New York is at the vanguard of western art, entertainment, food trends, fashion and finance. Now, you could get cute and obscure when you compile a guide like this.
But truth be told, 55 things isn’t enough for a city like New York, which is why our list is packed shamelessly with big-hitters, from the Statue of Liberty to Central Park, Ellis Island, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Empire State, Broadway and the Brooklyn Bridge.
These things are non-negotiable if you want to do New York justice, even if you’ll be accompanied by a few thousand tourists.
We’ve got a breathless ride through a city seared in the minds of people around the world, immortalised in television and movies, and able to inspire wonder, awe, quiet reflection and joy in even the most cynical travellers.
Let’s explore the best things to do in NYC:
1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Backing onto Central on Fifth Avenue, the immense Metropolitan Museum of Art charts 5,000 years of applied and fine arts from all ends of the earth.
At the largest gallery in the United States you can chase your sense of curiosity down any number of rabbit-holes, marvelling at Sumerian cuneiform tablets, Chinese calligraphy, Classical sculpture, Egyptian mummies, Old Masters, Moorish textiles, Rococo fashion, armour worn by European monarchs, invaluable musical instruments, and that’s just to get started.
You could spend a whole day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and leave knowing that there was more to see.
But a few of the indispensible exhibits are the transposed Egyptian Temple of Dendur (15BC), Raphael’s altar painting of Madonna and Child (1504), Rembrandt’s Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (1653), Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze (1851) and van Gogh’s Self Portrait with Straw Hat (1887).
Skip the line: Metropolitan Museum of Art Skip-the-Line Ticket
2. Central Park
New York’s population doubled in the 30 years up to 1855, by which time the burgeoning city was in desperate need of more green space.
The answer was to cut a giant strip from the middle of Manhattan’s grid system, from 5th to 8th Avenue, and from 59th to 110th Street.
On 843 acres, this captivating landscape was drawn up by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and officially completed in 1873. Within Central Park’s boundaries are ponds, a central lake, a reservoir, public art, schist outcrops, almost 50 fountains, 21 playgrounds, complete sports facilities, more than 25,000 trees and dozens of interesting landmarks like the stately Bethesda Terrace.
The list of things to do is almost endless, and includes a zoo, boating, yoga classes, outdoor theatre and horse-drawn carriage tours.
Such is the size of Central Park, two wheels might be a better way to get around than two feet, and you can hire a bike via GetYourGuide.com.
3. National 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Sombre but necessary, the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum is on the site of the World Trade Centre.
The National September 11 Memorial is a jarring tribute to the 2,977 people killed in the attacks in 2001, as well as the six who died in the 1993 bombing.
There are twin reflecting pools here, an acre in size, marking out the exact footprints of the Twin Towers and walled with the largest man-made waterfalls in North America.
The bronze panels on parapets surrounding these pools are inscribed with the names of every person who died in the two attacks.
The Memorial Museum recalls the events of 9/11, the weeks leading up to the attack, and its aftermath, but also goes into depth on the lives of those who perished.
Among the exhibits are the monumental Last Column, fragments from the aircraft and a damaged fire truck.
Suggested tour: The 9/11 Tribute Museum & Memorial Walking Tour
4. Empire State Building
It’s a sign of New York’s sheer ambition in the 20s and 30s that nearly 90 years after it was topped off, the timeless Empire State Building is still the 44th tallest skyscraper in the world.
The roof of this Art Deco tower is 380 metres over the Midtown streets, and the highest visitable point in the city from 2001 until the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in 2011. The Main Deck on the 86th floor is open until 02:00 for a late-night perspective of the city that never sleeps, while in clear weather by day the panoramas scroll out for 80 miles, as far as Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
Further up there’s an indoor observatory on the 102nd floor, once part of a docking station for airships, and accessed with an upgrade.
Make sure to soak up the Art Deco opulence of the Lobby on Fifth Avenue, with marble floors and the unmistakeable image of the tower behind the main desk.
Skip the line: Empire State Building General & Express Ticket Options
5. Statue of Liberty
From 1886, immigrants making the voyage to New York for a new life would be greeted by this inspiring symbol of freedom, conceived by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and with a metal framework built by Gustave Eiffel.
The 93-metre Statue of Liberty depicts the Roman goddess Libertas, striding free of the shackles at her feet, holding aloft a torch in her right hand and carrying a tablet in her left hand bearing the date of the Declaration of Independence, “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (1776). New York’s main point of departure for Liberty Island is Battery Park.
The queues for the ferry and new Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island can be long and slow, which is why it’s well worth getting “skip the line” Priority or Flexible Statue of Liberty Tickets with GetYourGuide.com, which include a complimentary audio guide and optional access to the pedestal.
Trips to the top of the crown are highly coveted, so you have to book well in advance.
Recommended tour: Statue of Liberty: Pedestal Express and Ellis Island
6. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Some of the modern age’s most celebrated art is on show at the world-famous MoMA, one of the largest and most important museums for modern and contemporary art in the world.
The collection runs to 150,000 pieces, comprising a good many masterpieces.
Among them are The Starry Night by van Gogh, Picasso’ s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory, The Dance by Matisse, Painting 1946 by Francis Bacon and a triptych from Monet’s Water Lilies series.
This incredible reserve is matched with high-profile temporary exhibitions: The work of Degas, Jackson Pollock, Picasso, Gilbert & George, Miró has starred in solo shows in the last few years, along with many more enlightening survey shows and transformative installations.
All year round, MoMA throws open its doors for free on Friday nights from 16:00 to 20:00.
Book online: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Skip-the-Line Tickets
7. Rockefeller Center
The proportions of this vertical complex in Midtown are astonishing, especially when you remember that it was built throughout the Great Depression.
The Rockefeller Center is made up of 19 buildings (14 Art Deco, five International Style), broken by a sunken central plaza, all commissioned by the Rockefeller family, who first made their money in the oil industry.
We’ll talk about the Top of the Rock observatory and Radio City below, but there’s much at street level at the Rockefeller Center that you’ll have seen many times before in movies.
You’ve got the Atlas statue (1936) facing St Patrick’s Cathedral across Fifth Avenue, Prometheus (1934) on the west side of the famous sunken plaza and a majestic accompaniment to the much-loved skating rink and Christmas tree.
8. Brooklyn Bridge
Yet another landmark that makes New York, well… New York, the Brooklyn Bridge links Manhattan to Brooklyn across the East River and became the world’s first steel wire suspension bridge when it was completed in 1883. At that time it was also the first permanent crossing on the East River.
In 1884 the showman P.T. Barnum led a parade of 21 elephants across the bridge to allay doubts about its structural integrity.
The structure’s sense of drama comes from its two neo-Gothic towers, composed of limestone and granite and rising to 84 metres, and anchoring the intricate cable system.
The Brooklyn Bridge is best crossed as a pedestrian on the elevated walkway above the road and through the very centre of the towers, for satisfying vistas of New York’s silhouette and the cables overhead.
A byword for New York’s theatre district, and even musical theatre in general, Broadway has more than 41 venues with 500 seats or more.
Most of these are on or within a few blocks of Times Square, and helped to turn New York into the cultural capital of the West in the 20th century.
Broadway’s eye-catching signs go back as far as 1910, when theatre owners realised it was safer and cheaper to advertise their venues with electric lights.
White bulbs took longer to burn out, and so Broadway became known as the “Great White Way”. For many generations of visitors to New York, catching a musical has been an essential ritual, and attendances continue to rise, driven by appearances from Hollywood stars (Bryan Cranston, Adam Driver, Keri Russell and Daniel Radcliffe in 2019). The three ever-present productions are Phantom of the Opera (1988) at the Majestic, Chicago (1996) at the Ambassador, and the Lion King (1997) at the Minskoff Theatre, while Hamilton and the Book of Mormon are more recent sensations.
10. One World Trade Center Observatory
Over almost a decade of construction between 2006 and 2015, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere took its place on the northwest corner of the World Trade Center site.
“One World Trade Center” comes from the north skyscraper of the Twin Towers and as of 2019 is the sixth tallest building in the world at 541.3 metres.
The height in feet is 1776, referring to the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, and you’ll rocket up 102 storeys in just 47 seconds.
The Observatory grants a 360° view, which at this end of Manhattan means you can look down on the Upper New York Bay and the Statue of Liberty, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge and up to the cluster of Midtown skyscrapers.
Come just before sunset to watch the city lighting up.
Book online: One World Observatory Ticket: Skip-the-Ticket-Line
11. High Line
This railway viaduct, cutting down the west side of Midtown Manhattan, belongs to the West Side Line but had been effectively abandoned from 1980 until it was turned into an elevated linear park, 1.45 miles long.
Taking cues from the Coulée verte René-Dumont in Paris the High Line opened in 2009 and threads through Chelsea, with occasional views across the Hudson River at the south, and to the towers of the slick new Hudson Yards development in the north.
The gardens were designed by Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf, and have a continuous pebble-dash concrete walkway flanked by beds growing the hardy plant species that sprouted in the gravel on the disused line, like coneflowers, blazing stars and a variety of grasses and trees.
Unveiled in June 2019, the Plinth at 10th Avenue and 30th Street is a space devoted to a rotating series of monumental, contemporary art commissions, kicking off with Simone Leigh’s Brick House.
Combo tour: High Line and Greenwich Village Combo Tour
12. Staten Island Ferry
One of the great free things to do in New York, the Staten Island Ferry zips across the Upper New York Bay 25 hours a day, seven days a week.
This crossing is one of the last survivors of a whole system of ferries that shuttled people over the city’s waterways before the bridges were constructed.
The service, between Whitehall Street and St George on Staten Island, is used by 22 million a year, and the five mile crossing takes about 25 minutes.
As a visitor, the reason to make the trip will become clear as you pull away from Manhattan, taking in perfect views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, as well as the skyscrapers and bridges of Lower Manhattan.
13. Times Square
Broadway’s theatre district coalesces around Times Square, a bowtie shaped plaza where Broadway and Seventh Avenue meet, in an urban ravine walled by dazzling electronic billboards.
It’s something you have to see, especially if you’re a first-timer.
On busy days more than 460,000 people pass through Times Square, and up to a million come to ring in the New Year at the ball drop, a tradition going back to 1907. In 2016, to keep things a bit more orderly, the city set up designated areas for the many street performers, and drew up paths to help you navigate the crowds.
As everybody knows, Times Square wasn’t always as clean and glossy.
From the 1960s to the early-90s, this was one of the grimiest blocks, lined with peep shows and sex shops, and a symbol for a city struggling with violent crime.
In 1984 there were 2,300 recorded crimes on and around the square, 460 of which were serious.
14. Grand Central Terminal
Much more than a simple transportation hub, the Grand Central Terminal (1913) is a Beaux-Arts wonder, with amazing proportions, exceptional workmanship in its architecture and fittings, and more than 60 shops and 35 places to eat.
This cavernous building, an enduring meeting point for New Yorkers, has 44 platforms, more than any other train station in the world, and has shown up time and again in movies and television.
On the palatial Main Concourse tilt your head back to see the mural of night sky constellations from 1912 by Paul César Helleu, and the ten Beaux-Arts chandeliers, each weighing 360kg and holding 110 bulbs.
Most emblematic is the information booth, crowned with a clock, each face of which is made from mesmerising opalescent glass.
15. Top of the Rock
The 1930s Art Deco skyscraper at 30 Rockefeller Plaza may have the best view of the Manhattan skyline from its outdoor observation deck at just below 260 metres over the Midtown streets.
Dubbed Top of the Rock, this sophisticated space was designed like the deck of an ocean liner.
Despite being 60 metres lower than the Empire State, many people prefer this experience.
There’s a timed entry system, which combined with the larger observation deck makes for shorter queues.
Naturally, the views encompass the Empire State in all its glory, as well as the Midtown and downtown skyscrapers, but also a big sweep of Central Park.
Book online: Top of the Rock Observation Deck Ticket
16. 5.5-Hour New York City Tour
If time is of the essence you can condense the city into a half-day odyssey, weaving past nearly all of New York’s main sights from the comfort of a bus.
Starting at Central Park West and ending on Herald Square in Midtown, the trip will be narrated and make regular pauses for photos, and nine stops to step out for a better look.
You’ll get to see the Upper West Side, Harlem, much of Fifth Avenue, Midtown, Little Italy, China Town, Brooklyn, Wall Street and the Meatpacking District, before stopping for lunch at the Chelsea Market.
The highly-rated 5.5-Hour New York City Tour can be found on GetYourGuide.Com and can be conducted in English, Spanish, Italian or German.
17. Guggenheim Museum
A celebrated museum of course, but also an epoch-making work of 20th-century architecture, the Guggenheim Museum is essential for its dumbfounding design, collection of Impressionist and early modern art, and for its world-class temporary exhibitions.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s building is yet another icon, tearing up the museum script by inviting visitors to catch an elevator to the top and then make their way down the ramp that coils around the atrium.
This opened in 1959, but the collection, enriched with names like Chagall, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Kirchner, Franz Marc, Fernand Léger and Cézanne, goes back more than eight decades and continues to grow.
18. New York Public Library
Like so many of the entries on this list the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the main branch of the New York Public Library, is a landmark that you’ll recognise in an instant.
This is a holdover from the first age of philanthropy at the turn of the 20th century, and belongs to the second largest public library system in the country, and the third largest in the world.
The marble Beaux-Arts facade in Midtown on Fifth Avenue has pairs of Corinthian columns, topped by a frieze and giving way to barrel vaults.
Flanking the steps there’s a pair of lions, which are an emblem for the whole library system.
This monument holds world-renowned collections in the humanities, fine arts and social sciences, and schedules free guided tours Monday to Saturday at 11:00 and 14:00. Also visit for a special exhibition; for example, in spring 2019 there was a display exploring some of the inspirations for Walt Whitman’s work, and a show to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which helped pave the way for the gay liberation movement.
19. Bryant Park
Bounded to the east by the New York Public Library Main Branch, Bryant Park is actually set on top of the library’s stacks, after an underground level was built during a restoration in the 1980s.
The park’s current layout is from that time, and became a symbol for the revival of New York’s image in the 1990s, shedding its reputation for prostitution and drug dealing.
More than 30 years later Bryant Park is adored for its sense of calm, and is held up as a piece of urban regeneration.
There’s a movie night on Mondays in the summer, and by day you’ll see people playing chess, ping-pong or pétanque, and taking part in free classes in anything from yoga to tai chi and juggling.
There are promenades hemmed by London planes, and several places to grab coffee, a pastry or something more substantial.
The Reading Room is a Depression-era relic, reopened as a literary destination in 2003, and in the build-up to Christmas the Bank of America Winter Village brings a rink and a sprinkle of seasonal magic to the park.
20. The Met Cloisters
Posted on a hill up in Fort Tryon Park is a museum for European Medieval art and architecture, managed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The museum was established in 1938, in a haunting neo-Romanesque building designed by Charles Collens, built from European limestone and granite.
Inside are some 5,000 pieces, from the early days of the Byzantine Empire to the beginning of the Renaissance.
The showpiece on the south side are the Cuxa cloisters, dating from the 11th and 12th centuries and brought from the Abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa.
All of the columns and intricately carved capitals here are original.
The Saint-Guilhem (800s-1600s), Bonnefont (1100s) and Trie (1400s and 1500s) cloisters are also breathtaking.
Inside marvellous architectural stonework, stained glass, effigies and frescoes await at the Gothic Chapel, Fuentidueña chapel, Langon Chapel and Romanesque Hall.
The Treasury Room contains smaller delights, like illuminated manuscripts, fine enamel, a 13th-century French reliquary and a deck of cards from the 1400s.
21. Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration
The point of arrival for 12 million immigrants to the United States between 1892 and 1954, Ellis Island is a short boat trip via Statue Cruises at Battery Park.
To give you an idea of the importance of this site, the descendants of these immigrants account for nearly half of the entire population of the United States.
Dating to 1900, the main building of the immigration station complex houses the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.
Just outside, the Wall of Honour lists some of the people to have been processed here.
Within the Renaissance Revival building there’s a wealth of information panels, artefacts, photographs, videos, oral histories and interactive stations.
The audio tour has more than 120 hours worth of content, going into detail on what it was like to pass through Ellis Island, how America was populated in the 19th and 20th centuries, and immigration in the present day.
22. Fifth Avenue
Just like Broadway is synonymous with musical theatre, Fifth Avenue means luxury and prestige.
New York’s most refined artery is the eastern boundary to Central Park and cuts past a staggering amount of things on this list, be it the Empire State Building or the Frick Collection.
There are specific stretches that demand a visit, like the park-side blocks between 59th and 96th Street.
By the dawn of the 20th century this strip was known as Millionaire’s Row, and has some of the most opulent residences in the city.
From 82nd to 105th Streets is Museum Mile, loaded with nine prestigious museums almost side by side, including The Met and the Guggenheim.
And further down, between 49th and 60th Street, Fifth Avenue is given over to flagship luxury emporia for Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Prada and the like.
Included in: New York City Day Tour with One World Observatory
23. Metropolitan Opera House
New York lays claim to the largest repertory opera house in the world.
Part of the Lincoln Center, the Met, for short, seats around 3,800 at an extraordinary Modernist building raised in the mid-1960s.
This is one of the most advanced opera venues in the world, with a system of hydraulic elevators and motorised stages able to put on four different operas a week, including epic productions like Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen and Verdi’s Aida.
The auditorium’s ceiling is coated with more than 4,000 squares of gold leaf in a petal motif, suspending 21 crystal chandeliers.
The opera season runs from autumn to spring, and Porgy & Bess, Madama Butterfly, La Bohème, The Flying Dutchman and The Magic Flute were a few of the 2019-20 season highlights.
Following on, the American Ballet Theatre then has an eight-week spring season at the Met.
24. Tenement Museum
Between 1863 and 2011 some 15,000 people from more than 20 nations lived at the two tenement buildings at 97 and 103 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side.
The Tenement Museum lifts the lid on their lives and the wider immigration experience.
No. 97 has barely changed since 1935. Up to that time, plumbing, gas, electricity and running water had been added, but rather than make further changes to bring the building up to code, the landlord evicted all the residents from the upper storeys, sealing these floors up until they were rediscovered in 1988. You can visit 97 and 103 on a variety of guided tours, making your way through recreated apartments, learning intimate details about the families who arrived here hoping to make their way in a new country.
25. Brooklyn Heights
Known for its leafy streets and dignified brownstone rowhouses, Brooklyn Heights is the upmarket neighbourhood south of the Brooklyn Bridge.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by Manhattan’s skyscrapers you can idle here among the low-rise buildings, home to celebrities now and in the mid-20th century when Marilyn Monroe and Truman Capote were residents.
Amble along the Brooklyn Promenade, which has a view across the East River to match any in the city, encompassing Liberty Island, the Brooklyn Bridge and cityscape of Lower Manhattan.
This walkway was conceived as a buffer to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which arrived on the waterfront in 1950. You can make a day of it in Brooklyn Heights at the riveting New York Transit Museum on Schermerhorn Street, and continue up to the brand new Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Available tour: Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Heights, NYC Sightseeing Bike Tour
26. Coney Island
This former barrier island in the south-western corner of Brooklyn became a peninsula at the turn of the 20th century.
For decades before that time, Coney Island has been a seaside escape for New Yorkers.
And although the waterfront had a prolonged downturn from the 1960s onwards, it has been revitalised today, while keeping some of its scruffy appeal.
A real stalwart here is the Coney Island Cyclone, now at the Luna Park.
This is one of the oldest functioning wooden rollercoasters, first opened in 1927, and hitting speeds of 60 mph after the first 26-metre climb.
Another abiding attraction is the Wonder Wheel at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, standing since 1920, and giving you clear views of the Manhattan skyline, Brooklyn’s beaches and east along the Rockaway Peninsula.
27. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
The aircraft carrier USS Intrepid (1943), which served in the Pacific during the Second World War, surviving five kamikaze attacks, was rescued from scrapping in 1978 and in 1982 found a permanent home at Pier 86 off 46th Street.
This is the centrepiece of a museum for US military and maritime history, allowing you to pore over the inner workings of a WWII-era aircraft carrier, but also view a serious collection of other vessels and aircraft.
One of the highlights, the USS Growler (1958) is the only American guided missile submarine open to the public, while the BA Concorde at Pier 86 broke the Concorde’s transatlantic crossing record in 1996. In the Space Shuttle Pavilion you can view the Enterprise, the prototype Space Shuttle orbiter, rolled out in 1976.
28. Prospect Park
Brooklyn’s 526-acre Prospect Park is a beautiful place to get lost, dotted with historic buildings, little attractions and sports facilities, all on a hilly terminal moraine from the last Ice Age.
Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the men behind Central Park, Prospect Park took shape during the 1860s, and has a ceremonious entrance to the north, on the Grand Army Plaza, via the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch (1892). New buildings were being added well into the early 20th century.
One of these is the elegant Boathouse on the Lullwater (1905), a channel of the park’s lake.
Smaller visitors will be besotted with the farmyard animals, red pandas, otters and tamarins at the 130-year-old Prospect Park Zoo, while the park’s carousel has been turning since 1912. The Ravine is a beautiful piece of 19th-century landscaping, resembling the wilderness of the Adirondacks, while the Long Meadow is a mile-long strip of undulating greenery for picnics and a little peace.
29. Battery Park
This small-ish park at the southern tip of Manhattan looks out over the Upper New York Bay, and is one of the best places in the city to watch the sun go down.
The Staten Island Ferry departs just next door and you can make the voyage to Ellis Island and Liberty Island here, or just sit and gaze at the Statue of Liberty by day or in lights.
Battery Park gets its name from the coastal gun emplacements that used to be on this spot, and among the flowerbeds, lawns, ornamental shrubs and an urban farm there are a few monuments to pique your curiosity.
One is the Netherland Monument, raised in 1926 to mark the tercentenary of New Amsterdam.
Another is the Sphere, a 1971 sculpture by Fritz Koenig that stood in the middle of the plaza of the World Trade Centre, and was relocated here in its damaged state in 2002. The Hope Garden remembers the victims of the AIDS crisis, while a few paces north on the Bowling Green is Wall Street’s famous Charging Bull.
30. Greenwich Village
This neighbourhood of 19th century townhouses on tree-lined streets spent much of the last century diverting from the mainstream.
Then Greenwich Village’s bars and cafes harboured the city’s beatniks and then hippies, and its nascent LBGTQ community.
Café Society, the first racially integrated nightclub in the United States, opened here in 1938. Just the name Greenwich Village recalls beat writers like Jack Kerouac and William S.
Burroughs, but also other literary heavyweights like James Baldwin and Dylan Thomas, who died in 1953 soon after a drinking session in the White Horse Tavern.
Sky-high real estate prices have put an end to Greenwich Village’s bohemian days, but make the pilgrimage to a place that gave a start to Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground.
Suggested tour: New York City: Greenwich Village 2-Hour Tour
31. Whitney Museum of American Art
In 2014 the foremost museum for 20th-century and contemporary art in the United States relocated to a Renzo Piano-designed building in the West Village/Meat Packing District.
The Whitney Museum of American Art’s collection runs to more than 20,000 works, by hundreds of renowned artists, among them Alexander Calder, Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper and Helen Frankenthaler.
In 1932, the museum’s founder, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney launched the Whitney Biennial.
Almost 90 years later, this is still a landmark event in the United States’ cultural scene, introducing new talent and mapping the latest developments in American contemporary art.
Book online: Whitney Museum of American Art: Day Ticket
32. Flatiron Building
On Fifth Avenue at the downtown end of Madison Square is one of those New York sights etched into the world’s consciousness.
This wedge-shaped Renaissance Revival skyscraper, named for its resemblance to a clothes iron, was one of the tallest buildings in the city when it was completed in 1902. The Flatiron Building stands just shy of 87 metres and sits neatly on a triangular block caused by Broadway.
As well as being a sight to kindle some Manhattan romance, the Flatiron Building has a small gallery, the Flatiron Prow Artspace.
This is run by the ground floor tenant, Sprint, and hosts exhibitions centred on sustainability and eco-friendly technology.
A few steps away is the capacious indoor market/dining destination, Eataly Flatiron, an ode to Italian cuisine
Suggested tour: Flatiron Food, History & Architecture Tour
33. Union Square
The name, Union Square, has nothing to do with the Civil War, as you might think, but comes from the location, where the thoroughfares Broadway and Bowery Road (now Fourth Avenue) are united.
Given its central position, Union Square has been a gathering point for protests and demonstration since it was laid out in the 1830s.
On the south side is the massive public art installation, Metronome, with LED clock, while among the park’s monuments are Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi sculpture of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette for the Centennial in 1876, and imposing statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln by Henry Kirke Brown.
The Union Square Greenmarket, served by regional farmers, trades here on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 08:00 to 18:00 all year.
This is one of the best places to get fresh produce in New York, while you can come for Christmas handicrafts at the Holiday Market from the end of November.
34. Frick Collection
As soon as he made his fortune the Pittsburgh coke and steel industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) started investing in art, amassing an exceptional assortment of Old Masters and high-quality decorative arts.
This collection, along with a sprawling Neoclassical mansion built in 1913, was bequeathed as a public museum when he passed away.
The residence was adapted into a museum by feted architect John Russell Pope, and at its heart is the refined Garden Court, framed by pairs of Ionic columns and symmetrical bedding.
There’s extraordinary painting, by Vermeer, Fragonard, Velázquez, Turner, Goya, Titian, Rembrandt, El Greco and Hans Holbein the Younger, as well as Limoges enamel, Oriental rugs, porcelain, silverware sculpture and 18th-century French furniture.
35. American Museum of Natural History
Expertly curated, and constantly finding creative and engaging ways to display its vast inventory of specimens, the American Museum of Natural History is on a jaw-dropping scale.
On four floors there are 45 permanent exhibition halls in 28 interconnected buildings.
Many of the collections are the largest in the world in their fields, so you can indulge your interest in even the most obscure subcategories of zoology, botany, geology, mineralogy and anthropology.
Children will be transfixed by the Fossil Halls, particularly the Koch Dinosaur Wing, displaying just a tantalising fraction of the museum’s collections but staggering all the same.
In the Millstein Family Hall of Ocean Life you’ll be met by a life-sized replica of a blue whale, swooping from the ceiling and almost 30 metres long.
The Rose Center for Earth and Space holds the Hayden Planetarium in an enormous sphere, while the museum’s own IMAX theater presents eye-popping 2D and 3D films.
Get tickets: American Museum of Natural History Tickets
36. Washington Square Park
At the very bottom of Fifth Avenue and fringed by New York University, the youthful Washington Square Park is somewhere to forget the city for a while.
In the 1950s and 60s beatniks and hippies would gather here, often to the chagrin of Greenwich Village’s working class residents and the New York City Police Department.
That bohemian spirit endures today in the park’s line-up of talented street performers and buskers.
In the south-west corner you can watch some intense chess matches (Stanley Kubrick was a regular in his youth), while the triumphal Washington Square Arch at the end of Fifth Avenue was put up in 1892 to mark the centenary of George Washington’s inauguration.
37. New York City Helicopter Tour
No matter how high the observation deck, you may come away feeling like there’s a patch of Manhattan that you wanted to see from above but could not.
There might not be a cityscape more suited to a helicopter tour than New York, so it’s little wonder that there’s an abundance of options with GetYourGuide.com.
To single out one, the New York City Deluxe Helicopter Tour affords the ultimate views of the Hudson River, the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, the New York Harbour and USS Intrepid.
Taking off from the heliport at Pier 6, this flight lasts 15-30 minutes but will give you memories to last a lifetime.
38. Madison Square Garden
Dubbed the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden is the home of the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, and still finds time to be the second busiest arena in the world in terms of concert sales.
The Garden has recently completed its second renovation, costing an eye-watering $1bn and taking place across three off seasons.
At the time of writing in 2019 the Knicks were at their nadir, slumping to the very bottom of the Eastern Conference, but you may be keen to relive the 90s when Patrick Ewing was in his prime and the team reached two finals.
Or you might just want to find out about how this ultramodern arena works on the new All Access Tour.
This departs every half-hour (limited hours on Knicks days), and a knowledgeable guide will lead you on a 75-minute journey around all the nooks and crannies.
Recommended tour: Madison Square Garden All Access Tour Ticket
39. Radio City Music Hall
Part of the Rockefeller Center is this iconic Art Deco live entertainment venue that opened in 1932, hosting major concerts, awards ceremonies and live broadcasts of TV shows.
From the outside the Radio City Music Hall is unmistakeable for its long marquee sign on the corner of 6th Avenue and 50th street, and the seven-storey signs on 6th Avenue.
It might be enough to stop by and grab a photo of these signs, but if you want to walk the halls of the “Showplace of the Nation” the Madison Square Garden Group gives tours, revealing the history of the famed Great Stage, getting you up close to exquisite Art Deco details and maybe giving you a chance to meet a member of the resident dance troupe, the Rockettes.
40. St Patrick’s Cathedral
Occupying an entire city block, this neo-Gothic wonder was visited by Pope Francis in 2015 after coming through a three-year, $177m restoration.
St Patrick’s Cathedral (1878) is in the Decorated Gothic style and composed of brick clad with radiant Tuckahoe marble.
The twin spires facing Fifth Avenue are just over 100 metres tall, while the combined nave and choir measures 101.2 metres between the two avenues.
You can enter for free, taking in the opulent statuary in the many side chapels, as well as the St Michael and St Louis altars (by Tiffany & Co.), the enormous Pietà, the magnificent rose window, the ribbed vaulting and the spectacular wood casing of the Gallery Organ, dedicated in 1930.
Once upon a time, SoHo, meaning “South of Houston Street”, was a working class area of factories and tenements.
In the 1970s artists moved into the lofts of old factories, at a time when these manufacturing spaces weren’t zoned as residences and lacked many of the basic amenities of homes.
SoHo’s time as a quarter of studios and galleries didn’t last, as the historic architecture, cobblestone streets and gritty charm soon attracted the ultra-rich, and the neighbourhood is now more about boutiques, fine dining and snazzy bars.
SoHo’s story defined the gentrification template, as the “SoHo Effect”. Pay a visit for the finer things, and to admire the largest array of cast-iron buildings in the world, dating from 1840 to 1880.
Recommended tour: SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown 2-Hour Guided Walk
What used to be in Greenwich Village and SoHo can currently be found among the tenements, townhouses, rowhouses and converted factories of Chelsea on Manhattan’s West Side.
Gentrification is squeezing this neighbourhood too, but there are still hundreds of cutting-edge galleries and a sizeable LBTGQ community.
Chelsea is one of the best places to go out in Manhattan, with loads of bars and clubs, especially in the Meatpacking District.
For yet more fresh and daring culture there’s a helping of Off-Broadway theatres in Chelsea, while the neighbourhood is a fashion-forward shopper’s idea of heaven.
Make the pilgrimage to the Chelsea Hotel, reopened after long-term renovations in 2019, and made famous by its countless mentions in popular culture and the scores of cultural figures who have stayed here.
43. United Nations Headquarters
After a plot had been chosen by the East River for the headquarters of the newly founded United Nations, an international dream team of design consultants was put together, among them Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier.
Wallace Harrison’s final design was a blend of Le Corbusier and Niemeyer’s plans, and has been integral to the Manhattan cityscape since 1952. All of the main organs of the UN are seated here, including the Security Council and 193-nation General Assembly, except for the Hague’s International Court of Justice.
The Visitor Centre is open every day of the week, although guided tours are only given Monday to Friday.
These last an hour and, depending on the schedule, take you into the famed General Assembly, Security Council and Economic and Social Council, while showing some of the many artworks gifted to the UN like the Norman Rockwell Mosaic and the Zanetti Mural.
44. Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
America’s design museum can be found by Central Park on the Museum Mile.
This institution goes back to 1897, and in 1970 moved into its current venue, the Georgian-style Andrew Carnegie Mansion (1902). The tycoon and philanthropist resided here until his death in 1919, while his wife Louise would remain until she passed away in 1946. A seven-year upgrade, completed in 2015, has elevated the Cooper-Hewitt to must-see status.
Complementing the museum’s extensive collections in decorative arts and the broader concept design are creative interactive features.
At the start you’ll be given a kind of electronic stylus, so you can mark anything that catches your eye, saving it to a personalised website.
The Immersion Room meanwhile gives you digital access to the museum’s vast inventory of wallpaper, and allows you to come up with your own designs to be projected on the walls.
45. Brooklyn Bridge Park
As of 2019 this park project, revitalising 1.3 miles of Brooklyn’s post-industrial waterfront, is pretty much completed and a fitting end to a trek across the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Brooklyn Bridge Park has been more than a decade in the making, transforming Brooklyn Piers 1-6 and reclaiming land on the East River with soil from the construction of the new World Trade Center.
There are multiple sports facilities, playgrounds for children and loads of places to eat, both in the park and nearby.
But it’s the river and views (the sunset is amazing) that make the Brooklyn Bridge Park, with a continuous promenade from Pier 1 to 6, hemmed by smart landscaping, as well as salt marsh and tidepools to attract wildlife.
46. Morningside Heights
North-west of Central Park and bordering on Harlem, Morningside Heights is a neighbourhood of striking monuments and big academic, religious and cultural institutions.
The most august of these has to be Columbia University, founded in 1754 and the fifth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States.
Since 1902 the university has administered the Pulitzer Prize.
Make a detour to check out the dome and Ionic columns of the Neoclassical Butler Library.
Elsewhere, Riverside Park holds Grant’s Tomb, the final resting place of 18th President Ulysses S.
Grant (1822-1885), while Sakura Park is so-called for its thousands of cherry trees (blooming in April), donated in 1912 by the Committee of Japanese Residents of New York.
Lastly, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine is the fifth largest Christian church in the world, at more than 180 metres long and 70 metres wide.
Work began in 1892 but this monument is still unfinished.
47. New York Botanical Garden
In lush parkland over 250 acres, the New York Botanical Garden grows more than a million individual plants in 50 different spaces and collections.
This is a leading botanical institution, conducting research and conservation programmes that employ 600 staff.
For visitors there are lots of delights, like a tract of the old growth forest that covered all of New York before it was settled by Europeans in the 17th century.
Never logged, this grows white ash, birch, tulip, cherry and American beech trees.
A sight to behold is the beautiful Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, built with a wrought iron frame in the 1890s and hosting a glorious orchid show every spring.
You can saunter around a Japanese Rock Garden, 37 acres of conifers, wetlands, a herb garden and the magical Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden.
Book online: New York Botanical Garden: All-Garden Pass Ticket
48. Chrysler Building
An Art Deco tower of startling and delicate beauty, the Chrysler Building (1930) has an allure that sets it apart from New York’s other skyscrapers.
For 11 months until the Empire State Building was topped off, this was the tallest building in the world, standing at 319 metres.
It was ordered by the automobile tycoon Walter Chrysler, and was the career apogee of architect William van Alen.
The tower is iconic for the tiered arches and triangular windows of its lustrous stainless steel crown, above eagle motif gargoyles on the 61st floor.
The best way to see the crown is to scale the Empire State Building, but there are clear lines of sight along Lexington Avenue, from the foot of the tower on 42 Street down to Gramercy Park on 21st.
If you’re feeling bold go in to take a peek at the sumptuous lobby, with floors made of travertine from Siena, granite from Africa on the walls and regal Art Deco light fittings.
See it from above: New York City Deluxe Helicopter Tour
49. Yankee Stadium
The old Yankee Stadium may be dead and gone, but its $2.3bn replacement, unveiled in 2009, has revived many classic design features and gives you pristine views from every seat.
The facade is bare Indiana limestone, which was painted over at the old stadium, while the roof of the new venue is adorned with the iconic frieze present from 1923 to 1973. If you’re in town between April and October you’ll have ample opportunity to catch a ballgame at Yankee stadium as the there are 81 home games in a MLB regular season, and general seating tickets go for as little as $14. Be prepared to fork out a lot more for a dog or pretzel though! In the stadium’s concourse, between the exterior wall and the arena, is the Great Hall, with ceiling seven storeys high and giant sporting Yankee greats like Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
Arrive early to visit the stadium’s open-air museum at Monument Park, crackling with 120 years of history.
50. Chelsea Market
If you had to narrow down New York’s cornucopia of food halls to just one, you could do worse than Chelsea Market.
For starters, food history has already been made at this former Nabisco factory (1895), as the Oreo cookie was invented right here.
With a selection of speciality food shops and a high-end supermarket with deli counter and butcher, Chelsea Market is a place to shop, but it’s the eateries that draw the crowds.
There are upwards of 35 vendors, like Los Tacos No. 1, aptly named because it makes the best tacos in the city, Chelsea Creamline for American classics, Num Pang preparing Cambodian-style sandwiches or the crêperie Bar Suzette.
The Lobster Place is a wholesale seafood market with its own sushi bar, also operating the Cull & Pistol for oysters and lobster.
Available tour: New York City High Line and Chelsea Market Walking Tour
51. Bronx Zoo
A great partner to the New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx Zoo is the largest urban zoo in the country, spread out over 265 acres and keeping some 5,000 animals.
Like the best 21st-century zoos, the Bronx Zoo is conservation-oriented, but animal protection is this attraction’s DNA, as the first director William Temple Hornaday strove to save the American Bison from extinction in the early 20th century.
At more than a century old, there’s some lovely old architecture at the Bronx Zoo, like the Beaux-Arts Zoo Center (1908), housing monitor lizards, and with outdoor enclosures for white rhinos, komodo dragons and giant tortoises.
General admission will grant you access to a host of exhibits, like Tiger Mountain, the Sea Lion Pool, Congo Gorilla Forest, Baboon Reserve and a whole load more.
Some special exhibits and attractions require an extra fee, like a Butterfly Garden, 4D Theater, Zoo Shuttle and Wild Asia Monorail.
One enclave still going strong in the face of gentrification is Chinatown.
Seriously, if you didn’t know better, the gridlock, sudden bustle, cadence of Cantonese conversation, and street signs and awnings with Chinese characters might make you think you’re on a different continent entirely.
Manhattan’s Chinatown, ringed by TriBeCa, the former Little Italy, the Lower East Side and Civic Center, is no longer the largest Chinese enclave in New York, as that honour has gone to Flushing Chinatown in Queens.
But it has the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere and is a dumbfounding change of pace in Lower Manhattan.
The fishmongers and greengrocers around Canal Street, East Broadway, Mott Street and Mulberry Street are perpetually eye-opening.
Recommended tour: SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown 2-Hour Guided Walk
53. South Street Seaport
Just down from the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side is a an area that has witnessed a lot of recent change, even by New York’s dizzying standards.
In the 17th century this was New York’s original port, where the city’s early economy first flourished and where the city’s clippers docked in the 19th century.
The Seaport is a designated historic district, home to some of downtown Manhattan’s oldest buildings in a little cobblestone grid made up of Fulton Street, Front Street and Water Street.
Take Fulton Street’s Schermerhorn Row Block, a terrace of Federal style houses dating from 1811-12. The South Street Seaport Museum here tracks the growth of New York into a port for the world with collections of nauticalia, and a small fleet of sailboats out front, like the Lettie G.
Howard schooner from 1893. South Street Seaport’s heritage has been protected, and is joined by new architecture like Pier 17 redeveloped as a culinary and retail centre, hosting big outdoor events.
From April to November, the largest weekly food market in America pulls in as many as 30,000 people to Brooklyn every weekend.
The main trading spots are at the East River Park in Williamsburg on Saturdays, and Breeze Hill in Prospect Park on Sundays.
There’s also a smaller fair every Friday at the World Trade Center’s Oculus Plaza, from 11:30 to 19:00. With more than 100 vendors at the two Brooklyn locations, it would be impossible to sum up all the discoveries you could make.
But to tickle the tastebuds, there’s Maine lobster fresh off the grill on a bed of noodles (Lobsterdamus), Brooklyn-style poutine (Duck Season), the famed spaghetti donut (Pop Pasta), blueberry crumble ice cream sandwiches (Good Batch) or deep-fried cookie dough (Big Mozz). Bring cash as most of the vendors don’t take cards.
55. New York Harbour and Statue of Liberty Evening Cruise
Downtown New York is stunning from the water by day, but the sight of the harbour and skyline at night is one of those experiences that will stay with you long after you’ve gone home.
GetYourGuide.com has an hour-long cruise after sunset, with running commentary imparting titbits you might not have known.
The cruise departs from Pier 16 at South Street Seaport, and arcs around Lower Manhattan to take in the Statue of Liberty, the forest of skyscrapers including the likes of One World Trade Center, and then under the Brooklyn Bridge and up as far as the Empire State Building.