New York, New York. A vibrant city full of art, design, fashion and awesome skyscrapers. A city I could definitely visit again, and again and again…
There are so many things to do in New York that you’re not going to see it all in just one visit. This is not a guide with absolutely everything that you can do in the city (it would have at least 50 pages), but a summary of the essential things to do and see.
Getting around in New York
On foot: one of the best ways to see a city is by walking its streets. New York is no exception. Most touristic sites are in the heart of Manhattan and it is really easy to walk from one place to another. Just remember to bring comfortable shoes.
Subway: For longer distances, the quickest and easiest way to get around NY is by subway. Subway trains operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You need to purchase a MetroCard at subway stations. You can get a single ride card or an unlimited card which allows you to ride unlimitedly for a fixed time period: for seven days ($32) or 30 days ($121).
Need to store your bags? If you’re only in New York for one day and need a place to store your bags, you can check out LuggageHero, a company that allows you to store your luggage wherever you go and perfect for when you need to spend hours in a city and need a place to store your things. You can drop off your bags in some of LuggageHero’s network local shops (they have 130 locations available!).
Before starting with the list of things to do in New York, you need to know that the city consists of five boroughs which are: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island. While the majority of popular attractions are in Manhattans, each borough has interesting things to see.
Manhattan is divided into different neighborhoods that have their own character. There are 3 basic divisions of the island that you have to know beacause it will be useful to know in what direction you are taking the Metro:
- Upper Manhattan: This is the northernmost region of the island. Here you will find Washington Heights, Harlem, Central Park and some museums.
- Midtown Manhattan: It is the central area of the island where Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen, and emblematic buildings such as the Rockefeller Center and the Empire State are located.
- Lower Manhattan: This is the southernmost region of the island where the financial district, SoHo neighborhood, Little Italy, Greenwich Village and Chinatown (among others) are located.
How to save money in New York
Paid activities in New York are not cheap, but there are several tourist cards/passes that allow you to save some money. The best card will depend on how many days you are visiting and what activities you are interested in doing. These are the options:
- New York Pass: With the New York Pass you have access to more than 100 city attractions, tours and museums. You can see the complete list of attractions included here. Prices vary depending on the number of days you want to use the pass. If you want to know more about the New York Pass read this post.
- New York Explorer Pass: This pass includes free entrance to 3, 4, 5, 7 or 11 of the city’s main attractions. Learn more about the New York Explorer Pass here.
- New York CityPASS: This pass includes entry to 6 city attractions. It is a good option if you want to visit fewer attractions without being on the run. Learn more about the New York CityPASS here.
If you want to know which pass is best for you read: New York attraction passes comparison
The best things to do in New York City
↣ UPPER MANHATTAN
- Central Park
Central Park is one of the most emblematic places in New York, being the scene of thousands of movies and tv series. Obviously you can’t miss a stroll around this 843-acre urban park with awesome city views. The park is immense so don’t expect to see it all on a visit as it is almost 4km long and 800 meters wide. Some of the park’s highlights are: Strawberry fields (John Lennon memorial), Bethesda Fountain, Bow Bridge, The Alice in Wonderland sculpture and many others.
Central Park landscape is completely different in each season. If you visit New York in winter, you can ice-skate in Central Park’s Wollman Rink.
If you visit in spring or summer, a great option to visit the park is to rent a bike.
- American Museum of Natural history
You’ll probably know this museum from Night at the Museum, although the movie was actually filmed in Vancouver, Canada. The museum is enormous and contains all sorts of plants, animals, fossils, meteorites, etc.
The entrance is “pay as you wish”, so you can basically pay the amount you want to visit it.
- Guggenheim Museum
One of the most important buildings in the world. The Guggenheim Museum was designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and with its spiral ramp, it’s a unique space to admire art.
It has a collection of Impressionist art, modern art and contemporary art. For me it’s a place worth visiting not only for the art collection, but for the building itself. The ticket to visit Guggenheim Museum is included in the New York Pass.
- MET Museum
The MET is one of the most important art museums in the world. It’s immense so you won’t be able to see it all in just one visit. It contains works of art from classical antiquity and ancient Egypt, paintings and sculptures from the European masters, and an extensive collection of American and modern art.
- Lincoln Center
The Lincoln Center is a complex of buildings dedicated to the performing arts. All year round there are plays, operas or ballet shows to see. You can get a tour around the complex and if you’re lucky you can catch a rehearsal! (When I went I was able to catch Sweeney Todd’s). The Lincoln Center tour is included in the New York Pass.
Harlem is a neighborhood known for its jazz venues and the Apollo Theater where some stars like Ella Fitzgerald or Michael Jackson began to emerge. Also in Harlem there are many Baptist churches where you can attend a gospel mass.
↣ Midtown MANHATTAN
- Times Square
Times Square is probably the most crowded area in NY. Here you will find some stores like M&M’s World or Disney Store and it is also a point close to the Broadway St theatres.
On Broadway St (and the surrounding area) you will find a lot of theatres with the best plays and musicals in the world such as Chicago, Wicked, The Lion King, the Phantom of the Opera, etc.
- 5th Avenue
One of the most famous avenues in the world where you can find the most exclusive clothing stores. If you are spending Christmas in New York, you will be able to see the most amazing Christmas window displays in 5th Avenue shops.
- Bryant Park
A park located in the middle of the skyscrapers of the city where several events and activities are held. If you visit New York in winter, Bryant Park becomes an ice- skating rink with its Christmas market.
- New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is one of the most important libraries in the world for having a huge amount of books and being used as a setting in movies like “The Day After Tomorrow”. Access to the library is free of charge.
- Empire State
The city’s most famous building, the one that stands out almost from anywhere in Manhattan. The Empire State was the tallest building in the world for 40 years, from 1931 to 1971.
In my opinion the observatory at the Empire State doesn’t offer the best views of the city but it still amazinf and worth visiting if you have the time. The ticket to visit the Empire State observatory is included in the New York Pass.
- Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rock
Another emblematic place in New York is the Rockefeller Center, a building complex built in 1939. Every December the famous Christmas tree and ice skating rink are built at Rockefeller Plaza.
For the best views of the city I would recommend to visit the Top of the Rock, Rockefeller’s viewpoint located on the 70th floor with 360º views of the city.
The entrance ticket to the Top of the Rock is included in the New York Pass.
- St Patrick’s Cathedral
Just in front of the Rockefeller Center you’ll find St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a neo-Gothic style building worth seeing. The entrance is free.
- Grand Central Terminal
A New York classic and the scene of thousands of movies is the Grand Central Terminal train station. Even if you don’t have to take any train, I recommend entering to see its main hall on whose ceiling the constellations are painted.
- Radio City Music Hall
Radio City is the most important theatre in NY, where The Rockettes Christmas show is held every year. You can attend a show or take the Radio City Stage Door Tour to get a behind-the-scenes look at this legendary theatre. The Radio City tour is included in the New York Pass.
The MoMA is the Museum of Modern Art in new York. It has in addition to the collection of modern art, there are exhibitions of photography, architecture, graphic design, industrial and cinema.
Admission is free for all visitors every Friday evening from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. The entrance is also included in the New York Pass.
- Madison Square Garden
Madison Square Garden is one of the world’s most famous arena, where sports and music events are held. You can take the Madison Square Garden All Access Tour and learn about iconic moments that took place in Madison Square Garden, enter the stadium and the dressing rooms. The Madison Square Garden All Access tour is included in the New York Pass.
Another of the most emblematic buildings of New York is the Flatiron. It has a special shape because the building sits on a triangular block. The area around the building is really nice and just in front of the Flatiron you’ll find Eataly, an Italian gourmet market.
- Union Square
One of the prettiest squares in Manhattan. It is located just a few blocks from the Flatiron and is surrounded by shops. Every year, the square transforms into The Union Square Holiday Market.
- Washington Square Park
Another eblematic park in the city is Washington Square Park, dominated by the Washington Square Arch.
- High Line
The High Line is an elevated park located on the tracks of an old Manhattan train. The result is a walkway that runs through the city with beautiful views of Manhattan. A must visit! It is one of the best places in the city and it’s free.
- Chelsea Market
The old Oreo factory turned into a market with food stores, shops and offices. You can visit Chelsea Market after walking the High Line.
- Whitney Museum
The Whitney Museum of American Art is an art museum which focuses on 20th- and 21st-century American art. Anyone who likes contemporary art is going to love this museum because it has exhibits of new and unknown artists. The best? The view from the mueum’s terrace. You can see the High Line, the Empire State and the One World Trade Center.
Pay-What-You-Wish tickets are available at the admissions desk on Fridays, 7–9:30 pm.. The entrance is also included in the New York Pass.
- The Vessel
The Vessel is the newest attraction in New York City, located on Hudson Yards on the West Side of Midtown Manhattan. It is a monument or outdoor building that you can climb and admire the city. The Vessel is a super fun place to visit and the building is surreal. You can get tickets for The Vessel online up to 2 weeks in advance. General admission tickets are completely free. More information at Hudson Yards’ website.
↣ LOWER MANHATTAN
SoHo is a neighborhood full of fashion shops, art galleries, restaurants and cafes. I recommend to visit it on foot returning or on your way to the financial district.
I always love to visit Chinatown in any city and New York’s is full of cool restaurants and thousands of shops.
- Little Italy
Once known for its population of Italian inmigrants, this neighborhood is home to dozens of restaurants that serve authentic Italian cuisine and other types of restaurants as well.
- Wall Street
Wall Street is the center of the city’s financial district where the New York Stock Exchange is located. It is one of the most historic places in the city. Here you will find the famous statue of the Wall Street bull and the Fearless Girl.
- Ground Zero and 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Ground Zero is the area where the Twin Towers were located before the attacks of September 11th. Today there is a memorial where you can see the holes that the towers left filled with water, and the names of the victims. It’s just impressive to see the holes in the ground and realize how much New York City has suffered due to the 9/11 attacks.
You can also visit the 9/11 Museum that helps you understand the tragedy of that day and how it affected the city. It is a very shocking visit. The entrance to the museum is free on Tuesdays between 5 and 6 pm. The entrance is also included in the New York Pass.
- One World Trade Center and One World Observatory
One World Trade Center (also known as Freedom Tower) is the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex. It is the tallest building in the United States and the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The One World Observatory is located on floors 100–102. I highly recommend to visit this observatory, it has amazing views!
Oculus is the main station of the new World Trade Center. A work of architecture designed by the great Calatrava that you can’t miss. In addition to being a transfer center, there are shops inside.
- Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
The icon of New York is the famous Statue of Liberty located the Liberty Island.
To visit the island you need to take a ferry from Battery Park (south of Manhattan). The island is small but it’s exciting to see the Statue of Liberty in person. To climb to the crown of the statue you have to make an extra reservation with at least 6 months in advance.
On the return trip to Manhattan, you can get off at Ellis Island, the island where millions of immigrants arrived between 1892 and 1954. At Ellis Island you can visit the Immigrant museum and get to know a little more about the history of New York.
The entrance ticket to visit the Statue of Liberty is included in the New York Pass.
↣ If you are not interested in visiting Liberty Island, you can take the ferry to Staten Island and just admire the Statue of Liberty from the ferry. Staten Island ferry departs with a frequency of 30 minutes from Battery Park from 7am to 11pm.
- Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is probably one of the most famous bridges in the world. This bridge connects South Manhattan with Brooklyn. It was built between 1870 and 1883 and at the time of its inauguration, it was the largest hanging bridge in the world!
↣ TIP: Cross the bridge walking in the direction from Brooklyn to Manhattan. It will be less crowded and you will have the view of the skyline of the city in front.
THINGS TO DO IN BROOKLYN
One of the prettiest neighborhoods in New York city is Brooklyn. You will notice that it is a much more residential and quiet area than Manhattan but there are still several things to do. Some places to visit include:
- DUMBO: The area under the Manhattan bridge where you can get the typical photo.
- Brooklyn Bridge Park: A park with amazing views of the city.
- Brooklyn Heights: A residential neighborhood with luxurious buildings.
- Prospect Park: Brooklyn’s Central Park. Much quieter and with lots of green space to walk around or have a picnic.
- Williamsburg: A very cool neighborhood with street art, restaurants and vintage shops.
↣ Tours in New York
There are several guided tours you can take to know the city a bit more. Some of the best are: the helicopter tour, the new York contrasts tour, the gospel Mass, and the hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
Where to stay in New York
Accommodation in New York is usually expensive. That’s why I recommend that you book your hotel in advance. You can use my discount link to book apartments: €35 discount at Airbnb.
$: HI NYC Hostel USD $35-70/night per person. HI NYC Hostel is in uptown New York about 1 block away from Broadway Street. I’ve stayed at HI in different cities and always come back because the staff and service is great.
$$: YOTEL New York USD $100-270/night double occupancy.The YOTEL is a hotel with a super modern and futuristic design with small rooms but with all the comforts. It is located just 6 blocks from Times Square.
$$$: Hotel Iberostar Park Avenue USD $230-350/night double occupancy. If you’re looking for something more luxurious, Iberostar Park Avenue is great. The rooms are huge and the location is perfect.
I hope you have found this post useful to plan your trip to New York 🙂 If you have any questions please leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Other posts about New York:
- Is the New York Pass worth it?
- Cheap hotels near Times Square
- New York attraction passes comparison
- New York winter packing list
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