6 Tips For Surviving A Wintry Christmas In New York City
We're dreaming of a White Christmas in the greatest city of them all.
The idea of a White Christmas is one Australians grow up seeing in movies, television, and music. As much as all love an Australian sun-scorched festive season, there’s a romanticism to spending the most wonderful time of the year (according to the famous Andy Williams song) surrounded by falling snow and wearing knitted jumpers and devouring warming baked goodies and roast dinners.
There’s no better place to experience this than New York City. So if you’re planning on taking a break from the sun and the beaches and want to feel the snow crunching beneath your feet as you walk through Central Park then AWOL is here to give you some handy survival tips on how to prepare – because we know from experience that as beautiful as it looks on the TV, it can be very different IRL.
#1 Dress appropriately
This may sound like a given, but it really cannot be overstated how important it is to take a New York winter seriously. When people say “it’s freezing” in NYC it’s because it actually is freezing. Temperatures frequently reach below zero (32°F) and the low temperatures bring weather conditions that most Australians will have not experienced on a daily basis before like harsh winds, sleet and snow.
For nights out, invest in a fashionable woollen coat that covers up as much of your neck and torso as possible and preferably goes down to your knees. You’ll be thankful when you’re feeling warm and looking fly. For daytimes when you’re navigating the city, perusing museums, and doing all of the typical tourist things, have a sporty insulated jacket that’s light and easy to put on and take off. There’s no need to go full George Costanza, but you’ll be glad when you leave the heated confines of a gallery and head into the arctic winds of SoHo or Tribeca.
It’s equally important to think about shoes. You’ll be walking on and through snow, so a sturdy pair of boots is a must. Don’t trust the ones you’ve had in the closet for a few years and don’t expect to get away with a pair of Vans in the depths of winter. There’s nothing worse than stepping off of the curb into a puddle of melting snow, only to realise your cute shoes either aren’t cut high enough or are riddled with holes, leaving your feet soaking in ice-cold water.
If you have the right coat and shoes then the rest is easy. A scarf, gloves, wool socks, and thermals are all essential when the weather gets really icy. Guys shouldn’t be afraid of wearing long-johns! And if you don’t want to mess up your hair, then buy earwarmers. They wrap around the back of your head to protect your ears from the winds. If you think you’ll look silly, then don’t. Everybody in New York City has their own tricks for keeping warm and none of them are frowned upon.
#2 Trade coffee for hot chocolate
America doesn’t do coffee the way Australia does coffee, so don’t be surprised to find you’re not getting your usual morning boost from the brown drink at the diner on the corner while you eat your bagel or your bacon, eggs, and home fries (always ask for home fries).
If you don’t want to seek out a proper cafe, complete with a barista and good beans (in some parts of the city they can be very hard to find), then embrace your surroundings and take yourself on a tour of the city’s best hot chocolates. They’re different to what you would find in Australia and they’re well worth their own walking tour. City Bakery on West 18th Street is famous for their Hot Chocolate Festival in February, but the thick, rich drink with gooey homemade marshmallow on top is a body-warmer anytime you visit throughout winter. For something with a bit of a kick, these boozy takes on hot chocolate, like Boqueria’s Nutella Hot Chocolate with Brandy, are sure to give you a festive pep in your step.
#3 Parks and recreation
If you’re in town at winter, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t visit one of New York City’s famous outdoor ice skating rinks like the ones in Central Park (Wollman Rink at the south of the park at 59th Street and Lasker Rink towards the north at 110th Street), Rockefeller Plaza, and Bryant Park. If you want a break from Manhattan for the day then Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and McCarren Park have quieter and cheaper rinks. Prices typically range from $8-$15 with skate rentals at an additional cost. Lines can be long, especially at Rockefeller Plaza where professionals and amateurs mix, but at least you have the famous giant Christmas tree display to gawk over while you wait. The lights get turned on every year in early December; this year features 30,000 environmentally-friendly LED light on five-miles of wire, topped off by a star covered in Swarovski crystals.
If ice skating puts the fear of God (and broken bones) into you but you still like to be outdoors, then you’re in luck. Despite being known for its skyscrapers and enormous population, New York City is full of parks that are stunning all year-round. If you’ve visited in spring or summer you would have already seen Central Park adorned in its brightest colours, but winter is something different altogether. Despite the low temperature, it’s easy to spend hours walking around Central Park admiring the patterns made by the falling snow onto the branches of spare trees, watching the squirrels as they dig holes and chase each around, spotting families building snowmen and crafting snow angels, or just experiencing the beauty of a giant wintry park in the middle of the biggest city on earth. Grab a hot drink or some roasted chestnuts at one of the seasonal stalls that open up in Columbus Circle (open until late) and warm your hands and your heart at the same time. Aw.
#4 Mull around the bars
Dive bars are a wonderfully American thing and you can be guaranteed to find affordable drinks and a cosy wintry atmosphere once inside. Some of them even have actual fireplaces, which makes pulling up a chair and asking the barman for a bottle of red wine just all the more soothing after a day of sightseeing. No matter where you are, you’re almost always within walking distance (or at least an affordable cab ride) from one of these bars, many of which are in areas you might not expect. If you’ve spent the day in Queens feasting on dumplings in Flushing or visiting the museums in Astoria, then you must visit LIC Bar. This place, with its unassuming exterior, is a place where you can listen to live music as you drink. If you can brave the cold, you’re only a few minutes walk from the East River and the Queensboro Bridge, which is a sight to behold on a snow-covered evening. The view of Manhattan will warm you up instantly.
In New York, the best kind of nightcap is either a mulled cider or a hot toddy. Variations on each are extremely popular throughout bars in the city and are certain to make you forget all of those beaches and barbecues back home. Approach with caution, though; one cup can be bliss but two can take you far.
#5 Song and dance
This holds true any time of the year, but there’s nowhere quite like Broadway to see a show. Use the TodayTix app on your smartphone to get yourself a bargain like $51AUD for the acclaimed Something Rotten or $75AUD for Kinky Boots with music by Cyndi Lauper – or enter the lottery to win yourself $48AUD tickets to the Tony Awards’ Best Musical winner Fun Home (they’re usually $164AUD!).
If you want to treat yourself to one of the most iconic traditions of New York City’s festive season then snag yourself a ticket to one (or both) of the spectacular annual shows on offer. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall features the famous Rockettes, and with up to four shows a day (11am, 2pm, 5pm, and 8pm) and ticket prices ranging from $46-$215AUD. Up town at the Upper West Side’s stunning Lincoln Center district, The New York City Ballet’s annual season of The Nutcracker is a real treat. The two-hour show runs throughout the festive season and is a little more costly with prices starting at $75AUD, but there’s a reason why people go every year.
If you prefer the cinema to the stage then escape the outside chill and give your feet a rest by indulging in a film at one of New York City’s many arthouse and boutique cinemas. Movies that won’t be seen in Australia for months (or ever) means bragging rights, but many also play classics that you’ve never seen on a big screen. Plus, with so many amazing cinemas like the Walter Reade, BAM Cinematheque, MoMA, Film Forum, and Videology, you’ll easily be able to find something special to enjoy indoors for a couple of hours.
#6 Window shopping
Think of the Myer Christmas window displays, but much, much bigger. Every year the city’s biggest department and specialty stores put on a show for locals and tourists alike, spending big to turn their shop window-fronts into decadent displays of yuletide joy. In 2014, Barney’s on the Upper East Side hired Aussie ex-pats Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin to design their windows, Tiffany’s had a display inspired by Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Saks Fifth Avenue recreated fairy tales in the style of 1920s art deco.
Those stores and other high-end retail spaces like Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Lord & Taylor, and Macy’s are once again attempting to best one another with the most spectacular displays. Aussie tourists may want to check out Saks’ 2015 set, which includes wintry visions of some of the world’s greatest wonders, including none other than a frozen Great Barrier Reef.
Above all, it’s most important when visiting New York City to remember that the city is what you make of it. You could ask ten different people of what to do and where to go and get ten different answers. Either way, a white Christmas in the greatest city of all will be an unforgettable experience. Just remember to stay warm.
(Lead image: Dave Kliman/Flickr)