6 Best Sights in Coney Island, New York City

New York Aquarium

Coney Island Fodor's choice

Run by the Wildlife Conservation Society, one of the country's oldest continually operating aquariums occupies 14 beachfront acres, and is home to hundreds of aquatic species. At the Sea Cliffs, you can watch penguins, sea lions, sea otters, and seals frolic; the best action is at feeding time. The Conservation Hall and Glovers Reef building has angelfish, eels, rays, piranhas, and other marine life from Belize, Fiji, and elsewhere. The new Playquarium, which features a Touch Pool of crabs, marine snails, and sea urchin, also invites children to imagine themselves as sharks, sardines, or whales amid a kelp forest, coral reef, and sandy shore.  Purchase tickets online for discounted rates.

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Riegelmann Boardwalk

Coney Island Fodor's choice

Built in 1923, just one year before legendary Totonno's Pizzeria opened its doors on nearby Neptune Avenue, this famous wood-planked walkway is better known as the Coney Island Boardwalk, and in summer it seems like all of Brooklyn is out strolling along the 2½-mile stretch. The quintessential walk starts at the end of the pier in Coney Island, opposite the Parachute Jump, where you can see the shoreline stretched out before you, where the waves of the Atlantic Ocean meet the Big Apple. From here to Brighton Beach is a little over a mile and should take about a half hour at a leisurely amble. Admire the modernistic, rectangular structures perched over the beach, housing bathrooms and lifeguard stations.

Coney Island Beach

Coney Island

This 2½-mile beach, backed by the Riegelmann Boardwalk and the amusement park rides beyond, has become an iconic part of New York legend. Although open (and visited) year-round, the beach really heats up in summer, when it can seem like the entire population of New York is out sunning and swimming. Even in winter, however, you'll see Russian and Eastern European inhabitants of neighboring Brighton Beach strolling the boardwalk in their Sunday best. The annual Polar Bear Plunge on January 1 sees thousands of revelers greet the new year by diving into the frigid waters of the Atlantic. Run by the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, a winter bathing club founded in 1903, it's a ticketed event for charity, with a roped off "official" area. Plenty of New Yorkers who want the jolt of the cold water but don't want to pay and wait in line simply do their own thing farther down the beach, then amble over to Brighton Beach to toast the new year at Tatiana's. Amenities: toilets; snack bars; sports facilities. Best for: swimming; sunbathing; people-watching; the Polar Bear Plunge.

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Coney Island Circus Sideshow

Coney Island

The cast of talented freaks and geeks who keep Coney Island's carnival tradition alive include sword swallowers, fire-eaters, knife throwers, contortionists, and Serpentina the snake dancer. Every show is an extravaganza, with 10 different acts to fascinate and impress. The Coney Island Museum houses a large permanent collection of artifacts, ephemera, photographs, and postcards celebrating the history of this legendary amusement area.

Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park

Coney Island

The star attraction at Deno's is the towering 150-foot-tall Wonder Wheel, a New York City landmark. The Ferris wheel first opened in 1920, making it the oldest ride in Coney Island, and the spectacular views from the top take in a long stretch of the shoreline. Other rides for tots here include the Dizzy Dragons, the Pony Carts, a brightly painted carousel, and the Phoenix Family Thrill Roller Coaster. For older kids, there's also Stop the Zombies, a virtual-reality arcade game.

The Cyclone

Coney Island
Cyclone Roller Coaster, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York City, New York
Zhukovsky | Dreamstime.com

This historic wooden roller coaster first thrilled riders in 1927, and it'll still make you scream. Anticipation builds as the cars slowly clack up to the first unforgettable 85-foot plunge—and the look on your face is captured in photos that you can purchase at the end of the ride. The Cyclone might not have the speed or the twists and turns of more modern rides, but that's all part of its rickety charm. It's one of two New York City landmarks in Coney Island, and deservingly in the National Register of Historic Places.