New York

19 Actually Cool Things to Do in NYC This Winter

From winter surfing to ice skating to virtual Broadway shows.

Bryant Park
Bryant Park
Bryant Park

Because of COVID-19, it already seems like winter in NYC will be filled with lots of changes. From dining rules to schools, stuff is opening, then closing, and then opening up again-and it can feel hard to keep up with all of the latest news and regulations. But don’t let that stop you from making plans! All you need is a mask, some hand sanitizer, and a list of the actually cool things to do in the city this season.

This winter, you can support Broadway through its shutdown by streaming live plays on your laptop, watch the New York Botanical Garden get lit up by thousands of glowing lights, or even learn to surf in the off-season on one of the city’s best beaches. We’ve rounded up the best ways to explore the city this winter (with face coverings and remaining socially distant, of course!) so you can get inspired to leave your apartment before the spring thaw.

New York Botanical Garden
New York Botanical Garden
New York Botanical Garden

Head to the NYBG’s winter wonderland

Through January 9
The Bronx
The New York Botanical Garden’s GLOW event transforms the garden into a colorful wonderland with thousands of lights. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and Reflecting Pool act as the centerpieces, while the surrounding space is filled with music, pop-up dance performances, and live ice sculpting. The outdoor space provides plenty of room to spread out, but tickets must be purchased in advance to allow for social distancing. 
Cost: Adult tickets are $30
 

Learn to surf in the off-season

Winter-long
Rockaway Beach
Locals Surf School offers surfing lessons all year long so you can learn to surf without the crowds (wouldn’t you rather fall off your board without everybody watching?). While the water’s pretty freaking cold in the winter, a wetsuit will keep you nice and warm-and so will the knowledge that you’ll be hanging ten come summertime. While we might spend a lot of this winter stuck inside, a day spent out on the freezing water is the perfect shock to your system that’s unrelated to the pandemic.
Cost: Lessons start at $90
 

Bring a dance theater’s season to your apartment

Through December 31
Virtual
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is taking its beloved winter season online, bringing workshops, conversations with dancers and artists, and performances right into your home. Catch the world premieres of A Jam Session for Troubling Times, set to the music of Charlie “Bird” Parker; and Testament, with an original score by composer Damien Sneed. You can also celebrate the 60th anniversary of Ailey’s Revelations, a ballet set to African American spirituals and performed around the world.
Cost: Free

Photo by Giada Paoloni
Photo by Giada Paoloni
Photo by Giada Paoloni

Find cracklin’ upstate vibes close to home

Through March 2021
Pier 17
In the mood for a wintry upstate getaway? Pier 17’s The Greens is recreating those snowy, cozy vibes right here in NYC. Reserve a cabin (with a virtual fireplace and an air purifier), order a round of seasonal cocktails designed by award-winning cocktail bar Dante, and drink to not having to drive four hours in the snow to get away from it all. Psst: Scoring a cabin might seem hard, but new reservation slots are released every Monday morning at 10am for the following week, so set your alarm!
Cost: Cocktails start at $18
 

Help support Broadway through the shutdown

Winter-long
Virtual
While the lights are still off on Broadway, Spotlight On Plays is streaming live performances for you to enjoy without having to put pants on. The full season has yet to be announced, but in the meantime you can catch Robert O’Hara’s Barbecue on December 10, and more plays by women and people of color will be featured in the coming months. Tickets are donation based, with the proceeds benefiting The Actors Fund to help Broadway through the COVID crisis. 
Cost: Tickets start at $5

Photo courtesy of The William Vale
Photo courtesy of The William Vale
Photo courtesy of The William Vale

Work out on the ice… and then drink up

Winter-long
Multiple Locations
At ice skating rinks around the city-including Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, IC Ice Rink in Industry City, and Vale Rink at The William Vale (which is made with Glice, not ice)-work up a sweat and then warm up with a cocktail. In Bryant Park’s cozy igloos, you can sip on mulled wine or buckets of beers; at IC Ice Rink, you can explore the food and drink of Industry City; and at Vale Rink, you can get toasty in their heated enclosure.   
Cost: Varies
 

Marvel at the Manhattan Bridge light up the night

Through March
DUMBO
Light Year, a winter-long installation happening on the first Thursday of each month, will project gigantic 65′ by 40′ films from video artists around the world onto the Manhattan Bridge. The projections are 30 minutes long and can be viewed from the Pearl Street Triangle after dusk, so bring a date and bundle up for a chilly night time excursion, or steam it here.
Cost: Free
 

See a Brooklyn artist’s first solo show

Through Summer 2021
Brooklyn Museum
John Edmonds, the inaugural recipient of the UOVO Prize for emerging Brooklyn artists, has his first solo show of photography and video at Brooklyn Museum this winter. With work that centers the queer Black experience, the exhibition explores Edmonds’ dialogue with the Museum’s Arts of Africa collection as well as portraits of his friends from NYC. The Museum’s permanent exhibition of Judy Chicago’s iconic feminist work The Dinner Party is well worth a visit, too.  
Cost: Adult tickets are $16

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Celebrate Chinese New Year in Chinatown

February 11 – February 26
Chinatown
While many of the city’s Lunar New Year traditions have been put on pause this winter, you can still honor the Year of the Ox in NYC. Pick a restaurant and head to Chinatown (we’ve made it easy by rounding up some of our faves!) for a celebratory meal. Chinatown’s restaurants were some of the first to be hit during the pandemic-even before closures affected the rest of the city-and you can help save the historic neighborhood by eating, drinking, and toasting to the new year. 
Cost: Varies
 

Spend a winter weekend in the city’s past

Winter-long, Weekends only
Staten Island
Historic Richmond Town, a historic village with structures dating back to the 1660s covering over 100 acres of Staten Island, is hosting limited capacity guided tours through the winter. A guide will walk you through a tour of some of the houses and structures, taking you back in time through more than three centuries of Staten Island history. At the very least, a glimpse into how New Yorkers lived in 1720 might make 2020 seem a little better.  
Cost: $50 for 1-6 people
 

Go for a socially-distant hike in your local park

Citywide
While the city’s parks can be uncomfortably packed, simply head to the road less travelled during off hours (in the middle of the weekday? early in the morning?) for a socially-distant hike. With plenty of green space in every borough, our lesser-known parks have miles and miles of hiking trails for a safe taste of the great outdoors. Pick a path in your local park, wear a mask, and get some fresh air in your lungs and some winter sunshine. 
Cost: Free

Don Angie
Don Angie
Don Angie

Have a cocktail in the great outdoors

Winter-long
Citywide
While indoor dining’s future is iffy, outdoor dining seems to be here to stay. Find a patio, a sidewalk, a rooftop, or a backyard, and order up a meal-and a cocktail-that you didn’t have to make yourself. With the city’s Open Streets program, restaurants have taken over real estate that used to belong to car traffic. Just wear your mask when you’re not eating or drinking, okay? 
Cost: Varies
 

Stream an off-Broadway show

Winter-long
Virtual
Some of the greatest minds behind NYC’s off-Broadway scene have brought their programming online. The Public Theater streams archived shows on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; La MaMa is hosting online happenings and artist talks; and the Theater for the New City has created an online reading series. The city’s stages might be dark for a while, but you can help keep them alive by streaming, donating what you can, and enjoying the performances from home. 
Cost: Varies

Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Try a slice of the city’s best pizzas

Winter-long
Citywide
Never managed to score a table at Lucali? Now’s your chance to eat some of the city’s best pies without worrying if you’ll get marinara on your “going out” clothes. Order Beyoncé’s favorite pizza for takeout from Lucali, get a couple slices of The Mootz from Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop, score a classic Sicilian square pie from L&B Spumoni Gardens, or go for a new classic from Roberta’s or Emily. Order them one at a time, or — for the ultimate pizza showdown — get ‘em all at once for an at-home taste test.
Cost: Varies
 

Toast to the city with an everything bagel

Winter-long
Multiple locations
Remind yourself of the best the city has to offer with a whirlwind tour of takeout bagels. Eat your weight in lox, schmear, and poppy seeds with takeout or delivery from Tompkins Square Bagels, Russ & Daughters, and/or Black Seed Bagels. If you decide to eat ‘em all in one day, just drink a lot of water, OK? Otherwise you’ll end up as salted as that gravlax you pounded.
Cost: Varies

Get a little weird with House of Yes

Winter-long
Bushwick
Known for its freaky parties, wild costumes, and metric tons of glitter, House of Yes has moved their signature getdowns online for the time being. Attend a digital dance party, learn how to shake it at a digital “twerkshop,” or tip on Venmo during an online drag show-all you need to do to recreate the HOY experience IRL is to slap on a neon wig, wear your tightest clothes, and leave your inhibitions at your own front door. 
Cost: Free to attend virtual events

andersphoto/Shutterstock
andersphoto/Shutterstock
andersphoto/Shutterstock

Cross the Brooklyn Bridge

Winter-long
City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge Park
While this tourist destination is usually crowded, these strange times have made it strangely empty. Grab a sandwich from Bread & Spread at your starting point in DUMBO, then reward yourself with a cocktail from Hole in the Wall on the other end before turning back around. Make sure to bring a camera to capture the skyline and the once-in-a-lifetime view of the quiet bridge.
Cost: Free to cross; food and drink prices vary

Spend an afternoon gallery hopping

Winter-long
Chelsea
The city’s galleries are open for gawking, where you can make a reservation to ooh and aah over art at places like Lehmann Maupin, David Zwirner, and Metro Pictures. Although the pandemic has led some galleries to close their doors permanently-Gavin Brown’s enterprise will be sorely missed-this is still a city of art and artists, and the pandemic is sure to inspire more great work to come.
Cost: Free

Keep the river on your right… or left

Winter-long
Brooklyn Bridge Park/Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Hudson River Greenway
Take a socially distant walk or bike ride for a sunny morning or afternoon spent outdoors. Bring your phone for a couple of sweet ‘grams along either the Hudson and East Rivers from Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively. Both have dedicated cycling and walking paths so you can be safe from cars and other bike riders and pedestrians (just wear a mask and social distance, please!).
Cost: FreeSign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.

Rachel Pelz lives and writes in Brooklyn.

New York

How to Shop Local for Small Business Saturday in NYC

From West African packaged foods to hand-poured candles.

Egunsi Foods
Egunsi Foods
Egunsi Foods

Walk around any local neighbourhood throughout the five boroughs, and through empty storefronts, it’s clear that small businesses in NYC have been hit hard since the start of the pandemic.

This year for Small Business Saturday, not only can you show your support by popping in to your favourite shop, but by also making purchases online. Here are just a few brands to spend your money on this holiday season.

Photo courtesy of Coffee Project New York
Photo courtesy of Coffee Project New York
Photo courtesy of Coffee Project New York

Coffee Project New York

Various locations
This coffee roastery focused on inclusivity and sustainable practices has locations in the East Village, Chelsea, and Fort Greene, in addition to a training center in Long Island City. For the holidays, stay caffeinated with Coffee Project New York‘s special Around the World in 12 Days gift set featuring 12 global beans and tasting notes for each.

Egunsi Foods
Egunsi Foods
Egunsi Foods

Egunsi Foods (part of Harlem incubator program)

Virtual
This online packaged food brand started by ‘Yemisi Awosan when she was homesick for Nigerian flavours during college offers West African goods made with farm-to-table ingredients. From soups and stews to fufu and sauces, Egunsi Foods also has vegan items.

I Like It Black (part of Harlem incubator program)

Harlem
This cozy coffee shop highlights products from coffee roasters in the Black community. In addition to sandwiches, coffee beans, tea, and more, I Like It Black‘s space also offers a great view of Harlem’s historic 125th Street thoroughfare.

Lee Lee's Rugelach
Lee Lee’s Rugelach
Lee Lee’s Rugelach

Lee Lee’s Baked Goods (part of Harlem incubator program)

Harlem
This Harlem institution from Alvin Lee Smalls has been a NYC destination for rugelach since 1965. For sharing during the holidays, at Lee Lee’s Baked Goods, the popular Jewish treat that translates to “little twist” in Yiddish is available in a 12, 24, and 36 set, in addition to a special 26-piece gift tin.

Make My Cake
Make My Cake
Make My Cake

Make My Cake Bakery (part of Harlem incubator program)

Harlem
Make My Cake Bakery is run by several generations of the Smith family with recipes passed down from their matriarch, Josephine Smith aka “Ma Smith.” From cakes and cookies and pies and pastries, order flavours ranging from double chocolate delight cupcakes, coconut pecan cookies, cinnamon rolls, and black & white cake. There’s also an Upper West Side location in addition to the Harlem storefront.

Sugar Hill Creamery
Sugar Hill Creamery
Sugar Hill Creamery

Sugar Hill Creamery (part of Harlem incubator program)

Harlem
As longtime Harlem residents, the husband-and-wife team behind Sugar Hill Creamery opened their popular shop in 2017 to be a place for the neighbourhood to grab a seat and enjoy artisanal ice cream made from scratch. In addition to offering an array of flavours like the Chairperson of the Board (blueberry cheesecake) and Nunu’s Peach Cobbler (peach with cobbler crumbler), they also regularly host community based programs throughout the year meant to empower the Black experience while facilitating connection and storytelling. In addition to a location in Hamilton Heights and Time Out Market in Dumbo, products are also available for nationwide shipping.

Photo courtesy of Schaller & Weber
Photo courtesy of Schaller & Weber
Photo courtesy of Schaller & Weber

Schaller & Weber

Upper East Side
Schaller and Weber is an Upper East Side butcher shop that’s been offering German-style sausages and Northern European speciality foods for more than 80 years. If a single order of pate or charcuterie isn’t going to cut it this year, choose from an array of gift packs like the Christmas Gift Box with an array of items ranging from truffle brat to olive oil crackers.

Photo courtesy of Spoken Flames
Photo courtesy of Spoken Flames
Photo courtesy of Spoken Flames

Spoken Flames

Virtual
Spoken Flames is a candle company founded by Shavaun Christian and each candle is hand-poured and made with a natural coconut wax blend. Choose from selections like Sea Sea Me made with salt, melon, musk, and chamomile, and the LOL featuring notes of mango, lavender, and fresh linen.

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Tae Yoon was born and raised in Queens, and is the Editor of Thrillist New York.

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