Winter in New York – Best Things to Do and See
The Best Things to Do in New York in the Winter (December, January, and February)
Heading to New York in the winter and wondering about the best things to do in NY – in between December until February? Then this ” Winter in New York guide” is for you – written by a former New Yorker local, so you get the best tips here!
New York City is one of the busiest and most vibrant cities in the world – and winter is no different. Without a question, it is sone of the best places to visit in the winter. New York’s winter activities are just as fun as those in the warmer months. With tons of fun things to do in the winter in New York, how could you not visit?
This post will let you know where to stay, how to get around, what to pack, and offer travel tips that will make your vacation to NYC in December, January, or February unforgettable.
Whether you’re flying solo, traveling as a couple, or bringing the whole family, New York has plenty of fun winter things to do and places to see.
How to Get to New York City
By plane: If you are flying into NYC, you can arrive to either John F. Kennedy International Airport or LaGuardia Airport. From there, you can take a shuttle, bus, train, taxi, or rental car to your hotel.
By car: If you are driving in, just be aware of the time of day. Traffic and construction are pretty constant in the city. Also, parking is hard to come by.
By train: If you are arriving by train, the Long Island Rail Road can bring you in from the east, and Amtrak and NJ Transit from the other directions. The trains stop at Penn Station in Manhattan, and from there, you can catch a cab, subway, or bus.
How to Get Around New York City
Public transportation is pretty good in New York City, and also plentiful. During a New York winter, when roads are covered in snow or ice, the subway is your best bet. It’s underground and warm, and you will experience far fewer issues than aboveground.
Parking is difficult, so I advise leaving your car at the hotel (or not even bringing one) and relying on public transportation and your own feet during your NYC visit.
Where to Stay in New York City
Depending on what you have planned and where, as well as your budget, choose a hotel that will make a good base for your outings. New York City is fairly large, but accessible by public transportation. If you plan to take day trips, consider a hotel close to Penn Station (34th Street, between Seventh & Eighth Avenues), where you can grab subways and trains to locations outside of Manhattan.
While there are hundreds of choices within the city, make sure you book ahead of time if you are arriving during the holidays in December.
Weather in New York
Weather during the New York winter holidays is cold. The highs are in the mid-40s and the lows in the low-30s for December and February. January averages temps that are about five degrees less. The good news is that the city doesn’t get piles and piles of snow like the more northern parts of New York State, but the sidewalks and roads can get icy after a snowfall. Be prepared for dirty slush as the snow melts into street grime.
What to Pack for a New York Winter Vacation
If you’re wondering what to wear in NYC in winter, let me offer a few suggestions. Since it will be cold, pack warm clothes. I’d suggest comfortable shoes – or better yet, winter boots – because you’ll probably land up walking quite a bit. New Yorkers tend to dress well, so if you want to fit in, pack some nicer clothes along with the jeans and sweaters, especially if you are planning on a nice romantic dinner out or to go clubbing.
More New York Winter Travel Tips
Winter is full of surprises, so be prepared for the possibility of delayed flights and traffic in the event of inclement weather.
New York City is an expensive place in general. But within Manhattan, the prices are higher than, say, in Brooklyn. So, the closer you are to touristy areas and upper-class neighborhoods, the higher the prices for food, clothes, etc.
Traveling in New York City can be very safe so long as you use caution. Be careful when traveling at night. Avoid neighborhoods that have higher crime rates. Avoid empty subway platforms at night and badly lit side streets. Stick to populated areas, particularly after dark. And always keep your valuables close to your body and in sight.
New York City has very strict no-smoking laws. Smoking is not permitted in any indoor area (including bars and clubs) or outdoor public area (like beaches and parks). There are also high taxes on cigarettes in the city.
Things to Do in New York During Winter
Holiday Shopping (December)
One of the top things to do in NYC in December is go shopping. With the holidays approaching, you can get some great gifts from the plethora of stores that the city has to offer. For luxury goods, check out iconic Fifth Avenue. For cheaper knockoffs, you can browse Chinatown. There are also people selling interesting things on the street – though they are often unlicensed and will grab their stuff and run if a police officer shows up.
A few other popular shopping spots are SoHo, the Meatpacking District, and Herald Square. Beacon’s Closet is another favorite. Even if you aren’t looking to buy, enjoy the holiday storefronts that are exquisite this time of year (especially Macy’s on 34th Street).
See the Tree in Rockefeller Center (December)
It’s a holiday tradition for a nearly-100-foot tree to be selected, transported, decorated, and then lit in Rockefeller Center each year. The official tree lighting takes place in the beginning of the month (it falls on December 4th in 2019), but even if you miss the actual event, you should still see it. This huge spectacle of holiday cheer is the perfect thing to get you into the spirit of things. As famous as it is, you can’t be in New York in December without getting a few pictures and selfies here. Seeing the tree is one of the best things to do in NYC in December.
Ice Skating in Rockefeller Center (December & early January)
The Rink at Rockefeller Center is located in the center of Midtown Manhattan and is a must-see. Sitting right next to the lit tree and other decorations, it’s at its most beautiful in December. There is first-come, first-serve general admission skating, but you can also make reservations and purchase packages. Children under four can skate free, and there are skates that you can rent if you don’t have your own (those were probably not on your packing list). There is even a Breakfast with Santa option. This is a great thing to do in NYC with kids in winter!
Bryant Park Winter Village (December)
This is one of the nicest parks in New York City, and while it’s great to relax at in summer, winter is plenty of fun, too. If you’re looking for free things to do in NYC in winter, then try the winter village’s huge ice rink, where you can skate under twinkling lights (bring your own skates or rent them for a fee).
There are also almost 200 shops, kiosks, and eateries for you to do some shopping and snacking while enjoying the picturesque park. Years past have seen hip pop-up restaurants rinkside and even a beer garden. The Winter Village is definitely one of the best things to do in New York in winter.
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular (December)
This iconic holiday show is a must when you’re looking for fun things to see in NYC in December. The Christmas Spectacular began in 1933 and has been a tradition ever since. The world-famous Radio City Rockettes perform throughout the 90-minute show. This is great for families, couples, or singles. You’ll see dancing along with an original score of music, singing, and traditional scenes like the Nativity.
Located right in the middle of Manhattan, it’s easy to get to and combine with other attractions like Rockefeller Center (which is another must-see in NY).
New Year’s Eve in Times Square (December)
When you’re talking about things to do in NYC in December, it would be impossible not to mention Times Square on New Year’s Eve. This famous spectacle is wild and raucous, and the perfect way to ring in the new year if you happen to be in New York at the time.
If you’ve ever watched the ball drop on TV, you know that there are a lot of people on the ground below – a lot. So, if you want to be one of them, then you’ll need to arrive early – people start lining up around 3 pm. Dress warm because the temperature will likely be in the 40s by midnight.
Tip: Due to the cold and intensity of the crowd, this is best experienced by adults.
See a Hockey Game at Madison Square Garden (December – February)
When in Rome… or in this case, when in New York City. The New York Rangers are the local hockey team and watching a game is a winter activity that even residents enjoy. This is a fun way to experience the city, especially if you’re rooting for the home team.
So, if you’re wondering what to do in New York in winter, get out of the cold and into the arena to watch an exciting hockey game. Great for sports-loving families. And as an extra perk, Madison Square Garden sits atop Penn Station, making it centrally located and accessible by multiple forms of public transportation.
Tip: Beware of scalpers selling tickets in front of the venue. There’s no way to check the authenticity of these tickets, so skip the risk and use a legitimate ticket-selling source.
Take in a Broadway Play (December – February)
Even if you are not a big play person, you can’t deny that seeing one of Broadway’s plays or musicals makes anyone’s bucket list. There are plenty of theater places to visit in New York in December, and you’ll get the best prices on shows in January and February once all the holiday tourists have left.
While there are fun family entertainment choices (e.g. Disney), you can also take in some great “adult” shows at this time of year. If you prefer something less mainstream than the biggest Broadway hits of the year, walk a few blocks and check out the smaller and lesser-known shows – what is referred to as off-Broadway (for obvious reasons).
Winter Jazzfest (January)
With the holidays over, January can seem a little bleak. But if you find yourself here, wondering what to do in New York in January, never fear. There is a lot going on at the beginning of the year.
Winter Jazzfest is the perfect antidote to the post-holiday blues. Lively and fun, this annual jazz extravaganza will have you feeling better in no time. The two-night marathon in Greenwich Village offers some of the best jazz musicians around, as well as newly discovered talents. Music lovers bring excitement to this quirky and fun neighborhood that you’re sure to enjoy.
Join the Polar Bear Club at Coney Island (January)
Feeling adventurous? Then head to Coney Island, the legendary Brooklyn amusement park, for one of the craziest things to do in NYC in January – the annual New Year’s Day Swim.
If you’ve ever swum in the Atlantic Ocean in summer, you know that it’s pretty cold. So, you can imagine what it’s like in the middle of winter. But despite the cold temperatures, the Polar Bear Club invites anyone brave enough to join them for a dip in the frigid ocean. Why? Because all proceeds go to a non-profit organization called Camp Sunshine in Maine for ill children. What’s a little cold for a good cause?
Wine tastings in Brooklyn (December – January)
After jumping in the Atlantic, it’s time to warm up. And where better than at the charming Brooklyn Winery. Even if you aren’t a wine aficionado, the winery offers wine tasting classes to educate and delight attendees. Grab the subway out of Manhattan and head to this neighboring borough for some great wines – they even offer a special class on winter wines that pair well with cold weather dishes. If you’re looking for some non-touristy things to do in NYC in winter, this would be a great choice for singles and couples.
Drop by Raines Law Room for a Drink (December – February)
Staying warm during the winter season in New York is no easy task. Sometimes, the best thing you can do after strolling the streets and seeing the charms of the city is stop in for a quick drink and warm up. But don’t stop just anywhere! There are plenty of quaint bars and watering holes with character, but make an effort to try Raines Law Room.
This is one of the city’s famous speakeasy bars, and it provides pleasantly strong drinks, comfortable seating, and a unique entryway you won’t want to miss. It’s located in Chelsea, at 48 W 17th Street.
New York Botanical Gardens (December – February)
Looking for some family-friendly places to visit in New York in winter? The New York Botanical Gardens is one of the jewels of the city and a great place to visit with kids.
The beautiful grounds boast amazing plant sculptures and a gorgeous assortment of natural beauty. If you are here during the holidays (until mid-January), you can also see the garden’s Holiday Train Show. Witness stunning miniature landmarks created with plants, like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.
To save money, check out the Grounds Only free admission on Wednesdays and from 9am-10am on Saturdays. Otherwise, admission is $15 for adults (cheaper for children based on age).
Visit NYC Independent Bookstores (December – February)
I know, bookstores are everywhere. But there is a certain charm to the independent stores that stand despite bigger chains. They are also cozy places to warm up, sip a hot drink, and hang out with the locals.
Join New Yorkers and a few tourists in the know for one of the fun things to do in NYC in the winter. Explore the shelves for esoteric titles. Curl up in a comfy armchair. And grab an oversized hot chocolate and scone to get the full experience.
Best options are BookMark Shoppe in Bay Ridge, Housing Works Bookstore and Café in SoHo (my personal favorite), and Greenlight in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. Any purchases support small businesses – plus, you can get some holiday shopping done!
Hit the Slopes at Thunder Ridge (December – February)
One of the best things about New York City is how easy it is to slip away for a day trip. And what’s winter without some skiing? Just grab the Metro North out of Grand Central Terminal, and after a quick shuttle ride from the Patterson station, you can be at Thunder Ridge Resort within an hour and a half (it’s approximately 50 miles from NYC). There are packages that include train and lift tickets, as well as overnight packages. This is perfect for families and couples that need a winter getaway from NYC and want to spend some time in serious snow.
Day Trip to Long Island (December – February)
Speaking of winter day trips from NYC, the suburban community of Long Island makes a great destination no matter what the season. From Penn Station, you can catch the Long Island Rail Road east. The island is made up of many small towns that run up against each other, each with its own charms and attractions. A few notable stops: the Hamptons for a glimpse at the small hamlets of New York’s elite and to see the Montauk Point Lighthouse; Walt Whitman’s birthplace in Huntington; the antique shops and boutiques of Northport; a tour of Roosevelt’s home of Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay; and Riverhead for the views of the Long Island Sound and Peconic River, and great shopping at the Tanger Outlets.
There’s no shortage of things to do when you’re spending winter in New York. A day trip to Long Island is perfect for families and singles alike.
Have a Drink at the Igloo Bar (December – February)
Here is one of the most interesting things to do in NYC in the winter – have a drink at an igloo bar. And while the igloos aren’t made of ice, the transparent heated bubbles are a cool way of enjoying a winter drink with your friends or your other half.
The bars, located at 230 Fifth Avenue, are first-come-first serve and offer complimentary red robes to wear during your experience. There are plenty of novelty drinks to choose from, including hot Fireball cider and Godiva peppermint hot chocolate. If you want to reserve an igloo for a small party or jump the line on the weekends, packages are available for purchase.
Take a Romantic Winter Stroll (February)
If you’re traveling with your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day, consider bundling up and taking a stroll through one of New York’s lush and sprawling parks.
There are many to choose from, but I’d recommend Bryant Park for its beautiful scenery; Prospect Park for its gently rolling hills and privacy as there are less tourists around; and Central Park for its iconic status and variety.
If you head to Central Park, I recommend a horse-drawn carriage ride (tip: always negotiate the price in detail before getting in) and maybe visiting the Central Park Zoo’s Tropic Zone for some warmer temps and a glimpse of the adorable lemurs and tropical birds.
These are some fun New York winter activities that you and your date might enjoy, although they are also good for singles and families.
Celebrate Chinese New Year (February)
This is one of the best things to do in NYC in winter – celebrate Chinese New Year. Every year, Chinese New Year falls around the beginning of February and there are few parties bigger than this one. NYC celebrates the holiday with dragon dances, intricate floats, and delicious street food that you won’t be able to get enough of. Chinatown is the center of the action.
The annual Lunar New Year Parade & Festival takes place in Flushing, Queens. Home to one of the largest East Asian populations in the area, there is plenty to see and do here as well. Dim sum on Prince Street is highly recommended.
Party it up at Le Bain (February)
Whether you’re traveling with friends or as a couple, Le Bain is a unique and fun nightlife experience that you won’t want to miss.
Located on The Standard Hotel’s rooftop, this popular bar is a fun place to party and dance. But what really makes Le Bain interesting (besides the outdoor deck which is closed at this time of year) is the hot tub next to the dance floor (Le bain, tellingly, is French for the bath). You’ll also be treated to world-class deejays and outstanding city views.
Partying at Le Bain is a fun thing to do in Manhattan in the winter. Dress code is chic casual. And if you forget your swimsuit, the bar sells some in a vending machine (really!).
Celebrate Valentine’s Day Under the Stars (February)
It’s Valentine’s Day and you’re looking for the most romantic things to do in NYC in winter. Well, instead of paying for a pricey dinner, why not try the American Museum of Natural History’s yearly Romance Under the Stars? This event starts with an open bar and hors d’oeuvres, then you spend the night under the Planetarium’s starry sky. As you cuddle up to your sweetheart, an astronomer will guide you through the most romantic stories from ancient times.
This unique and fascinating night will be one of the most special winter things you do in NYC. And it will surely be one of the most memorable Valentine’s Days you share.
Stop and Taste the Hot Chocolate (February)
Hot chocolate. That is the answer to the question of what to do in NYC when it’s cold. A steaming mug of sweet, rich deliciousness will keep you warm despite the cold temperatures outside.
But where do you go for the best hot chocolate in New York? Start with Jacques Torres, where you’ll enjoy a famously rich chocolate chaud. Try Two E at The Pierre for one of its spiked Haute Chocolate items. You can also partake in City Bakery’s annual Hot Chocolate Festival, where you can enjoy a different flavor each day. Another popular spot (with unfortunately long lines) is Serendipity 3, which offers huge goblets of frozen hot chocolate.
Whether you’re a chocoholic or just have a casual sweet tooth, this is one of the most enjoyable winter things to do in NYC.
I hope this list has given you a good idea of all the amazing things to do in the wintertime in New York City. Whether you are staying in the heart of Manhattan or looking for winter day trips from NYC to the surrounding areas, there are tons of things to do in December, January, and February for families, couples, and singles.
About the Author:
This post was written by Rebecca, who runs her own blog at The Journey at Home – where she writes about her life as a mother of 5 with everything that comes along with it. She lived in New York for a long time before she moved to Las Vegas. She also works as a freelancer for Arzo Travels.