This winter, are you in desperate need of some local travel tips when visiting New York City?
If the answer is yes:
(And I pray to God that it is because otherwise, you won’t be reading any of my essential things to know when traveling to New York City this winter)
Then you’re in luck because this native New Yorker is here to help with her own brand of mildly special NYC tips and tricks!
And While Yes:
Winter is a fabulous time to visit New York City, there are a couple of common rookie mistakes that many visitors make (cough, skating in Rockefeller Center. Or cough, not using these winter packing list essentials) when visiting New York City for the first time, in the winter).
So Let’s Avoid these heinous, New York City travel mistakes shall we?
Because I mean honestly:
Who doesn’t want to have the best trip ever?
I know you do!
And the best part is that all you have to do is read some of my best tips for visiting New York City during the winter.
No root canals necessary. Scout’s honor!
Added Bonus? My guide to visiting New York City during the winter is totally free.
If it sucks, you’ll only have wasted MAYBE ten minutes of your life. But I hope this New York City travel guide doesn’t bite the big one because then I’ll need to seriously rethink my pseudo-profession of choice.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
If you’re booking a trip right now then I IMPLORE you to get travel insurance – even if it’s not from me.
After all, this past year has been a wild ride and I don’t want you to lose money because government regulations have changed.
Truth be told though, I’ve never traveled without travel insurance and don’t think you should either – especialy since I think we’ve all had plans drastically change because of the pandemic.
Therefore, find an insurance agency that covers travel changes related to COVID-19, like my two all-time faves World Nomads and Safety Wing. You can also read more about which policy is right for you in my full review here.
1. Skip Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center
If you listen to only one thing I say, this should be it.
That Being Said:
Trust me, I don’t want to burst anyone’s overly sentimental, Hollywood fueled fantasies about how romantic it is to skate through Rockefeller Center with your boo, but this experience is nothing like the scene in the chick flick Serendipity (I’m not a fan of the NYC restaurant either).
Rockefeller Center is crowded as hell because well, this idea isn’t exactly original.
While We’re at It:
My life isn’t all glam like on TV. Sure, NYC has Gossip Girl locations, but my life is about as far from a Gossip Girl episode as you can get. LoL.
So Trust Me When I Say That:
Everyone and their cousin’s dog wants to impress their honey by skating here. Therefore, be prepared to wait on an insanely long line, And once you finally do get inside. brace yourself because it costs well over $30, per person, to skate in Rockefeller Center.
So yeah, Thanks But No Thanks!
Instead, try skating in Central Park, Bryant Park, Brookfield Plaza (which also has a super cool luminaries display that you should check out), etc. since all of these ice skating venues are infinitely cheaper and have a much shorter wait time.
2. Book Your Accommodation Early
The thing about visiting New York in winter is that it gets really crowded. It is probably because it is one of the best places to be during that season.
If you have been to New York before, you know that the city is already crowded. Winter takes the crowds to a whole new level.
Don’t be disheartened!
It is not impossible to visit the city at this time of the year. One of the best tips when visiting New York that I can offer is to plan your accommodation in advance.
Most of the good places get booked out quickly. Most people procrastinate looking at the prices rising day by day. Then they either cancel their plans or book an expensive spot.
You want to be comfortable without spending your entire budget just on accommodation!
New York State is working on cracking down on Airbnbs. Yup! They’ve added to the soaring property prices in the city and the initiative is to curb the rise. They are still allowed but catching a great accommodation on Airbnb isn’t always easy when you are closer to the winter season.
3. Do NOT spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square
I can’t count the number of reasons why I LOATHE New Year’s Eve in Times Square, but I’ll be brief since no one wants to hear me whine for the next 1,000 words.
I know some people love New Year’s Eve in Times Square and think that is totally amazing.
I am not one of those people and honestly, think this is one of my best tips for visiting New York City. Lol. But I’m also as old as dirt so there’s that…
But Back to Why New Year’s Eve in Times Square is kind of sort of NOT fun.
1. It is usually freezing in New York City. And since you have to stand outside, you will get REALLY cold. And like a damp, chill your bones cold.
2. You have to get there EARLY. Like 10 am New Year’s Eve early. So be prepared to stand outside, unable to move since they won’t let you back into Times Square once you leave, for well over 12 hours.
But it Gets Better!
3. You might want to wear a diaper since there are no bathrooms and like I said above, you can’t leave.
4. You are smooshed into Times Square with so many people that you can’t move, So personal space? Yeah, that’s nonexistent, making it insanely easy for people to steal your stuff.
So Moral of the Story?
Stay FAR away from Times Square pretty much always, but especially on New Year’s Eve.
You can walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, catch the fireworks at Prospect Park, watch a movie at Ipic, and a ton of other awesome things that real New Yorkers do on New Year’s Eve.
4. Use the TodayTix app to Purchase Cheap Broadway Tickets
Raise your hand if you love waiting in line, outside, a polar vortex is a brewing?
No one wants to look like Jack Dawson at the end of Titanic?
I kid, I kid. But really:
New York City gets insanely cold during the winter, Therefore, one of my hints and tips for New York City winter travel is to avoid standing outside for prolonged periods of time,
The holidays are a great time to see a show since so many great seasonal, Broadway productions open during this time of year.
But how do you score cheap tickets and NOT freeze your butt off in the TKTS line in Times Square?
Simple, the TodayTix App!
Not only can you get awesome seats to just about any Broadway show, at 50% off regular ticket prices I might add, but you can also purchase tickets in advance, from the comfort and warmth of your bed.
And While Yes:
There are other apps that you can use to score cheap Broadway tickets, TodayTix just happens to be my fave.
People tend to shy away from off-Broadway shows but off-broadway doesn’t mean that the show stinks! Off-broadway means that the show is at a smaller venue located, yup, off-Broadway. So definitely try an off-Broadway show since they are some of the best shows that I have ever seen, and cheaper than Broadway too!
5. Visit Rockefeller Center and the Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Window Display on Christmas Day
If you go to all the trouble of visiting New York City during the winter/holiday season then obviously you won’t want to miss some of the world-famous, seasonal activities that this city has to offer.
How can you do this without swan diving into a sea of selfie stick and tripod wielding tourists?
Visit Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Saks Fifth Avenue window display on Christmas, when everyone else is at home, opening presents.
You’ll have the place to yourself since New York City is pretty empty during most major holidays.
Can’t visit on Christmas?
Then try and explore these sights as early in the morning as possible since, not surprisingly, everyone in the free world has seen Home Alone 2 and like you, wants to live out some of these iconic, cinematic fantasies.
6. Make Sure You Pack a Ton of Layers
We all know that New York City is frigid during the winter. That’s old news. I mean, no one in Miracle on 34th Street was wearing shorts, were they? Exactly.
Maybe like four years ago, iNew York City was 70 degrees Fahrenheit on Christmas.
I blame global warming but what this really means is that you need to pack a ton of layers so that you can stay warm and be prepared, just in case the weather decides to go crazy and become Florida level hot in the middle of the winter.
But Layers are Always Helpful Anyway:
They allow you to create a plethora of outfits without shoving your entire closet into a suitcase (one of my NYC top tips).
And trust me, ain’t nobody got time to check a suitcase.
7. Head To The Museums
Did you know that New York is home to some of the top museums in the world? Winter is the best time to visit the museums in the city.
All the museums are heated indoors and it is the perfect place to warm up while doing something cool.
There aren’t crowds at the museums at this time of the year. Most people are out doing all the snow related stuff. Which is cool mind you but it does get to you after a while.
When it comes to me,
I can just walk so much in the cold without needing a break.
Heading to a café every hour or so to warm up is rather impractical and expensive.
When it comes to the museums the city has hundreds and it is rather hard to choose one.
I highly recommend,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most people know it better as the MET. Don’t forget to add Museum of Modern Art aka MoMA, Intrepid Air, Sea and Space museum and the American museum of Natural History to your list too!
Pro tip: Check out the days when the entrance fees to the museums are free or reduced if you are traveling on a budget.
8. Savor some Delicious Hot Chocolate
Hot Chocolate is amazing but one of those drinks that you really can only have in winter.
I guess you could drink iced hot chocolate but that would be chocolate milk, which, I’m sorry, isn’t as cool as hot chocolate.
But where do you go for some hot chocolatey goodness in New York City?
Many New Yorkers flock to The City Bakery.
And rightfully so since they have amazing pretzel croissants, delicious homemade marshmallows, and yes, decadent hot chocolate.
I’m not a huge fan since their hot chocolate is more suited for dark chocolate lovers. As a milk chocolate enthusiast myself, I prefer Max Brenner’s hot chocolate since their specialty flavors, like peanut butter, oreo, and Mexican spicy hot chocolate, all come in either milk, dark or white chocolate varieties.
Not Feeling it?
That’s okay because Dominique Ansel Bakery also has a super cool and super delicious blooming hot chocolate where a marshmallow flower actually blooms right before your eyes.
Truly one of my favorite food experiences in New York City (all my NYC top tips are about food. LoL).
9. Uber it Up!
This one is kind of like, “Well duh!” but it’s a good reminder for anyone visiting New York City during the winter.
Sure, You Can Take the Subway.
But no one wants to freeze their ass off while trudging to and from a New York City subway station, in a foot of snow.
Yeah, they are ridiculously expensive. Therefore, uber is the way to go. Both cheap and convenient, Uber is the perfect way to travel around New York City, especially during the winter.
10. Do your holiday shopping at Woodbury Commons
I am NOT a fan of shopping.
I get super bored and my friends take forever. So annoying.
And if I’m brutally honest:
All I really want to do is run to the food court and eat my feelings.
But when it comes to Woodbury Commons:
It’s totally different because yes, I actually enjoy shopping here.
But this outdoor outlet mall is unlike any other New York City shopping center.
Not only do they have over 240 stores that offer designer products at a fraction of the cost (think 50% – 70% off), but the food court is delicious and has awesome food options like Shake Shack.
There is direct bus service between the Port Authority and Woodbury Commons (Buses cost $42.00 roundtrip for adults and $21.00 roundtrip for children), which is really helpful since Woodbury Commons is about an hour and a half north of the City.
Just be Prepared to do an insane amount of Walking!
Yeah, this mall is ridiculously huge so wear comfy shoes and grab a map before you start shopping (otherwise security will need a GPS to find you)!
You Might Also Want to Extend Your Credit Line While You’re at it.
11. Skip the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
It’s not that the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are bad.
Ellis Island is one of the best museums in New York City.
Just NOT during the Winter.
See, both of these iconic New York City attractions are on the water and require a boat if you want to access them.
It is hella cold out in the harbor, during the winter, when the wind whips across Ellis Island, making you feel like your face is about to fall off.
That’s Why One of My Tips for Touring New York City:
Is to visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty when it’s warmer (aka at any other time of year).
While you’re walking through the city, watch out for those huge puddles of slush that sit adjacent to the street curb. They tend to fill up with thick, slushy, dirty, grossness that you’ll want to avoid. Step in one of those bad boys and you’ll literally be knee deep in snowy awfulness.
12. Winter Restaurant Week Dates (January 22 – February 9, 2018)
You know how a kid’s calendar year revolves around Christmas or Hanukah or their birthday or basically any holiday where they get a ton of presents?
Restaurant week is the same thing, only for adults. It’s the time of year that all foodie adults wait for, desperately hoping that their favorite restaurant will actually be one of the participants.
During restaurant week, over 380 of New York City’s BEST restaurants will slash prices and offer a pre-fixe, two-course lunch menu for $26 or a pre-fixe three-course dinner menu for $42.
It’s the only time during the year when I can actually afford to dine at a pseudo-fancy restaurant in New York City.
Just Be Sure To:
Double check and see if the restaurant of your choice offers the Restaurant Week Menu during the time frame that you want to visit (some restaurants only offer this special menu on specific days and at specific times).
Book your table well in advance since this event is insanely popular and reservations tend to sell out fast!
There You Have it! My list of Tips When Visiting New York City this Winter.
I can’t change the frigid weather. But, I can help you make the most out of your trip to New York City this winter.
Just embrace these things to know when visiting New York City and you should have an amazing time.
And Trust Me:
Between the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Rockettes show, the Nutcracker Ballet, various Christmas Markets, and the Christmas lights in Dyker Heights, you won’t have time to think about the cold. You’ll be way too busy!
So Rock Out and Embrace the Winter Season in New York City!
Tuesday 6th of November 2018
Hey! Been reading your blog about NY and I love it!! I’m going to be visiting the week of thanksgiving, any insider tips and tricks to help out? I know it’s going to be cold, and we’re staying in Manhattan without a car so it can’t get any more expensive than that! Anything helps! Thanks so much!
Wednesday 7th of November 2018
I am so happy for you! You guys are gonna have so much fun. I personally love watching the parade balloons get blown up the night before Thanksgiving rather than watching the parade live. I also love Thanksgiving because the city is empty besides the parade route. So that's a great day to explore Central Park or any other attractions that may be open. I also love afternoon tea at the Whitby. City Bakery/Max Brenner have amazing hot chocolate, visit the Bryant Park winter village rather than skate in Central Park, and check out Rolf's. This restaurant has insane christmas decorations.
Sunday 14th of October 2018
Thanks so much for replying. Appreciate it. Do you have any tips on the City Sightseeing/other bus passes and whether they're worth it/if it's worth it which are the best ones? Thanks.
Sunday 14th of October 2018
Yes! I have a backpacker's guide to New York City. In it, I discuss the CityPASS and it depends on what you want to see but I think it's worth it if you are looking to see most of the major attractions in NYC. It really just depends on what you want to do.
Saturday 13th of October 2018
We're busy planning a trip to NY from Cape Town with our 3 kids (17, 15 and 12 yrs) this Christmas. We were going to do Rockefeller Cntre. Is it really $30 each to skate there. Which one would you best recommend other than that for lights and atmosphere while skating? And what is the price? And if you don't skate at Rockefeller, is it still worth going to see the lights? Thanks so much for your blog.
Sunday 14th of October 2018
Hey! Happy to help and I would definitely skate in Bryant Park. There is a Christmas Market there so it is still very festive and yes, skating in Rockefeller Center is really expensive. I would still go to Rockefeller Center though since there is the Christmas tree. And right across the street you have St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Saks Fifth Avenue window display which are both amazing.
Monday 27th of August 2018
No worries. We can’t wait to go back and try all these delicious recommendations either.
Monday 27th of August 2018
I hope you get to go back soon.
Sunday 26th of August 2018
Oh the pictures are really a winter Wonderland!!! I wish I had this guide when I went to New York for New Year's Eve obviously. I would have saved myself all the trouble!!! Loved the blog and it is right on point.
Monday 27th of August 2018
Oh I am so happy to hear that you think so. Thanks so much for reading and I hope that you can return in the future.