Winter Guide to New York City

This post is about all the great things you can do in New York City in the Winter. There are many events and activities that only occur in the colder months. We list them here as well as other helpful tips for your visit.

 

Winter Guide to New York City

TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN NYC IN WINTER

This is our list of the ten best things to do in NYC in the winter. Winter is an off-peak season (excluding the holidays). The benefits of visiting in winter are many.

You can find cheap airfare and some good hotel deals. Also, there are fewer tourists in town so you can visit the most popular attractions without waiting in line.

Several of the items in this post already included for free with the purchase of a tourist discount pass.

For tips on the most popular activities in NYC, check out the following posts:

For more activities for the winter in NYC, see our posts on things to do in the following months:

If you still need convincing that winter is a great time to visit NYC, look at our post when is the best time to visit NYC.


1) Take a Sightseeing Tour

If you dress appropriately for the weather, winter can be a good time take a sightseeing tour. 

Fewer tourists are in town which means smaller tour groups and a more personalized experience.

One of our most popular tours is our pay-what-you-wish Greenwich Village Tour. We also offer a Food Tour of Greenwich Village.

 

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Of course, we have other walking tours of the most popular and interesting NYC neighborhoods. See our full list of tour offerings here.

Around the holidays in December, we have special tours that you can’t take any other time of the year like our New York Holiday Lights Tour


2) See a Broadway Show for Less

Winter (except around the holidays) is off-peak time for shows. You may find that Broadway ticket prices are lower in the colder months.

You can save even more if you attend Broadway Week. This is a two-week period from late-January to early February when you can get two-for-the-price of one tickets to many Broadway shows. 

 

 

There are two Broadway Weeks, one in the winter and one in the fall. See our Fall Guide to NYC for more information. 

The great thing about Broadway shows in NYC, is that if you know how you can get great discounts all year round!

Read our post on how to get discount Broadway tickets. You will be pleasantly surprised!


3) Take a Bus Tour

If you’re not up for walking, or the weather is cold, stay warm while you see New York City on a bus tour.

Just take a look at the video to see what a winter bus tour is like!

 

 

Also, hop-on, hop-off buses stop at most popular attractions, so you can use the bus to go from destination to destination and still see a lot of the city.

Our post on the best Hop-On, Hop-Off NYC Bus Tours can help you decide which is best for you. 


4) Go to a Sports Event

If temperatures become uncomfortably cold, head indoors and see some athletes sweat! In the winter months, you can see ice hockey inside an arena.

You can also see a football game, and though you’ll be sitting outdoors, the boisterous, electric atmosphere at a Giants or Jets game is unbeatable.

Sports events are also a great way to spend an evening. They are also a family-friendly activity.

 

 

Football  (September – January)

Ice Hockey (October – April)

You can see what other sports games are playing during the winter months by checking here.


5) Catch a Concert

All year round, New York City has tons of concerts on. Winter is no exception!

One of the coolest shows playing in December is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This is perfect for the whole family.

We list some other top concerts in winter below the video.  See who else is playing this winter.

 

 

For even more concerts in the winter, see our posts on things to do in DecemberJanuary, and February.

TIP: Check out the Madison Square Garden All-Access Tours to see how this iconic arena has become a world landmark.


6) Embrace the Winter and the Holidays

Many people’s favorite season is winter — and with good reason! In addition to the festive holiday activities, there are many other ways to enjoy wintertime.

In December, there are a lot of Christmas-oriented activities. You can take tours offered only around Christmas such as our New York Holiday Lights Tour and NYC Christmas Movie Tour.

 

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Nothing brings out the fun of winter as a loop around a rink. See our post on where to go Ice-skating in New York City

There are plenty of special winter programs at Winter Village in Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan.


7) Restaurant Week   

Enjoy a 5-star meal at a top New York restaurant and pay 1/4 of the regular cost! Restaurant Week is actually three weeks long, generally late January to mid-February.

 

 

During Restaurant Week, more than 300 of New York City’s best restaurants offer a prix-fixe menu including 3 courses for a very low price, relative to their regular prices. 

See our post Restaurant Week to get all the details.


8) Shop the Post-Holiday Sales

If you are in New York after the holidays, you are in luck! Stores offer deep discounts. You can get even better deals at the already discounted shopping outlets.

Woodbury Commons is one of the best outlets in New York. It’s only one hour outside of NYC and worth the easy ride to get there.  

 

 

Find out how to get there and what you can expect from this huge outlet mall from our post on getting to Woodbury Commons.

You can also find excellent shopping in Midtown Manhattan, Times Square, and SoHo.


9) Go to a Top Tourist Attraction Without the Crowds

Take advantage of the off-peak season to visit one or more popular attractions. Lines are shorter so you won’t have to wait long (if at all) to get into the attraction. 

For example, winter is a great time to visit one of the observation decks. 

 

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Choose from the Empire State Building, One World Observatory (Freedom Tower) or Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center. 

TIP:  See our post on the long list of NYC’s attractions


10) Look into a Tourist Discount Pass

tourist discount pass affords you discounted entry into most of NYC’s most popular attractions.

While the passes themselves certainly aren’t free, if you plan your itineraries well, you will end up getting one or two attractions for free each day.

 

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There are several different types of passes, so be sure to read our comparison post to learn about how you can save the most money on your trip.

 


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FREE THINGS TO DO IN THE WINTER

There are free things to do in NYC every single day of the year! In the winter months, there are some free activities that only occur in this season. 

 

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 For hundreds of other activities that won’t cost you a dime,  check out our post on free things to do in NYC and our post on free museums and other attractions


Walk Over the Brooklyn Bridge  

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most popular sites in all of NYC. In other seasons, especially in the summer, the bridge can be very crowded.

If you are here in the winter, take advantage of having more space to leisurely cross this New York gem.

Of course, be sure to dress appropriately for the weather. Surprisingly, temperatures aren’t always as cold as you would think!

See our guide to walking the Brooklyn Bridge to maximize your experience.

You can also join one of our pay-what-you-wish Brooklyn Bridge Tours or take our GPS-enhanced audio guide.


Attend a Free TV Show Taping  

Totally free, totally fun! And totally easier to get a seat in January when the tourist season is over. 

See our post on New York TV show tapings along with how you can get tickets.  

Here is just a small sampling of shows you can see:  The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Good Morning America, Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Today Show, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.


Explore Central Park 

There is never a bad time of year to visit Central Park. It can be especially charming when there is a dusting of snow. You will want your camera for these moments.

You can join our pay-what-you-wish Central Park tour, or explore the park on your own using our guide of things to do in Central Park. We also have an audio tour you can use day or night.


Hear a Gospel Choir

Let an inspirational choir warm your heart in the winter. NYC has many churches that you can go to and hear gospel for free.

While there are some basic etiquette expectations, attending a gospel service is easy. Find out where to hear Gospel Music in NYC.


Get a Spectacular View of NYC from the Free Staten Island Ferry 

Similar to the Brooklyn Bridge, this free ferry is packed in the summer with tourists. As this is a commuter ferry, you are guaranteed to have a warm inside seat.

 You can also stand on the outside to take pictures of the amazing view of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.

For other ways to get out on the water, see our post about all of NYC’s boat tour options.


Check Out the Top Art Museums for Free

You might have been disappointed to find out that the top museums in New York cost a small fortune.

Luckily, many of the top museums offer free days or special free hours, often in the evening. Here are three to visit:

  • Museum of Modern Art  – Fridays, free from 5:30 pm – 9 pm
  • Guggenheim Museum  – Saturdays, free from 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm
  • Whitney Museum of American Art – Fridays, free from 7 pm – 9:30 pm
  • See more free museums here.

TIP: Since the renovations in 2019, the Museum of Modern Art offers free access to the public to their entire first floor during all hours they are open. You can enter the sculpture garden, certain galleries, and exhibitions.


Visit the 9/11 Memorial 

Visiting the Memorial is a moving experience and one that is we encourage visitors to see the beautiful Memorial fountains. The memorial is free to visit.
 

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Next to the Memorial is the National September 11th Museum which features objects and artifacts recovered from the World Trade Center site. The museum also educates the public through documents and videos.

There is a fee to enter the museum, but you can enter for free on Tuesday nights or by choosing it as an attraction choice in a tourist pass, should you buy one.

 


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FAMILY-FRIENDLY THINGS TO DO IN THE WINTER 

Some of the events and activities listed above are family-friendly, such as ice skating, seeing a sports game and taking a free walking tour so be sure to look through this entire post for more ideas.

 

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You can find even more information about visiting New York in the winter (and year-round) with kids by reading our post on things to do with kids in NYC as well as our 3-day itinerary for families


Visit a Top Attraction 

Below are indoor, kid-friendly experiences that will keep your little ones warm and entertained. These attractions are quite fun for grown-ups too!  


Take a Sightseeing Tour

We offer several family-friendly pay-what-you-wish walking tours that include a mix of historical fact and humorous stories.

Most of our tours are appropriate for children.

In fact, our tours were recommended by Red Tricycle as one of the best tours for families in New York City!


Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden   

If you are here between November 23, 2019, to January 26, 2020, you should check out this popular annual train show.

People of all ages love seeing the 175 famous New York landmarks replicated in miniature with birch bark, acorns, and cinnamon sticks!

See a mini Brooklyn BridgeStatue of Liberty, and Rockefeller Center.


Sesame Street Live!

This interactive show is back again this year from Feb 14 – Feb 23, 2020. Watch Elmo’s quest to learn how to do magic so he can join in the gang’s magic show.

To find out how to get to Sesame Street, check their website for dates and tickets. 

For more kid-friendly activities, see our post on Things To Do with Kids in NYC.

 


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PACKING GUIDE FOR WINTER IN NYC

Winter in New York City requires a warm winter jacket or coat. Bring along some gloves a scarf and a hat, unless your coat is hooded. Some days in January or February can be blustery or windy.

 

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 Layering clothing is a good idea for any vacation. In winter, layering will keep you warm outdoors, and you can peel off those layers when indoors.

Some items to bring warm slacks or heavy jeans; for women, skirts are fine if you are willing to wear some very warm leggings or tights.

Long sleeve shirts of wool or heavy-duty cotton as opposed to lighter materials. Be sure to bring a wool or cashmere sweater (the thinner, the better kind unless you want your suitcase to be bulky!) 

Last but not least, warm (preferably waterproof) boots are also a good idea in case of rain or snow. Bring a tired and true pair – you don’t want to be breaking in a new pair on your vacation!

TIP: If you find you need some additional items to layer but are on a budget, you can try chain stores, particularly Uniqlo, known for its warm yet lightweights apparel. They have locations all over the city, with one located right near Rockefeller Center and another in SoHo.

For more details on weather conditions, see our posts for each month:

 


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FESTIVALS AND HOLIDAYS

DECEMBER 

JANUARY

FEBRUARY

 


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About the author

Courtney is a lifelong New Yorker fascinated with the city’s history, culture and cuisine. She loves exploring the world, as well as sharing her travel expertise with others.

She joined the Free Tours by Foot team in 2011, first as a guide and then as a writer. She has a law degree, a teaching degree and a worn-out passport. Her motto is “Have backpack, will travel”.