18 Top Things to Do in NYC in Winter
For New Yorkers, winter technically begins right after Thanksgiving at the end of November, and lasts until the end of March. The coldest months are January and February, though snow can fall anytime between November and sometimes into April. While this may be a deterrent for some, winter in New York City is actually one of the most festive and exciting times to visit.
Just after Thanksgiving is when New York City comes alive for the holidays. Entire neighborhoods are festooned with sparkling lights, decorations, and glitter. The holiday spirit in New York is second to none, especially when it comes to catching iconic productions, from The Nutcracker ballet to The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
Even after the holidays are long gone, NYC in winter is still vibrant, from fashion shows and discounted restaurants to Jazzfest and Chinese New Year. And because the temperature has a tendency to plummet, visitors often find the crowds to be slower than from May to October.
If you're ready to bundle up and explore New York when it's at its most magical, check out our list of the top things to do in NYC in winter.
1. See the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
There is nothing quite like the holiday season in New York City. All across the five boroughs, New York sparkles with decorations, twinkle lights, window dressings, and a palpable good spirit. The anchor for holiday time in New York is none other than The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, a New York City tourist attraction for more than 75 years.
The largest tree in Rockefeller Center history was 100 feet tall in 1999 and was draped in 25,000 crystals, but every year, the tree continues to hold impressive height records and is always a monumental sight to behold.
The tree is put up every year around Thanksgiving at the end of November, and stands proudly over the equally famous ice-skating rink, attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Address: 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, New York
2. Celebrate New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve is an important holiday for New Yorkers. We all love the opportunity to push reset and start anew - and we do so in style with big celebrations all over the city.
Most restaurants will offer prix-fixe menus on New Year's Eve, with a choice of appetizer, entree, and dessert, and complete with festive decorations. Many restaurants even do a midnight countdown and toast. Bear in mind that many of the menus can be on the pricier side, so you'll want to do some sleuthing to see where you can get the best deals.
If you're interested in a real bucket list moment, the ball drop in Times Square is one of the most celebrated New Year's Eve spectacles in the world. Sure, you may be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of your closest friends, but the ball drop is watched by millions all over the world in nearly every country.
There are ways to avoid the crowds of the street: surrounding rooftops and restaurants sell tickets for their bird's-eye view of the event. Prices aren't cheap, but it will be worth it for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
3. Go Ice-Skating
New York City may be surrounded by water, but it's the parks and private rinks that provide the best winter ice-skating in the city. Both Manhattan and Brooklyn have ice rinks that will help you fulfill your best winter ice-skating dreams – and some even offer a little something extra.
Bryant Park is one of the most famous spots in the city to lace up ice skates. Bryant Park sits in one of the most cosmopolitan sections of Manhattan, surrounded by skyscrapers, office buildings, and the New York Public Library. But come wintertime, the park transforms into a veritable winter wonderland, known as the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park.
Then you have Rockefeller Center's ice rink, which is one of the best spots to ice-skate in New York City, especially around Christmas, when the giant tree is illuminated from top to bottom. Ice-skating at the Rink at Rockefeller Center is one of the top winter activities in New York. It's even open until midnight.
Over in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, ice-skating gets taken to new heights. Located on the 23rd floor of The William Vale hotel, the sky-high rink invites guests to come and "skate the skyline."
4. See a Broadway Show
Of all the theater districts in the world, none is more famous than New York City's Broadway. And what better time to sit snuggly in a warm, heated theater than winter in New York?
The district is named for the street around which it centers. Broadway is the longest thoroughfare in New York and runs the entire length of Manhattan. About halfway up the island is Times Square, which is where the city's most famous theaters are, home to the world's most famous plays and musicals.
What is playing is constantly changing, with some shows running for decades, while others play for a short amount of time. Among the most famous plays to ever hit Broadway have been Chicago, Hamilton, The Lion King, Rent, Phantom of the Opera, Jersey Boys, Kinky Boots, and quite literally hundreds more.
Catching a show on Broadway is one of the best things to do in New York no matter the time of year, but winter is arguably one of the best for a nice break from the frigid temperatures.
5. Wander the Butterfly Conservatory at the American Natural History Museum
One of New York's charms is that it's a walking city. But in the winter, the icy temperatures can make that a little less than pleasant. Warm up inside the American Museum of Natural History and take in one of its most famous exhibitions, The Butterfly Conservatory.
The annual seasonal exhibition brings more than 500 butterflies and lush tropical plants inside a warm habitat within the museum. Butterflies are divided into five families, and the exhibition features three of them. What's even more appealing is that the room is set to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which can be a welcome escape from the frigid wind that can rip between the towering buildings.
Fun for the whole family, this remarkable encounter with nature brings visitors up close and personal with these delicate creatures, giving a whole new meaning to the term, "urban jungle."
Address: 200 Central Park West, New York, New York
6. Window Shop on Fifth Avenue
If you are in the mood to brave the brisk air, tourists and New Yorkers alike surge with excitement to explore the opulent window dressings that light up Fifth Avenue stores during the holidays.
All the high-end department stores pull out all the stops to decorate their street-facing window displays with festive and fun holiday decorations. In 2019, Saks Fifth Avenue teamed up with Disney to create the world of Frozen in its windows, while Louis Vuitton celebrated with an installation that covered the entire corner facade of Fifth Avenue with brilliantly colored sculptures, and life-size images of the brand's icon.
If the weather proves to be a bit too uncomfortable, you can always pop into one of the stores for a little retail therapy. 'Tis the season, after all.
7. See the Bright Lights of Brooklyn
While the majority of New York City lights up during the holidays, no neighborhood offers more pomp and circumstance than Brooklyn's Dyker Heights.
For decades the residents of Dyker Heights have made it a tradition to hire professional lighting companies to essentially deck all of the halls. Thousands of lights are strung up across the mini mansions in this affluent section of Brooklyn, including toy soldiers, angels, moving reindeer, Santa, and more.
The neighborhood is not super convenient to reach from Manhattan, so several tour companies offer to take visitors on coach buses to and from Dyker Heights on a guided sightseeing tour.
Expect the displays to be up just after Thanksgiving. If you're planning a DIY visit, the lights can be seen from 11th to 13th Avenues, from 83rd to 86th St.
- Read More: Top Attractions & Things to Do in Brooklyn
8. Celebrate Chinese New Year
Each year around February, New York City explodes with fiery colors, festive events, traditional dancing, and street performers, all out in full force to celebrate Lunar New Year.
Lunar New Year is a holiday celebrated across Asia, where people take time to honor household and heavenly deities, as well as their ancestors. Picture fireworks, lion dances, and plenty of delicious dim sum.
Manhattan's Chinatown plays host to the Firecracker Ceremony, as well as the Chinese New Year Parade. The parade route runs down Mott and Canal Streets, down East Broadway toward the Manhattan Bridge, and then over onto Forsythe and Eldridge Streets toward Grand Street.
This is also one of the highest concentrations of Chinese restaurants in the city, so you're sure to find a place to tuck into some world-class Chinese dining.
9. Enjoy Winter Jazzfest
Ever since 2005, Winter Jazzfest has been lighting up New York City with some of the hottest names and rising stars in the music industry. What started as a one-day, single-location program has exploded into a week-long spectacle that spans more than 10 stages and brings more than 700 artists.
But the event is so much more than performances. The program also includes conversations and presentations on topics that range from the jazz community to social justice, gender, environmentalism, wellness, and mental health. All talk sessions are free and open to the general public, as well.
10. Sip the Best Hot Chocolate
Any winter destination worth its whipped cream knows how to concoct the perfect mug of hot chocolate. Fortunately, New York City has several bakeries and restaurants that can fill the order. And no trip to New York City in the winter is complete without a piping hot cup of chocolate.
Perhaps the most famous hot chocolate in the city isn't even hot at all. The iconic "frozen hot chocolate" at Upper East Side restaurant Serendipity 3 was made famous in the eponymous movie, Serendipity. Today, it's a tourist and local favorite for the cold "hot" chocolate, served with a scoop of whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Be sure to book enough time for this treat, as lines are to be expected.
Then there's the Dominique Ansel Bakery (famous for the world-renowned cronut creation), who serves a more traditional cup. This hot chocolate is a city favorite, and is topped with a marshmallow flower.
11. Get Dressed at Fashion Week
Come February, New York's streets are packed with the world's best dressed, as celebrities, models, photographers, writers, and stylists strut their stuff for Fashion Week.
Fashionistas absolutely live for New York Fashion Week (there is a Fall version, as well). While the fashion shows themselves are invite-only, there is still plenty of excitement to absorb around the city, from Lincoln Center to Bryant Park, and several venues across the city that host events.
Beyond the fashion shows and parties, there are several panels hosted discussing the future of fashion and other topics surrounding the industry, hosted and attended by some of the biggest and most up-and-coming names in the industry.
12. Dine around at Restaurant Week
New York City is home to some of the best restaurants in the world, but that also means it's home to the most expensive or most fully booked restaurants. Enter Restaurant Week, or rather, Restaurant Weeks, as the event is actually three weeks long.
This popular event offers reduced set meals at some of the city's most iconic eateries. Whether you're tucking into homemade pasta at a Michelin-starred restaurant, sinking your teeth into a Ribeye at a dimly lit steakhouse, or feasting on dim sum any day of the week, Restaurant Week gives visitors the best taste of New York, at a fraction of the price.
If you happen to miss the winter event, there is another Restaurant Week offered in the summer.
13. Dig for Treasure at the Indoor Brooklyn Flea Market
A rite of passage for every New Yorker, and every visitor to New York, for that matter, is a trip to the Brooklyn Flea. This sprawling outdoor summer market is chock-full of treasures, from antiques and vintage clothing to collectable toys, records, and more. Come winter, the market moves indoors so that shoppers can browse and stay warm.
The indoor Winter Market has taken up residence in Industry City, where 60 or more vendors set up tables on both Saturday and Sunday to hawk their wares. Keep in mind this will be one of the more expensive flea markets you encounter (it is New York, after all), but haggling is encouraged.
New York's famous Smorgasburg food and drink fair has also set up shop at the flea market, so you'll be able to try some of the best dishes from New York's most iconic restaurants all under one roof.
Address: 220 36th Street Suite #2-A, Brooklyn, New York
14. Hit a Museum (or Many)
Museums are open in New York year-round, but with winter temperatures plunging to below freezing, winter is the perfect time to head indoors to check out some of the best art in the world.
You name it, New York City has a museum for it. From the world-famous Metropolitan Museum of Art to the American Museum of Natural History, the modern marvels at The Whitney, or the history of the native tributes of New York at the Museum of the American Indian, you can always learn something from inside the (heated) centers of learning across the city.
New York City even has museums dedicated to the maritime trade, the tenement-style living of early New York, the Museum of the Moving Image, and a Museum of Morbid Anatomy. No matter your interest, you'll find a museum to match in New York. And it's always the perfect excuse to step out of the cold.
15. Get Active at Chelsea Piers
Staying active in New York City may seem challenging in the winter, what with freezing temperatures and snowy streets. But if you know where to look, you'll find plenty of indoor adventures that will get your heart rate up and keep you warm at the same time.
Chelsea Piers, for example, is one of the most beloved activity playgrounds for adults in New York City. The mega sports complex on the Hudson River touches everything from baseball and basketball to figure skating, football, ice hockey, and even golf and rock climbing.
For winter time, Chelsea Piers features two indoor rock climbing walls. The 23-foot rock climbing wall at the Field House is great for all levels, while the Rock Wall at Pier 60 is one of the largest rock climbing gyms in all five boroughs.
Other fun indoor activities within the 80,000-square-foot Field House include batting cages, open soccer and basketball, gymnastics, and more. You can even head over to The Golf Club for some indoor driving practice.
16. Soak Up Culture at Lincoln Center
Winter is magic in New York, with the twinkling lights and buzzing energy. It also happens to be peak season at Lincoln Center for the New York City ballet, philharmonic, and opera. This is one of the premiere places in all of New York to really soak up the culture, so make sure to snag a ticket to one of the coveted events at this Upper West Side icon.
Lincoln Center is more than a performance space. It is truly a destination, which receives more than five million visitors each year. Its gleaming white campus sits not far from Columbus Circle and is recognized by its iconic central fountain. It is home to 11 resident organizations and puts on roughly 3,000 programs and events each year.
17. Snuggle Up at The Strand
New York City has some of the best shopping in the world, no matter the time of year. But you can go shopping anywhere. Where you can't go anywhere, however, is The Strand. That is pure New York, and what better place to escape the icy air than by stealing away into the towering stacks of one of the best bookstores in the country?
The Strand prides itself on the "18 miles of books" in its inventory. One step inside the cozy Union Square bookstore, and you'll see they weren't exaggerating. Stacks packed to the brim with every title imaginable plaster every open surface in the shop. Step in to browse everything from bestsellers and travel guides to rare and collectible books, gifts, clothing, science books, photography, graphic novels, and truly so much more.
You'll know you're a real New Yorker when you leave with your "The Strand" book tote filled to the brim with your new finds.
18. Catch a Flick at IFC
New York City has plenty of movie theaters. It has everything from traditional theaters to ones with reclining auditorium seats to theaters that serve full dinner meals during a screening. But it only has one IFC Center, which is an art house icon located in Greenwich Village.
Right on Sixth Avenue and West 3rd Street, IFC Center is about as iconic as movie houses go. It was originally the Waverly Theater, but in 2005 underwent a renovation to become the IFC Center, and has drawn hundreds of thousands of viewers ever since to see its roster of independent films.
Within the theater are five screening rooms, all of which are dedicated to independent, foreign, and documentary films. It even offers cult movie screenings at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
The theater enjoys some of the best real estate in the country, so after you catch a film, you'll be at the doorstep to the best coffee shops, restaurants, shopping, and people watching in the entire city.