Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season
Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Hit the Slopes in Central Park
There's nothing quite as quintessential as strapping on a pair of skis and swooshing down some of the best slopes New York City has to offer - all from the comfort of Central Park. The Big Apple transforms into a winter wonderland, complete with its own Alpine ski run each winter.
The park's Wollman Rink converts into a one-of-a-kind winter attraction from mid-December through March. Skiers and snowboarders of all levels are invited to experience the thrill of downhill on the ice. Visitors can even take professional lessons and gear rentals are available on-site.
Gliding down the 650-foot slope with skyscrapers in the background is an unforgettable experience. The views of the cityscape contrast beautifully with the snow-covered terrain. Being able to ski steps away from 5th Avenue feels like an urban miracle.
Even if you're not hitting the slopes yourself, it's entertaining to watch others brave the bunny hill. Some ambitious skiers even attempt small jumps. There's usually an entertaining mix of skill levels navigating the hill.
The synthetic friction spray applied to the slope allows for an optimal "powder" gliding surface. It almost feels like the real thing. The rink has a 30 degree pitch, so it provides a legitimate skiing challenge.
Night skiing under the lights takes the experience to another level. The illuminated slope and iconic Midtown skyline make for stunning scenery. The cool evening temps feel just right after working up a sweat skiing.
Skiing in Central Park is a tradition that dates back over 50 years. The first slope was constructed in 1969 as a unique winter activity for New Yorkers. After a brief hiatus, the Wollman Rink brought skiing back to the park in 2003.
The novelty of shredding in Manhattan never seems to grow old. Locals and tourists alike flock to the rink to ski each winter. It's an affordable way to try downhill skiing without leaving the city.
A half day lift ticket goes for just $25 on weekends and weekdays are even cheaper at $20. That's a steal compared to lift tickets at mountain resorts. Rentals like skis, boots, and poles are only $30. Helmet and glove rentals ensure safety.
Spending a few fun-filled hours skiing down an icy hill in Central Park makes for a quintessential NYC winter memory. It's part of what makes the city so special. Where else can you experience the urban jungle and the mountains in one place?
What else is in this post?
- Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Hit the Slopes in Central Park
- Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Go Ice Skating in Bryant Park
- Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - See the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
- Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Window Shop the Holiday Displays on 5th Ave
- Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Experience a Radio City Christmas Spectacular Show
- Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Stroll Through Dyker Heights' Christmas Light
- Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Sip Hot Cocktails at a Cozy Bar
- Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Indulge in Comfort Foods Around the City
Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Go Ice Skating in Bryant Park
As the weather cools, Bryant Park transforms into a festive ice skating rink straight out of a Hallmark movie. Nestled next to the New York Public Library and surrounded by towering skyscrapers, the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park offers locals and visitors a chance to glide across the ice against a stunning urban backdrop.
The rink first opened in 2003 as part of the park's winter village, bringing free ice skating to Midtown Manhattan. Since then, it has become a beloved winter tradition for New Yorkers and tourists alike. The rink is open daily from October through March and does not charge an admission fee. Skaters simply pay to rent skates, which run around $20-30.
While the views of the city are reason enough to lace up, the rink goes all out with wintry ambience. Trees sparkle with twinkling lights, and the lawns surrounding the rink feature charming wooden kiosks selling everything from hot chocolate to holiday knick-knacks. Skaters can warm up in heated changing rooms and recharge at an on-site restaurant after working up an appetite on the ice.
The laidback, community vibe at the rink stands in contrast to the bustle of Midtown, making it a relaxing winter escape. "Skating at the Bryant Park rink feels like you're in a movie," says local Sarah L. "The vibe is so festive and cheerful. Everyone is having a great time gliding around with their friends and family. I love going after work for an affordable evening activity that instantly lifts my spirits."
While weekdays draw mostly locals, weekends attract more tourists and can get busy. "Arrive as early as you can on weekends to avoid long lines," advises Bryant Park regular Andy T. "It's best to go on a weekday evening when it's less crowded but still has that magical holiday atmosphere with all the lights."
For a truly memorable experience, visitors can attend one of the themed skating sessions. Every Tuesday evening, the rink turns into "The Golden Hour" with DJs playing throwback hits as patrons cruise beneath string lights and the Manhattan skyline. On Thursdays, aspiring pros can show off their skills during freestyle night. And the rink takes on a silent disco vibe on Fridays when skaters don headphones pumping out tunes.
Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - See the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
Each holiday season, one of the most iconic and beloved traditions in all of New York City is viewing the enormous Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. For over eight decades, a towering evergreen has graced Rockefeller Plaza, spreading holiday cheer to the millions that flock to see its dazzling lights and impressive stature.
Seeing the tree has become a quintessential item on every tourist's New York City winter bucket list, as well as a holiday activity cherished by locals. The tree towers above the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center, adding an extra layer of magic and wonder to the festive scene below. Onlookers gaze up in awe, necks craned and phones held high, as they snap photos and selfies in front of the titanic tannenbaum.
The excitement builds in the weeks leading up to the tree lighting ceremony, which takes place in late November or early December. Crowds gather with bated breath, oohing and ahhing as the switch is flipped and more than five miles of lights illuminate the tree from top to bottom. The evening culminates in a star-studded television event, with popular musicians performing amid a flurry of falling snow.
Visiting the iconic tree is an experience steeped in tradition, as generations of families have made the pilgrimage each year to lay eyes upon its splendid evergreen boughs. Many visitors reminisce about their first childhood visit, when the enormity of the tree left them wide-eyed with wonder. The tree also serves as the site of countless holiday proposals and engagements, with lovers getting down on one knee in front of the romantic, glittering backdrop.
The tree provides the perfect festive photo op, with its size and central location allowing groups large and small to capture a holiday keepsake. Friends, couples, families and tour groups squeeze together and smile, stretching their arms wide in an attempt to hug the towering fir. No winter trip to Manhattan is complete without collecting a cheery memento in front of this beloved attraction.
Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Window Shop the Holiday Displays on 5th Ave
Each winter, Fifth Avenue transforms into a magical portal bursting with Christmas cheer, as New York's most iconic department stores unveil their spectacular holiday window displays. These lavish displays have become a beloved tradition, attracting hordes of wide-eyed locals and tourists who come to gawk at the incredible animatronic scenes and admire the dazzling decor.
For over a century, the legendary department stores lining Fifth Avenue have competed to create the most innovative, Insta-worthy holiday windows. Some favorites through the years include Macy's charming Charlie Brown vignettes, Bergdorf Goodman's elegant designs, and Saks Fifth Avenue's modern interactive exhibits. The unveiling of each year's new displays draws massive crowds, with lines forming down the block to catch a glimpse.
While strolling past and marveling at the ornate holiday storefronts doesn't cost a dime, it's an experience that feels absolutely priceless. As lifelong New Yorker Greg R. shared, "Checking out the holiday windows on Fifth is one of my favorite traditions. Even as an adult, seeing the incredible displays still fills me with so much childlike wonder and awe."
Virginia T., who brings her young daughters each year, says the girls love peering into the whimsical scenes. "We always have to circle the block two or three times so they can take it all in again. The magical windows really bring the spirit of Christmas to life."
Though window shopping along Fifth Avenue has been a tradition since the 1870s, the displays have only grown more extravagant and technologically advanced. Many now incorporate motion, music, and special effects like falling snow or bubble machines to bedazzle audiences. Bergdorf Goodman's 2022 windows featured an underwater wonderland theme, with glimmering aquatic creatures that appeared to swim through a sea of 3,000 hand-placed crystals.
While locals never tire of viewing the glittering windows season after season, first-time visitors are awe-struck. "As someone new to New York, I was just blown away by the sheer artistry," gushes Aisha C. "It was like stepping into the North Pole or Santa's workshop!"
Though in-person visits allow you to fully appreciate the scale and detail, fans from afar can still glimpse the gorgeous designs online. Most stores showcase their displays on Instagram or their websites, though nothing quite compares to experiencing the magic on Fifth Avenue.
Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Experience a Radio City Christmas Spectacular Show
A beloved tradition for over 85 years running, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular show transports audiences into a magical, musical winter wonderland each holiday season. This dazzling production has cemented itself as a quintessential Christmastime activity for NYC locals and visitors alike.
Featuring the iconic Rockettes, the Christmas Spectacular brings some serious holiday spirit to the Big Apple. Their legendary precision dance numbers and costumes deliver all the festive feels. The show takes place at the equally famous Radio City Music Hall, a spectacular Art Deco venue unlike any other theater in the world.
Between the setting, dancing, costumes, sets, and special effects, the show stimulates every sense. As Marie F. shared about her experience, "Everything just screams Christmas, from the shimmering red and green costumes to the incredible 3D projection mapping on the huge stage. The technology they use makes things like Santa's sleigh ride feel so magical and real!"
The Christmas Spectacular's beloved numbers range from playful, like the Parade of Wooden Soldiers, to awe-inspiring, like the iconic Living Nativity scene featuring live camels on stage. And no show would be complete without the signature kickline number where the Rockettes dazzle with their synchronized moves. "Seeing the Rockettes in their sparkly costumes kicking with pinpoint precision gave me actual chills," gushed first-time attendee Denise R.
Beyond the stellar production, the intergenerational appeal makes the Radio City show special. Three generations of the James family have made it their annual holiday tradition. "I adored the show as a kid, and now I love watching that same look of wonder on my little ones' faces," shared mom of two Carrie James. "Clapping along to 'Here Comes Santa Claus' and seeing the Nativity scene with live animals felt just as magical at age 39 as it did when I was 9!"
The iconic show attracts a diverse audience, from wide-eyed toddlers to seniors eager to revisit their own childhood memories. "It didn't matter if you were 8 or 80, everyone was feeling the Christmas spirit in there," said NYC local Eddie T. "The nostalgic music and costumes bring out everyone's inner child. It's just great family fun."
Tickets aren't cheap, ranging from $49-$199 per seat, but audiences rave it's well worth the splurge. "No Christmas in New York is complete without experiencing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular," declared frequent NYC holiday visitor Allison W. "The talent, special effects, costumes and stage design just blew me away. It captured the essence of Christmas in a truly dazzling production!"
Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Stroll Through Dyker Heights' Christmas Light
Each December, the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dyker Heights becomes a twinkling winter wonderland, with over-the-top light displays and decorations transforming suburbia into a scene straight out of the North Pole. For over 30 years running, Dyker Heights locals have turned festive yard displays into a competitive sport, attempting to out-do their neighbors with ever more elaborate Christmas light creations. We're talking life-size Santas, snowmen and reindeer, entire driveways wrapped in lights, mind-boggling light-up shapes and massive multi-tiered trees. It's Christmas gone wild in the best possible way.
Locals refer to this colorful phenomenon as the "Dyker Lights" and welcome visitors from across New York and beyond to stroll the streets each evening for this mesmerizing light show. Part of the magic lies in the unexpectedness of encountering this winter spectacle in an otherwise ordinary residential neighborhood. Maria S., who grew up visiting the Dyker Lights, says "Walking those streets lined with over-the-top decorations makes you feel like you fell through a portal to the North Pole. The lights just seem to get crazier and more impressive every year."
Indeed, keeping up with the Joneses drives locals to great lengths when decking their homes each season in hopes of nabbing the coveted "Best Lights on Dyker" award. Twelve homes received the honor in 2022, including one decked out with 22 inflatable Christmas decorations and another featuring a 22-foot tall Statue of Liberty dressed in a Santa suit.
First-time visitor Jen T. describes the experience as "bananas. Every single house was lit up brighter than I've ever seen. There were giant nutcrackers, huge dancing bears and more lights than I could count strung absolutely everywhere. I've never seen anything like it!"
The area attracts over 100,000 visitors each holiday season who come to marvel at the twinkling winter wonderland. Revelers sip hot cocoa and don reindeer antlers as they wind through the neighborhood on foot. Holiday music pipes through synced house speakers while visitors pause for selfies and sip hot cocoa. Kids' faces light up brighter than the displays at the sight of each inflatable mega-Santa or neon mega-tree.
While most light shows have an entry fee, the fact that simply taking a stroll allows you to soak up the Christmas magic makes Dyker Heights especially charming. Just come prepared for crowds - the streets pack up on weekends. But veteran visitors like Samantha G. know the secret: “The lights are best enjoyed on a weeknight when it’s less crowded but still has that magical atmosphere.”
Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Sip Hot Cocktails at a Cozy Bar
As temperatures drop and snow begins to fall, few activities impart holiday hygge quite like cozying up in a dimly-lit bar with a warming seasonal cocktail in hand. When the winter chill sets in, New York bars become magical spaces glowing with twinkling lights, flickering candles, and fiery libations. Savoring a tasty, festive drink amid ambient, snowy-day ambience offers the perfect way for visitors and locals alike to get into the holiday spirit.
According to NYC local Allie S., grabbing creative cocktails at a cozy bar with friends makes for a special seasonal bonding experience. "The holidays always go by so fast. Grabbing fancy drinks at our favorite neighborhood bar gives my friends and I a chance to slow down, catch up, and get a little festive," she shares. The intoxicating scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, and pine fill the air, kindling nostalgia of the season.
First-time visitor Raymond T. says hitting up a cozy cocktail lounge in the middle of his family's NYC winter getaway provided welcome adult time. "After the whirlwind of sight-seeing with my kids, sipping an artfully garnished drink in a peaceful, dim setting felt like a little oasis for my wife and I to relax." From pine tree garnishes to candy cane swizzle sticks, the holiday embellishments make ordinary cocktails extra special.
In true New York fashion, the possibilities span from posh and elegant to quirky and kitschy. At refined hotel bars like Bemelmans Bar inside the Carlyle Hotel, bartenders craft sublime liquors into cocktails like the Pomander - a gin-based drink served flaming with a dried orange garnish meant to conjure the holidays. Those seeking something more playful can don an ugly Christmas sweater for specialty cocktails at kitschy Christmas-themed pop-up Miracle on Ninth.
No matter where you imbibe, a spiked seasonal drink never fails to impart some liquid holiday cheer. The Christmassy garnishes and details like napkins with snowflakes or mistletoe printed on them set a festive mood that rubs off on patrons. As NYC local and self-proclaimed "holiday cocktail connoisseur" Ryan V. attests, "You can't help but feel that holiday spirit when you're sipping a cocktail with candy cane swizzle stick in a bar decked out floor to ceiling with Christmas lights."
Bundle Up for a Big Apple Winter: 7 Quintessential Activities in NYC This Season - Indulge in Comfort Foods Around the City
When winter's chill sets in, New Yorkers seek warmth and comfort in cozy cafes and restaurants serving hearty, wholesome fare. The holidays evoke nostalgic cravings for the rich, stick-to-your-ribs dishes associated with celebrations and family gatherings. Indulging in classic comfort foods unique to New York provides the perfect way to satisfy winter appetites.
According to lifelong New Yorker Lucas G., the brisk weather awakens an innate craving for warming, familiar foods. "There's just something about the cold weather that makes me want to eat mushy mashed potatoes, velvety gravies, or a gooey grilled cheese," he says. "I always hit up my favorite local diners when I'm seeking that nostalgic hit of comfort food." From retro luncheonettes to new school cafes, the city offers many options for diners seeking to satiate their nostalgic yen.
For Jack S., noshing on handmade pierogis at Veselka, an East Village mainstay since 1954, provides the ultimate winter comfort food experience. "Sipping hot borscht while snacking on pillowy pierogis amid the old-school chrome and vinyl decor makes me feel like a kid again," he shares. The satisfaction comes not just from the belly-warming fare, but the sense of nostalgia the cuisine and setting evoke.
Those with a sweet tooth indulge in sugary treats like luscious egg creams and old-fashioned black-and-white cookies, or a thick slice of ooey-gooey NY-style cheesecake from historic spots like Junior's and S&S Cheesecake. As Chicago transplant Kristy L. declares, "There's no better way to satisfy a winter sugar craving than with a rich, creamy slice of authentic New York cheesecake!"
For many, a true New York winter comfort food pilgrimage means joining the inevitable lines outside soup legend The Original Soupman. Devotees brave any temperature for a steaming cup brimming with silky matzo ball soup, an iconic NYC staple. "I swear their soup has healing properties," jokes NYC local Lena T. "Nothing soothes my winter sniffles or warms me from the inside out quite like their incredible matzo ball soup."
The holidays also usher in seasonal specials like pumpkin pancakes topped with whipped cream, or latkes served with sides of sour cream and applesauce. As Paige R. describes, "those first bites of crispy, oily latkes dripping with applesauce sparked so much nostalgia of Hanukkahs past spent with my family."