What To Do in Princeton in the Winter

Princeton is famous for many reasons; there’s the world-renown University, the downtown full of unique shops and restaurants, and, of course, all that history. Princeton is a town that must be walked to be enjoyed. Just because the weather is colder doesn’t mean there isn’t much to explore in this unique Central Jersey town.

Current Construction in Princeton

Princeton is undergoing several major construction projects, including building a new hotel downtown, expanding the University, and significant renovations in Palmer Square. These are reasons to come to this Winter to see how Princeton is changing and updating. Here’s a link to the Princeton Master Plan Website to view all the additions. There are several parking decks downtown, so parking is not an issue here.

On the Princeton University Campus

Begin your Winter visit at FitzRandolph Gate. This is the main entrance to Princeton University, at the corner of Nassau and Witherspoon Streets. Stately, Nassau Hall is the first building flanked by the tigers. During the school year, the academic buildings are not locked, and many allow access to the public. A short walk around Nassau Hall to the left will take you to the plaza with Firestone Library and Princeton University Chapel. The library is a great place to warm up, use the public restroom, and visit the Milberg Gallery. Their current exhibit is “Records of Resistance, Documenting Global Activism.” There is also a unique children’s library with magic treehouse kids can climb.

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University Chapel

From the library, it’s just a few steps across the plaza to the Princeton University Chapel. The stained-glass windows are remarkable. There are weekly live organ concerts on Thursdays and other special events. After visiting the chapel, make a left and follow a short path leading you to Prospect House, just next to the vast construction project that will become the new Art Museum. Prospect House used to be the President’s House and now is a private dining hall for faculty and staff. You can walk in and get some lovely photos.

Walk back out to the quad in the back of Nassau Hall and head left; you’ll soon see lots of the beautiful gothic architecture Princeton is known for. Walk down the steps and stand in Blair Arch, and you’ll get that Hogwarts Is feeling. There are many terrific photo opportunities on campus, and Winter is the perfect time to find your spots. Here’s a campus map to help you get your bearings.

Suggested Reading: The Outdoors of Princeton

Princeton Downtown Places

Downtown Princeton is also a pleasant Winter destination. This is a town that loves the holidays! There are lots of specialty stores that carry unique items in town. Princeton Record Exchange has been in town so long no one remembers when it wasn’t there on the quiet little alley on So. Tulane Street. Around the corner, on Nassau Street, you’ll find Labyrinth Bookstore. This large, independent bookshop sells new and used titles and often hosts author events. A few doors down are the University Store (U-Store), your source for all Princeton-themed gifts. Continue North on Nassau Street, and you’ll come to the legendary PJ’s Pancake House. Most weekends, you’ll find a line outside for breakfast.

Art In Princeton, NJ

The University Art Museum may be closed for renovations, but the art is still accessible. The University has taken two locations downtown so they can continue sharing parts of their collection. Bainbridge House, at 56 Nassau Street, is currently housing an exhibit of paintings. It is free and open to the public. A second location on Hulfish Street is hosting a photography exhibit. There is even a Museum Shop available in Palmer Square for gift items. The new Art Museum will open in 2024 and be twice the size of the previous museum. Until then, these satellite galleries are there for when we need our art infusion.

Keep warm while exploring Princeton! Grab some hand warmers!

Shopping in Princeton

Palmer Square is the hub of a lot of Winter activities. There is the seasonal ice-skating rink, and many holiday events are on the calendar. Triumph Brewing Company, which opened in 1995 and is the oldest brewpub in New Jersey, is renovating the Old Post Office and will reopen in 2023. Even in Winter, I suspect people will still be lining up outside the Bent Spoon for the artisanal ice cream flavors.  If you’re looking for gifts, try Highbar Boutique or Dandelion Shop. They have things other stores don’t. Here is a full link to the shops in Palmer Square. If you’re getting hungry from shopping, you might consider Wineberie’s, tucked into the corner of the square. The old wood bar and cozy paneling always feel right on a Winter Day.

Walk back towards Witherspoon Street, and you’ll find yourself at Hinds Plaza in front of the Princeton Public Library. Currently, there is an Artist Chalet Winter Village set up from Thursday- Sunday for shopping for handcrafted gifts. In addition to having a very nice, clean public bathroom, the library also has a little café that serves coffee and snacks.

Quiet Break in the Princeton Cemetary

If it’s not too cold, and you’re feeling adventurous, take Wiggins Street in the back of the library, heading North, and make a left on Greenview Avenue. This is the entrance to Princeton Cemetery. It is open to the public every day from dawn to dusk. The most famous resident is Aaron Burr. It is also the final resting place of sixteen Princeton University Presidents and former President of the United States, Grover Cleveland. Maps are available right by the entrance.

Do you like historical spots? Check out our list of museums in New Jersey!

What else is around town?

Another place that might be of interest is the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice. Located at 12 Stockton Street, it’s a community center and safe place for LGBTQIA. They have many activities scheduled throughout the year, and their current Artist in Residence is singer/songwriter Jill Sobule. They publish a calendar of events on their website and are a year-round destination.

Local Trail in Princeton – Chauncey Nature Trail

Winter Events in Princeton, NJ

During the Winter, Princeton is fully festive at Morven Museum and Gardens. They host a “Festival of Trees” at the former home of Declaration of Independence Signer Richard Stockton every year. This is a short drive south on Nassau Street. If you continue south, it will become Route 206 and pass the Institute for Advanced Study and Battlefield Park. There’s a great hike to the swinging bridge you may want to save for a warmer day visit. If you took Mercer Street heading South instead of Route 27, you would find yourself driving past Albert Einstein’s old house. It’s now a private residence, so take a quick snap when you pass 112 Mercer Street on the way out.

Of course, no Princeton Winter Guide would be complete without a mention of McCarter Theatre. The Nutcracker performances ended around Thanksgiving, and “A Christmas Carol” is back on stage to get us through Christmas. In January, the season continues with a mixture of plays, concerts, and individual performers.

Winter can be long, and it can be tedious. It can feel like we haven’t seen the sun in days, and there’s no point in getting out of bed. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Norwegians believe in “friluftsliv” – getting out there and doing something no matter the weather. Princeton is the perfect town for those who already embrace this concept – and those who are willing to try it. We promise you won’t be disappointed.