One of the greatest cities in the world, New York is always a whirlwind of activity, with famous sites at every turn and never enough time to see them all. Some people come here to enjoy the Broadway shows; others come specifically to shop and dine; and many come simply to see the sites: the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, historic neighborhoods, and numerous world-famous museums.
Many of the best places to visit in New York are within walking distance of each other, or just a short ride away, making this city a delight for sightseeing.
Some of the newer tourist attractions that have opened in New York in recent years, like the High Line and One World Observatory, offer unique perspectives of the city. Any time of year and any time of day or night there are an endless array of things to see and do in New York.
Although this year the city may not have its usual high-energy vibe, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit. The smaller number of tourists has made the city a different place, one that’s less costly to explore and easier to visit, with smaller lineups at famous attractions. You may want to take this opportunity to have the city to yourself. Plan your trip with our guide to the top attractions in New York.
See also: Where to Stay in New York City
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
America’s most iconic sight, the Statue of Liberty is at the top of every first-time visitor’s list of things to do in New York. It was France’s gift to America. Built in 1886, it remains a world symbol of freedom and is one of the top attractions in America.
It is one of the world’s largest statues, standing just under 152 feet tall from the base to the torch, and weighing approximately 450,000 pounds.
You can see the statue from land, with particularly good views from Battery Park, on the southern tip of Manhattan. However, to truly appreciate the Statue of Liberty, the best thing to do is to take a short boat trip to Liberty Island and see it up close. Take a pleasant stroll around the base, and if you have reservations, enter the pedestal. The crown remains closed as of writing.
On a tour to the Statue of Liberty, you have the option to stop at Ellis Island and explore the Immigration Museum. This fantastic museum is located in the historic immigration station complex, where thousands of immigrants were processed before entering the United States.
Displays focus on the process, the experiences, and the stories of the people who came through here on their journey to the United States. You can even search the on-site computer database to see a record of immigrants who came through here.
Tickets to go inside the statue sell out. Pre-purchasing tickets is a must during the high season and a good idea at any time of year. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Tour takes you to both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This tour allows reserved access to board the ferry, and includes access to the Museum at Ellis Island.
Note: Buying tickets at the ferry can be tricky, with hawkers claiming to be “official representatives” trying to sell you more expensive tickets before you can find the ticket booth.
Official site: www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm
A walk, peddle, or carriage ride through the crisscrossing pathways of Central Park is a must-do on anyone’s New York City itinerary. In winter, you can even lace up your skates and glide across Wollman Rink. This huge park in the city center, a half-mile wide and 2.5 miles long, is one of the things that makes New York such a beautiful and livable city.
Besides being a great place to experience a little nature, Central Park has many attractions within its borders, and most of them are free, making it one of the few cheap things to do in NYC. Some of the most popular places to visit include the Belvedere Castle, Strawberry Fields, the Central Park Zoo, and the Lake. If you are exploring the park on your own, start by picking up a map at one of the visitor centers and plot your routing.
Our Favorite Value Hotels in Manhattan: For quality; price; comfort; and a fabulous location, within walking distance to Times Square, Central Park, and Rockefeller Center, you can’t beat The Pearl Hotel. A little closer to Times Square and the Theatre District, Room Mate Grace is a boutique hotel with a pool, gym, and sauna, and often very affordable rates.
When it comes to New York attractions, Rockefeller Center is on almost all tourists’ itineraries. This vast entertainment and shopping complex in the middle of Manhattan is home to NBC-TV and other media, but the centerpiece is the 70-story 30 Rockefeller Plaza, an Art Deco skyscraper that offers awesome views over Manhattan from the famous Top of the Rock Observation Deck.
The “deck,” as it’s known, includes three floors, located on the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors. Indoor and outdoor viewing spaces offer spectacular views by day or night. You can buy a Top of the Rock Observation Deck Ticket in advance. These tickets come with a flexible voucher redemption policy, so you can change the date if your plans change or the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Skating on the outdoor skating rink at the base of the tower is one of the most popular things to do in winter in New York City and a fun activity for families and couples. The rink is typically open from October to April.
After Thanksgiving, a huge Christmas tree is erected in front of the skating rink, lighting up the complex for the holiday season. Many people visit New York in December just to see this site.
Another point of interest in this area is the famous bronze sculpture of Atlas in front of the International Building. It’s a popular subject for photographers.
Official site: www.rockefellercenter.com
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Met, as it is commonly known, was founded in 1870, and is one of the most famous museums in the United States. The permanent collection of The Met contains more than two million works of art, spanning a period of 5,000 years.
Although the museum has three sites, the centerpiece is The Met Fifth Avenue. Highlights of the collection include American decorative arts, arms and armor, costumes, Egyptian art, musical instruments, photographs, and much more.
Exhibitions bring some of the world’s most famous works to the public. If you are serious about your visit to the Met, consider a VIP: Empty Met Tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and see this incredible museum with just 25 people before it opens to the general public in the morning.
The Met Cloisters, located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan, is another extremely popular New York museum. This branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, housed in an outstanding structure, built around medieval cloisters, chapels, and halls, focuses on the medieval art and architecture of Europe.
Address: 1000 5th Avenue, New York, New York
Official site: http://www.metmuseum.org/
Attending a Broadway show is one of the top things to do in New York City. Considered the pinnacle of American theater, this is the place to see the latest shows and the long-running classics.
Broadway usually refers simply to Broadway theater, which encompasses a large number of theater venues in the Theater District and along the street of Broadway. For the most popular shows, tickets should be purchased well in advance.
Shubert Alley is a famous pedestrian-only alley in the Theater District and home to two well-known playhouses: the Shubert on 221 West 44th Street and the Booth at 22 West 45th Street. Historically, aspiring actors would frequent Shubert Alley looking for opportunities to perform in a play sponsored by theater baron, Sam S. Shubert.
A Chorus Line played at The Shubert for a record 6,137 shows. Musical Oklahoma debuted in 1941 at the St. James playhouse just down the street. Other legendary places include Sardi’s restaurant, where many famous actors met, and the Music Box Theater, where Irving Berlin staged The Music Box Revue in 1921.
Official site: www.broadway.com
The Empire State Building is one of New York’s most famous landmark buildings and key tourist attractions. The 381-meter-tall, 102-story building was the tallest in the world until the 1 World Trade Center tower rose higher, 41 years later. Topped with a mooring mast for airships, the Empire State Building immediately became a landmark and a symbol for NYC when it opened in 1931.
There are actually two observatories atop the Empire State Building, but both offer astounding views. On clear days, you can see up to 80 miles, looking into the neighboring states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
The 86th Floor Observatory (1,050 feet) is the city’s highest open-air observation deck, and what most people are expecting to find when they go up the Empire State Building. If it feels familiar, it’s because this area has been featured in countless movies and TV shows.
Reached by high-speed, automatic elevators, it has both a glass-enclosed area, which is heated in winter and cooled in summer and spacious outdoor promenades on all four sides of the building. The views are incredible. The Top Deck on the 102nd Floor stands 1,250 feet above the bustling streets below. While you are 16 stories higher, the viewing area here is enclosed.
The line to go up the Empire State Building is almost always long; moves slowly; and during peak times, it can be ridiculous, making the whole experience more frustrating than it needs to be. Be aware you can easily burn up half your touring day just at this one attraction.
It’s well worth buying the Empire State Building Ticket – Observatory and Optional Skip the Line Ticket that lets you bypass the lines. This is a flexible ticket, good for up to a year, so if the weather is bad, you can save the ticket and use it another day.
Official site: www.esbnyc.com
The World Trade Center’s twin 110-story towers once dominated the Manhattan skyline but were destroyed by suicide-piloted jetliners on September 11, 2001, with a tragic loss of life. Where the two towers of the World Trade Center once stood, now stand two square reflecting pools, each one acre in size.
Known as the National September 11 Memorial, the area is a moving tribute to the almost 3,000 people killed as a result of the attacks on September 11, 2001, and also the six people killed in the earlier World Trade Center bombing in February 1993.
Surrounded by trees and grass, the pools are recessed, with water cascading over the sides and flowing into a seemingly bottomless square. These are the largest manmade waterfalls in North America. Around the pools are bronze panels with the names of all those who were killed in the attacks.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum is located in an architecturally stunning, curving glass building, between the two pools. It features displays that include artifacts, photos, and videos, presenting the story of 9/11, as well as the aftermath and impacts.
The building is constructed around the remnants of the World Trade Center and incorporates the old structures within the extraordinary new museum building. The memorial and the museum are located on the south side of One World Trade Centre, on Greenwich Street.
Also worth seeing in this area, on the opposite side of Greenwich Street, is the eye-catching Westfield World Trade Center, which contains Oculus Plaza. You can’t miss this building with its white fins and spaceship-like appearance. This is a public building with shops and high-end stores, but it’s worth popping in for a quick look at the architecture.
Tickets to the 9/11 Museum must be purchased online or at the window in advance. This is one of New York’s most popular things to do, so booking ahead is essential to avoid disappointment. If you are traveling as a family, be sure to book the discounted family rate for up to five.
When purchasing your tickets, you will have the ability to select a time to visit, and you must make your time slot. On Mondays, the museum entry is free from 3:30 to 5 pm, but tickets still need to be booked in advance, starting at 7 am and are limited to four per person.
Official site: http://www.911memorial.org/
An exciting, and recently expanded, attraction in New York City, the High Line is a former rail line that has been transformed into an urban walking trail above the city streets. This unique linear public park has been planted with a variety of plants and trees, many of which are native species. In spring many of these come into bloom. The park is lined with glass railings in most areas, giving it a natural feel, while still offering outstanding views of the city.
This oasis on Manhattan’s West Side runs from Gansevoort Street at the south end (just south of West 13th Street) to West 34th Street at the north end, running parallel to 10th Ave most of the way. You can access it at various points along the route, some of which offer stair access only, and others with elevator access.
Although the High Line is only about two to three stories above street level, the views of the city’s architecture and the lookouts over the streets offer a whole new perspective. Along the route are art installations, benches, and near the south end is a sitting area with bleacher-style seating and a glass wall looking out onto the city. The trail is heavily used, and on weekends it can be extremely busy, but without the surrounding traffic, it’s still a peaceful retreat.
One of the highlights of the High Line is the Hudson Yards overlook, called The Vessel, near 34th street. This is a stunning multilevel structure.
You’ll find other interesting places to visit just off the High Line. The south section runs through the Meatpacking District, with plenty of trendy restaurants and fine dining. The southernmost access point is adjacent to the Whitney Museum of American Art, which is also worth a visit. If you hop off the High Line at the 16th Street access (elevator access), it’s just a short stroll to the popular Chelsea Market, located in a former Nabisco factory, where you’ll find restaurants and unique shops.
Official site: www.thehighline.org
One of New York City’s best museums for a family outing, the American Museum of Natural History has something to entertain everyone. Eight permanent exhibit halls showcase all that’s interesting about the natural environment of our planet, from science and the environment to animals and fossils.
The museum also hosts special exhibits that run for a set block of time. Some of the current exhibits that are well worth seeing include one on sharks, featuring models of these amazing creatures that you can actually touch. Another fascinating display is the rare 22-carat Okavango Blue Diamond.
A highlight of any visit is a stroll through the Butterfly Conservatory. Inside this warm and humid climate-controlled building, you’ll share the space with 500 fluttering butterflies.
Address: 200 Central Park West, New York, New York
Official site: https://www.amnh.org/
Lined with huge, brilliantly lit billboards and screens, Times Square is the place to go in New York in the evening, but still exciting at any time of day. This is the location of New York’s New Year’s Eve Celebrations and the famous “ball drop” at midnight when the square and surrounding streets are filled with people.
Times Square is busy and perpetually crowded but has its own unique appeal. Bleachers set up at one end are a great place to take a break and appreciate the scene.
Formerly Longacre Square, Times Square was named in 1904 after the New York Times tower. The newspaper first posted current headlines along with its moving sign, the first of its kind in the world, in 1928.
If you’ve had your fill of sitting on the bleachers and are looking for something fun to do either as a group or a couple, stroll over to the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The eerily lifelike wax figurines feature NYC icons like Jimmy Fallon and the set of The Tonight Show, Broadway cast members, and shows where you actually get to dress up and participate. The building’s glass dome protrudes over Times Square for awesome views.
Address: Broadway and 7th Avenue, New York, New York
Official site: www.timessquarenyc.org
The Brooklyn Bridge, with its Gothic-shaped arches and suspension cables, is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks and has inspired generations of poets, songwriters, and painters. This historic bridge, spanning the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn, was completed in 1883 and was the world’s first steel suspension bridge.
You can see it from many of the ferries, or the east side of Manhattan, but the best way to experience this icon is to take an hour and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. A wood plank walkway, only open to pedestrians and cyclists, runs above the lanes of traffic. If you are not up for walking the whole distance, at least go as far as the first pillar, where there is a viewing platform, and you can see one of the granite towers up close.
From the bridge are beautiful views over Manhattan, the East River, and beyond to the Statue of Liberty. Biking over the bridge is another option, but pedestrian traffic is often very heavy, and cycling can be slow and challenging on busy days. Be aware that the access to the bridge begins well back from the water’s edge.
One of the most famous shopping streets in America, Fifth Avenue in New York’s premier shopping area, where many top designers have their flagship stores. Cartier, Tiffany, Bergdorf-Goodman, the famous Apple Store Fifth Avenue, and of course Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as many others, line this posh avenue.
Even non-shoppers can enjoy a walk along Fifth Avenue. The best area runs from approximately the south end of Central Park to the New York Public Library, or more specifically, between 60th Street and 40th Street.