The Best Things to Do in New York City

New York City provides a seemingly endless upwelling of experiences vying for your attention. For starters, find world-class art at the Met Museum or Chelsea’s galleries; catch shows on Broadway or at indie theaters; and admire the bucolic parks and exhilarating skyline views. It’s impossible to do it all in one visit, so give in to what excites you most. Explore by subway, ferry, tram, and, best of all, your own two feet to people watch and absorb the energy.

1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028, USA
The Metropolitan Museum of Art—or, commonly, the Met—is one of the world’s great museums, alongside the Louvre, the British Museum, and a handful of others. It would be easy to devote an entire week’s visit to the museum alone, and realistically you probably won’t get far beyond a few exhibitions and galleries at one shot. The Costume Institute’s temporary shows are always popular, while others will (like the museum itself) focus on a range of regions and periods—at any one time there may be temporary exhibitions on an Italian Renaissance painter, miniatures from Mughal India, and Polynesian carvings. The Temple of Dendur, a roughly 43' x 21' x 16' temple that dates to around 15 B.C.E. and was given by the government of Egypt to the United States in 1967, is one of the museum’s most photographed (and Instagrammed) works. The 34 period rooms, including a 12th-century cloister, English parlor and a Shaker “retiring” room, are among the museum’s other highlights. On summer evenings, site-specific installations make the rooftop terrace is a favorite place for drinks. The general admission of $25 for adults, $12 for students, and $17 for seniors is a suggested one for New York residents, as well as students from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Whatever you pay also includes same-day entry to The Met Cloisters.
210 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011, USA
For much of its history, the western edges of Manhattan neighborhoods like the West Village and Chelsea consisted of small manufacturing buildings and warehouses that served the piers on the Hudson River. Over time, those factories were replaced with residential developments, and shipping largely moved out to Brooklyn and New Jersey. What remained, however, was an abandoned light-rail line, located above street level. After 10 years of lobbying the city, state, and federal governments, the first section of the High Line park opened in 2009. It now extends for 1.45 miles, from Gansevoort Street in the south to 34th Street at its other end. An innovative design by James Corner Field Operations uses native species to preserve some of the feeling the old rail line had when it was overgrown with weeds. It has quickly become one of New York’s most popular attractions, both with residents and visitors who stroll the length of it, as well as a model for other cities attempting to find new uses for old infrastructure.
Governors Island, New York, NY 11231, USA
Located in the middle of New York harbor, less than half a mile from Manhattan (and even closer to Brooklyn), 172-acre Governors Island feels like a world unto itself, far from the bustling city. It has played a key role in the defense of New York at various points and two fortifications here, Fort Jay and Castle Williams, reflect that history. From 1966 to 1996, the island was a Coast Guard station; since it closed, the city, state, and federal governments have discussed various plans for the island’s development. In the meantime, it is open to the public for six months each year, from May 1 to October 31, when it is possible to wander among the Coast Guard barracks, visit the commander’s house, and bike around the mostly car-free island. Ferries depart from both Manhattan and Brooklyn starting at 10 a.m. and running until 6:15 p.m. on weekdays and 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. During many weekends in the summer, art fairs, food festivals, and other events help draw visitors to the island, but even if you go on a day without anything special scheduled, a journey here provides a refreshingly different perspective on New York.
Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023, USA
Lincoln Center is an iconic landmark featured in TV shows, movies, and countless city tours. It is an artist’s mecca comprised of many buildings, including Avery Fisher Hall, the Julliard School, and The Metropolitan Opera. All of the buildings were designed by different architects. The focal point and largest building in the complex is The Metropolitan Opera which houses a pair of large paintings by Marc Chagall in its interior. While Lincoln Center is beautiful in day light, it’s true beauty is witnessed at night when the lights from inside the buildings highlight the columns and arches made of travertine.
11 West 53rd Street
The Museum of Modern Art, one of the city’s—and the country’s—premier institutions for modern and contemporary art, first opened its doors in 1939. Its permanent collection of almost 200,000 works includes masterpieces by many of the 20th century’s leading artists: Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso, Warhol...the list truly could go on and on. In the permanent collection, van Gogh’s Starry Night and three panels of Monet’s series of paintings of water lilies are among the most famous works. The museum’s first director, Alfred Barr, was praised for taking the innovative step of expanding the role of the art museum to include genres beyond painting and sculpture, and to this day the institution dedicates exhibitions (and resources) to design, architecture, photography, and other creative fields. The museum also has a space in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, called MoMA PS 1, which focuses principally on younger, emerging artists and hosts Warm Up, a summer live music series.
1000 Surf Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11224, USA
First, Brooklyn’s Coney Island is not, in fact, an island, having been attached to the rest of the borough by landfill since the 1920s. What the area is best known for, however, is its heyday from around the 1880s through World War II when it began as a posh seaside resort area and gradually became a beloved beach destination, thanks to a number of amusement parks. The appeals of Coney Island declined after the war (historians attribute this to the proliferation of both air-conditioning, which made escaping to the shore less important, and the automobile, which made it easier to reach nicer sandy stretches on Long Island). In recent decades it has increased in popularity again. Brooklyn residents, and visitors to New York, have embraced anew the retro charms of the boardwalk and the rides that are still operating, like the Cyclone roller coaster and the Wonder Wheel Ferris wheel. The towering Parachute Jump has been abandoned, but it still stands as an impossible-to-miss landmark. Brighton Beach sits next to Coney Island and is a largely Russian neighborhood where restaurants are happy to serve any diners who appreciate copious amounts of vodka and Russian specialties.
New York, NY, USA
Manhattan can, famously, feel like endless rows of apartment blocks and office towers for most of its length. At least above 14th Street, a regular grid of streets and avenues, bisected only by Broadway, has transformed the city into a dream for real estate developers. The green spaces interrupting the pattern—Union Square, Gramercy Park, Madison Square Park—are few and far between, with one enormous exception: Central Park. Running from 59th Street to 110th Street, and between Central Park West (Eighth Avenue) and Fifth Avenue, it is one of the world’s largest urban parks, measuring some 843 acres. It is the masterpiece of the 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted working in collaboration with Calvert Vaux. Inside its borders are stately allées and naturalistic scenes, ice-skating rinks (in the winter), an enormous reservoir, and a faux castle. The park is hugely popular, and so to call it an escape from the bustle of the city is often not accurate, especially on mild summer days and the first warm ones in the spring when thousands of residents head to its playing fields, bike and run along the road that loops the park, and enjoy picnics on the Sheep Meadow or one of its other lawns.
254 Hicks St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, USA
One of New York’s loveliest historic districts, Brooklyn Heights sits along the East River to the south of the Brooklyn Bridge. Its streets are lined with beautifully preserved and restored 19th-century town houses while a promenade along its western edge offers views of the skyline of downtown Manhattan—especially stunning when the sun is setting over New York’s harbor. Simply wandering its streets, you’ll feel transported back in time, but there are some buildings of special interest you may want to seek out. The celebrated 19th-century preacher Henry Ward Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe) presided at Plymouth Church (57 Orange St.). Truman Capote finished Breakfast at Tiffany’s and wrote In Cold Blood during the 10 years he lived at 70 Willow Street, and novelist Thomas Wolfe lived at 5 Montague Terrace from 1933 to 1935. Grace Church (254 Hicks St.) and St. Ann & the Holy Trinity (157 Montague St.) are outstanding examples of 19th-century Gothic Revival architecture. After you are done exploring, Atlantic Avenue, which marks the southern edge of the neighborhood, and Montague Street have a number of restaurants to choose from if you are ready for a meal.
180 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10007, USA
The morning of September 11, 2001—when two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, and two others, also hijacked, crashed into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania—is one of those moments for which everyone who was conscious that day will always remember where they were. The memorial at the World Trade Center sites, however, assures that the events will not be forgotten even by those too young to have been aware of what was happening as well as future generations. Two square holes in the ground trace the footprints of the original towers, with waterfalls cascading into two pools below street level. The names of the nearly 3,000 people who died on that day, as well as the six who died in a 1993 truck bombing also at the World Trade Center, are inscribed on bronze panels along the edges of the twin memorials. The museum at the site brings to life the stories of those who were killed on 9/11—workers at the World Trade Center, rescuers, and others—through artifacts and interactive exhibits. There are also artworks that respond to and reflect on the events.
99 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY 10040, USA
The Cloisters, a museum devoted to medieval art and architecture, is a delightful respite from the hustle and bustle of NYC. This tranquil treasure is definitely worth a half day (or more) trip on your next visit. A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters opened in 1938 and is located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan. Perched on a towering cliff, the museum offers commanding views over the Hudson River to New Jersey and the George Washington Bridge. The buildings include elements from medieval sites from Europe (primarily France) and renowned artwork includes the Unicorn Tapestries and the Annunciation Triptych, but the heart of the museum is the cloistered garden. This lush space consists of an interior courtyard surrounded by covered walkways. The flowering garden within invites contemplation and appreciation of a different time. The Cloisters includes a broad terrace with expansive views across the Hudson. The view is so prized that in 1901, J.P. Morgan purchased 12 miles of the New Jersey coastline to protect it from excessive quarrying and in 1933 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. donated 700 additional acres of NJ to preserve The Cloisters’ view. Be sure to include time in your visit to explore beautiful Fort Tryon Park.
200 5th Ave, New York, NY 10010, USA
There are now 35 locations of Eataly, the massive Italian food hall, around the world, with 18 of them in Italy itself. The New York City one at Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, which opened in 2010, was the first in the United States (it’s been joined by others in Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, as well as by a second outpost in Manhattan, near the World Trade Center site at 101 Liberty Street). For connoisseurs of all things Italian, this is a must-visit—or, more accurately, a must-shop and must-eat stop. Covering more than 50,000 square feet, Eataly NYC Flatiron includes five different restaurants (plus occasional pop-ups) offering opportunities to graze on antipasti, fish, pizza, and other dishes. A popular rooftop beer hall is open all year round (thanks to space heaters and a retractable roof). While you will want to eat your gelato on the spot, there are also a number of stores where you can buy gifts from biscotti to olive oils to take home a little bit of Italy via New York.
99 Gansevoort St, New York, NY 10014, USA
For most of its history, the Whitney Museum, originally founded by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1931, was located on New York’s Upper East Side, in the building that now houses the Met Breuer. In 2015, it reopened in a new, larger space designed by Renzo Piano in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. The institution’s permanent collection is especially strong in works by leading artists from the first half of the 20th century, and as you might expect from its official name, American artists are particularly well represented—Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, and many others. Visiting exhibitions tend to focus on living artists who are still producing new pieces; the museum’s Whitney Biennial (now taking place in odd-numbered years) is arguably the preeminent showcase in the United States for young contemporary artists. In addition to the galleries, the building has a number of outdoor terraces dotted with sculptures and offering views of Lower Manhattan and the Hudson River.
New York, NY 10004, USA
One of New York’s most iconic landmarks is also one of America’s: the Statue of Liberty, standing in the middle of New York Harbor as it has since 1885. The statue was famously a gift from France, built to a design by sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and with structural engineering overseen by Gustave Eiffel. The statue was one of the first large-scale curtain wall structures—that is, one where weight is supported by an internal frame and not by the exterior walls. As one of New York’s most visited sights, some tickets sell out far in advance. There are two different levels of tickets: pedestal and crown. Tickets to the pedestal and especially those to the crown are often gone months in advance, so plan accordingly.
New York, NY, USA
The Statue of Liberty may be the most iconic sight that comes to mind when one thinks of the history of immigrants in New York, but not far from it in the harbor is another important landmark—Ellis Island. Until the Supreme Court ruled in 1875 that authority to regulate immigration belonged to the federal government alone, various states had implemented their own policies. After the federal government took over the processing of immigrants from New York State in 1890, some 12 million immigrants would pass through Ellis Island until it closed in 1954 (for 30 years, however, beginning in 1924, it was used only as a temporary detention center for immigrants who had issues with their paperwork). By one estimate, some 40 percent of Americans have at least one ancestor who entered the United States through Ellis Island. The historic site is today operated by the National Park Service, and ferries depart to the island from Battery Park (as well as from Liberty State Park in New Jersey). Visits include the Main Arrivals Hall with its displays recounting the immigration experience; temporary exhibitions are located on the second and third floors of the building. Statue Cruises is the only operator authorized to visit Liberty Island and Ellis Island—their cruises include stops at both, though entry to the statue and the immigration museum require separate tickets purchased on each island.
200 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024, USA
Located on the Upper West Side, at 79th Street and Central Park West, the American Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s largest museums. It has 45 different halls, occupies more than 2 million square feet, and has some 33 million different specimens—only a fraction are on display at any time. It includes an abundance of dioramas and reconstructed skeletons, and “cultural halls” that extend natural history into anthropology. The museum makes a valiant effort to constantly keep its exhibits relevant by adopting new interactive technologies and displays as it battles the preconceptions of many that natural-history museums are old-fashioned institutions. In 2000, it also added the Rose Center for Earth and Space, which has proven popular with young aspiring astronauts and astronomers. If you are headed to New York with kids and they haven’t already watched Night at the Museum, you may want to rent it before your trip (even if most of the interior scenes were actually shot on a set in Vancouver).
45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111, USA
Rockefeller Center was one of the great construction projects of the Great Depression, a complex of 14 buildings between Fifth and Sixth avenues and 48th and 51st streets built over the 1930s. It’s also one of America’s grandest examples of Art Deco design, from the Indiana-limestone-clad buildings themselves to its interior murals and allegorical figures in panels above the entries to the various buildings. (Daniel Okrent recounts the fascinating history of the complex in detail in his acclaimed Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center.) For many travelers to New York, the center is a favorite destination even if they aren’t students of architecture or urban planning. It’s the home of Radio City Music Hall, where the Rockettes perform; its 70th-floor observation deck offers sweeping views of the city; and every morning tourists gather outside the windows of the NBC studios during the broadcast of The Today Show.

The center also hosts temporary large-scale art installations, like Jeff Koons’s enormous dancer and flower puppy in recent years, and the lighting of its Christmas tree marks the unofficial start of the holiday season. Another bucket-list experience here is taking a turn on the small sunken ice rink under the golden statue of Prometheus. Just across Fifth Avenue from Rockefeller Center is another New York landmark, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, looking better than ever after a multiyear renovation that included a thorough cleaning of the Gothic building’s facade.
Dumbo, Brooklyn, NY 11201, USA
Of the various abbreviations for different neighborhoods in New York, DUMBO wins the prize for cutest: It stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. It is a little off the beaten path, though you may find yourself here if you have strolled over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, or were just touring Brooklyn Heights and kept walking north. Its streets offer some iconic images, with the piers of the Manhattan Bridge looming at the end of streets lined with 19th-century warehouses. It is also home to St. Ann’s Warehouse (45 Water St.), one of the city’s most innovative theater venues, and a number of restaurants and bars. If you are exploring with kids in tow, you may want to stop at Jane’s Carousel, a restored 1922 merry-go-round in a pavilion designed by French architect Jean Nouvel in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Afterward, stop at Jacques Torres Chocolate (66 Water St.) for a cup of his signature hot chocolate.
New York, NY 10012, USA
Washington Square Park is only a fraction of the size of Central Park, but it is as almost as much of an icon of New York as its much larger counterpart uptown. It’s likely because it sits in the heart of Greenwich Village, and has thus served as a backdrop for many events in the city’s history. In the late 19th century, it was one of New York’s most fashionable addresses (that period was captured by Henry James in his 1880 novella Washington Square, later the basis for The Heiress, a play that was also adapted into a movie). The arch along its northern side dates to 1892 and was designed by Stanford White to replace an earlier one, in wood and plaster, erected in 1889 to mark the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration. When Greenwich Village became the haunt of artists and writers, the park was a green space for the city’s counterculture; folk singers and street performers are still a common sight, and the park is also frequently used for political protests and rallies. On sunny days, especially during the academic year, the park is filled with NYU students, neighborhood residents, and tourists taking in the scene.
90 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA
Brooklyn has become a dining destination in recent years, with dozens of restaurants preparing local, organic, and sustainable American dishes—and others serving everything from Korean bibimbap and Scandinavian specialties to Ethiopian stews and Mexican tacos. The borough has an overwhelming abundance to choose from, but Smorgasburg makes it easy to graze and sample a variety of Brooklyn’s dishes. From the beginning of April to the end of October, food trucks and stalls representing around 100 restaurants and other establishments set up at East River State Park, in the Williamsburg neighborhood, every Saturday; on Sundays, you’ll find them farther south, in Prospect Park. The largest weekly open-air food market in the country, it’s popular and draws thousands of visitors, but don’t be deterred by the crowds: Much of the fun is the people-watching and the general festival-like atmosphere. Even if you aren’t visiting New York in the summer, it’s worth checking out the Smorgasburg website as they sometimes have smaller off-season pop-ups, including the Winter Flea & Holiday Market.
334 Furman St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, USA
Completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge is an engineering wonder and an architectural one as well, a masterpiece of design that has inspired acclaimed poets (Hart Crane, Marianne Moore), writers (Jack Kerouac), and painters (Joseph Stella). While Walt Whitman was left in awe by the bridge, his famous poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” was actually written during its construction. The bridge connected what were then two different cities—the five boroughs of New York would not be united into one city until 15 years later, in 1898. A stroll across the 6,016-foot-long bridge is a quintessential New York experience, taking you from near City Hall on the Manhattan side to Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood of tree-lined streets and elegant, 19th-century town houses that have been lovingly preserved and restored. Come fall, the bridge promenade will be pedestrian-only so you won’t need to worry about cyclists ringing their bells furiously at you, thanks to a new dedicated bike lane on the Manhattan-bound side.
2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10458, USA
With more than 250 acres of grounds, the New York Botanical Garden manages to fit a number of different landscapes and experiences into its garden walls. The garden was established in 1891, the inspiration of Nathaniel Lord Britton and his wife, Elizabeth, who returned from a trip to England determined that New York should have its own equivalent to London‘s Kew Gardens. They found backing among New York society and created one of the country’s leading research institutions that also happens to be an ideal place to commune with nature right in the city. The rose garden designed by Beatrix Farrand is a highlight, while an abundance of azaleas reaches their peak in May. In all there are some 20 different gardens, including one dedicated to native plants, a rock garden, and a wetlands trail. The conservatory, constructed in 1902, is the largest in the country and includes 11 different climatic zones. When the last of the fall foliage has fallen from the trees, the conservatory hosts the popular annual Holiday Train Show (from the end of November to mid-January).
89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017, USA
Stepping into the enormous main concourse of this landmarked architectural jewel—with its sweeping granite staircases, hulking columns and 38-meter (125-foot) ceilings painted with night-sky constellations—can be a jaw-dropping experience. What’s even more incredible, though, is the sheer number of people who use it as a commuter hub day in and day out (more than 750,000 train and subway passengers every weekday). Wander around the shops, head down to the basement food court for a bite and to marvel at the crowds hurrying by—and if you get jostled, don’t take it personally.
Main St, Roosevelt Island, NY 10044, USA
For panoramic views of the entire city—for the price of a subway ride—take the Roosevelt Island Tram. As the suspended car runs parallel to the bridge, spanning the gap between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island, you’ll have unparalleled vistas of the New York syline and the East River below. There are few experiences as memorable or accessible, so be sure to ride the tram there and back—it’s particularly dramatic in the morning and evening.
200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn, NY 11238, USA
When plans for the Brooklyn Museum’s building on Eastern Parkway were conceived in 1890, the borough was still its own city; it wasn’t until 1898 that the five boroughs would be united into the New York City we know today. Brooklyn’s leading figures were determined that the city should have its own great public institutions, and the late 19th century saw the planning of not only the museum but also the Brooklyn Botanic Garden—as well as the expansion of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. By the time the museum (designed by McKim, Mead, and White) opened, however, the city had changed, and much of Brooklyn’s cultural life would long sit in the shadow of Manhattan. Still, the Brooklyn Museum remains to this day a grand institution with some important collections, most notably of Egyptian art and American decorative art, not to mention an unusual niche: the Sackler Center for Feminist Art, whose most important work is Judy Chicago‘s Dinner Party (1979). The museum sits next to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park, two other landmarks of the borough that you’ll want to explore if the weather cooperates when you head out to Grand Army Plaza.
Basement Level of City Point, 445 Albee Square W, Brooklyn, NY 11201, USA
Much of the buzz around Brooklyn in recent years has focused on Williamsburg and, to a lesser degree, the nearby Bushwick and Greenpoint districts. Downtown Brooklyn and its neighbor, Fort Greene, have been enjoying a renaissance too, however. One welcome addition to the scene in that part of the borough is the Dekalb Market Hall, which opened in the summer of 2017. It’s sort of a small, and year-round, version of the popular Smorgasburg, offering an opportunity to sample dishes from some 40 different vendors. In the basement of the City Point shopping center on Fulton Street, many of New York’s venerable and upcoming restaurants are represented. Katz’s Deli, the Arepa Lady, and Dekalb Taco will satisfy your longing for something savory, while Ample Hills ice cream and Steve’s Key Lime Pies cater to your sweet tooth. New York’s first Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is also here if you want to have a cocktail and see a movie before or after your meal.
New York, NY 10018, USA
A few green acres of valuable Midtown Manhattan real estate affords office workers and visitors with valuable peace and space, two things that are hard to find in the surrounding streets. Bryant Park shares the block between Fifth and Sixth avenues and 41st and 42nd street with the main branch of the New York City Library (also worth a visit). The library runs an al fresco reading room along the north end of the park, and occasionally hosts readings and author events. In summer, a stage at the western edge of the vast green lawn runs a busy schedule of performances and films. In winter, the lawn becomes an ice skating rink and the site of a busy holiday market. All year round, the park is a popular destination for the bocce ball courts, ping pong tables, small carousel, food kiosks, open lawns, gravel paths, seasonal plantings, and a graceful fountain. It may be a challenge to find a seat at lunchtime, but it’s worth the wait. Take a break from your walk and enjoy some great people-watching, as well as shade and a measure of serenity in a green space bound on all sides by tall buildings.
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