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Photograph: @sophsmirks

The best things to do outside this winter in NYC

New Yorkers will all be outside more this winter than ever before, so we might as well make it fun!

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
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NYC in the winter can be harsh, but New Yorkers aren't afraid of a little snow. Cold temperatures don't get us down. We just pull on our boots, grab our puffer coats and make the best of it. Aside from being one of the most beautiful places to be after a snowstorm, New York City has the best things to do outside in the winter. From sledding and ice-skating to incredible light displays and innovative ways to dine outdoors, here are our suggestions for making the most of a chilly day in the city.

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

Best things to do outside this winter in NYC

  • Things to do
  • The Bronx

This outdoor light experience brightens up the grounds with thousands of energy-efficient LED lights and festive installations. After dark, you can walk this expanded 1.5-mile colorful experience with even more illuminated displays than last year, including plant stories, and whimsical, picture-perfect installations reflecting the surrounding gardens and collections with the Haupt Conservatory and Mertz Library Building as glowing centerpieces. Plus, there will be dance performances, ice carving demonstrations and other seasonal activities (and snacks) to enjoy.

  • Things to do
  • City Life

For the first time in its history, the BBG is welcoming visitors between now and January 9 to its very own light installation called "Lightscape," presented in partnership with Sony Music. Lightscape is a celebration of light that incorporates art and music that people from all cultures and beliefs can enjoy, especially as the days get shorter. Garden-goers will walk through a colorful forest of illuminated trees and come across a pond where lasers shoot across and reflect off the water and a Cathedral of Light tunnel, as well as see a Fire Garden on Lily Pool Terrace, a Field of Light and an animated light installation covering Cherry Esplanade. The colorful light displays highlight the garden’s trees, landscapes and architecture with more than 18 distinct works of art, including a series of works by local artists in the Plant Family Collection. All in all, there are about one million lights featured in the show.

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  • Art
  • Art

Now through mid-January 2022, you'll have ten additional reasons to visit the Meatpacking District as a series of new interesting light installations have taken over the neighborhood. From enormous, lit-up snowmen to colorful, abstract neon lights and planters filled with glowing dandelions, the "Lights on the Cobbles" installations are found all along Ninth Avenue between 14th Street and Gansevoort Street.  This is a first for the Meatpacking District and it is the work of Theresa Rivera Design, the same New York-based production and design studio that painted those famous murals in the area back at the start of the pandemic. Visitors will notice that the outdoor exhibits culminate at Gansevoort Plaza, where a colonnade is draped in freeform neon lights that bounce shapes off the reflective plexi tunnel surrounding a semicircle seating area. It's basically the ideal Instagram setup both in terms of location and lighting.

 

  • Things to do
  • City Life

The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, open now through March 6, has a series of cozy igloos that are heated and overlook the park's iconic skating rink. Inside the clear and intimate structures, each one decorated with holiday cheer in mind, patrons can order delicious food and drinks to enjoy among friends or family (each igloo can accommodate up to eight guests). There's also a Curling Café with dedicated curling lanes where two teams of up to four people each can play some "street" (also known as iceless) curling for an hour-and-a-half. The lanes are accompanied by "a private, heated dome where teams can warm up and share seasonal drinks and bites between games."

 

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What was once a wintertime novelty in New York has now become the new normal: Festive bubble tents, heated yurts, and cozy outdoor dining structures erected so that cold-braving locals can enjoy a warm-and-toasty, socially-distanced meal outside during the winter. And since it seems there's a new space bubble popping up every day in NYC, we've started a handy Google Doc that highlights all of the restaurants and bars that have private outdoor dining setups, from bungalows to greenhouses and everything in between

  • Things to do
  • City Life

Governors Island, which recently announced that it will be open to the public year-round for the first time in its history, has opened its first-ever winter village with glittering lights, a 5,000-square-foot ice rink, sled rentals, warm drinks near fire pits and winter programming as well. The massive ice rink will be open Fridays, weekends and on New York City  public school holidays from noon to 5pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 5pm, with extended hours available for youth, adult and nonprofit sports leagues and associations. There will be themed events as well as Free Admission Fridays! Sleds will be available to rent alongside bikes from Blazing Saddles NYC.

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

Wollman Rink, the renowned ice skating destination at the southern end of Central Park, is a totally different experience these days. There's now a side-rink cafe that serves, among other offerings, hot dogs (even vegan ones!), burgers, tacos, grilled cheese sandwiches and more. Now that it's no longer owned by Trump Organization, things have been updated and changed around, too!

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  • Restaurants
  • Drinking

Get cozy in one of Pier 17's 10x10 custom-built structures that can accommodate up to eight people with a virtual fireplace, banquette-style seating, heaters and, perhaps most excitingly, stunning views of the New York City skyline. It doesn't get much better than this. In terms of decor, the heated spaces remind of ski-related destinations. In fact, you'll notice a life-sized sculpture of a mountain range built on the stage space on premise alongside a whole lot of twinkling lights. Pier 17 has basically turned into the nearest mountain vacation to Manhattan.

Sled like you’re a kid again

The highs and lows of Gotham become so much more extreme—and fun—when it gets cold with the best sledding hills in NYC. You don’t need to go head upstate for hours of down-hill fun, just hit a few of the best NYC parks where the slopes are full of local snow-lovers. Just grab your toboggan, or make-shift sledding vessel, and find a spot across the five boroughs.

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You can’t deny how inarguably beautiful NYC’s parks look once they’re covered in a blanket of pearly white snow. If you’re brave enough to brace the cold after the storm, we recommend taking a stroll through iconic attractions such as Central Park and Prospect Park, especially if you’re raring to go sledding.

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More things to do this winter

  • Things to do

It's almost the merriest time of year and there are so many Christmas things to do in NYC to put on your list of festivities. From uptown to downtown, the city boasts holiday offerings like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, light festivals, and the best holiday markets NYC has to offer. Whether you channel your inner grinch or cheery elf during NYC's most wonderful season, we've got you covered with activities.  

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas in NYC

Check out our Winter Village video: 

  • Things to do

New York City transforms into a magical wonderland with millions of holiday lights right after Thanksgiving, giving us over-the-top inflatable Santas and reindeer found at the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights in Brooklyn to more iconic New York displays, such as in Central Park, Rockefeller Center and at Saks Fifth Avenue. More than ever, we're in need of some magic, so take it all in and get ready to “ooh” and “ahh” at these landmarks, holiday markets and neighborhoods that create the most picturesque holiday light displays during the holiday season.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas in New York

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  • Things to do

It's time to lace up your skates—the best ice skating rinks in NYC are waiting for you. As one of the most beloved cities to spend the holidays in, NYC has plenty of indoor and outdoor rinks where you can glide and practice your toe jumps. To help narrow down your options, we’ve ranked the top places to go, from the iconic Rink at Rockefeller Center or lower-key rinks at NYC parks like Central Park. You can even make a full-day out of it when you shop at one of the city’s best holiday markets, followed by sipping hot chocolate and skating on The Rink at the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park. If you'd rather stay warm while on the ice, there are many all-weather indoor rinks, including spots that offer roller skating.

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

The 50 best things to do in NYC for locals and tourists
  • Things to do

November 2020: Looking for a winter like no other by hitting up the best things to do in NYC? Things are a bit precarious right now, but our beautiful city is pulling through with style. Our iconic museums, big attractions, and favorite restaurants are back (with new rules, of course), so there's more to do now than ever this year. As always in 2020, just make sure to double check with venues to make sure programming is still on before you head out. We will be updating this list more often than we did prior to lockdown to reflect New York City as it fights to stay open.

From its art museums (The Met and MoMA) to its attractions (The Bronx Zoo and Dyker Heights Holiday Lights), New York City is the best city in the world. Its dining and drinking scenes, which are undergoing major changes, are still unbeatable and boast killer bars (Dante) and restaurants (Lilia). Every day, we're discovering something new and wonderful about our city, whether it's one of the best cozy spots, some incredible views, must-see art, or hidden-gem stores. Take this winter to do some incredibly fun things in NYC.

Consider below your NYC Bible. 

Done something on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDoList.

You can also find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world, or take a look at our list of the 50 best things to do in the world right now.

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  • Travel

Nothing is better than spending the colder months in a cozy cabin near NYC. It's the perfect winter getaway from NYC and is only made better with hot chocolate, a crackling fireplace, wool sweaters and a cozy cabin to cuddle up in. Whether you need lodging at ski resorts near NYC or somewhere rustic chic for a girls’ weekend, this list of cabins near NYC on Airbnb has got you covered. After just a few hours of driving, you could be snuggling in a chalet in the Pocono Mountains, relaxing in a geodesic dome in upstate New York or sipping a hot toddy in a trendy container cabin in the Catskills. No matter where you choose to go, escaping the city to a snow-covered wonderland has to be one of the top things to do in the winter.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to weekend getaways from NYC

Note: please check the latest travel guidance before booking your trip.

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