New York City — a booming metropolis known for skyscrapers, thin-crust pizza, and pushy pedestrians. Millions of people flock to the Big Apple every year in the hopes of seeing iconic landmarks and buildings, climbing up the Statue of Liberty in both searing, sweaty heat and frostbitten, icy cold. The fun thing about New York City, in my opinion as a born and bred New Yorker, is that your experience in the Big Apple can change on a dime simply based on what time of year you visit. New York is located in that exact sweet spot that gives you the highest searing highs and the lowest chilly lows.

Between June and September, you can melt on the subway on your way to a rooftop bar, and between September and November, you can sip a pumpkin spice latte in a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. But my favorite season in New York City has always been winter. The city just alive with a certain charge brought in by holiday spirit, powder white snow and the smell of cinnamon chestnuts being sold on street corners. I truly believe that winter in New York City is the best time of year to visit, and I’ll explain why.

Why Come to NYC in Winter?

I’m not going to lie…the Big Apple in the wintertime is a double-edged sword, especially if you’re coming from a warmer place like L.A., Hawaii or Dallas to New York City, you’re in for a bit of a cold awakening. On one hand, you have this amazingly bright, vibrant holiday spirit that permeates the entirety of Manhattan. And on the other hand, you have the brutal cold, slushy sidewalks, and consistently wet socks that come with it. However, even with all of the drawbacks, I really passionately believe that the holidays in the Big Apple are inherently unique from anywhere else in the world.

Central Park in the Winter

Generally, sometime around Thanksgiving (common practice is to wait until after it), the city bursts alive with holiday cheer. Sparkling Christmas lights, LED snowflakes, and green and red wreaths begin to spring up on every street corner, department store and restaurant. Parks that usually host outdoor concerts or terrace seating illuminate with their own sky-high Christmas trees and ice-skating rinks. Windows usually featuring store contents transform into holiday dioramas displaying winter scenes from around the world. It’s almost as if Manhattan is waiting for the go-ahead after Thanksgiving ends to turn into an almost Disney-like wonderland of all things comfy and cozy.

In addition to the super-charged holiday spirit, winter is great in New York City for the climate. Snow coats the city in a (usually) white blanket that extends from Wall Street to the Bronx. Central Park, freshly bare from the fall, transforms into a quiet and peaceful haven for all the travelers who want to get away from the loud bustle of midtown. You can catch a carriage ride through the park, walk through it with a cup of steaming hot cocoa or just admire the quiet stillness of this beautiful park that miraculously sits dead center in the busiest city in the world. The snow has an almost paranormal muffling effect on the sounds of the city that really makes you feel as if you’re miles away from all the action. It’s really, truly unique.

What to do in NYC in the Winter?

Naturally, people want to know that if they come to New York in the wintertime, that there will still be plenty to do once you factor out the summertime activities. Thankfully, New York, being the metropolis that it is, has as many — if not more — indoor activities as it does outdoor ones. Here are some of my favorites!

See the Decorations All Around the City

As I mentioned before, when the holidays come to town, they come to the entirety of the city. That means every street corner, every park, every restaurant, and every store. You can truly just walk through the city on any day of the week and you’ll see some spectacular displays, but be sure to see some of the favorites. Check out the famous window displays at Macy’s in midtown, see the Bryant Park Christmas tree, go ice skating at Rockefeller Center, or see the fabulous projected light show at Saks Fifth Avenue. All are phenomenal, and most are free, but keep in mind that the holiday crowds at these events will be wild, so best prepare yourself in advance for some pushing and shoving.

See a Show!

If there’s one thing New York is famous for, it’s the world-renowned theatre scene. In just a one-week trip, you could see a different show every day and still not get through all the theatrical performances the city has to offer. Whether it’s a world-famous Broadway show or an equally dazzling off-Broadway performance, a show at the theater is the perfect thing to do on a snowy or rainy New York City day. If you’re looking for something more in keeping with the holiday theme, you can check out the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which is home to the iconic Rockettes (you know, the ladies in a line who kick higher than the Empire State Building). Finally, if you’re interested in something a bit more off-the-beaten-path, look up Sleep No More, a difficult-to-describe interactive performance that takes you through the winding (and occasionally creepy hallways) of a full-sized mansion. Simply put, there is truly an endless array of theater options for you when you visit NYC, and it’s the perfect thing to do on a cold winter day.

Explore a Museum

In addition to dazzling theater performances, New York City is home to some of the most iconic and well-kept museums in the world…museums that happen to have heating and shelter. On a brutally cold winter day, make sure you take refuge in any of these museums, like the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim or the iconic American Museum of Natural History (subject of the hit movie Night at the Museum). You can truly spend dozens of hours at these museums and still not see everything they have to offer, but they’re incredibly well-preserved, informative, and fun for both children and adults alike. They also charger on an on-donation basis, so they’re not even all that expensive to see.

Head Upstate

The funny thing about visiting New York is that most people forget that New York extends far beyond the city. New York State is also home to the Hudson Valley and the Pocono Mountains, both of which are excellent destinations for holiday visitors in search of some winter adventure. We New Yorkers know this better perhaps because we grew up here, but in only a short 1-2 hour drive outside the city, you can find world-class ski chalets and snowboarding retreats. Whether you plan a day trip or a weekend away, do a little research and find the best deal for a great skiing experience because it’s entirely different from the experience you’ll get from staying within the city limits.

Pros & Cons of Winter in New York City

At the end of the day, there are obvious benefits and shortcomings of coming to New York in the wintertime — and make no mistake, I don’t personally believe there’s ever a wrong time to visit. However, it’s important to consider the entirety of the experience when making the decision to brave the chilly season. We’ll start with the cons.

Winter in NYC Cons

Winter here can be brutal — there’s just no way around it. The temperature can dip below zero easily, and the way it fluctuates can turn snow into slush overnight. As such, there are definitely some attractions, like the Highline or some parks, that will be closed or harder to visit because of the temperature. Having said that, if you visit in December, it’s generally one of the more mild months temperature-wise, while January and February are more brutal and cold.

Winter in NYC Pros

Overall, the biggest draw for a New York City winter trip is the holidays and everything that comes with it. Nowhere else in the world can you experience such a densely and pristinely packed version of Christmas, and nowhere else is it heightened to the level that it is in New York. But holidays aside, the winter can be a great choice because of the cold itself. Seeing such a concrete metropolis draped in snow is really quite otherworldly, and changes the entirety of the city’s landscape. Even if you’ve been here in the summer or spring, you can have an entirely different trip by coming here in one of the snowier months. It’s cold to be sure, but it’s worth it.

There you go! How to experience the best of winter in New York City like me–a local! Have any must-dos or must-sees to add to the Big Apple bucket list for the winter? Don’t forget to mention them in the comments section!

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About The Author

Gilad Gamliel

Gilad is a 26-year-old backpacker with anxiety, OCD and Hypochondriasis. He spent most of my life thinking that travel wasn’t for people like him -- nervous, neurotic, Type A people. But after his first trip, he realized that anyone can - and should - give backpacking a try. He’s now found subtle and clever ways to turn his anxieties into positives and hopes to share his experiences with the world. His website Anxious & Abroad is a travel guide dedicated to showing nervous and first-time travelers that they don’t have to be carefree or careless to enjoy what the world has to offer. You can follow his travels on Instagram @gil.ad.ventures.