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.
45 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.
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.
Make sure to read my post “A Complete Guide To Visiting The Statue Of Liberty.”
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.
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.
Ground Zero Museum Workshop is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11:00 or 11:30 am to 3:00 pm. Admission is $25 USD.
Another interesting museum in the area is the Whitney Museum of American Art, which houses an incredible collection of works by American artists.
Whitney Museum of American Art is open Thursday to Monday. Admission is $25 USD and tickets must be bought in advance here.
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, or this one if you prefer a private tour.
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.
Visiting is free, but you must book in advance as a limited number of visitors are allowed and you will be assigned a time slot.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Check out my post “How To Get 9/11 Museum Tickets And Skip The Lines.”
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.
To visit, book your tickets in advance here.
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.
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.
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 from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is $22 and 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.
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.
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 currently open from Thursday to Monday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Tickets are $25 and you can leave and come back on the same day if you want to explore more. To get your tickets in advance click here or here.
Read my post The Best Museums In NYC.
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.
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 from 10.30 am to 5:30 pm. Admission is $25. Get your tickets in advance here.
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 costs $22 for adults and 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 entry fee to the main exhibit is $23 for adults and $13 for senior and children. The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. You can get tickets here. For a guided tour click here.
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.
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.
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. For a private tour led by an urban historian, click here.
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.
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.
This 4 hour Harlem Gospel tour in New York City also takes you to Apollo theater and other landmarks of this part of the city.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Further Readings About The US
Are you planning a trip to the United States? Make sure to read my other posts:
- A Wonderful Itinerary For A Day In New York
- The Perfect Itinerary To See New York In 2 Days
- A Fabulous Itinerary For 3 Days In New York
- An Easy To Follow Itinerary For 4 Days In New York
- 5 Days In New York: An Easy To Follow New York Itinerary
- A Great Itinerary For A Week In New York
- Where To Get The Best Views In New York
- A Great Itinerary For 3 Days In San Francisco
- The 10 Best Places To Visit In California (That Aren’t Just Cities)
- 15 Unmissable Things To Do In California
- 10 Things To Do For A Fabulous Trip To Miami
- Seven Adrenaline Filled Things To Do In Yellowstone (With Kids!)
- 10 Not To Miss Hikes Near Denver