taken recommendations from our fellow travel blogger friends about their favorite things to do in New York in winter. Check out our epic list now to plan the ultimate winter trip to New York.
Many Pop-Up shops and Holiday Markets set up in New York in winter. Almost all of them feature eye-catching holiday decor and festive activities. These are perfect to shop for Christmas gifts, beautiful Christmas trees, and holiday treats. Most vendors sell one of a kind handmade products and the whole ambiance resembles a European Christmas market. Some of the most popular ones include the shops at Bryant Park, East Village Holiday Market, Union Square Holiday Market, Columbus Circle Holiday Market near Central Park and the Grand Central Holiday Fair.
While most visitors to New York in the cold months do not think of visiting the famous urban park in the country, there are actually many things to do in Central Park in winter. If you should take a stroll through the park, the whole area resembles a snowy winter wonderland. You can go cross country skiing or snowshoeing in the park if you don’t feel up for the walk through the snow. You can also go ice skating at Wollman Rink, they have ice skate rentals in a variety of sizes. Sledding is also allowed at specific locations in the park when there is sufficient snow on the ground. Or you can have fun building a snowman with your loved one or the kids.
Many of Central Park’s year-round attractions including the Central Park Zoo and Tish Children’s Zoo are also open in winter. We love visiting the Central Park Zoo with our kids to see the penguins, snow leopards, and seals. The famous Central Park carousel is also open during the Holiday season and is a favorite with families. The Columbus Circle holiday market is good for shopping for holiday gifts.
Holiday Window Displays
New York is famous for its holiday winter displays. The department stores debut their festive holiday arrangements as early as November and thousands flock to see them. The most elaborate displays are located in Midtown: Macy’s is the most famous one but Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, and Bergdorf Goodman also have spectacular displays. The holiday displays are the most Instagrammed spots in New York during the winter. I would recommend walking down Fifth Avenue to see the most iconic displays.
Statue of Liberty
I know, I know – I just mentioned that taking the Staten Island Ferry in December was bad. And now I’m telling you to take another ferry in the biting cold? But hey, you can sit inside on the ferry and if you are in New York for the first time, you simply can’t miss the Statue of Liberty. It is a national icon and one of the most visited attractions in the world. Visiting Liberty Island and seeing the statue up close is a thrilling experience. The ferry starts from Battery Park in Manhattan as well as from Liberty State Park in New Jersey and takes visitors to Ellis Island along with Liberty Island. On Ellis Island, you can visit the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital which makes for a great history tour into the country’s immigration past. You can also trace when your ancestors first came from the boat in Europe in the historic immigration records. Also the views of Manhattan’s iconic skyline from the ferry are stunning.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is one of the biggest parades in the country and the best festive start to the Holiday season. Thousands flock to New York to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade and locals from all over the Tri-State area stake their places early in the morning to watch the huge event. The parade features over the top floats and balloons, including the famous Snoopy balloon, and popular stars lineup to provide entertainment. Other balloons include snowflakes, candy canes, and other holiday-themed balloons along with popular characters. You will also see marching bands and Empty spots along the parade route fill up early and the most popular places to watch include along Central Park West Street or 6th Avenue. For a map of the parade route, check here.
If you are planning a visit to New York in the fall, coinciding with Thanksgiving, then check out our post on Best Things to do in New York in the Fall.
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
The Rockefeller Center is New York’s #1 Holiday attraction. No visit to New York around Christmas is complete without seeing the beautiful Rockefeller Christmas Tree and surrounding holiday lights. The Christmas Tree is lit in early December in an event attended by hundreds of people. While you are there, don’t miss ice skating in the Rink at Rockefeller. Surrounded by the tree and holiday lights, the rink looks magical at night and is one of the hottest date spots in NYC. Other holiday activities at the Rockefeller Center include holiday shopping and listening to musicians play Christmas carols. If you have kids, don’t forget to step into the nearby Lego Store and shop for Christmas presents.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and taking in views of the skyline as well as the bridge architecture is one of the most popular things to do in New York. In winter, it does get quite chilly over the bridge, so make sure you are wearing warm clothes with gloves, hats, and scarves, and comfortable walking shoes. The best time for the walk is mid-day when the sun will be up and you won’t feel as cold. After you walk across the bridge, explore the Brooklyn Bridge Park. From the park, you see fantastic views of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty. You can also sled down the hills and follow it with lunch in Brooklyn. On your way back to Manhattan, take the subway. Or do the other way round, take the subway to Brooklyn and walk across the bridge to Manhattan.
Winter Village, Bryant Park
From Sean Lau of Living Out Lau
Winter in New York City is brutal. The weather drops below freezing on most days and with the wind gust, there is no chance of feeling your fingertips. However, that doesn’t stop the locals and many travelers from enjoying all that New York City has to offer in the winter.
One of the most popular winter attractions in New York City is the Winter Village at Bryant Park, located on 42nd street between 6th Ave and 5th Ave. Winter Village has many holiday-themed events as well as an ice rink and pop bar. Bryant Park’s big lawn is converted into a free admission artificial ice skating rink while charming Holiday shops are set up all around it. The Winter Village is the best way to get into the Holiday Spirit.
Visitors come from all parts of the world to skate in the rink and enjoy the Winter Village. Skate rentals are available at the rink and occasional ice skating classes are also conducted for those who want to learn. Other popular activities at the park during winter include the carousel for kids, bumper cars event, shopping for one of a kind Christmas gifts, and drinking hot chocolate. The rink and the park look magical at night when the holiday lights come on.
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
By Stella Jane of Around the World in 24 Hours
There’s a reason people say Christmas time in New York is the most wonderful time of the year. But most of the tourists who descend onto the Big Apple in December never make it out of Manhattan. That means they’re missing out on one of the greatest displays of Christmas lights in the country – the stunning electric confections in the Dyker Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.
These insane Christmas lights were started by a woman named Lucy Spata. She moved to the neighborhood in the 1980s and was disturbed to find that people in the area didn’t decorate their houses for Christmas. Mrs. Spata wasn’t afraid of a little controversy, so she decided to cover her house in lights, which displeased the neighbors. Mrs. Spata showed them how much their complaints bothered her by adding more and more crazy lights every year.
Eventually, the neighbors came around, and so did the tourists. Now every house in the neighborhood goes nuts for Christmas lights every year. Even some neighboring communities like Bay Ridge get into the act. The most convenient way to see the Christmas Lights in Dyker Heights is by driving to the neighborhood in your own car. You can easily expect to see over tens of thousands of lights during your visit along with inflatable Santas, reindeer, snowmen, and more.
There’s no convenient public transportation to some of the houses, so if you don’t have a car, you can take the ‘Slice of Brooklyn’ company’s Christmas Lights of Dyker Heights tour. They’ll give you the history and point out all the best houses. Plus their bus is heated and leaves from an easy to get to location in Manhattan. Whether you chose the DIY or guided tour, just don’t forget your camera!
Exploring Greenwich Village is a delight year-round. You get to see charming holiday decor on the historic brownstone buildings and walk along cobblestone streets. We also love taking a stroll through Washington Square Park or Highline Park when it has freshly snowed. Don’t forget to stop by the famous Magnolia Bakery for some cupcakes.
I had never heard of Santacon until my friend who lives in NYC mentioned that’s she’s taking part. Santacon is an annual winter pub crawl/parade where all attendees wear – guess what – Santa Claus costumes! While Santacon occurs in many cities, the NYC version is the largest of them all. However it does get rowdy and crazy towards the end, so attend at your own risk!
New York Botanical Garden
The New York Botanical Garden is not just a spring or fall activity. The garden is beautiful in winter as the icy trees look ethereal and the ground is carpeted in snow. Also must watch is the Holiday Train Show consisting of model trains in a miniature New York City. Needless to say, this is a favorite with kids. While you are there, do not forget to visit the Conservatory. It features stunning architecture and great collection of tropical indoor plants ferns, as well as cacti. Another option is to visit Brooklyn Botanical Garden, which is equally beautiful in the winter.
Times Square Ball Drop
The Times Square Ball Drop is the most widely attended and watched New Year’s Eve celebration in the world. Thousands visit New York just to see the ball drop and countdown to the New Year. While the ball drop begins at 11:59 pm and takes exactly 60 seconds to complete, many live entertainment events are held before the ball drop time. While the event is free, partygoers actually line up since 4 pm to stake their place. Yes, that means over 6 to 8 hrs of standing in the cold to attend the festivities. Alternatively, you can attend parties held in nearby hotels and restaurants with a view of Times Square but they are quite expensive and get sold out several days in advance.
New Year’s Eve Fireworks
New York’s New Year’s Eve fireworks are pretty spectacular and if you aren’t up for the crowds at Times Square then consider checking them out from alternative locations like Brooklyn Bridge or Prospect Park. Another great and romantic alternative is to go for a fireworks cruise and watch the sparkling stars over the Manhattan skyline. Gorgeous!
Chinese New Year in Chinatown
The fun doesn’t stop with the New Year’s Eve ball drop. Come January and Chinatown will be the place to be for the Chinese New Year celebrations. The Lunar New Year is celebrated with great pomp and splendor and dozens of events are held in NYC Chinatown. The most elaborate is the Chinese New Year Parade featuring colorful costumes, martial art performances, traditional dances, and firecrackers. Many of Chinatown’s restaurants have delicious offerings including dim sums. This is also a great time to walk in Chinatown and spot the murals, local shops, traditional dresses, karaoke bars, and more.
Best Indoor Things to do in New York City in winter
Visiting New York in winter does not mean you have to be out in the cold all the time. There are many awesome indoor things to do in New York which work perfectly for snowy or windy days. The winter is also a great time to explore New York’s renowned museums in a cozy environment. Here are our favorite things to do in New York to keep yourself warm in the winter:
Museum of Street Art
From Carol Guttery of Wayfaring Views
New York City is a world-class destination for street art. But, spotting murals and graffiti in New York can be a mighty frosty proposition in the winter. However, you can see a great indoor collection of murals from local artists at the Museum of Street art on the lower east side.
The Museum of Street Art (or MOSA), is a “vertical love letter” to New York which has been sprayed into 20 floors of the stairwell in CitizenM hotel in the Bowery. The idea for the exhibit was conceived by the hotel’s designers and they partnered with artists from the 5 Pointz graffiti community to execute it.
5 Pointz was a derelict building complex in Brooklyn which was torn down to make way for new development. There was a lot of sadness and anger in the New York graffiti community when they lost that space. The MOSA has given twenty artists the opportunity to express their art and their love of New York in the MOSA stairwell.
Murals range from portraits of Ru Paul and Allen Ginsberg to Puerto Rican pride to caricatures of whacky pickles. You start at the top and make a delightful descent through a colorful love letter to NYC. Tip for visiting: Touring MOSA is free but the hotel asks that you book ahead for a slot on their schedule.
American Museum of Natural History
From Chrysoula Manika of Historic European Castles
Visiting the Natural History Museum in New York is an ideal thing to do in winter when the chill is in the air and the city is caked in the snow! You really can spend hours wandering the halls of the Natural History Museum, with everything from dinosaurs to the current climate crisis being covered in the exhibitions and events held by the museum. Whether you have a particular interest in something, be it ammonites, anthropology or astronomy, or simply want to roam the museum in order to learn something new, the American Museum of Natural History has something for you.
The museum spans a whopping 2 million square feet (190,000 m2) but despite its size, it is unable to display every item within their collection. This is understandable when you consider the whole collection contains 33 million specimens!! Even if you spend all day in the museum, you’ll only just scratch the surface of the planet’s natural history, but you’re bound to learn some new facts and see things you’ve never seen before.
The American Museum of Natural History features 40 halls of permanent exhibits as well as a range of ever-changing galleries and exhibitions so there’s always something new to discover.
The vast museum is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, just across the street from Central Park. It is, therefore, a great addition to your New York itinerary, even if just for a few hours while you warm up from the cold winter weather outside!
From Stephanie Craig of History Fangirl
One of my favorite things to do in New York to escape the cold is to take advantage of the city’s amazing arts scene by seeing a show! If you get tickets for a Broadway production, you’ll have three blissful (warm hours) to enjoy inside. Yet, you’ll be doing one of the best New York activities that you can be doing any time of year! While I truly love visiting places like the Statue of Liberty and Central Park, but Broadway is just as famous as these sites with the added benefit of being completely protected from the elements!
If you want to be a little trendier or artsier, you can see an off-Broadway production or another kind of more Avant-garde performance. Just as cozy, but potentially less expensive and more off the beaten path.
While many will want to see big-name productions like Hamilton or the Lion King, don’t forget that you can add an extra layer of holiday cheer to your trip by attending a Christmas or holiday show. The Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall is just one option as there are many Christmas shows and pageants in New York each holiday season.
Afternoon Tea at the Plaza’s Palm Court
From Mar Pages of Once in a Lifetime Journey
What better way to spend a freezing cold New York day than in the spacious Plaza Hotel’s iconic Palm Court with a piping hot cup of tea and gorgeously delicious desserts. Escape the snowy sludge as you recline on the velvet olive sofas surrounded by greenery and the impressive stained-glass dome. The decor mimics Central Park, which is across the road but is a more opulent affair.
While the Palm Court is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner I would recommend visiting for High Tea. What you get is a three-layered stand of treats of all kinds with some really swanky China dinnerware and branded silverware. There are plenty of high quality imported teas to choose from, coming from all over the world like India, China, South Korea, and South Africa. Then comes the luxurious menu options, three in total.
The most popular choice is the Eloise, named after the 1950s children’s book by Kay Thompson, where the main character has a shop at the Plaza. As you can imagine, this menu option is a flurry of pinks and will bring out your kidult sweet tooth. Imagine a three-tiered tower with everything from raspberry macarons and vanilla éclairs to chocolate mousse cups and even pink cotton candy. Those come along with other delights like devilled eggs, roasted turkey with apricot chutney, prosciutto cotto, gruyere, and freshly baked seasonal scones and vanilla cupcakes.
Take your winter jacket off, recline under the crystal chandeliers and indulge in a winter feast that only NYC can provide.
The Christmas Spectacular Rockettes Show
From Martina Benedetto of As Far As You Can
If you’re planning to spend the holiday season in New York City, there’s one show you definitely can’t miss: the Christmas Spectacular Rockettes show at the Radio City Music Hall. This year the show is performing from 8th November 2019 until 5th January 2020 and, as usual, it will be unforgettable. The Big Apple wants you to focus on only one thing: celebrating your Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays in the most spectacular way possible!
The Rockettes is a dance company that has been performing at the Radio City Music Hall, in Manhattan, since 1932. Its foundation dates back to 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri and the Rockettes have been American icons for almost a century. The performance consists of a high-precision synchronized dance, in particular, they are legendary for their eye-high kicks. There are 36 Rockettes onstage at a time. The show is always different and challenging year after year. Costumes, lights, music: they change every year.
It’s one of the most-watched shows in the US, so I strongly recommend you to book your tickets well in advance. The price range goes from 25$ to 300$ and more. It will be one of your best memories of New York City during the winter season!
New York Public Library
If you are like me and love books, then you must visit the New York Public Library. This historic library is among the best libraries in the world and is a delight to explore on cold, wintry days. You can either explore it on your own or join a free guided tour that will take you around the building and exhibits. I love exploring the library by myself but have heard great things about the tours. The library architecture is fabulous and I would also recommend seeing the building from outside. The two lions by the door are iconic and many times you see local writers conducting book signings near the entrance – though not that often in winter. The Library is also a featured filming spot in Sex and the City: you guessed it right, Carrie’s wedding to Big was supposed to be held here!
If you love food halls, you will love Chelsea Market. The market is huge, spread over three levels, and has over 40 eateries serving a wide variety of cuisines. We love eating at the famous Los Tacos No. 1. The lines can be super long – last time I went it was almost closing time and I still had to wait for 20 mins. And yes, the famous Adobada pork tacos were sold out. Other things to eat include lobsters and seafood at Lobster Place and the Israeli food at Miznon.
New York City is famous for its independent bookstores but nothing can beat the Strand. The Strand is huge – so huge that if you stack its books, the collection would be over 18 miles long. My favorite part about the Strand though is it’s used book collection. The musty smell makes you feel as if you have walked back in time to a 1950s New York! Their comics and children’s books section is also pretty solid. The Strand is also a favorite with celebs, so you never know who you might spot.
By Jeremiah Pittmon of Smiles on Arrival
A great way to enjoy New York in the winter and get a break from the cold is to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You probably want to visit this spectacular cultural site during any season as it is one of the premier museums in the world.
The museum contains an extensive collection of artifacts that covers some 5,000 years of history. One highlight is its Egyptian exhibit. This section contains 26,000 pieces from the ancient Egyptian empire spread over 39 rooms. Other areas include Arms and Armor, Charles Sheeler Photographs and one of the world’s largest Asian art collections. The Asian collection contains artwork that spans the artistic contributions from Afghanistan to the islands of Japan.
Considering the grand size of the museum you can stay busy (and warm) for hours. Why not make a day of it? No matter how much you see, there’s always more that will catch your interest. The vast array of art from paintings, to armor to sculptures will keep you wandering from one room to the other.
Even for a site of the size of the Met Museum, it can be a treat for kids as well. The museum offers family guides and downloadable maps in PDF format to help make your adventure with little ones a good one. Perhaps best of all, kids aged 12 and under are free. When making a winter visit to New York City, make sure you add the Metropolitan Museum of Art to your itinerary.
If you love the blues, then the annual Winter Jazzfest is the place to be in New York. The event takes place across multiple venues in the city including a closing marathon concert in the Village. At the event, you will find local performers, upcoming musicians, as well as famous artists. All events are ticketed with tickets starting about $10 for single shows and going up to $100 for the final marathon with multiple events.
Holiday treats at cafes and bakeries
Wintertime in New York is quite easy on the stomach. Plus winter always somehow makes me want to eat a lot. If you are visiting New York, then you should totally take advantage of this by visiting some of the famous restaurants and cafes including Max Brenner, Magnolia Bakery, Levain Bakery, Junior’s, etc. Also, try the Nutella crepes in the Village or the Dinges at Wafles & Dinges food truck.
Did you like our epic list of things to do in New York in winter? Hopefully, we made planning a winter trip to Manhattan a little bit easier. Happy Holidays!