Consider this your New York City bucket list.
In NYC, there are fun things to do around every corner—from the must-see tourist attractions to the off-the-beaten-path local gems. Consider these the best in New York City.
For some, New York City is the center of the universe. It’s home to some of the world’s best restaurants, hotels (Related: The Best Hotels in New York City), museums, boutiques, and bars. Constantly evolving, New York is a different city every time you visit. Yesterday’s hot spot is today’s eye roll, so everyone who wants to know where to go and what to see needs an expert guide. Pick any of these must-see sights, and let the sleepless city do the rest. From seeing world-famous art at The Met to people watching in Central Park to eating pizza in Brooklyn, this list of the best things to do will have you falling in love with New York.
Plan Your Trip: Fodor’s New York City Guide
See Some of the World’s Most Important Art at the Met Museum
New York City is home to some of the finest art museums in the world. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you could spend a week browsing 5,000 years of human creativity—from the ancient Egyptian Temple of Dendur to Warhol’s Mao—and still not see everything. (Related: 15 Unexpected Things in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) The museum is New York’s version of the Louvre, where you’ll see Renaissance masterpieces alongside pre-Columbian artifacts. With a constantly evolving collection and special exhibits, there’s no “been there, done that” when you’re talking about the Met. It’s worth a visit on every trip to New York, whether it’s your first trip or your fiftieth.
Be Dazzled by Billboards in Times Square
Hands down, Times Square is the most frenetic part of New York City, a cacophony of flashing lights and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds that many New Yorkers studiously avoid. If you like sensory overload, the chaotic mix of huge underwear billboards, flashing digital displays, on-location television broadcasts, naked cowboys, and Elmo clones will give you your fix.
Take in Views of the Skyline From the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center
There’s no better way to understand the scope of New York City than by a visit to the top of one of the skyscrapers that make up the iconic skyline. At Top of the Rock on the 70th floor of Rockefeller Center, you’ll have gorgeous views of midtown as well as the pièce de résistance of New York’s art deco skyscrapers: The Empire State Building. The views of the city from the 86th-floor deck are spectacular, but the views from 16 stories up on the 102nd-floor observatory are even more so—and yet, fewer visitors make it this far. Downtown, One World Observatory offers panoramic views and dining options on the 101st floor of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
INSIDER TIPNew Yorkers are fond of a rooftop bar, and there are plenty scattered throughout the city that offer panoramic views alongside cocktails.
See Some of the World’s Most Incredible Modern Art at MoMA
New York’s MoMA is home to some of the world’s most recognizable modern masterpieces from artist like Warhol, Calder, Picasso, and Van Gogh (The Starry Night is here). Dedicated to art, sculpture, and photography, the museum is a must-visit. In Queens, MoMA PS1 showcases avant-garde contemporary art in a converted schoolhouse. It’s a love it or hate it kind of place, where art is provocative, confusing, shocking, and everything else art should be.
Walk to Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is the prettiest bridge in New York and one of the city’s most iconic structures. Walking across the East River atop the wooden-planked structure takes about 40 minutes and delivers some of the best views of Lower Manhattan. If the bridge is too crowded for you or if it’s in an inconvenient part of town, take a walk across the Williamsburg Bridge instead. Connecting two of New York’s hippest neighborhoods (the Lower East Side and Williamsburg), this bridge isn’t as iconic as the Brooklyn Bridge, but it’s less crowded, with great views of the skyline (through a Pepto Bismol-pink chain-link fence).
INSIDER TIPDon’t walk across the Manhattan Bridge—the subways are at the same level as the pedestrian walkway, which means it’s loud.
Plan Your Trip: Fodor’s New York City Guide
Discover Your Immigrant Past at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
For millions of immigrants, the first glimpse of America was the Statue of Liberty, growing from a vaguely defined figure on the horizon into a towering, stately colossus. Visitors approaching Liberty Island on the ferry from Battery Park may experience a similar sense of wonder. The neighboring Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration tells the story not just of Ellis Island but of immigration from the colonial era to the present day, though numerous galleries containing artifacts, photographs, and taped oral histories.
Become a Kid Again at the American Museum of Natural History
The largest natural history museum in the world is also one of the most impressive sights in New York. Four city blocks make up the American Museum of Natural History’s 45 exhibition halls, which hold more than 30 million artifacts from the land, sea, and outer space.
Frolic in Central Park
A combination escape hatch and exercise yard, Central Park is an urbanized Eden that gives residents and visitors alike a bite of the apple. The busy southern section of Central Park, from 59th to 72nd Street, is where most visitors get their first impression. But no matter how many people congregate around here, you can always find a spot to picnic, ponder, or just take in the greenery, especially on a sunny day.
Pay Your Respects at the 9/11 Memorial
Finished just in time for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, these 30-foot waterfalls sit on the footprint where the Twin Towers once stood. The pools are each nearly an acre in size, and they are said to be the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. Edging the 9/11 Memorial pools at the plaza level are bronze panels inscribed with the names of the 2,983 people who were killed in the terror attacks at the World Trade Center site, in Flight 93’s crash in Pennsylvania, at the Pentagon, and the six people who died in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
Stroll the High Line
Once a railroad track carrying freight trains, this elevated space—running from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District (at the Whitney Museum of Art) to West 34th Street—has been transformed into a wonderful retreat from the hubbub of the city. A long, landscaped “walking park” with plants, curving walkways, picnic tables and benches, public art installations, and views of the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline, The High Line is now one of the most visited parks in New York City.
Plan Your Trip: Fodor’s New York City Guide
Check Out the Downtown Art Scene
In the Meatpacking District, the acclaimed Whitney Museum of American Art is housed in a beautiful and bright building designed by Renzo Piano. There are more than 50,000 square feet of gallery space and 13,000 square feet of outdoor space, including sculpture gardens and outdoor dining options. Nearby, Chelsea is a hotbed of galleries, where big names like Gagosian and David Zwirner put on shows by world-famous artists like Yayoi Kusama. If you’re looking for something a little grittier, the Lower East Side has a burgeoning art scene with a street art bent—check out gallery onetwentyeight, Invisible Exports Gallery, and Chuchifritos.
INSIDER TIPMany galleries stay open late on Thursday evening for art openings, when there’s usually free wine and excellent people watching. The works usually cost about $1 million, so there’s zero pressure from salespeople to buy something. Browse to your heart’s content!
Go Museum-Hopping on the Upper East Side
One of New York City’s most architecturally beautiful neighborhoods, the Upper East Side is home to some of the city’s most prestigious art museums. The Frick Collection is worth a visit for the Dutch Masters and a walk through one of New York City’s most elaborate mansions. The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is almost as interesting on the outside as it is on the inside, but if you have time, the collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art is impressive. Neue Galerie is a chic mansion dedicated to German and Austrian art of the 20th century–the scene-stealer here is Klimt’s Woman in Gold. But it’s not all about fine art; Cooper Hewitt is the Smithsonian’s design museum, offering an interactive experience at the intersection of art and technology, and the Jewish Museum is a must-visit for those interested in New York’s unique Jewish heritage, with exhibits ranging from ancient artifacts to a retrospective on Amy Winehouse.
Watch Commuter Choreography at Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central is not only the world’s largest (76 acres) and the nation’s busiest railway station—nearly 700,000 commuters and subway riders use it daily—but also one of the world’s most magnificent, majestic public spaces. Past the glimmering chandeliers of the waiting room is the jaw-dropping main concourse, 200 feet long, 120 feet wide, and 120 feet (roughly 12 stories) high, modeled after an ancient Roman public bath. Overhead, a twinkling fiber-optic map of the constellations covers the robin’s egg–blue ceiling. To admire it all with some sense of peace, avoid visiting at rush hour.
Let Your Freak Flag Fly at Coney Island
More than a century ago Coney Island ranked among the country’s preeminent seaside resorts, but despite a recent economic resurgence, with new restaurants, bars, and a revamped amusement park opening up, an aura of faded carny glory endures. Decades-old concessions line the boardwalk, and plenty of outsize characters keep Coney Island weird, especially at the circus sideshow and the annual Mermaid Parade. Luna Park(home of The Cyclone), Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, and the New York Aquarium are the biggest draws for most visitors; Nathan’s Famous and Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitana are musts when hunger strikes.
Take the Ferry to Staten Island
Every day, some 70,000 people ride the free ferry to Staten Island, one of the city’s outer boroughs, and you should be one of them. Without paying a cent, you get phenomenal views of the Lower Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island during the 25-minute boat ride across New York Harbor.
Plan Your Trip: Fodor’s New York City Guide
See a Few Broadway Shows
Mostly located in the area surrounding Times Square, more than three dozen Broadway theaters host some of the greatest spectacles in town. From big-budget musicals to high-minded plays to stage debuts featuring Holly wood stars, there’s likely to be something for everyone playing on the boards. You should buy tickets in advance for popular shows, but if you’re willing to see anything and looking to save some money as well, stop by the TKTS booth in Times Square, which sells same-day tickets at a discount.
Stuff Your Face With Pizza at Di Fara and Totonno's
Forget about bagels and hot dogs—pizza is New York’s most beloved and iconic food. You can find a pretty good slice in most neighborhoods, but deservedly legendary institutions include Di Fara Pizza, Totonno’s, and Lombardi’s Pizza. In recent years, newcomers to the pizza scene—Roberta’s, Paulie Gee’s, Motorino, Emily—have generated equally fanatic followings.
See Opera and Ballet at Lincoln Center
This massive and somewhat fortress-like, white travertine-clad complex contains 23 theaters, as well as the Juilliard School, the New York City Ballet, the Film Center of Lincoln Center, and a branch of the New York Public Library, making Lincoln Center one of the most concentrated places for the performing arts in the nation. The largest hall, the Metropolitan Opera House is notable for its dramatic arched entrance as well as its lobby’s immense Swarovski crystal chandeliers and Marc Chagall paintings, both of which can be seen from outside later in the day.
Hang Out in Beatnik Territory in Washington Square Park
NYU’s unofficial quad, Washington Square Park is one of the most interesting gathering spots in the whole city. Stroll around while, more likely than not, you’re serenaded by a jazz trio or somebody who managed to wheel a grand piano into the park. There are fountains, performers, sunbathers, jugglers, artists, and of course, tourists. Take a seat and people watch, or simply marvel at the excellent real estate surrounding the park.
INSIDER TIPOne block north of the park is Washington Mews, a private street lined with gorgeous townhouses. It feels timeless and full of stories.
Eat Food From the Far Corners of the World
Yes, New York City is famous for bagels and pizza, but you can get bagels and pizza anywhere. To sample something truly authentic from this city of immigrants, venture off the beaten path (and we don’t mean to Little Italy). You can try food from all over the world in New York City, especially if you’re willing to travel to the outer boroughs. Feast on vegan Ethiopian food at Bushwick’s Bunna Café, sample Yemeni cuisine at Yemen Café in Brooklyn Heights, or try hot pot at Mister HotPot in Sunset Park. If you don’t have time to make it to Brooklyn or Queens, you can still try Szechuan cuisine at Hot Kitchen, Afghan cuisine at Khyber Pass, and Georgian food at Old Tblisi Garden—all located in Manhattan. And even If you’re not an adventurous eater, have no fear: there’s world-class French, Italian, and Japanese in every neighborhood.
INSIDER TIPJewish delis abound in New York City. If you’re craving a pastrami or a bowl of “Jewish Penicillin” (matzah ball soup), head to one of the New York institutions like Katz’s, Barney Greengrass, Second Avenue Deli, or the recently hipsterified Russ and Daughters.
Plan Your Trip: Fodor’s New York City Guide
Just over the river from Manhattan, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is possibly the most concentrated population of “cool” in the city. Browse one-of-a-kind boutiques and vintage markets like Bird and Artists and Fleas, take a walk along the East River, eat at a casually chic restaurant like The Four Horsemen, go on a hunt for perfectly Instagrammable street art at Domino Park, and observe the painfully hip patrons at cocktail bars like Night of Joy. If you like it enough to spend the night here, there are a couple of sophisticated hotels (with excellent views of Manhattan) like the Wythe and the Hoxton. Some people might roll their eyes at this trendy neighborhood, but they’re just jealous that they can’t afford the rent.
INSIDER TIPBe warned that service at many Williamsburg establishments can be frustratingly aloof, so don’t feel bad if the hostess ignores you—she does that to everybody.
Plan Your Trip: Fodor’s Guide to Williamsburg
Bushwick’s legendary nightlife scene is the kind of thing you’ll be telling your grandkids about when you’re old. With an emphasis on creativity, a night out in Bushwick can start with a movement showcase at Otion Front, followed by an experimental music performance at a DIY venue like Secret Project Robot, followed by a drag show or burlesque performance at House of Yes. It’s weird, it’s wild, it’s wacky, it’s wonderful, and you’ll go home at the end of the night (or more likely, the next morning) with a great story to tell. Dress to impress—costumes encouraged.
Plan Your Trip: Fodor’s Guide to Bushwick and East Williamsburg
Discover African American Culture and History in Harlem
Harlem was the heart of African American culture in the 20th century, when writers like Langston Hughes and James Baldwin ushered in the Harlem Renaissance and made this neighborhood a haven for artist and writers. Now, it’s a cultural and dining destination, where despite massive modern real estate developments, there’s still a sense of neighborhood charm. Celeb chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster is the only brunch spot in the city worth your time, serving up chicken and waffles alongside jazz in an elegant and boozy setting. The neighborhood is known for soul food at Sylvia’s, a Harlem institution, and it’s also home to the world-famous Apollo Theater, where a weekly amateur night is the sort of talent show that will have you laughing, crying, and dancing in your seat. To experience a taste of African culture, visit the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market, with stalls selling traditional crafts and textiles from throughout Africa.
Plan Your Trip: Fodor’s Guide to Harlem
Sip Fancy Cocktails at a Speakeasy Bar
New York City has gone berserk with the speakeasy trend (with some harder to find than others). From barber shops to hot dog huts to unassuming Korean restaurants and pawn shops, half the fun of visiting these places is the thrill of finding it and getting a table. While some, like Bathtub Gin (enter through the coffee shop) and The Back Room (enter through a grimy Lower East Side basement) hold fast to the speakeasy theme with costumes and decor, others are here just to serve good cocktails. Please Don’t Tell is perhaps the most famous speakeasy of all, accessed through the phone booth of a next door hot dog hut—but good luck getting a reservation, even now that the secret’s out.
See New York City by Boat
Some of the best views of New York are from the water. There are a couple of easy ways to get out on a boat on a sunny day, ranging from low-key and free to glamorous and expensive. The East River Ferry costs the same as a subway swipe ($2.75) and connects Lower Manhattan with hip Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Greenpoint (and you get to cruise under the Brooklyn Bridge, which is very cool).
If you want a little more adventure than a standard commute, take the ferry to Governor’s Island where there’s an organic farm, art studios, and festivals throughout the summer—the Jazz Age Lawn Party is one of the best-dressed events in New York City. To celebrate a special occasion or just the fact that you have oodles of money, charter a private sailboat for a tour around Manhattan. You can also book a wine and cheese sailing, which is only slightly more expensive than a touristy Circle Line Cruise, but there are wine and cheese involved.
Plan Your Trip: Fodor’s New York City Guide
Spot Celebrities in the West Village
One of Manhattan’s most charming neighborhoods, the West Village is home to high-end boutiques, chic cafes, and beautiful brownstones. As one of the only neighborhoods in New York City that defies the grid structure, it’s a great neighborhood to wander around and get lost while popping into shops and cafes, admiring the architecture, and keeping your eyes peeled for a celebrity sighting. It’s also a historic neighborhood where you’ll find culturally significant structures like the Stonewall Inn, the site of the Stonewall Riots in 1969.
Get Lost in a Good Book(store)
Chances are, your favorite writer (or somebody who will become your favorite writer) has lived in New York City. The force of the Glitterati is strong here, as most American publishing houses are located in New York. Because of this, New York City has a surprisingly high number of awesome independent bookstores. Most of them are more than just a store, hosting author readings, events, and maybe even a café. Classic NYC institutions like The Strand are some of the best places to pick up a souvenir.
Related: What to Buy in New York City
Sing Karaoke and Eat Korean BBQ in Koreatown
New York’s Koreatown only stretches for one block—34th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues—but it’s jam-packed with Michelin starred restaurants, karaoke clubs, and stores selling cosmetics and gadgets. There’s a barbecue restaurant every few feet on this street, and none of them are particularly bad. But if you want the best, you have two options: Gaonuri, which is, oddly, on the 39th floor of an office building with views of Midtown Manhattan and the Empire State Building, serving Korean BBQ and fancy cocktails in a high end setting (complete with dress code) or the Michelin-starred Kang Ho Dong Baekjong, which is known for late-night eats. After dinner, karaoke bars up and down the block are your best option for unbridled fun with a large group. Book a private room, order too many drinks, and sing your heart out.
The Stonewall Riots ushered in an era of civil rights and equality that has made New York one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the world. While Pride parades take place all over the world, New York City’s is an outrageous, loud, and colorful parade that snakes through one of New York’s most beautiful neighborhoods. All hell breaks loose (in a good way) with music, costumes, drinks, and a come-as-you-are welcoming attitude that makes this one of the best weekends in New York City, regardless of your sexual orientation. Brooklyn Pride and Bushwig take place the weekend before, with an edgier and artsier version of the Manhattan festival.
Immerse Yourself in Spooky Offbeat Theater at Sleep No More
While New York is of course known for Broadway, none of those shows is necessarily unique to New York. But there are truly one-of-a-kind theater experiences in the city, at immersive performances like Sleep No More. Based roughly off of Macbeth, the show takes place at the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea and the less you read or hear about it, the better–go in with an open mind, leave your phone at coat check, and get lost in the terrific weirdness of it all. It’s creepy, it’s fascinating, it’s high budget, and it’s one of those “only in New York” experiences that you’ll never forget. The McKittrick is also home to a rooftop restaurant, Gallow Green, and various other performances like Speakeasy Magick, a dazzling and intimate magic show that takes place at the Club Car, a Jazz Age-themed venue.