Conquer the Big Apple – The 35 Best Things to Do in New York City
Conquer the Big Apple + Home to more than 8 million people, New York, is the most populous city in the United States.
Having been depicted in numerous films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Goodfellas, New York is now often associated with the towering skyscrapers and monuments of Wall Street, the neon signs of Times Square, and the greenery of Central Park, all of which contribute to the perpetual energy of the city.
From Broadway shows to world-class museums like the Museum of Modern Art and the iconic Statue of Liberty, this exciting city is packed with activities to entertain all travelers.
It’s hard to cover all that New York offers with so many enticing options, which can make planning your trip a little bewildering.
That’s why this list will come in handy. Here are the 31 must-sees, ranging from iconic landmarks to local favorites:
- Say hello to Lady Liberty
Lady Liberty truly takes the cake as New York’s most well-known icon. However, getting to the statue is certainly no easy task.
It involves waiting at least 90 minutes for the ferry to take you from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan to Liberty Island and then stopping at Ellis Island on the way back before heading back to the mainland.
However, if you have extra time, a visit here will be worth it, as it gives you a panoramic view of New York Harbor.
But if you’re short on time, you can still catch a glimpse of the legendary landmark at Battery Park or the High Line.
The importance of the Statue of Liberty is that it was the first sight of America for millions of immigrants in the past. So travelers will experience the same overwhelming wonder on the ferry as it approaches Liberty Island.
Play in Central Park
Suppose you have free time in the morning or afternoon, head to this favorite of New Yorkers and tourists. Designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, Central Park is home to 341 hectares (843 acres) of not only vibrant flora and greenery but also hidden stories.
It is truly one of the best examples of efficient urban planning. You can head here for a stroll, a picnic, or even a trip to the zoo. Central Park is a great place to visit year-round, with many things to do and see.
The best way to enjoy it is by taking a leisurely bike ride. Take your time exploring the mountainous terrain, stopping to see the Alice in Wonderland sculpture, Belvedere Castle, or the world-famous Bow Bridge.
If you’re familiar with the movie Enchanted, head over to the Bethesda Fountain, where the scene of Princess Giselle explaining her idea of true love to Robert was filmed.
This statue depicts the Angel of the Waters and four cherubs representing temperance, purity, health, and peace, making it an ideal place for lovers to toss a coin and make a wish.
- Marvel at the Empire State Building
If you must visit a tourist site, it is the Empire State Building. Proudly one of the tallest structures in New York, the view from the 86th-floor observation deck is so astonishing that it will take your breath away.
Tickets for the observation deck are steep and are $29 each. However, it is quite justified given the view that you will be able to see.
Additionally, there is a multimedia tour, available in eight languages, that guides you through the exhibits and sights and additional information on the building’s history.
Tip: If you want to avoid the crowds, the best times to come are 8:30 am8:30 am early in the morning or during lunch and dinner, Monday through Wednesday.
People-watch at Grand Central Terminal
Despite being one of New York’s most historic landmarks, the century-old Grand Central Terminal remains the busiest train station in the country, with 44 platforms, more than any other train station in the world! World!
Even if you don’t have to catch a train from the terminal, it’s worth making a trip to spend a few moments people-watching over the gleaming marble floors or marvel at the sky-themed ceiling mural. From the enormous main esplanade.
If you’re accompanied, head to the Whispering Gallery for some fun. Stand at the bottom of the Oyster Bar ramp and whisper into the wall so your friend on the other side can hear you.
And while you’re there, remember to take a good look from the outside and be amazed by its neoclassical Beaux-Arts architecture.
Let your imagination run wild at the New York Public Library
Travelers with a penchant for reading and literature should be no strangers to the New York Public Library.
If you’re in town and feel like reading, you’ll find a comprehensive collection of maps, unique collections of English and American literature, English romance, and rare books.
No wonder this main branch (Stephen A. Schwarzman Building) attracts not only book lovers but also history junkies and architecture enthusiasts.
Even if you don’t like to read, it’s worth a visit to climb the significant steps of this building. The two famous noble lion statues, Patience and Fortitude, and the massive Roman-style columns provide a dramatic entrance to the library lobby.
Fun fact: Books come to life not only at the New York Public Library but also on screens, big and small. Over the years, countless movies and TV shows have been filmed here.
You may have seen the library in blockbusters like The Day After Tomorrow, Ghostbusters, and Spiderman, as well as TV shows like Person of Interest and Gossip Girl.
- Pay your respects at the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum was built to tribute the 2,983 people who died in the 2001 terrorist attacks and the six people who lost their lives in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The Memorial’s twin reflecting pools and artificial waterfalls are strategically located where the World Trade Center Twin Towers once stood before the devastating tragedies.
The collections are 1 acre (0.4 hectares) long and enclosed in bronze panels, on which the names of all the victims are inscribed.
The general atmosphere here is gloomy and soulful, so young children are advised not to come.
The National 9/11 Museum retells the attacks’ events through multimedia displays, real-time recordings, and artifacts.
General admission to the museum is $24, but on Tuesdays, access is free for all visitors between 5–8 pm5–8 pm
Enjoy the lights and the crowd in Times Square
While New Yorkers avoid the congested “Crossroads of the World” like the plague, travelers shouldn’t miss coming here for the flashing neon lights and glowing digital screens. So for that reason alone, if you plan to visit this area, it is recommended to come after dark.
There are tons of fun things to do in Times Square, from shopping and dining to things like Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.
Be sure to take a moment to soak in all the sights. And you’ll need your camera to capture all the bright lights and tremendous crowds.
However, a word of caution. Be aware that pickpockets are rife here, so be sure to protect your belongings at all times.
Go to a Broadway show
If you are a theater fan, this is where you need to be. Having 40 Broadway theaters spread across the Theater District, from 41st Street to 52nd Street and 6th to 8th Avenue, means you are spoiled for choosing which musical, play, or revival to attend.
While tickets to Hamilton, the season’s hottest show, are nearly impossible to come by for the foreseeable future, plenty of other shows are worth checking out as well.
In the mood for a musical? Consider Fun Home, Something Rotten, Waitress, and the up-and-coming The Great Comet. More into plays?
See Hollywood actors on stage with shows like An Act of God, starring The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons and Eclipsed, starring the great Lupita Nyong’o.
With the inexhaustible talent pool of playwrights, actors, musicians, and dancers, you’ll be in good hands and sure to have a good time no matter which shows you choose.
Tip: If you’re on a budget, stop by the TKTS booth in Times Square for discounted same-day tickets. Or, if you’re feeling lucky, head to select theaters before a show and join the lottery (Ham4Ham, anyone?) for a chance to win front-row or balcony tickets for a small sum of money. “If you don’t know, now you know!” Check out more tips on fun things to do in New York City!
Look around you, look around you with the Hamilton Tour
Fear not if you’re in town and can’t get tickets to Hamilton on Broadway. Get your dose of the founding father outside the Richard Rodgers Theater by reserving a spot on the Tour of Hamilton.
Join Jimmy Napoli, Alexander Hamilton insider, and enthusiast, as he takes you through the streets of New York City, stopping at the sites where Hamilton once stood (including his favorite bar).
Step back into Hamilton’s narrative as you listen to Jimmy recount the stories of the Revolutionary War, the making of the Constitution, the origin of the country’s bank, and the infamous duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.
Even if you’re not a history buff or familiar with the musical, this three-hour tour stretching from Hamilton Heights to Washington Heights will be well worth it, as you’ll learn a lot about the nation’s founding and the face of the ticket of ten dollars.
Explore 30 Rockefeller Plaza
The facade of 30 Rockefeller Plaza should not be unknown to you, as it has been shown in countless movies.
This iconic square is not only home to beautiful sculptures and Art Deco office buildings from the 1930s but also its centerpiece, the GE Building.
You can check out NBC Studios and climb to the observation deck for a postcard view of the Big Apple from 259 meters above ground level.
Combined with a wide range of shops and restaurants, one can easily spend a whole day here.
If you plan and get tickets months in advance, you can watch a taping of ‘The Today Show in the morning, get an overview of the city from the Top of the Rock observation deck afterward, and spend the rest of the night watching a performance. At the exclusive Radio City Music Hall.
Travelers who visit the city in winter are in luck, as a vast illuminated Christmas tree illuminates this place. Not only that, you can grab your ice skates here and slide down the huge ice rink right in the middle. (Conquer the Big Apple)
See the making of America’s best TV shows
New York City and Los Angeles are America’s premier television hubs, so why not look at how they make the magic happen? Sign up for the NBC Studio Tour, and you can see the inner workings of some of the most popular television shows in the country.
The NBC pages will take you down the halls and into some of the studios you might recognize, like Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and Late Night with Seth Meyers.
You’ll also be able to enter the make-up room where the stars get ready before their shows and the high-definition control rooms.
This 70-minute tour is not to be missed, especially if you are a TV fanatic. You will learn about the television production process from writing to production and have the hands-on opportunity to create your show! (Conquer the Big Apple)
Have fun with an SNL taping
If you don’t want to spend any money on the NBC studio tour but still want to experience the magic of television, head over to the free taping of one of the most iconic American shows in history: Saturday Night Live.
This is your chance to see the legendary weekend updates and brilliant sketches in person. Laugh the night away with witty lines and jokes from the current crop of comedians like Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson.
However, it is not easy to get to these recordings, but you will not regret having the opportunity to try. Email your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org each August, and if you’re lucky, the NBC staff will contact you to let you know if you won. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Stroll the High Line
Have a spare hour and need a break from the hustle and bustle of New York? Head straight to the High Line, where you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline.
Rising 30 feet (9.1 meters) above the ground on an abandoned train track and stretching 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers), this landscaped park covers the city’s vibrant neighborhoods of Meatpacking District, West Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen.
It’s not your typical walk in the park, with bright yellow cabs zooming down the street below as you stroll along the boardwalk lined with lush gardens, wildflowers, and public art installations.
If you don’t want to walk the entire length of the High Line, you can take the stairs and elevators, which will take you down to street level. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Take a tour of the United Nations Headquarters
Having the United Nations headquarters located in the city makes New York an important center for international diplomacy and the cultural and financial capital of the world.
Sign up for the hour-long guided tour to glimpse the organization’s behind-the-scenes operations.
It is a truly enriching experience as you not only learn about the history and structure of the UN but also learn how it addresses global issues such as peace and security, human rights, and the Millennium Development Goals.
If you’re lucky and there when official meetings aren’t in session, multilingual tour guides will take you inside the newly renovated chambers. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Stroll through the vast New York Botanical Garden
Entering the New York Botanical Garden is like living in a painting. This 125-year-old botanical center should not be overlooked.
The enormous 250-acre backyard in the far North of the Bronx is home to lush gardens and natural woodlands.
If you’re in town, spend a whole day here. You’ll be rewarded with the sweet-smelling Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, home to more than 650 plants, or the Conservatory, an elegant Victorian greenhouse containing seasonal flowers. And special exhibits like the annual Orchid Show.
The Native Plant Garden also deserves mention. With thousands of native species, this garden comprehensively looks at North American plants.
Get the All Garden Pass which costs $20-$25 and gives you full access to all garden exhibits, the Conservatory, Rock Garden, Native Plant Garden, Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, the Tram Tour, and the art galleries on the premises. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Ride the Staten Island Ferry
Want to check out the Statue of Liberty (check out activity #1 on this list!) but not willing to spend money on the ferry? Just hop on this free 24-hour ferry service that takes you to Staten Island and back to Manhattan.
Although this 25-minute boat ride is free, it offers some of the best views of New York’s Lower Manhattan skyline. Keep an eye out for Governors Island to the east and Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty to the west. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Get inspired by MoMA
Don’t be fooled by its name. Even if you’re not a modern art lover, you might appreciate spending an afternoon at the world-renowned Museum of Modern Art.
Although you can enter the museum for free on Fridays from 4:00 pm4:00 pm to 8:00 pm8:00 pm, the $25 general admission for other times is quite expensive but well worth it.
MoMA houses some of the best modern and contemporary art in the world, ranging from 20th-century history to pop culture pieces.
You’ll see iconic details like Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most famous landmarks in New York. The bridge opened in 1883, making it one of the oldest suspension bridges in the country.
Being the first structure to cross the East River and built with steel wire cables, the brainchild of designer John A. Roebling makes it a feat of architectural innovation.
Come here for a stunning view of Lower Manhattan and New York landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and Governors Island.
It’s a straightforward 30-minute walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn (or vice versa), and it’s a satisfying way to experience both boroughs.
Tip: The best times to go are first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds or after dark when you can enjoy a majestic view of the sun setting over the horizon. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Spend a beautiful summer afternoon on Governors Island
Travelers tired of the hustle and bustle of city life are in luck when they visit New York in the summer. Governors Island is an excellent place for a recreational or relaxing day trip.
This 172-acre (69.6-hectare) island, formerly a military base, is located in the heart of New York Harbor and hits the spot when all you want is quiet.
Visitors can laze around and enjoy the summer sun at Picnic Point, which features 8 acres (3.2 hectares) of lawn equipped with picnic tables and hammocks.
If you want to do more than lay around like a sloth, bike rentals are available on the island and are great for touring this island without motorized vehicles. Tip: Get a free one-hour weekly rental from 10 am to 12 pm.
Also, check out the island’s events calendar on their website, as fun events are often scheduled for the summer, like the annual New York Poetry Festival and the Jazz Age Garden Party, which you’ll probably love. They will make you feel like you’ve stepped onto the set of The Great Gatsby.
The only way to get to this verdant wonderland is via a NY Waterway or East River ferry. Check their website for opening dates, as they are only open during the summer. This year, the public season begins on May 28. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Visit Coney Island
Coney Island is the place to be if you’re looking for a quirky yet exciting experience. Located in Brooklyn, this resort and entertainment area has been called “the people’s playground” since the 20th century.
With such a long history and the fact that it has kept many elements for decades, this seaside attraction has many characteristics that keep visitors intrigued.
The 2.7-mile (4.3-kilometer) long boardwalk is lined with rows of restaurants and entertainment options, including several amusement parks and a museum.
For adrenaline junkies, check out the nearly 90-year-old Cyclone ride at the newly opened Luna Park or the Sling Shot that launches you 150 feet (45.7 meters) into the air for 90 miles (144 meters) 8 kilometers) per hour.
There are even quirky events like the 4th of July hot dog eating contest and the annual Mermaid Parade.
You’ll never be bored at Coney Island with so many enticing things to do, so what are you waiting for? Take an afternoon off and get ready to have some fun here. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Check out what’s blooming at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
If you want to find your inner zen, head to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It is an incredible place with 52 acres and an extensive collection of more than 12,000 varieties of flora and fauna. There are 13 gardens and five greenhouses, so plenty of places can walk around and enjoy the scenery.
One of the highlights here is the exquisite Japanese Garden of Hills and Ponds, where you can sit by the lake and enjoy looking at the wooden bridges and breezy Japanese maples.
Also, if you come here at the end of April, you can see the cherry blossoms on the Cherry Esplanade.
Another worth visiting is Shakespeare’s Garden, home to more than 80 plants described in the playwright’s works.
Walking down the brick path lined with flower beds, fans of The Bard can experience what it felt like to be in an English cottage garden like the Elizabethans.
General admission to the garden is $10 for adults and; 5 USD for students and people over 65 years old. Children under 12 years old can access the park for free. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Eat from a street vendor
New York isn’t known for being The Cultural Melting Pot for nothing. With people from all over the world looking to make a living here, the cultural diversity of this city is second to none, and it’s evident in the vibrant street food scene.
Street vendors are on almost every corner, selling everything from classics like hot dogs and pretzels to banh mi and lobster rolls.
So even if you can’t get a table at a trendy restaurant, don’t worry; you can get the same great food on the streets for a fraction of the price! (Conquer the Big Apple)
Learn about marine life at the New York Aquarium
Looking for a place to go with children? The New York Aquarium could do the trick. Although this aquarium is the oldest in the country, it is worth a visit.
Spanning 14 acres (5.7 hectares) facing the beach, this aquarium is home to 266 aquatic species, including piranhas, penguins, sea lions, seals, and sea otters.
Visitors may have the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the animals during scheduled feeding times. Fun!
The best thing about this is that it is run by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which aims to save wildlife and wild places.
Your efforts to raise public awareness of the environmental issues facing the ocean and its ecosystem are truly commendable. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Savor some craft beers at Brooklyn Brewery
The word Brooklyn is no stranger to any beer lover. After all, New York is one of the largest beer centers in the country. With the recent boom in craft beers, many breweries are opening their doors for tours.
Having been in business since 1988, Brooklyn Brewery’s beers are sold in 25 states and 20 countries, a testament to its quality.
The Brooklyn Brewery Tour is an activity that can be enjoyed by locals and travelers alike, with an excellent behind-the-scenes look at the ingredients of a good pint.
Tours that run Monday through Thursday require online reservations but include tastings of four beers.
If you’re on a budget, the terms are free on weekends but do not include tastings. However, there are beer tokens available to sample the beers. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Eat a real New York bagel
It’s a well-known fact that New York is home to the best bagels in the world, and with so many bagel shops in the city, it’s no wonder locals here are constantly debating which is the best. Here are two joints worth lining up for the crunchy, chewy treat:
Black seed donuts
Black Seed on Elizabeth Street has raised the bar for bagel shops. The two founders take pride in traditional methods and artisanal ingredients.
Their bagels are hand-rolled bagels poached in honey water for a more subtle touch of sweetness. Plus, the bagels are baked in batches in wood-fired ovens for that perfect texture and density. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Since opening in 1996, this bagel joint has served a steady crowd. Bagels at this beloved establishment are made in-house using a time-honored recipe passed down from generation to generation.
Their bagels are never toasted, keeping them soft on the inside while crisp on the outside. (Conquer the Big Apple)
New York Cheesecake
Remember to get a slice of this creamy, healthy treat if you’re in town. After all, it doesn’t become a self-titled, universal dessert for no reason. Here are two stores that will make your calories worthwhile:
Although Junior’s Restaurant is a full-fledged restaurant, this place is more known for its cheesecakes.
While most establishments use whole grain crackers for the base of their cheesecakes, Junior’s cheesecakes come with a thin biscuit base. However, that is not the only highlight.
Cheesecake is delicious, rich, and perfect and hardly needs any cream or fancy ingredients. It’s so good on its own.
Fun fact: Junior’s is a favorite of P. Diddy’s, and he filmed the music video for “Tonight” in front of the original restaurant. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Two little red hens
This Upper East Side establishment has earned a reputation for having the best cheesecake in New York. While they’re also known for their selection of pies (pumpkin, chocolate pecan, cherry crumble…yum!), their cheesecake is always a crowd-pleaser.
Their cheesecake is velvety, yet surprisingly rich but not cloying. And the slices are generously tall, topped with a golden brown top with crisp, dark graham cracker crust. This is the perfect example of a classic New York cheesecake done right. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Stop by the Village Vanguard for a taste of New York jazz
You can’t leave New York without experiencing one of America’s original art forms: jazz. Having been home to some of jazz’s greatest legends for eight decades, the Village Vanguard remains the most revered institution for jazz and a good reason.
Although it has been home to some of the industry’s top legends, including Miles Davis and Bill Evans, the Village Vanguard is still very relevant today, continuing to host rising talent and staying out of the trade for all these years.
Not only that, the authenticity of the place and the unmatched acoustics also entice visitors to keep coming back for more. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Say hi to the animals at the Bronx Zoo
How can you be in New York and not go to the most significant metropolitan zoo in the United States? Even if you’re not traveling with kids, the Bronx Zoo is a great place to escape Manhattan’s hustle and bustle.
Covering 265 acres of land, this zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals, making it the perfect place to study and appreciate creatures in their natural habitats.
There are too many to see here with the myriad of exhibits, including The Himalayan Highland, which recreates the towering terrain of snow leopards and white-naped cranes, and the freshwater environment of the Sea Lion Pool, where they take conduct training and feeding sessions for these intelligent creatures.
The zoo is located in Bronx Park and the New York Botanical Garden, so with some planning, both can be visited on the same day.
The zoo is open Monday through Friday from 10 am10 am to 5 pm5 pm, and ten am10 am to 5:30 pm5:30 pm on weekends. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Kayaking on the Hudson River
For a more unique and relaxing way to take in the sights of New York’s waterfront, feel free to kayak down the Hudson River for FREE!
Run by a group of volunteers, the downtown boathouses are accessible from Pier 26 and Governors Island. Services are available from May to October.
This fun activity is perfect, especially if you have a small, young family. So if you have an hour or two to spare, hop on, grab a paddle, and get ready to see New York City in a new light. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Witness the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Live
Many people visit New York solely for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an annual parade presented by the Macy’s department store chain, and it’s easy to see why.
This popular yearly attraction has been a New York City tradition since 1924, drawing around 3.5 million people to the streets of Manhattan each year.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade brings together 1,500 dancers and cheerleaders, 1,000 clowns, marching bands, Broadway shows, celebrities, and of course, the famous floats and giant balloons with characters (such as Pikachu, Paddington Bear, Hello Kitty, Spiderman, and Spongebob Squarepants) that are the signature of this event.
Tip: Coming here for the first time can be disconcerting, but you can’t go wrong camping on Columbus Circle for the best views of the parade.
What are you waiting for if you’re in town for the holidays? Wake up, grab a coffee, have fun, and post parade selfies. (Conquer the Big Apple)
Book a tour with New York Adventure Club
Want to try something new in New York City? See what New York Adventure Club has to offer. Visitors can visit different monuments and restaurants, as well as the subway and other parts of the Manhattan subway.
You can see different historic museums, churches and art galleries. The club’s gift shop has t-shirts and gift cards available for anyone looking to get a little something extra out of their experience. Private events are also open if you want to try something out of the ordinary.
Even if you’re not impressed by the city’s towering skyscrapers and landmarks, you’ll be impressed by its burgeoning arts, food, fashion, and nightlife scenes.
It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor; New York has it all to offer travelers of any budget. After all, it is universally known as the city that never sleeps. So why wait? Get your tickets and start planning a visit now!
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