If you go to New York in winter, you will discover a very unique atmosphere and experiences only available during this time of the year. In this article, I talk about the climate of New York in winter, the good reasons to travel during this season, and give you an overview of the best things to do in winter in New York City 😊
The climate of New York during the winter season
New York has a continental climate, with hot summers and harsh winters. It is cold in the winter months – and sometimes outright freezing! 🥶 From December to March, temperatures are not conducive to travel. The weather is grey, with little sunshine, so if you plan to travel during this period, you will need to pack the warmest clothes you have!
The coldest months of the year are January and February, when temperatures are often freezing and the thermometer rarely registers above 5°C. In January, the average temperature is less than 1 degree during the day, and it can drop to -15°C at night!
In addition, the presence of the blizzard (a freezing wind from North America) makes the cold even more striking – and this wind is regularly accompanied by snowfalls, with snowfalls that can be heavy ☃️ A record low was set in 2016 on Valentine's Day, with -18°C (and an estimated -28°C felt) in Central Park in the early morning 🥶
Climatically, the only positive aspect of New York winters is that it rains a little less during this season than during the rest of the year. So overall, winter is a very poor time for outdoor activities – except in the last days of winter, in March, when the temperature starts to rise and regularly gets close to 10°C in the middle of the day.
But anyway, adapt and overcome – if you cover up very warmly, you will still get to enjoy your trip and admire the beauty of the city under the snow! 🤩 Speaking of, if you wish to discover the city from another angle, you can also take a helicopter flight over New York City after it has snowed 😉
Think of the CityPass to visit the city! 🎫
If you are planning to visit New York for a few days, I can only recommend opting for a New York CityPass. If you don't know what to do in New York yet, this pass will help you find a few must-do or unusual activities! You can choose 5 activities to do from a list – 2 of which are mandatory 🙂 The pass is available for £119 per person, valid for 6 months after purchase and can be used for 9 days from its first use.
Why visit New York City at this time of year?
So why is it so tempting to take a trip to New York in winter, despite this very harsh weather? Well, for many reasons actually 🙂
First, between January and March is the low tourist season in New York. There are far fewer visitors, which means you'll have more time to explore all of New York's great attractions – but also means you can travel a bit cheaper! Indeed, during this time of year when tourists are less present, hotel prices are much more affordable.
For example, a night in a double room in a 3-star hotel in New York City costs an average of £210 in July, compared to "only" £132 if you go to New York in February. As you can see, the difference is far from negligible. What's more, the best establishments have more rooms available (because less clients) so you won't necessarily need to book weeks in advance to find a room (although it's always advisable to book early!).
In the same vein, you can also save money on your airfare by flying to New York between December and March (except during the holiday season). Although the price difference is not as impressive as it is for hotels.
Apart from the financial aspect, the best reason to visit New York in winter is to enjoy the city’s unparalleled atmosphere at this time. Whether it's during the festive season with the Christmas decorations, or all winter long to discover the city and Central Park under the snow: your trip to New York in winter is bound to leave you with lasting, amazing memories 🤩
The best things to see and do in New York City in winter
Must-do activities in New York City in winter
1. Ice Skate in New York City
During the winter season (and even as early as October), one of the great tourist traditions if you are visiting New York is to go ice skating at one of the city's temporary ice rinks. There are several of them, spread out in different neighbourhoods, and it's a great way to enjoy New York’s unique atmosphere during this season 😁
Perhaps the most famous of the New York City ice rinks is The Rink at the Rockefeller Center, located at the foot of New York's most beautiful Christmas tree. Admission is relatively expensive and it's often crowded, but skating in such an exceptional setting is well worth the wait! ⛸️
Other great rinks include the one in Bryant Park, Manhattan, located in the Bank of America Winter Village – one of the city's best Christmas markets, near Times Square. This rink has the advantage of being free (only skate rental is charged). You can also head to the Wollman Rink, to skate in the heart of Central Park, at the foot of Manhattan's imposing buildings; or The Rink at Brookfield Place, next to the One World Trade Center.
2. Enjoy the city under the snow
Snow is one of New York's most prominent features in the winter. Anyone who regularly visits New York will tell you that the city truly changes appearances when it dons its white coat, and it's a sight you won't soon forget!
The city's most iconic landmarks, such as Times Square, Greenwich Village and of course Central Park, become completely different.
By the way, contrary to what you might think, the weather is very often good after heavy snowfalls ☀️
3. Discover New York City from the different observatories
No matter the time of year, a visit to New York City is not complete without seeing the city from one of its great observatories. Day or night, snow or no snow, you'll never tire of the incredible panoramic views 😊
There are 5 outstanding observatories in New York:
- The Empire State Building, the oldest and probably the most famous, is located in the Midtown neighbourhood. Its second observatory on the 102nd floor has the advantage of being indoors, but it is necessary to pay an extra fee to access it.
- The Top of the Rock, the observatory at Rockefeller Center, is the perfect place to see New York in winter.
- The One World Observatory is the city's tallest observatory, offering an exceptional view of all of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, and is also indoors. Don't forget to book your no-queue ticket in advance to avoid being disappointed 😉
- The Edge is an observatory that will delight thrill seekers with its glass platform and sloping walls! Located at 335 metres high, it is the highest outdoor observation platform in the city! 😄
Spend the Holiday Season in New York City
1. Admire the Christmas Lights
Christmas in New York City is incredible! During the entire holiday season – and even a little beyond the beginning of January – all of New York lights up! The Christmas windows of New York's department stores are among the city's biggest tourist attractions at this time of year. Shopping centres and department stores such as Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barney, Tiffany & Co and Bloomingdales go to great lengths to create enchanting window displays – some of which have been in the works since the previous January! 🎄
Every day, thousands of people come to admire these almost artistic creations, whose theme changes every year. In addition to the decorations in the department stores, you will also find a large number of places that are beautifully decorated for Christmas – to the point that they sometimes become true spectacles! This is especially the case of Dyker Heights, in Brooklyn, a neighbourhood where every year the inhabitants compete to best decorate their houses 🌟
These decorations are so incredible that visiting the Dyker Heights neighbourhood during a guided tour has become a much appreciated activity. You’ll be able to admire the houses’ illuminations and decorations – each more impressive than the last! The tour has become one of the most popular activities during the holiday season in New York 😁
At the foot of the famous Rockefeller Center, you can also discover the tallest Christmas tree in America – and probably the most beautiful in the world 😉
This tree is about 30 metres high and can be seen between the end of November and the beginning of January. It is even more beautiful during nighttime! All in all, going to New York City in December turns out to be a great idea even if the temperatures are low 🎄
2. New York in Winter: discover the Christmas Markets
From November until the very first days of January, several Christmas markets open in different parts of New York City. They are of course among the must-see attractions if you visit the city at this time of year! Among the most famous markets, you will find:
- The Union Square Christmas Market in Manhattan. It is one of the most famous markets in New York with over 200 stalls. It is the perfect place to find souvenirs and Christmas items of all kinds.
- The Bryant Park Christmas Market, also in Manhattan, is less traditional but just as interesting. You'll find lots of little shops and stalls selling hot drinks and pancakes – and as said earlier, you can also find there a very nice ice rink 😉
- Columbus Circle Christmas Market: located southwest of Central Park, this is probably the biggest and most luxurious market in the city.
- Finally, if you find it really is too cold outside, you can visit the Grand Central Terminal Christmas Market. This one has the advantage of being covered and located inside one of New York's most important historical buildings!
If you want to immerse yourself even further in the magic of Christmas, you can visit the city's most popular markets on a guided Christmas market walking tour. Accompanied by a guide, you will wander through the different markets’ aisles for 4 hours and find unique gifts among the local arts and crafts or clothing products while doing so 😄
3. Spend New Year's Eve in New York City
If you are lucky enough to spend New Year's Eve in New York, it is the occasion to experience something special. Times Square is a mythical place on the evening of December 31: you can attend the famous "Times Square Ball Drop" and count down the New Year surrounded by tens of thousands of people! 🥳
But for this very special occasion in New York, there are also a lot of original activities available, such as:
- Attend a concert at one of the city's many venues,
- See the Times Square fireworks from the New York Harbor, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, or Central Park 🎇
- Dine at one of New York's best restaurants, or take a New Year's Eve cruise,
- Participate in the Midnight Run, a festive 4 kilometres run in Central Park starting at 11:59pm on December 31st.
There are of course many other activities, such as spending the evening at a famous New York club, celebrating the new year at one of the best rooftop bars in New York City, attending a comedy show... You are bound to find something to do to celebrate the new year! Just make sure you book your activities in advance to avoid ending up disappointed – New York in December is very popular 😁🎉🎊
My favourite activity in New York🍦
Looking for an unusual activity to do during your stay in New York? The Ice Cream Museum is sure to please children and adults alike! Through imaginative, multi-sensory exhibits, you will not only learn new things, but also take some great photos and taste the museum's signature ice creams 😋
Speaking of, this is a great idea if you're planning to visit New York City with children, as each of the museum's activities is interactive!
Expect around £45 per person and remember to book beforehand if you want to make sure you’ll get entry tickets 🙂
Escape the cold and enjoy indoor activities!
1. Visit the city's museums
Cold winter days are perfect opportunities for indoor museum visits. Many of New York's museums and other great attractions are included in the New York Go City Explorer Pass, a combined ticket that will save you both time and money!
Among the most important museums you can visit are:
- The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the world's most famous contemporary art museum;
- The Guggenheim Museum, as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside;
- The American Museum of Natural History, famous for its exhibition of dinosaurs and other 30 million species 🦖
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), the second most visited museum in the world;
- The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, dedicated to the history of aeronautics and the conquest of space 🚀
- The 9/11 Museum, a museum built on the site of Ground Zero and which pays tribute to the victims of the attacks of 11 September 2001.
2. Go shopping in New York City
Admiring the windows from the outside is one thing, but doing a little shopping will also be a great way to warm up a bit 😉 And one thing is for sure, New York is really the perfect place to wander through the shops! You will find thousands of shops selling clothes, jewellery, souvenirs, high-tech products... In short, absolutely everything you can imagine and more! There really is something for everyone, and for every budget 👍
It is around Fifth Avenue and Central Park, in the most upscale areas of Manhattan, that you will find luxury department stores with sumptuous windows – but also shopping centres like Macy’s or Kmart, where prices are much more affordable! Chinatown is also an increasingly popular shopping area.
If you're looking for a bargain, you can check out the Outlets, which are located in the suburbs of New York and often easily accessible by bus or train. The Woodbury Common Premium Outlet Center is the most famous of these, with over 200 outlet shops. You can also check out The Mills at Jersey Gardens, New Jersey (a state with lower taxes on clothing than New York), and Empire Outlets, a newer shopping centre that opened on Staten Island.
3. See a NBA game at Madison Square Garden
Attending a game of the world's greatest basketball league is one of the most popular activities in New York! The regular season, which starts in mid-October and ends in April, is in full swing during the winter, and NBA games are regularly held at the legendary Madison Square Garden in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. You will for example have the opportunity to attend a Brooklyn Nets game – it’s one of the biggest teams in New York! 🏀
Much more than just sports matches, NBA games are great shows with concerts, games with the audience, dance performances, and above all an indescribable atmosphere. If you want to attend a basketball game, don't wait until the last minute and book your NBA ticket as soon as possible.
My favourite accommodation in New York 🛏️
Planning a trip to the City That Never Sleeps, but not sure where to stay in New York City? The Wyndham New Yorker Hotel offers bright, spacious rooms with art-deco decor. Located in the heart of downtown, the hotel is less than a kilometre from Times Square and less than 200 metres from Penn Station. If you so wish, you can even book a suite or room with a view of the Empire State Building or the Hudson River! Count on a minimum of £150 per night in a double room, breakfast included 😊
4. Attend a musical on Broadway
Some activities are a must-do while in New York – and are even more enjoyable when it's freezing outside. Attending a prestigious show at one of the Broadway theatres is definitely one of them 😁
Some shows are specially held at this time of year, such as the famous Radio City Christmas Spectacular, scheduled between November and early January. But the season is also perfect to discover all the great Broadway musicals such as Phantom of the Opera, Aladdin, The Lion King, MJ, Chicago, Moulin Rouge! or Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. However, remember to book your tickets for the show well in advance, as musicals tend to sell out very quickly!
Visit New York at the beginning of the year
1. Spend Valentine's Day in New York City
Spending Valentine's Day in New York is definitely a great way to make a lasting memory of this special day. The city celebrates lovers' day in style, and there's plenty to do for couples:
- A beautiful stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge or along Brooklyn Heights Promenade,
- Candlelight dinners at romantic restaurants,
- Ice skating at one of the city's great ice rinks,
- Seeing a Broadway musical...
Times Square is one of the most symbolic places in New York for Valentine’s Day. Every year, artists' works are displayed here for the Times Square Valentine Heart art contest ❤️ Couples also come to Times Square to propose, with live broadcasts on giant screens. Real weddings are even held here for the occasion, right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest places in the world 💍
Traditionally, many couples also gather in the square for a vow renewal ceremony.
2. New York City in Winter: celebrate the Chinese New Year!
The Chinese community is very large in New York, and Chinese New Year is the most important holiday of the year for them. The exact date of this event varies from year to year (since it is based on the lunar calendar), but it usually takes place in February.
For the occasion, the celebrations last a fortnight. The streets of Chinatown are decorated and many parades, fireworks and other festive events are organised. Two of the most important events are the Lunar New Year Parade and the Firecracker Show, which take place in the heart of Chinatown, on Mott Street 🐉
3. Celebrate St. Patrick's Day in New York City
At the very end of winter, on March 17, New York celebrates St. Patrick's Day, the patron saint of Ireland. Not surprising, considering that the city is home to the largest Irish community in the United States! 🍀
During the day, a huge parade is organised in Manhattan from Fifth Avenue. Police and firefighters parade with marching bands, and Irish culture and heritage are honoured. Some buildings and monuments are lit up in green for the occasion – such as St Patrick's Cathedral and the Empire State Building. After the parade, the celebrations continue in the bars and pubs where the beer flows freely! 🍻
What should one pack to visit New York in Winter?
Saying it's cold is one thing, but you don't necessarily realise how truly freezing it is until you get there! So here's a short list of things you won't regret bringing with you if you go to New York during the colder months:
- A heavy coat that can protect you from the cold and wind. It's often the blizzard that makes the weather in New York very challenging during the winter, so it's important to have a warm coat that also serves as a windbreaker 🧥
- Gloves, because without them your hands will be freezing almost instantly as soon as you take them out of your pockets 🧤
- Large woollen jumpers.
- A thick scarf to protect your neck and a hat to protect your head and ears 🧣
- Warm trousers to protect your legs (thermal underwear will be useful if you are going to be outside for longer periods!)
- Thick socks and boots, which will be very practical for walking in the snow in particular, without fear of getting your feet wet 🧦🥾
That's it for this article on New York City in winter. I hope you enjoyed it and especially that it confirmed that New York is a magical destination during the winter season 😁 Don't hesitate to read my article on how to prepare your trip to New York if you want to be sure not to forget anything for your next stay in this amazing city!