NEW YORK CITY IN THE WINTER
Food, Lodging, and Activities
Most people have probably heard that NYC in the winter around Christmas is very romantic and magical – I’m sure that a lot of famous movies like “Home Alone,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and “Serendipity” have a lot to do with that.
While I do agree that the city is special during the holidays, it is also the most touristy time, AND the winter weather can be cold and unpredictable. So, if you decide to come to NYC for the holidays during winter, I have a few recommendations that might help with your planning.
Christmas season starts in NYC right after Thanksgiving Day and goes all the way ‘til January 7th. So… if you are not planning to celebrate NYE in the city, come early in December before all the big crowds arrive or right after NYE.
You might still get frigid weather (plan on it being colder than 32 ℉), but at least you will not need to fight crowds to take that picture you’ve wanted to at the Rockefeller Christmas tree.
Best hotels, accommodations, and locations in NYC
Here are my suggestions when planning a trip to NYC in the winter:
Choose your hotel accommodations based on what your to-do list is, for easy accessibility. Since most holiday / ‘Christmas-y’ things happen around 5th Ave / Midtown / Central Park, it would be smart to look for hotels in the Midtown East, Midtown West, and Chelsea areas.
Many people that are unfamiliar with how NYC works navigation-wise make a common mistake – they assume that “Downtown” is a main part of the city.
I recall we had relatives visiting from out of town and they kept asking which street was “main street” to go see… Short answer: there is no such thing.
NYC is like no other city, every street and avenue is main and important in its own way, every neighborhood has its uniqueness, BUT there is no actual “center.” But you will hear about Midtown, Downtown, and Uptown – that is how you navigate the city, whether taking a cab or using the subway.
Instead of using north and south, in New York, you have Downtown (literally downtown, so south) and Uptown (north), East and West Sides. So, point being, don’t book a hotel Downtown thinking you will be in the center of all action.
A few hotels in Midtown that are worth considering:
- Lotte New York Palace – This hotel has my favorite Christmas tree/decor in the city. Plus, you will be a block away from the Rockefeller Tree. If shopping is your thing, all the classic department stores are nearby (Saks, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Lord and Taylor). Also, right across the street from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, a must-see sight (open for the public for free).
- Plaza Hotel - If you grew up watching Home Alone, you know why. Plus, their interior/lobby is quite something
Activities that will get you into the Christmas Spirit:
- See a Musical/Broadway show: Radio City Christmas Spectacular, The Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet, or the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden (or Grand Central for a smaller version).
- Cathedral of St. John the Divine hosts a few musical and religious events through December.
- Riverside Church does a production of Handel’s Messiah.
One of my favorite things during the holiday season is how the city comes alive with many pop-up markets with vendors, food, and activities all around.
Winter Markets to check out:
- Union Square Holiday Market,
- Columbus Circle Holiday Market,
- Bryant Park Winter Village,
- Grand Central Holiday Fair.
We have fun just strolling through the narrow alleys, stumbling into unique finds for gifts or even just grabbing a hot drink and people watching.
Go on a horse carriage ride through Central Park. What could be more romantic?
You will feel like you’re in a scene from a movie as you make your way through one of the most famous parks in the world. If you get lucky and it’s snowing, you are going to make memories for years to remember.
The price is $50 per 30-minute ride, or you can request a longer ride for more, no reservation needed. Just walk up to a line-up on the south side of the Park (along 59th Street). There is usually plenty to choose from.
Rockefeller Center - You will find the most iconic rink in Manhattan between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 49th and 50th Streets. It will be crowded and expensive, but you are going to remember this, along with the other 150 skaters around you.
You will probably see an engagement/proposal happening while you are there. So, if it's been your dream to skate here, make this trip to The Rink one to remember: get a VIP skate package, and have an afternoon cup of tea at Rock Center Café while watching other skaters ($45).
Otherwise, the price for adults is $25-$32, skate rental $12 (kids 10 and under - $15).
Bryant Park – In my opinion, the Bryant Park Winter Village (Sixth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets) is one of the most festive spots to get into the holiday spirit.
The Rink here is about three times the size of Rockefeller Center one. I believe this is the only rink in the city that offers free admissions to all and skates rental for $20. After skating, grab hot chocolate and babka (!) from Breads Bakery, conveniently located in the park.
Do some souvenir shopping at annual holiday shops or go warm up in the New York Public Library.
Wollman Rink in Central Park – The ambiance of Central Park rink (mid-park, between 62nd and 63rd Streets), especially after a fresh coat of snow is magical and incomparable to any other. Price: Adult $12 and weekend F-Sun $19, kids 11 and under - $6, plus skate rental $9.
Sister venue Lasker Rink on the northeast corner of the Park, between 106th and 108th Streets, is a bit less crowded and can save few bucks if you’re willing to go out of the way.
The Rink at Brookfield Place - One of the better options when Downtown (250 Vesey St, at North End Ave); after you’ve visited the 9/11 Memorial and checked out the Oculus and Brookfield Place and are ready to lose those extra calories you had at the Le District (see below).
First things first, remember most touristy places don’t have decent food places, so go out of the touristy zone. Don’t expect to have a great food experience in Times Square and be ready to wait in places for good food :).
Ok, so the list of food will be huge!!! You are not going to be able to check all of them out, just mark them out so when you are in the area and ready to eat, you have something to choose from.
Lots of coffee shops in the city are real coffee snobs and won’t do syrups to ‘ruin’ their coffee, so no vanilla lattes for you guys.
First few are one-of-a-kind shops you’ll find only in NYC:
Little Collins – Aussie shop with great coffee, awesome quick food choices as well, tiny and packed during lunch hour. Get the avocado toast!
Citizens of Chelsea
Blue Bottle - Chain, lots of locations.
Bluestone Lane – Another chain, all around the city, snacks, and coffee a solid choice.
Gregory’s – This the chain you go to if you want that latte with syrup :). If you’re thinking Starbucks, don’t… go here instead.
La Colombe - Chain, if you haven’t tried their draft latte, you are missing out. Best on the market.
Lady M – Crepe cakes. That’s cakes made out crepes with buttercream filling. One word. Amazing.
Laduree – The famous French shop (if macarons are your cup of tea). 🙂
Magnolia Bakery - Banana pudding is a must try (if you see the limited-edition chocolate or peanut butter flavors, you’re in luck!). Cupcakes are a big hit as well.
Breads Bakery - Their chocolate babka is my weakness.
Levain - Best chocolate chip walnut cookies you will ever have. You might get tired of waiting in the loooong line, but at least you’ll get hungry enough to finish their enormous cookie. 😛
Dominique Ansel Bakery – The birthplace of the cronut but they have many other innovative treats if those are sold out.
Doughnut Plant – Best donuts in the city, try the crème brûlée and the PBJ square donut.
Greecologies – House-made authentic Greek yogurt and they have a lovely terrace in the back.
Jack's Wife Freda – Two locations so check out the West Village one if you want to avoid a long wait. Good ‘home-style’ Mediterranean food.
Russ and Daughters - Jewish
Easter European food – bagels and fish.
Sadelles – Another fantastic Jewish/Eastern European place, think bagel and fish towers.
Freeman's restaurant – Good place for a group brunch, but make sure to get a reservation. Hidden in a cute alley, very Insta-friendly. Haha!
Two Hands – a tiny place with pretty food and popular people.
The Wild Son - Best pancakes ever, and their smash potatoes are my favorite, walk off those calories by going to high line park afterward. 🙂
By Chloe – Vegetarian/vegan, great tasty options.
Buvette - One of my favorite places, French delicacies.
Estela – Unique but delicious menu, so order a bunch of appetizers but don’t miss their famous pancetta, egg, and avocado sandwich. It will change your life (or at least your perception of what a proper breakfast sandwich should taste like).
Raclette – Melted cheese on everything… ‘nough said.
Pizza – This deserves its own post! But a few places to bookmark: Joe’s Pizza, Prince St Pizza, Artichoke Basilles, Roberta’s.
Fig and olive - Chain, solid Mediterranean food.
Saint Ambroeus – Italian food (veal ragu is to die for!), great desserts too.
Asiate - High-end place, good for a special occasion. The best time to go is brunch on the weekends, get a reservation during the day by a window, and you get rewarded with spectacular views of Central Park and the city.
Grand Central – A historic terminal, a must-see if you’re in NYC; while you’re there, try finding the Whispering Gallery (You can stand under diagonal arches 20 feet away and hear each other’s whispering voices).
If you are in a rush, Shake Shack or the Great Northern Hall in the terminal are good places to hunt for food.
If you have some time, you’re better off walking up a few blocks to Urbanspace Vanderbilt. Here you will find some of the most popular chef-led restaurants in small booths at an indoor market; try fried chicken sandwiches at Delaney Chicken, Speckenwolf pizza at Roberta’s, pho at Kuro-Obi, Nutella-filled donuts at Dough, salted chocolate chip cookies at Ovenly and espresso at Toby’s Estate.
Times Square - Best to check out during the night, plan to see Broadway show that way you just get to do both things and avoid the crowds.
Don’t bother with the food in the area; everything is very touristy (overpriced and not great), instead see above ideas only 10 minutes away.
Central Park – My personal highlights in the Park are the Bow Bridge, the Mall, Bethesda Terrace.
There are so many hidden gems so you’ll want to explore for yourself. Plan on spending at least half a day!
Highline Park – Modern urban park (repurposed/old train track elevated two stories above the street level), couple miles long with views of Manhattan.
Start walking from the north side of the park, by the time you’ve finished you’ll be ready for a snack.
Chelsea Market is the place you want to stop by for that – al pastor tacos at Los Tacos No. 1 are the BEST tacos I’ve ever had; Chocolate Fudge Milkshake at Creamline is pretty solid too.
SoHo – One of the prettier places in the city IMHO, cast-iron architecture is very different from the rest of the city (think white columns, artsy framed windows, cobblestone streets).
High-end boutiques and fashion shopping all around; during NYFW you’ll see a lot of famous people strolling the streets.
9/11 Memorial – Broadly describes the area around Twin Towers. One World Observatory is the best place to view the city from a 100-story vantage point (better than Empire State or Rockefeller).
You’ll also see the Oculus, a new transportation terminal with the unique dinosaur-looking design. From there, walk across to the Brookfield Place and have lunch at Le District (a French court with lots of tasty food options).
Battery Park – Closest place to see the Statue of Liberty on land. If you plan ahead, you can take the ferry to Liberty Island to come up close and personal to Lady Liberty herself.
Brooklyn Bridge – Best place to start is to take NYC Ferry Service from Wall Street to Dumbo and walk over Brooklyn bridge towards Manhattan.
That way you get to see the city as you’re crossing the bridge.
Long Island City – I’m biased since I live here, but this is the top place to get unobstructed views of the Manhattan Skyline.
Come at night to see the city sparkle with magic and finish your night off at Maiella (a nicer Italian restaurant right on the water).
I will need to do separate post perhaps on specific topics/areas in NYC. But this will be the start for now.
Although winter can be brutal and freezing here, if I did not live here, I think I would want to visit at least once during Christmas season. It’s truly magical, like no other holiday experience.
Enjoy your cup of tea and let me know in the comments below what else you’d like to hear about exploring New York City.
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