The Guide to Visiting New York City in Winter

There’s a good chance that when you think of NYC, you envision it in the winter, with a light blanket of snow and the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center all lit up. It’s true that the city can be magical, even in the coldest time of year. However, if you’re planning on visiting New York City in the winter, read this guide first to ensure you’re prepared.

Average Weather

New York City can get cold in the winter months. While daily averages in December, January and February hover within a few degrees above and below the freezing point, overnight lows are often in the teens and zero digits. In addition, on windy days a bitter wind can blow through the city’s streets and avenues, and with the buildings acting as a canyon to channel the wind, it will chill you to the bone.

Snow is not uncommon in NYC, in any of the winter months. Snowfall can vary from a light coating of 1-2 inches to a day-long snowstorm that dumps more than a foot. Because the daily temperature sometimes rises above the freezing point, the city also sees rain in the winter, or a wintry mix of snow and rain and even small hail.

Clothing You’ll Need

The variable NYC winter weather means you need to be prepared to stay dry and warm as you travel around the city. Boots or warm waterproof shoes and a warm winter coat are must-haves if you plan to walk to your destinations. Throw a winter hat, gloves and even a scarf into your luggage as well.

Be sure to dress in layers so you don’t roast inside, as most venues have adequate heating systems to counter the cold outside. This means long-sleeve shirts or turtlenecks (or even short-sleeve shirts if you tend to be warm all the time), with a sweater or sweatshirt on top, and jeans, pants or a skirt on the bottom. You should consider long underwear underneath your clothing if you’re planning on spending any amount of time outdoors, such as ice skating in one of the city’s many ice skating venues or waiting in line for hours for discount Broadway tickets.

visiting new york city in december

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Seasonal Activities in NYC

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

There’s no doubt that visiting the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and ice skating in the nearby rink are two of the quintessential winter activities in New York City. Technically, the tree gets erected and lit in the late fall–during the week of Thanksgiving–but it remains lit through the first week in January. The Rink at Rockefeller Center is open to the public throughout the winter.

Central Park Winter Jam

Visitors to NYC in late January will want to get to the Central Park Winter Jam, an outdoor festival celebrating all things winter. This includes snowshoeing, sledding, ski and snowboard lessons, ice sculpture demonstrations and more. Of course, you can visit Central Park at any time, especially after it snows to make a snowman or take a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride.

Bryant Park Winter Village

Bryant Park hosts a “winter village,” comprised of holiday shops, a Winter Carnival, an ice rink and more. Activities change throughout the season (for instance, the holiday shops close after New Year’s) and the ice rink has free admission, but there’s a charge to rent skates.

visiting new york city in december

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Jazz aficionados will want to plan their winter trip to NYC to coincide with the annual JazzFest in early to mid-January. The festival takes place in venues throughout Lower Manhattan and Greenwich Village, showcasing jazz through performances, lectures, tributes and more.

Wishing Wall

If you like to make wishes, you’ll love the Wishing Wall in Times Square. Throughout the month of December, you can post a dream or goal on a piece of paper that will then become part of the shredded confetti used on New Year’s Eve. What a way to ring in a new year!

visiting new york city in december

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