New York City is electric any time of year but I have to admit I was a little concerned about visiting at New Year, the main reason being the weather. So many people told me I was crazy, you’ll get snowed in, you’ll get stuck there, you won’t be able to do anything. People came out of the woodwork everywhere to poo poo the idea. Well I’m happy to report it was bloody freezing but we had a ball and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. So here are our top things to do in New York in winter!
Just a quick back story, a number of years back I decided this Aussie family was going to have a white Christmas. With much consideration and planning I finally decided that the location of choice would be Boston for Christmas and New York for New Year’s. We stayed at the Eliot Suites Hotel and I’m happy to report that I got my white Christmas with 4 inches of snow arriving on Christmas morning. It was the first white Christmas in Boston since 2006! I was a very happy, lucky lady!
On the 27th December we got the Amtrak train from Boston to New York. We had also travelled from Washington DC to Boston on Amtrak. We had a great time seeing the sights of Washington DC with kids during Christmas week. One thing I hadn’t factored in was that New York City was going to experience its coldest weather for that time of year on record. Yes you read it right, coldest temperatures ever recorded at that time of year. Most days were around -12°C (10.4°F) and with a chill factor of -20°C (-4°F).
Despite the weather I was determined not to let the cold stop us from doing anything that I had planned or miss any of the famous New York locations I had my heart set on. I had done a lot of research and had packing for the New York climate all sorted. My theory was that if we dressed appropriately we shouldn’t feel it that badly. I might have been totally wrong and we were freezing at times but I did get one thing correct, we didn’t let it stop us doing anything. So here it is……
Our top things to do in New York in winter
There are so many amazing experiences in New York City and its hard to narrow it down and to fit it all in to just one week. I not only wanted to see the main sights but I was also keen to see some unique New York sights. We only had 7 days to see it all, I gave it a jolly good crack though, here’s our top things to do in New York in winter:
Bryant Park Christmas Market
We arrived from Boston around 5pm and headed straight to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt right next to Grand Central Station on 42nd St. We checked in, dumped our luggage and headed straight out to Byrant Park which was a couple of blocks from our hotel. We arrived on 27th December and the Christmas market was due to finish on the 30th December. There was an outdoor ice skating rink (there’s a fee to skate) and a fountain covered in ice. It was bitterly cold and we enjoyed out first hot dog from the street cart.
We bought a couple of fleecy beanies for the kids and had our first hot apple cider. I bought a Christmas decoration so that each time the Christmas tree goes up we can think about our white Christmas even if for only a brief moment when we hang that particular decoration.
Bryant Park Christmas Market is free to walk around unless you purchase something which you likely will! New York is full of Christmas markets, however most finish on Christmas Eve.
Walk the High Line
The High Line is a 1.45 mile long elevated linear park and rail trail. Formally used as the New York Central Railroad located on the west side of Manhattan. The railway viaduct was abandoned in 1980, repurposing of the line commenced in 2006 and was finally complete in 2014. The High Line attracts nearly 5 million visitors annually. It’s a great walk with some fantastic views of some of New York’s iconic buildings and the Hudson River.
We walked the whole length of the High Line and we stopped off at the Chelsea Market for some hot chicken noodle soup. Chelsea Market is a funky little market with craft stalls and New York specific original finds, there is a wide variety of food stalls to choose from. Soup was top of the list for me to thaw my frozen fingers! The Chelsea Market is an industrial building taking up an entire city block and was once home to the National Biscuit Company, more famously known as Nabisco – home of the Oreo cookie.
After lunch we continued on to the end of the High Line, it finishes in the Meatpackers District. The line is maintained by a nonprofit organisation – Friends of the High Line.
It’s to walk the High Line.
You’ve all heard about Central Park but for those outside New York did you know that it’s 843 acres and about 2.5 miles long and a mile wide. This huge urban park seperates the Upper East and West sides of Manhatten. In April 2017 Central Park was placed on a list for tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site listing, it does surprise me that it hasn’t already been designated. The park is also managed by a non profit organisation.
I think the size of Central Park absolutely blew me away. I knew it was big but by god its actually massive. We visited on a pretty cold day and it was the only day I actually threw in the towel and said I couldn’t handle it any longer. I’m now disappointed as looking at the map, we only saw about a quarter of the park and I was really keen to have seen a lot more than that. We did get to walk across one of the ponds that had frozen over for the winter and the kids thought that was fabulous. We never see frozen lakes in Australia so it was definitely a novelty for our kids. It snowed the day after our walk through the park but unfortunately we didn’t get time to return to see it covered in snow.
Another surprise in the park was Belvedere Castle, a castle in Central Park?? Originally designed in 1865 by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, Belvedere Castle was intended to be a Victorian Folly, a fantasy structure that provides a great backdrop and views, but without a real intended purpose. With its strong stone façade, grand turret and flag, the castle was merely a stunning attraction in Central Park. Belvedere is Italian for “beautiful views” or “panoramic views” and this is certainly what the castle provides from the second highest point in the park.
Craig and I also returned to Central Park on New Years Eve to ring in the New Year. We were determined to see the fireworks as Times Square was just too crowded and expensive. The kids stayed at the hotel with my sister and we charged down there about 11.30pm in the -20 degree weather. There was a bit of a squeeze getting past 7th Ave and we walked around into the park. We then realised that from certain vantage points you could see the New Years Eve ball drop down 7th Ave with the Central Park fireworks going off behind, so that’s how we rung in the New Year. Then promptly charged back to the Grand Hyatt Hotel where we were staying to warm up again!
We visited Times Square at 9pm the night prior to New Years Eve. I couldn’t believe it when we started walking up the steps to exit the subway, the glow from Times Square looked like it was 12 midday! It was so bright it was like daylight! It was packed as you can imagine with everyone there for New Year. We were standing looking up at the New Years Eve Ball and it started counting down… they were doing a practice run for the next night! So effectively we did get to see the Ball Drop, just a day early. The Ball Drop has been conducted in Times Square since 1907 and attracts a crowd of a million people every year!
Times Square is located at the intersection of 7th Ave and Broadway in Midtown, New York City, its often referred to as the ‘centre of the world’. Its definitely the heart of Manhattan and a hive of activity. There is always something going on. Times Square is full of tourists and it’s full of neon, it reminded me a little of Shinjuku in Tokyo with all the advertising boards lit up like a Christmas tree. Its also the heart of the Broadway theatre district. There are plenty of kid-friendly restaurants in New York and you’ll find plenty around the Times Square area. Get there early though as many of them were very busy especially those closest to the theatres.
We also spent all day at Times Square on New Years day. The clean up had already been completed and apart from a little confetti here and there you wouldn’t have even known that a million people had been there the night before. We stopped at Hersey World and the kids bought some of there favourite sweets. We did some shopping at the Levis Store and had a wander around the Hard Rock Cafe. The atmosphere is electric and you don’t really need to do anything in Times Square but experience it!
Watch a Broadway Show
This was a must do on my bucket list. Unfortunately I was a bit unorganised and left myself only one night to see a Broadway show. That night was New Years Day, not my best move. We headed to Times Square about 11am and hit up the reduced tickets stalls located there. We had to have something appropriate for the kids and there wasn’t much available. We then went to the theatres direct to see if we could get tickets from there. We decided to see School of Rock but unfortunately we couldn’t get discounted tickets.
Looking for cheap tickets, read ‘How to get cheap tickets for Broadway shows’
We then decided to try Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, at this stage we were getting a bit desperate so just went with what ever we could get. We were unable to get tickets together, we were close to each other over 3 rows. Our tickets were $125USD each. For a family of 5 it turned out a little on the expensive side. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity and the show was definitely worth every cent we spent on it.
The kids loved it, we loved it and the show was very well done. Our theatre was just off Broadway and it was closing that week. I have since heard that it is coming to Melbourne this year as is School of Rock so will have to go and see that when it starts.
There are also a couple of apps you can download that will identify discount tickets, they are TodayTIX & tkts. Download these and they will cover discount tickets for shows in Las Vegas as well. You will also find discount ticket stalls on the Las Vegas Strip, they’ll find you if you don’t see them!
Prices vary depending on the show you see, we paid $125USD per person.
Craig was keen to see Yankee Stadium, we did a tour of Fenway Park in Boston so here we just had a walk around and visited the Yankee’s Store and the attached Hard Rock Cafe. We caught the subway out to the Bronx and the station is right at the stadium door.
This stadium opened in 2009 and replaced the original Yankee Stadium which was knocked down once the current park was complete. The limestone facade at Gate four mirrors the original facade from 1923. Interestingly, the new stadium holds 6,000 less seats than the original stadium. While praised for its state of the art amenities, the new stadium is also criticised for having the highest priced tickets of any professional sports. Tickets start at $510USD and the most expensive at $2600USD.
Yankee Stadium tours start from $20USD if purchased online, or $25USD at the gate, adults and children are the same price.
Empire State Building
Ahhh the Empire State Building…! An icon of New York City and a must when visiting. We come really close to not going up the Empire State Building, we had already been up to the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Building) and they were both so expensive for 5 people that I said to Craig lets not bother. I wanted to go and see anyway and as we were getting closer I started to feel that if I didn’t go up, I would regret it when I went home. See we jumped in lined and up we went and I don’t regret it at all. We did the Empire State Building during the day.
It was very busy and we would have queued for close to 2 hours. It was so cold that you would go outside for 10mins and take a few photos then go inside again until you warmed up. The Dare to Dream exhibit is located on the 80th floor and the escalator will drop you here first. There are 2 different observation decks you can purchase tickets for, the main 86th floor and then the top 102th floor. We were happy enough with the main observation deck and didn’t feel the need to pay the extra to visit the 102th floor. The observation decks are open from 8am through to 2am.
While we were up on the 86th observation deck, a NYPD helicopter flew right up to the observation deck, did a loop around the building, hoovered there a minute and then flew off. It was an amazing sight to be eye to eye with a helicopter when miles up in the air. See the video below for just how close it got.
The view from the Empire State Building is breathtaking and really gives good clarity to the sheer size and scope of Manhattan. I’m glad we visited one during the day and the other in the evening (Top of the Rock). Although I have heard people say that you are best to do Top of the Rock during the day because you get a better view of Central Park so keep that in mind if you are planning on doing both, there’s pros and cons this post will help you decide when is the best time to visit the Empire State Building and the TOTR.
Check out this link to Empire State Building admission tickets.
Top of the Rock
The observation deck at the Rockefeller Building, known as Top of The Rock, is located on the 70th floor. As stated above, I have since been told that you are best to visit Top of the Rock during the day for the best views of Central Park. We went in late at night after seeing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Broadway. This observation deck opens at 8am and closes at 11pm.
You also get a great view of the empire State Building from the Top of the Rock. We were there at Christmas/ New Year and the Empire State Building was decked out in the red and green colours of Christmas. The outside forecourt of the Rockefeller Centre is famous for ice skating during the winter, it is however very experience and very busy. I was keen for the kids to do some ice skating in New York City on one of the many open air rinks but it was just too cold and I was worried they would fall and get all soaked and cold. We did end up doing it in San Francisco at Union Square on the last day of our trip.
Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty, if you didn’t already know, is a copper statue that was gifted to the American people from the French on October 26,1886. She holds a torch and carries a tabula inscribed with the date, July 4,1776, the date of US Independence. She’s an icon of freedom and was a welcome sight to immigrants arriving to start a new life in the US. The Statue of Liberty was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
There are a couple of ways to see the Statue of Liberty. For me it was non negotiable, I wanted to go out to Liberty Island and up to the pedestal. I would have liked to have climbed to the Crown but the tickets are limited and somehow I missed it and they sold out without me noticing. Having said that though, you will need a decent level of fitness to get up there. We did go up to the pedestal and the view from there was much better than on the ground. We visited at the end of December and were lucky to have it covered in a layer of snow. Now I know that doesn’t excite most people but it does me. I think snow adds a special something, something not everyone gets to see. Its pure and clean and makes everything fresh and bright. Not everyones cup of tea though!
You can also get the Straten Island ferry, this will take you past the Statue of Liberty and its free but it won’t stop and you won’t be able to get off and walk around and take in the amazing views back over to Manhattan. New York is an expensive city so this is a good way to save a few dollars and if you time it right, you might also catch a cracking sunset.
September 11, 2001 is etched into the minds of every person who is old enough to have lived through it. We will all remember where we were at that fateful time and we all watched the aftermath unabated. It was on every channel and strangers were talking about it at every train station or bus stop. No one could believe it and we all couldn’t take our eyes off it. We then watched to see how New York would learn from this experience and how a city would repair from such a tragedy.
Australians travel to the US regularly, the first thing people would ask is did you go to 9/11. You heard people talk about their experience, whether it was soon after the attack, after the clean up, when it was just a huge hole, when they started to rebuild and for us, the rebuild was complete and we got to see how the American’s chose to reflect and pay their respects to all the lives that were lost on the terrible day in history.
Somewhere along the line I had forgotten that the kids didn’t know about 9/11. Had I protected them too much from the dark side of life? Maybe. We had to explain the significance of the place without evoking a whole heaps of questions I didn’t want to answer right then. I was overwhelmed with emotion when we arrived, seeing all the names of lives lost that day was confronting. Hearing the stories of people that experienced it and survived was heart wrenching. They have done such a great job of the museum and I’m sure the families that lost loved ones would be really happy that each and every person is honoured in the memorial.
My favourite moment is captured below, I turned around to see Alannah explaining what happened that day to her little brother and sister. They got it, they understood the gravity of it all. They still have many questions, some we can’t answer, like why? We’ll never know but I’ll tell you one thing now, every time I visit New York, I will visit 9/11 and pay my respects to all 3000+ people that tragically lost their lives. They will not be forgotten.
The 9/11 Museum is on the expensive side, although the money goes towards the upkeep of the memorial. It is definitely worth seeing once in your life.
Click here for 9/11 Museum tickets.
The iconic Flatiron Building is located in the Flatiron District, it’s a triangular building consisting of 22 floors. Built in 1902 on 5th Ave, it was never the tallest building in New York but definitely the most interesting. It stands at the intersection of 5th Ave, Broadway and East 42nd St, the building was designated a National Historic Building in 1989.
The Flatiron is an office building with no public access, the intricate greek style carvings of wreathes, flowers & Medusa heads engraved into terracotta line the outside of the structure. I had seen this building in so many photos that it was a must see for me and we got some lovely photos while we were there. Some other things to see here are Madison Square Park, The Metropolitan Life Tower, the New York Life building and the National Museum of Mathematics
Walk across Brooklyn Bridge
There are some great spots around the Brooklyn Bridge where you can get the most Instagrammable photos of New York City, somehow we left it until our last night in New York and walked halfway across and back again. We had planned to walk all the way across the bridge but it was freezing and the bitter chill in the wind from up the river was making it unbearable.
We did get a brilliant sunset, a beautiful pink and orange right behind the Statue of Liberty, who would have thought you would get such a lovely sunset in the middle of winter. You do need to be careful of kamikaze bike riders on the Brooklyn Bridge though. There’s a bike lane and a pedestrian lane and with the amount of people walking over, the lanes somehow get blurred. The bikes riders come through there really quickly and if you happen to be in the way, they will basically clean you up. After walking across the Brooklyn Bridge we went to New York City Chinatown which is a short walk down St James Place on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Little Italy a.k.a Mulberry St, once home to Italian immigrants and now lined with souvenirs stores and Italian restaurants. We ate in a lot of different places but our favourite was definitely Benito One in Little Italy. The food was traditional and sangria cold. It was a pokey little hole in the wall restaurant that looked like it was popular with the locals. When we first walked in I didn’t think there was going to be a table for 7 but before I had a chance to say anything, waiters were rearranging tables to make sure we had one
It was definitely a family run business, grandpa was overseeing people coming in and out and sorting out the bills. Fathers and sons sharing the load of waitering, I’m certain there were other family members out in the kitchen, it was exactly like I would have expected in Italy but right in the middle of New York City. We were starving and it was getting late so we walked into the first restaurant we saw, lucky for us it was a winner. If you have more time, walk up and down the street, they will try to usher you in but make sure you negotiate at least a bottle of wine. Its just one of many amazing places to eat in New York City.
The souvenir shops are great and very reasonably priced for t-shirts, replica Empire State Buildings & Brooklyn Bridge magnets, bottle openers and anything you can think of for small gifts for friends at home or for the kids teachers and friends.
5th Avenue is a major thoroughfare through New York and is reportedly on of the most expensive and elegant streets in the world and home to the Empire State Building. 5th Avenue is the home of bling and walking it is a must do! Any shop you can possibly imagine from the high end range is on 5th Avenue. Sak’s Fifth Avenue is one of America’s famous department stores and is famous for its Christmas windows. We saw them at around at 11.30pm on New Years Eve on the way down to Central Park to see the fireworks.
We took the kids to the Lindt Chocolate store and they got a few things for our flight to New Orleans. We also visited the original Tiffany & Co Jewellery Store on Fifth Avenue and I spoilt myself with a new pair of earrings. The store was very busy and consists of 6 floors jewellery and the new Tiffany Cafe on the 6 floor where you can now have Breakfast at Tiffanys just like Audrey Hepburn.
Walking up 5th Avenue is a free activity but purchasing anything will not be cheap.
Grand Central Station
Located on 42nd Street across from Park Avenue, Grand Central Station opened in 1871 and consists of 44 platforms. The current structure opened in 1913 and is the third terminal constructed on the same site serving the same purpose. It’s not only a transportation hub, it also contains shopping, dining and a fresh food market on the lower level.
Our hotel, the Grand Hyatt was attached to Grand Central Station, we walked through Grand Central Station most days and it wowed me every time. Its so grand that 10,000 people visit the station everyday and don’t even catch a train! Grand Central is believed to one of the worlds most visited tourist attractions, attracting up to 22 million visitors annually. As soon as you walk into the main station area you recognise the setting from many a blockbuster Hollywood movies, such as Home Alone, The Avengers, Superman and Men in Black 1 & 2.
In the 1960’s Jacqueline Kennedy saved Grand Central from being torn down, there were plans to build a newer and better terminal on the site and soon after it was designated an historic American landmark. I’m so glad this happened and this building is now preserved for many more generations to view the magnificence of it, particularly the main hall which is breathtaking.
Explore by Subway
As we are a family of 5 we very rarely do any tours when in big cities. We download the map for the hop on, hop off bus and then explore all those places on our own. Getting your head around a new subway system takes a bit of getting used to but once you get in and start using it, it seems to make sense. We love exploring a new city on public transport and find that we always meet the nicest people, get the best tips and often stumble over something we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t gotten just a little bit lost!
New York’s subway system is amazingly efficient and the Times Square 42nd St Subway station services 65 million people annually. I was surprised as how industrial looking the subway appeared, the stations are very narrow and its easy to get confused. Local people were happy to assist with directions when we looked a little perplexed. Especially when we were trying to get from Penn Station to Grand Central in peak hour with 7 people and 9 suitcases that was our baptism of fire with the subway! We survived though!
Riding the subway is very cost efficient, it cost approximately $2.75 for a couple of hours riding the subway, I suggest you get out there and give it a go and don’t be scared to get a little lost sometimes.
Attend an ice hockey game
Ice hockey is an iconic American sport, we don’t really have ice hockey in Australia and seeing as baseball was on the off season, ice hockey was my next best choice. We went to the New York Islanders versus the Boston Bruins game at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn on our last night in town. We had no idea how the game worked but people around us soon worked out we needed a bit of assistance with understanding the rules of the game and happily explained the basics.
I loved the atmosphere and the game is so fast and exciting. I could hardly see the puck but I made the right head movements and watched the pushing and shoving that the game is famous for! When I put on Facebook that we were at the ice hockey, every second questions was ‘has there been a punch on yet’. I couldn’t get over how rough the game is and quickly decided that I was happy none of my kids play ice hockey.
We had a ball that night, we loved every minute of it and the kids all come away with some cool authentic souvenirs to remember it by. I went for the Boston Bruins and went home a winner after the Boston Bruins took out the game 4-1.
For tickets to the ice hockey, go to www.ticketmaster.com. We paid US$45 per person although prices vary depending on your seats and which team you will be seeing.
Eat at a New York food cart
We see these carts in movies and TV shows, they are famous all on their own so it was something that had to be done. On our first night we had dinner from a New York food cart at the Bryant Park Christmas Market. The kids had a hot dog and I had an Italian sausage in bread, my sister had a hamburger and Craig had kebab. We stood on the side of the street in the freezing cold and ate just like a New Yorker!
These food carts are everywhere, the costs are highly inflated for tourists so make sure you barter a bit with them, particularly if its late at night. I love that you can get a reasonably priced feed anywhere in New York and they don’t take long to throw it together. It was definitely a quintessential New York experience, up there with the cream cheese bagel which I didn’t put in this review.
Do we love New York?
Hell yeah, loved every minute of it, even though it recorded the coldest temperatures on record for that time of year. Would I go back in winter, you bet, I’d go back anytime. I was determined not to let the weather stop us doing anything and as you can see we didn’t. Could we have done more, sure we could have. We only had a week in New York and I think I could be there for 3 months and still not see everything I would want to see. The kids set a cracking pace and considering the cold, I was so proud of them. They never once asked to go back to the hotel and they were up for visiting everything we could possibly squeeze in. They were troopers on the subway on the few times we got lost and instead of whinging, they laughed about it and got on with it.
I don’t know how you couldn’t love New York, it gets under your skin. I would have loved to have returned to Central Park to see it covered in snow, I think it would be totally different. I would still love to walk to the other side of Brooklyn Bridge and see the sunset over Manhattan Island. There are still so many things I could find to do there. I know I’ll go back one day, I still need to explore the boroughs.
Have you read our post on the new Disney MaxPasses? This post gives you all the tips on how to purchase it and what it gets you. I even have a post on the best places to stay near Disneyland to make your planning so much easier! Or our visit to the Grand Canyon, that was a highlight of our trip. From New York, we headed to New Orleans to board our Carnival Cruise to the Western Caribbean.
Have you been to New York? What was your favourite attraction? Do you have any off the track places you would like to recommend? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
New York totally blew me away, see you next time New York.
Sal, Craig and Our3kids.