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Why I love New York in winter

written by Iseult Larkin October 11, 2017
Central Park in winter.

Kyoto’s autumn colours are the stuff a travel agent’s dreams are made of, and Paris will always have the spring. But New York in winter? Well, ever since my first visit one November, I’ve been convinced that the Empire City is the unabashed boss of winter.

Winter temperatures in New York can drop past freezing so make no mistake, the city is an icebox. With the cold though, comes a certain alchemy I think. It envelopes the city like a wool coat and softens it into a warm-hearted city of cosy good cheer.

I’ve lived in New York for the summer and returned for an autumn wedding and a spring fling. But as bold a statement as it is, I think winter is the very best time to be in the USA‘s most famous city. Here’s some of the best things about being in New York in the winter months.

Festive fun

I guess it’s not too surprising that The City That Never Sleeps doesn’t go in for hibernation either. Far from quieting down,  I’ve found New York in winter to be turbo charged with special events and seasonal things to do. A Metrocard will let you skip across the city to enjoy it all.

People ice-skating at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

Ice-skating at Rockefeller Plaza. Photo by Marc Ruaix on Unsplash

If you’re visiting New York in winter during the lead up to Christmas (these days, that’s anytime from late October onwards), you’ll be inundated with Yuletide-type carry on. The most classically Christmas evening I’ve ever indulged in included sliding out onto the ice rink at the Rockefeller Center. Made famous by festive rom-coms such as Elf, the rink opens in early October and its colossal Christmas tree – five miles of twinkling lights topped with a glittering Swarovski crystal star – is switched on at the end of November. Be forewarned, gliding around in front of that golden Prometheus doesn’t come cheap, and it always draws a crowd.

Afterwards, we couldn’t resist continuing down 5th Avenue to Saks to bask in the glow of their Christmas window displays. Saks unveil their mechanical marvels in late November but other department stores such as Macy’s and Bergdorf Goodman present theirs earlier in the month. New York in winter is commercial, cheesy, and gloriously Christmassy.

New York is chock full of activity leading up to December 25th but that’s not to say the city’s winter action is resigned to Christmastide. November sees a slew of big name fashion sample sales throughout the month, along with turkey-themed dinners and sports galore. January is probably the best time to get tickets to Broadway shows, art galleries, and museum exhibitions. February features New York Beer Week and Mardi Gras revelry. Then it’s March Madness with basketball in Madison Square Gardens.

READ MORE: NEW YORK, NEW YORK: A FIVE-DAY GUIDE TO THE BIG APPLE

Being outside

Winter in New York is a frosty affair but New York wears the cold well. In early November, New York’s parks are still ablaze with red leaves. Once the leaves have finally left their trees, there can be ice underfoot but it’s often accompanied by blue skies and bright sunshine up above.

The High Line in New York City

The High Line in New York City. Image via Shutterstock

One of my favourite ways to enjoy a bright winter’s day in New York is to walk the High Line. This public park is built on an old rail line in the west of the city. It stretches from the Meatpacking District to Hudson Yards where it hovers over busy streets and winds between buildings. The High Line is divine in any season, but in winter the plants aren’t trimmed back as they would be in summer. It has a wild and free feel in a particularly pleasing contrast to the concrete around it.

A clear, frosty day is also the ideal occasion for a trip up the Empire State Building. You’ll need a few extra layers and a big scarf to keep your ears warm, but the crisp air adds something extra special to the already unparalleled views.

Cosying up in interesting inside spaces

As perhaps the greatest urban centre on the planet, New York has some incredible areas under its multitude of eaves.

Whatever the month, there’ll be a must-see museum collection or art exhibition to catch. But New York’s permanent collections are more than enough to make you forget what the thermometer is registering outside. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, sleeting, or snowing out there when you’re lost in a dreamy world of swirling paint-daub skies and swaying Cypress trees. As well as 17 works by Vincent van Gogh, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has 14 per cent of the world’s surviving Vermeer paintings. It also has the only complete Egyptian temple in the western hemisphere. Walking among fallen meteorites and rare space gems in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Halls of the American Museum of Natural History, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what planet I was on, let alone the current weather here on Earth.

A person under a red umbrella stands between two colourful cars in the snow.

Winter in New York. Photo by Austin Scherbarth on Unsplash

New York’s bar scene is legendary and freezing conditions are the perfect excuse to while away an afternoon with a few smoky whiskies in the name of culture. The cosiest, most charming spots are in constant competition. Which I’ve found means that fireplaces and hot toddies are easier to come by in New York than most cities. Personally, I don’t think you can beat Shoolbred’s in the East Village but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.

Paris can have the spring, New York in winter is the only place I want to be.

Ready to meet your new favourite city-season pairing? Check out New York on Intrepid’s new US & Canada Discovery Winter trip.

Feature image by Emanuel Hahn on Unsplash.

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