Finding the best things to do in NYC isn’t a hard thing to accomplish. Like every other enchanted soul that came before me, I find New York City irresistible.
I visited the city six times before finally taking a leap of faith and moving here (those rent prices, I tell you). As a local, I get to experience the Big Apple from a unique perspective and thought it might be fun to share the best things to do in New York City.
This list of the best things to do in New York City is a culmination of my numerous visits and, now, my daily life in the Big Apple. I’ve hosted countless friends over the years and whenever they ask me for the best things to do in NYC, I merely point them to this post.
But brace yourself, this meaty list took me a week to write. I wanted to make sure it covered absolutely everything you need to know before visiting NYC for the first time. So without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff.
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
Best Things to Do in New York City (Helpful Tips)
Purchase a MetroCard
Make no mistake, the week-long metro card is worthwhile while exploring the best things to do in NYC, especially if you plan to take the subway from the airport. The pass is only $33 (+$1 activation fee) and gives you seven days of unlimited access to the metro. If you choose to forgo purchasing the metro card you will be charged $2.75 every time to hop on the subway.
New York City averages more than 63 million visitors per year, crowds are all but guaranteed in New York City. That’s a lot of people trying to eat at the same popular restaurants and do the same popular thing. Prepare for crazy long lines regardless of the season you visit.
My advice? Start your day as early as possible and visit your “must see” places first thing in the morning. I hate early mornings, but I never regret getting a head start.
Wear comfortable walking shoes
You will be doing a lot of walking while exploring the best things to do in New York City. The subway is efficient but sometimes it’s better to walk between places to absorb more of the city — the skyline is euphoric. Bring your most comfortable pair of shoes because you’ll be getting those steps in, I guarantee it.
Things to Do in New York City (Post Overview)
Here’s a breakdown of what we’re going to cover
- Things to do in New York City
- Free things to do in New York City
- Seasonal things to do in New York City
- Best time to visit New York City
- Is the City Pass worthwhile?
- Best places to stay in New York City
- Getting around New York City
Best Things to Do in New York City
#1. Stroll (or bike) through Central Park
Ask any New Yorker about their favorite park in the Big Apple and the honest ones will confess to Central Park, which is why this activity tops the list of the best things to do in New York City.
Spanning 843 acres, Central Park is an architectural feat that few can resist falling in love with, myself included.
This is one of the first man-made parks in the country — designed using a new concept for the time called landscape architecture. There’s so many iconic spots to see in Central Park, which is why biking around is a great way to explore and make the most efficient use of your time.
Biking Central Park a very popular activity to do in New York City, make sure you follow the flow of one way traffic and keep in the slower lane unless passing.
If you’d like some guidance during your first visit to Central Park, I suggest reading 15 ICONIC Things to Do in Central Park, a super helpful post that highlights the top attractions in the park alongside a plethora of stunning photos.
#2. Catch sunset from the Top of the Rock
I dare you to show me a more mesmerizing skyline than New York City’s. And if you’re looking for one of the best things to do in New York City with the absolute best views- it’s hard to beat the Top of the Rock NYC Observation Deck, especially at sunset.
Visitors can access three separate indoor/outdoor observation decks on the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors. The subsequent panoramic views from this iconic building makes this one of the most popular observation decks in NYC. Since this is one of the best things to do in NYC, you can expect crowds practically every hour of the day.
But trust me when I tell you the crowds are worth it. The large glass panels offer unobstructed views the NYC skyline, unlike some of the other observation decks in NYC that use fencing — an inexcusable offense!
From Top of Rock you will see the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Flatiron Building and the One World Trade Center.
P.S. Make sure to check the interactive Beam Walk during your visit. It simulates what it would feel like to balance on a beam 69-floors about the street while the building was being constructed (whew- I’m sweating just typing that!).
Further Reading: 18 Jaw-Dropping Views of NYC (For All Budgets)
#3. Get lox & bagels at Russ and Daughters
Start your day the true New York way – grab a lox bagel from Russ and Daughters. This beloved Jewish deli has been serving New Yorkers since 1914 and doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon.
This particular delicatessen stands a mile above the rest and is worth going out of the way for. Russ & Daughters has expanded over the years but I suggest visiting the original store on the Lower East Side because nothing beats the original. It’s one of the best things to do in New York City, especially if it’s your first visit.
The bagels are exceptional, as you would expect, but the smoked fish is where they shine. That’s why I strongly recommend the lox bagel here (it’d be a shame to pass it up, seriously).
Bagels run $15-20 each but they’re big and feature exciting toppings like caviar, roe, salmon, and more. You can easily split one between two people.
Further Reading: 15 Mouthwatering NYC Bagels That Validate the Hype
#4. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the best things to do in New York City. How do I know? Well, for starters, my mom has visited me six times since I’ve moved to New York City and we’ve walked across this bridge every single time.
I don’t even fight her on it when she suggests the trek, it’s iconic and I love this popular NYC activity regardless of the amount of times I’ve crossed the bridge. Adding this to my list of best things to do in New York City was a no-brainer.
The bridge spans one mile and takes about 15-20 minutes to walk across, but you should allocate more time because you’ll want to take photos (you can see the Statue of Liberty from here!).
P.S. The Brooklyn Bridge is older than London’s famous Tower Bridge by 11 years (and other thought-provoking NYC facts you probably don’t know).
#5. Visit Washington Square Park
Best known for the monolithic grand marble arch that sits at the northern entrance of the park and overlooks the central fountain, the Washington Square Arch was built to commemorate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration.
Many folks consider this one of the most inviting parks in NYC and come from all over the city to let their hair down and be themselves. The welcoming atmosphere makes Washington Park a great NYC park for people-watching and one of the best things to do in NYC. The energetic mood is contagious and you’ll notice park visitors from all corners of the world.
From suited businesswomen to relaxed college students and nervous tourists, you’ll see it all. The stars of the show tend to be the talented street musicians that give the park an easy-going vibe.
Quick history lesson: During the late 18th century, this area was a burial ground for indigent victims of illness and disease. As the property slowly morphed into Washington Park, it became the epicenter of many movements and protests. As such, Washington Square Park is one of the more important historic park in New York City.
#6. Explore DUMBO
If you’re into fun and trendy photographic spots, DUMBO is the place for you. DUMBO stands for Down Under the Brooklyn Bridge Overpass.
Tip: If you’d like a photo from the iconic Brooklyn Bridge spot, head to the cross section between Washington Street and Front Street.
Walk further down to see Jane’s Carousel and the Time Out Market. We actually didn’t realize there was a Time Out Market in New York City, the first one we visited was in Lisbon. It’s a food hall chock-full of little restaurants serving up delicious fare.
One of the best things to do in NYC is to grab happy hour drinks at the Time Out Market rooftop. Monday through Friday from 4PM-7PM, enjoy drinks on the rooftop while taking in the epic Manhattan skyline.
#7. Catch a Broadway Show
Yes, Broadway Shows are expensive, but the experience is unforgettable. I would suggest budgeting at least one show during your first visit to New York City.
Almost every list of the best things to do in New York City will have a catching a broadway show as a non-negotiable experience, and there’s a reason for that!
Something I wish I knew earlier was that certain Broadway Shows have a lottery system where you can apply to win free tickets in advance. Seems like a long shot, but one of my coworkers won two tickets to Hamilton!
Maybe you can get lucky too. Another way to save money on tickets is to purchase “solo” tickets if you’re okay not sitting next to your friends. I did this last time and paid $99 for a $200 seat!
Further Reading: Need helping deciding which show is worth it? Check out 10 Brilliant Broadway Shows in New York City You Won’t Soon Forget.
#9. Go Shopping in SoHo
SoHo stands for South of Houston Street, it’s my favorite neighborhood to explore in New York City. Imagine long city blocks peppered with trendy shops, cute cafes and famous restaurants.
Spend time window shopping, perusing galleries or absorbing the historic architecture in this (very expensive) neighborhood. Then rest your legs at one of the many cafes while watching the world go by. Great people watching here!
This is one of the best things to do in New York City because you don’t necessarily have to spend money to enjoy SoHo.
Further reading: Don’t know where to shop? Check out 30 SPREE-WORTHY Stores in SoHo (Happy Local’s Guide)
#10. Order the white pie from Juliana’s Pizza
Juliana’s white pie is easily the best in New York. The ingredients are minimal (mozzarella and garlic), so the flavors really shine through. And don’t even get me started on the crust – oh that dough!
Most evenings, the line is out the door and around the block, but if you go during lunch your wait time should be shorter/nonexistent. Pies run around $25 a piece and feed two.
Eating authentic NYC pizza on your trip to the Big Apple is one of the best things to do in New York City.
#11. Then, Get the Marinara Pie From Rubirosa Pizza
I am ashamed to admit how long it took me to try Rubirosa Pizza. Within seconds of my first bite, it quickly jumped to my top 3 favorite pizza spots in New York City – it’s that good.
The funny part? I like their margarita pizza best. Of all the interesting pizzas a gal could love, huh? Rubirosa has mastered, with incredible simplicity, the art of tomato sauce.
I didn’t want you making the same mistake as me and wait to try Rubirosa’s. Not only is it some of the best pizza, but it’s one of the best things to do in NYC.
This place is a must-try while visiting New York City. You’ll be dreaming of this pie for ages (join the club).
#12. Visit the 9/11 Memorial (& Museum)
Sometimes I’m hesitant to mention visiting the 9/11 Museum because it’s such an emotional experience (you can’t help but cry). The 9/11 museum is a profound tribute to the 2,977 lives lost on September 11, 2001 and is truly one of the best things to do in New York City. It’s worth the visit, as long as you can emotionally brace yourself.
Located right next to the moving 9/11 memorial, this New York City museum is thoughtfully made. You’ll need to descend down an escalator to reach the interior because it’s located beneath ground level.
The museum’s layout is clean and easy to follow, your focus instantly latches on to the intended exhibit. (The exhibit that sticks out most to me is a glass-enclosed cutout of a store display with thick layers of dust and debris from the day of the attack.)
The pace of the visit always feels rightfully slow, as visitors contemplate the gravity of the situation.
This musuem experience is heartbreaking but important, I think everyone should see the 9/11 Museum as least once. It’s something you won’t be able to forget.
Whether you go to the museum of not, make sure to take in the grandeur of the moving 9/11 Memorial (right next to the museum).
The 9/11 Memorial is comprised of two reflecting pools that sit atop the footprint of the destroyed Twin Towers. Look closely and you will see that cascading waterfalls embrace both cavities — symbolizing of a void that can never be filled and an unrelenting sadness we can never shake.
All the while, the One World Trade Center looms in the background and acts as a beacon for a resilient future. Reaching an impressive height of 1,776 feet (this is not a coincidence, America declared its independence in 1776), the One World Trade Center, sometimes called the Freedom Tower, is the tallest building in America and the sixth tallest building in the world.
Address: 180 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10007
#13. See the Oculus Mall
The Oculus Mall is located right across the street from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, making it a natural next stop on the NYC itinerary.
The Oculus Mall looks like the spine of a fish long forgotten. It’s quite the architectural feat! Not only is it an actual mall, it’s also a functioning subway hub. Definitely check this out during your visit, it’s very unique.
You’ll find that many folks flock here for no reason other than to grab a picture. It’s one of the best things to do in NYC and worth the visit at least once to check out the architecture alone.
#14. Visit the New York Public Library (& Bryant Park)
The New York Public Library is housed in one of the most iconic buildings in New York City. Designed in a Beaux-Arts style, this building stands in stark contrast to the glass and iron it surrounds.
When it opened to the public in 1911, the New York Public Library was officially the largest marble building ever built in the country.
No small task, considering it took 16 years to construct this monolithic structure, but the wait was worth it — more than 50,000 people showed up on opening day.
You could spend a full day exploring the NYPL and Bryant Park, both are slow paced, easy-going things to do in New York City.
Fun fact: The two lions in front of the library are called Patience and Fortitude, here’s why.
#15. Catch an outdoor movie at Bryant Park (summer only)
If you’re visiting during summer, Bryant Park hosts “Movies in the Park” every Monday. The lawn opens at 5pm and movies start at sunset. Bring a cozy blanket and arrive early because it gets busy!
If you’re looking for one of the best things to do in NYC, look no more. There’s no better way to end a summer evening in New York City than watching a movie in the park. You’ll be itching to move here in no time.
Further reading: Plan on spending the summer in NYC? Here are 20 Epic New York City Summer Activities.
#16. Try the Cereal Milk Ice Cream from Milk Bar
Okay, so the cereal milk ice cream from MILK is practically world famous at this point. The line is usually very long, but if you come later in the evening, you can almost avoid it altogether.
But let’s be real, it wouldn’t be one of the best things to do in New York City without a line (right?).
Do not miss the famous ice cream here! It’s the perfect mix of sweetness and slight saltiness. Oh, and definitely pick up one slice of the crack pie, I guarantee you’ve never had anything like it before.
#17. Snap a photo with the Flat Iron Building
Ever know where the Flat Iron Building got its name? It looks like a clothes iron! Don’t you love it when things are as simple as they seem?
Coming to New York City and not taking a picture of the Flatiron Building is like going to the beach and not seeing the ocean! It’s one of the best things to do in NYC.
The iconic Flat Iron Building is often considered one of the most beloved buildings in New York City. Another fun thing to do in this area is to visit the original Shake Shack location just steps away. Grab a burger and enjoy it in Madison Square Park.
You little New Yorker, you. ?
#18. Explore the Chelsea Market
The Chelsea Market is a famous food hall mixed with unique shops, restaurants, spice markets, and cafes. The market has 35 vendors waiting to impress you with tasty treats and fare.
I had to add the Chelsea Market to my list of best things to do in New York City because it serves so many purposes. It’s easy bringing my out of town guests here for a sit-down meal, a quick bite or a souvenir. There’s always something to do at Chelsea Market or something to show off when visiting.
Highlights at the Chelsea Market include: Matcha from Chalait (so good), warm donuts from the Doughnuttery (what’s better than a warm donut?), tacos from Los Tacos No. 1, spices from Spices and Tease and souvenirs from Pearl River Mart.
Fun Fact: The Chelsea Market is housed in the old Nabisco factory building – this building is the birthplace of the Oreo cookie!
#19. Walk the High Line
The High Line is one of the most unique parks in New York City. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, High Line Park was born from an eye-sore.
The elevated tracks this NYC park was built on were originally used by freight trains delivering cargo to the city. A practice that became moot with the rise in trucking.
For ages, the railroad track was abandoned and neglected, a blight on the neighborhood. That is until Mayor Bloomberg approved a plan to transform the derelict train tracks into a park for the people.
The High Line opened in 2009 and became an instant success. The elevated promenade stretches 1.5 miles and receives an average of 8 million visitors annually. It didn’t take long for folks to realize this as one of the best things to do in New York City.
As a local, I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoy visiting the High Line regardless of how many times I’ve seen it. This NYC park swells with giddy tourists, so the people-watching opportunities are endless.
The High Line is a great park in New York City for kids, too! During the warm summer months there’s a handful of vendors selling balloon animals and ice cream.
P.S. Check out the Chelsea Market as well, it’s chock-full of interesting shops and great restaurants.
Even though I’ve walked the High Line more than 10 times, I still consider it one of my favorite things to do in New York City, it never gets old.
#20. Visit MoMA
Home to world-renowned paintings like Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies and notable works by Warhol, Basquiat and Dali, it’s no wonder MoMA is constantly crowded with happy visitors.
You don’t have to be an avid art connoisseur to appreciate the real-life paintings you grew up studying in school. The painting are well curated and displayed in a modern and airy environment for an experience anyone can enjoy. Visiting any museum during your trip is among the best things to do in NYC, it’s hard to go wrong.
Must see at MoMA: The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans, Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, Monet’s Water Lilies, The Persistence of Memory by Dali, and Picasso’s work.
Address: 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019
Tip: The morning line is usually the longest, arrive around noon if your schedule is flexible.
#21. Visit the Met
Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) is often considered the best museum in New York City and it’s not hard to see why.
With more than 2 million pieces of art spanning 5,000+ years, the Met is the largest museum in the country and the fifth largest museum in the world. Averaging 6 million visitors per year, it’s also the most visited museum in New York City
If you only have time to visit one museum in NYC, this is the one. Plus, it’s conveniently located within Central Park, so you don’t have to go far out of your way to visit.
Admittedly, the museum can get overwhelming if you don’t have a game plan. I suggest picking one or two topics you’re interested in and sticking to those. There’s also some notable pieces you absolutely can’t miss, such as:
Must see at the MET: Washington Crossing the Delaware, The Temple of Dendur, Vincent van Gogh’s Self Portrait with a Straw Hat and Monet’s Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies. Want a more in-depth list? We did the hard work so you don’t have to. Here are 20 EPIC Things to See at The MET in New.
#22. See Grand Central Terminal
Stepping into Grand Central Terminal feels like stepping into a European train station. The Beaux Arts design transports visitors into an intricately detailed main hall that boasts a celestial ceiling and a famous four-faced clock.
Today the Grand Central Terminal is one of the most iconic functioning buildings in New York City and sees an average of 750,000 daily visitors. Chances are high that your subway stop might warrant a visit, but if that’s not the case, this gem is definitely worth a detour.
One of the best things to do in New York City is to swing by and snap a picture with the iconic ceiling.
Fun fact: New York’s Grand Central Station has 44 platforms — the most of any train station in the world.
#23. Visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Located right off 5th Avenue, this Neo-Gothic style cathedral has been stopping people in their tracks since its completion in 1879. But it’s not hard to see why this is arguably the most popular church in New York City.
Welcoming more than 5 million visitors per year, visiting St. Patrick’s is one of the most popular things to do in New York City. The iconic cathedral took 21 years to build because construction halted during the Civil War.
With a seating capacity of 2,000 people per mass, this is one of the largest cathedrals in NYC. Touring the interior is a no-brainer and self-guided tours are free, so swing by if the doors are open. If you want a more in-depth experience, sign up for a guided tour.
You’ll be amazed by the stained windows, which consist of 3,700 stained glass panels. The star of the show is the breathtaking Rose Window which spans 26 feet. You’ll also notice the 20 alters located within the confines of this sacred space, two of which were designed by Tiffany & Co.
There’s also a basement crypt that serves as the final resting place of every cardinal of New York.
The cathedral was recently renovated to the tune of $177 million, so you can bet it’s a sight for sore eyes. Swing by if your legs are tired and take in the grandeur of this striking church.
Further Reading: 12 Breathtaking New York City Churches You Have to See to Believe
#24. Visit Times Square (after sunset)
Times Square might be overwhelming, but it’s iconic and can’t be missed during your first visit to New York City. As one of the best things to do in NYC, Times Square (specifically at night) is something everyone should experience at least once on their trip.
The area draws an average of 50 million visitors a year. The appeal? The famous bright lights of New York.
In fact, the buildings in this area are required by law to have a minimum amount of lights on display (to live up to the area’s reputation).
When you’re ready to escape the blinding lights of Times Square, head over to Los Tacos No. 1 – easily the best tacos you’ll eat in New York City. They melt in your mouth – so good!
#25. Take a stroll down the Brooklyn Promenade
Stroll down Brooklyn Promenade for the best views of the famous NYC skyline.
Brooklyn Promenade is especially beautiful in the evening, so bookmark this place for a romantic evening — it has the potential to turn the most arduous platonic relationship into something more.
But no promises.
This NYC activity takes little to no effort and one of the best things to do in New York City.
#26. Explore Wall Street (& visit the Raging Bull)
Walk down Wall Street and take in the iconic New York Stock Exchange (featured in many films). If you’re a bit chilly, I suggest dropping into La Maison du Chocolat for a real hot chocolate.
Then head over to the famous Charging Bull and take a photo. Since this is one of the best things to do in NYC, the line for this takes a while. But the picture will last forever so it’s worth it.
You might notice an old church next to the Charging Bull. This is the historic Trinity Church. The jutting ancient profile is a stark contrast to the concrete that surrounds it.
#27. Get a burger from Shake Shack
These are the best inexpensive burgers I’ve had in my life — and don’t even get me started on the fries.
If this is your first time visiting New York City, consider this one of the best things to do in NYC (it’s the standard NYC initiation, I don’t make the rules).
There is no debate between Shake Shack and In-N-Out burger, I don’t understand the comparison. The burgers and fries here are so much better. If you want to let your hair down, try a milkshake, they’re delicious …. or so I hear. ?
#28. Order a chocolate chip cookie from Levain Bakery
Start at least one of your days with Levain bakery. Go as early as possible because lines start forming early. This bakery is definitely worth a visit, regardless of how popular it is – it’s worth the hype, I tell you!
Try the classic chocolate walnut cookie, oatmeal cookie and the seasonal scone. Order all three, and yes I’m serious.
Similar to Shake Shack, Levain is a New York City staple and should be very (very) high on your list of things to do in NYC.
#30. Visit the American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History is arguably the best museum in NYC for kids. This incredible science museum is home to 33 million specimens, yet only 3% are on display (and even that amount can get quite overwhelming!).
Welcoming 5 million visitors per year and spanning all aspect of the natural world, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is considered one of the greatest natural history museums in the world. It’s also considered to be one of the best things to do in NYC.
Guests are invited in by two massive dinosaur skeletons housed in the entry hall. From there, you can tour the impressive permanent exhibits or take a look at the exciting rotating exhibit.
Don’t miss the Hall of Ocean Life where you’ll have an opportunity to see a life-size model of a 94-foot blue whale — it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. Also, the taxidermy mammals are remarkable and have captivated both children and adults for years.
Must see at the American Museum of Natural History: Hayden Planetarium (one of the best planetariums in the world), the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life (for blue whale), the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs (for the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton) and the Butterfly Conservatory (requires additional fee, but worthwhile).
#31. Try a cronut from Dominique Ansel Bakery
Dominique Ansel Bakery is a must for the famous, cult-following cronut. The cronut is a mix between a croissant and donut. Run don’t walk.
The popularity of the cronut is so extreme, the bakery runs out within hours. But surprisingly the line doesn’t stop, folks wrap around the block waiting to get a treat (any treat) from this acclaimed bakery.
The reason why trying the cronut is one of the best things to do in New York City (aside from the obvious) the flavors rotate every month and never repeat.
That’s right! For the past 9 years, Dominique Ansel (the genius behind this innovative treat) creates a new flavor every month to keep New Yorkers and visitors on their toes.
#32. Visit Rockerfeller Center
This area is a bit much during the Christmas season (you know, that big old Christmas tree and famous skating rink). Not visiting during the holidays? Don’t worry! You can still visit the famous Atlas statue across the street from St. Patricks Cathedral – it will look familiar to 30 Rock fans.
Rockefeller Center is one of the best things to do in New York City because there’s something for everyone. A plethora of cafes, restaurants and shops surround the area and in the winter there is an ice rink.
This past summer while the ice rink was out of commission, a roller rink took its place and created a new activity for New Yorkers to enjoy.
Local’s Tip: Rockefeller Center is home to the iconic Radio City Music Hall. You can kill two birds with one stone by checking out Rockefeller.
#33. See the Statue of Liberty
We can’t talk about the best things to do in New York City without mentioning the Statue of Liberty! This iconic symbol of American ideals sees more than 4.2 million visitors in 2019, there’s a good reason this mammoth icon has such a draw.
The Statue of Liberty is perched on Liberty Island and you’ll need a ferry to reach it ($$). But, if you’re okay simply seeing the statue up close – I suggest taking the Staten Island Ferry (which is free) and sails right near the Statue of Liberty.
#34. Visit the Empire State Building
As a true testament to the spirit of New York – go big or go home. The Empire State Building is the 44th tallest building in the world.
The first time you catch the Empire State Building out of the corner of your eye, it will feel like magic. But don’t worry, the feeling doesn’t go away.
One of the best things to do in NYC is to visit the 86th floor open-air observatory or head to the indoor observation deck on the 102nd floor.
Local’s Tip: If you’d like to see something very cool, swing by the 80th floor to for the exhibit dedicated to the 3,400 people that built the Empire State Building – it displays original photographs!
#35. Participate in Smorgasborg
Referred to as “The Woodstock of Eating.”
What is the Smorgasborg? It’s a super popular open-air food market (more than 100 vendors) that draws in thousands of visitors and locals alike. This delicious, affordable and creative fare is guaranteed to please any palette.
One of the best things to do in New York City is meeting up with friends and jumping from vendor to vendor trying all the delicious food.
Also, don’t just take my word for it. This event is so popular it draws 20,000 – 30,000 visitors every weekend!
#36. Order a chocolate donut from Balthazar
Ah! I’ve been dying to get brunch at the uber-famous Balthazar restaurant for quite some time. But since reservations are required (it’s a very popular place), I learned a trick – visit the bakery next door!
Seriously, the BEST chocolate donuts I’ve ever had – perfectly dense and chocolatey. Oh, and the chai latte from this place can’t be missed. This bakery is usually the first place I go when arriving to New York City because I like it so much.
#37. Visit Strand Bookstore
Beloved by locals and visitors alike, the Strand Bookstore is one of the most iconic bookstores in New York City. And it’s one of the best things to do in NYC when looking for a relaxing day.
Founded in 1927, the Strand is the only remaining bookstore from “Book Row” which was a coalition of 48 bookstores that lined Fourth Avenue. Every single bookstore, with the exception of the Strand, closed during the Great Depression.
Today this large NYC bookstore is home to 2.5 million books and serves as a safe-haven for insatiable bookworms far and wide.
Visitors are welcome to donate books and peruse the bookstore in search of something new. Definitely spend time exploring the deals on the racks outside the store as well, you might score a deal!
The Strand has several locations but I suggest visiting the flagship store in the East Village.
Address: 828 Broadway, New York, NY 10003
#38. Check out the Morgan Library & Museum
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a multi-millionaire? How about a multi-millionaire with a passion for books? If so, I have the spot for you.
The Morgan Library & Museum allows visitors to step inside the private library of J.P. Morgan. The library is quipped with three floors of metal-enclosed walnut bookshelves, chock full of rare books.
Like an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, a handwritten score from Bach, and a plethora of books worth more than some of us will make in a lifetime. If day dreaming isn’t one of the best things to do in NYC than I don’t know what is!
J.P. Morgan’s will was to open the library to the public after his death and we are all so much better for it.
This is one of the best things to do in New York City for history buffs — you’ll be pinching yourself for weeks!
Must see: Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass’ letter to his former master Hugh Auld, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B Minor and Morgan’s vault.
Address: 225 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016
Most notable items in the library include: a handwritten score by Mozart , an original copy of the Declaration of Independence (there’s only 23), the only surviving manuscript of Paradise Lost and Charles Dickens’ manuscript for A Christmas Carol.
#39. Eat your way through Essex Market
One of the best things to do in NYC is to support local business’s and partake in apiece of New York history.
Located in Downtown Manhattan, Essex Market is New York City’s most historic food hall. The market has been around officially since 1940 (unofficially since the 1880’s) and has served as a culinary gathering place for New Yorkers to come together as a community.
This three-story market is made up of over 30 individual vendors who each bring a unique story and new flavor to the table.
It’s hard to go wrong when picking a spot to eat at the Essex Market. I always crave the potato pierogi from Veselka on a rainy day in NYC. If you’re craving caffeine my go-to spot is Cafe Grumpy (the coffee is delicious) and then swing by Best Damn Cookies for something sweet.
There is plenty of seating on all levels of the market, I especially recommend sitting upstairs. There are floor to ceiling windows that make for a great spot to enjoy your food and people watch.
#40. Visit the tomb of President Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was a decorated General and the 18th President of the United States. Grant’s wish was to be buried next to his wife when he passed. The request seems simple enough, but it wasn’t. His options for a final resting place were limited because women were not allowed to be buried in notable military cemeteries at the time.
When Grant died from throat cancer in 1885, the mayor of New York offered to have him buried in NYC. His wife, Julia Grant, supported the offer and a large fundraising initiative took place to build what would become the largest tomb in North America.
Today, visitors can pay their respects to President Ulysses S. Grant and Julia Grant by visiting his tomb in the Upper West Side. It’s one of the best things to do in New York City.
Grant’s Tomb is undoubtedly one of the most famous buildings in New York City due to its significance, especially with history buffs. You can get free tours of the mausoleum through the National Park Service.
Address: W 122nd St &, Riverside Dr, New York, 10027
Further reading: 11 Important National Park Sites in New York City
#41. Hang out at Little Island
Little Island is one of the most unique parks in New York City. It’s a redesigned pier that extends over the Hudson River with a beautiful design meant to be an oasis in the concrete jungle. Access won’t cost you a penny making this one of the best things to do in NYC!
The views are spectacular and the experience feels like being on an adult playground. I bring all of my out of town guests here because it’s so unique. Green grass compliments gorgeous landscape design with ample seating and views to enjoy from.
If there’s a hot day in the forecast you can expect to find locals stretched out on the numerous lawns with picnic baskets and friends.
Bonus: Neighboring Pier 57 is also home to a park, only this one is on a rooftop! It’s a popular spot for locals to sprawl out and try to get some sun. It’s not uncommon to see bathing suits and sun hats up there. Like hanging out at Little Island, this is one of the best things to do in New York City.
Address: Pier 55 at Hudson River Park Hudson River Greenway, NY 10014
#42. Soak in the City Lights from the Ferry
If you’re anything like me and jump at any opportunity to feel like you’re in a movie- listen up! Catching the city skyline from a ferry in general is pretty epic, but at night, WOW!
Seeing the city lights is an experience straight out of a rom-com. Catching the Big Apple lit up in its prime is euphoric and magical. Let your hair down, it’s one of the best things to do in New York City.
Taking the ferry is like taking the subway. Both have a fare of $2.75 (one way) and are easy to figure out. I suggest using google maps or Apple Maps. Those are my go-to resources when I’m trying to travel anywhere in the city.
Local’s Tip: Download the ferry app. You are able to see the ferry’s schedule and purchase tickets in advance. Once you buy the tickets you just scan your QR code at the dock.
#43. Explore the Turnstyle Underground Market
Stretching over an entire city block, this underground market is located in a subway station (yes really!). Head over to 59th St-Columbus Circle Station and explore over 39 food vendors, shops and treats.
You can find the Turnstyle Underground Market beneath 8th Ave. between 57th & 58th Street. With seven different street-level entrances to the market, finding your way in should be no problem. And don’t worry, it’s completely free to explore the market, you do not need to swipe your subway card to get in.
Opened daily from 11AM-7PM, Turnstyle Underground Market shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon and plans to bring more shops to the market over time. This hidden gem is one of the best things to do in New York City.
#44. Check out the iconic Friends Apartment Building
Who among us didn’t grow up watching Friends? Arguably one of the most popular TV shows of all time, it ran for 10 seasons and amassed an enthusiastic fan base.
The show was set in New York City, even though it was actually filmed in California. Regardless, you can see a handful of the iconic buildings from the show. Most notable is the apartment where Rachel, Monica, Chandler and Joey lived.
Located at the corner of Bedford and Grove Streets, check out the exterior of the apartment used in the opening credits. It’s easy to spot because there’s typically a crowd of folks eagerly taking photos of the corner.
You won’t be able to enter the building, but paying a visit is still one of the best things to do in NYC. The photo opportunities are endless thanks to the charming cafe below — which is not Central Perk in reality, rather it’s called The Little Owl.
#45. Get a treat at the original Magnolia Bakery
Magnolia Bakery took the world by storm, thanks in large part to being prominently featured in Sex and the City. The bakery is known for making decadent cakes and delicious cupcakes, but the banana pudding is where it’s at.
One of the best things to do in New York City is grabbing a container to go. Especially when you feel that sweet tooth craving hitting you hard for a dessert you won’t soon forget.
You can find a handful of Magnolia Bakery locations throughout the city, but visiting the flagship bakery is one of the best things to do in NYC.
#46. Get lost in Industry City
Visiting Industry City is one of my favorite things to do in New York City. Think of a one-stop shop for all things NYC, then multiply it by ten and you have Industry City.
Comprised of 16 buildings across 35 acres, Industry City sits on the Brooklyn waterfront located in Sunset Park. The large industrial space was established back in the 1890’s and the space was used for manufacturing and distributing products. Today it is one of the most popular things to do in New York City.
Chock-full of events, eateries and shops, Industry City has it all. You can spend hours getting lost, roaming from place to place and still barely scratch the surface. In between the buildings you’ll find colorful courtyards decorated with seasonal decor and art installations creating the most charming backdrops for a photo.
#47. Have a drink at the best bar in the world (seriously)
Caffe Dante dates back to 1915. It served as a staple for the community before slowly fading into oblivion before two Australians decided to breathe new life into the historic institution in 2015.
The result was striking, within a few years of opening, Dante was named the best bar in the world in 2019 and appeared on the list again in 2020.
The menu is well curated with small fare and the drinks are perfectly executed. The hardest part about this experience is getting reservations because this is one of the best things to do in New York City.
After visiting Dante for dates in NYC on a handful of occasions, I can confirm that their drinks are some of the best I’ve ever had. The dirty martini is particularly memorable.
Dante now has three locations — Dante West Village and Caffe Dante are located a few blocks apart, and the newest addition; Dante at Seaport.
I haven’t had luck getting into Caffe Dante without a reservation, so I suggest booking in advance. Try to book Friday evening during the spring and summer because they usually have a pleasant live jazz band.
Happy Hour: Both Dante locations have generous happy hour between 3pm and 5pm. Dante West Village offers martinis for $10 and Caffe Dante offers negronis for $10. The price/quality ratio can’t be beat!
#48. Rent a scooter and explore a new neighborhood
If you’re uncomfortable with scooters, a City Bike ought to do the trick! Regardless of the mode of transportation, one thing is certain — getting lost is one of the best things to do in New York City. You’re practically guaranteed to find a gem, observe an interaction or overhear a funny conversation. Some of my favorite memories to date involve being lost with my partner in tow.
If there’s a neighborhood you’ve been itching to explore, this is your invitation to do it!
#49. Have a picnic in Central Park
You probably already know that Central Park is a masterpiece. The park is world-famous for good reason and there’s a reason it’s on everyone’s must-see list when visiting New York City. Spanning more than 840 healthy acres, Central Park is an architectural feat that few can resist falling in love with.
It’s also one of the first man-made parks in the country– designed using a new concept for the time called landscape architecture. There’s so many iconic spots to see in Central Park, I suggest spending an entire day exploring this incredible NYC park or visiting several times.
If you’d like to feel like a true NYC local, grab a picnic blanket and spread out at Sheep Meadow during the warm spring and summer months, it’s one of the best things to do in NYC!
#50. Get lost in New York City!
New York City is beautiful and exciting. One of the best ways to explore it is by getting lost. In fact, some of my favorite memories of New York are moments I got lost and found spectacular buildings or quaint cafes to people watch from.
Not everything can (or should) be planned. Make time during your trip for aimless wandering – you won’t regret it!
Free Things to Do in New York City
Take a walking tour. There are so many different tours to choose from! Try a food tour, bus tour, bike tour, etc. Participation is free, just make sure to leave a tip for the guide.
Participate in a show recording. Tickets are free to attend a recording, but they go fast, so I suggest booking 1-2 months in advance. Shows include: Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, Lake Night with Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Stephen Colbert.
Summer Activity: Watch an outdoor movie at Brooklyn Bridge Park or Bryant Park. The exact dates and movies change from year to year, so make sure to check their websites!
Carnegie Hall Citywide partners with local community organizations to present free concerts throughout New York City. This is a great way to enjoy a free concert during your 4 days in New York City. For a list of current events, click here.
Further reading: Want more things to do in New York City? Check out 20 Unique FREE Things to Do in New York City.
Things to Do New York City (Seasonal)
Best Time to Visit New York City
- My favorite time to visit New York City is during the holiday season (late November to December) because of the Christmas markets and decorations.
- My second favorite time to visit is during fall (mid-October to mid-November) because of the mild temperatures and beautiful fall foliage.
But there’s no bad time to visit New York City. Just know that winters can be brutally cold (between January and mid-March). And the summer heat and humidity is tough to handle (between July and August).
Is the New York City Pass worthwhile?
Good question. It depends on the duration of your trip.
The pass is $132 per person and allows access to six attractions over the span of 9 days. If you think you have adequate time for at least 6 of the attractions listed below, the pass might be worth your while.
Another option to consider is the New York City C3 Pass. The C3 pass is $84 per person and allows access to three attractions over the span of 9 days.
Attractions covered by the City Pass:
- Empire State Building
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Museum of Modern Art
- Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
- Guggenheim Museum
- Hornblower Sightseeing Cruises
Based on my math, I suggest getting the New York City C3 Pass if you plan to visit at least three of the following places: (plus, the ability to skip lines is invaluable!)
- Empire State Building (regular admission is $20/person)
- Top of the Rock (regular admission is $36/person)
- The Statue of Liberty (regular admission is $19/person)
- 9/11 Museum (regular admission is $24/person)
- The MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art) (regular admission is $25/person)
- The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) (regular admission is $25/person)
Where to Stay in New York City
Lodging in New York City will not be cheap. Anyway you slice it, sleeping in the city that never sleeps is expensive. In fact, lodging will probably be the biggest hit to your budget.
With that said, for first time visitors, my recommendation is to stay in Greenwich Village or SoHo.
- My favorite mid-range hotel in New York City is the Soho Grand Hotel. SoHo has a calmer feel than other parts of New York City.
Airbnb Note: Due to the current housing shortage crisis in New York City, the city prohibits rentals of entire apartments or homes for less than 30 days without the owner present in the unit. Essentially, it’s okay to book through Airbnb if you’re staying in a private room while the owner is present. You might be surprised to hear that prices are not any cheaper for this arrangement.
Getting Around New York City
Walking is a great way to get around
- You will be doing a lot of walking during your first visit to New York City. The subway is efficient but sometimes it’s better to walk between places to absorb more of the city.
Uber and Lyft
- Using Uber and Lyft is a great way to get around New York City, especially if traveling in a larger group. The last time I visited NYC with a group of friends Uber and Lyft were sometimes cheaper than the subway split between the 4 of us.
The Metro (subway)
- The subway is quite the New York City experience. I personally love taking it whenever I can but be warned – it gets terribly crowded during commute hours.
- Also, in the summer, some of the subway stations are hot and muggy. Since the itinerary takes you to every corner of Manhattan, I suggest getting a MetroCard during your 4 days in New York.
- What is more iconic than a bright gold New York City taxi? To know if a taxi is available for pick up, check the light on top of the cab. If the light is illuminated, the taxi is eager to take you! Credit cards accepted.
Best Things to do in New York City
In sum, these are the best things to do in New York City during your first visit.
- Stroll (or bike) through Central Park
- Sunset at Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- Lox bagels from Russ and Daughters
- Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
- Visit Washington Square Park
- Explore DUMBO
- Catch a Broadway Show
- Shop in Soho
- White pie from Juliannas Pizza
- Marinara pie from Rubirosa Pizza
- Visit the 9/11 Memorial (and Museum)
- Explore the Oculus Mall
- New York Public Library (& Bryant Park)
- Catch an outdoor movie at Bryant Park
- Photo with the Flat Iron Building
- Explore the Chelsea Market
- Cronut from Domonique Ansel Bakery
- Walk the Highline
- Visit MoMA
- Visit the MET
- Explore Grand Central Terminal
- Visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral
- Visit Times Square
- Stroll the Brooklyn Promenade
- Raging Bull and Wall Street
- Burger from Shake Shack
- Levain Bakery cookies
- Eat your way through Essex Market
- Visit the tomb of President Ulysses S. Grant
- Hang out on Little Island
- Soak in the city lights from the Ferry
- Explore the Turnstyle Underground Market
- Check out the iconic Friends Apartment Building
- Get a treat at the original Magnolia Bakery
- Get lost in Industry City
- Have a drink at the best bar in the world
- Explore a new neighborhood
- Picnic in Central Park
Map of the Best Things to Do in NYC
I hope you enjoyed this guide as much as I enjoyed creating it! Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions – happy to help!