It’s nearly impossible to see all the city has to offer in one trip. Start with a compact — and by no means exhaustive — list of attractions and things to do. If you can’t get through everything in one visit, you’ll just have to plan another trip!
After all, New York has a history of reinventing itself from time to time.
Top landmarks and attractions in NYC
First-time visitors may want to tick mainstay attractions off their list. Popular things to do in NYC include:
1. Visit the Empire State Building.
Make your rom-com dreams come true and head to the observation deck of the Empire State Building for sweeping city views. Or, skip the long line and visit the Chrysler Building for an equally breathtaking sight.
A trip to New York just isn’t complete without a visit to the lady herself. Embark on a ferry tour to the Statue and Ellis island. But if you’re on a budget, the free Staten Island ferry sails past the statue too.
Spend a leisurely day cycling through this iconic park — you can rent a Citi Bike for a half-hour for just $3. Aside from a six-mile loop for pedaling, the park houses a zoo and wildlife centre, nature observatory and a castle.
If you’re staying closer to Brooklyn, Prospect Park is a perfect picnic spot.
While in the entertainment capital of the world, you must catch a show on Broadway. You can sometimes spontaneously nab cheap tickets on the day of the show. Also, keep in mind: Tickets to off-Broadway plays are often cheaper.
The Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim and Whitney Museum of American Art are just a few world-renowned museums you can visit. Spend the day marveling at ancient artifacts in the American Museum of Natural History or getting lost in a dreamy Picasso at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Nestled in Central Park, the zoo is a sanctuary within the bustling urban jungle. Meet its residents: snow leopards, sea lions, grizzly bears and red pandas. Be sure to time your visit to catch daily activities like penguin and sea lion feedings, a petting zoo and 4D theatre screenings.
When the weather’s mild, take a stroll along the New York High Line. A former freight rail line repurposed as an aerial garden above the street, the park has views of the Hudson River, green spaces and open decking areas for lounging.
The world-famous New York City Ballet performs nearly daily. Take in a classical or contemporary piece by a company revered for its artistry and repertory. Although most performances are kid-friendly, Family Saturdays are perfect for bringing little ones along.
From Joan Rivers to Jerry Seinfeld and Amy Schumer, New York City has fostered some top-notch comedians. Catch improv at Upright Citizens Brigade, the comedy school founded by Amy Poehler, or cackle at standup at the Comedy Cellar in the village.
You’ll find fast-fashion favorites like H&M and Forever 21 in Midtown. But major designers and fashion houses also occupy NYC storefronts. Stroll Fifth Avenue to shop stores like Gucci, Versace and Fendi. And don’t miss the extravagant window displays at classic department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman, especially around the holidays.
NYC’s got something going on 24/7, but certain events are exclusive to a single season:
The Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival. Celebrate Japanese culture against a backdrop of lush florals at the annual Cherry Blossom Festival hosted by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
The Tribeca Film Festival. Catch an independent flick next to celebrities and New Yorkers alike. Tickets start as low as $12.
Frieze Art Fair. Head to Randall’s Island — located just east of Harlem — to check out contemporary art from around the world at Frieze New York.
Shakespeare in the Park. Watch classic theater from Much Ado About Nothing to Hercules at the Delacorte Theater’s stage in Central Park. All shows are free to attend.
Free outdoor movies. Nearly every borough hosts free outdoor movies beneath the night sky during the summer. Bring a blanket and snacks!
Warm Up at MoMA PS1. Get introduced to experimental musicians and DJs of all genres at curated outdoor concerts in MoMa PS1’s courtyard.
Jazz Age Lawn Party. Sip Prohibition-era cocktails and dance the Charleston at this two-day fete held on Governors Island, just south of Battery Park. Tickets start at $40 and sell out quickly.
The New York Coffee Festival. A caffeine-fueled dream for coffee drinkers, the New York Coffee Festival offers latte art demonstrations, food tastings and of course, endless cups of coffee. Tickets start at $26 for early-bird pricing.
Open House New York. Famous city buildings open their doors to design and architecture enthusiasts and passersby for a weekend. Admission is free for most events and includes Edgar Allen Poe’s cottage in the Bronx and the Frick Art Reference Library.
The New York Comedy Festival. This week-long festival features headliners like Tracey Morgan and Conan O’Brien as well as panels, podcast tapings, improv and more. Snag tickets for November as early as August.
Winter Village at Bryant Park. Glide around The Rink at Bank of America’s winter wonderland in Midtown. Admission is free, though you’ll pay a fee if you rent skates. Holiday boutiques and food vendors keep your spirits bright after hitting the ice.
Lunar New Year. Did you know that outside of China, NYC has the largest Chinese population in the world? Ring in the Chinese New Year at the Lunar New Year Parade. Expect traditional costumes, food vendors and Chinese performances in Chinatown and authentic culinary specials at Chinese restaurants in all neighborhoods.
Winter Jazzfest. Boogie across lower Manhattan with jazz groups from around the world. See several hepcats at a slew of Greenwich Village venues over the course of a weekend. Wristbands for one or both days get you into the gigs.
New York City may be ever changing, but one thing’s for sure — you’ll never be bored, no matter the season. And to maximize your time in the city that never sleeps, plot your routes around New York City ahead of time.
Frequently asked questions.
Yes! Free museums or ones with a suggested donation include:
American Museum of Natural History
Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology
American Folk Art Museum
El Museo del Barrio
Visitors outside New York State can expect to pay the following admission fees:
Free for members, patrons and New York residents as well as children under 12 and students residing in NY, NJ and CT.
The park spans about half a mile between Fifth Avenue on the east border and Central Park West.
Top deals on things to do in New York City
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Stephanie Yip is the travel editor at Finder and has been writing about travel and lifestyle for over a decade. She has written for a range of travel publications including Thomas Cook Magazine and Showpo. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia, and has visited over 50 countries (and counting). She has a passion for sharing her experiences and knowledge of travel and helping consumers stretch their travel cash while on holiday.
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