Updated: May 21, 2015

Top 10 Things to See and Do in New York City

Seems like everyone planning a trip to New York wants a quick list of the best things to see and do when you are in the Big Apple. Having visited the city dozens of times, we've compiled a list of our highlights -- things you don't want to miss. Truth is there are way more than 10 great things to see in New York, so we've padded the list with a few extra along the way.. but I'm sure you won't mind. Scroll down to begin reading.. (There is a New York City Neighborhood Map here if you need it.)



New York Sightseeing: What to see in New York

1. Get a view of the city from a tall building. In the old days, we took visitors to the top of the World Trade Center - you were on top of the world...(2015 update): Today you have 2 3 options again. The Empire State Building is the oldest and perhaps most famous spot to take in a bird's eye view of the city - you can purchase tickets and reserve specific viewing times online. The ESB is located in the middle of the city, so you get decent views uptown and downtown. Top of the Rock is in Rockefeller Center, off 5th Ave and in the heart of midtown. I think I prefer the view from Top of the Rock (and you can book tickets for specific times so you don't have to stand in line forever) because you can also see Central Park from there. As of the summer of 2015, the World Trade Center is again open and welcoming visitors up to the 102nd floor. The WTC is way downtown, giving you views of the Brooklyn Bridge, NY Harbor, and downtown. Surprisingly, during a Dec. 2015 visit, there was no problem reserving any time slot even just a day in advance, and there was literally no one in line on a 9:30AM visit. Not sure where all the people were during this busy tourist season, but the WTC seemed to be forgotten.. Besides the view from the top, you get some cool views while riding up and down the elevator, with virtual views on the LED screens on the sides of the elevator. You decide which building you prefer, but be sure to go up one of them. New York is the city of the skyscraper - get on top of one!

2. See the Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty is smaller than most people expect, but as such an important symbol of America, you have to see it when in New York. It is out in New York Harbor beyond the lower end of Manhattan. You can see it from Battery Park downtown, but we recommend riding the Staten Island Ferry out past it. The Ferry is free and takes a little over an hour roundtrip (you have to get off in Staten Island, but you just walk around the line and get back on to return). It sails right past the statue giving you a great view and photo op. The other option is to take the Libery Island Ferry from Battery Park (also stops at Ellis Island) -- you can no longer climb up the stairs inside the statue, but you can see it up close and walk around it. If you have several days in New York and plenty of time, then opt for the Ellis Island and Liberty Island trip -- otherwise, take a quick cruise on the Staten Island Ferry.

3. Walk Around Central Park. Well, not actually around it, walk through it. We like starting at the southern end of the park, right at 59th and 5th Avenue. You'll see all the horse carriages lined up there -- if you've got the money, consider one of those (about $35-$40 plus tip for 30 minutes, for the whole carriage, not per person), otherwise start walking. Check out the Wollman ice rink in the winter months, visit Tavern on the Green (CLOSED AS OF 2010 - BOO!, back open as of 2014), see the Central Park Zoo if you have kids, have a drink at The Boathouse, climb up Belvedere Castle for the view -- just walk around and enjoy the sights and sounds. You can also rent bikes and ride around the entire park within 2 hours - just do a search for Central Park bike rentals.

4. Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge. Yep, the top level of the bridge is open to pedestrians. Take the subway down to City Hall, then follow the signs to the bridge. You get beautiful views of downtown, all while walking on a world landmark. You can go half way and then turn around, or if you have enough time, go all the way across and tour the Brooklyn Heights area and take in the views from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. If you don't feel like walking, you can catch a cab for the ride back - or subways, but they are a little more work.

5. Walk Around Downtown. This is a relatively compact area. Visit Trinity Church, St. Paul's Chapel, City Hall, see Ground Zero where the World Trade Center once stood, walk down Wall St. and see Federal Hall where George Washington was sworn in as first President, see the Stock Exchange, walk down to Battery Park, and check out South Street Seaport. Consider taking a Circle Line boat tour around NY Harbor, or in summer months, a high-speed boat ride on the Beast, tickets for both at South Street Seaport. The relatively new Ground Zero Memorial (www.911memorial.org - you can get timed-entry reserved tickets here) is also worth a visit. Explore our Downtown New York Walking Tour.

6. See Times Square at night. You have to enjoy the lights of Times Square at night -- just get out and walk up and down Broadway. You've seen it a million times in movies and on New Year's Eve of course, now you're a part of it! Pop into some of the famous spots like Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, Hershey's store, and the giant Toys R Us store.

7. Experience 5th Avenue. Walk along 5th Ave. I like to start at 42nd Street at the New York Library (if you have a little more time, start out at Grand Central Station first another block or two down 42nd St -- the Chrysler Building is right next door, and the interior of Grand Central has awed people for decades..) -- make your way up past Rockefeller Center, window shop at all the fancy stores, check out St. Patrick's Cathedral, see the famous Plaza Hotel, see the Apple Store glass cube, go into the famous FAO Schwarz toy store (UPDATE: CLOSED as of summer 2015), walk past the mansions and fancy uptown apartments as you head north along Central Park. We recommend returning at night as well to see how Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick's are lit up, then hop up to the Pen-Top rooftop bar for a $20 cocktail to enjoy while you savor the views over midtown.


8. See a Broadway Show. You can't go to New York and not see a play or musical on Broadway, right? If you only have one night in the city, I say skip the show and enjoy those hours walking around the city. But if you have time, you'll never forget the experience of a live show in a New York theater. The popular shows are not cheap - there is information on Broadway tickets here. You can see what discount tickets are available on the day of a show at the TKTS booth in Times Square (opens at 3PM) or down at South Street Seaport (opens at 11AM).

9. Explore Neighborhoods like Greenwich Village. New York is more than just the area around Times Square and Midtown. Check out some other neighborhoods while in New York. One of our favorites is Greenwich Village. Try this Greenwich Village Walking Tour if you have a few hours. Greenwich Village is also home to many jazz clubs, a great way to spend a late night. Also explore Little Italy and Chinatown (you can see them both in an hour) for a little more local flavor (Chinatown walking tour here). Pizza at Lombardi's is considered a not-to-be-missed New York experience.

10. New York Museums. Hey, you gotta get a little culture into you when in New York. Go to the Metropolitan Museum (the "Met"), the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Museum of Natural History, or the Guggenheim. You can spend hours and hours at all these places -- great if you have the time, otherwise make abbreviated visits to get a feel for these famous sites. The Frick Museum gives you a feel for what it was like to live in a mansion (art-filled) on 5th Avenue in the gilded age. Also consider the Intrepid (a docked aircraft carrier) Sea, Air, and Space Museum - IntrepidMuseum.org.

11. Morningside Heights. Head way up the west side and visit Columbia University, St. John the Divine Cathedral, and Grant's Tomb overlooking the Hudson River. This is a little off the normal beaten path tourists follow, but it is a neat area to spend an hour walking around.

12. The Highline. Located on old elevated railroad tracks, the Highline is a unique New York park and walking experience. It begins near the Chelsea piers/Meatpacking District on the West Side, north of Greenwich Village, and extends from 14th Street north to 34th St. If you like modern art, check out the new home of the Whitney Museum near where the Highline starts.

OK, #13. Shopping. Let's face it, many people come to New York to shop. Apart from 5th Avenue that we mention above (FAO Schwarz and Apple Store), some other popular spots include:
  • Bloomingdales - famous department store at Lexington @ 59th
  • Macy's (and Herald Square) - the other big one, 34th and Broadway
  • Canal Street area in Chinatown (lots of cheap handbags, sunglasses, and such)
  • Dylan's - world's greatest candy store for kids, right near Bloomingdales (3rd and 60th)
  • Serendipity 3
  • Toys R Us - in Times Square, Broadway and 44th
  • Barneys - for designer fashions, Madison Avenue and 61st -- continue walking north for another 10-15 blocks, plenty of high-class shopping
  • Tiffany & Co - 5th Ave @ 57th
  • American Girl Place - 5th Ave at 49th
  • NBA Store - 5th and 52nd
  • Niketown - 57th between 5th and Madison
  • Saks Fifth Avenue - 5th @ 50th
  • Sony Style - Madison @ 55th
  • Strand Book Store - massive used books store, Broadway @ 12th
  • Virgin Megastore - Broadway @ 45th
  • Fulton Street and South Street Seaport
  • Bleecker St. in Greenwich Village - many interesting little shops
  • Shops at Columbus Circle - 4-story tall indoor mall, looking out over the corner of Central Park (Broadway and 59th)
  • B&H Photo - all about electronics, 9th @ 33rd
  • J&R Music - more electronics, downtown across from City Hall, 23 Park Row
  • Union Square - park where Broadway crosses 14th to 17th, Greenmarket farmers market is here, plus the Holiday Market is here each year from Thanksgiving to X-mas (plus restaurants and boutiques on surrounding streets)
Fun restaurants:

Additional suggestions...

Take a tour of the United Nations Building (Mon-Fri, 9:45 - 4:45, $12.50 for adults).

Take the tram out to Roosevelt Island (59th Street and 2nd, upper east side; RIOC.com) -- not much to do there, but nice aerial views coming and going.

Take an NBC tour at Rockefeller Center or get tickets to see a live taping of a TV show (Letterman, Conan, SNL, Regis, etc.) -- some tips here (http://www.ny.com/talk/).

New York is also about eating and drinking - try out some of the best New York bars.

Winter Holiday Tips: If you're there during winter, check out the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. You can also go ice-skating right there beneath the tree. Also check out the skating rink in Central Park.

OK, that's a pretty good list that covers most of the best tourist spots that you should visit. Enjoy your stay!