You hardly need a reason to visit New York City in the winter—it’s a city pulsing with things to do all year long. From Broadway shows and warm-your-belly eateries to sledding Central Park or ice skating Rockefeller Center, a visitor to New York is never lacking in entertainment. But here’s a reason to visit the city you may not have imagined: Don your swimsuit for an icy plunge that’ll make your whole body feel alive.
In February, the second annual U.S. Winter Swimming Championships will be held in New York, bringing together brave souls to compete in events like a 200-meter freestyle in 34-degree water in the Hudson River or the Atlantic Ocean. You don’t need to be Michael Phelps to enter—the event is open to anyone with the guts to make the leap.
“It’s very challenging but you feel so good afterward,” says Cristian Vergara, president and co-founder of the U.S. Winter Swimming Association. “Everyone comes out of the water happy. You have a sense of accomplishment and a natural euphoria.”
If competition isn’t your thing, then base yourself out of the hipster haven of Brooklyn and join the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, which jumps into the ocean en masse every Sunday at 1 p.m. from Brighton Beach. No wetsuits allowed.
Afterward, follow club members for a signature hot dog at Nathan’s on the Coney Island boardwalk or a bowl of hot borscht in New York’s Russian stronghold.
From November to March, Brooklyn’s legendary flea market heads indoors. This winter, over 100 vendors selling salvaged furniture, handmade jewelry, vintage records and more will post up every weekend inside a landmark Fort Greene bank tower. Don’t miss the food vendors, too: You can score everything from lemon- meringue donuts to ceviche tacos.
Sure, you can go bowling at Brooklyn Bowl, but you can also catch a live Lauryn Hill show, eat thickly battered fried chicken or oyster po’ boys and lounge on comfy leather sofas while drinking pitchers of beer brewed within a few-mile radius.
Brooklyn’s NU Hotel (from $386), which opened in 2009 with 93 loft-style rooms, offers free cruiser bikes, complimentary breakfast, a tapas bar and in-room murals painted by local artists. At the Wythe Hotel (from $365), a refurbished waterfront factory in Williamsburg, rooms are sleekly designed with handmade furniture and custom wallpaper.
STAY OUT LATE
You can play indoor bocce ball while sipping whiskey at Union Hall, a massive 5,000-square-foot Park Slope music and comedy venue that feels like a cozy library thanks to walls of books and fireplaces. Or rock out to ’90s grunge or a bluegrass festival at The Bell House, a 1920s warehouse turned concert hall in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood. Habana Outpost in Fort Greene, is a solar-powered Cuban institution that draws crowds—even midwinter— for its spiked lemonade and icy margaritas.
At Brooklyn’s DiFara Pizza, pies are handmade by Dom DeMarco, an 80-year-old Naples native who shaves the cheese and hand cuts fresh basil for his $5 slices that, yes, are worth waiting in the hour-long line. For a fancier feast, check out Olmsted, which opened last May in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights and has a garden out back where herbs and veggies are grown. Brooklyn vegetarians swear by Zaytoons, also in Prospect Heights, a casual Middle Eastern restaurant with the best falafel you’ll ever eat. But fair warning: it’s a cash only establishment.