New York in the Winter: Fun Things to Do Outside

Outdoor fun in NYC—and some indoor ideas as well

New York in the winter has a pulse that beats just as strongly as the times when cold weather is just a distant memory. Although there’s plenty of action to be found strolling the neighborhoods, you can enhance a winter visit by joining in city traditions that are perfect for embracing the season.


bryant park rink winter fun

Colin Miller for Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park.

Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park has one of midtown’s loveliest settings—amid an open-air oasis framed by epic skyscrapers—and offers much more than skating. The Lodge Bar + Food Hall is an open-air rinkside escape, perfect for an après-skate wind down. Grab a bite, cozy up with a festive cocktail, and watch the skating action. Cozy Igloos are nearby, offering some shelter from the weather along with festive food and drink. You can try your hand at a Canadian winter favorite at the  Curling Café & Bar, where reservations come with a heated dome and your own dedicated curling lane. There’s also some demolition derby action at Winter Village (urban style), with Bumper Cars on Ice. Slide, spin, and bash your way to glory.

The Rink at Rockefeller Center

Photo: The Rink at Rockefeller Center.

The Rink at Rockefeller Center is one of the world’s most famous patches of ice and this year marks its 87th anniversary. Skating runs 9am to midnight daily. This is New York at its most glamorous, surrounded by Art Deco masterpieces in the very heart of the city. There’s lots going on nearby, including world-class shopping, great bites, public art, and Radio City Music Hall. The Top of the Rock Observation Deck is also here, with some of New York’s most breathtaking views. Three floors of indoor and outdoor decks offer sweeping perspectives. The newest attraction at the observatory, “The Beam,” lifts guests above the roof and lets them recreate an iconic photograph of workers at an altitudinous lunch in 1932.

Wollman Rink in Central Park

Image: Katusha Jin.

Central Park’s Wollman Rink is absurdly well-located, near a prime corner overlooked by trees and skylines. (It’s also conveniently close to the Central Park Zoo, another cold-weather outing option, especially great for traveling families.) Amenities at the rink include cozy heated Rink Side Igloos, with food, drink, and electric fireplaces. Above the rink on The Overlook you’ll find an outpost of Harlem’s famed Melba’s Restaurant. Look for signature dishes like Southern fried chicken ‘n’ eggnog waffles and Melba’s DiscOasis fries.

The Rink at Brookfield Place

Image: Brookfield Place.

Downtown offers some ice time as well. The Rink at Brookfield Place is a petite spot but the views of the Hudson River are huge—consider timing your session for sunset.

For more on skating in NYC, check out A Guide to New York City's Top Ice Skating Rinks.


pigeon observation deck winter empire state building


Speaking of views, NYC is blessed with five(!) amazing observatories. For an open-air icon of New York, point yourself toward the Empire State Building. Since its 1931 completion, it’s been the most famous skyscraper in the world. When you step out onto the platform on the 86th floor Observation Deck, time slows down. It’s open to the elements, and you’ll feel the breeze, with the city’s hum still audible, but quieted by the remove. The views are, of course, unparalleled—a gaze into the distances will reveal the curvature of the Earth. (You can see five states from here.) Experience it yourself and you’ll know immediately why it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

The Edge

The Western Hemisphere’s highest outdoor observatory, Edge, stands atop the city’s newest neighborhood, Hudson Yards. Step out onto the triangular deck and you’ll be 100 floors above the ground with miles of visibility in every direction. At the tip of the observation deck, the glass walls meet 80 feet from the building’s face at The Eastern Point; the views, from a vantage suspended above the city, are nothing less than thrilling. If you want some more fresh air opportunities, there’s a set of outdoor bleachers, which offer additional unique perspectives.

The adventurous can step out on Edge’s glass floor, which looks straight down onto the High Line. Another great option for an excursion, this re-purposed train track cuts right through the city in a narrow band of parkland.

Statue City Cruises is the only way to access two of the city’s most beloved historical sites, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Boats cruise from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, with definitive views of New York Harbor. Liberty Island is scenic at any time of year, and the best way to truly appreciate the marvel of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s 1886 masterpiece. (If you need a little warming up, the on-site museum offers close up looks at the statue’s original torch.)


When it's time to warm up those chilled bones, you'll find the options for winter fun are endless in NYC. 

glow gala ariana grande

Madame Tussauds New York is the only place with no ropes or barriers holding you back from living your best life with your favorite stars. Don’t miss the latest additions to this Times Square icon. Harry Styles is now dazzling visitors in his rainbow sequined jumpsuit, reliving Coachella vibes. JLo has a new figure as well, inspired by her opening look from the Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show, positioned atop an Empire State Building-style spirepole. New York City is famous for its gala culture and for the first time ever you can immerse yourself in the scene here. Nineteen celebrities, including new wax figures of Rihanna and Ariana Grande, can be found at the Glow Gala installation. Many of the figures, including RuPaul, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry, are wearing illuminated, show-stopping looks inspired by New York’s legendary Met Gala. The exhibition comes to life with state-of-the-art projection technology and dramatic lighting, choreographed to a New York City-centric soundtrack. Floral walls and neon art provide a perfect backdrop for photo ops.

intrepid aircraft

A little ways west of Times Square right on the Hudson is one of the city’s most impressive sights. The former aircraft carrier that’s now the Intrepid Museum takes visitors on an interactive journey through American innovation and bravery. The museum includes the Space Shuttle Pavilion, home to Enterprise, the world’s first space shuttle, and 28 authentically restored aircraft on the outdoor flightdeck. The ship itself has a colorful history, serving in World War II, three tours of duty in Vietnam, and the recovery vessel for the Gemini and Mercury space missions.

One World Observatory

Photo: One World Observatory Facebook page, via Instagram user thesocialgirltraveler.

To escape the cold, One World Observatory is a great option in Lower Manhattan. Over 100 stories in the sky atop One World Trade Center, the fully enclosed space will give you breath-taking perspectives on Manhattan, two rivers, New York Harbor, and out to Brooklyn, Jersey, and beyond.

summit dawn

Anthony Quintano/Flickr

Next to Grand Central Terminal, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt also offers climate-controlled interiors opening up to entirely new ways of viewing the city. Blending elements of art, technology, architecture, and thrill, SUMMIT takes the concept of an “observation deck” to new heights through three floors of multi-sensory interactions.

blue man group

Blue Man Group will rock your world, blow your mind, and unleash your spirit. Leave your expectations at the door and let three bald and blue men take you on a spectacular journey bursting with music, laughter, and surprises. They’ve been performing at the Astor Place Theatre in the East Village since 1991. 50 million people of all ages, languages and cultures know what Blue Man Group is really about. Now it’s your turn.

fotografiska gramercy

Fotografiska New York is a museum experience for the modern world, with a vibrant atmosphere unlike any other NYC museum. Music is playing throughout, drinks from coffee to cocktails to champagne are served and allowed anywhere in the museum, and they’re open late every night. Look for intriguing temporary exhibitions.

Shops. Dining. World-class entertainment. The range of activities at American Dream is jaw-dropping. Just a blink from NYC on the New Jersey side you’ll find the largest indoor theme park and the largest indoor waterpark in North America, plus skiing, skating, mini golf, pizza, barbecue, luxury retailers, and even an aquarium. There are more than 3 million square feet to explore, with something for everyone—no matter the weather. It’s all less than 5 miles from Times Square!

About the Author

Ethan Wolff is the author of numerous guidebooks to New York, having covered the city for more than two decades. He has written for New York Magazine, BlackBook, and Details, among others. In addition to his work as the editor of City Guide, Ethan covers NYC’s talk and lecture scene for the website Thought Gallery. He lives with his wife and two daughters in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood of Brooklyn.

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