Things to See and Do in New York City

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By: Sarah Rodrigues
Published: April 21, 2016
Last Update: Nov 27, 2022

New York is one of the most thrillingly recognizable cities you’ll ever experience in your lifetime. It has been featured in so many films and TV shows that visiting, even for the first time, feels familiar - yet nothing can quite prepare you for its relentless throb and heady pace. Here are 19 Things To See and Do In New York the city that never sleeps.

1. The Statue of Liberty

Lady Liberty is the proud symbol of New York and you risk feeling that you haven’t truly visited unless you at least view her from Manhattan. You can go one (or 354) steps further, however - there are dedicated ferries to take you over to the island on which she stands and, once there, you can ascend the pedestal and then upwards towards her crown. If that’s not for you - and, granted, it’s strenuous and a touch claustrophobic, so definitely not for everyone - then you have the far cheaper but no less wonderful option of the Staten Island ferry, which gives you great views of this icon without the tourist crowds or the expense.
statue of liberty

2. Central Park

Extending a vast 843 acres, this is undeniably the beating green heart of New York City. Designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, there are any number of ways to explore and things to do once you’re here, but one of the most entertaining is definitely just grabbing a patch of grass or a bench and watching the theater of life in Manhattan unfold before you. Highlights include horse and carriage rides, model sailboats at the Conservatory Water, Belvedere Castle and the Bow Bridge - plus, of course, the carousel and zoo. Lace on a pair of trainers, hire a bike or free-wheel on rollerblades: there is no bad way to spend a day here.
central park view

3. Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)

It’s a tough call, putting this one on the list - but only because this epic museum is so vast and so enthralling that you could easily spend the whole of your NYC vacation here. And then some. Seriously spellbinding, it hosts in excess of two million works of art, spanning more than 5,000 years of history - from lesser-known pieces to some of the world’s most beloved historical masterpieces. Built over four - count’em, FOUR - city blocks, you’ll need to plan your visit here wisely if you ever plan on seeing anything else of New York- although, that said, there could be far less enriching ways to spend a vacation.
The Met

4. Empire State Building

Its Art Deco style is instantly recognizable in the very best way - when you consider the brashness of most modern day skyscrapers, there’s something elegant and charming about this one. It’s by no means New York’s first skyscraper but it’s one of its most beloved - and, in light of the loss of the Twin Towers and so many lives in recent years, all the more precious to the psyche of the city for that. Head to the 86th level for great views of the city, or take it further to the lesser-visited observatory on the 102nd floor.

5. Brooklyn Bridge

Another familiar structure, another absolute must-do. Completed in 1883, this was the first steel wire suspension bridge ever constructed and, stretching over the East River to connect Manhattan and Brooklyn, it is also one of New York’s most recognized landmarks. Walking or jogging its 1,825 meter distance won’t exactly get you ready for the New York marathon, but it WILL give you sweeping views of the city. Allow an hour for the return journey because you will 100% want to stop and take selfies - and trust us, no one is judging you when you do.
Brooklyn Bridge

6. 9/11 Memorial

Few atrocities in recent history have so definitively marked us as 9/11 and a visit to New York without paying respects to all of those whose lives were forever changed that day would seem incredibly remiss. Where the Twin Towers once stood, we now see 30-foot waterfalls, allegedly the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. Bronze panels nearby are inscribed with the names of the 2,983 people who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center, Flight 93’s crash in Pennsylvania, the attack on the Pentagon and, additionally, the six people who died in the World Trade Center bombing of 1993.
9/11 Memorial Aerial

7. Coney Island

Touristy and brash - yes, it’s all of that! But don’t let that put you off - this beachfront American town has more than its fair share of faded seaside glamor and is no less charming for being a bit of a trap for the out-of-towners. Make no mistake though - there are just as many locals here as anyone else, not least because the range of food on offer here is pretty impressive. If you don’t feel like chowing down on the offerings, you must at least race the heat for the last lick of your ice cream cone or, for the not-faint-of-heart, take a spin on the Cyclone roller coaster.

8. Times Square

If you’re ever lucky enough to be here for New Year’s Eve, then all kinds of green-eyed vibes your way. Even if not, however, there’s something about this over-lit, flashing, eye-strain-inducing monstrosity that’s utterly compelling. Between the television broadcasts and relentless advertising, it’s commercial, it’s in-your-face, it’s pretty much as far from inner peace as you could possibly get. But then, you didn’t come to New York for that, did you? Grab a soda and prepare to be dazzled by the bustle - not just virtual, but in the people and traders all around you.
Times Square

9. The Whitney

Located in the buzzy Meatpacking District, this museum has really come into its own in recent years. It’s housed in a Renzo Piano - he of London’s Shard notoriety - designed building and boasts around 18,000 pieces in its collection, which are primarily modern, with artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol to feast your eyes upon. Let it all sink in with a cocktail on the rooftop after your visit; sunset gives you all the peachy, rosy tints but the views are grand at any time of day.
Whitney New York Museum

10. Grand Central Station

Not planning on going anywhere? So much the better - that means that you won’t be feeling any train schedule pressure to cut your wanderings of this architectural beauty short. Opened in 1913, the terminal was guaranteed landmark status in 1978 and is well worth a few hours in your trip, for the combination of its architecture, shopping and restaurants. Visited or passed through by over 750,000 people per day, don’t miss the Tiffany clock and celestial ceiling.
grand central station

11. Top of the Rock Observatory

Located in Midtown Manhattan, The Rockefeller Center is one of the city’s most well-known sites but its observation deck was only reopened to the public in 2005. Head 850 feet above street level for views of New York City’s most iconic landmarks, including the Chrysler Building and Brooklyn Bridge. With its ocean liner theme, it still harks back to the glorious 1930s, when it was first opened, with deck chairs to lounge on; that said, there is plenty of shelter from the sometimes gusty winds, with two of three observation decks offering some form of protection from the elements.
rockefeller center observatory

12. New York Public Library

Located just east of Times Square, it’s hard to imagine two such different attractions: the neon brashness of one falls away to the stately grandeur of the other. Walk past the marble lions - named ‘Patience’ and ‘Fortitude’ - into a world of quiet study and contemplation, where the recently restored Rose Reading Room, with its 500 person capacity, sees people hunched over books under ceiling murals of soft pink clouds, lit by ornate (and original) lamps. Even if you’re not here to read, there’s plenty to be seen, including a vast collection of old maps and a copy of the original Declaration of Independence. Free tours take place twice a day during the week.
new york public library

13. The High Line

An abandoned and elevated railway line has found new life as a public park, which links the arty Chelsea scene with the trendy Meatpacking District. From this vantage point - you’re 30 feet above street level - you’re treated to the spectacle of city life, with its frantic pace, going on below you, plus wide views of the Hudson River. Building aspects also give a real sense of the juxtaposition of old and new architecture, with shiny developments cheek-by-jowl with historic buildings. Beautifully landscaped, this public park often plays host to installations, performances and events but even if nothing’s going on, it’s a great and relatively new angle of the city to explore.
The High Line New York

14. Broadway

Have you even been to The Big Apple if you haven’t caught a show (note - you must “catch a show”. You cannot merely “see a show”) on Broadway? Well, that’s open to debate, but the point is that Broadway is practically synonymous with New York and there is such a range of theaters, performances, times and ticket prices that it would, quite simply, be a shame to not avail yourself of the opportunity to experience it. Also known as ‘The Great White Way’ - a reference to the fact that it was one of the USA’s first streets to be illuminated with electricity - Broadway is located in Midtown - right near Times Square - and has around 40 theaters.
broadway street sign

15. Fifth Avenue

Even if you’re not intending to give your credit card a workout on your visit to New york, Fifth Avenue is well worth a wander for the sumptuous shop windows and the people watching. Spanning more than 20 blocks, this prime retail destination hosts such glitzy names as Bergdorf Goodman, Van Cleef & Arpels and, of course, Tiffany & Co; if you can’t resist the thrill of buying a little something - just anything! - from this strip, then take heart: there’s a slew of chain stores nestled among the high-end heavyweights: think Gap and Sephora to soothe your retail cravings. In need of further solace? St Patrick’s Cathedral is also on Fifth and definitely worth a visit, even if you’re not praying for a bottomless bank account.
Fifth Avenue

16. Grimaldi's Pizzeria

New York is filled with some of the best pizzerias around. So if it's pizza you are after, you must visit Grimaldi's, a coal-fired pizzeria that sits under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. You will be treated to some of the best pizza pie around as well as a great view of Manhattan. There is also a jukebox inside that is filled with Frank Sinatra classics. In fact, rumour has it that Sinatra actually had Grimaldi's pies flown to him while he was in Vegas. Grimaldi's Pizzeria

17. Bergdorf Goodman

If it's shopping you are after, look no further than Bergdorf Goodman, the sole remaining New York-centric luxe department store. You may not be able to afford much here but it's still fun to roam the aisles and see where the rich and famous shop. If you don't have a lot of time to shop, you can always arrange for a personal shopper to help you find what you are looking for. Bergdorf Goodman

18. Bowery Ballroom

If you love music, you will love a stop at the Bowery Ballroom. This place is known as one of the best music spots in New York because it features up-and-coming national acts. The Ballroom is made up of the Bowery Presents chain of local venues, which includes the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Mercury Lounge for local, smaller acts and Terminal 5 and Webster Hall, which book bigger touring bands. So, no matter your taste, there is something here for everyone. Bowery Ballroom

19. Film Forum

It's not surprising to know that New York is a town for film lovers. At the Film Forum you will be able to see movies that you would likely only read about. You will be treated to films that range from Indie features and documentaries to some of the foreign art cinema that was featured in some of the world's top film festivals. So, if you're a film lover, this is the place for you.