Someone asked me the other day if going to New York in winter was a bad idea. Definitely not! While visiting in winter is not as ideal as some other months of the year, NYC is well set up for winter visitors.
1. The subway and subway stations are heated.
Before you prepay your hotel, Google map it. Use the public transition directions option, put in the hotel as the “start” location and add the location of somewhere you know you’ll want to go as the “end” location. Check that the hotel isn’t more than 3 minutes walk from the nearest subway.
Ideally you want to be less than 8 minutes walk from a second subway station. This gives you another option if there is construction at your nearest stop. Being 3 mins vs. 6-10 minutes walk from your primary subway station means you won’t need to rug up to go outside. Just make a dash for the subway entrance. Everywhere you go will be heated so it’s nice not to have to take your coat on and off or check it at shows and museums.
You don’t need a hop on/hop off bus tour. Just get a subway pass. The hop on/off bus tours involve much more waiting in the cold than the subway, and the subway is just as convenient.
2. Public atriums.
There are various public atriums around the city where you can go and eat. This means you can still grab food at a foodcart or pizza by the slice joint, should you wish to, and have somewhere to eat it. Most of the public atriums are in midtown.
3. Broadway shows.
Broadway shows are the ideal thing to do during a winter trip. Broadway is in full swing throughout the holidays, usually with just Christmas Day off, and sometimes New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Most shows are “dark” on Sunday and Monday evenings, meaning they have those nights off every week.
4. Ice skating.
You can ice skate in Bryant Park or Central Park. Bryant Park skating is open till midnight so it’s a great romantic (or family) activity to do after dinner, allowing you to take in the lights of the city.
5. It’s mostly not that cold.
New York winters are highly variable. There are often a couple of big snows and then other days are quite balmy. Eleven days out of each month have some rainfall during winter so bring an umbrella. January and February are the coldest months. In December, and especially November, it’s usually still pleasant for walking in Central Park and walking around the city generally. Even in January and February, strolling is still pleasant if you’re not walking into a wind. Bring a scarf to protect your face from the wind. Evenings strolls amongst the twinkling lights of the city are usually still enjoyable in winter.
6.You don’t have to wait for “Pay what you wish” night.
Many NYC museums have pay what you wish hours once a week. A few, like the Met and the Museum of Natural History, are always pay what you wish (although they don’t advertise this widely once you get there, See here how it says “recommended” http://www.metmuseum.org/visit/hours-and-admission). Take advantage of this rather than wait in long lines outside other museums like MOMA on their pay what you wish nights.
7. If you are willing to brave the cold, you’ll be rewarded.
Many Broadway shows have ticket lotteries or rush tickets. Crowds will be small during winter, giving you better odds of snagging a $25 ticket via the ticket lotteries. They take place outside the theaters, usually 2 1/2 hours prior to show time. Check with the theater or Google “broadway rush tickets” or “broadway lotteries.”
8. Make reservations.
Instead of waiting outside restaurants, if it’s cold, make a reservation. Use resources like Yelp to identify places you’re interested in eating, before you leave your home town. You’ll spend less time wandering around looking for what’s good. Check online to find tours, shows and things you can do around the the city. Most line waiting in NYC is out on the sidewalk, so you’ll want to minimize this. Waiting in line, stationery, is a lot less pleasant than when you’re moving.
9. Restaurants will still be hopping.
As a general rule, NYers don’t cook. Therefore, even in winter, people will be going out to restaurants after work. The city doesn’t get sleepy just because it’s winter.
10. Expect airport disruption due to weather at least a few times during winter.
If you’re booking expensive show tickets, don’t book them for the night you arrive. Give yourself some breathing room in case you get delayed.
Mostly importantly, have a great time!!