25 Best Things to Do in New York (State)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Despite the natural beauty and charm of New York State, it remains firmly in the shadow of the city with which it shares its name. When somebody says the words “New York” it conjures images of skyscrapers, shopping, busy streets and yellow cabs but the state of New York has so much to offer in addition. Canyons, lakes, mountains, creeks, rivers and waterfalls provide some of the most beautiful terrain mother earth has to offer. The vast Adirondack Mountains offer some of the United States most tantalizing scenery.

The city of New York certainly has a lot to offer but there is also so much to see and experience in New York State. Our list of the top 25 things to do in New York combines the best of nature and urban sights to provide a definitive list of activities in The Empire State.

1. The Adirondacks

The AdirondacksSource: mandritoiu / shutterstock
The Adirondacks

This scenic range of forest covered hills are part of the Canadian Shield and reach a height of 5345 feet at the highest peak Mount Marcy. The park is a beautiful place to enjoy nature and various activities such as canoeing on the lakes and hiking. There are also a number of lakeside cabins in the park, which are a great place for an relaxing vacation. The Adirondacks is particularly beautiful in fall due to the colour of the autumnal trees.

2. Thousand Islands

Thousand Islands, New York StateSource: Victoria Lipov / shutterstock
Thousand Islands, New York State

Extending from the Adirondacks along the St Lawrence river is a 50 mile stretch of thousands of small islands. Cruises along the river are highly recommended and give sightseers the chance to navigate this labyrinth of attractive islands. The tours operate during the summer months highlighting not only the natural beauty of the area but also some of the extravagant holiday villas on the islands.

3. George Eastman House

George Eastman HouseSource: jiawangkun / shutterstock
George Eastman House

George Eastman House is a stunning 50-room mansion located in Rochester. The impressive building was completed in 1905 and has been restored to its appearance in photographs from this time period, allowing visitors to experience this grand house as it would have been 100 years ago. The reputable International Museum of Photography and Film is located within the grounds of the house and is highly recommended for those with a passion for photography.

4. Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State ParkSource: mandritoiu / shutterstock
Watkins Glen State Park

This park, containing 18 waterfalls, is situated at the southernmost tip of Seneca Lake. Once one of the state’s leading salt producers due to its natural salt wells, the park is popular in summer for hiking as well as car racing. The rock formations within the park often mesmerize visitors and reach heights of 300 feet above the stream flowing below. There is also a nerve wracking 165 foot high bridge traversing the water.

5. Statue of Liberty

Statue of LibertySource: Felix Lipov / shutterstock
Statue Of Liberty

One of America’s, or maybe even the world’s, most recognizable landmarks. The Statue was completed in 1886 and was a gift to the United States from the people of France. For close up views of this enormous statue, a ferry trip to Liberty Island will need to be taken. Battery Park also offers great views from afar. No trip to the state of New York is complete without seeing this iconic figure.

6. Niagara Falls

 Niagara Falls, New YorkSource: Nagel Photography / shutterstock
Niagara Falls, New York

The Niagara Falls are one of the most visited natural wonders in the USA and draw millions of tourists every year. The name actually refers to three separate waterfalls: the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. Each minute, around four million cubic meters of water cascades from the waterfalls on its way to the nearby Atlantic Ocean. There are plenty of ways to see the falls including walkways above the water, a boat trip to the bottom or even an extravagant helicopter ride.

7. Finger Lakes

Finger LakesSource: xiaolin zhang / shutterstock
Finger Lakes

Theses lakes, formed by the impression of a great spirit according to local legend, provide a stunning backdrop for a wide range of outdoor pursuits. The Finger Lakes are made up from a number of different lakes as well as towns and resorts. The area can get busy during the summer months but offers a few brilliant hiking trails, which are well worth undertaking.

8. Lake Placid

Lake Placid, NYSource: Felix Lipov / shutterstock
Lake Placid

This beautiful lake located in Essex County, is a world famous winter sports resort and has hosted the winter Olympics twice. Despite being known worldwide for its winter recreational activities, the town is very popular in the summer also. The main tourist strip in the town is home to a wide variety of interesting shops and plenty of restaurants. As well as the lake known as Lake Placid, the town is also home to the beautiful mirror lake, which should not be missed by visitors.

9. Lake George

Lake George Battlefield ParkSource: Doug Lemke / shutterstock
Lake George Battlefield Park

Lake George is a town that shares a name with the lake upon which it is located. The town, along with the 32-mile long lake, is a major New York tourist attraction and offers a great range of outdoor activities in the summer. The town is home to a number of historical sights such as the Fort William Henry Museum and Lake George Battlefield Park. Many of the islands on the lake can be camped on and sightseeing tours by boat are very popular. Prospect Mountain offers spectacular panoramic views and is a great way to see the lake from above.

10. Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park, New York StateSource: Jim Vallee / shutterstock
Letchworth State Park

The Letchworth State Park is another naturally beautiful area in the State of New York. It is home to three waterfalls along the Genesee River Gorge. The park is a great place for camping and also offers a range of holiday cabins. A days hiking within this striking park or a less physically demanding picnic are both truly memorable experiences.

11. Darwin D. Martin House Complex

Darwin D. Martin House ComplexSource: Sandra Foyt / shutterstock
Darwin D. Martin House Complex

This multi-structure complex was built in 1904 by Frank Lloyd Wright after being commissioned by Darwin and Isabelle Martin. Located in Buffalo, the house is considered to be Wright’s finest work. Basic or in-depth tours are available to the public and help guests to understand and appreciate the building and its construction. Currently, works are being undertaken to restore several areas of estate that were previously torn down.

12. Empire State Building

Empire State BuildingSource: cocozero / shutterstock
Empire State Building

It is hard to imagine visiting New York without visiting this iconic skyscraper. The 102-story skyscraper is situated in Midtown Manhattan and has an observation deck that provides some of the best views of the city of New York. The Otis Elevator in the building shows the current altitude as it ascends instead of showing passing floors. Interestingly, it took the Landmarks Preservation Commission 18 months to restore the building’s lobby to its original 1930s design whereas the building only took 13 months to build.

13. Central Park

Central Park, New YorkSource: GagliardiImages / shutterstock
Central Park, New York

This park in Manhattan serves as a tranquil oasis in the every busy city of New York. The densely wooded park is home to several historic and beautiful buildings such as the whimsical lookout point Belverdere Castle and the Ladies Pavillion, a charming example of 19th century American art décor. Informative tours of the park are available and events are staged here throughout the year.

14. Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge, New York CitySource: IM_photo / shutterstock
Brooklyn Bridge, New York City

This New York icon was opened in 1883 and was the world’s first steel suspension bridge. Despite its troubled construction, the bridge was instantly popular with artists, writers and poets, proving to be a superb showcase of urban design. The pedestrian walkway offers great views of Manhattan, beware of cyclists using the adjacent lanes however as they are know to get nasty towards tourists crossing into their designated cycling lane. The two support towers offer views and panoramic histories of the waterfront.

15. The Lincoln Centre

The Lincoln Centre, New YorkSource: Brady Taylor / shutterstock
The Lincoln Centre

Built in the 1960’s, the Lincoln Centre is home to some of the most important performance spaces in Manhattan including the David H Koch Theatre (home of the New York City ballet) and the Metropolitan Opera House with its beautifully painted wall murals. There are usually at least 10 performances in the Lincoln Centre on any given night and even more in the summer when outdoor stages are erected. For those interested in the building but not the performances, tours run daily for the Opera House and Alice Tully Hall.

16. Museum Of The Moving Image

Museum Of The Moving ImageSource: Tallmaple / shutterstock
Museum Of The Moving Image

This freshly upgraded (at a cost of $65 million) museum is without doubt one of the best film and TV museums in the world. It has a collection of over 130,000 film and TV artifacts including Cleopatra’s wig and the Exorcist stunt doll. Visitors to the museum can also put their video editing skills to the test by re-dubbing a scene from the Wizard of Oz movie and admire a large selection of vintage televisions, cameras and even arcade games.

17. The Rockefeller Centre

The Rockefeller CentreSource: stockelements / shutterstock
The Rockefeller Centre

This so-called city within a city consists of 19 buildings in a 22-acre area. The Rockefeller centre is home to a wide variety of shops and restaurants and of course the Top Of The Rock Observation deck that offers incredible views of the Manhattan cityscape. The observation deck allows you to see one impressive landmark that cannot be spotted from the Empire State Building; the Empire State Building itself. From the Rockefeller top deck, the Empire State Building looks particularly spectacular at night with its signature lighting on the top quarter of the building’s exterior.

18. Governors Island

Governors Island, New YorkSource: TierneyMJ / shutterstock
Governors Island, New York

For 200 years, this former military outpost was off limits to the public, however it is now one of New York’s most popular seasonal attractions. The island served as a military fort throughout the Revolutionary War and was the take off point for Wilbur Wrights flight around the Statue of Liberty in 1909. Free ferry trips are available to the 172-acre oasis, which offers a lush 8-acre picnic area and a bicycle path covering the entire perimeter of the island. Yearly events include the popular art festival Figment as well as a number of live concerts and parties.

19. Coney Island

Coney Island, New YorkSource: Keep Smiling Photography / shutterstock
Coney Island, New York

Tracing its roots back to the mid 1800’s when the city’s inhabitants were becoming increasingly restless during the hot summer months in the city, this famous island became a popular resort area for the working class by the arrival of the 20th century, before falling out of favor and becoming a more rough and ready party destination, referred to as some as “Sodom By The Sea”. The area slowly improved its reputation during the 20th Century and added a plethora of family rides. Many of the parks attractions are still open to ride today including roller-coasters and the “Wonder Wheel”. The island also has plenty of popular places to eat and hosts an annual Mermaid Parade.

20. The American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History, New YorkSource: ItzaVU / shutterstock
The American Museum Of Natural History, New York

First opened in 1869, this museum currently boasts a collection of a whopping 30 million artifacts including complete dinosaur skeletons, a state of the art planetarium and even a seasonal butterfly house. There are 600 fossil skeletons on display including a mammoth and t-rex. The Rose Centre in the museum provides space theater shows that are both informative and spectacular to watch.

21. The Bronx Zoo

Bronx Zoo EntranceSource: Valerii Iavtushenko / shutterstock
Bronx Zoo Entrance

The Bronx Zoo is both the biggest and the oldest in the United States. Visited by 2 million people every year, the zoo accommodates over 4000 animals. As it such a popular attraction the zoo can get very busy in July and August but it is big enough to not get to cramped and competitive. Feeding times offer a great chance to see the animals and are at regular intervals throughout each day. The popular 6.5-acre Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit costs extra but the price of the ticket is donated to conservation projects in the Conga.

22. The Cloisters

The Cloisters, New YorkSource: travelview / shutterstock
The Cloisters, New York

Made up of various European monasteries and other historic buildings, the Cloisters somewhat resemble an architectural jigsaw. They were built in the 1930s to house various objects and artefacts from the Metropolitan Museum. There are many treasures to be found on Hudson Hill within the Cloister’s romantic courtyard including 16th century tapestries and the Cloister Gardens. Entry is free but donations are suggested.

23. The High Line

The High Line, New YorkSource: Albachiaraa / shutterstock
The High Line, New York

This linear park built on a disused section of elevated railroad track offers the unique chance to sit, stroll and picnic high above the city streets. The quirky attraction has big wooden sun lounging chairs, beautifully landscaped gardens and great views of the Hudson River. The High Line is a great place for an evening stroll and offers great views of the New York city lights.

24. Ausable Chasm

Ausable ChasmSource: ujjwalstha / shutterstock
Ausable Chasm

Billed as the “Grand Canyon of the East”, the Ausable Chasm was formed over 15,000 years ago during an ice age. The spectacular terrain that remains is perfect for rafting, bike riding, rock-climbing and rappelling. There are also tours available for those looking to learn more about the forming of this spectacular natural phenomenon.

25. Corning Museum of Glass

Corning Museum of GlassSource: Evdoha_spb / shutterstock
Corning Museum Of Glass

The charming town of Corning is home to the Corning Glass Works and the exciting Corning Museum of Glass. The huge complex has various enlightening exhibits on glass making as well as demonstrations and interactive activities for children.

25 Best Things to Do in New York (State):

  • The Adirondacks
  • Thousand Islands
  • George Eastman House
  • Watkins Glen State Park
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Niagara Falls
  • Finger Lakes
  • Lake Placid
  • Lake George
  • Letchworth State Park
  • Darwin D. Martin House Complex
  • Empire State Building
  • Central Park
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • The Lincoln Centre
  • Museum Of The Moving Image
  • The Rockefeller Centre
  • Governors Island
  • Coney Island
  • The American Museum of Natural History
  • The Bronx Zoo
  • The Cloisters
  • The High Line
  • Ausable Chasm
  • Corning Museum of Glass