During my visit to New York with my friend Joe from Perth, Australia in January 2011, the Big Apple had its worst snowfall in recorded history. The snow was in some places up to a half a metre high, and even though the snowplows cruised the city constantly, the streets were a mix of slush and ice and snow which made it hard to get around. Despite that, Joe and I did the best of the situation and ended up seeing everything we wanted to see, visiting great restaurants and lively bars, and had a great time overall. The only downfall was that we were forced to spend much less time walking around, the way I love to do in a new city, and more time traveling in the subway. Good thing New York’s subway is so efficient!
These are eight great reasons to visit New York City in winter:
1. Central Park
The snowstorm that turned most of Manhattan into a bit of a mess had the opposite effect on the city’s famous Central Park, which was turned into a beautiful winter wonderland. Although the snow in Central Park made it hard to get around, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. Snow, pure white, untouched snow everywhere, expanses of the white stuff covering frozen lakes, fields, and piling atop benches, fountains, and leafless trees. When we were ready for some warmth, we took refuge in the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) for a few hours, admiring some of the world’s best collections of ancient art, while hiding away from the cold winter weather outside.
2. Times Square
Whether you want to or not, you will likely come across the world-famous Times Square during your visit to New York City. Located right in the heart of the city, Times Square is known for its iconic towering buildings covered in electronic billboards. The Square is home to many generic chain restaurants, a magnitude of shops (including many selling classic souvenirs), and the extremely annoying people dressed like Disney characters or superheroes posing with visitors in exchange for money. Yet, there is something about the energy of Times Square that is worth visiting, if anything at least to check out the view; and you’ll be surprised, in between the major tourist traps, you can still find some cheap per-slice pizzerias, and a couple of Irish bars worth visiting. Times Square is also at the centre of world-famous Broadway.
3. Broadway & the Theatre District
Anyone’s to-do list in New York should include a visit to the most famous theatre district in the world, stretching for many blocks along Broadway and its surrounding streets. Even for unseasoned theatre goers, Broadway offers so many shows you are likely to find something that will entertain you. The musicals and plays of Broadway are plentiful – I only got to see Chicago, but I’m eager to go back to New York to see more! Due to the fame and a near guarantee that most shows will sell out every night, Broadway theatre isn’t cheap. For our visit, Joe and I went to the TKTS booth, which sells same-day tickets at discounted prices, and we were able to score tickets for Chicago at half the price – but that was after a 90-minute wait outdoors, in the middle of winter. Was the savings worth the wait? I think so, but I’m not sure yet.
4. Top of the Rock
The observatory on the top three stories of the famous 30 Rockefeller Center offers an incredible view over New York City, including an uninterrupted 360º view from the outdoor 70th-story rooftop. Visiting on a clear winter day, we were able to truly appreciate the immensity of the city, with massive snow-covered Central Park stretching out into the distance, the city’s iconic skyscrapers towering over the city’s streets, and the rivers and harbour in the distance. From above, we could also see landmarks such as the Empire State building, and we were even able to spot the Statue of Liberty far, far away… of course it looked tiny from Top of the Rock, but it was still cool! The wind in winter is very chilly, so make sure to bundle up before you ascend to Top of the Rock.
5. Statue of Liberty
Many pricey tours will take visitors from lower Manhattan over to Liberty Island, home of the famous Statue of Liberty. My friend Joe and I opted for the budget alternative, by taking the free ferry from the terminal next to Battery Park to the suburb of Staten Island. Along the way, the ferry passes near enough to Liberty Island to get a gorgeous view of Lady Liberty looking back at us, and also offers some magnificent views of the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan on one side, and the growing city of New Jersey on the other. Elis Island has nothing to offer (the ferry is free public transport for people who live there), but Joe and I found a nice pub to have a beer before boarding a return ferry back to Manhattan.
6. Wall Street / Downtown
We all know Wall Street, the famous / infamous place where the economies of most of the world seem to soar or crash; as much as I don’t think Wall Street itself has much to offer, I guess it still is a must-do on your visit to New York. Joe and I took the metro downtown to walk around and discovered that downtown Manhattan is not too bad! The area has some beautiful architecture, beautiful plazas, and some nice bars and restaurants, most of which are only busy during or just after business hours. During my visit in 2011, the World Trade Center (WTC) memorial park was still under construction and the new WTC tower was merely a plan, so I’d love to return to Lower Manhattan to check these out! Battery Park, on southwestern Manhattan is also worth checking out, and the terminal for the Statue of Liberty tours and the Staten Island Ferry is next door.
7. Walking Across the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge isn’t just another beautiful landmark of New York City – it is also one of the world’s most recognized bridges. Connecting Lower Manhattan with the eastern borough of Brooklyn, Brooklyn Bridge is a beautiful structure that has been named a National Historic Landmark. The bridge has multiple car lanes as well as a large raised pedestrian walkway for walkers and cyclists, which offers amazing views of the Manhattan skyline, intercepted with the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge itself. During our visit, Joe and I ventured across the bridge despite most of the walkway being under the cover of snow; the snow destroyed my shoes, but for those views, it was totally worth it!
8. Simply Being in New York City
New York is one of the most famous cities in the world for a reason. Whether you are shopping in the high-end shops of 5th Avenue, enjoying the vistas of Central Park, or checking out all the top attractions of the city, you’re guaranteed to have a good time in this city. The museums and theatres of New York are world-class, and other attractions such as the public skating rink in Rockefeller Center are lively and perfect for people-watching. Despite it having enough attractions and activities to fill a lifetime, the biggest reason why anyone would want to visit is simply to be in New York City: to check out the restaurants and bars, the vibrancy of the different neighbourhoods and the fast-paced daily life of New York City.
Despite the cold weather and the record-breaking snowfalls, my friend Joe and I were able to really enjoy our visit to New York, and appreciate what the city has to offer. So much so, that I really want to return to take another bite of the Big Apple!