Tips for visiting NYC in winter

New York City in winter is a dream come true – at least in the planning stages!   It sounds amazing and Christmas in the Big Apple is a bucket list item for sure but if you’re not prepared you might well have the coldest trip you have ever imagined and end up spending your entire travel budget on warm clothes when you get there!

We spent a month in New York a few years ago now over December and January so some of the coldest months there are – here are my tips for having a great city break there in the winter.

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Central Park, NYC in winter with snow

Wrap up warm, and then wrap up some more

Ok, so I might go on about the cold quite a bit, but with good reason!  I grew up in Scotland and live in England now, so I’m not a stranger to cold winters although I’ll say I’m more used to damp conditions than what we had in New York.

Quite simply the cold can be extremely bitter.  There were a number of times when there were weather warnings for the cold when we were there.

Layers are going to be your friend that’s for sure.  We all had thermal leggings (like these) and tops underneath our normal clothes and they definitely helped.  Hats and scarves are again a must and I liked my ear muffs too!

And if you decide to go all in and get a down jacket you’ll fit right in because all the locals seemed to be wearing them!  Ok, I’m sure in some areas there was a more upmarket posh jacket scene, but where we were everyone had big puffy jackets!

Choose a hotel that’s central to the sights you’re interested in

If you only have a few nights in the city then my recommendation is definitely to get a hotel that central to what you have planned.  If that’s looking at the Christmas lights at Rockafellas and then shopping on Fifth Avenue then you really don’t want to have a hotel that’s miles away.

Hotels in the centre of Manhattan do command a greater price than those out of the way in Brooklyn or Staten Island and normally as a budget conscious traveller I’d be saying to consider those instead.  

When you’re tight on time and battling with potential bad or cold weather then I think a central hotel is a must.

Being able to go out for a couple of hours and then have the choice to head back to your hotel or apartment for a warm up is great.  If it’s out of the way it takes that choice away from you.

If you’re not sure where to start with hotels then check out Booking and see what they have to offer.  I like using Booking as you can often book straight away without having to pay and it will secure your hotel for you!

Person on a bench looking over NYC in winter

Bring lip balm and moisturizer

The cold and going from heated inside areas to back outside will play havoc with your skin and dry it out immensely.  

Take my advice and get some good moisturiser and keep a lip balm in your pocket for on the go hydration!  If you already have a favourite moisturiser then take some travel jars, decant it in and stick them in your bag.

Scope out places so you can warm up

If you have a day of sightseeing planned then scope out some ideas of places that you can go during your day to warm up should you feel like you need to.  This can be coffee shops (see below), museums and historic sites or just some fun stores like Macy’s or FAO Schwarz.

Have a nice and healthy coffee shop budget

You can’t go to New York City and not sit and have coffee in a nice corner cafe can you?  Budget in plenty of money for this so you can warm up as and when you need to, plus just enjoy the experience as well!

Be prepared to take lots of photographs

New York City is a photographer’s dream at the best of times but in winter there is often excellent, clear light which just makes photos amazing.  

Don’t forget to bring your camera with you, or just make sure you have plenty of space on your phone for pics – you’ll be glad you did.

Take extra batteries for your tech

To carry on from the last tip – the cold will really sap your battery power in your gadgets so be aware of this.  

Often we’d go out with a full battery on our iPhone and it would run out just a couple of hours later – the cold really does drain them.

I wish we’d had an extra battery pack (or even two) for those moments because we missed so many photo opportunities because of it.  If you need to keep in touch with others on your trip this is even more of an essential.

Christmas tree at Rockefeller Centre

Go early or late to the Christmas faves

We couldn’t go all the way to NYC at Christmas time without seeing the giant Christmas tree there and the ice rink, or the lights on fifth Avenue.  But I wish I’d have known quite how busy they were going to be at the time we were there.

If I could do it again I’d head out really late in the evening or first thing in the morning to get a good view of these places.  Yes we saw them, but all I really remember is the crowds!

Take in an evening show

There are so many shows on Broadway and around NYC that you’re really spoilt for choice.  They are a great evening idea in the winter especially where you can keep warm, have fun and do something pretty unique to NYC as well.

We didn’t manage to do any due to our budget and also being based so far away in Staten Island, but next time!  I have my heart set on going to the Christmas show at Radio City!

Taxis in New York City

Don’t discount taxis when getting to other parts of NYC

While the budget friendly traveller in me says just get the subway (and we did every day – it was really easy to use and we loved it), don’t discount just getting a taxi if you need to get to another area quickly and the weather is against you.  

There is no point in being miserable, cold and dragging yourself and travel companions to subways miles away to get to your next destination.  

Get yourself a taxi, feel like a real New Yorker (at least the ones in the movies) and get to where you need to be comfortably!

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Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew is a travel expert and has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for over 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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