Winter is one of the least popular times to travel to New York City (excluding the month of December, because of course!). We definitely understand that the colder temps can deter people, however NYC in the winter is still great! It even offers some unique activities that you won’t be able to do in warmer months. So, we have compiled a list of our favorite winter activities in New York City.
Before we dive in, there are two important tips to keep in mind:
Tip 1: Dress appropriately
This may seem obvious, but we really don’t think it’s obvious enough. Yes, New York City has fairly mild winters compared to the rest of the northern states, however this does not mean we do not get winter conditions. Temperatures will hover around 2-3 C (35-37 F for all our Imperial System using friends). There can also be wind — actually almost always there’s wind in the city. Just the other day I was commenting how I feel that all the tall buildings create outdoor wind tunnels, making the avenues colder. This is probably not true, but the sentiment lasts. It will be cooler, but add in the wind and it can become frigid quickly. So, dress accordingly! Do you have a nice wool coat that would be perfect for a weekend in the city? Plan accordingly and wear base layers. An added tip is to wear tights or leggings under your jeans, this will automatically increase your warmth. Mitts and hats are essential too!
Tip 2: Plan your day around indoor stops
There are so many things to do outdoors in NYC, but there are also indoor things to do as well — don’t forget these! When planning out your winter activities in New York City, consider outdoor vs indoor things to do. A day where you plan to spend hours outside without a break will feel very long. Our general rule is to plan to spend 2-3 hours outside at one time. So, if you have five activities for the day and three are outdoors, arrange this smartly. Start outdoors for an activity or two, then head indoors for a break, then finish outdoors. This will ensure your longevity during the day and that you’re not frozen by the time you head back to your hotel. Furthermore, there are always cafes! I don’t know about you, but cold weather makes us tired. So, we often stop for afternoon coffee and a treat in one of the many cafes throughout the city.
Now that you’re up to speed, let’s get to the fun part! While this is not an all-inclusive NYC list, these provide some of our favorite WINTER activities to do in New York City.
Table of Contents
1.Visit Central Park
Central Park is not just a warm weather park. There is so much to explore throughout the winter as well! There are many walking paths throughout the park, that even after a snow fall, are well cleared. We once walked through Central Park after a major snowfall and found it all well accessible, a little slippery, but nothing some extra caution can’t handle! There is also lots of hills for tobogganing. Don’t be afraid about not having a proper sled because you will see locals sledding on baking trays, trash bags, basically anything that slides! Additionally, you will see a multitude of snowmen being built. Head to Sheep Meadow or the Great Lawn to experience the magnitude (and creativity) of the snowmen.
If you happen to come to New York City on one of the many snow-free days, there is still plenty to see and enjoy. The Bethesda Fountain is an iconic spot, which is the backdrop of many movies. Furthermore, there is the Bow Bridge here as well. If you have kids, there is also the Central Park Zoo which is a hit for many! Lastly, there are many rock formations you can walk on top of to get some midtown skyline views.
Overall, Central Park is a great place to escape the incessant car honks for a moment and enjoy the sun (warm or not)! If walking seems too daunting, there are also bike rentals. We recommend being cautious with this, but, yes, Citibike is a year-round biking option. Citibikes have docks throughout the city and you just need the app and a credit card to sign up and begin biking.
2.Take a Hot Chocolate Break
After a walk through the park, a hot chocolate break is an absolute must. Two great options right off of Central Park are Ralph’s or Bluestone Lane.
888 Madison Avenue (off of 72nd Street)
Ralph’s is the coffee shop started by Ralph Lauren (yes, the clothing designer). While there are a couple of locations within Manhattan, we feel that the flagship store in the Upper East Side is a must see. Most of the building is the Ralph Lauren clothing store, but on the end is the coffee shop. They offer espresso drinks with a small selection of pastries, the chocolate chip cookie is hard to pass up! In the winter they also have peppermint hot chocolate. Their hot chocolate is the perfect treat to warm up with after a walk through Central Park, with an exit from the park just a block away. We visited when indoor dining was shut down in the city, however they had several tables set up outside. Bonus: go at Christmas time to enjoy their beautiful lights!
400 Madison Avenue, Upper East Side
Bluestone Lane is an Australian coffee shop. They do have a few locations around Manhattan, but the best location is the Upper East Side. The Upper East Side location is a couple blocks away from the MET and is inside a cathedral. Yes, you read that right. The coffee shop is inside a historic church, or at least a section of it. So you can enjoy coffee at a curbside table with Central Park in front of you and the stunning archways of the coffee shop behind. The coffee and food options all have an Aussie flare, which unfortunately for Janessa means no vanilla syrup for her lattes. Overall, this is a great stop if you need some coffee after a museum or a little caffeine to tackle a walk through Central Park.
Two other spots we love any excuse to visit are Squish and Milk and Cream Cereal Bar.
120 Saint Mark’s Place
Located in the East Village is the proclaimed number one spot to get hot chocolate in NYC. Their hot chocolate is European styled, or at least Parisian styled, meaning it is rich. The hot chocolate tastes like you’re drinking melted chocolate. We split a small sized cup and this was plenty for the two of us. In addition to the hot chocolate are the marshmallows. You can get this giant, flavored, marshmallows on top and they are amazing. Try the s’more flavor marshmallow and you will not be disappointed.
225 East 60th Street
Located in Upper East Side, close to midtown is the famous Serendipity restaurant. This spot is a popular pop culture reference, going back to 1954 when it was first opened. It has been frequented by many famous celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol. They may have been visiting for the one-of-a-kind fashion and art, or maybe it was the frozen hot chocolate! I choose to think it was the latter! This spot was also featured in the 2001 movie Serendipity. Now, it is a frequently visited spot for locals and tourists alike. I have yet to see someone famous there, but maybe one day! They are well-known for their frozen hot chocolate, but they do have the hot version for those cold winter days.
3. Go Ice Skating
Ice skating is one of those activities that is unique and special to wintertime in New York City. Whether you are a skilled skater or not, we recommending checking out one of the many ice rinks around the city. There are four main rink in Manhattan: Wollman’s Rink, Rockefeller Rink, Bryant Park rink and The Rink at Brookfield Place. Pier 17 usually has an ice rink as well, one we feel is the best. However, with the pandemic they opted to have outdoor huts to eat in, so no rink in 2020/2021, but hopefully it comes back! In general, most ice rinks open in December and stay open until mid to late March, so plenty of time to visit and enjoy them!
Wollman’s Rink is in Central Park, which we are sure you have seen photos of. It has been a winter staple for NYC visits for a while, most likely due to the midtown views you have from the ice.
The Rink at Rockefeller Center
The Rink at Rockefeller Center is located beside the Rockefeller Tree, so this is a classic spot to skate at during the Christmas season. With this said, it is open for the rest of the winter season, and for cheaper prices! Regular admission price is $25 without skates and $35 to add in skate rentals. Currently, they are requiring you to book online for a time slot as well. Honestly, the limited amount of people on the ice during the pandemic has made skating much more enjoyable.
The Rink at Bryant Park
The Rink at Bryant Park is another popular spot, especially when it is surrounded by the Christmas Market and is centrally located in Manhattan as well. Skating is free, however rentals are priced between $21-35 dollars, pricing changes for peak times. For the 2020/2021 season, they also opened up a curling area to visit as well. This is another very fun winter activity! But with the steep price tag, we recommend only curling if there are at least 6 people in your group.
The Rink at Brookfield Place
The Rink at Brookfield Place is currently the only rink open and located downtown Manhattan. The ice rink allows you to skate and look out on the Hudson River. Skating is $15 or $20 for skating and skate rentals. The ice is a good size, allowing you to get in some good skating. After skating here, you can go and relax or warm up in Brookfield Place. Make sure to reserve your time slot ahead of time here as well!
There is also a rink on top of The Vale hotel in Brooklyn. This spot offers spectacular views of the city, but it is actually a “glice” rink. So, it’s fake ice and it has pretty poor reviews. While we have not visited this spot, it seems you come here for the views and not for skating fun.
4. New York Botanical Garden
The New York Botanical Garden is located in the Bronx and is well worth the trip north. The gardens are open year round, so no need to ignore just because it’s the winter! They often have season-themed displays and their winter theme does not disappoint. The garden’s themselves are a living museum, with plant conservation and research also occurring on the grounds. Tickets are $28/ adult, with student, elderly and children discounted rates. They are also currently doing timed entries, so book ahead.
5. Strand Bookstore
A perfect way to cozy up on a cold winter day is to visit a book store. The Strand Bookstore is right beside Union Square in the East Village and has been a bookstore staple for a while. Founded in 1927, it has over 18 miles worth of books stocked here. They offer new and used books, from specialized to rare, and are sure to have something for everyone. I recommend going with no book in mind and browsing until something strikes your fancy! If you are looking for some book recommendations from this past year, check out our personal favorites.
6. City Winery at Rockefeller Center
When you finished up your skating, you can head over to the outdoor igloos set up at the Rockefeller Plaza. Here you can enjoy some winter wine tastings. The igloos offer quick bites as well to enjoy. The igloos seat eight people and are costly. They range from $150 during lunch hours and $250 during dinner hours. Bryant Park also offers igloos where you can enjoy some quick bites and drinks for a similar price tag. There are some restaurants that have igloos to enjoy dinner as well. There are a variety throughout the neighborhoods of Manhattan, so this is a more financially fiscal way to enjoy some good food in the unique igloo setting!
With all this said, we hope you consider visiting or exploring New York City in the winter. Not all the NYC magic disappears in the cooler temperatures, we promise!