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Know Before You Go: Visiting New York City in Winter

Plan a festive trip to the Big Apple—but first, brush up with these New York City winter travel tips.

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Hi, I'm Claire!

Claire Bullen is an award-winning food, drinks, and travel writer and editor who has lived and worked in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Paris, and London. She is the author of The Beer Lover's Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, and the editor at GoodBeerHunting.com. Her writing has also appeared in Time Out New York, The Daily Meal, Pellicle Magazine, and beyond.

Something magical happens when winter arrives in New York City. Festive markets and ice rinks pop up all over town, candlelit restaurants and bars become even more inviting, and—if you time your trip right—you might just discover how a dusting of snow transforms the city into a wonderland of wintry cheer. But the season can also bring plunging thermostats and travel disruptions. To make the most of your cold-weather getaway and prepare for anything the weather might throw your way, we’ve rounded up the best things to do in NYC during the winter (and the New York City winter travel tips that will keep you cozy and dry).

When is winter in New York City?

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Winter officially begins in December, but the cold often arrives earlier.

If you’re going by the meteorological calendar, winter begins in the Northern Hemisphere on Dec. 1; if you’re inclined to measure the season by the solstice, it usually starts around Dec. 21. But in New York City, which is known for its cold, snowy, and lengthy winters, low temperatures (and even snowfall) can occur well before the season officially gets underway. January is usually the coldest month of the year, while February historically has brought the most snow. Because of the warming climate, snow and sub-zero temperatures are less likely than they once were—but it’s still good to prepare for winter weather in New York City if you visit anytime from November through March.

What should I wear during winter in New York City?

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Layer up—and don’t forget a fashionable parka.

Winter in New York may be less consistently frigid than it once was, but you don’t want to risk being caught unawares by a surprise Nor’easter. Prepare for the cold with a mix of layers, including cozy sweaters, thick socks, and insulating leggings or long johns to wear under your clothes. Add toasty accessories like wool hats, thick mittens, and knitted scarves, and don’t forget your footwear—waterproof, lined boots with a good grip will keep your toes dry, no matter how many slush puddles you stomp through. Cap it all off with a stylish parka or puffer jacket (winter fashion in NYC is still a big deal).

Where are the best places to see the snow in New York City?

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Visit the city’s big-name parks—or explore its lesser-known green (err, white) spaces.

Snow is always an event in New York City—especially when soft flurries graduate to fluffy flakes that stick. At the first sign of snowfall, New York families and residents make a beeline for Central Park, which offers top-notch sledding at Cedar Hill (and whose Wollman Rink is even lovelier accompanied by softly falling snow; book tickets in advance to beat the crowds). Prospect Park—the second-largest park in Brooklyn—is another wintry must. To see the snow undisturbed, you can also aim for lesser-known outdoor spaces like Forest Park in Queens and Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island.

Insider tip: Botanical gardens might evoke images of flowers and greenery, but the Bronx’s New York Botanical Garden and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden are must-see winter sights in New York. Even better: The latter has a pay-what-you-want entry on February weekdays.

Which attractions should I see in New York City in the winter?

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Winter is prime time for museums, galleries, and theaters.

It’s worth getting outside during winter in New York—but once the chill has reached your bones, it’s also worth discovering the city’s Great Indoors. There’s no better time than the cold season to take advantage of New York’s cultural abundance, whether you book a gallery tour at The Met or MoMA, scoop rush tickets for a Broadway show, spend the night at the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, or go gallery-hopping in Chelsea (before grabbing a warming cup of cocoa in Chelsea Market).

Insider tip: Winter is also the perfect time to sip Manhattans in one of the city’s low-lit speakeasies—or attend a class to learn how to make your own classic cocktails.

What are the best holiday events in Manhattan?

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Options range from the Rockettes to the Rockefeller Tree Lighting.

If your wintry visit to the Big Apple is planned for December, get ready: This city knows how to ring in the festive season. Begin with holiday classics like seeing the Rockettes perform at Radio City Music Hall, catching the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, and admiring the lights and decorations on Fifth Avenue. From there, you can see the Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal, browse the shops, skate the rink at Bryant Park’s Winter Village, or even skip to Brooklyn to see the Menorah Lighting at Grand Army Plaza.

Insider tip: Looking for the most off-the-wall holiday lights in the Big Apple? Head deep into Brooklyn and discover the gloriously over-the-top decorations of Dyker Heights.

What are New York City’s top winter events?

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Wintry going-out opportunities don’t end with the holiday season.

Once you’ve shaken off all the glitter and tinsel, you’ll find plenty to do in the Big Apple once the festive season ends. Outside New York’s blockbuster holiday events, winter brings the return of the Lunar New Year Parade, held every year in Chinatown and complete with dancing dragons and festive lanterns. Fashion Week is a staple of New York’s February calendar (and usually brings a range of parties and browsing opportunities outside the runway shows), and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, held on March 17, squeaks in at the end of winter.

Where should I buy winter clothes in New York City?

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Hit the department stores—or go searching for bargains.

New York is a shopper’s paradise—especially after the holiday season, when January sales bring steep discounts and winter clothing will likely be affixed with sales tags. If you’re in the market for a new parka, pair of gloves, or other cozy items, New York’s classic department stores, including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman—are convenient one-stop shops for all the cold-weather gear you need. If you’re after a bargain, don’t miss the locally beloved Century 21, which offers steep discounts on designer staples. And then there are the city’s popular thrift stores if you’ve got something quirkier in mind, including Beacon’s Closet, Housing Works, and Buffalo Exchange.

Where can I go in Upstate New York during the winter?

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Aim for the Hudson River Valley—or plan a multi-day excursion farther afield.

New York City exerts such a strong gravitational orbit that it’s easy to forget it’s only a small tip of New York State—and that the Empire State offers almost boundless opportunities for exploration. That’s just as true in winter, when the Hudson River Valley, located within day-trip distance of New York, is especially appealing for its wintry river views and cozy small-town charm (Kingston, Rhinebeck, and Hudson are all worth exploring). If you don’t mind a longer excursion, retreat to the Adirondacks or the Finger Lakes—or even book an excursion to the frozen Niagara Falls.

Frequently asked questions

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Everything you need to know about visiting New York City in winter.

  • Which birds stay in New York City for the winter? Not all birds migrate south for the winter. In New York City, the bird species that hang around for the season include sparrows, black-capped chickadees, cardinals, and owl species. And don’t forget the city’s ubiquitous pigeons.

  • What is the average temperature of winter in New York City? The temperature can vary quite a bit across New York’s winter season, including warmer daytime highs and frosty overnight lows. The city’s average winter temperature is a chilly 35°F (2°C), so be sure to bundle.

  • When is winter break in New York City? The answer varies yearly, depending on when the winter holidays fall, but New York Public Schools—and many other institutions, offices, and businesses—typically shutter from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day.

  • Does New York City get snow in the winter? Yes, New York City experiences snowy winters, with annual averages of 1 foot (30 centimeters) or more. However, climate change is impacting the city’s winter forecasts, and in recent years, the city has received as little as a few inches of snow annually.

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