If you are planning to spend winter in New York, a trip to the ice rink under the sparkly lights may be on your bucket list. My mom has been talking about ice skating at the Rockefeller Center for years so we added it to our itinerary during our most recent girls' trip to New York in mid-November 2023.
We stopped at the Rockefeller Center before the tree was revealed and we found it to be a lackluster. The area around the rink looked like a construction zone. Instead, we decided to go ice skating at Bryant Park. The Bryant Park Winter Village was already in full swing, making it a fun, memorable experience.
If you're wondering where to go ice skating in New York, let me help you weigh the pros and cons between Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park:
What Are the Differences Between Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center or Ice Skating at Bryant Park?
Both the Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park are centrally located near Midtown. They were within walking distance of where we were staying (Tempo by Hilton) and the popular, highly rated Hard Rock Hotel. Depending on the exact time of winter you go, Rockefeller Center can either be magical or underwhelming. If you are planning to visit before the Rockefeller tree goes up, you will see mostly construction. Before November 29, I would recommend skipping it and going to Bryant Park instead.
Another important fact to note, which was a surprise to me, is that the Rockefeller Center rink is located underground so your immediate views are not the best. Bryant Park's rink is at ground level with really nice views of the surrounding buildings and shops.
Another factor where Bryant Park wins over Rockefeller Center is cost. Ice skating at the Rinks at the Rockefeller Center starts at $28 for morning sessions. When the sun sets, you're looking at $54 per adult per ticket early in the season and $73 during peak days and times. By contrast, ice skating at Bryant Park is free if you bring your own skates or $27 to rent skates for an hour on the weekend in the evening (early in the season) with lower rates on weekdays and mornings. The highest price I've seen is $50 for peak days and times.
With the amount you save by skating at Bryant Park, you can splurge on desserts, hot cocoa and more at the shops. Which brings me to...
Activities / Food and Drink Options:
Perhaps the real crime we committed was trying to experience Rockefeller Center before they were ready, but we will never know. First impressions matter! On November 10, the Bryant Park Winter Village was welcoming visitors with a decorated Christmas tree and dozens of adorable little shops selling souvenirs and sweets. There was a lot of seating by the rink to enjoy a hot cocoa and waffles or donuts. The Lodge was open and offering food, snacks and alcohol to warm visitors up.
Overall, the vibe at Bryant Park's Winter Village felt like a bustling European Christmas market, similar to the ones I visited in Belgium. Hands down, the best winter and ice skating experience (at least for November) was the Bryant Park Winter Village. If I return another year in December, I might revisit Rockefeller Center and update my recommendation.
Have you been ice skating at Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park? Which one would you recommend?