There is so much to see and do in New York that no matter how long you spend in the city, you’ll always feel like you haven’t seen and done it all.
With the ever-changing nature of this fast-paced city, there is always something new to discover as well. That all said, here are some of the experiences that you simply can’t miss while you are in New York.
Statue of Liberty
One of the most iconic symbols of New York, the Statue of Liberty, should be on top of the things you need to look out for when you first arrive in the city.
Located on Liberty Island in the middle of New York Harbor, you can get stunning views of the Statue of Liberty from numerous viewpoints along the Hudson River in lower Manhattan as well as from over in Brooklyn.
However, to really appreciate the scale, I would strongly recommend taking a ferry trip over to the island to get an up-close look at the Statue of Liberty as well as explore the grounds and the museum at the base of the statue.
The size and impressive nature of the statue can be lost due to its position in the harbour, and the sheer scale of the highrise buildings that New York is also famous for, so being able to get up close will make a big difference to your appreciation of the structure.
If you are feeling even more adventurous, you can buy an additional Crown Access to not only get inside and see the inner workings of the Statue of Liberty but be able to climb up to the crown for a unique viewpoint.
Just make sure you book well in advance. These tickets tend to book out.
In the midst of the concrete jungle that is New York City, Central Park is an amazing massive green space right in the middle of the city.
As famous as Central Park is from TV shows and movies set in New York, it’s still much more expansive than you might expect. It’s also a fantastic escape from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city with a number of its own attractions.
At the very least, I would really recommend that you check out Central Park Zoo and the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain (pictured). But there is so much to discover in the park that you could easily spend an entire day and enjoy it like a local. Pack a picnic, rent a bike and go for a ride or look out for local artists and musicians putting on free public performances.
If you happen to visit New York in the winter and get a snow day, I would strongly recommend making sure to enjoy the winter wonderland that is Central Park, covered in snow.
If it doesn’t snow, however, at the very least, make sure you go ice skating on one of the ice skating rinks that pop up around the park. You will need to book the skating at least a day in advance.
Once you have explored (at least some of) Central Park, make sure you don’t miss out on some of the other much smaller parks and squares around New York, like Bryant Park and Washington Square Park.
While we’re listing all of the major tourist attractions, you can’t visit New York without at least stopping by Time Square.
Yes, it is a bit gimmicky. Yes, there are a lot of tourist traps to watch out for. But there is something amazingly immersive about the bright colours of the huge billboards that you need to witness first-hand.
In addition to the bright lights, best witnessed at night, you’ll also find a number of restaurants (including all the iconic chain restaurants the US is best known for) and other small attractions and gift shops like the world-famous M&M’s store.
Do yourself a favour and walk through Time Square and check it out. But you don’t need to dedicate a lot of time to it.
If you are looking to see a Broadway show while you are in New York (which we’ll get to next), then Time Square is also where you will find discounted ticket sales.
A trip to New York wouldn’t be complete without seeing at least one show on Broadway.
From the historic theatres to the iconic shows, Broadway is one of the major drawcards to this amazing city. Even if it’s not the main reason for your visit.
With a rotating offering of award-winning shows across several different theatres, there is always something new to see each and every time you visit New York.
Just keep in mind that the most popular shows will book out in advance, especially on the weekends. So if you have your heart set on seeing a particular show, I would recommend booking tickets. Have a look at TicketNetwork and TicketMaster to see what seats are available for your favourite show.
However, if you just want to see a Broadway show, you can visit the TKTS booth in Time Square to see what discounted same-day tickets they might offer. For shows early in the week, you should have some pretty good seats to choose from. But as you get closer to the weekend the options will reduce.
I’ll also point out that the queue for the TKTS booth can be quite long, particularly in the middle of the day.
World Trade Center & 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Commemorating one of the most tragic events and world-changing events in recent history, the World Trade Center and 9/11 Memorial and Museum are solemn yet powerful landmarks that honour the memory of the events that occurred on September 11, 2001.
Located in Lower Manhattan, the World Trade Center complex commemorates the lives lost with twin reflecting pools set within the footprints of the original Twin Towers. In a moving tribute, the names of the nearly 3,000 victims are etched into bronze panels surrounding the pools.
However, to really truly appreciate the magnitude of the events of September 11, 2001, I would also recommend visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
The museum is an immersive and educational experience providing a chronicle of the events of that fateful day and the subsequent recovery and rebuilding efforts. The museum houses artifacts, personal stories, and multimedia exhibits that offer a deep understanding of the tragedy and its impact on the world.
While extremely informative, you might also find that it is a deeply emotional experience, something to be prepared for before you go in. Also, make sure that yourself a couple of hours so that you don’t feel rushed.
What I would also recommend is booking tickets to the museum early in the morning, firstly it’s less crowded, but it’ll also give you a chance to do something lighthearted in the afternoon to bounce back from the emotive experience.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or as it is more commonly referred to, the MET, is a world-renowned museum right in the heart of New York.
With an amazingly vast and diverse collection of artifacts and artworks spanning over 5,000 years of human history, including ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art, as well as works from Asian, African, and American cultures. That’s not to mention the masterpieces by renowned artists like Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, and Rembrandt. There is so much to discover inside the MET.
So vast is the collection that you could easily dedicate a whole day (possibly even two) while you are in New York to see all that the museum has to offer. However, if you are short on time, you can absolutely skim through the exhibits in just a couple of hours, but you won’t get a chance to delve into the side galleries, of which there are many throughout the MET.
Make sure you pick up a map when you walk in; you could easily wander through the maze of exhibits and think you’ve seen everything. Only to find out you’ve only seen less than a third of the collection. Make sure you go upstairs!
I’ve been to many museums all over the world, but the MET is hands down one of the most amazing collections I’ve ever witnessed. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
If you are really keen on exploring more of New York’s art scene, also visit the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Guggenheim Museum.
American Museum of Natural History
While we are on the topic of iconic museums, on the opposite side of Central Park, you will find the equally well-known American Museum of Natural History.
Where the MET focuses on art and history, the American Museum of Natural History instead details the diverse ecosystems around the globe, the fascinating creatures that inhabit them, the evolution of lifeforms on this planet, including humans, and the wonders of the universe.
One of the key highlights is the top level of the museum, where you will find an amazing and huge collection of dinosaurs and primitive mammal fossils.
Beyond the fossils, life-size dioramas are incredibly detailed and need to be witnessed to be believed. While the Rose Center for Earth and Space is home to the mesmerising Hayden Planetarium, offering immersive shows that take you on cosmic journeys (although this is one of several additional admission fees around the museum).
Much like the MET, you could easily spend an entire day exploring all that the American Museum of Natural History. Whatever you do, don’t think that you’ll be able to do both museums on the same day. There is just too much to see and do.
If you’d like to delve more into history while in New York, you should also check out the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of the City of New York.
Top Of The Rock
For the best views out over the entirety of New York City, the Top Of The Rock is easily the best observation deck in the city.
Located at the very top of the Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, Top of the Rock offers breathtaking panoramic views of the New York City skyline, including the most iconic landmarks, the Empire State Building, Central Park, and even the Statue of Liberty.
In fact, the only iconic building you can’t fully see from the Top of the Rock is the Chrysler Building.
What makes Top of the Rock stand out over some of the other viewpoints around the city is the tiered open-air observation decks that provide unobstructed views of the city. These decks split across multiple levels allow you to explore different vantage points and capture stunning photographs out over the city.
Ideally, you’ll want to time your booking to be up the top around sunset so that you can watch the city transition from day to night. However, everyone else also has the same idea, so it does get extremely busy.
Regardless of when you do go, the view is spectacular, but if you are willing the brave the crowds, sunset takes the experience to another level.
Once you’ve been to the Top Of The Rock and you want to see more views out of the city, you can also check out the Edge Observation Deck in Hudson Yards and the One World Observatory observation deck that sits on top of One World Trade Center in Downtown Manhattan.
While SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is more like a series of art installations with views out over the city.
The High Line
Built on a historic elevated railway track through New York City, The High Line is a 1.45 miles (2.33 kilometres) section of the old train lines reposed as a public park/walkway along the west (Hudson River) side of Manhattan.
Best known for its landscaped gardens, art installations and elevated viewpoints, locals often stroll along The High Line to escape the bustling city below, but as a tourist, you’ll probably appreciate the stunning views of the city skyline the most.
The High Line starts in the Meatpacking District, known for its restaurants, and winds its way through the Chelsea neighbourhood, eventually reaching Hudson Yards, where you will find The Vessel (which we’ll get to shortly in this post).
Much like Central Park, The High Line is a unique way to see some of NYC’s key attractions while avoiding some of the busiest parts of the city.
Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is easily New York’s most iconic structure, especially for international tourists.
Standing tall at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan, the Empire State Building is a historical and architectural marvel of the city.
While the Empire State Building does have its own observation decks, the open-air one on the 86th floor made famous in TV shows and movies, I would recommend the Top of the Rock (mentioned above) for the views over the city because you also get an amazing view of the Empire State Building (something you can’t do while standing on it).
That said, you can also appreciate this stunning Art Deco building from street level and also take the opportunity to quickly visit the impressive lobby, which you can do without buying a ticket. Just remember this is an office building with people actually doing work.
A couple of other impressive buildings to visit while in New York include the Chrysler Building, Flatiron Building, New York City Hall and General Electric Building.
Speaking of New York’s most iconic structures, in equal sted is the Brooklyn Bridge.
In much the same way that the Empire State Building is one of the most iconic buildings of the New York City skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges connecting Manhattan to the rest of the state.
Easily one of the most photographed (and Instagrammed) locations in the city, the best way to see the Brooklyn Bridge is to walk across it. Just make sure you do it early; the elevated walkway across the bridge becomes very crowded much of the day. Although most people stop at the first pylon to get their photos, so if you persist and walk through the crowd, it gets much easier beyond this point.
With this in mind, I strongly recommend walking all the way across; not only will you get stunning views crossing the bridge, but Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is another amazing part of the city on the Brooklyn side of the East River.
Even if you just walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to enjoy the view of the NYC skyline while enjoying a meal or a drink at one of the number of restaurants or bars on the Brooklyn side of the river.
To get back over to Downtown Manhattan, why not make the return trip across the Manhattan Bridge? The walk will give you great views of the Brooklyn Bridge as you make your way back across the river.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Sure, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum might not be for everyone, but New York is the only place in the world where you can see and explore an Aircraft Carrier, Nuclear Submarine, Concord and a Space Shuttle on the one admission ticket.
A lot of people might see an Aircraft Carrier and write off the USS Intrepid as a military museum, and not really for them, but there is much more to discover. Yes, there is a lot of military equipment, particularly naval aviation (and yes, they have an F-14 Tomcat for those Top Gun fans). But there is also a lot more as well.
If you are interested in air travel, the price of admission is well worth it to be able to take a look inside the British Airways Concord and see what supersonic flight was like over the period of four decades.
Fun Fact: The Concord at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is one of only 14 to be used commercially and was also operated briefly by Singapore Airways (although by British Airways).
Alternatively, the NASA Space Shuttle Enterprise, as well as the other associated space exploration exhibits, are also well worth checking out at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The Enterprise is one of only four space shuttles left.
Grand Central Station
Another iconic landmark of New York made famous by TV and movies, Grand Central Station is another must-visit location while you are in the city.
This historic transportation hub and architectural wonder in the heart of New York City serves as a bustling gateway for commuters and tourists alike.
Even if you aren’t catching a train, you will still want to visit the main concourse to see the iconic information booth with its famous four-sided brass clock on top for yourself. At the same time, don’t forget to check out the artwork on the ceiling, which is equally impressive.
That said, there is more to Grand Central Station than just the main concourse. It’s also home to Grand Central Market, a fresh and gourmet food market. As well as several restaurants and bars. And if you see people talking to the walls, don’t fret; there is a section of Grand Central outside of the Oyster Bar known as the Whispering Gallery, where an architectural and acoustic phenomenon allows people to whisper to each other on opposite sides of the gallery.
Another famous transport hub you might find yourself in is Penn Station (especially if you plan on taking the train to or from any of New York’s airports or other nearby cities) underneath Madison Square Garden.
While not nearly as instantly recognisable as Grand Central, Penn Station is actually the busier of the two and has been continually modernised as a transport hub for New York City.
Home to the Edge Observation Deck and the Vessel, Hudson Yards is one of the most recently redeveloped sections of Manhattan, adding a number of new buildings to the ever-evolving New York City skyline.
Built over the top of the train storage yards near the Hudson River (hence the name), this new neighbourhood features several new residential structures, but it’s the high-end shopping and tourist attractions that draw most of the attention.
The Vessel is a unique structure of interlinked staircases that was built to provide panoramic views around Hudson Yards. However, the stairs and access to the top are currently closed off (for reasons that you may or may not be able to work out on your own). That said, the structure is still impressive to look at, and the inside offers an interesting photo opportunity.
The neighbourhood is also home to The Shed, a flexible cultural venue that hosts a wide range of artistic performances, exhibitions, and events.
While the high-end retail destination is simply known as The Shops at Hudson Yards (notice a theme with the naming in this part of New York?) and is where you will find a selection of luxury brands, boutiques and flagship brand stores.
This modern section of New York offers an interesting contrast to other parts of the city, especially the Meatpacking District if you take the stroll along The High Line (mentioned above) to make your way to Hudson Yards.
Save Money On New York City Attractions
With so much to see and do in New York, saving money on attractions is always a good idea. There are several options to buy bundled tickets to several attractions around the city. One option is the Go City New York City Explorer Pass which allows you to bundle select attractions for up to a 50% discount.
Another good option, and the one I use personally, is Klook which not only offers a bundled pass but allows you to buy most of your New York attraction and show tickets in advance and store them all conveniently in one app.
For more information to help plan your trip to and around the United States of America, check out the rest of my tips, advice and guides for visiting the USA.
And if you have a travel-related question, you would like me to answer, head on over to my contact page to get in touch and let me know.