Your pandemic winter bucket list

15 ways to get out of hibernation mode and enjoy the tourist-free city


The Standard Hotel’s winter forest is filled with Santa-red chairs, warm blankets and heaters. Photo: @thestandard

Everywhere you turn, experts are telling us how long, dark and depressing this winter is going to be. But even if you are planning to hibernate at home, there are still virtual events to look forward to. Making “plans” will help pass the time, keep your sanity in check and get to the other side of this thing. Use our winter bucket list to take advantage of the lack of tourists and do everything that used to be too crowded in winters past. Grab a wearable blanket for some memorable outdoor experiences that you’ll never do again once the pandemic is over. One day soon we’ll be vaccinated and back to guzzling martinis at Bemelmans, dancing wildly at a crowded concert at Barclays Center and breathing in each other’s “aerosols” while touching the flesh of strangers. On that day, we will fondly remember this bucket list and be glad we took advantage of having the city all to ourselves, even for just one pandemic winter.  

Photo:@ themuseumofmodernart

Get your art fix

One of the saddest parts of being in NYC during the shutdown is missing out on all the culture that shapes this city. Although Broadway is closed for the time being, many museums are still open for view with timed tickets. At the time of writing, there are still many tickets available at the MOMA, The Met and The Brooklyn Museum. Although sharing space indoors is not as safe as being outside, the size of the museums and lack of crowds due to timed tickets may make this seem less risky. Plus, if you need more incentive, Kaws: What Party opens at the Brooklyn Museum on February 12th. Or if a virtual art talk is more your speed, I highly recommend making this part of your weekend ritual: Cocktails With A Curator at the Frick Collection. Every Friday at 5pm, a Frick curator will introduce and speak about a different artwork from the collection paired with a cocktail that you make at home (based on their recipe.) The video is high quality, the art is high brow and the cocktails are high maintenance. The perfect start to every weekend. TGIF!

Photo: @titanlight

Climb The Vessel

What is The Vessel at Hudson Yards? Why did they build it? This is the time to find out. It looks like a honeycomb, and you can finally climb it with free timed tickets that will ensure you aren’t stuck behind crowds of tourists taking selfies. Reserve free advance timed tickets online or spring for flex tickets ($10) where you can arrive at any time.

Take a walk on the High Line, no reservation needed on weekdays, and grab a bite afterward at Chelsea Market. Photo: @luoliduo

Take a stroll on The High Line

Although The High Line often feels more like a glorified sidewalk, with less people on it, you can spend some time feeling the park vibes. This year you can make a reservation on weekends (reservations aren’t necessary on weekdays) and take a stroll, stopping to smell the roses or look at the public art along the way. When you’ve built up an appetite, make a pitstop at Chelsea Market where there is a block of seating outside for takeout beer, sandwiches, etc.

Photo: @artechouse

Visit an installation

A visit to Artechouse might be great material for your Instagram (you’ve probably seen photos of it in your feed) but it looks so cool, we had to include it anyway. Billed as “the most technologically advanced art platform in the world,” the installation “Celestial” brings color and sound to life in a whole new way. Your timed ticket ($24 for adults, $20 for first responders, $17 for children over 4) allows for social distancing, or you have the option to rent out the space for a private tour for up to 12 people for $250. 

Tickets for NYBG GLOW are still available after Christmas but they are going quickly. Photo: @nybg

See New York Botanical Garden in a different light

If you have yet to see the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden because you’re afraid of facing insane crowds just to see some miniature trains, this might be the year you’ll decide to go. Unlike previous years, this time the show is for members only, and access is extremely limited. Individual memberships start at $90, and you can either upgrade the membership (a family membership allows two adults and up to five kids for $145) or purchase additional tickets for the train show. While you are there, you can also purchase timed tickets for Glow, “an outdoor color and light experience,” which still has tickets left for after Christmas and through January 9th.

Photo: @rockefellercenter

Finally see the Rockefeller Tree

Under normal conditions, I would never recommend battling the crowds to take a peek at the Rockefeller Christmas tree. But this year, they are using a virtual queuing system, where you scan a QR code around the two entrances and it will tell you your wait time and put you in a virtual line. Once you get to your viewing spot, you will have five whole blissful moments to look at the tree, take photos of the tree, take selfies in front of the tree—all without having a tourist photobombing the picture. Afterwards, it might be worth taking a stroll to see the Holiday Windows. Think of this as a chance to get some good Christmas card photo opps for next year.

Photo: @publicrecordsnyc

Attend a listening party 

If you’ve spent the last 9 months perfecting your banana bread and air frying techniques, you may need more of a dedicated reason to go out for dinner. Public Records has come up with the idea of a listening party in the garden, where a DJ plays a different soundtrack depending on the night to accompany a special meal. Last weekend, I sat under a tent surrounded by heat lamps and twinkling lights for the “My Dinner with Arthur Russell” evening. Cocktails and an interesting vegan menu were enhanced by the music of the visionary Arthur Russell. Compared to many other restaurants, Public Records takes the rules seriously, conducting temperature checks, spreading out the tables and enforcing mask-wearing when waiters come to the table— all of which to say, this garden feels like a safe space. The next one is Saturday, Dec. 19.

Photo: @thehoxtonhotel

Treat yourself to a staycation 

One thing that is different since the tourists stopped coming is that hotel room prices are rock bottom. As of writing, it’s possible to find a hotel room for under $100, which is extraordinary during the holiday season. Since my workspace has shuttered, I actually have thought about renting a hotel room to get away from my family and finish some work. But also, it might be a great time to aim a little higher and rent a luxury room at a hotel you’ve wanted to check out. Some hotels are even running enticing specials. Miss movies? Book three nights in a Loft room at the Wythe Hotel and get a private screening in their movie theater for you and a guest. At The Hoxton, you can get the extra fancy package that includes a room service package of caviar, potato chips, creme fraiche, Mother of Pearl spoons and a bottle of bubbly starting at like $160/ night. Possibly the perfect socially distanced New Years’?

Photo: @bryantparknyc @angelitojusay

Bryant Park or bust

Nothing says winter in New York than Bryant Park. The Bryant Park Winter Village is the perfect place to get last-minute holiday gifts, and yes!, it’s still open this year—although with fewer vendors and no crowds. Plus there is ice skating, igloo dining, a curling lane that can be reserved for 90-minute increments, and daily special events like caroling or juggling. Grab a hot chocolate from The Lodge and feel the holiday spirit move through you.

Photo: @citypointbklyn

Visit Holiday Markets 

Although some of our favorite holiday markets may not be happening this year, surprisingly, many are open or are virtual. These are great for browsing local goods (and not clicking through Amazon), meeting makers, and finding unique gifts. We rounded up a full list of in-person and virtual options here. The Makers Show at CityPoint runs through December 20 and requires registration in advance, is co-curated by NYC Pride Marketfest and Da Spot, to ensure a greater range of BIPOC and LGBTQIA entrepreneurs. Rather stay home? The virtual Grand Central Market will have you scrolling until Christmas. 

Photo: @meredithcraigdepietro

Get in an Empire State of Mind

If you’ve lived here for over a decade and still haven’t visited the Empire State Building, this is your time! Sure, it’s expensive, but you’ve got to do it at least once.

Photo: The William Vale

Indulge in a spa day

Are you dying for a self-care day with proper pampering? It’s been almost a year since most have us have had a spa day, but now we can look forward to visiting The Winter Spa at The William Vale. Located on their fourth-floor terrace, the pop-up spa includes heated tents outfitted by TerraGlamping where you can warm up with ‘FAR’ infrared blankets provided by Shape House and relax in a plush robe under the twinkling lights. Only one or two people will be booked per tent, so it’s sure to feel VIP. After your pampering session, make a day of the hotel and go skating at The Vale Rink, with skyline views and same-day reservations made at the top of the hour and every half hour.  

Photo: @industrycity

Spend a day at Industry City 

Industry City is always one of our favorite ways to spend a cold afternoon. Although things look different this year, there are still good eating options, shopping, photo opportunities and special events. What’s different this year is an outdoor heating system that allows visitors to chill comfortably. Spanning three courtyards, it is the city’s largest heated outdoor dining hall so you can enjoy all of IC’s restaurants, breweries, and distilleries outside. This is important if you need to rest your legs in between ice skating and roller skating. (Yes, they have both!) Plus, you can visit the recently opened Powerhouse Books at IC and curl up with a hot chocolate and your new book.

Photo: Brooklyn Based

See the Christmas lights

The best place to see Christmas Lights in Brooklyn is undoubtedly Dyker Heights. This over-the-top display can transform even the biggest grinch into a holiday junkie. The icicle house, the toyland house, the snowflake house are just some of the iconic masterpieces. For this reason, the neighborhood often deals with large crowds every evening around the holidays which might feel too risky to do during Covid. So this might be the year to take a drive to the burbs. Mommy Poppins has put together a pretty exhaustive Drive Through Christmas Light Shows in NJ, Westchester, Long Island, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Even if you don’t own a car, it might be worth renting one this year for a holiday excursion to see the lights.

Photo: @industrykitchen

Get cozy at a holiday-themed restaurant

Just because it’s a pandemic, doesn’t mean we can’t have socially-distanced, masked, boozy get-togethers in festive holiday-themed bars. Of course, the new NYC covid rules mean you have to order food too (which is probably a smart idea.) Sit in The Standard’s The Forest, an evergreen woodland where you can enjoy fondue, hot chocolate, hot drinks, movies and board games under a cozy blanket. Olmsted’s back garden has had a Cozy Cottage makeover with blankets, torches and warm blocks of Himilayan Sea Salt. If you’d rather feel festive without a holiday overload, why not eat in your own yurt? People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, especially when you are eating in the red and green ones at Industry Kitchen in South Street Seaport, where visitors order from a Christmas menu or get a visit from Santa. Crown Shy is serving a multi-course prix fixe menu inside a Yurt Village on Pine Street in the Financial District. 

One Response

  1. Adrienne McGuire -

    This is a FANTASTIC list — one that I can’t wait to refer to when I finally have the chance to travel once again. I’ve been itching to get up to the Northeast (NYC specifically) and I’m bookmarking this list NOW to refer back to later. I’m also going to share this with my friends who live in Soho who are constantly looking for safe things to do!


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