New York City doesn’t close down in the winter. In fact, for many that’s the best time to visit…
By Jim Ferri
In New York in the winter you’ll find there’s a multitude of things to do.
And the crowds – at least after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays – are quite a bit smaller than in the warmer months, which means less of a wait at major attractions and restaurants. Tickets for top Broadway shows are more available in New York in the winter, and many museums bring in new exhibits in early January and February.
So while April – November can be wonderful in New York, you may want to think outside the seasonal box, as well. Here are 15 things to do in New York that continue to be quite enjoyable when the temperature drops.
Go for a Walk on the High Line in New York in the Winter
The High Line is something that’s dear to many New Yorkers (and those visitors in the know). It’s an elevated linear park, a 1.45-mile-long walkway and parkland on Manhattan’s West Side, built atop an abandoned elevated railroad spur.
I’ve visited it in the spring and summer, and again last week in the winter. It’s wonderful in any season. Take a stroll along it and go back down to street level to visit Chelsea Market for lunch, or visit the new Whitney Museum on at its southern end on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District.
The High Line’s northern end is on West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues.
Enjoy Central Park and a Carriage Ride
Central Park doesn’t close in the winter – it just takes on a different, beautiful aura.
Yes, some of its facilities, such as boating on the lake, close down for the season, but its roads and trails remain open for the myriad walkers and joggers who continue to take advantage of this mid-city oasis.
It’s also a great time to take a carriage ride through the park, bundled up under a heavy blanket. You’ll find the horses and their carriages lining 57th Street from Fifth Avenue to Columbus Circle.
If you’re on a budget, just be aware rides are $50 for the first 20 minutes and $20 for each 10-minute increment afterwards.
In New York in the Winter, Times Square is Still Abuzz
Yes, it’s one of the cliché New York experiences that you have to experience. It is, as often said, the “Great White Way,” and you need to see it at night to feel the overwhelming nature of the neon and giant screens all about you. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in Times Square, and I’ve found that it always seems to be at its gaudiest-best in winter when the air is clear and sharp.
If you want the best view of the “Crossroads of the World” climb the red stair above the TKTS Booth at the southern end of the square.
The Rockefeller Center Skating Rink Comes Alive in New York in the Winter
Winter is one of the most popular times to visit Rockefeller Center. It’s only then that you can see the massively beautiful Christmas tree (late-November to early-January) and the famous skating rink. (Rates for skating are $25 per adult, $15 for children and seniors, for a 1½ hour period. Skate rental is an additional $12).
While you’re there also be sure to visit the buildings of Rockefeller Center to admire their spectacular art deco interiors, including that of Radio City Music Hall.
For a special treat see the annual Christmas Show with the famous Rockettes, and take a backstage tour if you can.
On a New York Winter Day Visit Fifth Avenue’s Shops
See the fabulous (and fabulously expensive) stores along Fifth Avenue…Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Tiffany, et al.…all along the stretch from 39th to 59th Streets.
During the Christmas holiday season, many of their windows are filled with beautiful seasonal decorations you’ll find nowhere else.
At any time of year be sure to visit the towering Neo-Gothic St. Patrick’s Cathedral right across the street from Rockefeller Center.
In New York in the Winter Visit a Museum, or Two or Three
New York City is museum heaven and during the winter months, it’s heaven on earth. That’s not only because they’re great refuges from the cold, but also because in January-February many museums also bring in new exhibits.
If you’re on a budget, you’ll find that some of the most well-known museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History, among others, only have suggested entrance fees, allowing visitors to pay whatever you’d like. They’re great for families (if you can keep the kids entertained).
While the city lists 80+ museums scattered throughout the five boroughs, there are also many more small, niche institutions.
Go downtown and visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum located on the site of the World Trade Center, which you’ll likely find it to be an incredibly moving experience. Admission to the Reflecting Pools ¬– each set within the footprints of the original Twin Towers – is free; admission to the National September 11 Memorial Museum is $24 per adult, $15 youth (7-17 years), and $18 for seniors, veterans, and college students. Admission is free on Tuesdays after 5 pm.
After your visit soar to new heights when you go to the observation deck at One World Trade, also known as the “Freedom Tower.” It is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere and contains the fastest elevator in the hemisphere. It’s an incredibly smooth and quiet ride as it whisks you up 102 stories in one minute. The view from the top is incredible – and best in winter when the air is clearest. Tickets are $32 per adult, $26 per child, and $30 for seniors.
Visit the Financial District
Walk around the Financial District to see Federal Hall and the New York Stock Exchange – an easy walk since the street is now a pedestrian area – and take a photo of the famous bull on Wall Street.
Afterward, walk down the block to beautiful Trinity Church, and then a few clocks over to Pearl Street and visit Fraunces Tavern, the historic restaurant where Washington bid farewell to his officers. It’s also a good place to take a break and have lunch.
If you go up the stairs at the entrance to the small museum on the second floor, you’ll see the actual room in which Washington made his speech.
The Staten Island Ferry, described as “the cheapest ocean-going ride in the world,” is totally free. It’s a great ride that provides spectacular views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, and well worth the half-hour it will take you in each direction.
For an extra-special ride, time your “cruise” for late afternoon when you’ll have a beautiful sunset view. The boats to Ellis Island and the Statue are nearby.
Have a Bagel
New Yorkers (as well as many others) love bagels, and you can’t get them as good or tasty anywhere else in the world.
Although you’ll find them in just about every bakery, restaurant or diner throughout the city, the two places reputed to have the best are Zabars on the upper West Side (2245 Broadway, at 80th Street) and Murray’s Bagels (242 8th Ave at 22nd Street). Order yours “wit a “schmear” if you like cream cheese.
Visit a NY Deli in New York in the Winter
For many deli aficionados, there’s nothing else in the world quite like a New York Jewish Deli.
They are where you can get a thick, delicious, sandwich (pastrami is perennially popular but there’s quite a selection) that’s almost too thick to eat. It’s one of those quintessential New York experiences regardless of the season.
Unfortunately, there are only a few of these famous institutions left, including the 2nd Avenue Deli, Katz, Barney Greengrass, and the Carnegie. Read my review of the best of them at Top Delis in New York City. Yum…
Find Great Dumplings in Chinatown
As are the dumplings you’ll find there, New York’s Chinatown is world renown.
Why not turn your lunchtime into an adventure by searching for the best dumplings in Chinatown, as we did in the post about A Quest for the Best Dumplings in Chinatown?
You’ll find Chinatown on the Lower East Side, just south of Little Italy. If you want to make your visit extra special, visit during Chinese New Year.
Take a Tour of Grand Central Station
The city’s most famous transportation hub, Grand Central is a magnificent and historic building in Midtown.
It’s instantly recognizable by the zodiacs on its ceiling, and the famous information booth in the center, which is still one of the best meeting points in the city.
Take a tour of Grand Central to learn about its history and operations (the 75-minute tours depart daily at 12:30 p.m. from the Terminal’s Main Concourse, and are led by docents trained by the Municipal Art Society; cost is $25 adults, $20 for children, seniors).
Before or afterward you can grab a bite in the plethora of small restaurants and cafés on its lower level, or in late afternoon join commuters for a drink in its famous Oyster Bar or one of the balcony bars.
Enjoy Great Theater in New York in the Winter
New York is synonymous with great theater. And although theater tickets can be ridiculously expensive for some shows (think of a number followed by a comma and three zeros for prime seats at hit shows), there are ways to cut costs.
You’ll find good and much less expensive shows off-Broadway as well as cut-rate tickets for top shows (up to 50% off) at the popular TKTS Discount Booths in Times Square, South Street Seaport, and Downtown Brooklyn.
New York in the Winter – a Perfect Time for a Hot Chocolate or Hot Toddy
While you can order a hot chocolate in many places in New York, why not do something really special?
Instead enjoy a Viennese hot chocolate in the wonderful Old-World Café Sabarsky in the Neu Museum, a wonderful small museum at 1048 5th Avenue, across from the Metropolitan Museum.
And while you’ll find a hot toddy to ward off those winter chills in many high-end bars about the city, why not enjoy yours in a spectacular setting such as the King Cole Room in the St. Regis Hotel? Sometimes it’s the atmosphere that makes a drink all the more pleasant.
Editor’s Note: you may also enjoy Places to Visit in Rome, Top 10 Things To Do In Morocco, and Ile Saint Louis: a Paris Delight, Hiding in Plain Sight