Best things to do in winter in New York City

Winter after the New Year is one of the best times of year to enjoy New York City. Seriously. There's deals to be had (many hotels offer a third, fourth or fifth night free; see for winter deals), there's finally some elbow space on sidewalks in SoHo and Greenwich Village, and the city wears the cold well with a few must-see events for those that don't mind adding an extra sweater.

To help with a winter New York City visit, here's what to do to leave you with warm feelings about the cold season:

1. Ice skating

A century ago, about 30,000 New Yorkers would hit Central Park's long-gone Great Rink to hit the ice on a winter weekend. (Not so much to skate as to flirt.) Those days are gone - 'happy hour' changed everything - but skating outdoors in New York, particularly at night, remains a classic New York experience.

The rink at Rockefeller Center, a city icon, is a wee rink packed with visitors who pay the rather exorbitant prices for a photo opp in front of the gold Prometheus statue. It's $25 to skate, $10 to rent through January 7, then only $5 cheaper afterwards.

Skating's better at Wollman Rink, in the southeastern corner of Central Park. It's a wide outdoor rink, with great looks at Midtown buildings and the park's tree tops. To save, skate Monday to Thursday ($11 to skate, $11 to rent); it's $6 more on weekends.

A cheaper, just-as-lovely setting is at Bryant Park, a pocket-sized rink that's free to use. Rental is $14. Open through March 3.

2. Chinese New Year

One of the city’s greatest events, the Chinatown parade to celebrate the lunar new year is scheduled for February 17 in 2013, the year of the snake. About half a million go each year to sample food on the sidewalks, shop and see dragons parade down Canal Street.

Even many locals don’t realize it’s not the only shot to celebrate. Flushing, Queen’s version – which is actually a couple years older than Chinatown’s – is just as colorful, with far fewer people (about 10,000 a year).

3. Restaurant Week

Never mind the fact that the foodie-themed 'week' spans three (January 14 to February 8), this beloved event offers reduced set meals at great city restaurants for $25/$38 for lunch/dinner - a real deal for . A second one takes place in June.  Check here for reservations at participating restaurants.

4. Hot chocolate

New York has never been a particularly great cafe city, but it sure takes hot chocolate seriously. City Bakery in Chelsea has been, for 21 years, hosting the Hot Chocolate Festival, featuring a new theme for each day in February. That’s 28 hot chocolates. City Bakery doesn’t run a monopoly – you can find serious chocolatiers across the city, from Bryant Park to Dumbo. Here’s a New York Times look at the best from last winter.

 5. Grand Central turns 100

A hub for Amtrak, MetroNorth and MTA subways, Grand Central Terminal turns 100 on February 3. Once saved by Jackie O from a Penn Station-like fate, the building is always a spectacle, with nonstop action, 'secret' bars and echo chambers, plus the slick Oyster Bar downstairs. A year-long celebration – that’s seen New York Transit Museum exhibits and a new logo of a clock striking 7:13pm (or 19:13, you know, like the birth year?) – finishes off  February 1, with the debut of a new multimedia ‘Grand by Design’ exhibit at the New York Transit Museum (open through March 15) and various concerts.

6. Brooklyn Flea

Brooklyn’s Winter Flea is a fun new shopping tradition for the cold months. The hundred or so vendors move indoors, filling a bank vault and old teller windows of the art-deco, 37-floor Williamsburg Savings Bank (now called the Skylight One Hanson, of all things). It’s held 10am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday through March. And afterwards you can try to get a last-minute ticket to see the Nets play b-ball at the newly opened Barclay Center nearby.

Robert Reid is Lonely Planet's US Travel editor based in New York City, and is rarely seen without a steaming cup of cocoa in the winter months.