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, 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 who don’t mind adding an extra sweater.
These six things will leave you with warm feelings about the coldest season in New York City:
1. Ice skating
A century ago, about 30,000 New Yorkers would head to 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 the city, particularly at night, remains a classic New York experience.
The rink at Rockefeller Center, a city icon, is a wee space packed with visitors who pay the rather exorbitant prices for a photo opp in front of the gold Prometheus statue (it’s $32 to skate, $12 to rent during peak season and only slightly cheaper in January). Skating’s better at Wollman Rink, in the southeastern corner of Central Park. It’s a wide outdoor rink, with great views of the Midtown skyline and the park’s treetops. To save, skate Monday to Thursday ($12 to skate, $9 to rent) – it’s $7 more on weekends.
A just-as-lovely setting is Bryant Park’s pocket-sized rink that’s free to use (though skate rental is $20). Further downtown at Brookfield Place, you can skate alongside the Hudson River (so make sure you’re adequately dressed for the windchill) for $15 plus $5 skate rental.
2. Chinese New Year
One of the city’s greatest (and most colorful) events is the Chinatown parade to celebrate the Lunar New Year. About half a million people crowd the streets each year to sample food on the sidewalks, shop and watch vibrant dragons parade down Canal Street. But even many locals don’t realize that it’s not the only place to celebrate Chinese New Year. The Flushing, Queens, parade – which is actually a couple of years older than the one in Manhattan – is just as colorful, with far fewer people (about 10,000 a year).
3. Hot chocolate
New York has stepped up its coffee game in recent years, but the city has always taken hot chocolate very seriously. For 25 years, City Bakery in Chelsea has been hosting the Hot Chocolate Festival, featuring a new theme for each day in February. That’s 28 hot chocolates. That said, City Bakery doesn’t run a monopoly – you can find serious chocolatiers across the city, from Bryant Park to DUMBO.
4. Restaurant Week
Never mind the fact that the foodie-themed 'week' actually spans three, this beloved event offers reduced set meals at great city restaurants for $29/$42 for lunch/dinner – a real deal for NYC. Check here for reservations, dates and a list of participating restaurants.
5. Grand Central
A hub for Amtrak, MetroNorth and the MTA subway, Grand Central Terminal is beloved by New Yorkers (well, the building is, but maybe not the unreliable train service). Once saved by Jackie O from a Penn Station-like fate, the building is always a spectacle, with nonstop action, ‘secret' bars and whisper galleries, plus the slick Oyster Bar downstairs. The Great Northern Food Hall is the perfect place to escape the harsh chill of a New York winter (and to indulge in the delights of Nordic cuisine), as is the fining-dining locale Agern, both of which are the work of Noma cofounder Claus Meyer.
6. Brooklyn Flea
Brooklyn’s Winter Flea has become a shopping tradition for the cold months, and it has recently taken residence in a new location in Industry City. Sixty or so vendors peddle all manner of wares from 10am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday. Even if you’re not in the market for anything, it’s worth going to fill up your stomach at the accompanying Smorgasburg event, which offers up street food and other delicious fare from vendors across the city.
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This article was originally published in 2012, updated in November 2017 by Mikki Brammer and updated again in December 2019.