10 Best Things To Do In New York City
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New York City has many names and nicknames: The Big Apple, the center of the world, where everything happens, the gateway to the US, and more. It doesn’t matter how you call it, this city is not less than amazing. Some people might find it busy or overwhelming, but for me, it is charmingly overwhelming and dramatically relaxing.
There are so many neighborhoods in each of the boroughs, and each is different and unique. While Midtown and the financial district are the busy parts, Greenwich Village is the students’ neighborhood, and Soho is the chic and modern area. Brooklyn vibes are different than Manhatten’s vibes, and between all the skyscrapers, observation decks, busy streets, and green parks, I believe that each person can find their peaceful yet exciting spot.
For visitors, Manhattan is the main borough to visit. While Brooklyn also has so much to offer, I am going to focus here are the things to do in Manhattan. Here are the top things to do in New York City:
Explore Central Park
New York City Central Park is an 843-acre green space that every new yorker loves, and so will you. The section of the park from 59th to 72nd street is the busiest with many of the attractions that the park offers. Walk between the trees, take pictures of the squirrels, and be amazed by the city’s skyscrapers all around you. Some places to explore in the park are:
- Bethesda Fountain – one of the icons of the park, where you can also rent boats in the nearby lake
- The mall – with the beautiful statues around it, including the recently added Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument, Christopher Columbus, and more.
- Woolman Rink – for ice-skating in the winter or old-school skating in the summer
- Strawberry Fields – a memorial spot for John Lennon, who lived near the park on 72nd street, and was murdered here.
- Conservatory Water – on the east side, between 72nd and 76th streets, with statues of Alice in Wonderland and Hans Christian Andersen.
Tip: If you are in the city in the summer, try to get tickets for Shakespeare in the Park at the open-air Delacorte Theater in the park. Tickets are free and are available every day at noon. Be there on time or else you snooze you lose.
Walk along Fifth Avenue
Walking on Fifth Avenue between Central Park and 34th street is the best way to absorb the posh vibes of New York City. High fashion brands and luxury department stores are on both sides of the streets, but there are also big retailers shops, and other attractions not to miss here.
The city’s biggest cathedrals are on 50th and 53 rd streets. Rockefeller Center, with 193 flags of all the countries in the world, is on 48th street. The main branch of the public library is a beautiful building between 40th to 42nd streets – the entrance is free. The Empire state building on 34th street is 102 floors high with two observatory deck, on the 86th and 102nd floors – an amazing way to see the city from high above.
Tip 1: Bryant Park, right behind the beautiful building of the New York public library, is a great place for outdoor lunch or cafe. I love taking away food from one of the restaurants around and then sitting in the park to eat. Chairs and tables are widely available. It always has something going on there and you don’t want to miss it.
Tip 2: Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center is an observation deck on the 70th floor only, but from here you can see the Empire State Building from a bird’s view. One of the beautiful things to see in New York.
Tip 3: Before Christmas, some stores decorate their display windows for the holidays. Prepare yourself for a large crowd around you. Everyone wants to see it, and you as well.
Visit Times Square
Times Square is the center of the world. Well, that’s probably not true, but this is how you feel when you get here. It doesn’t matter what time of the day it might be, the square is full of people, taking pictures and admiring the festival of lights coming from all the commercials around them. It is big, it is impressive and you really don’t know where to look, because it’s hypnotizing.
The square, which is not really in a square shape, goes along Broadway and 7th Aveneue, between 42nd and 47th streets. All around it, there are stores and some fast-food restaurants and cafes. In between, you can see the famous Times Square’s stairs and street performers – usually people in super hero costumes that will charge you for a photo.
There is always a light coming from Times Square, and you can see it in the sky from far away. I recommend visiting here after sunset, to sense all the lights around you. It is really spectacular.
Watch a Broadway show
Broadway is one of the symbols of New York and watching a show here is something to remember. Broadway productions are amazing, and sometimes it’s hard to believe that you are basically sitting in a theatre and everything you see is happening on one stage in front of you. Some of the shows run for years, and they are still very popular, and others are new. It is up to you to decide which one you want to watch and enjoy.
Most theatres are located around Times Square and surprise, they are not located on Broadway Avenue. Each Theatre is the home of one of the shows and they run every day, except for Mondays. On the weekend the run twice a day, first time in the afternoon and another one in the evening. and You can buy tickets at the theaters box offices, but TKTS under the stairs of Times Square can get you better deals.
Tip: If you are spending more than a few days in the city, try your luck in winning discounted tickets in an online lottery for much lower prices. This is how New Yorkers do it.
Honor the 9/11 Memorial & Museum
The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum is the primary tribute to the 2,983 victims of the world’s worst terrorist attack from 2001. Where used to be two twin towers are now two one-acre size pools with 30-foot waterfalls, said to be the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. Next to the pool stands the museum that spans across 110,000 square feet and relays the narrative of the attacks through a series of multimedia displays, real-time recordings, authentic artifacts and an interactive table. This is a strong experience of those events that shaped recent history for the whole world.
Tip 1: The new tower that was built here after the attack offers a full experience, telling the story of the world trade center and going up to the One World Observatory, located on the 100th floor. You can skip the line if you purchase your tickets in advance (recommended).
Tip 2: Next to the monument stands the Westfield shopping mall. It is beautiful from the outside and the very wide hall makes it unique also from the inside.
Walk the High line towards Hudson Yards
An old railroad track for freight trains has been revamped to be one of the best free things to do in NYC. Elevated above the streets, the High Line is a kind of a boardwalk between the Meatpacking district and 34th street. It is decorated with plants, curving walkways, picnic tables and benches, ice cream sellers, public art installations, and views of the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline. The buildings around the Highline are special architecturally and some of the windows facing the Highline present works of art. The High line has many access points that you can go up and down, but I think it’s best to walk along the whole path.
When you are in its northern edge, check out the Vessel, a 60-ton climbable sculpture that is now a New York icon. This is a great spot for some Instagram pictures and a good view of the Hudson River and New Jersey. While in the past people could climb, it is, unfortunately, not available anymore. However, the city is keeping it interesting here, with an open bar, a big screen broadcasting sports, art presentations, etc.
Tip: Next to the vessel there’s another great observation deck, called The Edge. The open deck is 1100 feet high and you have the best views of midtown Manhattan, the Empire State Building, and all the way to New York downtown. The best time to visit is at sunset. An incredible experience!
Eat at Chelsea Market
On 15th street and 10th avenue stands a culinary secrets with some of the best places to eat in New York. Chelsea Market is an indoor market with food stalls and restaurants, offering delicatessens from all over the world. You can find here Asian noodles, Vietnamese sandwiches, sea-food, American burgers, Israeli-style stuffed pitas, and more. After you enjoy your meal, don’t miss – Seed + Mill Artisanal Halva for your dessert.
The building constructed in 1890 as a factory, and this is were the Oreo cookies were invented and made. The design of the market keeps the old industrial style, and in between the restaurants, there are some interesting and special gift shops.
At the end of the hall, there’s a market inside the market. Here you can find different types of jewelry, t-shirts, bags, etc.
Tip 1: Right behind Chelsea Market, you can go up on the high line and walk all the way up to Hudson Yards.
Tip 2: The market stands at the beginning of the Meatpacking district. Once an industrial zone, now it’s the place to find high-class restaurants, rooftop bars, and high fashion and design stores.
Visit a Museum
New York has many museums and you can spend days or even weeks in them. They cover a wide range of arts – from historical pieces, to modern and contemporary, local and international. Whatever your style is, you can find it in New York. You can also find museums with anthropological and historical exhibitions, like the history of the American-Indian or the Jewish Museums. Here are two must-visit museum in New York:
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History is one of the most famous museums of the city, and also mine. This super interesting museum has 32 million specimens and cultural artifacts in its collection, and it’s hard to see them all in one day. This is the museum from the movies Night at the museum with Ben Stiller and I recommend watching the movie before coming here. It will make the visit more fun and entertaining.
Address: 200 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
Bus: M10 stops in front of the museum, M7 /M11 stop at the back.
Subway: B or C lines to 81st Street.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan, The Met, is an art museum with historical masterpieces from all over the world. The most popular exhibits are Greek and Roman art, Egyptian Art, and Islamic art. One day might not be enough to see everything here, and you can easily get lost between all the rooms and halls. Grab a map as soon as you walk in, identify your favorite sections, and plan well your route.
Address: 1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028
Bus: M1, M2, M3, and M4 stop on Madison ave. and 83rd st. – 1 block from the entrance.
Subway: Green lines 4,5,6 to 86th street, and 10 minutes walk.
Tip: The Met hosts every year the Met-Gala – a fundraising for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. While being an invite-only event, you can get some celebrity dust on the outside. Try to get a spot at the museum entrance on 5th avenue and see the celebs on the red carpet.
If you want to know more about the museums of New York, check out The 10 Best Museums In New York City
See the Statue of Liberty
No need to say much about the probably-most-known icon of the city, so it is not a site you want to skip. There are a few ways to see the statue. First is by taking a ferry from Battery Park. This is a paid option, very touristic, and usually with very long lines before boarding. The advantage here is that it takes you also to Ellis Island. This is where the National Museum of Immigration shows how over 12 million immigrants came into the US from the colonial era to the present day.
Another option is to take the Staten Island ferry. A free 30 minutes ride to Staten Island passes by the statue and allows you to take great pictures. The third option would be to stay in Battery Park and see the statue from far. Last but not least, is a pricey but unique option. A helicopter ride will show you all the landmarks of the city – from Central Park in the north to the Statue of Liberty in the south.
Stroll in Chinatown and Little Italy
Chinatown and Little Italy are two immigrants neigborhoods that turned into touriscic attractions. They are located in the center of Manhatten on the two sides of Canal street.
In Chinatown, like in other Chinatowns around the world, you will find souvenir shops, Chinese grocery stores, bubble teas, and restaurants. There are so many restaurants here, that you can eat all the Chinese food you have in mind. Even Kosher and Vegan foods exist here. The main street to explore is Mott street and the small street around it. If you want to experience the real-life of Chinatown, continue to walk to the back streets behind the tourist areas. It might be less shiny, but it provides a more authentic experience.
Little Italy is a much smaller neighborhood, just on the other side of Canal Street. Here the main street in Mulberry and you will feel how different it is right away. On both sides of the street, there are Italian restaurants with outdoor sitting, which is not common in New York, but this is the European vibe. Find the spot that you like most and enjoy an Italian meal, made and served by Italians. This place is for tourists, but I actually love it here.
The Subway is the best and most convenient way to travel around New York. You can buy a pass for 1 ride, load your ticket with funds as much as you want, or buy a weekly/monthly ticket. If you travel more than 4 days in the city and plan to explore it from up to down, consider the weekly ticket.
Sleep No More is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is a spooky, immersive theatrical production that combines elements of Macbeth and Hitchcock. Located at the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea, which was built and designed especially for this show. The night starts in the retro Manderley Bar, and you will progress through several scenes of murder, mayhem, and macabre happenings while wearing an identity-cloaking mask. I saw it twice and experienced it differently every time. One of the unusual things to do in new york and worth every penny!
The Vegan food scene of New York City is skyrocketing. While it is still not easy to find vegan options in all restaurants, there are all-vegan places that will blow your mind. My favorites are Plata Queen, Avant Garden, Willow, and Double Zero. Check out my post about The best vegan restaurants in NYC.
If you are planning to visit many of the sites and attractions of New York, you should consider getting the New York Pass. It allows cash-free entry to 100+ iconic attractions, including most of the museums on this list, for up to 10 days. In some places, it gives skip-the-line privileges, and it’s easy to use from your mobile device.
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Photo credit – Diego Marín (Chinatown)