First-time visitors to New York City can easily lose themselves in the glass and steel, the frenetic pace of a city rushing towards the next big thing. Even seasoned New Yorkers find it a maddeningly complex place to navigate. Yet this is precisely what makes New York City the greatest city in the world. Bright lights, glamour, and tall buildings all inspire us to dream. If you’ve only read about it or seen it in the movies, you know New York City is the place to be. What are those things first-time visitors absolutely can’t miss? What are those places that make New York City…well…New York City? Here is our list of the top-1o best things to do. Buckle up as we head uptown, downtown, and all around to explore the Big Apple.
New York City is vast and simply impossible to cover in limited time. In this guide we’re going to focus on the 10-best things to do in and around Manhattan. New York’s most densely populated borough is where the action is. This is where you’ll find the tallest skyscrapers, the best shopping, and the priciest real estate. When New Yorkers say they’re going to “the city,” they mean Manhattan, the place with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Central Park, Times Square, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, and on and on. So without further ado, these are the top-10 best things to do in New York City (in no particular order).
1. Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Set on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty is the symbol of New York. Originally a gift from France to commemorate the centenary of US independence, it stood as a beacon welcoming generations of immigrants into the United States when nearby Ellis Island was the nation's primary port of entry. Reproduced countless times around the world in struggles for liberty and justice, the Statue of Liberty is a potent reminder of the power of ideas and the foundational myths in US history. Visitors can tour Liberty Island and ascend into the statue provided it is not closed for security or repair. One way to avoid the crowds is to take the free Staten Island Ferry, which runs regularly from Lower Manhattan’s Whitehall Terminal over to Staten Island. The ferry passes near Liberty Island and you can imagine what it must have been like sailing into New York Harbor for the first time. Many Liberty Island tours include a stop at Ellis Island. Today, it is home to the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, located in a renovated main building. Exhibitions focus on what it was like to immigrate to the United States during the Island’s heyday in the early 1900s. Coming here is a powerful reminder of the journeys many took to find a life and home in a new world.
2. Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge Park
Since opening in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge has become a symbol for New York City. Connecting Lower Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn, the iconic cable-stayed/suspension bridge has appeared in countless films and novels. Often a backdrop for intrigue as pedestrians crossed a foggy East River or a precocious saxophonist played a hunting melody into the wind, the Brooklyn Bridge is part and parcel of New York City. It is one of the few bridges with easy pedestrian access, featuring a bicycle and walking path set above the roadway. From here it’s easy to snap pictures of the Lower Manhattan skyline, the East River, and the adjacent Manhattan Bridge. Located along the Brooklyn waterfront is Brooklyn Bridge Park, this redeveloped greenspace is a fantastic place for a stroll and one of the city’s more popular green spaces. Grab a slice of pizza from Grimaldi’s or stop at one of the many restaurants near the park before walking down by the river. You can snap amazing photos of Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge itself. There are benches, rolling lawns, and plenty of places to find a bit of shade from the hot New York sun. The park is linked with several other waterfront parks to create a long green space where you can easily spend several hours relaxing or enjoying a coffee and a novel. Two ferry stops are located at either end of the park and provide access to the East River water taxi service.
3. Empire State Building
On the corner of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue stands the mighty Empire State Building. Seemingly alone, the solitary skyscraper commands a presence, as if warning the rest of the Midtown Manhattan skyline against coming too close. The 102-story Art Deco skyscraper looks every bit the part of a 1931 classic without betraying a hint of age or seeming out of place even as modern high-rises spring up just to the north. When you visit the Empire State Building, you can instantly recognize its classic design esthetic. The lobby is itself a treasure and well-worth seeing even if you don’t venture up to the observation deck (though honestly why wouldn’t you). One of the few building interiors designated a historic landmark, careful attention has been paid to preserving the original decor. Art Deco inspired ceiling murals and a large bronze relief dominate the view. Imagine what it must have been like to walk into what was then the world’s tallest building, a triumphant symbol of American ingenuity. Traveling up to the observatory affords you one of the best views in the city. Given the Empire State Building’s location, you get a fantastic view of the Midtown Skyline as well as Lower Manhattan and the new One World Trade Center. On clear days you can see far into New Jersey or north into Westchester County. Without a doubt, visiting the Empire State Building is one of the best things to do in New York City.
4. Grand Central Terminal
Our journey continues to 42nd Street and Park Avenue where we find the fabled Grand Central Terminal. Day in, day out suburban commuters pour through Grand Central. At its peak, 65 million passengers passed under the main concourse's barrel vaulted ceiling. Pause in the great hall and admire the elaborate celestial mural containing over 2,500 stars set in golden bands against a turquoise backdrop. Sunlight streams through large windows in long shafts extending to the floor below and the station takes on the grandeur that earned it its name. When you descend from the main concourse towards track level, you may encounter people appearing to talk to the walls. The so-called whispering gallery is a popular attraction where the architectural design creates an acoustic effect allowing people to converse at a whisper despite standing on opposite sides of an otherwise noisy passage. Having undergone a recent revitalization, Grand Central features a range of upscale shopping and dining. Many New Yorkers will venture here from nearby offices to visit the Oyster Bar or Agern. With its many connections to New York City’s light rail and subway networks, Grand Central is an easy way into and out of New York City. Chances are you’re going to pass through here at some point, so you might as well take a moment to appreciate one of the city’s top attractions.
5. Chrysler Building
Completed in 1930, the Chrysler Building is an unmistakable New York City landmark that briefly stood as the world’s tallest building before being eclipsed by the Empire State Building. Seen today as a paragon of the Art Deco architectural style, the Chrysler Building’s iconic terraced crown is marvelous at any hour, but particularly so when the sun catches the steel ribs at just the right angle giving the entire building a radiant glow. Jutting out from the 61st floor are the famed eagles. Lower down, the building sports so-called hood ornaments, hubcaps, and fenders. These were all meant to resemble the ornamentation found on Chrysler automobiles at the time. Located on 42nd Street, the Chrysler Building is one of the first landmarks visitors encounter as they emerge from Grand Central Terminal. Inside the lobby, feel like you’ve traveled back in time as the marvelous interior bears witness to modernist tendencies characteristic of Art Deco. Everything about the Chrysler Building is a testament to the vision of its designers and the enterprising spirit so evident even in a New York City struggling through the depths of the Great Depression.
6. Central Park
Central Park is the most famous and most visited urban park in the United States. Despite being only the fifth largest park in New York City, Central Park is undoubtedly the city park par excellence. Covering 843 acres, it features rolling lawns, various sports fields, a ramble and lake, a reservoir, a zoo, and more. Most of the prime sightseeing locations in Central Park are clustered south of 86th street. You can visit one of the Central Park restaurants such as the famed Tavern On the Green. Or enjoy a romantic carriage ride. If you enter along Central Park South, wander through the many tree-covered paths and across the stone bridges. Gapstow Bridge has long served as a romantic backdrop where star-crossed lovers pause for a fleeting kiss. The Central Park Zoo is close by and a great place for families. During summer, sunbathers fill the Sheep Meadow as photographers train the lenses back towards Midtown. On the west side near 72nd Street is Strawberry Fields and a memorial to John Lennon. Wander through the heavily-wooded Ramble as you make your way to Belvedere Castle or a performance of Shakespeare in the Park. There are softball games on the Great Lawn and great jogging around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Finally, rent a bicycle and circumnavigate the entire park so you can appreciate how Central Park caters to people from all walks of life. This is truly one of New York City’s best places to visit.
7. Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, aka the Met, is the largest art museum in the United States and the third-most visited museum in the world behind only the Louvre in Paris and the National Museum of China in Beijing. The Met’s permanent collection features priceless works from classical antiquity and ancient Egypt, paintings and sculptures from the European masters, as well as a large collection of modern and American art. With such extensive holdings, it’s simply impossible to cover everything in one go. Your best bet is to plan ahead at attack the Met either in sections or from gallery to gallery focusing only on the rarest and most renowned works. The Met’s collection of musical instruments from around the world is unmatched and highly regarded. Stroll through the Charles Engelhard Court and past the Temple of Dendur. In the Museum’s American Wing, visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Room and admire the many stained glass windows by Tiffany Studios. Finally, visit the Met’s rooftop garden, which offers simply amazing views of Central Park and the Midtown Manhattan skyline. Once you visit the Met, you will instantly recognize it as one of the world’s great museums and one of the best things to do in New York City.
8. American Museum of Natural History
If you zip across Central Park on the 79th Street Transverse, you can shoot from the Met over to the American Museum of Natural History. Boasting a collection of more than 33 million specimens, the American Museum of Natural History is easily one of the largest such museums in the world. Wander through the various halls dedicated to mammals and see dioramas of elephants, tigers, gorillas, and more. A full-size model of a blue whale greets visitors to the exhibit exploring the oceans. A highlight at the American Museum of Natural History is the dinosaur fossils. These include a Brontosaurus and a Tyrannosaurus rex. Kids love the museum’s Triceratops and the Stegosaurus. When you visit, don’t forget to find time explore the Rose Center for Earth and Space and attend a show at the Hayden Planetarium. The rotating schedule of shows are a real treat for anyone who appreciates astronomy and astrophysics. Architecture and photography lovers will appreciate the planetarium’s design and the stunning visual effect it creates of a sphere floating in space. With lots of exhibitions and special programs, the American Museum of Natural History embodies the best tradition of serving the public in the pursuit of knowledge. It’s certainly one of the best things to do in New York City.
9. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim is a fantastic art museum located on Fifth Avenue at 89th Street. The iconic building, designed Frank Lloyd Wright, is ranked among the 20th-century’s finest architectural achievements. The Guggenheim’s collection features impressive examples of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern styles. Works by Kandinsky, Cézanne, and other masters are on display. Throughout the year, various rotating and special exhibits mean the Guggenheim is continually offering something new and exciting. Located opposite Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park, you can quickly cross Fifth Avenue for an impressive view over the water to Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The Guggenheim is one of New York City finest cultural institutions, equally renowned for its collection and as an architectural masterpiece in its own right. With no shortage of great museums in New York City, it’s easy to recommend the Guggenheim as one of the city’s foremost attractions.
10. Times Square
Last but certainly not least is Times Square, The Crossroads of the World. As Broadway cuts across Seventh Avenue in the heart of the Theatre District, Times Square has grown into one of the world’s busiest pedestrian areas. Famous for the New Year’s Eve ball drop, the streets are lively day and night. Times Square is filled with street performers, people rushing to catch a Broadway play, or just curious onlookers attracted by the bright lights and frenetic energy. The best time to visit is at night when everything shines, literally. The glow illuminates everyone and everywhere, giving the impression you’re standing in the center of the universe. As New York’s unofficial town square, this is the literal heart of the city. No visit to New York would be complete without wandering past the familiar landmarks and seeing all the neon and LED signs. The 42nd Street Shuttle moves passengers between Times Square and Grand Central Terminal meaning this is literally the perfect place to end your visit to NYC. Grab something to eat, maybe enjoy a coffee or a cocktail, and just admire one of the world’s great intersections. Once you’re standing there in Times Square, you’ll know you’ve made it. This is truly one of the absolute best attractions in New York City.
The Big Apple is an amazing place. The exhilaration you’ll feel is palpable. Our guide to the top-10 Best things to do in New York City will help you on your way. There’s much we didn’t have a chance to cover so you will have plenty of opportunities to add to and expand on these suggestions. Come discover what makes New York City such a global treasure. Once you visit, you won’t want to leave.