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Ice Skating in NYC: Bryant Park vs Rockefeller Center

Christmas in New York City is not complete without at least one visit to an ice rink. There are several rinks in the city, but two of the most famous and popular rinks are located at Bryant Park and Rockefeller Center. Which one is better? Let’s compare them and find out.

In this post, we’ll highlight 10 key differences in the ice skating experiences at Bryant Park Winter Village and The Rink at Rockefeller Center. Then, we’ll use those differences to help you decide which rink is best.

If you want to read more about each of these ice rinks individually, be sure to check out our other guides:

Rink Size: The ice rink at Bryant Park is bigger than Rockefeller Center.

The ice rink at Bryant Park Winter Village is more than twice the size of the The Rink at Rockefeller Center. The Rink at Rockefeller Center is approximately 7,2000 square feet compared to the ice rink at Bryant Park which is a whopping 17,000 square feet.

Size does matter when it comes to ice skating. Skating at Rockefeller definitely feels like you’re going in s small circle, while the larger rink at Bryant Park gives you longer straightaways. However, I would argue that density matters more, and they can both be crowded.

I think Rockefeller gets a bad rap for being crowded. Personally, I didn’t think the crowds were that bad, and I was there on a sold-out December Saturday morning. I actually think that smaller rink makes the crowds feel more tolerable, because it’s not like I was going to be zipping around at max speeds even if it was empty.

Bryant Park is bigger, but that just means it can hold more people. During peak times, it definitely can be just as crowded as Rockefeller. However, that higher capacity means it fills up less often, so if you’re there during an off-peak time you can get a lot more value out of the bigger rink.

I would argue that both of these ice rinks are mostly casual, recreational rinks. They’re both filled with tourists and children, many of which are moving pretty slowly. These are not rinks where you’re going to be racing around or practicing your axels. You might not necessarily need a huge ice rink for this particular type of experience.

Price: Skating at Bryant Park Winter Village is cheaper than Rockefeller Center.

Both skating rinks have variable pricing by date and time, plus a variety of additional paid items that can inflate the price. Overall, ice skating at Bryant Park is cheaper than Rockefeller Center.

Admission for ice skating at Bryant Park Winter Village is technically free. If you have your own skates, you can skate for free as long as you make a reservation in advance. What you do have to pay for at Bryant Park Winter Village is skate rentals. Skate rental prices range from $18 – $55 per person (for all ages), and are more expensive during peak days and times.

Ice skating at Rockefeller always requires paid admission, even if you have your own skates. Adult and children’s tickets cost between $21-$73 and tot tickets (children 5 and under) are available for $11 – $37. Again, prices get more expensive during peak days and times. Skate rental is an additional $11 each.

The entry fee is cheaper at Bryant Park Winter Village (as in free), but the skate rentals are more expensive than at Rockefeller. In total though, Bryant Park still comes out to be cheaper, and usually pretty significantly so.

Let’s look at a specific example. The table below shows how much it costs for a family of 3 (2 adults, 1 toddler age 3), who do not own their own skates, to go ice skating at these two rinks.

Bryant Park
Winter Village
The Rink at
Rockefeller Center
Peak Off-Peak Peak Off-Peak
Entry Fee $0 $0 $163 $95
Skate Rental $75 $63 $33 $33
Total $75 $63 $196 $128

Peak = Sunday in December around 9 AM. Off-Peak = Tuesday in December around 8 AM.

This price table does not include the cost of any add-ons, such as skate aids and bag storage, which we’ll cover in the next two sections.

Skate Aids: Both rinks have them, but Bryant Park has a free option.

Both ice rinks offer skate aids for young, beginner skaters. Skate aid rentals at both rinks are available on a first-come-first-served basis, and neither allow you to book these ahead of time with your ticket purchase.

Bryant Park Winter Village has three types of skate aids. They have two different heights of standing, push-style skate aids, including penguins for skaters under 4 feet tall and snowmen for skaters under 5 feet tall. They also introduced a new type of skate aid that allows a child (under 4 feet tall) to sit and be pushed by an adult, almost like an ice stroller.

Skate aids at Bryant Park cost $22 to rent. However, they offer an Early Bird Special where you can rent skate aids for free before 11 AM everyday. This is still on a first-come-first-served basis.

The Rink at Rockefeller Center offers penguin skate aids for young, beginner skaters. They do not specifically note the age or height requirements to use these aids. However, having seen the skate aids at both rinks, I can assume that the penguin skate aids are Rockefeller are also intended for children under 4 feet tall.

Skate aids cost $25 to rent at Rockefeller center and they do not have any free rental periods.

On a semi-related note, Bryant Park also has helmets available to rent for free, and Rockefeller does not offer any helmet rentals.

Bag & Shoe Storage: The Rink at Rockefeller has free lockers.

The only thing free at The Rink at Rockefeller Center is the lockers. The Skate Hut, which is located between the skate rental desk and the ice rink, has a wall of lockers that are free to use. Lockers are self-service and lock with a 4-digit code that you can set yourself. In my experience (again, on a sold-out Saturday), I had no issues finding an available locker.

At Bryant Park, there is a free shoe check, and they store them behind the counter in little cubbies. Other personal items, such as bags of any size or unworn coats, are not allowed on the ice and may not be left unattended in the Skating Pavilion. Bag check is available and costs $5 per item or $15 for a bag that you can fill with multiple items. New in 2023, Bryant Park has a limited number of free lockers available, however, you’ll need to bring a lock or purchase one of theirs.

I haven’t been to Bryant Park since they implemented the lockers, so I can’t confirm how quickly they fill up. However, I’m really excited that they have the option now. I found the locker situation at Rockefeller to be incredibly convenient, so I’m happy to hear that Bryant Park is moving in that direction.

Neither ice rink is particularly encouraging of large bags. Rockefeller states that “oversize bags and luggage” is not permitted, and backpacks are discouraged and subject to search. At Bryant Park, oversized items, including luggage, can be stored for $15 per item.

It’s also worth noting the stroller policies here. Rockefeller Center does not allow strollers on the rink level at all and does not offer any storage options for them. Bryant Park does not allow strollers in the Skating Pavilion, but there is a limited amount of unattended stroller parking or you can pay $15 to store strollers at bag check.

Photography: The Rink at Rockefeller Center allows phones and cameras on the ice.

Is ice skating in New York even worth it if you don’t get a picture? This can actually be an important factor when it comes to choosing an ice rink.

Cameras and cell phones may not be used on the ice rink at Bryant Park Winter Village. If you want any photos of your experience, they must be taken by someone outside of the rink. In our experience, this was strictly enforced.

Meanwhile, cameras and cell phones can be used on the ice at Rockefeller Center, as long as they are small enough to fit inside your pocket when not in use. There were lots of people taking lots of photos throughout our skate session at Rockefeller. In our experience, people were pretty good about standing out of the way for photos. (Everyone was taking photos, so you can’t really blame anyone for doing it.)

Skate Rental Sizes: Bryant Park has smaller kid’s sizes available.

Neither ice rink has a minimum age for children. A child of any age is allowed on the ice as long as they have skates on and don’t need to be carried. If you don’t have your own skates, the size of rental skates available may impact whether or not your child can skate at that particular rink.

Note: Both rinks are also wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant, so children or adults with special needs are very much still welcome!

Bryant Park has smaller rental skates available than Rockefeller. Here are the rental skate sizes available at these two rinks.

  • Bryant Park Winter Village: Toddler size 6 through adult 14
  • The Rink at Rockefeller Center: Toddler size 9 through adult 16

For context, our child went ice skating at Bryant Park when they were 2 years old. At that age, they were wearing size toddler 6 sneakers and the toddler size 6 skates were roomy, but functional. We went skating at Rockefeller when they were 3 and wore a toddler size 7 sneaker. The size 9 skates were very big, and just barely usable. They couldn’t control their feet very well, but they were able to coast in them with a skate aid.

Ice Resurfacing: Bryant Park schedules are less intrusive.

No one likes skating on beat-up ice, but no one likes waiting for it to be resurfaced either. Both rinks do their best to keep the ice clear with minimal interruption, but Bryant Park does a better job of scheduling it for between sessions.

At Bryant Park Winter Village, ice resurfacing takes 20 minutes. That includes 10 minutes between sessions and the first 10 minutes of the next scheduled session. They also publish their ice resurfacing schedule on their website (here under “Ice Cut Schedule”), so you can plan your skate time around it.

If you want pristine ice conditions, you can schedule a time right after it’s cleared, even though that means 10 minutes less skate time. Conversely, if you care more about skate time, you can pick a time that doesn’t bump up against ice resurfacing.

The Rink at Rockefeller Center does not publish their ice resurfacing schedule. Instead, their website just says that ice resurfacing takes place every 90 minutes and lasts 30 minutes. This roughly aligns with a 30 minute gap in entry times every 90 minutes. However, if you were scheduled to skate over those 30 minutes, you may end up losing half your skate time.

I’d be interested to know how they handle this. Maybe overlapping times can stay an extra 30 minutes? We personally skated at Rockefeller at 9:30, presumably an hour after they last resurfaced the ice. The ice was definitely in bad shape, but I’d take bumpy ice over risk losing 30 minutes of my expensive skate time to resurfacing any day.

Views & Ambiance: The Rink at Rockefeller is iconic.

This is where things start to get a little subjective.

The Rink at Rockefeller Center is literally a scene from a movie. It is probably the most recognizable skating the rink in the world. The rink is nestled on the lower level of Rockefeller plaza, beside the golden Prometheus statue and the massive Christmas tree. The scene is so iconic that crowds of people fill the square just the see the skaters down below.

It is truly an experience unlike any other, and everyone on the ice knows it. The skaters at Rockefeller are in their winter best, snapping photos endlessly. Ice skating at Rockefeller is much more about feeling like you’re at the epicenter of Christmas itself than it is about the actual ice skating.

The scene for the ice rink at Bryant Park Winter Village is very different. Tall buildings still surrounded you, but here you’re at the heart of a Christmas market. The ice rink is just one part of the Bryant Park Winter Village. The village comprises lots of holiday shops, food vendors and other winter activities such as curling. It is still a very wintry and Christmasy experience, it just doesn’t have the same “Wow” factor as Rockefeller.

Things to do Nearby: Both rinks have plenty to keep you busy.

Both of these skating rinks are located in Midtown Manhattan and have plenty of holiday and non-holiday things to do nearby.

Rockefeller Center itself has the observation deck (Top of the Rock) and a shopping center inside, including FAO Schwarz. (Beware though, this toy store can have a huge line just to enter during holiday weekends.) It’s also right off Fifth Avenue, which is lined with beautiful window displays, including the Saks Fifth Avenue light show right across the street. Times Square and Radio City Music Hall are also nearby.

Rockefeller Center is also just a 10 minute walk (or 7 minute train) to Bryant Park. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to skate at Rockefeller and then walk to Bryant Park for the rest of the winter village.

As we’ve mentioned, the skating rink at Bryant Park is in the middle of the Winter Village, so you have the entire Christmas market to see before/after you skate. If you aren’t Christmas Market-ed out, there is another Christmas Market nearby at Grand Central Station. Bryant Park is also not too far from Times Square.

Availability: Rockefeller times book up faster.

Ice skating at Rockefeller Center usually requires planning pretty far in advance. Peak times on December weekends sell out 2-3 weeks in advance, or more. Weekday tickets and early morning reservations are easier to find. You can often book these less popular times closer to the date and sometimes even at the door.

The Rink at Rockefeller Center is more popular than Bryant Park Winter Village, and it has a smaller capacity, which means tickets for that rink sell out faster. At Bryant Park Winter Village, you can usually find something decent if you book about a week in advance.

For example, it’s Thursday, December 7 as I’m writing this. Tickets for skating at Rockefeller are completely sold out for this Saturday and next Saturday are only available before 8 AM or after 11 PM.

If I check those same dates at Bryant Park, there is one morning time and a handful of evening times available this Saturday and next Saturday is almost entirely open.

Which rink is better? The Rink at Rockefeller vs Bryant Park Winter Village

The moment of truth. After exploring the 10 ways these rinks differ, it’s time to decide which one is better. The short answer is Bryant Park Winter Village is the better skating rink (bigger, cheaper, easier), but The Rink at Rockefeller is the better experience (which only matters if you care about that specific experience).

Let’s look at who each rink is best for.

Ice skating at Bryant Park Winter Village is better than Rockefeller Center for …

  • Families with young children. Bryant Park Winter Village has smaller rental skates (starting at toddler 6), free skate aids before 11 AM and (usually) lower crowds. After skating, you can get treats at the market, ride the carousel and maybe even visit Santa (select dates in mid-December).
  • Serious skaters. The rink is bigger, giving you more room to show off your skills. Plus, you can select a time just after ice resurfacing for perfectly flat ice.
  • Anyone who has their own skates. If you have your own skates, skating at Bryant Park is free. Just be sure you make a reservation.

Ice skating at Rockefeller Center is better than Bryant Park Winter Village for …

  • Tourists. Tourists are often only in town for a select number of days, so it’s often easier to plan ahead. They’re also more likely to want that quintessential experience.
  • Families with older kids. I think children should probably be at least 3 or 4 before coming to Rockefeller, especially if they need to rent skates. But kids that age an older may start to appreciate and remember the magic of this experience.
  • Weekday skaters. The crowds and costs are lower on weekdays. Even on a weekday, Rockefeller feels festive, whereas Bryant Park can sometimes feel too quiet.
  • Local New Yorkers, at least once. It’s easy to overlook this every year because it’s kind of a pain, but it’s worth doing at least once while you live here.
  • Influencers, photographers, anyone with Instagram. Rockefeller Center allows cameras on the ice, and you will be able take some amazing photos as you create an extra special memory.

More than anything though, the better rink is the rink you want to skate at more. If you want to have that ice skating at Rockefeller experience, do it! Don’t feel bad about missing the “better” rink or feel like it’s “too touristy.” (Touristy things are touristy for a reason.) Likewise, if you care more about the the ice skating than the scenery, go to Bryant Park! Enjoy that big ice rink and don’t let anyone tell you that it’s not as good.

Looking for more things to do in New York City at Christmas time? Be sure to check out our bucket list! Or if you’re looking for non-Christmas things to do, we also have a New York City 3 Day Weekend Itinerary.