New York City in the rain. It happens.
And yet, even in the rain, NYC’s electricity never dwindles. I’ve walked dozens of blocks in torrential downpours with a smile on my face because Manhattan is, hands down, one of my favourite cities in the world.
But singin’ in the rain ain’t for everybody, and it’s always good — especially when travelling with children — to have a rainy day NYC backup plan. In summer months, I plan our NYC itinerary around outdoorsy exploration but always keep a Plan B close at hand. And now, I give you a whole bunch of Plan Bs.
Need a hand putting together your next visit to NYC? My 4-day New York itinerary is a great place to start.
7 fun things to do in New York City in the rain
I have little doubt that you’ll find other lists of things to do in New York City in the rain with dozens more entries, but I want to focus on my favourites after years and years of visits. Most important, don’t let a bit of rain ruin your holiday. Sure, you may have to scrap some of the things that were high on your list of things to do in NYC, but we’ve all been there — and there’s always next time.
You won’t find any escape rooms or spas on my top 7 list of things to do in New York City in the rain — frankly, you can do those anywhere — but you will find more than enough to keep you busy and still immersed in everything that makes New York, New York so damn special.
1. New York City in the rain: Observation Decks.
I know what you’re thinking: aren’t NYC’s observation decks outdoors? Well, you’re partly right. But the great news is that they all have indoor viewing sections, too — usually with floor-to-ceiling windows that allow you to take in the panoramic Manhattan skyline. If your rainy day in NYC is also a foggy one, though, you’ll want to skip the observation decks entirely because it’ll be a total waste of money.
However, some rain on a clear day won’t ruin your NYC observation deck experience in the least. In fact, you might find the crowds are thinner than usual since so many people will write this off, assuming it’s not as fun to stay indoors. But it is! Especially if you spend time reading about the history of each building using the signage you’ll find in them as you make your way around each space.
If you plan to visit more than one of the attractions on this list, be sure to consider a CityPASS or C3 Pass to save money.
The Empire State Building is a great place to see New York City in the rain!
It’s a classic and no visit to NYC, whether it’s raining or not, is complete if you’ve never been up the Empire State Building. Arrive as soon as the doors open to avoid the crowds and very, very long lines that can form. This is one of the best places to be in New York City in the rain because there’s enough to read on your way up the Empire State Building as there is to see once you’re up there.
A lot of people will bypass all of the interesting posters and literature on a bright, beautiful day since they want to get out on to the outdoor observation deck, but — truth be told — I find it much more interesting to read about the history of the construction and watch some of the old videos that play on a loop throughout the exhibits.
If you ever watched 30 Rock, you’ll be familiar with 30 Rockefeller Plaza — a 70-floor building that houses more than just the Top of the Rock Observation Deck. It’s home to NYC’s most-famous Christmas Tree and skating rink during the coldest months as well as the Rainbow Room, which is now used just for private events but used to be one of the city’s most happening bars.
With indoor and outdoor views facing north, east, south and west, you can take in some great Manhattan views
Edge at Hudson Yards
This is an observation deck unlike any other in NYC, and if you’re facing a day of New York City in the rain, you’ll want to make sure you take your rain coat so you can step out onto the Edge and walk on the glass floor — even just for a moment. There’s still ah-mazing views indoors, and the ride up to Edge at Hudson Yards is the best of the three I’ve listed here and you’ll be in Hudson Yards, which has lots of shops, restaurants and galleries to keep you busy on a rainy day.
2. New York City in the rain: Galleries + museums.
NYC’s art galleries and museums are probably going to be the first thing visitors think of when faced with a day in New York City in the rain, so expect them to be busier than usual. Head there immediately after breakfast to be there when the doors open since throngs of people really probably really start to pour in by mid-morning after rainy-day sleep-ins.
My entire family agrees — the natural history museum is the best in NYC. And since you could spend an entire day there and not even come close to seeing every space and exhibit, this would be my first choice for a rainy day in New York City. You can get lost in all of its treasures — literally — so download the free app when you arrive and use it to guide you from one area to the next. It’s probably the best and most helpful app we’ve used in any gallery or museum.
Make sure you add on a ticket for whatever’s playing in the Planetarium, because it’s such a cool experience.
You’ll want to carve out at least three to four hours for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum — and more if you want to just sit and reflect to process the overwhelming, gut-wrenching scenes and sounds that make this among one of New York’s most important museums. I’m not going to lie…it’s heavy. Take tissues.
I wrote about our experience in more detail in my “Things to do in NYC with Teens” post, if you’d like to read more.
MoMA has a space where you can completely ignore New York City in the rain
I’ve been to the Museum of Modern Art (the MoMA) in NYC a few times over the years, and it’s always got something new and noteworthy to see. It’s one of my favourite art galleries in New York City and a great place to while away a few hours if you’re holiday has turned into a rain-fest. During my more recent visit, its La Biblioteca space was open and it featured a thought-provoking exhibit called Black Power Naps.
Head to the second-floor Creativity Lab to see what exhibit is there during your visit, and perhaps it will also have a space to block out the city noise and allow some deep introspection.
Those familiar with The Met Ball will definitely want to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art, even if only to stand on its highly photographed staircase. This is also where a huge list of movies have been filmed, like Ocean’s 8, The Thomas Crown Affair, Hitch and so many more. Similar to the American Museum of Natural History, this place is enormous and cannot be done in a day, so focus on your musts once you have your map in-hand. After all, there’s more than 5,000 years of art and sculptures to discover, including ancient Egyptian Art, The African Origin of Civilization and The Costume Institute’s collection of more than 33,000 costumes and accessories.
Keep in mind that for its most-popular exhibits (e.g. one from Monet when we last visited), you need to join a virtual queue or sign up before 3 p.m. in the museum itself to get a timed entry green light. We missed this by mere minutes and they wouldn’t budge.
3. New York City in the rain: Shopping.
A quick courtesy note to my fellow Canucks: you definitely need to keep tabs on your spending if you don’t want to face duty charges when you eventually head home to Canada after your NYC trip. But, if you’re American or you’ve saved up for some special splurges and those fees are part of your budget, then you can go wild shopping in this city! If you’re travelling with kids, though, you’ll have to know your audience well before you dragging them all over New York City.
If it’s nice out, you can take advantage of places like Canal Street (go in pairs if you’re tempted to follow strangers down into the NYC underground), and if the weather looks patchy, you should definitely make your way to SoHo and Nolita, where you can shop inside one-off and big-brand shops but you’ll need to be outside for a few seconds as you move from one to the next.
SoHo and Nolita
This is probably my favourite area to go shopping in NYC, and I’m including it for those days when you’re facing a light drizzle versus full day of rain in NYC. Some of my and my family’s favourite haunts include:
- The Nike Store (shop five floors of merch and sign up to play on the free indoor basketball court)
- Alexander Wang (for super cool boots and shoes)
- Tendenza Jewlery (for her famous donut and wave rings)
- Alexis Bittar (for edgy and affordable costume jewelry)
- Sabah (for handmade and shearling-lined shoes/slippers, pictured above)
- Flight Club (for the latest and rarest kicks)
- Vuarnet (yes! Actual ’80s Vuarnet! A whole store of it!)
- Love, Adorned (for a mish-mash boutique experience)
- James Perse (for the best T-shirts)
- Brandy Melville (for fewer lineups than the Toronto store and wayyyyy more stock)
Chelsea Market is a must in New York City in the rain
Located in the edgy Meatpacking District, the building used to be a Nabisco factory and has been reimagined as a space where boredom comes to die.
Chelsea Market’s concourse is open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., so you could legit arrive for breakfast and not leave until well after dark. Take that, New York City in the rain! And this is so much more than just your average indoor market. Some days, you may find a symphony orchestra performance or an introduction to 3D printing, while others may have book signings or yoga classes.
Miss Q found a bookstore (because of course she did) with lovely little reading nooks, perfect for your littles to curl up with a new book on a rainy day. Don’t worry, snacks and drinks are always nearby no matter where you are in Chelsea Market.
I metntioned Hudson Yards earlier with the Edge, but there’s so much happening here that it deserves its own shoutout for shopping, too. Hudson Yards isn’t just one building, but rather New York City’s newest neighbourhood that encompasses 14 acres of plazas, groves and gardens. It sits at the beginning (or end) of The High Line, which will take you above the streets and directly to Chelsea Market along an old train line.
But this is about Hudson Yards as a shopping destination. No matter what might be on your shopping list, Hudson Yards has it: jewelry, designer and high street clothing brands, wellness and beauty goods, shoes, eyewear and even electronics. Just blame New York City in the rain for your credit card bill.
New York’s most iconic shopping street is ready to welcome bargain hunters and big spenders alike. While you can visit a Tiffany & Co. in pretty much any major city around the world, there’s nothing like stepping foot into its global flagship store here. (Charles Lewis Tiffany opened his first shop at 259 Broadway in NYC back in 1837, but the flagship now stands at 727 Fifth Ave.) The Apple Store (at 767 Fifth Ave.) is open 24/7 (yes, for reals) and the six-floor Nike store (650 Fifth Ave.) is home to some of the coolest gear you’ll find from the brand anywhere in the world. Even if you don’t go inside, the window shopping at the likes of Bergdorf’s (754 Fifth Ave.), LV (1 E. 57th St. at Fifth Ave.), D&G (717 Fifth Ave.) and Saks (611 Fifth Ave.) — I mean, it’s literally called Saks Fifth Avenue! — are a must.
this would be the one shopping destination I’ve listed here (other than the Nike store I noted above and Flight Club, noted below) that my teenage son would be happy to check out. And that’s because the World Trade Center Oculus building is architectural eye candy, both inside and out. Like a giant pair of angel wings bursting out of the ground, the Oculus is a hub for 12 subway lines and home to the World Trade Center PATH station and oodles of retail stores. Come for the Aesop and John Varvatos and stay for the Moleskine and Tumi. I wish I’d had more time here because there was a store I walked passed, whilst salivating, called The Canvas. Please visit for me and report back
Century 21 — although it isn’t what it used to be, IMO, there are still deals to be found at Century 21 if you’re willing to hunt. Not far from the World Trade Centre, it’s usually awash in chaotic racks and too many people but if you can devote a couple of hours to it, and you love the thrill of the find, you really can find high-end designer stuff for as much as 90% off at times.
Bloomingdale’s — home of the little, medium and big brown bags, Bloomie’s is a department store mecca and among its three NYC locations you’ll find the brand’s flagship store.
Macy’s — just like Bloomingdale’s and Saks, it’s another department store. Hang on, though — because there’s the “but”… Bring your passport with you and head up to the mezzanine level (technically, floor 1.5) before you start shopping if you’re an international visitor to the USA, because Macy’s will give you a discount card worth 11% savings (mostly) storewide.
4. New York City in the rain: RiseNY.
This is really neat and an interesting way to combine New York City sightseeing with a nice chunk of history. RiseNY is a three-part experience that starts with a short film by award-winning documentary filmmaker Ric Burns, followed by museum-style galleries and installations that take you through NYC’s pop culture explosion and ending in a flight-simulation ride that’ll have you flying over New York while suspended 30 feet in the air. (Don’t worry, it’s not like a roller coaster and it isn’t the least bit scary.)
5. New York City in the rain: Sloomoo Institute.
Have slime-obsessed kids? Then the Sloomoo Institute is your NYC rainy day saviour! Think of it as Slime University, where you’ll come to not only make your own slime concoction (including customized texture, scent and colour), but you’ll also get to play with — and in — all of the goopy goodness. Hands down, this is Miss Q’s favourite thing to do in New York City, rain or no rain.
6. New York City in the rain: Theatre. (Or, cough, cough…theater.)
See a show. Or three. Our faves include Hamilton, SIX! The Musical, Moulin Rouge! The Musical and Wicked, but you can find dozens of options both on and off-Broadway, and spending a full day at the theatre between matinee and evening performances would be a heavenly way to spend time in New York City in the rain.
I have lots of tips and tricks in my “Things to do in NYC with Teens” post if paying full price for a Broadway show isn’t in the budget and you’re flexible about what you see and when you see it. Just do a search on the post (CTRL + F) for “BROADWAY SHOWS.”
7. New York City in the rain: Food halls.
Love eating and looking for things to do in NYC on a rainy day? Go to a food hall! They often have free WiFi and you could take along a book as well and enjoy two meals with some relaxed downtime in between. Throw in some great people watching and a variety of cuisines, and you can easily kill five or six hours at some of these NYC food halls.
You can also find all of these and so many more eateries in my “Restaurants – NYC” roundup list (where they’re also all pinned on a map, too). Find yourself with some sunshine on your side? Then you may want to head to a rooftop pool in New York City.
Have you ever visited New York City in the rain? What fun things did you do to pass the time? Feel free to add them in the comments!
DISCLAIMERS: all prices listed in this post are USD, unless otherwise noted. Over the years, we may have had a handful of partners who provided media rates or various passes, this New York City in the Rain post represents years of primarily self-funded trips to NYC and a whole lot of our own money. No partner was permitted to review this post or provide input; opinions are strongly my own.