Christmastime in New York. The city turns into a hub of twinkling lights, Christmas trees, holiday cheer, and singing loud for all to hear (thank you, Elf). For a few short months a year, New York City has enough Christmas spirit to turn even the biggest Grinch into a Santa lover. And nowhere is that spirit louder than at the Rink at Bryant Park.
A quick history on Bryant Park: the park was first opened in 1847 and named Reservoir Square, due to its proximity to the Croton Distributing Reservoir. In 1884, Reservoir Square was renamed Bryant Park,to honor the New York Evening Post editor and abolitionist William Cullen Bryant. Today, the eastern half of Bryant Park is occupied by the Main Branch of the New York Public Library. The western half contains the lawn, a carousel, and other amenities. It’s also where you’ll find the Bryant Park Winter Village.
The Bryant Park Winter Village history is actually pretty short. In 2002, Bryant Park introduced the Holiday Shops to give visitors a reason to come to the park during the winter. The shops are modeled on Europe’s Christkindlmarkt, a street market that originated in Germany. In 2005, the Bryant Park Ice Skating Rink was launched.
The Rink at Bryant Park is actually the only free admission ice skating rink in the city. You can bring your own skates, or pay a rental fee (starting at $21, but price varies depending on the day/time you go) for a pair.
I’ve avoided going to the Rink at Bryant Park for the last few years simply because I didn’t want to go alone. But this year I decided that life is too short, so I booked a Halloween morning skate time and made my way to the park, fully prepared to spend the morning falling down.
This year, due to COVID-19, Bryant Park has a few new rules in place to make skating safer and less crowded. First off, skate times must be booked in advance. Masks are also required. Also, the locker area is closed, and skaters can get a free drawstring backpack to hold their shoes while they’re on the ice. It is a little awkward to skate with a backpack on, but I got used to it pretty quickly. You can pay extra for bag check, but I recommend just packing very lightly for your visit. In between skate times, the rink barricade is sanitized.
The check-in process was pretty smooth - you get scanned in and sent to a line to get a pair of skates. This is where I started to struggle. I haven’t ice skated since 2013, and I had absolutely no idea how to lace up my skates. After 20 minutes of fumbling around, I kind of figured out what to do, and I was able to hit the ice. It’d be nice if Bryant Park had some kind of sign to show confused amateurs like me what to do, but I digress.
I got lucky and had 90 minutes on the ice due to extended skate times, though typically you can only reserve your skate time for 55 minutes at a time, which seems a little like a ripoff.
So, what was it like ice skating at Bryant Park? I had a lot of fun (I only fell twice!) and I wasn’t as uncoordinated as I thought I would be. However, like a few things I’ve written about on this list, I feel like going ice skating at Bryant Park is one thing that you should really do with other people. It’s perfectly fine going alone, and is probably better that way if you’re an experienced skater. If you’re just going to soak up the holiday atmosphere, I recommend bringing family or friends with you. I also feel like due to the cost, it’s one thing I would only want to do once a year. Skate rentals can get up to $36 during peak times (so, all of December), and that’s a lot of money for less than an hour of ice time.