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New York City Travel Guide

9 Ways to Escape Winter in NYC (Without Buying a Plane Ticket)

New York Botanical Garden

If the blustery winds and overcast skies of winter are getting you down, don’t despair. There are summery scenarios waiting to warm your chilly attitude all around New York City. Some will put a fruity drink in your hand and spin salsa beats, others will spruce up your day with rainbows of foliage and butterflies. Here’s a rundown of 10 ways to dispel the winter doldrums and summon the sunshine. Because even writer Anton Chekhov, who knew a thing or two about the coldest of seasons, admitted: “People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”—Kelsy Chauvin

New York Botanical Garden
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Jennifer Arnow
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The big yellow surfboard propped up by the Midtown door of Réunion is not a mirage. It’s an invitation to drift into this subterranean French surfer bar (named for the island off Madagascar) for drinks like the frozen Corona (a beer slushie), Singapore sling, or other punchy-fruity concoctions to ship your brain off to an island far, far away from Times Square. The food menu stays on theme with seaside classics like grilled Mexican-style corn and fried clams.

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Fodor’s Travel
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Just across the East River in Williamsburg, Bembe brings the drums and tropical drinks of Latin America to Brooklyn. This little club has nightly DJs spinning “global beats” that span reggae, salsa, merengue, and more, sometimes with accompanying live drummers. If the music alone isn’t enough to get you onto the dance floor, let the tasty mojitos or other tropical cocktails set you in motion.

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Daniel Krieger
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New York City has plenty of enticing Caribbean restaurants dotting upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs, but one of the very best is downtown. Miss Lily’s embodies all things colorful and spicy both in its décor and dishes. Head to its original SoHo outpost for the jerk chicken that put the restaurant on the map, or try its East Village satellite (called Miss Lily’s 7A) for a little more space and equally delectable stew, plantains, and pitchers of rum punch to wash it down.

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Otto’s Shrunken Head
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Since 2002, thirsty rum fans have packed the bamboo-clad bar at New York’s top Tiki bar, Otto’s Shrunken Head. It’s a one-of-a-kind joint that will put you deep in the tropical mind frame thanks to the full gamut of all things beachy. That includes illuminated-blowfish lights, animal-print furniture, a thatched bar canopy, and of course Tiki drinks in custom mugs and potent frozen cocktails topped with tiny umbrellas.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s New York City Guide

Royal Palms
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Did you know that every single day of the week there’s a chance to feel like you’re on an ocean cruise? Head a few subway stops into Brooklyn to visit Royal Palms Shuffleboard in Gowanus for uncommon recreation in a sprawling converted warehouse. Along with 10 shuffleboard courts, the Royal Palms has a coconut-infused drink menu, cabanas for groups, and rotating food trucks stationed outside for hot dogs, tacos, and other treats that may conjure visions of sandy beaches.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s New York City Guide

New York Botanical Garden
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Between its annual holiday train show and spring blooms, the New York Botanical Garden’s Haupt Conservatory is a perfect retreat from drab winter scenes. The Victorian-style glass house is itself a shimmering wonder in all seasons. But inside, an array of water lilies and lotus flowers thrive in the warm interior, promising to transport you into realms of lush rainforests and cactus-filled deserts.

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Matthew Murphy
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Even when it’s freezing outside, Broadway’s splashiest musical is still shaking its maracas. On Your Feet, the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, puts palm trees and conga lines front and center nightly at the Marquis Theatre. The show evokes scenes of Miami and Havana, with zesty dancing and a tropical wardrobe that may inspire you to break out your cruise wear early this year.

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AMNH/D. Finnin
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Through winter and much of spring, the American History Museum’s Butterfly Conservatory hosts around a quarter-million gorgeous (and live) Lepidoptera, the insect order that includes moths and butterflies. The annual exhibit fills out the second floor’s Whitney Hall of Ocean Birds, where you can enjoy the sight of 18,000 rainbow-colored butterflies as if you were deep in a tropical forest.

Insider Tip: Wear bright colors like yellow, orange, and pink to attract butterflies (and be ready for them to land on you).

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Zhukovsky |
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Saddle up for a spin on New York’s year-round merry-go-round. Jane’s Carousel introduced its 1922 classic ride to Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO in 2011, and is now a dreamy way to take a break from the winter blues. Restored with extraordinary care, its 48 carved wooden horses are now riding high (and low) with their original color schemes, galloping inside a heated glass pavilion with one of the city’s most stunning vistas just outside.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s New York City Guide