New York City is one destination where you’ll never get bored! In fact, there are so many things to do in New York City that it’s hard to decide what you want to see. Here are some of our favorite NYC attractions. Whether you’re a first-time visitor to the Big Apple, or you’ve been several times before, there’s always something new to see. Here are a few amazing places to visit in this popular city.
If you’re looking for a great place to stay during your NYC trip, I highly recommend The Executive Hotel Le Soleil. It’s perfectly located on 36th Street between 5th and 6th avenues. There are great places to eat nearby, and some rooms have a view of the Empire State Building just two blocks over. It’s walking distance from the High Line (though it’s a decently long walk!) and close to several amazing restaurants like The Liberty and Han Bat. And we walked back from Times Square to the hotel with no problems. It’s pretty much perfect.
Last summer we made a whirlwind tour of New England, and then took our kids to see New York City for the first time. Because we did so much on that trip, we could only spend a couple of days in The Big Apple. Check out my suggestions for the best 2 day itinerary in New York City if you want to use our trip as inspiration.
1. The Empire State Building
This iconic building defines New York City. The Empire State Building has some great features and has been a significant symbol towering the New York sky for a long time now. The Empire State Building has also featured in numerous movies. You can catch a complete panoramic view of the city from observation deck at the top of the Empire State Building.
Another great place to see the skyline from a high vantage point is at Rockefeller Center, or “Top of the Rock”. If you choose this option instead, you can actually get a phone of the skyline that includes the Empire State Building. It’s a great way to see how dominant a building it truly is.
Either location is a great way to see NYC from a bird’s eye view.
2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Recognized as one of the top art museums in the world, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has displays of art from around the world, from Africa to Oceania, ancient Egypt to Europe, and of course, American art as well. It would take many days to really see all of the displays and pieces available at the Met.
The Egyptian gallery features the Temple of Dendur, the only intact Egyptian temple in the western hemisphere. It was build around 15 BC by Petronius and commission by Augustus, and dedicated to the gods Isis and Osiris. One long wall in the gallery features a copy of the Book of the Dead in beautiful calligraphy. Just don’t read it aloud 🙂
I most enjoyed the medieval armor collection, which actually contains armor worn by King Henry VIII of England. Of course, I would have preferred Richard the Lionheart, but beggars mustn’t be choosers…
In the American gallery, you’ll find many paintings relating to the history of the United States, including the famous – and HUGE – painting of George Washington Crossing the Delaware. There are also paintings by Georgia O’Keefe, Winslow Homer, and many others. Down half a level you can find a stained glass trio by Frank Lloyd Wright.
In the European gallery there are paintings by Van Gogh, George Seurat, Jan van Eyck, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and many others.
3. Ellis Island
If you’re interested in the history of New York City, immigration, and genealogy, you will likely enjoy visiting Ellis Island. You get there by taking a free ferry to and from the island. The same ferry (and same ticket) can take you to both Ellis Island and the nearby Statue of Liberty.
The Ellis Island Immigration Museum also offers free guided tours for those interested. Things to see include:
- The Great Hall, an immense room where immigrants were processed with the facility operated;
- The Baggage Room, where immigrants’ belongings were stored
- A database for researching your family members’ arrival, if it pertains to you
- The Statue of Liberty, and Liberty Island (where it stands) from the window where people coming to America would have seen it
Keep in mind that the ferry can be very crowded and have long lines, so arrive early for the best experience. You’ll also have to go undergo strong security measures (similar to airport security) before you can board.
4. Central Park
Central Park is situated in the heart of New York City and is considered a wonderful place to visit in case you are an admirer of nature. You can also take advantage of the free tour offered by the Central Park Conservancy. Central Park is said to comprise of about 843-acre land which includes “View from the Past,” a brief look at the accomplishments of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux the designers of Central Park; “A Road Once Traveled,” an insight at American Revolution and War of 1812 battles sites; and “Amble Through the Ramble” and a hike through 38-acres of woodland.
Personally, I just enjoy watching the people of New York, and those who visit, go about their lives. We watched a softball game, people doing tai chi (I think!), people playing with dogs, children on the playgrounds, and much more.
There are many sights to see in Central Park, including the carousel, Belvedere Castle, and Bow Bridge. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, mentioned above, is also in Central Park, on the east side.
Lunch or brunch at Tavern on the Green is a must-do! This iconic restaurant has been featured in a number of movies, such as Arthur (and its sequel), Ghostbusters, Beaches, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the one that sparked my husband’s desire to dine there: Mr. Popper’s Penguins.
5. Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge is said to be the tallest standing structure ever since its inception in the year 1883 to 1931 when the Empire State Building. The entire Manhattan skyline from Wall Street to the Upper East Side can be viewed by taking a walk on the pedestrian walkway. The walkway is around 1.1 miles, so you may want to only do it one directly.
If you end up on the Brooklyn side, you can easily meander into the DUMBO neighborhood. DUMBO stands for “Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass”. There are great shops, restaurants, and galleries in this area, and if you go to Washington Street, you can take your own version of the iconic photograph of the Manhattan Bridge with the Empire State Building framed by the arches.
6. Times Square
Times Square is considered to be one of New York City’s iconic places as the place is always in a buzz with people from all walks of life. You will not feel bored as there are numerous theaters at Broadway and other buildings illuminated with animated neon and LED signs. Building owners get to splash their illuminated signs to the fullest as Times Square is the only neighborhood in New York City with zoning ordinances.
There’s a good change you’ll find buskers, or street performers, throughout Times Square. Last time we visited, we enjoyed an acrobatic dance troupe and an amazing drummer who didn’t have any hands but did have some incredible talent! While you’re there stop by Junior’s and pick up a delicious slice of cheesecake!
7. Rockefeller Center
Every year Christmas time, The Rockefeller Center will erect the largest Christmas tree in the world. Its ice skating rink is open from mid-November until mid-January. I’ve actually skated there, although it was many many years ago! My daughter (who actually can ice skate, unlike my bumbling attempts) really wants to go during winter so she can do it as well.
Rockefeller Center also houses the world famous NBC TV studio and store. But possibly the biggest attraction is “Top of the Rock”, where you can go to the very top of the building and see the New York City skyline from an eagle’s view! I As I mentioned above, I like this better than the view from the Empire State Building, because here you can actually see the Empire State Building.
When I visited recently, Broadway shows were still not operating due to the quarantine, so the city was less crowded than normal. We got VIP passes to visit Top of the Rock, but it really wasn’t necessary. If you go after the shows open back up, I would definitely recommend it. The VIP passes let you skip the line and go straight to the top. They also let you go anytime during the day that you want, rather than a specific timeframe. (It just has to be the day that you reserved.)
Once you’re at the top, there’s no limit on how long you can stay. We got there about 45 minutes before sunset, and stayed until most of the lights were up. So we got a lot of different views and photos. Note that you can only see a very small part of Times Square from here, but the part you can see does include the ball that they “drop” every New Year’s Eve.
8. Walk the High Line
The High Line park is a fairly recent addition to the list of things to do in New York City, as the park didn’t begin undergoing construction until 2006, and opened in phases between 2009 and 2019, if you include the spur. It’s build where there previously was a spur of the New York Central Railroad.
The High Line is just under 1.5 miles long, and you can enter at a number of different locations. We recently visited for the first time, and entered where Google Maps told us – smack dab in the middle. So we walked the lower half, turned around at the Whitney, got a coffee and some souvenir framed prints, then walked all the way to the top, where The Vessel is. The entire park is just beautiful, with well-maintained greenery areas and amazing artwork, some of which is interactive.
It wasn’t super crowded, but you do need to listen out for runners coming up behind you! In fact, it made me wish I was still a runner, because that would have been a fun place for a morning run.
9. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is a beautiful remembrance of one of the most horrifying events in United States history. The memorial is located where the original World Trade Center stood in the middle of the New York Financial District. It consists of two reflecting pools, one at the location of each of the two original towers. It remembers not just the World Trade Center attacks and victims, but also those of the two additional flights that flew into the Pentagon, and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, on that fateful day of September 11, 2001. They also represent the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
The memorial’s architect says the pools represent “absence made visible”. Water flows into voids in the middle of each pool, continuously – they can never be filled. They are the largest manmade waterfalls in North America. The memorial is completely free to visit, and is open to the public at all times.
The museum is open five days a week, and it does require purchase of tickets. At the time of this writing, admission is $15-26. There is a museum tour available for an additional fee. A few parts of it are currently (autumn 2021) closed for health and safety reasons; make sure to check their website for more details on closures.
Much of the museum is family-friendly, but keep in mind the age of your children and the violence inherent in the history of the attack. Particularly gruesome exhibits are clearly marked and not visible to those who choose not to see.
While you’re in the area, make sure to visit One World Tower and its observatory, which is in the same 16-acre complex. It stands on the site of the original 6 World Trade Center, a smaller building that was also destroyed as part of the 9-11 attacks, when the North Tower collapse ruined much (but not all) of this building as well. The new One World Tower, known previously as Freedom Tower, is currently the tallest building in the United States (indeed, the entire Western hemisphere) and the sixth tallest building in the world.
10. American Museum of Natural History
Last but not least – as these are in no particular order – is the American Museum of Natural History. Anyone who has seen the Night at the Museum movie franchise is intimately familiar with this museum, because that’s where the movies are primarily set! Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the American Museum of Natural History looks like a castle! And, it’s on he United States National Register of Historic Places.
The museum features permanent and travelling exhibits that relate to the history of our natural world. There are sections for birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, butterflies, gems and minerals, and even meteorites! It also focuses on human history and therefore has collections of fossils and other archeological artifacts that relate to human civilizations. In addition to the exhibits, there is also a research library that’s open to the public, and the Hayden Planetarium within the Rose Center for Earth and Space.
The famous equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt currently sits at the Central Park West entry. This was the one that comes to life in the Night at the Museum movies. However, there are significant cultural reasons why the statue is controversial, and the city and museum are currently planning to relocate it elsewhere. Ever wondered why Teddy Roosevelt graces the entrance? One reason is because his father was a founding member of the museum! The museum itself has been quoted as saying it objects to the statue but not the former President. Click here for more information about the statue and its relocation.
Whether you have time to do one or do them all, this list of things to do in New York City was designed to help you have a great NYC vacation. The memories you make in New York are sure to last a lifetime, because the Big Apple is truly unlike any other place on earth.