Welcome to New York, the city that never sleeps! The Big Apple is one of the world’s most popular destinations, a city that needs no introduction. Who doesn’t dream of wandering down the streets of Manhattan, seeing the most popular attractions in New York, eating a Reuben sandwich at a neighbourhood deli, or doing some window shopping on Fifth Avenue? Follow in the footsteps of your favourite film stars and see the big sights, or head off the beaten track to find the city’s quirkiest boutiques and most memorable bars.
This guide to the best places and attractions in New York has something for every traveller. Whether you’re a film buff or shopping addict, a culture vulture or dedicated foodie, the Big Apple has something that you’ll love. Check out our top tips on things to do in New York, and get ready for a city break you’ll never forget.
Statue of Liberty
Start your trip with one of the most famous landmarks in New York. Lady Liberty stands on an island out in the harbour, so the best way to see her is with a ferry trip — and, as a bonus, you’ll enjoy great views of the Manhattan skyline from the water. Catch your ferry from the Battery, right at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. If you’re visiting in the colder months, be sure to wrap up warm as it can be chilly out on the water — but those epic views of the city will make it all worthwhile.
As you get to this world-famous landmark, you can choose your own adventure. You might be content to explore the island, staying at Lady Liberty’s feet, but there are also tickets that will get you access to the pedestal of the statue or even inside the statue’s crown. Not keen on heights? Then keep your feet firmly on the ground and explore the Statue of Liberty Museum instead. This recent addition to Liberty Island tells you the complete history of the statue, which has now welcomed newcomers to New York for a full century.
While you’re visiting the Statue of Liberty, don’t miss another one of the best attractions in New York. For 62 years, Ellis Island was the first stop for newcomers to the United States. On this tiny island, immigrants from around the world arrived in pursuit of the American Dream. Without a doubt, this is one of the best attractions in New York for you to visit, especially if you’re eager to learn about the area’s interesting history.
Today, Ellis Island is home to one of the city’s best museums, which explains the full immigrant experience. You’ll see posters welcoming immigrants, intriguing exhibits and cherished possessions that people brought with them across the ocean. In the Registration Room, you’ll learn what the immigrants went through as they set foot on American soil for the first time. Over 62 million immigrants were processed here, and this museum does its best to share their individual stories, making it one of the best attractions in New York.
You can visit Ellis Island as part of a day of New York sightseeing. It’s possible to get a combined ferry ticket for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, giving you a full day of exploring the city’s history. Give yourself two or three hours to explore the museum before you hop back on the ferry and head back to Manhattan.
Empire State Building
New York is a city of skyscrapers, and the most famous of all is the Empire State Building. When it opened in 1931, it was the world’s tallest building. It may have lost that title some fifty years ago, but it’s still a true Manhattan icon and should definitely be high on your list of best places to visit in New York.
If you’re into architecture, you might be content to admire the Art Deco exterior of the building. However, for most visitors, the real attraction is the view from the observation decks. From the 102nd floor, you’ll enjoy one of the best views in town. In fact, on a clear day, you’ll be able to see into six different states from the Empire State Building: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Delaware and New York itself.
Decide for yourself when you want to go up the building. The views are truly spectacular by day, but it’s also ideal for a romantic night date. You’ll see New York’s skyscrapers all lit up with tiny, ant-sized yellow taxis passing far below you.
The best part? There’s no need to worry about taking the stairs. You’ll get to the 102nd floor in less than 60 seconds, thanks to the building’s super-fast elevators. There’s no better way to relax after a busy day of sightseeing in the Big Apple: definitely one of the must-see attractions in New York
Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Natural History Museum
If you’re into high culture, there are plenty of great things to do in NYC. Some of the best museums are the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the spectacular Natural History Museum. The New York History Museum is best known for its incredible dinosaur exhibit, including a life-size T-Rex. If you’re a big kid at heart, this is the place to go. You’ll also see a jaw-dropping model of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling in the ocean section and one of the world’s best planetariums. Want to check out a top museum in Brooklyn? Then visit the Weeksville Heritage Center or the Brooklyn Historical Society, which are both nationally recognised attractions in New York.
Prefer to spend the day surrounded by art? You’re in luck. Try MoMA, one of the best modern art galleries in the world. The works on display here include Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Dalí’s Persistence of Memory. There are also several works by adopted New Yorker Andy Warhol, including his famous screen print of Campbell’s soup tins.
If that’s still not enough for you, head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Vermeer, Degas and more, this is a world-class collection and one of the top attractions in New York. You’ll also be dazzled by the Egyptian Temple of Dendur, which dates back to 10 BC and has been fully rebuilt inside the museum. Wander through the ancient stones and let your inner Cleopatra come out to play.
Like the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Center is one of the most iconic buildings in New York. It has a great observation deck for views, but it’s also known for its sumptuous decor. If you’ve always dreamed of that New York celeb life, then go for a drink at the Rainbow Room. This world-famous venue is often reserved for private bookings, but it usually opens up to the public a couple of nights a week. It’s also open for the city’s best Sunday brunch, so put on your fanciest clothes and enjoy a bit of celebrity-spotting over a glass of champagne and a plate of eggs benedict.
Wondering what is New York’s best time to visit? Well, if you come in winter, you’re in for a treat. Christmas at the Rockefeller Center is one of the city’s best annual events. Strap on your skates and try some laps of the ice rink, followed by a hot chocolate to warm you up. You’ll also have the chance to see the most famous Christmas tree in America. When it’s all lit up, it can bring a smile to anyone’s face.
You’ve seen it a thousand times on the big and small screen. Now it’s time to go for your own visit to Central Park, the famous green lung at the heart of Manhattan. You’ll be surprised by the sheer size of the park. Once you’re inside, you’ll feel like you’re deep in nature, not in the centre of one of the world’s biggest cities. Wear some comfortable shoes, too, because you can easily spend hours exploring this massive green space.
You might just want to enjoy a picnic on the grass, but you’ll also find some of the best places to see in New York inside the park. Rent a bike or get around on foot, seeing the manicured lawns and colourful flowers of the Conservatory Garden and the Imagine mural at Strawberry Fields, dedicated to John Lennon. See the surprising sight of Belvedere Castle — yes, a fortified castle in the middle of Manhattan! If you’re looking for a great date in Central Park, you can also rent a boat and show off your rowing skills on the park’s lake. There’s no better way to cool off on a hot day in New York.
Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island
As a visitor to New York City, you might be content to spend your entire stay on the island of Manhattan. Watch out, though — some of the city’s most interesting sights can be found in the outer boroughs. Brooklyn has become a major hipster destination in recent years and has some of the trendiest bars and best music venues in the city. You’ll also find some great museums in Brooklyn, covering everything from ancient Egypt to modern art. Plus, it’s home to Coney Island, the traditional amusement park immortalised by Woody Allen in Annie Hall.
You’ll also find some great things to do in Queens. The Museum of the Moving Image is the perfect choice for film buffs, while the Botanical Garden has some of the city’s best floral displays. Queens is also home to New York’s only surfing spot, Rockaway Beach. Grab a board or just go for a walk along the seafront, checking out the waves. It is one of the lesser-known attractions in New York, and definitely worth a visit!
Doing New York on a budget? Take the Staten Island ferry to the borough of Staten Island. It may not have as many things to see and do as Manhattan, Queens or Brooklyn — but the ferry ride is free, making it one of the best ways for travellers on a shoestring to enjoy some great views of the city skyline.
Every performer dreams of making their Broadway debut! OK, so you’re not going to be up on stage singing your heart out, but you can still enjoy the magic of the world’s most famous theatre street. There are 41 theatres, so you’re bound to find something that suits you, whether it’s something quirkier and more off-beat or a world-renowned musical, such as Chicago or Wicked. While most Broadway shows are musicals, you’ll also find some plays, magic shows and stand-up comedy nights.
If you just want the Broadway experience and aren’t fussy about what you watch, then head down to the TKTS booth in Times Square. You may have to wait in line for an hour, but this is the best place in town to get half-price tickets for the evening’s performances. It’s a bit of a lottery when it comes to which tickets are available, but this is the best way of seeing New York’s most famous shows on a budget.
Of course, no night on the town would be complete without a special dinner, and New York has thousands of options for dining out. The city has everything from Michelin-starred eateries with mouth-watering food and eye-watering prices to classic diners. You can eat your way around the world in New York’s ethnic neighbourhoods, like Chinatown and Little Italy.
Fifth Avenue and Greenwich Village
If you love to shop till you drop, there’s no better place than NYC! Shoppers around the world dream of a trip to the Big Apple, and it’s easy to see why. You’ll find the most famous department stores on Fifth Avenue, with the likes of Bloomingdales, Saks and Bergdorf Goodman. Here you can pick up designer goods, but be warned — luxury doesn’t come cheap. Some visitors head to these department stores just to get one of their iconic branded shopping bags.
Prefer something a little different? Try going shopping in Greenwich Village, which has long been associated with New York’s counterculture. This was the home base for the 1960s hippie movement, and it’s still a great place to find unusual boutiques and quirky styles. You’ll also find lots of great bookstores and record shops around here.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 shook the world. For years, the people of New York debated what to do at the spot where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre once stood. Today, Ground Zero is dedicated to the memories of those who died on 9/11. You can see the 9/11 Memorial that serves as a tribute to the victims. There’s also the Memorial Glade and the 9/11 Museum, two of New York’s most poignant and moving sights. It’s also worth taking a look at the Survivor Tree. This was the only tree in the area to survive the attacks, and it has become a major symbol of hope and resilience.
At Ground Zero today, you’ll find the One World Observatory, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. You can go up this ultra-modern skyscraper to check out the observation floor but be warned: unlike the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Center, there’s no balcony. You’ll have great views, but you’ll be seeing them through glass — making it difficult to capture great photos, but it’s still a popular choice on cold days.
Ready for the city break of a lifetime? Join our six-day New York 360° sightseeing trip. With all the biggest and best sights on the agenda, you’ll see the best of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Harlem, including the Statue of Liberty and the brand-new Freedom Tower. Discover one of the world’s most vibrant cities with this epic tour of the Big Apple.