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51+ Things to Do in New York City

It’s no secret that New York City is one of the busiest, most unique places in the USA and the world, but many of New York’s best places are still a bit under the radar. From iconic places to lesser-known spaces, this list contains 51+ things to do on your first time or returning trip to the Big Apple.

Please note that some of these activities are outside Manhattan, but all are within New York City limits.

New York City

Places to See

  • See the Statue of Liberty. An icon of NYC and America itself, stop by Lady Liberty either to take a picture or visit inside.
  • Pay your respects at Ground Zero. 9/11/01 was the worst day in America’s modern history, so be sure to stop by Ground Zero to pay your respects and take in the magnitude of what happened that day. Also stop by the 9/11 memorial museum to see some artefacts and learn more about that day.
  • See the Brooklyn Bridge. If you don’t want to walk across it, at least be sure to stop by another iconic feature of NYC. There is a pedestrian path, and for a walk with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge itself, you can try going across the Manhattan Bridge.
  • Stop by St. Patrick’s. Whether you decide to attend Mass or just admire the architecture, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is another popular landmark.
  • Stop in Times Square. It’s crowded, it’s expensive, and it’s packed with chain restaurants and stores – but its flashing colourful lights make it incredibly beautiful and upbeat. No NYC trip is complete without at least stopping by Times Square to see what makes it so special.
  • Admire the Flatiron Building. There’s so much beautiful architecture in NYC but the Flatiron building is one of the most famous and architecturally impressive. With its central location, it’s easy to pass by.
  • Feel fancy in Grand Central Terminal. America’s public spaces usually aren’t too nice, but Grand Central Terminal is one of those famous exceptions. Even if you’re coming/going through Penn Station instead, be sure to stop by Grand Central to see its marvelous decoration.
  • Head out to Louis Armstrong’s house. Located in Queens, you can visit the home of legendary Louis Armstrong.
  • Stop by Manhattan’s oldest house. Built in 1765, the Morris-Jumel Mansion is a historic home and garden, but this time, it’s in the middle of New York City! If you enjoy touring old homes, this may be a good stop for you.
  • Stop by the Bronx’s oldest house. Built in 1745, the Van Cortlandt House is the Bronx’s oldest surviving building. A gorgeous Georgian creation of stone, it’s another great house museum to visit.
  • See where Edgar Allan Poe once lived. Did you know that EAP once lived in the Bronx? You can still visit his small cottage there today, which is an excellent compliment to his other residences in Baltimore, MD and Charlottesville, VA.
  • Stop by Radio City Music Hall. Even though it’s small, the Radio City Music Hall is a 20th century gem with a beautiful exterior and interior to match. It’s worth a visit even if you won’t see a show there.
  • See the Woolworth Building in person. The Woolworth Building is one of NYC’s first skyscraper and was the tallest building in the world for several years. Though it’s currently closed to the public, you can take a tour of the lobby or see the outside of another NYC marvel.

Museums

  • Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Right off of Central Park, The Met is one of the world’s most famous art museums and it’s one of my personal favourites. It’s a very large but excellent stop for arts of all kinds. Be sure to delegate several hours if you want to visit the whole museum, and even more if you want an in-depth experience.
  • Visit the Museum of Modern Art. MoMA is a large, popular art museum that focuses on modern art. Having a lot of big names, the MoMA’s a great destination for art enthusiasts.
  • See the American Museum of Natural History. The American Museum of Natural History is also very famous because of its appearance in movies. It’s an option for anyone in NYC but if possible, I recommend the one Smithsonian in DC much more.
  • Stop by the Guggenheim. Famous for its spiral architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Guggenheim is a modern art museum that’s not to be missed by architecture and modern art lovers.
  • Stop by the Frick. Another of NYC’s art museums, the Frick Collection is a European art museum in a beautiful mansion. They specialise in mostly romantic art but are a must-see for fans of the art movement.
  • See the Whitney. The Whitney Museum of American Art is another modern art museum that focuses on temporary exhibitions.
  • Go back in time at the Cloisters. The Cloisters is a medieval art museum under the Met that’s located in a reconstructed cloister in the Bronx. I consider it a must-see for medieval art enthusiasts as the art is fantastic and the architecture absolutely beautiful. It’s another one of my favourite museums.
  • Learn about NYC at the Museum of the City of New York. At the Museum of the City of New York, you can learn about the history of NYC and what’s made it into the city it is today. See how architecture, transit, and the people have changed through time and helped shape the city.
  • Check out the very underrated Morgan Library & Museum. A beautiful library and excellent museum, the Morgan focuses on written/literary works such as prose, poems, music, sketching, and other forms of art on paper. It’s not very well known which makes it a hidden gem.
  • Head out to the Brooklyn Museum. The Brooklyn Museum is a medium-sized art museum in Brooklyn. Though they have some good art, they’re quite limited and I’d recommend skipping if you’re tight on time.
  • Visit the Museum of the Moving Image. Moving images are a huge part of life now, and the Museum of the Moving Image is a fascinating and popular way to discover how the moving image came to be and how it’s made today.
  • Subway* into the NY Transit Museum. New York’s public transit is famous, so why not visit the New York Transit Museum to learn more about it? (* We Washingtonians use “metro” as a verb. Can the same be said for New Yorkers and “subway”?)
  • Stop in the National Museum of the American Indian. A sister to the one in Washington, DC, the National Museum of the American Indian has several artefacts and information on Native American tribes.
  • Visit the Merchant’s House Museum. Even though much of old Manhattan was torn down, the Merchant’s House Museum is an 1832 gem in the middle of the city with a federal exterior and beautiful interior.
  • Heat things up at the Fire Museum. Fire-fighting is much harder and debatably more important in NYC than other places in the USA, so the New York Fire Museum is an interesting stop for those interested in learning more about fire-fighting.
  • Heat things up at the Museum of Sex. More for a fun day out than an educational stop, the Museum of Sex has a lot of fun exhibits to stop at and is a unique way to spend an hour or two. 18+ only. Probably not a good idea for family vacations.
  • Get fashionable at the Museum at FIT. Based at the world-known Fashion Institute of Technology, the Museum at FIT has some excellent exhibitions on fashion. They are exhibition-based so be sure to check out their website for more info on their current display.
  • Visit the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Located on the Hudson, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a military and maritime museum with actual ships on display. You can also see the legendary aircraft carrier Intrepid there.
  • Visit the American Folk Art Museum. The American Folk Art Museum is a smaller museum dedicated to folk art, but I’d call it more offbeat art than folk. It’s a great stop for people who’ve already been to the big museums.
  • Stop at the Breuer. Another extension of the Met, the Met Breuer is a modern art museum in a brutalist-esque building.
  • Stop by the New York Historical Society. With a wonderfully diverse collection of art and artefacts from New York and its immigrants, the New York Historical Society has a museum worth a visit after you’ve seen all the major museums. It’s a great way to learn about New York’s past and its immigrant heritage.
  • Visit the Jewish Museum. Whether you’re Jewish or not, the Jewish Museum has an excellent collection from 4000 years of Jewish history and culture.
  • Stop by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Harlem in upper Manhattan has a rich musical history, so why not stop by the National Jazz Museum to learn more about and celebrate one of America’s great music genres?
  • Visit the Museum of Arts and Design. Known as MAD, the Museum of Arts and Design is another museum with a focus on modern fashion and decorative arts.
  • Visit the Himalayas at the Rubin. The Rubin Museum of Art is an excellent art museum that focuses on Himalayan art. It’s a great stop for those interested in South Asian art.
  • Stop by the Staten Island Museum. New York’s only “general” museum, the Staten Island Museum is a small collection of artwork and general collections.
  • Stop at the New York Botanical Garden. With art, plants, and events, the New York Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful outdoor spaces to spend some time away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
  • See the Bronx Museum of the Arts. NYC has no shortage of art museums, and the Bronx Museum of the Arts is another exhibition-focused art museum to keep under your radar.

Activities

  • See a Broadway show. Part of what makes NYC famous is its Broadway scene, and from classics to fun musicals to more modern shows, there’s a huge selection of what you can see on Broadway. (Some of my personal favourites are The Lion King, Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, Anastasia, Jersey Boys, and Sweeney Todd to name a few, with hopefully more to come! Let me know your Broadway shows in the comments!)
  • Bike to all the statues in Central Park. Central park is a really large area that has some fun statues dispersed around, and and the most effective way to get around is by bike. There are several bike rentals around so you can see Alice in Wonderland, Balto, Romeo and Juliet, and many more.
  • Take in a great view. A lot of what makes NYC exciting is its unique architecture and views of Manhattan are iconic. Stop in the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre, or One World Observatory to take in the city from above and snap some good pictures.
  • Ice skate in the middle of the city. Popular during winter months, stop by Rockefeller Centre to ice skate amongst the lights.
  • Try some new food. There’s so much different food in NYC, it’s crazy! I go several times a year and still never go to the same completely vegan restaurant twice. How many other cities have that? Whether you want to try an oddly-flavoured ice cream, ethnic food, or just a dish you’ve never had before, NYC is the perfect place to go on a foodie adventure.
  • Walk along the High Line. An elevated park, the High Line is a more modern place in New York. They have several events so be sure to check out their calendar to partake.
  • Have fun at Luna Park. Located in Brooklyn’s Coney Island, Luna Park is a fair-sized amusement park with rides and games to fill up a fun day or night out.
  • Go back in time at Historic Richmond Town. Historic Richmond Town is an open-air park with a focus on living history and the ways of life from several decades and centuries in time.
  • Go to a local event. Whatever your interests are, there’s sure to be a fan gathering in NYC. Whether you go to a convention, a club night with a special theme, an exhibition a concert or show, or any combination, there’s always something temporary going on in NYC. Be sure to look out for anything happening in NYC at just the time you’ll be there to make your visit even more special.
  • Take the Subway at least once. All my New York-native friends agree: the New York Subway is an experience in and of itself. From entertainment to the diversity of NYC’s subway users, taking the subway is both a convenient and cultural thing to do.

Neighbourhoods

Almost every neighbourhood in Manhattan has excellent dinner choices and a charming personality. There’s nowhere you can go in Manhattan that’s considered “avoidable” or “the bad part.”

Midtown is a fun and popular tourist destination with all things quintessential to the Big Apple. However, there’s so much more to New York City so be sure to budget time to see Midtown and then explore further into the city.

Greenwich Village is a beautiful historical spot in Manhattan. It’s one of the most popular spots with locals and tourists alike. Chelsea and SoHo are also popular options.

Lower Manhattan is one of my favourite places to visit because the buildings are shorter, it’s more immigrant-centred and has a lot less tourists. Some places in Upper Manhattan have so many skyscrapers that it can feel claustrophobic, but Lower Manhattan definitely has more of a mix that’s more peaceful but also still screams New York City.

Brooklyn isn’t as exciting as Manhattan but it’s soooo much cheaper. Soooo much. To get more for your money, you can head out to Brooklyn for a bite to eat or a place to stay.

Staten Island is a great idea for people staying in NYC long-term or who want to get away from the city a bit. It truly doesn’t feel like it’s part of the city at all.

Some Things to Know

Many places have a credit card minimum of around $10 or prefer cash, so be sure to have a little extra in your pocket. However if you forget, using a credit card should be just fine.

Traffic is brutal. Be sure to respect pedestrian laws and be mindful of your surroundings on the street. Also avoid taking a car around NYC; there are several taxis, buses and an excellent metro (subway) system to get you around.

New York is known for being really rude but actually has some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Don’t be afraid to ask someone on the street for help as they’ll probably be more than happy to assist you.

There are lots of scammers. Even though it may not seem like a scam (selling their mix tape, needing baby formula, etc), exercise caution.

You can save a lot of money by going to museums on a “pay-what-you-want” day. Be sure to check each museum to see when they have the pay-what-you-want option.

New York is known for its diversity in people: culture, races, identity, and more. It’s fun to see the many people you can come across, and possibly strike up a conversation with them.

Have you ever been to NYC before? What’s your favourite thing to do there?


Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2018 in Destinations
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