46 Incredible Things To Do In New York City

There are so many things to do in New York that you’re never quite done exploring.

You may not know it, but I used to live in New York City. I visited for the first time in December 2000, when I had a long layover on my way back to Sardinia, and decided one day I’d call it home, so this is a city I know inside out.

For all New York first timers – and also for those who will be traveling there for their second, third or millionth time – I thought I’d pick the very best things to do in New York, and share a few tips that will help you make the most of the city.

a day in New York
Incredible views of New York City

Table of Contents

The Best Things To Do In New York

Classic things to do in New York City

Take in the views from the Empire State Building

There’s nothing like enjoying great panoramic views of New York City – and the Empire State Building is perfect for that. Completed in 1931, this was the tallest building in the world at the time it was built.

Go right before the sun sets, for an even better experience, but beware there may be lines for the tickets, as well as for the elevator to the observatory.

Tickets for the Empire State Building must be bought ahead of time. You can get your ticket here or here or, for a late night visit, here.

statue of Liberty
Visiting the Statue of Liberty is a must when in New York

Visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Albeit located in New Jersey state, the Statue of Liberty – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is the symbol of the city. The typical starting point to visit it is Battery Park, from where ferries leaves. As the ferry gets closer, the views of the Statue and of Manhattan are impressive.

Once there, you can get to the Pedestal to visit the museum and learn about the its history. Tours usually continue to Ellis Island before heading back to Manhattan.

Tours of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island last around 4 hours. They must be booked in advance. You can consider this Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island early access tour or this private tour. The first ferry departs at 8:30 am.

For the best tours of the Statue of Liberty, click here.

Make sure to read my post A Complete Guide To Visiting The Statue Of Liberty.

staten island ferry
The Staten Island Ferry is a good, free option for great views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan

Take the Staten Island ferry

Riding the Staten Island Ferry is one of the coolest free things to do in New York City. This ferry goes along Upper New York Bay 7 days a week, between Whitehall Street and St. George on Staten Island. It gets more than 22 million passengers every year. The views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan from the ferry are stunning.

SCAM ALERT: Beware of the Staten Island Ferry tickets scam. The ferry is free to ride so anybody trying to sell you a ticket is obviously a scam.

Meatpacking district
Views of the Meatpacking District

Wander around the Meatpacking District

The Meatpacking District is packed with interesting sights. One you shouldn’t miss is the Ground Zero Museum Workshop, where you will be able to find out more about the lives of those who helped in the rescue works in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks. There is an interesting exhibit of photographs, audio and artifacts. 

Visits to Ground Zero Museum Workshop must be booked in advance. You can do that here.

Another interesting museum in the area is the Whitney Museum of American Art, which houses an incredible collection of works by American artists. 

Tickets to the Whitney Museum of American Art can be bought in advance here.

Free things to do in New York
A new classic in New York – the High Line

Walk the High Line

The High Line is a railway viaduct that cuts down the west side of Midtown Manhattan, running through Chelsea. Abandoned in the 1980s, it’s been subsequently turned into an elevated park of about 2 km (1.2 miles) which was designed by Piet Oudolf, a Dutch landscape architect. The park opened in 2009. The highlight is the view of the Hudson River.

Visiting is free but if you want a guided tour, this is a good one.

The Vessel
The Vessel is one of the most iconic buildings in New York

Visit the Vessel

This really is one of the best things to do in New York. The Vessel is located in Hudson Yard, so really close to the High Line.

The Vessel is temporarily closed, but you are free to access the ground-level base, which is open to the public during the week.

The Edge
The observation deck as seen from below

Take in the views from The Edge

Also in Hudson Yard, the Edge is the highest observation deck in the Western Hemisphere. Needless to say, views from up there are nothing short of amazing.

The Edge tickets much be purchased in advance. Get yours here.

New York Public Library
The gorgeous interior of New York Public Library

Visit New York Public Library

You will recognize New York Public Library from the gorgeous facade. It is a massive building with a vast collection of books in subjects such as social sciences and art.

Free guided tours are offered Mondays to Saturdays at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. 

Bryant Park
Bryant Park

Then go to Bryant Park

Not far from New York City Public Library, this used to be a place for drug dealers and prostitutes but its reputation changed once it was finally renovated in the 1990s. It is a lovely place to hang out – less touristy than Central Park. It’s not uncommon to come across groups practicing yoga or even martial arts.

If you visit New York City in the summer, don’t miss the Monday movie nights!

Times Square
One of the most famous landmarks in New York – Times Square

Go to Times Square

Nothing screams New York more than Times Square. We have all seen it a million times: during new years’ eve celebrations, and day in day out on the news whenever they mention the stock exchange. In the heart of Downtown Manhattan – close to Grand Central Terminal, Madison Square Garden, etc – you may find it a bit overwhelming – bright and shiny as it is.

9/11 Plaza
9/11 Plaza – Photo by Jin S. Lee

Pay a visit to National 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Another must-see, 9/11 Memorial consists of twin reflecting pools that are an acre in size and that are meant to be the footprint of the Twin Towers. There is a man made waterfall – the largest in North America. You’ll also see bronze plaques of the names of the victims of the 1993 and 2001 attacks. 9/11 Museum will walk you through the history of the terrorist attacks.

9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero is open daily. 9/11 Museum is open Wednesday to Monday You should book your visit of 9/11 Memorial and Museum in advance. For the best tours, click here or here.

Check out my post How To Get 9/11 Museum Tickets And Skip The Lines.

One World Trade Center Observatory
The views from One World Trade Center Observatory

Go up One World Trade Center Observatory

It took almost ten years to complete this skyscraper which. With its 541 meters (1775 feet), this is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It is located where the World Trade Center once stood. Its name comes from the north skyscraper of the Twin Towers.

The view from the Observatory is impressive: you can see all the way across Upper New York Bay and the Statue of Liberty, the Hudson River and the Brooklyn Bridge on the other side.

The One World Trade Center Observatory is open daily. To visit, book your tickets in advance here or here.

The Bull
The Bull – one of the symbols of Wall Street

Go to Wall Street

Another well known landmark in New York, Wall Street is the heart of the Financial District, in Lower Manhattan. You can head there once you are done visiting 9/11 Memorial and Museum – or even better, go before for a chance to see lots of businessmen and women on their way to work, all dressed up in power suits. 

Make sure to stop to admire the statue of the Charging Bull and that of the Fearless girl, and the Gothic-style Trinity Church: its cemetery is where Alexander Hamilton is buried.

The Oculus
The Oculus is one of the newest Nee York attractions

Stop by the Oculus

Built to serve the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, the Oculus is a cool shopping mall with state of the art architecture. 

Visit Rockefeller Center

Famous for the Christmas tree that is lit once Christmas season begins and for the ice skating rink that goes with it, the Rockefeller Center is one of the most famous places to visit in New York. It is made up of 19 buildings, 14 of which in Art Deco style. There is a sunken plaza in the center. All of the buildings were commissioned by the oil magnate Rockefeller family.

Make sure to admire the Atlas statue – it was first placed in 1936 and it is right in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Go up the Top of the Rock

For impressive views, the Top of the Rock – the nickname of the 1930s Art Deco skyscraper located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza – is another great place to go. From there you can see Midtown and Downtown skyscrapers as well as Central Park.

Book in advance if you want to go up the Top of The Rock. You can get tickets here or here.

Morgan Library and Museum
The gorgeous interior of Morgan Library and Museum

Visit Morgan Library and Museum

This private library is close to the Top of the Rock and totally stunning. You can spend an hour or more browsing around the beautifully decorated rooms and its collection.

Morgan Library and museum is open Wednesday to Sunday. On Friday, it closes at 7:00 pm. You are better off booking your tickets in advance.

Visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral

The Neo-Gothic Cathedral of New York City was inaugurated in 1878 and is located on Fifth avenue, where it occupies an entire block. Chances are you’ll come across it while walking along the street, so you may as well pop in for a quick visit.

Central Park
One of the best free things to do in New York is visiting Central Park

Explore Central Park

A park, but also much more than that, and visiting Central Park is among the best free things to do in New York. The park is actually huge. From Columbus Circle, its southern boundary, to the northern one, it is 4 km (almost 2.5 miles). It is 800 meters (about 2625 feet) wide. The whole surface is 315 hectares.

The best landmarks in Central Park include: Strawberry Fields, aka John Lennon’s memorial; the beautiful Bethesda fountain and terrace; Belvedere Castle; the Lake; Gapstow Bridge (one of the most iconic sights in the park) and more.

Central Park is also a very romantic place to spend some time with your loved one. And you can even do bird-watching!

The park is best explored on foot or by bike. You can book your bike rental here. If you want a guided tour, consider Central Park Tours. They are 100% responsible (no animal use), and great value for money.

New York in 2 days MET
The MET is a must see

Get lost in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the unmissable things to do in New York is visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET). This is one of the finest art galleries in the world, with works that range from ancient Egypt to the modern era. The museum is so vast (there are 19 curatorial departments that host various collections) that it takes an entire day to explore, if not more.

MET is open every day but Wednesday. To get your tickets in advance click here or here.

Read my post The Best Museums In NYC.

4 days in New York
The Guggenheim is one of the funkiest buildings in New York

Go around in circles at Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum is one of the coolest places to visit in New York. It was was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and opened in 1959. The building is a real work of art, both on the outside and on the inside. The hosted exhibits change regularly, so make sure to check what’s on when planning to visit.

The Guggenheim is every day but Tuesday. You can get tickets online here or here.

Inside the MoMa

Admire some real iconic art at MoMa

Home to some truly iconic works of modern art such as Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, or Warhol Campbell’s Soup, as well as works by Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso, Dali and Pollock, MoMa – the Museum of Modern Art – is a great place to spend an afternoon.

MOMA is open every day – it has extended opening hours on Saturday. Get your tickets in advance here.

UN Building
The United Nations is one of the places to visit in New York

Learn about international affairs in the United Nations Headquarters

A lifetime ago I worked for the United Nations (UN) at its Headquarters building, one of the most interested places to visit in New York. You can go there strictly on a guided tour of about one hour. The tour goes to the main lobby, the General Assembly Hall, the Security Council Chamber, the Trusteeship Council Chamber, and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber in the renovated Conference Building.

The tour of the UN main building shall be booked in advance on the UN website here.

Visit the American Museum of Natural History

This is a nice museum to visit if you are traveling to New York with children, as it is bound to keep them entertained with the interesting exhibit of animals such as the Alaskan brown bear, the blue whale, mammoths and tyrannosaurus rex. 

The museum is open every day. You can get tickets here.

a day in New York
A must see!

Walk across Brooklyn Bridge 

Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most famous landmarks of New York. The view of it, and the view from it are simply amazing.

The bridge, completed in 1883, links Manhattan to Brooklyn across the East river and is the first ever suspension bridge built. You can cross it as a pedestrian or on bike.

You may want to consider this 2-hour Brooklyn Bridge bike tour.

a day in New York
Williamsburg Bridge in its typical pink color

And Williamsburg Bridge

Another cool bridge that connects Brooklyn to the rest of the city via the East River is Williamsburg Bridge, opened in 1903. The views from there are stunning.

4 days in New York
Brooklyn Heights

Admire the views from Brooklyn Heights

Right on the other side of Manhattan from the bridge, this is the first suburb of New York City. It is a gorgeous area, with beautiful old buildings, historic churches and – from the Brooklyn Promenade – a spectacular view of Lower Manhattan, which includes New York Harbor and even the Statue of Liberty.

Guided tours of Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Heights also include a visit of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Overpass), which used to be an industrial area and is nowadays a beautiful artistic district packed with shops and galleries.

street art in brooklyn
Street art is scattered around Brooklyn

Go on a street art tour in Bushwick

If you are a fan of street art, head to Bushwick to see murals, art galleries and much more.

I recommend joining a tour such as this graffiti and street art 2 hour walking tour or this Bushwick street art walking tour.

If you have more time to explore Brooklyn, make sure to go to Prospect Park. It’s a great place to people-watch as it is a bit more local. Not far from it you’ll also find Green-Wood Cemetery.

Go to church in Harlem

One of the most fun things to do in New York is listening to a gospel choir, and there’s no better place to do that than Harlem. The music and singing are very cheerful and a lot of fun, and puts you in a really good mood.

Make sure to book your Sunday service in Harlem a bit in advance as it’s become a popular attraction. You can do that here.

things to do in manhattan
One of the most fun neighborhoods to visit in New York

Walk around SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown

SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown are among the coolest neighborhoods in New York – located one next to the other. You can definitely explore on your own – walk around the cool shops, have a meal in one of the many restaurants.

Guided tours will take to all the important landmarks – ie the site of the first ever recorded murder case in New York City. You can book yours here. 

Yankee Stadium
The legendary Yankee Stadium

Go for a baseball game at the Yankee Stadium

If you are a baseball fan, you really should pay a visit to the Yankee Stadium, best if for a game. The old stadium has been replaced in 2009 by a new one, from where you can enjoy great views of the game below. 

You can visit the stadium museum at Monument Park and then stay along for a game. 

Standard tickets for a game are in the range of $20 USD and can be bought directly on the Yankee Stadium website or even more easily here.

Would you rather see a football game? Get tickets to the Giants here.

More of a basketball fan? You can get tickets to the Knicks here; or to the Brooklyn Nets here.

Grand Central New York
Grand Central Terminal – more than just a station

Admire Grand Central Station

Built in 1913, Grand Central is not just a train station – it’s an architectural wonder of Beaux-Arts. You will surely end up there at some point when in New York, so make sure to wander around a bit and take in the incredible building, where a multitude of shops and restaurants are located.

The ceiling – painted with the constellations – is a must see. Make sure to also look for the whispering wall – it’s a part of the station where, if you stand in one corner, you can actually hear what the person staying in the opposite corner is whispering. It’s located on the lower level in front of the Oysters Bar. It’s a 4 arched passage way so you can’t miss it.

As Grand Central is quite close to Madison Square Garden, you can make sure to pop in there as well when you visit!

Flatiron Building
New York’s famous Flatiron Building

And the Flatiron Building

Located on Fifth Avenue at the end of Madison Square, this interesting looking skyscraper resemble an iron. It dates back to 1902 and it’s 87 meters (285 feet) tall. It’s one of those iconic buildings you just want a photo of!

Hang out in Union Square

One of New York’s most famous gathering places, Union Square is full of life and art – with monuments, art installations, a market (on Saturdays). The area where it is located is also famous for nightlife and the incredible restaurants, and it has a more local feel than downtown.

Coney Island
Coney Island

Go to Coney Island

OnceNew York seascape, and for a long time mostly abandoned, Coney Island has now seen a new influx of visits and the amusement park is a famous attraction. The rollercoaster is from 1927 and one of the oldest functioning in the world!


New York really is shopping paradise. Whether you decide to walk along Madison Avenue or go for the quirkiest boutiques of Soho or the Village, you will be in for a real shopping extravaganza. You just need to prepare your credit card because – don’t say I didn’t warn you – New York is not cheap!

food in New York
Trying bagels is a must in New York

Tasty things to do in New York

Go on a food tour

One of the nicest things to do in New York is eating. The selection of restaurants (including Michelin-starred ones), the street food scene, the eateries available are all incredible and it would be a pity to miss out. A cool way to enjoy the food on offer is by taking a food tour.

Greenwich Village is the best area for a food tour. You can book yours here.

Have a slice of pizza

New York thin crust pizza is pretty tasty and world-renowned. For as heavy and greasy as it is, this is comfort food at its best and I recommend trying it! 

There are many places in town where you can grab a slice of pizza – which you absolutely have to eat with your hands. Among the best ones there are Artichoke Basille’s Pizza and Juliana’s Pizza.

A New York classic

Try a bagel

You don’t know what a good bagel is until you try one in New York. Go for both a savory and a sweet bagel – the latter is usually packed with fruits and cinnamon, spread with sweet cream cheese; savory ones often come with smoked salmon and cream cheese. Ess-A-Bagel is the place to go.

Visit Chelsea Market

Chelsey Market is a cool place to visit if you are hungry or simply a foodie. The building where the market is located occupies one entire block – so you get the idea of how big it is. It inevitably attracts lots of visitors too. There are 35 vendors at the market, so you get quite a good selection of food. My favorite place there is Miznon, an Israeli chain that focusses on delicious stuffed pita. 

Get ice-cream

Even more so if you are visiting during the summer, one of the things to do in New York is eating ice-cream! There are about a million places where you can get good one in town. A place I found truly decadent is Morgensterns – they have a few locations in town. I have been to the one in Rivingston St. and loved it. 

night in new york
New York glows at night

Things to do in New York at night

Go for happy hour at an oyster bar

In a city as expensive as New York, you will be relieved to know that oyster bars now offer happy hour so you can get your drink of choice and snack on oysters for a real deal. Look for the best oyster bars in the city and double check in case you need to have a reservation – nights in town can get extremely busy!

Go to a comedy show

There’s nothing better than spending an evening laughing so much until your stomach and jaw hurt and New York is the place to do it!

Comedy Cellar is one of the best places for comedy but make sure you book your tickets in advance. 

Shakespeare in the Park

One of the best things to do in New York in the summer is watching a movie at the open-air Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Movies are shown Tuesdays to Sundays at 8:00 pm between May and August, and that’s been done since 1962 so that’s quite a tradition they have going! 

There are limited seats available so getting tickets is easier said than done. Tickets are distributed starting at 12:00 pm on any show day and you will have to wait in line and must be have a Public Theater Patron ID. A person can get a maximum of two tickets so there is no such thing as sending one person to get tickets for a group of friends.

Attend a show at the Metropolitan Opera House

Speaking of shows, one of the best things to do in New York is seeing ballet or opera at the Metropolitan House of New York, in Lincoln Center. It’s a massive modernist building with an impressive stage.

Dance to a Broadway show

If you love musicals, get yourself a ticket for a Broadway show. There are 41 theaters, some of them with lights that are more than a century old, showing a variety of shows every night. Depending on when you book – and if you are not picky on what you go see – you can get quite a good deal on tickets.

Get your Broadway tickets here.

brooklyn heights view
Don’t you agree that these views are splendid?

Useful Information To Plan Your Trip To New York

Where to stay in New York

A city like New York has no shortages of places to stay. However, accommodation is expensive, and location is everything.

I used to live in Manhattan (initially near Madison Square Garden, then near the Lincoln Center) and I loved it, though it could be chaotic at times. The southern bits are definitely quieter and give more of a feeling of neighborhoods where it is pleasant to walk around, and I would recommend staying there.

These are the best places to stay:

  • Archer Hotel is a great mid-range option in Manhattan. Rooms aren’t massive, but they are comfortable.
  • The Pierre, A Taj Hotel is right by Fifth Avenue. If you have the budget to splurge, you’ll enjoy the spacious rooms.
  • HI NYC Hostel is a great option for travelers on a budget.

Here’s an even more detailed list of where to stay in Manhattan for under $200 a night.

Another option could be staying in Brooklyn – after all, the public transportation system in New York works really well. These are the best places to stay in Brooklyn:

  • Wythe Hotel is located in what used to be a factory – so in a charming building. Rooms there are large with stylish decorations.
  • Pod Brooklyn offers small but incredibly well organized and comfortable pods.
  • 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge has very modern spacious rooms with unbeatable views.

Using the New York CityPass

A New York CityPass will give you discounts (you can save up to 41% in total) to a lot of attractions. Most passes also come with access to transportation.

The New York CityPass includes entrance to the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Top of the Rock Observation Deck or Guggenheim Museum; the Statue of Liberty or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum or Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

You can get your pass here or here. Don’t forget you need to book each attraction separately.

Further Readings

Are you planning a trip to the United States? Make sure to read my other posts:

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Discover the things to do in New York - via @clautavani

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