Are you ready to explore New York City? Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or have lived here for years, the city is full of endless possibilities. There are an abundance of sights and activities to explore, making it difficult to determine a starting point. As a seasoned NYC guide, I’m here to help. Check out this list of top attractions, from iconic landmarks to vibrant neighborhoods, to make the most of your time in the city. Don’t miss out on these 12 must-visit spots during your trip to the Big Apple.
Discover the Gateway to America: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
The first item on this list may not come as a surprise, but it’s undeniable that these two attractions are essential when visiting New York City. The Statue of Liberty is an iconic symbol not only of New York but of the United States. Ellis Island also holds significant historical value, as almost half of Americans can trace their ancestry back to this one island.
While there are various ways to view the statue from the harbor, I highly recommend taking a trip to Liberty Island for an up-close look. You can explore the Statue of Liberty Museum and climb the pedestal for stunning views. Afterward, take a quick ferry ride to Ellis Island to discover the immigration museum and learn about the gateway to America. Both islands offer unique experiences that are worth discovering at least once. You can also choose to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island with a guide to gain historical context and local insights. However you choose to visit, these two attractions deserve a top spot on your NYC bucket list.
Lights, Camera, Broadway: Experience the Magic of the Theater District
New York City’s Theater District boasts over 40 Broadway theaters, making it one of the best places in the world to experience live theater. Whether you’re watching a new musical, the latest hit, or a beloved classic, a Broadway show can transport you to another world. That’s the magic of Broadway!
Our Broadway behind-the-scenes blog post provides insider tips for exploring the area. Our guide recommends a few ticket options, but keep in mind that prices can be high. However, there are ways to get around this, such as visiting the TKTS booth in Times Square or signing up with TodayTix for on-the-go discounts.
For a more immersive experience, consider taking a tour of Broadway with a real-life NYC actor. You’ll learn about the stories and secrets that make New York City’s Theater District, unlike any other place in the world.
Take a Stroll Across History: The Brooklyn Bridge
Strolling across the Brooklyn Bridge is an enjoyable and effortless adventure and a perfect reason to visit Brooklyn. The views are unmatched, and the bridge itself is a marvel to experience. For the best views, begin your walk on the Brooklyn side and head towards Manhattan. This keeps the stunning vista in front of you and allows for a less crowded start. You’ll have more time to unwind and relish the scenery.
Guide tip: If the weather permits, take your walk during sunset to witness the Manhattan skyline twinkle to life one building at a time. It’s a breathtaking sight you won’t want to miss.
Views that Take Your Breath Away: Observation Decks of NYC
New York City boasts an awe-inspiring urban skyline, and lucky for us, there are several observation decks to choose from. The Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Edge, and the One World Observatory are four of the best options. No matter which one you select, you’re guaranteed an unforgettable experience with a breathtaking view.
Visiting all four decks may not be feasible for most people due to the cost and time investment, so I recommend choosing just one and taking lots of photos. Each deck has its unique features and advantages. Here’s a brief overview, but I’ve linked each one to a detailed blog post about the attraction so you can learn more and decide which one suits you best.
Empire State Building: This is undoubtedly the most famous observation deck, and it’s a classic. It also stays open to the latest, providing more flexibility to fit into your schedule.
Top of the Rock: This viewing platform may not be as high as the Empire State Building, but it offers unobstructed views of Central Park, and you can capture a photo that includes the Empire State Building. Top of the Rock also has multiple levels to provide additional viewing options with fewer crowds.
One World Observatory: Also known as OWO, this observation deck spans three floors and covers 125,000 square feet. It’s located downtown in the One World Trade Center, providing views of the harbor and the Statue of Liberty, making it a popular choice.
Edge: At 1,100 feet high, this is not only New York’s highest outdoor sky deck but also the highest in the Western Hemisphere. You can experience NYC like never before through its glass floor and tilted outer windows. In one corner, you can stand surrounded by only glass and sky, creating an incredible experience.
Escape to Nature in the Heart of the City: Central Park
Central Park is at its best on a sunny day. It’s worth saving this adventure for a nicer day since rainy weather may hinder your ability to enjoy the beauty that essentially is New York City’s backyard.
Take a leisurely walk through The Ramble, pay homage at Strawberry Fields, ice skate at Wollman Rink, or have a picnic in Sheep’s Meadow. You have a plethora of options, and you’ll see other New Yorkers out and about doing the same. Visiting Central Park is a fantastic way to glimpse authentic NYC life.
Don’t let cold weather hold you back from visiting Central Park, as it offers classic New York fun in the snow. Ice skating in the park during winter is an enchanting experience.
A Tale of Two Neighborhoods: Little Italy and Chinatown
New York’s diversity is one of its many fantastic attributes, and you can witness this firsthand by visiting Little Italy and Chinatown. What’s more, these two distinct neighborhoods are situated next to each other, providing the best of both worlds just blocks apart.
Many people visit both neighborhoods during the same trip, including SoHo on our neighborhood tour, as they’re located so close to each other. You can experience the essence of each neighborhood in under an hour.
If you want to indulge in lunch or dinner, you can stay much longer. Little Italy offers a plethora of options for pasta, pizza, pastries, and even annual celebrations that bring the neighborhood to life.
After savoring the Italian flavors of Mulberry Street, cross Canal Street, the heart of Chinatown. Chinatown is like a metropolis within the city, offering Chinese cuisine, shopping, medicine, and decor. You’ll find it all here.
Journey Through Time and Art: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York City is home to a plethora of fascinating historical museums, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art stands out from the rest.
As the largest art museum in the United States and one of the most visited museums globally, the Metropolitan Museum of Art boasts a permanent collection of over 2 million works. Its halls are overflowing with art and culture, making it impossible to see everything in one day (although our guide to the Met endeavors to cover all the highlights). Moreover, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is conveniently located near Central Park, another must-visit attraction on this list.
Guide tip: The entrance fee to the Met is pay-what-you-will, making it an affordable option that won’t break the bank.
Travel in Style at Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central, one of New York’s most stunning buildings, has come a long way since its inauguration in 1913. Every day, approximately three-quarters of a million people pass through this station, making it one of the world’s most extensive and busiest transportation hubs. While its size is impressive, its architecture is equally noteworthy.
The main concourse ceiling is the highlight, soaring 125 feet above and adorned with a mural of gold-leaf constellations. Don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate the exterior of the building, which is equally impressive. It stands out amid the shiny, contemporary towers of midtown.
From Railway to Skyway: Exploring the High Line
Nestled away on the west side of Manhattan lies one of New York’s most surprising attractions. The High Line, soaring 30 feet above the ground, winds back and forth along 10th Avenue. Completed in 2016, this park is relatively new to the tourist scene and still not on most visitors’ travel itineraries. Built on a former industrial railroad, it stretches from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 34th Street.
As you wander through the pathways, you’ll discover various plant species and catch glimpses of the original tracks snaking in and out of view.
Honoring the Past and Embracing the Future: The 9/11 Memorial
The events of September 11th impacted New York more than any other city in America, and its effects are still felt today. However, instead of dwelling on the tragedy, the 9/11 Memorial reflects on the city’s healing and growth following that fateful day.
A poignant piece of artwork called “Reflecting Absence” features two memorial pools situated in the footprints of the towers, flanking the museum on both sides. Around the memorial, it’s impossible not to notice the remarkable new buildings that have arisen to replace what was lost. The 9/11 Museum is one of them, and if you have the time, it’s another must-visit during your trip.
Where History and Commerce Meet: The Financial District
The Financial District’s name might suggest a neighborhood solely centered around money, but there’s far more to it than that. With a richer history (pun not intended, but quite fitting) than any other area in New York, the Financial District boasts several landmarks you simply can’t miss, including:
- New York Stock Exchange
- Wall Street
- The Charging Bull
- Federal Hall National Memorial
- Trinity Church (and its renowned churchyard)
- Battery Park
Guide tip: While you’re in the vicinity, make sure to stop by Stone Street for a bite to eat. This entire block is reminiscent of the Dutch architecture that once covered Lower Manhattan.
The Financial District is steeped in history and the birthplace of the American government, and it’s easy to navigate on foot. It could undoubtedly be the centerpiece of your journey.
Greenwich Village, SoHo, and West Village
While you’re in town, don’t miss out on the authentic New York experience. Greenwich Village, SoHo, and West Village are three vibrant neighborhoods that offer a glimpse into the city as we locals see it every day. It’s the unique energy of these areas that truly makes New York the amazing destination that it is.
Even if your time is limited and you can’t visit all three, be sure to include at least one in your itinerary. Explore the shops in SoHo, catch a comedy show in Greenwich, or savor some delicious food in the West Village. Each neighborhood has its distinctive charm, and immersing yourself in the local culture is an essential part of any memorable vacation.