10 Best Things to Do in New York City on New Year's Day

new years eve nyc times square

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There are many things to do in New York City on New Year's Day, so don't spend the holiday on your couch. Kick your new year off right by enjoying the holiday, whether you want to explore the outdoors or soak up the warmth inside some of the world's best museums. You can continue your revelry by enjoying brunch and a Bloody Mary at the bar where it was first invented, or taking your family bowling or ice skating.

On New Year's Day 2021, many attractions around New York City have special guidelines in place or are closed altogether. Confirm the most up-to-date details with individual businesses before finalizing your plans.

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Go Ice Skating

Ice skating at Bryant Park, Manhattan, New York City, USA

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Don't let another winter slip away before you have a chance to get out on one of Manhattan's iconic ice skating rinks, most of which are open on New Year's Day. To skate during the 2020–2021 season at all rinks, skaters must reserve a time slot online before arriving, even at the rinks that don't charge admission.

Glide under the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in Midtown at the splurge-worthy Rockefeller Center Rink, perhaps New York City's most famous ice rink. Nearby, enjoy the great atmosphere including an open-air holiday market at Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park's rink. It's the only free skating rink in the city (as long as you bring your own skates). For a magical holiday experience inside Central Park, whirl around Wollman Rink, which boasts views of the city skyline.

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Enjoy a Beloved Museum

American Museum of Natural History, New York City, NY

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While some museums shut their doors on New Year's Day, quite a few remain open, with excellent exhibitions to view. All of these museums required a timed-entry ticket for January 1, 2021. Among the most interesting are:

  • American Museum of Natural History: Located in Manhattan and founded in 1869, this is one of the world's largest and most frequented natural museums. Exhibitions vary from The Butterfly Conservatory filled with over 500 free-flying butterflies to exploring the fossil of a Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur discovered in the early 1900s.
  • The Whitney Museum of American Art: Also known as The Whitney, this Manhattan museum was founded in 1930 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and houses primarily 20th and 21st-century American art. Exhibitions you can see on New Year's Day 2021 include "Vida Americana" about murals by Mexican artists and a show about crafting in art.
  • MoMA: The Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan, established in 1929, is one of the biggest modern and contemporary art museums in the world, with nearly 200,000 works, including "Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh. The main MoMA branch is open on New Year's Day, although the second branch, MoMA PS1 in Queens, is closed on the holiday.
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Check out Holiday Light Displays

Rockefeller Center, New York City.

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If you didn't manage to gather any steam until nightfall on New Year's Day, venture out into the darkness for optimized viewing of some of the season's best holiday light displays before their lights go out for good. Have a last look at the 77-foot tall Rockefeller Center tree and surrounding illuminations, Fifth Avenue storefronts like Bergdorf Goodman and Macy's, the festive Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, and the Holiday Under the Stars installation at the Shops at Columbus Circle. 

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Hit up a Park

The High Line in New York City, NY

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While many locals are still in bed, start off the new year by filling your lungs with a breath of fresh air. Central Park's grand 840-acre expanse is best explored without the crowds, so bundle up and head to the park between the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side on New Year's Day for a brisk and rejuvenating jog, bike ride, or stroll.

Or use the day to check out the High Line, a nearly 1.5-mile-long elevated park that is built on once-used and above-ground subway tracks. It stretches along the West Side of the city, from the Meatpacking District through Chelsea all the way to Hudson Yards and is one of the most architecturally fascinating parts of Manhattan.

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Delve Into American History

The New-York Historical Society is New York City's first museum, founded in 1804 as a place to preserve and share the history of the city. Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the attraction includes a children's museum and a variety of exhibitions featuring women's history, as well as important events and people in U.S. history.

The New-York Historical Society is open on New Year's Day, although an advance ticket with a timed reservation is necessary to enter the museum as of December 2020 until further notice.

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Visit the Zoo

Central Park Zoo in NYC

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Nearly every borough in New York City has its own zoo, and all of them are open on New Year's Day with the exception of the Bronx Zoo. As with most public places in the 2020–2021 season, all visitors must pre-purchase tickets with a reserved time slot before entering any of the zoos.

The Prospect Park Zoo is a 12-acre zoo located off Flatbush Avenue on the eastern side of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The zoo houses 864 animals including sea lions, red pandas, and small creatures such as frogs.

A completely outdoor zoo, the Queens Zoo covers 18-acres and is located in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. The zoo includes wildlife from the Americas, domestic animals, a huge domed aviary, and a sea lion pool.

The Central Park Zoo is a 6.5-acre zoo located at the southeast corner of Central Park. Even though it's a bit smaller than the others, the central location is a big draw. The zoo includes a children's zoo, a sea lion pool, and penguins.

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Experience the Marine Life

Penguin Swimming On Water Surface
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The New York Aquarium is far out from Manhattan, but this NYC favorite is a perfect family outing for something to do on New Year's Day. Located on the Riegelmann Boardwalk in Coney Island, the New York Aquarium is the oldest continually operating aquarium in the United States. It was originally located in Castle Garden in Battery Park in Manhattan in 1896, but moved to its current location on Coney Island in 1957. You'll find exciting freshwater and saltwater tanks with shark exhibits, penguins, and "aquatheater" shows.

If you're visiting for New Year's Day 2021, you must pre-purchase your tickets with a reserved time slot before arriving at the aquarium.

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Take the Family Bowling

As of December 2020, Brooklyn Bowl is closed until further notice.

Brooklyn Bowl has an annual New Year’s Day Family Bowl event that features a brunch menu, drink specials, a kids’ menu and, bowling.

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Relax and Listen to Music

As of December 2020, all indoor bars and restaurants in New York City are closed until further notice.

Options for booze- and music-fueled meals are plentiful across town. The Smoke Jazz & Supper Club hosts the Countdown Quintet Vl concert, featuring some of the best local jazz artists. Smoke's jazz dinner is also a great accompaniment to spectacular music.

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See the Birthplace of the Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary
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As of December 2020, the King Cole Bar is closed until further notice.

A little hair of the dog can help lift you out of that New Year's Day hangover fog. Celebrate "National Bloody Mary Day" in the heart of Manhattan at the landmark King Cole Bar at The St. Regis New York, where the beloved drink was reputedly created in 1934 by Fernand Petiot. The cocktail—also known as the Red Snapper—has since evolved and is enjoyed by guests of the upscale hotel and discriminating NYC residents under the famous Maxfield Parrish’s Old King Cole mural done in 1906.