If you’re relatively new to New York City, it can be difficult to know what to see. There are so many things to do, so many foods to eat, so many sites to take in. The city is enormous, sprawling, gorgeous, bustling, and gritty. It features every type of person in every season of life and truly is a snapshot of America.
During your early visits, you may want to start with some of the more popular attractions. This can give you an overall feel of the city before you move on to the more obscure locations.
We’re going to start with the popular destinations and then reveal some that are more off the beaten path.
#1 The Statue of Liberty
If you’re headed to the Big Apple in New York City, you definitely want to check out the Statue of Liberty, whose official name is Liberty Enlightening the World. Dedicated on October 28, 1886, this gift from France is an American icon, along with the Grand Canyon, the St. Louis Arch, and the McDonald’s value meal.
Standing 305 feet tall from the ground to the top, it is the equivalent height of a 22-story building. She is the symbol of freedom, an imposing and inspiring scene and offers a gorgeous view of the harbor and lower Manhattan. If you want to see the statue up close, you’ll need to hop on a public ferry to Liberty Island. If you want to view it from shore, head on over to Battery Park or Red Hook, Brooklyn.
If you’re going during peak tourist season, make sure to pre-purchase timed entrance tickets. It may not be as popular as Hamilton, but it will certainly sell out. Additionally, don’t be sucked in by scalpers claiming to be an official representative. They’ll sell you higher priced tickets and often work for companies who simply sell harbor cruises, which never dock at the Statue or on Ellis Island.
The most recognizable phrase associated with the Statue is Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. This comes from the Emma Lazarus sonnet, New Colossus, which was written for a fundraiser auction to raise money for the pedestal which the Statue still sits upon today. After Lazarus’ death, the poem’s text was placed on a plaque and mounted inside the Statue’s pedestal.
#2 The Empire State Building
The scene of countless movie shots in New York City, including the iconic King Kong scenes, the Empire State Building is a NYC icon. The 102 story building was the tallest building in the city until the World Trade Center tower was erected, and still has the original airship mooring mast at the top (the sharp point).
There are two observatories atop the building: a climate controlled deck on the 86th floor and a lesser-known one on the 102nd floor. At a staggering 1,250 feet in the air, visitors can see as far as 80 miles on a clear day, looking into Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
The lines to go up can be immense, especially during the height of tourist season. Consider visiting first thing in the morning or after 10:00 pm when lines tend to be shorter, or purchasing the VIP Express tickets to skip the lines and go straight to the top. They are good for a year, so even if you can’t use them you can always come back.
The Empire State Building Observatory opens at 8:00 AM and the last elevator up is at 1:15 AM.
#3 Central Park
Ahh, Central Park. This 843-acre park is the Manhattan’s backyard allowing residents and visitors to relax, exercise and enjoy nature. It’s home to joggers, lovers, and ultimate frisbee connoisseurs. Central Park is the location of the epic foot chase in Home Alone 2, and a fantastic place to get a hot dog on a summer day.
While many people think of New York City as a concrete maze, Central Park adds a splash of beauty to the city. Containing the famed Strawberry Fields (of the Beatles song), the Central Park Zoo, waterfalls, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, horse trails and free Shakespeare in the Park productions, it is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
There are numerous ways to take in the Park. Of course, there’s always strolling on your own. However, consider renting a bike, taking a carriage ride or get a real sense of the Park and its history with a pedicab tour.
The bright lights. The flashy costumes, the stories that come to life that only live theatre can make happen. For decades, Broadway has been the heart of theater in the United States, home to some of the most iconic shows in history, such as Wicked and The Lion King. It really is a must-see for any NYC visitor.
If time allows, consider seeing one of these popular shows:
- Hello, Dolly!
- Come From Away
- Dear Evan Hansen
- Book of Mormon
Some shows sell out well in advance, so it’s a good idea to purchase tickets early to secure seating in your preferred section and avoid paying inflated prices for tickets sold by third parties. Make sure you take this into account when planning out your trip. If you’re open to which show you want to see, purchase discounted same day tickets at TKTS!
#5 The Metropolitan Museum of Art
If you’re an art lover, make sure you take time to visit the Met. Founded in 1870, this mecca of culture contains over 2 million pieces of art, including arms and armor, Egyptian art, photographs, musical instruments, and just about anything else you can imagine. On Friday and Saturday evenings the Met stays open until 9:00 PM. The Great Hall Balcony Cafe© & Bar serves cocktails and appetizers with waiter service while you sit and enjoy live musical performances.
If you’re more specialized in your tastes and prefer the art and architecture of medieval Europe, check out The Cloisters, which is located in Northern Manhattan. For modern and contemporary art lovers, visit the Met Breuer, one of the city’s newest museums!
The Met is actually free to enter. You’ll probably be asked to pay $25, but technically the policy is pay what you want. In addition, with admission to one Met museum, you also receive same day admission to the other two Met museums! So, if you happen to be short on cash, The Met is actually a great option. Yes, you may feel like a bit of a cheapskate not paying anything, but the choice is yours.
#6 Rockefeller Center
If you’ve seen the show 30 Rock, you’re at least somewhat familiar with Rockefeller Center in New York City. This large shopping and entertainment center is the home to NBC-TV and the location of dozens of iconic television shows.
With over 100 shops and restaurants, the history, art and architecture of this complex include 19 buildings and can be a day’s outing. At the center of the complex stands 30 Rockefeller Plaza, originally called the RCA Building from 1933 â€“ 1988, then the GE Building from 1988 to 2015 and is currently known as the Comcast building. At 70 stories high, the building offers splendid views of midtown Manhattan as well as the city skyline. The Top of the Rock Observation Deck, located on the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors, is the perfect place to survey the city and have the Empire State Building in your photo.
During Christmas, a massive tree stands out front, shining like a beacon into the night. The skating rink, which is extremely popular in the winter, attracts thousands of visitors, offering spills and thrills to all.
Be sure to buy your ticket for the Top of the Rock Observation Deck in advance in case it’s sold out. If you need to change plans, the tickets come with a flexible voucher redemption policy. After visiting Top of the Rock, explore the Rockefeller Center campus and discover the magnificent murals by Jos© Maria Sert, the Spanish artist who replaced the original murals painted by Diego Rivera. Rivera had been commissioned by the Rockefellers to paint the murals. However, when the Rockefellers saw that Rivera had painted an image of Lenin as the main focal point, they demanded that he paint over it. When he refused, they destroyed the mural. Sert’s murals depict American Progress and look terrific after a three-year restoration process to remove years of dirt and varnish.
Top of the Rock is open from 8:00 AM to Midnight. The last ticket is sold at 11:00 PM and the last elevator goes up at 11:15 PM.
#7 One World Observatory
Visit New York City’s newest observation deck, located on the 100-102nd floors of One World Trade, the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center Complex in Lower Manhattan. One World Trade is the tallest building in the western hemisphere and the sixth-tallest in the world. See the geographic history of Lower Manhattan unfold on floor to ceiling LED screens during the 60-second elevator ride to the top.
Enjoy skyline views and stay for lunch with options including casual cafe fare to a small seated fine dining restaurant One Dine. Both the Cafe and One Dine are only accessible with admission to the observation deck.
Skip the lines and enjoy ultimate flexibility with Priority Anytime Admission, which allows you to visit any day and time you want! Hours of operation change seasonally, so be sure to check the website when planning your trip. During the peak summer season, One World is open until 10:00 PM with the last ticket sold at 9:15 PM.
#8 New York City’s 9/11 Memorial
Open daily, the 9/11 Memorial is a beautiful plaza with two enormous reflecting pools set in the footprints of the Twin Towers. The names of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the 2001 and 1993 terror attacks are inscribed in bronze around the pools.
The design for the memorial was selected from over 5,200 submissions, representing 63 nations. While there may not seem to be an order to the name placement, memorial designer Michael Arad explains that the placement reflects where victims were, their affiliations (e.g., companies or groups attending a conference together), and their personal relationships.
The Memorial is a place of reflection and contemplation as the final resting place of those people that lost their lives. Taking selfies is discouraged. There are no rest rooms at the Memorial.
#9 Fifth Avenue
Itching to do some shopping and feel like a celebrity? Fifth Avenue is your ticket. Some of the most iconic retailers have their flagship stores on this street, including Bergdorf-Goodman, Tiffany, Cartier, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Apple Store, Microsoft, and Versace.
Even if you’re not shopping, you can still enjoy a stroll down the street, taking in the glamour and perhaps spotting a celebrity or two.
If you’ve always wondered about what goes into the magnificent window displays, take a walking tour to learn the history of some of America’s most renowned brands and what goes into developing creative and eye-catching displays.
#10 The Brooklyn Bridge
The first bridge to be made of steel wire, the Brooklyn Bridge spans the East River connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn. Engineer John Roebling designed the bridge in detail starting in 1855, but never got to see his dream completed. When surveying the scene for the bridge in 1869, his foot was crushed by a ferry and he died of tetanus three weeks later.
His son, Washington, took over the project and worked to make his father’s dream a reality. He also was unable to see the dream fulfilled due to contracting caisson’s disease, which hindered his ability to see, write, and even walk. The grand structure was finally completed in 1883 under the direction of Washington’s wife, Emily Roebling.
Featuring two imposing stone towers which carry four cables across the East River, the bridge is an American icon, inspiring artists for the last two hundred years.
Learn the secrets of the bridge and take amazing photos of the skyline as you walk across this impressive structure.
#11 Times Square
No visit to New York City is complete without a stop in Times Square. First called Longacre Square, Albert Ochs, the publisher of the The New York Times, moved the newspaper’s headquarters to a new skyscraper on 42nd Street in1904. The square was renamed Times Square in honor of the newspaper. The transformation of Times Square from adult entertainment to family entertainment started with the renovations of the New Amsterdam Theater by the Disney Corporation in 1997. Today, Times Square is quintessential New York, full of flashing signs, street vendors, tourists, large stores and the heart of the Theater District.
Full of shopping, theaters, restaurants, entertainers, and billboards galore, Times Square is a must see tourist attraction in the heart of the city.
#12 Governor’s Island
Now it’s time to move off the beaten path. Have you heard of Governor’s Island? Probably not. It’s a small (172 acres) island approximately a half mile off the southern tip of Manhattan. The island increased in size with landfill from the excavation of the New York subway system.
This little gem of a spot used to be a fort and military outpost but is now open to the public (since 2006). It’s accessible by a short ferry ride from Brooklyn’s pier 6 or Lower Manhattan ferry terminals. The complex was the location of The United States Coast Guard base until 1998, ending it’s 212-year history as a military installation. Castle Williams and Fort Jay were built to protect the harbor in the early 1800’s. By 1850, Fort Williams was used as a prison. Today, the complex offers 93 acres of public park space with spacious green lawns, a gorgeous bike path around the island and New York’s longest outdoor slide.
Bring your own bike on the ferry and cycle around the island. This truly is a little gem of quiet and isolation away from the intense bustle of downtown New York City.
If you want to eat, bring money for the food truck vendors. Alternatively, you can bring your own picnic lunch and enjoy it on one of the green spaces. It’s a perfect place to take a date or for a family outing. Additionally, you may want to plan on going to the Figment Art Festival if you’re an art fan. Governors Island is a 10-minute ferry ride from Manhattan and open from May 1 through October 31, Monday through Friday 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM.
#13 Elevated Acre
Elevated Acre is exactly what it sounds like: a gorgeous acre of green space on an elevated level suspended between Lower Manhattan’s skyscrapers. This hidden spot is perfect for taking in the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Governor’s island. With a cup of coffee, a book, and a blanket, it’s the ideal location for some peaceful relaxation. Additionally, the Acre has a seven-tiered amphitheater which shows movies during the summer months.
On weekdays, this spot can get very crowded over the lunch hour. If you’re just wanting to kick back and relax, consider visiting at another time.
#14 Roosevelt Island
Once you’ve visited Governor’s Island, check out Roosevelt Island. This sweet little space in the East River is located between the Upper East Side of Manhattan and the long, narrow stretch of land runs two miles, but only has a maximum width of 800 feet, meaning you can easily walk back and forth across the island.
The island had many names before its current name was given. It was called Minnehanonck by the Lenape Indians, Varkens Eylandt (Hog Island) by the Dutch and Blackwell’s Island during the colonial era.
A Smallpox Hospital designed by James Renwick opened in 1856. Remnants of that building remain. While known as Blackwell’s Island, it was used principally for hospitals, from 1921 to 1971. It was renamed Roosevelt Island in 1971 after Franklin D. Roosevelt. Born in NYC, Roosevelt was New York City’s Governor and four term U.S. President.
Visit the Four Freedom’s Park and memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. Designed in 1974 by the famous architect Louis Kahn, the memorial was his last design before he died. The memorial was finally completed under the direction of architect Gina Pollard in 2011.Â This $53 million masterpiece is an architectural marvel of engineering. The huge granite blocks weighed more than the Queensboro Bridge could accommodate so they needed to be brought from New Jersey by boat.
North Point Lighthouse is worth visiting. Built in 1872 by the City to help light a nearby insane asylum, it provides a unique vantage point to view the East River looking north.
Today, the island is the home of the new Cornell Tech, the world’s large passive solar building. It’s a joint venture between Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Cornell University.
The best way to get to the island is with the Roosevelt Island Tramway using a MetroCard, which you may recognize from the Spiderman movie. While riding the tram, you can take in the beautiful views of Manhattan’s East Side.
#15 Sylvan Terrace & The Morris-Jumel Mansion
If you’re a history lover, you absolutely must check out Sylvan Terrace and the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Featuring one of the few remaining cobblestone streets in the city, Sylvan Terrace is like stepping back in time. Built around the middle of the 1700’s, you’ll see twenty three-story wooden row houses. At the end of the street is the historic Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest private home in Manhattan. It was built in 1765 as a summer villa by colonel Roger Morris and his wife, Mary Phillipse. The building was the headquarters for George Washington during the Revolutionary War and he guided the American victory over the British at The Battle of Harlem Heights. Stephen Jumel purchased the home and married Eliza Bowen. When she became a widow, she married Aaron Burr. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote part of his hit musical Hamilton at the site in Aaron Burr’s bedroom. Today, the home functions as a historical museum. The mansion costs $10 for admission on Tuesday-Sunday and takes you back to a different era, when New York City was not the steel jungle it is today.
While you’re in the area, grab a cup of coffee at the Chipped Cup and some astounding Dominican food at Malecon. Then stop by Highbridge Park to sip your drink and enjoy your lunch.
If you’re familiar with the show Boardwalk Empire, you may recognize the street from one of the first few episodes. If you’re friends are fans, grab a selfie to make them jealous.
It’s hard to beat New York City for popular tourist attractions. The city truly does have something for everyone, from food to theater to Lady Liberty herself. With careful planning and a few days in the city, you can take in some of the best attractions and get a fair sampling of what the city has to offer.
Author Tom Wolfe said, “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”
Give the city a few minutes, or a few years, and you’ll feel like you belong too.
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