One could wax poetic about all the ways New York City is perfect during the winter. There’s twinkling holiday decor, seasonal markets, specialty hot chocolates, and who could forget about the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree? So where should you start when plotting your Big Apple bucket list come cold weather? Here, we compiled some of the most quintessential New York City experiences to partake in this — and every — winter. And trust us — they’re worth braving the cold weather for.
1. Marvel at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
It’s a rookie move to try and skate at Rockefeller Center, which is always crowded and charges a hefty fee for ice time, but the enormous tree is worth a visit. Clocking in at 94-feet tall and 56-feet wide, this 90-year-old evergreen is certainly something to gawk at. It’s also located steps away from Radio City Music Hall, home of the annual Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular. So, book a ticket to a Rockettes performance and save some time to admire the tree.
2. Go Ice Skating in Bryant Park
Located smack dab in the center of Bryant Park, this ice rink is backed by the picture-perfect cityscape. Skate rentals, lessons, and lockers (free with a $12 lock purchase) are all available. After hitting the ice, make your way to Bryant Park’s Winter Village, which surrounds the rink, to warm up with hot chocolate and specialty food such as Korean ramen, deep-fried macaroni and cheese balls, and more. To avoid waiting in line, head to the rink as close to the 8 a.m. opening time as you can or purchase an express pass.
3. Admire the Holiday Windows on Fifth Avenue
Don’t let the traffic get you down. Bundle up and head to 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, where you’ll find Bergdorf Goodman’s sparkly, spectacular window decor. Then, head south towards Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and Macy’s to take in all the enchanting seasonal displays. If you start getting cold while standing outside, just pop into one of the department stories to warm up — shopping is optional, but tough to resist.
4. Sip Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3
This Upper East Side institution, made famous by the 2001 movie “Serendipity,” has become a holiday hot spot for both tourists and locals. In other words, expect lines throughout the day and night, as visitors eagerly await the establishment’s frozen hot chocolate. Yes, it’s cold and yes, it’s served year-round, but there’s something delightful about enjoying the chilled beverage in the colorful dining room that’s always decked out for the holidays. As you wait for your table, stock up on sweets at the nearby Dylan’s Candy Bar or head across the street to Bloomingdale’s and buy your loved ones (or yourself) a gift.
5. Shop at the Union Square Holiday Market
Every November and December, Union Square gets an added dose of holiday cheer thanks to the Union Square Holiday Market and its red- and white-striped holiday booths. Here, local and traveling artisans sell everything from customizable ornaments and luxe alpaca fur hats to leather gloves and New York memorabilia. Food vendors also dole out hot soups and beverages as well as mini made-to-order doughnuts. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, head to the famous Union Square Greenmarket at the top of the park and shop for local produce and foodie gifts (think homemade jams, syrups, and honeys). You might even spot a famous chef shopping for ingredients.
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6. Visit the Indoor Brooklyn Flea
While shopping at the Brooklyn Flea is a fantastic summertime outing, browsing antiques, vintage clothing, and collectibles in the comfort of a heated venue may be even better. Grab a to-go cup of hot cocoa and spend the day wandering the stalls and chatting with vendors at the indoor Winter Market. Prices may seem steep, but this is a flea market, so don’t be afraid to haggle. Smorgasburg has also popped up in the flea’s winter home, with over a dozen vendors selling specialty food, wine, and beer.
7. See the New York City Ballet
There’s no bad time to see a ballet, but winter brings the iconic Christmas-themed “Nutcracker” performance at Lincoln Center.
8. Visit the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show
Back for another year, this New York City tradition features a greenhouse full of city landmarks built completely out of natural materials (not to scale). Visitors can admire replicas of the New York Public Library, Empire State Building, and more while miniature train cars ride through them. To top it off, holiday music plays in the background. Adults who want to enjoy all that the Botanical Gardens has to offer with a 21+ crowd should visit on weekend bar car nights for spiked hot beverages and adults-only entry into the train show.
9. Sip High Tea at the Russian Tea Room
When the temps dip low, warm up with a cup of tea. But not just any tea — high tea at New York’s iconic Russian Tea Room. Get ready to raise your pinky finger and slurp up borscht along with your choice of tea, caviar, and blinis. Add Champagne for an additional cost, if you’re feeling fancy, which you should be — this is the Russian Tea Room, after all.
10. Celebrate Hanukkah at the World’s Largest Menorah
The world’s largest menorah lives in Prospect Park for all eight days and nights of Hanukkah, and will be lit each evening — with the help of a cherry picker machine — in a festive ceremony celebrating the Jewish Festival of Lights. This year, the first night of Hanukkah is December 7 and Chabad of Park Slope will kick off the holiday with a festive concert, lighting, and celebratory latkes (potato pancakes).
11. Spot the Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History
Combine your love for the holidays and history by stopping by the American Museum of Natural History’s Origami Holiday Tree, which has a dinosaur theme this year. And while you’re in the museum, visit the museum’s indoor butterfly garden and newest dinosaur, the 122-foot-long Titanosaur, as well. It’s so large that its head and neck extends out of the exhibit hall. Museum admission for adults is $23.
12. View the Christmas Tree at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Marvel at the magnificently lit Christmas tree at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, while listening to holiday music, which only adds to the festive atmosphere. The 20-foot spruce looms over an 18th-century Nativity scene featuring plenty of lifelike figures. The tree and surrounding seasonal exhibition are on display every day through January 7.
13. Stock Up on Reading Material at Strand Bookstore
Known as The Strand to most New Yorkers, this multi-level independent bookstore is always abuzz with shoppers in the winter. Browse the vast selection of page-turners for yourself or to give as gifts — and pick up one of the shop’s signature tote bags while you’re at it. Book lovers should also check out The Strand’s events calendar for winter readings, signings, book parties, speed dating, and more literature-focused events.
14. Take a Christmas Chinatown Trip
New York is home to three Chinatowns — in lower Manhattan; Flushing, Queens; and Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Each has its own distinct character and flavors, but all three are worth a visit on Christmas Day. On December 25, the dim sum and noodle restaurants are packed with folks who don’t celebrate Christmas and are eager to have a Peking duck-filled holiday. Expect crowds and a wait at some restaurants, but some might argue that’s all part of the fun.
15. See the Ball Drop in Times Square
If you’re in New York City on New Year’s Eve, check the ball drop off your bucket list. Layer up and head to Times Square for New Year’s Rockin’ Eve while the rest of the world watches the midnight ball drop on TV. And if standing outside in the cold sounds miserable, head to a nearby bar or rooftop for a heated, but still gorgeous, view. Tickets to NYC New Year’s Eve parties aren’t cheap, but you can’t put a price on quintessential New York City, can you?
16. Bottoms Up at a Brewery
Oktoberfest may be long over, but now that winter is here, you can hole up at a New York brewery all day and drink. Visit the Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg, Singlecut Beersmiths in Astoria, or the Bronx Brewery to sip local brews on tap, play board games, and fill up on carbs. Cheers!
17. Cheer on the New York Rangers
Winter means hockey season has arrived, so put on your game face and cheer on the home team, the New York Rangers, at Madison Square Garden. Make sure you buy tickets from a legitimate source — not a scalper outside of the venue.
18. Visit a Spa or Bathhouse
What better way to stave off the cold than by hiding out inside a relaxing spa? Book a day at AIRE Ancient Baths, where you can relax your body from bath to bath at different temperatures, book yourself a massage or a signature treatment like their Himalayan Salt Ritual.
19. Sip Hot Chocolate at Dominique Ansel Bakery
If you happen to be visiting New York during the winter, getting a hot chocolate at the Dominique Ansel Bakery is a must. You can stop by any day to grab a cup of hot cocoa topped with a marshmallow flower.
20. See the Holiday Lights at Dyker Heights in Brooklyn
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is undoubtedly impressive, but in-the-know locals head to Brooklyn to see an equally magical holiday light display. Many residents in Dyker Heights, dubbed “Dyker Lights,” hire professional companies to string over-the-top decorations outside their homes. In addition to thousands of lights, visitors can expect to see life-size toy soldiers, illuminated angels, inflatable Santas, and more. These days, tour companies even take folks through the neighborhood to see the professional displays. Tip: The biggest displays can be found on 11th and 13th Avenues.
21. Get Camera-Ready for New York Fashion Week
Come early February, the Big Apple becomes filled with stylish celebrities, photographers, stylists, models, fashion editors, and bloggers. Although runway shows aren’t typically open to the public, you can still head over to Lincoln Center to soak in the scene. Even better, various venues around town celebrate with parties, giveaways, and more.
22. Celebrate Chinese New Year
This winter, join in the festivities of Chinese New Year. On February 24, 2024, hop on the subway and head to Chinatown for the parade, which includes dance performances, dragons, colorful costumes and floats, delicious food, and much more. Before or after the parade, fuel up on dim sum at a popular joint like Nom Wah Tea Parlor or Jing Fong.
23. Get a Dose of Nostalgia on a Vintage Subway Train
Take a trip back in time (and warm up from the cold outside) by riding a decades-old vintage subway train. This year, the Transit Museum partnered with the MTA to offer the “Holiday Nostalgia Rides” from December 1 through December 29. Best of all, it will cost you just one MetroCard swipe.
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