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The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Phil Roeder

The best indoor activities in NYC

Escape the cold with the best indoor activities in NYC—with bars, museums and arcades keeping it fresh all winter long

By Jonathan Shannon and Time Out New York contributors

Our list of incredible indoor activities in NYC prove that the weather doesn’t need to be sunny and dry in order for you to have a good time. While our most beautiful NYC parks and outdoor attractions may be off-limits during a rain or snowstorm, that doesn’t mean you should waste a perfectly good day sitting on the couch in your apartment. Whether you’re interested in going ice-skating and indoor rink, finding a great wine bar or touring one of New York’s legendary museums, brave the cold, sweltering heat or a heavy downpour for some indoor fun.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to things to do in winter in NYC

Best indoor activities in NYC

Photograph: Chelsea Noelani Hale

1. Play skee-ball at Full Circle Bar

Bars Sports Bars Lower East Side

This Skee-Ball-themed bar in Williamsburg is a haven for kitschy, nostalgia-driven boozing. The beer offerings skew cheap and cheerful, with a small selection of standard taps supplemented by 40 canned brews kept in ice-filled coolers behind the bar. Three-buck Genesee Cream Ale replaces PBR as the cheapo suds of choice, and a $2 hot-dog serves as the snack of champions. Divey decor reflects the owners' commitment to the game—the bar is constructed from old Skee-Ball machine parts, and a TV up front plays a live feed of the action on the three ramps in the back.

Chelsea Piers
Photograph: Courtesy Scott McDermott

2. Play indoor golf at Chelsea Piers

Sports and fitness Golf Downtown

There are other venues to perfect your swing away from the elements in New York, but this West Side complex doesn't require membership: Casual golfers can whack a few balls when the mood takes them from one of the 52 stalls over four floors. Come during off-peak hours to get a better bang for your buck (148 balls for $25, as opposed to 90 during peak hours). The simulators ($45 an hour) allow you to compete in over 55 virtual championship courses while supping on pizza and beer from Chelsea Brewery Company downstairs.


3. Go bowling at The Gutter

Bars Lounges Greenpoint

The owners of Williamsburg's Barcade have cornered the leisure-time market with this eight-lane bowling alley that looks straight out of early 1980s Milwaukee. Locals toss frames, then retreat to the lounge decorated with bowling trophies and ancient beer signs to drown their seven-ten-split sorrows. A dozen killer microbrews on tap are poured by the pint or pitcher. 

Fat Cat
Photograph: Filip Wolak

4. Play games and listen to jazz at Fat Cat

Music Music venues West Village

When the weather turns nasty, hunker down underground. You can kill many hours at this cheap, scruffy and jovial spot by playing pool, Ping-Pong and shuffleboard ($6 to $7 per person, per hour), foosball ($1 per game) and chess ($1 for unlimited play). Once you've exhausted those options—and yourself—flop onto one of the comfy worn couches and nod along to that night's jazz band.

Brooklyn Boulders
Photograph: Courtesy Rory Moon

5. Make the climb at Brooklyn Boulders

Sports and fitness Yoga & Pilates Gowanus

Ever wanted to climb the Brooklyn Bridge? Play it safe and mount the 30-foot replica of one of the bridge's towers at this three-year-old rock-climbing gym. With more than 22,000 square feet of bouldering and climbing walls to scale, even Spider-Man wouldn't get bored. Introductory classes ($49 to $79) are offered several times a day for aspiring Peter Parkers.

6. Catch a flick at the IFC Center

Movie theaters Independent West Village

The long-darkened 1930s Waverly was once again illuminated in 2005 when it was reborn as a modern three-screen art house, showing the latest indie hits, choice midnight cult items and occasional foreign classics. Actors and directors often introduce their work here on opening night, and the high-toned café provides sweets, lattes and substantials.

Ice skating
Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

7. Hit the slick stuff at City Ice Pavilion

Sports and fitness Sunnyside

Practice your triple axels before you hit the city's A-list rinks at this indoor facility, which offers dozens of weekly skating classes, as well as daily open sessions. There's also the added benefit of having a second, smaller area for spillover. The additional rink—made of synthetic material—gives smelly adult leaguers a place to practice their hockey stops while you enjoy your leisurely laps.

Chelsea Market
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Shop till you drop at Chelsea Market

Shopping Shopping centers Chelsea

Food-lovers can spend hours browsing the specialty stores in Chelsea's renovated Nabisco factory. Grab a coffee at Ninth Street Espresso and take your sweet time while enjoying the perks of market shopping all under one roof. Check out fresh catches at the Lobster Place, browse a good range of vino at Chelsea Wine Vault, and pick up Italian cooking staples at Buon Italia. If the rain lets up, you're in prime position to enjoy the High Line without the crowds.


9. Grab a book at Housing Works Bookstore Café

Shopping Toys and games Soho

The two-level Soho space stocks a range of literary fiction, nonfiction, rare books and collectibles. Leisurely browsing is often rewarded by finding something you never knew you wanted. It's a peaceful spot for solo relaxation in the plentiful seating, or for meeting friends over coffee or wine in the cafe, especially during happy hour on Fridays (4–8pm) during summer. Board games such as Trivial Pursuit Book Lover's Edition are available to play.

The Strand Bookstore
Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

10. Bunker down in the stacks at Strand Bookstore

Shopping East Village

Boasting 18 miles of books, the Strand has a mammoth collection of more than 2 million discount volumes, and the store is made all the more daunting by its chaotic, towering shelves and surly staff. Reviewer discounts are in the basement, while rare volumes lurk upstairs. If you spend enough time here you can find just about anything, from that out-of-print Victorian book on manners to the kitschiest of sci-fi pulp.

Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nels

11. View cinematic art at the Museum of the Moving Image

Museums Movies and TV Astoria

Only 15 minutes from midtown, the Museum of the Moving Image is one of the city’s most dynamic institutions. Rubbing elbows with Kaufman Astoria Studios, it includes a three-story extension that features a state-of-the-art 267-seat cinema and expanded gallery spaces. Meanwhile, the museum’s “Behind the Screen” exhibit examines every step of the filmmaking process, with artifacts from more than 1,000 different productions, and 14 classic (playable!) video games, including Asteroids, Ms. Pac-Man and Space Invaders.

Federal Reserve Bank
Photograph: Dmadeo

12. Take an underground tour at the Federal Reserve Bank

Attractions Civic buildings Financial District

Once we're in the dead of summer and sweltering conditions can be relied upon, plan ahead and book an underground tour that takes you 80 feet below street level to commune with the planet's most precious metal. Roughly a quarter of the world's gold (more than $200 billion) is stored here in a gigantic vault that rests on the bedrock of Manhattan Island. Learn about the history of moolah and the Fed's role in maintaining interest rates while touring the posh interior. Don't miss the impressive coin collection and the gold bars in the basement.

New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Photograph: Moira Brazier

14. Get lost in the New York Public Library Map Room

For all the apparent stuffiness of the ornate Beaux Arts room, you can stroll right in and get lost in almost any of the collection's 450,000 sheet maps and 16,000 atlases. There are German army maps from World War II and 20,000-plus maps of New York, including a 1610 Dutch atlas. A giant 1782 British Headquarters Map used during the Revolution shows forts, hills, ponds and a small settlement below a wall at Manhattan's tip. An 1880 atlas transposes the modern Brooklyn grid onto the original topography and later farm lots, so you can see that a winding road to Gowanus would have bisected Smith Street, and that Luquer's Mill Pond covered much of Red Hook. Take that, Google.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photograph: Wendy Connett

15. Spend the day at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museums Art and design Central Park

Occupying 11-and-a-half acres of Central Park, the Met is the ideal unpleasant-weather diversion and surprisingly easy to negotiate. Visit the ground floor's north wing to view the collection of Egyptian art and the glass-walled atrium housing the Temple of Dendur, overlooking a reflective pool. Two halls in the southern wing house Greek and Roman art. Turning west brings you to the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas collection; the American Wing houses the Charles Engelhard Court. Now more a sculpture court than an interior garden, it houses large-scale 19th-century works in bronze and marble.

16. Eat dinner and catch a flick at Nitehawk Cinema

Movie theaters Independent Williamsburg

Dinner and a movie sounds good, right? But what happens if you get soaked on your way from the restaurant to the picture house and proceed to catch pneumonia in the arctic AC? Thankfully, now you can get fine food while you watch a flick. Try this Williamsburg spot for a menu by Kurt Applegate and programming that skews to new indie releases and retro gems.

Great Jones Spa
Photograph: Courtesy Great Jones Spa

17. Relax at Great Jones Spa

Health and beauty Spas Noho

Based on the theory that water brings health, this Noho mainstay is outfitted with a popular water lounge that boasts subterranean pools, saunas, steam rooms and a three-and-a-half-story waterfall. Enjoy the serenity of the 15,000-square-foot paradise while getting a Coconut Paradise Manicure ($65). Access to the water lounge is complimentary with services over $100, or a three-hour pass is available for $55.

18.  Watch your favorite TV shows at the Paley Center for Media

Museums History

Channel-surfing getting you nowhere? Then head to this pop-culture nirvana, which contains an archive of more than 150,000 radio and TV programs. Just head to the fourth-floor library and search the database for your favorite episode of I Love Lucy, Seinfeld or Desperate Housewives, then turn on, tune in and veg out at your assigned console.

Faina European Spa
Photograph: Courtesy Faina European Spa

19. Get a scalp massage at Faina

Health and beauty Spas Hell's Kitchen

Any excuse that might have been keeping you from pampering yourself is completely shot down here: The $30 scalp massage is not expensive, not lengthy, not inconvenient—and there's no getting naked necessary. The office-size suite may be modest, but its linens are crisp and the staff serenely professional. A quarter hour of temple rubbing, hair tugging and swirly head kneading feels a lot longer, and is mind-clearing for even the most ticklish among us.

20. Play video games at Chinatown Fair Arcade

Attractions Arcades and amusements Chinatown

At this noisy old-school game hall, joystick lovers huddle around everything from Ms. Pac-Man to hi-def games like The King of Fighters XII—it's all about the gaming, so don't expect food, drinks, or good lighting. Most games are a buck a turn; some are as low as 25 cents. Once you've had enough of jamming on Dance Dance Revolution, soothe your aching feet at one of the nabe's many back-and foot-rub centers.

Photograph: Bruce Katz

21. Browse the collections at the International Center of Photography

Things to do Schools and universities Midtown West

The library at ICP houses back issues of photography magazines and thousands of biographical and photographic files. Photojournalism is an important part of the center's program, which also includes contemporary photos and video. The two floors of exhibition space often showcase retrospectives devoted to single artists.

22. Dominate the baseline at an indoor tennis court

Sports and fitness Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island Racquet Club (281 Main St) has ten full indoor doubles courts, one singles court, and one ball-machine court. Keeping your tennis whites dry will cost you though—fees for nonmembers run from $94–$144 per court depending on the hour.


23. Swim with the pool sharks at Ocean’s 8

Bars Sports Bars Park Slope

Park Slope's cavernous underground pool hall is Brooklyn's upscale answer to Amsterdam Billiards. Teens, twosomes and grizzled gents take to Ping-Pong tables, bowling lanes and pool tables. Bring a friend or try to single out a weak opponent who you can challenge for a plate of spicy chicken wings or any one of the draft brews (Blue Moon and Chimay make appearances).

24. Go to IKEA in Red Hook

Shopping Design and interiors Red Hook

Brooklyn's purveyor of minimalist Scandinavian homewares is a shopping black hole. Use the crappy weather as the perfect excuse to load up on cozy blankets, soothing candles and colorful bath towels to brighten up the gray days. Don't worry about leaving for food—Swedish meatballs provide fuel for a wallet-friendly shopping spree.

New York Hall of Science
Photograph: David Handschuh

25. Geek out at the New York Hall of Science

Museums Science and technology Queens

The rain will keep you off the space-themed miniature golf course, but there are plenty of other colorful hands-on exhibits to explore, with topics such as Molecules and Health and Connected Worlds, which shines lights on environmental sustainability. Dodge the crazy school kids as you explore the possibility of life beyond Earth. 

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