Ultimate Guide to NYC in Dec with Covid-19 Updates

With the mayhem of COVID-19 during the current times, life as we know it has undoubtedly taken a backseat. Our travel plans have been disrupted, travel rules and regulations have become more stringent, and caution has become a part of our day-to-day lives.

We all feel the need to blow off some steam and seek the familiarity that we were so blatantly used to. We all feel the need to don our travel hat, put on our travel shoes, and take our wanderlust soul on an all new high, all while being cautious of our new friend – the Coronavirus.

The Coronavirus is here to stay, and tourism has resumed in most of the countries. This post is not a recommendation to travel during this year, but is about all the relevant and useful information you need in case you plan to visit the United States (and New York City in particular)

December is almost here and when it comes to donning your travel hat for this holiday season and New Year’s Eve, NYC is one such place that is worth visiting in December

Will it be safe again to travel to the US, and New York in specific? Have there been any changes in the rules during these challenging times of the Coronavirus? How is the weather going to be like in New York in December? What are the must-visit places (with COVID-19 updates) in New York City in December?

I’ve addressed all these questions and more, in this article, keeping in mind your travel needs and desires, to help you plan an unforgettable trip to New York City in December!

Here is your Ultimate Guide to Visiting New York City in December with the Latest COVID-19 Updates.

COVID-19 Travel Updates for New York

Photo of Top of the Rock in NYC

The US has banned travel from China, Brazil, Iran, the European Schengen area, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland. Click here for more information. 

Within the country, the US has different travel restrictions that differ for different states. Click here to know more about travel restrictions to New York State. 

Traveler Health Form (Mandatory for Every Visitor to New York)

Visitors to New York State are required to fill a Traveler Health Form. Enforcement teams will be stationed at Airports to ensure that the travelers are following the state’s quarantine restrictions. Travelers coming to New York State through other means of transport like car, train, or bus need to fill the form online.

Quarantine Checkpoints in NYC

Another thing to note is that the NYC administration has set up quarantine checkpoints and imposed strict travel restrictions to screen travelers coming from one of the 35 US states and territories, as mentioned in the CNBC article. You might also have to quarantine yourself for 14 days upon arrival if you’re coming in from any of the states mentioned on this website (Refer to the Restricted States section).

General COVID-19 Precautions Before Visiting NYC

    1. Avoid public places, if possible.
    2. Wear a mask at all times, and carry a hand sanitizer. 
    3. Maintain a distance of 6 feet from other individuals.
    4. Make sure you have travel insurance that covers COVID-19.

Is December a good time to visit New York?

December is a great time to visit NYC. Colorful Christmas trees adorn the bustling streets, enthusiastic locals and tourists skate on snow-white ice rinks at Bryant Park and Central Park, hotels open their doors with generous discounts for a memorable stay, Holiday season sales satiate the shopaholics’ thirst, and the sparkling holiday vibe arouses the festive spirit in each of us. 

Christmas Tree at Bryant Park, NYC

But because of the current COVID-19 situation, there are several landmarks of New York City that are still closed, and there’s no confirmation whether they will open in December or not. 

According to the New York Times article, New York’s famous Broadway theaters and museums have been closed now, and it is uncertain whether they will reopen in December.

However, do make sure to watch/read the latest news pertaining to the COVID-19 updates before planning your trip to New York City in December.

How is the weather in New York in December?

The weather in New York in December is quite chilly! The temperature falls to as low as -10 degrees Celsius. 

I still remember the time when I was completely underdressed for the weather and had almost turned pale, enough to have feared that I might not make it back home alive! The skin on my hands had peeled off like dried fevicol and my nose tips had been frayed by the piercing winds, causing unbearable agony. So that is how cold it gets in New York in December, and being underdressed for the weather makes it even worse!

Tip: Make sure you pack plenty of warm clothes if you are  planning for a trip to NYC in December. Read my section on “How to Dress in NYC in December” below.

And if you’re wondering if it ever snows in New York in December, the answer is yes, it pretty much does, and it will be one of the loveliest sights that you would have ever witnessed! The average snowfall for the month is 11.5 inches and the entire city will be embellished by white snow.

What do you wear in New York in December?

Winter clothes are an absolute essential when you’re visiting New York in December. There is no looking back. The temperature falls below zero degrees centigrade and it is important for one to be dressed appropriately, when visiting New York in December.

Here is my mandatory list on what to pack for New York City in December

Clothing

  • 1-2 Face Masks
  • 2 Pairs of Thermals
  • 1 Faux Fur Coat
  • 2-3 Sweaters
  • 4-5 Full Sleeve Tops 
  • 2-3 Pairs of Jeans/Trousers
  • 1 Pair of Gloves
  • 1-2 Scarves
  • 1-2 Beanies

Footwear

  • 1 Pair of Faux Fur Boots
  • 2 Pairs of Thermal Socks
  • 1 Pair of Sneakers
What to Wear in NYC Winter
What to Wear in NYC Winter

You also need to keep the following things in mind: 

    1. Dress in Layers: You need to make sure that you are dressed in at least 4-5 layers to trap the air in between and keep you warm. The innermost layer would be your thermals followed by your full-sleeve tops/trousers with a sweater and a faux fur coat on top. Your trousers/jeans will have the thermal socks underneath paired with footwear of your choice. 
    2. Wear Gloves, Scarves and Beanies: Gloves help keep your hands warm and their absence stings like hell. The cold weather of NYC can cause wear and tear of the skin. Scarves keep your neck warm, and beanies protect your ears from the gusting winds. 
    3. Wear Comfortable Shoes: If you are in New York City, you are most likely to walk the whole day. Wear comfortable shoes during the day and something a bit more fanciful like faux fur boots, for the night. 
    4. Pack Water Resistant Clothes/Footwear: Prefer packing water-resistant clothes/footwear so that you can protect yourself from rain and snowfall. 

In addition to the mandatory list, you can pack the following outfits/footwear to make your NYC experience a bit more snazzy!

  • Down Jackets are stylish and do a nice work of keeping you warm and fuzzy. They are perfect for a casual day out. 
  • Fleece pullovers and Cardigans pair up nice with casual jeans. 
  • Short Booties and Over the Knee Boots don’t just look fancy, but also protect your feet during winter.

Free things to do in New York City in December

1. Christmas Tree Installations in New York City

Christmas Tree in Wall Street, New York City

COVID-19 update: Nothing specific. Please follow the COVID-19 CDC guidelines.

December witnesses a lot of stunning Christmas tree installations across NYC, with the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree being the highlight!

This illuminated once-in-a-year sight is visited by tourists and locals alike. A huge 100-feet Christmas tree is illuminated in front of the iconic Rockefeller Center with nothing short of a whopping 50,000 vivid LED lights! The tree is also adorned with a 9.5 feet wide Swarovski Star on top which looks remarkable. To witness the magic of something like that, you’ve to see it with your own eyes!

Apart from this, you can visit other notable Christmas tree installations at Wall Street, Bryant Park and hotel lobbies.

2. Christmas Window Displays at 5th Avenue, NYC

Christmas Window Displays at Macy's, 5th Avenue, New York

COVID-19 update: Nothing specific. Please follow the COVID-19 CDC guidelines.

If you’re a self-proclaimed shopaholic, then Fifth Avenue is the right place for you. It is the ultimate shopping hub that has something for everyone. In the month of December, the shops come alive with their magical and enticing window displays.

The Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue holiday windows are renowned for their theme-based decorations. In 2019, Macy’s Herald Square windows were based on the theme of Believe in the Wonder. The windows featured Santa Girl with her Golden Retriever, Willow. 

Apart from Macy’s and Saks, 5th Avenue also has other iconic shops like Barneys, Bloomingdales, and Lord & Taylor that offer amazing holiday sales.

3. Holiday Markets in New York City

Photo of Winter Village at Bryant Park in NYC

COVID-19 update: Nothing specific. Please follow the COVID-19 CDC guidelines.

The holiday markets in NYC are the locals’ favorite. The Bryant Park Winter Village is one of the most popular holiday markets. It boasts around 125 holiday shops and food kiosks ready to explore for the tourists. 

Participate in a number of interesting activities at the Winter Village, like broomball, bumper cars on ice, cozy igloo knitting sessions and so much more! To know more about this year’s schedule, ticket sales, and events, check out the official Bryant Park website here.

Other famous holiday markets are the Union Square Holiday Market, Columbus Circle Market, and the World Trade Center’s Holiday Market at the Oculus

Whether you want to sample delicious food, or enjoy the live music, or buy splendid handcrafted goodies as souvenirs, these holiday markets are the perfect place to be, in order to get a real taste of New York City.

4. Ice Skating at Bryant Park in NYC

Stone Monoliths Hill Tiwa

COVID-19 update: Bryant Park is open for visitors. They require you to maintain proper social distancing (6 feet between people) and take the necessary precautions. Click here to know more.

If you’re in New York City in December, and you don’t skate on an ice rink, then you haven’t experienced NYC at all!

Bryant Park is Manhattan’s ultimate winter wonderland! You can ice skate here for free if you bring your own skates or pay $18 – $33 to rent them. Tourists and locals enjoy skating here in front of the big Christmas Tree. 

Also, it is worth keeping in mind that you will have to keep your bags, if you’ve brought any, in rental storages that would cost you $12.

If you don’t prefer skating, you can simply be a spectator, which is another experience by itself, and completely free.

For more details about their schedule and prices, click the link here.

Timings: 

October 31 – March 1, Daily 8 am – 10 pm EDT.

5. Ball Drop at Times Square in New York City (New Year’s)

Ball Drop Times Square NYC

COVID-19 update: The ball drop at Times Square for 2020-21 is going to happen virtually.

A huge glittering ball descends down a specially designed flagpole at 11:59:00 p.m. ET, and rests at midnight to indicate the start of the new year – a spectacle that spellbinds millions of people. This is the legendary Ball Drop at Times Square.

This pompous exhibit is accompanied with spectacular popping fireworks and vivid confetti, as millions of merry tourists and locals cheer the start of the new year in New York City’s Times Square.

The ball drop happens on 42nd Street just south of the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue. It can be best viewed along Broadway from 43rd to 50th Streets, or along 7th Avenue from 43rd to 59th Streets. 

Tip 1: The lower the street number you are on, the nearer you are to the ball.

Tip 2: Make sure that you’re fully relieved and good to go, as there are no public or portable washrooms in Times Square. Restaurants too won’t let you in just to use the restroom!

Timings:  

December 31, 6 pm – January 1, 12:15 am EDT.

6. Traditional Music/Choir at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC

St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC

COVID-19 update: The church has reopened for Mass and is operating at 25% capacity. Click here  for the Mass schedule. Visitors are required to follow the strict COVID-19 CDC Guidelines. 

If you want to experience the soothing melodies of the traditional choir amidst all the NYC glam and glitz, then do visit the St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

The St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest decorated gothic-style Catholic Cathedral in the United States that has a world-renowned choir featuring traditional and contemporary Irish music. The choir has performed for several heads of state, the Pope, and has even worked with acclaimed soloists.

Don’t miss to be a part of the old-world charm right at the heart of the modern-world allure!

Further, with its mesmerizing interiors decorated with numerous altars and statues, and more than 2,800 stained glass panels, the church sure is a pleasant welcome sight to the eyes.

Timings:

Monday – Friday: 7 am and 12 pm EDT.

Saturday: 8 am and 12 pm EDT.

Sunday: 10:15 am, 1 pm, and 4 pm EDT.

7. Hotel Lobby-Hopping in NYC

Christmas Tree Hotel Lobby NYC
Christmas Tree Hotel Lobby NYC

COVID-19 update: Nothing specific. Please follow the COVID-19 CDC guidelines.

Just like how you would go pub-hopping when you get to the party groove, one typical NYC thing that most locals do, is the lobby-hopping at different hotels! 

Hotels in NYC have elaborately decorated lobbies open for visitors to come in and soak the holiday spirit. You’ll be greeted by wreaths adorned with gold ornaments, Christmas lights on the hotel windows, and a stunning Christmas tree lit up in the lobby.

The Plaza, The St. Regis, and The Peninsula have spectacular hotel lobbies open for tourists and they are absolutely worth checking out.

Paid Things to do in New York City in December

1. Ice Skating at Central Park in NYC

Ice Skating at Central Park, NYC

COVID-19 update: Central Park is open for visitors (only Great Lawn, Sheep Meadow and North Meadow are open). For more details, click on the link here. Wollman Rink will be open for ice skating and will have a modified winter season schedule. Click on their website to learn more.

While ice skating in Bryant Park is free of cost when you bring your own skates, ice skating in Central Park is not. 

Nonetheless, the view from rinks at Central Park is breathtaking with the whole of New York City’s majestic skyline greeting you in the horizon. The park has two ice skating rinks: the Wollman Rink near the Central Park zoo, and the Lasker Rink at the center of the park. 

The Wollman rink is undoubtedly the more popular one. You’ve to pay $12 per adult, $6 per child (11 years and under), and $5 per senior to hit the ice here. 

Also, if you want to enjoy the ice rink along with the stellar views of New York City’s skyline, you have to pay $5 for spectator entrance. Here is the link to the Wollman Rink website for more details.

2. Viewing the NYC Skyline from Top of the Rock ® Observation Deck and Empire State Building

Photo of NYC Skyline at the Empire State Building in New York

COVID-19 update: Top of the Rock Observation Deck is open daily from 1 – 9 PM for visitors. Click here to know more about their safety guidelines. The Empire State Building is open for visitors but ticket reservations are required for admission. Click here to learn more.

I think my most special experience of my trip to New York City in December was witnessing the NYC skyline from atop the Empire State Building on a snowy, Christmas Eve. The chilly winds thought that they had made my body numb but little did they know that the view of the sparkling city beneath had already stolen my breath away and had brought me to a still. Such was the enchantment of the New York City skyline!

You can witness the NYC skyline from either the Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building has notable engineering built into it with a promise of taking you above 86 floors in less than a minute! On the other hand, if you choose the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, you will be 70 stories high enjoying an unobstructed view of the Central Park in the north, the East River in the east, the Hudson in the west, and the Empire State Building in the south!

If you decide to visit either of these along with the other NYC attractions, buying a sightseeing pass will help you save a few bucks. 

READ MORE: The Best Sightseeing Pass to Buy in NYC

3. Rockettes Christmas Spectacular Show at Radio City Hall, NYC

Rockettes Christmas Spectacular Show, NYC

COVID-19 update: The Rockettes aren’t performing in 2020. Their next show will be in the year 2021. Check out their website for more details.

If there is one show which you need to see in order to experience the pith of Christmas, it has to be the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular show at the Radio City Hall in New York City. 

More than 140 performers bring the stage to life with their exuberant performances of singing, dancing and depiction of traditional scenes with humor. The Rockettes are a women-only precision dance troupe who have been performing since 1933, bringing New York City alive with their Christmas spectacle. The show is truly spectacular, in every sense.

The tickets to the show are a bit pricey. The cost varies from 50 USD for the Mezzanine seats to 599 USD for the Orchestra seats. To know more details about their show in 2021, check out their official website here.

4. Attend a Live Concert at Lincoln Center in New York City

COVID-19 update: The Lincoln Center has canceled all of its performances for 2020. They are planning to reopen in early 2021 as per the NPR article here

The Lincoln Center is the world’s leading Performing Arts Center home to 11 resident arts organizations in the fields of symphony, opera, chamber music, theater, dance, film, and arts education.

In the month of December, the Lincoln Center of Performing Arts organizes live concerts, a few of them based on Hollywood movies. The Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is one of their popular concerts, and you must see it to believe it. 

To know more details about their calendar of events and ticket prices, check out their official website here

5. Attend a Sporting Event in NYC

New York Knicks

COVID-19 update: Nothing specific. Please follow the COVID-19 CDC guidelines.

Catching up on some action in the merriment of Christmas wouldn’t hurt! Sports like ice-hockey, football, and basketball are quite a treat in the month of December – especially when you get to watch them live. 

Whether you want to watch the New York Knicks dunk the ball or the Jets score a goal, you can do so in the month of December when these sporting events come alive in New York City. For more details, check out the official calendar here

Getting Around in New York City

A Photo of Taxis in New York City

Taking the NYC Subway 

Covid-19 update: The subway service in NYC is operating as usual. However, it is suspended from 1 AM to 5 AM for cleaning and disinfecting purposes. For more information, check out the official MTA website here.

The New York Subway system is the main public transportation system in New York. It is one of the most preferred modes of transportation by the locals and tourists. The whole of New York City is connected by the subway system. 

READ MORE: A First Timer’s Guide to the New York City Subway System

Walking

The best way to get around in New York City is by walking. Google Maps can be your best friend if you plan to walk from point A to point B. Also, understanding the concept of Avenues and Streets will also help if you want to avoid looking at the maps, and travel like a true NYC local!

Tip: Make sure you wear comfortable shoes if you’re planning to explore NYC by walking.

Taxis/Cabs

Yellow taxis and cabs are widely available in New York City. Uber is one of the most preferred cab services in NYC. I have personally used Uber in NYC, and have no complaints whatsoever!

If you want to take a yellow taxi, make sure you stop the one where the taxi number is illuminated. This means that the taxi is available. The minimum metered fare is $2.50 which increases by 50 cents every fifth of a mile or every minute. 

Where to Stay in NYC in December

In the month of December, hotels in NYC offer irresistible discounts. You can book them in advance for best prices.

Midtown Manhattan and Times Square are the most popular choices for booking hotels.

Find a great hotel for your trip to NYC in December!

Booking.com

I hope you enjoyed reading my comprehensive guide about traveling to NYC in December during the times of the COVID-19.

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