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16 reasons to visit NYC’s best attractions this winter

midcentury buildings in NYC
Photograph: Shutterstock

We get it: It’s really, really easy to stay in bed watching Netflix all day when the temperature dips below freezing. But that’s also the beauty of winter: The nasty weather scares away the hordes of tourists, so locals can finally enjoy New York’s most popular attractions. Still not convinced? Check out this list of 16 events, exhibitions and activities happening this winter. It might just motivate you to leave your apartment next weekend.  

1. The Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden
Make the trek up to the Bronx for the New York Botanical Garden’s fifteenth annual orchid show, starting February 18. After all, there’s no better way to drive away the winter doldrums than with colorful flowers. This year’s exhibition is all about Thailand—home to thousands of species of orchids—and even includes a traditional Thai pavilion entirely covered with tropical blooms.   

2. “Seurat’s Circus Sideshow” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
French artist Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” may be his most well-known painting, but it’s not the only work of his that deserves your attention. The Met is shining the spotlight on another of Seurat’s works, “Circus Sideshow”, in this carnival-themed art exhibition opening February 17.  

3. “Mark Leckey: Containers and Their Drivers” at MoMA PS1
A Samsung refrigerator set against a green screen. A full-scale reproduction of a highway overpass. A surreal projection of the interior of the artist’s childhood home. You’ll find all this and more mind-blowing contemporary art at Leckey’s latest exhibition, on view through March 5 at the Long Island City offshoot of the Museum of Modern Art.

4. Nature Walk in Prospect Park
Take advantage of a day of tolerably warm weather for a long walk in Prospect Park. Better yet, join a four-hour guided tour and foraging expedition. You’ll learn how to harvest wild carrots, evening primrose, sassafras, persimmons and more native plants while taking in the park’s natural beauty.

5. “Jackson Pollock: Exploring Alchemy” at the Guggenheim Museum
Step into an art curator’s shoes at this exhibit of one of Pollock’s most famous drip paintings. Spend a few minutes taking in the artwork, then explore the layers of paint through 3D imaging and x-radiography on nearby kiosks. It’s a totally new way for the public to dissect a piece of art.

6. We Were Strangers Once Too in Times Square
Yes, braving the masses in Father Duffy Square can be a pain, but we promise it will be worth it to snap a photo of this new piece of public art. We Were Strangers Once Too uses 33 red and pink metal poles to represent the changing populations of NYC residents born outside of the country. Stop by between February 7 and March 5 to take a cool Instagram and celebrate our city’s diversity.

7. Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater
Long before American Idol, there was Amateur Night at the Apollo. The talent competition that launched the careers of greats like Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown kicks off a new season at the historic theater on February 22 at 7:30pm. Cheer or boo to decide who stays and who goes as contestants compete for the prestigious title of Super Top Dog and the $20,000 grand prize. Be good or be gone!

8. Whiskey Wars! at BLDG 92
Head out to the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard to find King’s County Distillery, a craft operation producing some of the best whiskey, moonshine and bourbon in the country. There’s more to do than just drink, though: The distillery was also the site of the battles between government forces and underground distillers in the late 1800s that became known as the “whiskey wars.” Take a tour of the distillery to hear the whole story. Don’t worry—you’ll taste plenty of whiskey along the way.

9. “Night Fever: New York Disco 1977-1979, the Bill Bernstein Photos” at Museum of Sex
Throw it back to the heyday of Studio 54 and “Stayin’ Alive” all night long at this exhibition of Bill Bernstein’s photos of the disco scene. It’s an immersive experience, with funky music and a bar serving ‘70s-themed drinks at equally retro prices—just $5 for a beer and $6 for cocktails. You might even have to test out the museum’s adult-themed bounce house, while you’re there.

UPDATE: This exhibition has been extended to run through January 16, 2018.

10. “Sibyl Kempson: 12 Shouts to the Ten Forgotten Heavens” at the Whitney Museum of American Art
Something special happens at the Whitney on every equinox and solstice: a new performance of Kempson’s latest work. Catch her company, 7 Daughters of Eve Theater & Performance Co., in a live performance based on rituals, mythology and astrology at the exact moment the vernal equinox occurs: March 20 at 6:29am.

11. Harlem’s Historic Faces and Places Tour
There’s no better time to learn about the Harlem Renaissance than February—it is Black History Month, after all. This tour of Harlem will teach you about the architecture, history and culture of the vibrant neighborhood. When you’re walking the same streets that Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes once trod, you can really get a sense of the spirit of the place.

12. Ice Skating in Central Park
Now that the holidays are over and the tourists have left the city, New Yorkers finally have the ice rinks to themselves. Dust off your skates and go for a spin on the iconic Wollman Rink in Central Park. You can’t beat the views of the Midtown skyline towering above the natural beauty of the park’s meadows and trees.

13. Taste of the Dining Concourse at Grand Central
Ready to eat for free? Every day between February 27 and March 3 at 11am and 4pm, Grand Central’s restaurants will be handing out free samples of some of their most popular dishes. Nibble on mini tacos from La Chula, banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery, meatballs from Prova Pizzabar and more while taking in the stunning Beaux-Arts architecture. Pencil in some extra time to take a quick tour while you’re there!

14. The Valentine’s Day lights on the Empire State Building
Take your inspiration from two of the most iconic love stories to ever hit the big screen—An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle—and visit the Empire State Building for Valentine’s Day. The tower will be lit up in pink and red for the occasion, and we couldn’t think of a more romantic date.

15. Chinese New Year in Chinatown
Join the crowds in Chinatown on February 5 to ring in the year of the Fire Rooster with the Chinese New Year parade at 1pm. While you’re in the neighborhood, why not sample some of the local delicacies? Come hungry so you can feast on all the dumplings, steamed buns, noodles and bubble tea you want.

16. Winter Carnival at Bryant Park
Christmas may have come and gone, but that doesn’t have to mean the end of winter celebrations. Bryant Park’s annual Winter Carnival will surely show you that. The frosty festival includes ice shows, curling lessons, trivia nights and even an ice castle. Check it out before the fun ends on February 4!

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