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48-hours   ›   Short breaks › Travel Inspiration  ›  Oversees › USA

My New York City winter itinerary - a festive 48 hours in The Big Apple

In December 2022 we (my husband and I) went to New York City – it’s been on my bucket list since I was 10 years old, so it’s been a long time coming!

The Holiday Season (as New Yorkers refer to the Christmas period) in New York is as spectacular as it is iconic. Trees draped in decorations, festive music playing and chestnuts roasting on every street corner. The legendary Rockettes live on Broadway, Christmas parades, and ice skaters gliding effortlessly through Central Park. And, if you’re lucky, snow falling over the city that never sleeps. Especially over the holidays.

But with so much to see and do in just a few days, which sites, attractions and experiences should you prioritise?

My TOP TIP for you is to start by making a list of everything in NYC you don’t want to leave without seeing. Then you can plan your days based on which parts of the city those “must see” spots are located in. Divide the city into midtown, lower Manhattan, Upper East Side etc and aim to visit each area per day.

And to further help you, especially if it’s your first trip to New York, I’ve compiled this weekend itinerary, packed with what to do in The Big Apple in winter.

January 19, 2023

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Monday Evening

Leave yourself plenty of time to get through the airport: border and passport control takes a while, baggage etc. We spent two hours getting through all of this after landing. We flew from Newcastle to Paris, then Paris to JFK. Once you have made your way out of the queues and successfully collected your bags, you can start to think about how you will make your way to the city of New York.

A taxi ride takes a little over half an hour (approx forty minutes depending on the driver!). Make sure you use the famous New York yellow taxis. These are the only legit taxis running from the airport and charge a flat rate of $70 from the airport into the city. Do not get led to a black cab or car as these are illegal taxis and charge in the region of $300 for the ride.
Alternatively, you can catch the subway which takes around an hour but at the fraction of the price. It depends whether you are wanting something easy after your long flight.

Drop your bags off at your hotel. I recommend the Westgate Grand Central hotel for it’s comfortable beds and perfect location for exploring. The room was a welcomed warmth as the icy wind that comes with visiting New York City in winter, can leave you feeling chilled. As soon as the bags are dropped off, head straight out for a walk to soak up the New York atmosphere.

You’ll be immediately hit by the bright lights of Times Square, pizza shops serving pizza slices for around $7 and plenty to see as you get your bearings in the city that never sleeps.

New York City winter

Tuesday Morning

It is best to head out as early as possible so you can really make the most of your time in New York City. Aim to be out of the hotel by 8am. Even in winter, New York City is up early. You can have breakfast where you are staying, however I recommend that you start exploring straight away, finding somewhere different to eat breakfast each day.

Walk in the direction of Grand Central Station and turn onto Lexington Avenue. On the corner of 41st street you will find a small bakery called Le Pain Quotidian which is where I recommend you grab some tasty pastries for breakfast.

From here, walk back along to Grand Central Station to take in its grandeur. In December all the beautiful decorations are up, however I think this famous train station would look incredible at any time of year. It felt like being on a film set after seeing it so many times on TV.

From here you can head along to 5th Avenue to soak up the atmosphere there or…. visit The Friends Experience New York. Which is exactly what we did. As a huge fan of the popular TV series “Friends”, we had a great time going round the experience. Located on Lexington Avenue, it was a twenty minute walk from Grand Central. Tickets are best booked ahead of your visit although they do accept walk ins, as long as it isn’t too busy. We spent around an hour and a half here, looking at the costumes and props and having our photo taken in some of the more iconic scenes. Grab a coffee (around $7) from the Central Perk. Definitely make time to visit here if you are as big a fan of Joey, Rachel and the whole gang as I am.

Tuesday Lunchtime

After leaving the experience, head back towards 5th avenue, slowly making your way towards Central Park. Stop to admire the Flatiron Building and the Empire State Building which you will walk past on your way.

For lunch head to a bar/restaurant called The Smith. I would describe this as being a slightly more upmarket Frankie and Benny’s. The portion sizes are huge but very delicious. There is also a great cocktail menu, I recommend The Gatsby – the perfect lunchtime treat. It had a great vibe and was a favourite for us during our New York City winter getaway.

Tuesday Afternoon

With your belly now nicely full, you are refuelled and ready to explore more of New York City. Start to make your way over towards Central Park. From The Smith, this should be around a thirty minute walk, but you may wish to spend some time taking photos outside the Rockefeller Center or pop into Macey’s for some retail therapy. I personally wouldn’t spend too long here as there is so much yet to explore, and Macey’s for me was just like the department stores you would find in London.

Plan to spend a couple of hours exploring Central Park. This won’t be enough time to see all of it but certainly gives you a taste of what it’s like. You can hire bikes which I would recommend in the spring/summer months as a way of getting to see as much of the park as possible. I wouldn’t pay for the horse and carriage rides, unless you were desperate to do this. They charge by the minute and I can imagine it getting very expensive very quickly. These are an iconic scene when people think of a winter in New York so perhaps settle for taking a photo of one.

You have Central Park zoo of course which you may like to leave time for, otherwise a walk amongst the greenery is always nice when on a city break. If it is ice skating you are after and don’t fancy the crowds at the Rockefeller, try the rink in Central Park near the southern entrance.

Tuesday Evening

Before heading back to your hotel, make sure you leave a couple of hours to go to the Top of The Rock. You can purchase your tickets online before you visit or use your Sight Seeing Pass which gives you a digital pass and can be used alongside many of the big New York attractions. From the three observation decks, The Top of The Rock provides 360 degree views across New York and was recommended to us over the Empire State Building.

We did purchase a ticket that promised us we didn’t have to queue, however this wasn’t the case and we had to join the queue like everyone else who had also pre-purchased a ticket. So my advice is: be prepared to queue and leave time to factor this in. Once you reach the Top of The Rock, you don’t want to be rushing.

Take time to soak up that famous New York skyline. We went up just as the sun was setting, so were lucky enough to witness New York in the light as well as the dark. Both were spectacular.

New York City winter

Wednesday Morning

After a breakfast on the go, catch the subway to Lower Manhattan. This is a lot cheaper than getting a taxi and the walk would take you around an hour. When you are in a city for such a short time, you don’t want to be wasting time walking everywhere. Keep a hold of your Metro card and simply top it up as and when you need it. Very easy to use and the subways run every few minutes.

Whilst you are in Lower Manhattan, you will be able to visit the 9/11 memorial and museum, Wall Street as well as catch the ferry across to the Statue of Liberty. (More on that in a minute.)

We visited the 9/11 memorial site as well as the museum. Again, purchase tickets ahead of your visit to avoid spending a lot of your precious time in long queues. The museum was very moving and quiet inside. Expect to go through airport style security to get in to the building. We spent around an hour here, but did miss out a few of the rooms which I found too upsetting. Also note that the museum is closed on Tuesdays.

After spending some time around here, grab some lunch on the go as you head towards Wall Street. If you are looking for the famous Wall Street Bull, note that it isn’t actually located on Wall Street but is a short walk away, to the north of The Battery Park.

Wednesday Afternoon

Whilst you are in this area of New York City, take advantage of the FREE Staten Island Ferry that will take you right past the Statue of Liberty. You can of course pay to go on one of the official Statue Cruises, which allows you to get off on the island, but we found the Staten Island Ferry to be just as good. And like I say, it is free.

The Staten Island Ferry runs every half an hour and takes twenty minutes to get across to Staten Island. Here you disembark, walk into the ferry terminal building and board straight back on to return to Manhattan. Head to the right hand side of the ferry on the way out and the left hand side on the return journey, to enjoy the best views and photo opportunities of the famous Lady Liberty. I loved seeing the Manhattan sky line coming back on the ferry too.

Remember the ferry is FREE and you do not need a ticket. Be aware of scammers trying to sell you a ticket.

After you have arrived back in Lower Manhattan, you can either catch the subway back to your hotel or head towards the Brooklyn Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge is an amazing sight in the dark and is all lit up. If you are visiting in the winter months, you won’t need to be out late to witness this. Little Italy is also close by if you were wanting to eat here.

Wednesday Evening

On our last evening we headed to a Jazz Bar as this was on our “must do” list. We bought the tickets and checked the dress code before we visited. There are so many Jazz Bars to choose from across New York, so it really depends on where about you are staying and prices. We opted for Birdland after we read good reviews. They also had a varied menu offering evening meals and drinks. Try to arrive in plenty of time before the show.

On the way back from Birdland to your hotel, try to go via Times Square before dropping down to Bryant Park. I loved Bryant Park when we visited in December, as they had a Christmas market, a bar and ice rink. To me it screamed New York City in winter and was exactly how imagined it to be. Bryant Park also backs onto New York public library which we did pop into but didn’t spend a great deal of time here. The building is beautiful and free to look round, and there is a small bookshop and cafe but I don’t imagine you would be here for long.

It is worth mentioning that we did also want to go to Ellen’s Diner, however you can’t book a table and so have to turn up and queue. As we were on a tight schedule we decided best to save it for (hopefully) another time when we would have a bit longer.

Make sure you book your yellow taxi back to the airport, leaving plenty of time to get through security and check-in. If you take anything away from this New York City winter itinerary I hope it is this: it pays to plan ahead and ONLY use the yellow cabs.

New York City winter

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January 19, 2023

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