Between the elaborately decorated storefronts, the abundance of holiday markets, and the iconic spruce that occupies Rockefeller Center through December, New York City is the quintessential wintertime destination. And even though much of the magic takes place in Manhattan, Brooklyn is not to be forgotten when it comes to cold-weather fun. This trend-forward borough is a mecca for holiday shopping, museum hopping, dining at farm-to-table restaurants, and ice skating (amid far fewer people than the touristy Midtown alternative). Additionally, Brooklyn hosts a number of cultural festivals each winter.
Keep in mind that many events have been canceled or altered in 2020. Check the websites of the organizers for updated information.
A winter's day is ideal for visiting Brooklyn's many museums. From October 2020 through August 2021, the Brooklyn Museum will be showcasing the work of local artist John Edmonds in addition to its permanent exhibits. The museum has altered its hours for the season and is allowing entry every 15 minutes.
Fans of theater will want to take in a play at the new DOXSEE! (by Target Margin Theater) in Sunset Park, one of Brooklyn's coolest neighborhoods. Music fans, on the other hand, will get their fill at Elsewhere in Bushwick, a 24,000-square-foot warehouse-turned-venue that also serves as a nightclub and arts space.
For those with kids, the annual BAMKids Film Festival, held each February, might be more befitting. The program includes shorts and features, and kids get to vote for their favorite films. If you can't make the festival in person, BAM hosts family screenings throughout the season.
Shop at a Holiday Market
Brooklyn is brimming with markets containing hundreds of holiday gift options, perhaps the most famous being the Brooklyn Flea. A ragbag of vintage fashion finds, handmade crafts, food, and antiques, this market would normally spend the winter in Industry City, an industrial complex in Sunset Park, but in 2020, it will be held on Saturdays at the Manhattan Bridge Archway in Dumbo.
In Williamsburg, there's Artists & Fleas, a year-round weekend tradition bursting with jewelry, clothes, housewares, and other gift-worthy items. There are also usually a slew of seasonal holiday markets—such as the BUST Craftacular, Greenpointers Holiday Market, and Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar—but in 2020, many have been canceled.
Head for the Hills
Don't have a sled? They're typically easy to find at hardware and big-box stores around Brooklyn when snow is imminent. And once you've found one, the hills in Prospect Park await. One of the top sledding spots in the city is by the Tennis House at Prospect Park West and 9th Street. If that's too crowded, try the meadow off Grand Army Plaza, or behind Picnic House at the Third Street entrance to the park. Other popular sledding destinations include Forest Greene Park, Hillside Park, Highland Park (on the border of Queens), Lincoln Terrace Park, Sunset Park, and just about any patch of green (white, more like) in Brooklyn.
Whether it's throwing axes in a bar (Kick Axe) or playing minigolf at Shipwrecked, a theatrical, 18-hole course in Red Hook (closed for winter 2020-21), Brooklyn has an array of opportunities for physical activity indoors. One of the most popular gym alternatives for all ages is Brooklyn Boulders, an 18,000-square-foot climbing facility in Gowanus. The spacious playhouse contains walls for all levels of climbing. On the other end of the spectrum of exertion is cocktails and shuffleboard at the cushty Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club.
Watch a Game
When it's cold and dreary outside, the Barclays Center is almost always bursting with energy, whether it be for New York Islanders hockey or a Brooklyn Nets basketball game. Likewise, Aviator Sports is home to the Brooklyn Blades, a regional women's hockey team. Of course, the Super Bowl also takes place during winter and this borough has plenty of bars holding organized—and some not organized—watch parties. Check the calendar at The Bell House, Threes Brewing, and Union Hall for Super Bowl Sunday happenings.
Sit by a Fireplace
One of the most soul-quenching ways to warm up after a frigid day of exploring is, hands down, with a glass of wine by a crackling fire—and Brooklyn has both wine and fireplaces in copious quantities, including the combo at Black Mountain Wine House in Carroll Gardens, where you can warm up with a rich cab and charcuterie plate.
Otherwise, you can join the imbibers for slices of cake and off-menu cocktails around Dynaco's immensely popular wood burner. The place oozes cozy vibes, lit by candles and holiday-centric string lights. For huevos rancheros and omelets around the fire—why not?—try Cobble Hill's ultimate brunch venue, The Clover Club.
Sip Hot Chocolate
Like a mulled wine or warm cider, a good old-fashioned mug of hot chocolate is synonymous with wintertime all the same. Thankfully, Brooklyn excels at the hot chocolate game. The tour starts at the aptly named Chocolate Room, a sugar-centered cafe offering an entire range of hot chocolate iterations—from classic to spiced and dark, espresso optional—in either Park Slope or Cobble Hill. For one to take on a jaunt across the Brooklyn Bridge, try the European-style chocolatier Jacques Torres in Dumbo instead. Bushwick's FINE & RAW is a hip, Brooklyn-fied version of a chocolate shop, meaning: Everything is made from organic, raw ingredients, and always with a bit of caffeine.
Go Ice Skating
Winter has officially started when the roller skating rink in Prospect Park is transformed into an ice skating rink. Visitors can bring or rent ice skates at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, open seven days a week from November through early April. With the exception of Winterland Rink, a seasonal rink on The Rooftop at Pier 17, this is the only al fresco ice skating experience in the borough. The LeFrak Center at Lakeside includes two outdoor ice skating rinks—occasionally playing host to special programming like curling and broomball—and the Bluestone Cafe, a casual rink-side eatery. In 2020, the skating rinks will remain closed.
Celebrate the New Year
While tens of thousands squeeze into Times Square to watch the ball drop every year, the celebration is much more comfortable (but no less spectacular) at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Park or on the seaside in Coney Island—both firing off their own pyrotechnics for the occasion. Otherwise, you can opt for something a bit more indie at Depot 52 or House of Yes in Bushwick, two major nightlife hubs guaranteed to party through midnight and beyond. In 2020, most large gatherings have been canceled.
Spend the Day at the Beach
Contrary to popular belief, Coney Island is not just a summertime destination. On New Year's Eve, it offers free rides on the Wonder Wheel and late-night entry into the New York Aquarium before a blowout fireworks display. Its most famous wintertime activity, however, is possibly the annual Polar Bear Plunge, in which a scantily clad crowd jumps into the frigid Atlantic and stays just long enough for their blood not to freeze. In 2020, the event has been canceled.