New York City is one of the most happening and exciting cities to visit which is why you should not only visit, but be prepared to do A LOT. The area would be considered my “home turf” so get ready for an action-packed list of the best things to do in NYC from a local.
Pro Tip: If you are planning a trip to New York, bookmark this article in your browser so you can circle back to it and take a glance at where to stay in New York.
21. Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is without argument New York’s most iconic bridge which makes it a must-visit attraction. At the time of construction, it was the world’s longest suspension bridge and an unbelievable feat of engineering.
It connects the Financial District/China Town to Downtown Brooklyn. It is always open and free to walk across which definitely can help out your budget! Walking over this bridge is also a very romantic thing to do on a nice spring or fall day when the sun is out. The above photo was taken on a beautiful day in December.
Location – Get off at Chamber St, Fulton St, or Brooklyn Bridge City Hall subway stops.
20. Drink a Manhattan Overlooking Manhattan
One of the coolest things about a city packed with skyscrapers and tall buildings is that some of those places have bars & restaurants on top! So go ahead, make a reservation or roll the dice by walking in, but definitely enjoy a drink and maybe some food overlooking Manhattan’s skyline.
You can do that in Manhattan or ideally in Brooklyn overlooking The City. I recommend Harriet’s Rooftop & Lounge which is located in Brooklyn Heights. You get a killer view of manhattan and the iconic Brooklyn Bridge!
19. See NYC by Bicycle
Washington Square Park is as much a part of New York history as the Empire State Building or Central Park which is why it is the landmark square of Greenwich Village. Imagine Bob Dylan or Andy Warhol must have passed more than a few afternoons there doing whatever artists do.
In the center of the park, you’ll find a larger fountain framed by the triumphant arch which is pretty epic and a great place to snap a pic. On warm days you’ll find musicians busking in the square which can be more than you’d believe. I’ve listened to a student play a mini-grand piano there which was one of the most beautiful afternoons of my life.
18. Check out the Chelsea Market
The Chelsey Market is exactly what it sounds like–a cool market in the Chelsea district of NYC. There are tons of cool restaurants, shops, and places to spend your money at which makes it attractive and scary at the time.
17. Explore Central Park
Central Park is a 2.5 miles long, .8 mile wide rectangular park smack dab in the center of New York City. According to “The Guardian” newspaper, Central Park real estate is worth 39 trillion dollars, but would NYC property be worth so much without it? Probably not.
Central Park is one of the main attractions that draw visitors to Manhattan and without it the city would be very different. There are tons of things to see and do in the Park including renting remote control boats, going hiking, the zoo, multiple museums, and more! Get prepared for your visit by reading our list of the top things to do in Central Park in one day!
16. Eat a Red Velvet Cake, Black & White Cookie and/or NY Cheesecake
Neither of these dishes is native to NYC, but both have gone pro in this most metropolitan of cities. Where do you go to try one or ideally both of these dishes? Lili’s Bake Shop on 7th & 53rd. We also like Veniero’s, City Cakes, and Buttercup Bake Shop.
Their specialty is the “Dirty Cheesecake” which is delicious, but you could cross cheesecake, red velvet, and the famous black & white cookie off your list here. D-LISH!
15. Check out a Speak Easy
Stay in NYC long enough and you may start to believe that prohibition is still alive and strong. Why? Because there are speakeasies all around the city which is part of the charm.
There is a myriad of different choices from La Esquina in Soho to Blind Barber in Alphabet City. Check out our list of this year’s top speakeasies.
14. See a Broadway Show
Broadway definitely did not invent the theatre but it sure did bring it to an entirely new level. Seeing a Broadway show in NYC is close to obligitory!
13. Visit the MoMA
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is one of NYC’s leading museums and arguably the world’s greatest modern art collection.
The gallery itself is a work of art that is only out-shadowed by its prestigious collection of over 200,000 pieces. Everything from Picasso to Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
Visiting is a phenomenal use of time and I recommend it to all.
12. Head to the American Museum of Natural History
In NYC with children or have an extra day to burn? NYC’s Natural History Museum is one of the premier collections of dinosaur bones out there. Why?
They were one of the first museums to aggressively go after dinosaur remains in the US, which were originally discovered in the UK, but became wildly abundant in the US.
It is most definitely more than “just” dinosaurs as well which is why it is even exciting to visit this museum even if you don’t have kids. They have exhibits on just about everything you could imagine!
11. See NYC from Above
According to Wikipedia, three are 7,000 high-rise buildings in NYC (115 ft/35m+) and 93 buildings are at least 650 feet/198m which makes for an incredible skyline.
The most famous of all buildings to climb in NYC is undoubtedly the Empire State Building in Midtown. The building is used mostly for office buildings and is extremely prestigious. I once visited an accountant there that I definitely could not afford but I got to see a nice view from a high-level floor.
That said, to get to the observation deck you’ll have to purchase a ticket or attend an event which I am proud to say I have done both and it’s pretty cool.
The tallest building in New York is One World Trade Center which also goes by One WTC and in very American fashion, Freedom Tower. You can get tickets to the top of the Freedom Tower which I have done and would definitely recommend.
They can be expensive, $40+ per person, but I try not to put a price on a cool activity, tour, or experience. These are the type of things that really make a trip memorable!
10. Stay at a Swanky Hotel
New York City is one of the world’s epicenters for creativity, food, culture, and money which is why you should consider spending your evenings at a cool swanky hotel. The city has so many cool hotels like the Standard on the High Line or the Trump International Central Park.
Check out our guide for Where to Stay in NYC to get suggestions at every budget!
9. Walk Down Wall Street
Regardless of your feelings for big banks and stewards of finance, Wall Street is a historic part of New York and world history which warrants it a visit. You also have the famous bull statue which makes for a great photo.
Wall Street runs through the financial district and is home to the New York Stock Exchange which is an iconic building. You won’t be able to go inside or even too close but it is still worth the time. Right near the NYSE is the federal reserve bank which is home to some extraordinarily large gold reserves.
The NYSE is uncoincidentally only a 15-minute walk from ground zero and the new One World Trade Center so it can be done all together.
8. Eat Ethnic Food
There is a commonly spoken joke in the United States that we invented Chinese Food which is obviously not true, but it kind of is true if you really think about it.
At this point, everyone has realized that American Chinese food is not very similar to the food you’ll find in China so what we have in the states we sort of invented.
That said, the best versions of these Americanized ethnic foods may be in NYC. You can literally find anything here and it is mostly different than you’d find in its country of origin but nonetheless delicious. Some things you have to try are:
- Dumplings in China Town (Joe Shanghai or Nom Wah Tea Parlor)
- Indian Fare at Patiala Indian Grill
- Tacos @ Birria Landia Food Truck
- Hallel Street Food @ Rafaqis Food Truck
Read more about the top foods to try in NYC.
7. Pizza by the Slice
Pizza is unequivocally an Italian dish that is best eaten in Italy. That said, as a person who has lived in Italy and NYC, Pizza by the slice is an NYC specialty that is best eaten in NYC. Where?
Joe’s Pizza has a few stores in NYC and is regarded as the best pizza by the slice in the city. You decide!
6. Take a Tour of the MET
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was originally opened in 1870, but not in the location you see today which is known by few. Nine years later the current building was opened and has been its home ever since, but like any home it has been subject to renovations, additions, and improvements for this growing family of art!
The collection is one of the greatest on Earth which is why you absolutely cannot miss it. We recommend you take a tour of the MET since it will elevate your experience. Local guides in NYC are passionate and will save you from a less than awesome experience where you stare and wonder what you are looking at.
Also, check out our articles on what to see at the MET. They are super-comprehensive but not meant to replace a tour. I find when I do background research on a museum it becomes even more interesting when I actually explore with a guide.
5. Little Island
At the time of this being written, May 2021, Little Island had just been completed and was all the talk. Definitely, something to check out while in NYC since it is a completely man-made island & park full of things to do!
4. Walk the High Line
New York City’s High Line park is an abandoned railroad converted into a beautiful park full of plant life, built-in seating, food stalls, and incredible views.
The now incredibly famous park was once a bustling train line bringing goods into New York City. Originally it was on ground level, but there were far too many causalities that the city elected to elevate the tracks. Eventually, the trains became less popular with the integration of modern trucking. By the 60s it was barely used at all and by 1983 there were plans to demolish it.
Plans to destroy the structure were met by progressive residents who wanted to see it used differently. Twenty years later, in 2003, the project finally took flight, and in 2009 the first section opened up. Today, the park is 1.45 miles long with hundreds of plant species which makes it a much-needed break from the city inside the city. At one point, it was the most popular destination on Instagram.
3. The Vessel @ Hudson Yards
This new and interesting art installation is all the jazz right now. It is a honeycomb series of staircases and platforms that is 16 stories tall and extremely mind-boggling. I visited this when it was first opened and it’s a cool photo and memorable site. In a few hours, you can walk from Little Island up the High Line and finish off at the Vessel which will be an artistic and cool afternoon full of exercise.
2. Go to the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
The Statue of Liberty is more a symbol of the United States and the values embodied here than any other monument in this land.
It was most certainly a welcomed site for immigrants coming to the United States through Ellis Island which makes sense. If you haven’t seen it in person, it’s massive which makes it very cool to visit.
The Statue of Liberty is grouped into the category of “Colossal Statues” and the first on record was built in 280 BC in Rhodes. The Roman Emperor Nero, first century AD, also built a colossal statue in his own image in the valley where the Colosseum would later be erected. You’d never have guessed, but all three of these statues were about the same height!
The Statue of Liberty is far from the largest statue in the world today, this position is taken by the Statue of Unity in India which is over three times its size! However, it is arguably the most recognized statue on Earth in competition with Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.
Check out this article Statue of Liberty Tickets, Hours, Tours, and More! or check out our Statue of Liberty tours directly.
1. Pay Respects at Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial
September 11 2001 was a day that us Americans wished never would have happened and one that we will never forget. The World Trade Center towers went down that day and in American fashion, the city of New York went to work almost immediately on a memorial.
Two reflecting ponds now live where each building once stood to commemorate the victims and heros of that day. Instead of using the property to rebuild new tours, the city of New York created a mammoth memorial.
The memorial is free to visit since it is an outdoor memorial open 24/7. That said, there is a museum and souvenir stand which generate revenue to support the memorial.
While you are there, definitely walk through the Oculus at the World Trade Center PATH station which connects 12 subway lines and is honestly one of the most beautiful subway stations on Earth. The station, according to NY Port Authority, serves over a million people every week.
The station even has its own specially built crane named “Big Red” to reach the taller points of the atrium when construction, or light bulb replacing, needs call for its help!