30 Things to Do in New York City
It took me an ashamedly long time to realise why New York is always referred to as “New York, New York”. Before visiting the famous city, I had traveled to the west coast of America as well as Massachusetts and New Hampshire but hadn’t quite made the connection. Embarrassing (I don’t have an BA and MA in geography or anything!).
Anyway, back to the Big Apple. Before I went to New York I was worried it may be underwhelming. You know when something is talked about so much, portrayed in movies enough times to make you think you’ve been there, I was concerned it wouldn’t live up to expectations. But New York you surely did. There’s something so incredible about the streets of New York. They seem to ooze unique quirk and charm. There wasn’t a street I walked along that I didn’t find something interesting or something to make me lift my camera.
This list of 30 things to do in New York City is by no means complete but I have tried to show you things that I managed to do during my time in the city.
BUDGET SAVING TIP: GET THE NEW YORK PASS NOW!
I had heard about these passes in New York, that give you discounts into attractions, or allow you to visit attractions for free once you’ve bought the pass; but I wasn’t sure whether they were really worth it or not. I do not like spending money unnecessarily and am arguably quite a stingy tourist who likes to get the best for her bucks. But I decided to go ahead with the pass. This was hands down the best decision I made on this trip. I travelled to New York in 2014 (gosh isn’t that long ago now) so the prices were a lot different back then, but the current New York Pass price list can be found here. For a 3 day pass you will less than $200 but right now it’s just $179. That means just by doing 4 or 5 of the big attractions you will have got your money back already.
Not only does it save you a ton of money but it’s easier for travelling, you don’t have to bring so much cash with you. Most of all I loved it because I did things I would never have normally spent money on. For example, I went on a ferry cruise of New York which I probably wouldn’t have done without the pass, then on the last day I spontaneously went on a sailboat tour of the city as well. It ended up being much more intimate than the ferry cruise and we got far closer to some of the landmarks like the Statue of Liberty. I also went to silly things like Madam Tussauds (without the pass I would never have spent money on seeing wax), and also a fantastic bicycle tour of Central Park. You can find the list of attractions included in the pass here, and please note that you may need to book some tours and experiences in advance even with the pass.
Right, lets go!
1. The Statue of Liberty
One of the most iconic landmarks in the USA, the Statue of Liberty is located on Liberty Island in the New York Harbor. This 93m high copper statue was actually a gift of friendship from France to the U.S. donated in 1886. When visiting the island there are few different ticket options, including general admission to the foot of the statue, pedestal tickets (beneath the actual copper statue) and crown tickets to explore Lady Liberty’s actual crown (it should be noted that due to COVID the crown is currently closed).
As there are a lot of hawkers and dodgy salesmen selling tickets by Battery Park, the National Park Service website recommend booking through Statue City Cruises. Tickets on their website also include Ellis Island and you can pick time slots throughout the day. Booking in advance is essential to avoid disappointment and long queues.
General Admission – $23.50
Pedestal Reserve – $23.80
Crown Access – $23.80
Monday – Sunday 9.30AM-4.30AM
Last entrance to pedestal is 3.30PM
Statue Cruises Ferry departs Battery Park every 40 minutes from 9.30AM to 3.30PM
Location: Liberty Island, New York, NY 10004
2. Head to Queens for the US Open
I have played tennis since I was 6 years old, I have even played at Wimbledon in the Road to Wimbledon tournament when I was 14. After many trips to Wimbledon, when I started travelling, I made it my mission to eventually visit all 4 of the Grand Slams. Naturally when in New York I had to go to the US Open.
I had an incredible time at the US Open, it felt like a very personable tournament as I was able to get a lot closer to the players than at Wimbledon. I watched Andy Murray, Agnieszka Radwańska, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Jelena Janković as well as Murray’s coach Amélie Mauresmo.
Not flushed with cash at Flushing Meadows I bought a Monday ground pass for around $100 and it was absolutely well worth it. The pass allowed me onto some of the bigger outer stadiums which was great. Just a word of warning, bring sun cream. I left mine in the locker outside the ground and then spent the next day violently sick and unable to visit Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Just outside the US Open grounds is the beautiful Flushing Meadows park which has this rather epic globe statue and water fountain.
Opening hours: Gates usually open at 10AM for the day session and 6PM for the night session
Location: Flushing Meadow – Corona Park, Flushing, NY 11368, United States
3. Wall Street & New York Stock Exchange
Located in the Financial District in Lower Manhattan, Wall Street is the hub of all things finance and a recognizable site from an array of American movies. The famous 1929 stock market crash that led to the Great Depression has an unconditional connection to this area. I think, owing to the tall imposing buildings Wall Street feels eerie and quiet compared to the rest of the city. I expected it to be a hubbub of noise but I guess that all goes on inside the stock exchange. I almost think this street doesn’t look real, its so old and completely juxtaposed to its surroundings, almost like it’s a movie set.
Location: 11 Wall St, New York, NY 10005, United States
4. Take a Sailboat Cruise from North Cove Marina
I had been wandering around Lower Manhattan for some time, exploring some of the other things to do on this list. Letting my feet lead the way, I ended up at the North Cove Marina, a nice area in itself. I recognized the name but couldn’t instantly figure out from where, then I realised I had seen it on the list of attractions on my handy New York City Pass. Now I am not sure if this is still available as it’s been 6 years now (man I’m getting old) but there was a sailboat cruise listed on the attractions list. Well thank you very much, I will pretend I own one of these luxury yachts and cruise around Manhattan. Now I hadn’t booked in advance and I saw that the cruise was leaving in just 20 minutes, so I didn’t have high hopes. But one of the perks of travelling solo is that sometimes there is just an odd number of people. I got the last spot! I would absolutely not have been able to afford this without the pass and as you can see from the pictures it was an incredible trip.
Entry: Prices vary depending on the excursion
Location: North Cove Marina at Brookfield Place, New York, NY 10281, United States
5. Take a Tour of the Yankee Stadium
The New York Yankees are one of the most well-known baseball teams in the U.S. and you can head to the hallowed grounds for a tour of the stadium or even a baseball game. The Yankee Stadium that’s there today, was built in 2009 and can seat 54,251 to watch their Major League Baseball games. Head to the Yankee’s website for more information on games and tours.
Entry: Classic Yankee Tour – $30.22
Location: 1 E 161 St, Bronx, NY 10451, United States
6. Visit Historic Ellis Island
Located next to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island was once the busiest immigration station in the USA. Today you can head to the island to learn about the rich immigration history of Ellis Island at the National Museum of Immigration.
For guidelines of how to get to the island refer back to activity number 1, the Statue of Liberty as you will need to take the same ferry. It is free of charge to enter the museum so the only thing you will need to pay for is the ferry which you will probably also be getting at the same time to the Statue of Liberty.
Location: Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York, NY 10004
7. September 11 Memorial & Tribute Museum
I was just 5 years old when the 9/11 terror attacks took place, but much like the rest of the world I still remember that day vividly. I remember having had a good day at school, walking to the gates to reach my mum only to find that the atmosphere was strange and tense. I know I wasn’t fully aware of what was happening, but I remember the chill in the air.
I travelled to New York partly with my American friend. Visiting the 9/11 Memorial was a sad and reflective occasion. The footprints of the twin towers have been turned into a square shaped man-made waterfall and along the surface the names of the 2,996 people who died in the attacks are carved for ever more. It was a really humbling and emotional place to be and I learnt a lot in the museum, especially intimate stories of heroism of the first aid responders.
Entry: $15 to the 9/11 Tribute Museum or free with the New York Pass
8. Madam Tussauds
The most well-known wax museum in the world, Madam Tussauds NYC is New York’s branch. Now I would never normally waste my time in a place like this, preferring to see the city, be outside or learning something new. But once again the New York City Pass had me experiencing it for free, so why not! On average it takes around 60-90 minutes to walk around the wax works, probably for me quite a bit less time, a bit of yawn in my opinion, but I know people this sort of tat it.
Location: 234 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036, United States
9. Watch a Broadway Show
Broadway is home to 41 theatres located in the Theater District along Broadway in Midtown Manhattan right next to Times Square. This lively area is the perfect place to step inside and escape the city by watching an award winning musical. Shows that are currently on Broadway include, The Music Man, Aladdin, The Phantom of the Opera, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Wicked, Chicago and many more.
Tickets to Broadway shows are known for being expensive so check out this article on TimeOut by Adam Feldman on “How to get cheap Broadway tickets…”
Location: Broadway theatres are located between 41st Street and 54th Street between Sixth and Eighth Avenues.
10. The Empire State Building
This 443m high Art Deco style skyscraper is one of the most famous buildings in the world. Completed in 1931 the Empire State Building was built to house offices and corporate businesses but also slightly as a competition to reach the tallest building in the world status at the time.
An absolute must see whilst in New York is to head up to the Empire States 86th floor observatory deck. The views are amazing, I spent rather a long time up there spying on the yellow ant-like taxis below. It’s also a perfect place for sunset and to watch the city lights turn on as it stays open until late.
Entry: Adult – $44, Child – $38
Opening hours: Daily from 10AM-10PM
Location: 20 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001, United States
Chinatown was originally created by Chinese immigrants who wanted a place to live where they would be safe from racism, but now Chinatown is a place where all cultures meet to explore the wonders of Chinese cuisine and culture. Chinatown also accounts for the largest group of Chinese people in the entire of America with an estimated 90,000-100,000 people living there. You can head to MOCA (The Museum of Chinese in America), stroll along Mott Street (Chinatowns unofficial main street), and even go on a Chinatown food crawl.
Location: Lower Manhattan in and around Mott Street and Canal Street
12. The High Line
The High Line is an old, elevated rail line that has been converted into an urban park. The High Line stretches 1.45 miles through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea. This is a really edgy and green space right in the heart of a huge city. Public art, plants, and vendors line the old tracks, which are still visible. The park first opened in 2009 and it is a great environmental regeneration of an unused space.
Location: From Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, Chelsea towards the Hudson Yards.
13. St. Patrick’s Cathedral
So I was very much looking forward to seeing the St Patrick’s Cathedral mostly because I am a massive fan of juxtaposition and this cathedral sits peculiarly in the middle of a skyscraper filled city. Sadly, when I arrived at this 5th Avenue attraction it looked like this…
Completely under construction. Oh well.
On a normal day this cathedral is mightily impressive. The cathedral was built between 1220 and 1260 in homage to the Irish patron saint. Once inside you can take a free guided tour of this spectacular chamber.
Location: 5th Avenue between 50th/51st Streets, New York, NY
14. Central Park
There is so much to do in Central Park that I may as well just write a separate travel guide to the place. Rent bikes, visit Belvedere Castle, see Chuck and Blair’s wedding spot at Bethesda Terrace, head to the zoo, walk over the Gapstow Bridge, watch a baseball game, swim at Lasker pool, visit Shakespeare’s Garden, the list goes on and on. You can also get great views of Central Park from the Rockefeller Centre observatory.
Location: Between Upper West and Upper East Manhattan
15. Visit the Tacky Tourist Shops
I wouldn’t usually put this on a list of things to do, however there was something special about the souvenir shops in New York. I am by no means suggesting you go and by all the little plastic replicas of places you’ve visited (though I suppose you could) but I found it a really nice place for photography, strangely enough.
16. The 5th Avenue LEGO Store
Whilst we’re on the topic of shopping, why not head to the LEGO store. I again can’t really believe I am suggesting this as I am 26 years old and haven’t played with LEGO since I was about 5 but I was really impressed. It was kind of like a museum, with so many New York buildings, monuments and landmarks made of LEGO. Located right outside the entrance way of the Rockefeller Center you may as well pop in and have a look.
Location: 636 5th Ave, New York, NY 10020, United States
17. Take a Manhattan Boat Cruise
Hordes of tourist on a boat doesn’t sound appealing, but this was another of the New York Pass’ free attractions, so I gave it a try. It actually turned out to be not only impressive in terms of landscapes but highly informative.
For example, we were told why the UN building (pictured below) only has glass windows on two sides. It was seen to be the fairest way to make sure than no country was allocated a much desired corner office. All is fair at the UN building.
And this giant letter C on this rock…well Columbia University medical student Robert Prendergast painted the “C” on this 100ft cliff wall after getting permission from the New York Central Railroad in 1952. He was part of the university rowing team and they would regularly train on this part of the Hudson River.
I took the Circle Line boat tour.
Location: Departs from Pier 83 Midtown
18. Take a trip to Staten Island
Heading to Staten Island, one of New York’s boroughs, via the Staten Island Ferry is a great way to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This big glaringly orange (or yellow?) ferry is actually a free service run by the City of New York. There are plenty of things to do on the island for a good day out, visiting the Staten Island Children’s Museum, the National Lighthouse Museum and Fort Wadsworth.
Entry: Remembers don’t let a hawker sell you a ticket. The ferry is free!
Location: Whitehall Ferry Terminal in Manhattan – 4 Whitehall St, New York, NY 10004 St. George Terminal in Staten Island -1 Bay St, Staten Island, NY 10301
19. Admire Grand Central Terminal
I got the impression that Grand Central Station was never shut, a constant hubbub of activity, 24/7 hours a day, 365 days a year. But when I rocked up at Grand Central Station, excited to relive the opening scene of Gossip Girl I was disappointed to find it shut and with no suggestion of when it would be open. Hopefully you will be luckier than I was. Then known as the Grand Central Depot, this famous station opened its doors in 1871, now it sees 750,000 visitors crossing its floors each day.
Location: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017, United States
20. Metropolitan Museum of Art
“Meet you on the steps of the Met”, another destination for those Gossip Girl fans and of course those interested in art. The Met as its colloquially known is one of the world largest fine art museums. Some of the Met’s most famous paintings include, ‘Gertrude Stein’ by Pablo Picasso, ‘Study of A Young Woman’ by Johannes Vermeer and Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Self Portrait With Straw Hat’.
Entry: $25 adults, $17 seniors, $12 students
Opening hours: Sunday – Tuesday 10AM-5PM, Friday and Saturday 10AM-9PM, Wednesday CLOSED
21. Time Square
The whole world knows about Time Square and the famous New Year countdown, but it’s not really all that to be honest. Of course, you must visit, but unlike other ‘must visit’ places on this list, its rather underwhelming. Yes, it is a fantastic hubbub of noise with garishly flashing billboards but I found it tacky. There were way too many creepy men dressed as Elmo to take this place seriously.
Location: Intersection of Seventh Avenue, 42nd Street and Broadway in Midtown Manhattan
22. Little Italy
We’ve had Chinatown, but how about exploring Little Italy. Little Italy is a neighbourhood in Lower Manhattan, during the 1880’s Italian immigrants began to move to the area and brought with them their incredible food, language and culture. Located right next to Chinatown, Little Italy has sadly had much of its area overtaken by Chinatown. Eat some delicious food, explore the gourmet shops and be sure to visit Lombardi’s Pizzeria, the country’s first pizzeria which opened in 1905.
Location: Centre, Mulberry Street
23. The Brooklyn Bridge
Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began in 1869 and it was finally completed in 1883. The bridge is around 1.8km in length and is located in Lower Manhattan and begins at City Hall Park and leads you right to Brooklyn one of New York’s 5 boroughs. It takes around 30 minutes to walk across but if you’re stopping for photos maybe a bit longer. If you want to see the bridge in all its glory you can take one of the aforementioned boat tours or head to the Brooklyn Bridge Park for fantastic views of the bridge with the impressive Manhattan backdrop.
24. American Museum of National History
All things geography, history and natural science oh and did I mention lots of dinosaurs. The American Museum of National History is a good way to while away a few hours, especially if its rainy.
Entry: Adults $23, students & seniors $18, children $13
Opening hours: Monday & Tuesday CLOSED, Wednesday – Sunday 10AM-5.30PM
Location: 200 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
25. Chrysler Building
The Chrysler Building is one of my favourite New York skyscrapers. Built in Art Deco style this building was the world’s tallest building for 11 months after its completion in 1930. It’s silvery top shimmers in the sun making it a great building to photograph.
It must be noted that you are only allowed in the lobby of the Chrysler Building. As you cannot go up the Chrysler Building you can head up the Empire State or the Rockefeller Centre for views of the building. Alternatively, you can get a good street view from 3rd Avenue between 43rd and 44th Street.
Location: 405 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10174
26. Thurgood Marshall United States Court House
I like to walk when I travel, I mean pick a couple of destinations and walk between them, I just find that you see so many hidden gems that might not have been on your list. I was walking from Little Italy and Chinatown south towards the Brooklyn Bridge when I came across this courthouse. Just like Wall Street this area had an eerie atmosphere, one where you could almost sense those awaiting trial becoming nervous and apprehensive.
Location: 40 Foley Square, New York, NY 10007
27. Bryant Park
Bryant Park was the best park I went to in New York, of course Central Park is great too, but Bryant Park feels so personable and local. I liked being able to take photos of the skyscrapers next to the trees, there were tables to sit at with charging points (how handy when you’re travelling), people were enjoying picnics and circus acts on the grassy area, there were table tennis tables and even coffee shops. And in winter an ice-skating rink.
Location: Behind the New York Public Library between 40th and 42nd Street and 5th and 6th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.
28. One World Trade Center
The One World Trade Centre was built in 2006 in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks. This striking building now dominates the Manhattan skyline. You can head up the One World Trade Centre for expansive views of the city.
Entry: Adults $38, seniors $36, youth $32
Opening Hours: Daily 9AM-9PM
Location: 285 Fulton St, New York, NY 10007
29. Washington Square Park
Washington square Park is the park with the baby Arc de Triomphe. Actually, named Washington Arch, it’s a marble arch which was made by Stanford White and is 22m high. Set in the heart of Greenwich Village, is a popular spot for students and sunbathers.
Location: Washington Square, New York, NY 10012
30. Rockefeller Centre (Top of the Rock)
Last, but by no means least, we have the Rockefeller Center, one of New York’s must see attractions. You will probably have seen New York’s famous Christmas tree lights switch on which happens right in front of the Rockefeller Center. You have probably also seem pictures of people skating in front of the building too. I really like this area, there is so much going on even before you set inside the main building.
Named the Top of the Rock, this Rockefeller’s fabulous observation deck. I simply couldn’t get enough of standing on top of skyscrapers in New York and spying on all the ant like people below.
Make sure to get there early or anticipate a queue as this gets to be quite a busy attraction.
Entry: Adult $40, Senior $38, Children $34
Opening hours: Daily from 11AM-7PM, Saturday- Sunday 10AM-10PM
Location: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112
New York Top Tips
- Avoid the famous yellow cabs, they may be iconic, but they are slow, get stuck in traffic and are expensive. Take the subway, the subway is your best friend in New York.
- Jaywalking is illegal. Don’t be dashing across the street, although you might get away with it, it’s a ticketing offense and there are police offers patrolling.
- Be careful of hawkers selling tickets to the famous attractions, they are everywhere and are often scammers or selling at an extortionate price
- GET THE NEW YORK CITY PASS