New York City is a dream destination for many people all around the world. When I’m traveling outside the States and tell people where I’m from, their eyes open when I reply; they tell me how much they want to visit.
Living here was something I took for granted because I grew up and spent so much time surrounded by the concrete walls. However, I went on my first long-term trip last year, and being away from it all for an extended period of time made me realize that there is nowhere in the world quite like it. And let me tell you – I missed it.
I hope this list can be helpful as you plan your upcoming trip. To be as helpful and comprehensive as possible, I tried to find a balance between the “tourist hot spots” and “local hidden gems.” No matter what – you should be excited – you’re visiting the greatest city in the world, and it has something for everyone!
Insider Tip: If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing while in New York City, you might want to get the New York CityPass. The pass gives you free admission to many of New York’s premier attractions such as the Empire State Building Observatory and Guggenheim Museum.
1. Hit the Midtown Hotspots
Get this out of the way as quickly as you can; there’s so much more to do in the city outside the biggest tourist trap in the world. And while I try to avoid this place as much as possible, anyone visiting NYC for the first time has to stop here and check the famous sites off your list. The great thing is that most of the best things to do in New York City in this area are within walking distance, and you can see them all within one afternoon!
Start at Grand Central, then walk a few blocks north along Fifth Avenue to do some window-shopping and visit Rockefeller Center before heading over to Times Square. If interested, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is right in the neighborhood!
Alternatively, if you want to get a more local experience head on over to Bryant Park, where you can sit on the lawn and watch movies during the summer, or go ice skating during the winter. The iconic NY Public Library is conveniently located right across the street. If you’re hungry, check out the Burger Joint, located inside the Le Parker Meridien Hotel.
2. Head to Lower Manhattan
As quickly as possible – this is where all the action is: the trendiest restaurants and bars, some of the best hostels in NYC, hole-in-the-wall boutique shops, and the best speakeasies, among other hidden gems! Between Union Square, the West Village, East Village, SoHo, Tribeca, and Financial District, there is something for everyone, and this is where you’ll discover some of the best things to do in New York City that are off-the-beaten path.
There are so many options, but here are a few of my favorites:
Union Square: The Greenmarket, Dylan’s Candy Bar, ABC Kitchen, Dear Irving, 15 East, The City Bakery
West Village: Walking tour/Christopher Park, Murray’s Cheese Shop, Magnolia Bakery, Barbuto, The Spotted Pig, Po, Grom
Tribeca: Tribeca Film Festival, Pier 25, Bubby’s, Locanda Verde, American Cut, The Odeon, The Brandy Library
3. Explore Downtown Manhattan
Downtown Manhattan is my stomping ground; where I lived for five years. So I might be biased when I say it’s the best part of the city… but I’ll let you be the judge of that!
Staring up at One World Trade Center and visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum will be a humbling experience, and one that you must include on your agenda.
Insider Tip: If you intent to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum on your trip to NYC make sure to book your tickets in advance online so you can skip the long lines. You can book your tickets here.
But the opening of the new WTC site also led to several large companies relocating, and it has completely changed the dynamic of downtown Manhattan. Development in the area has taken off, with lots of new restaurants, shops and commercial buildings opening – leaving much to do and see. Underneath the WTC site is the Oculus, a transportation HUB that will eventually connect all the subways in Lower Manhattan. It’s also home to over 50 retail shops and stores, and connects to Brookfield Place, another upscale shopping center with Hudson Eats, a gourmet food court.
The Financial District is home to the #1 ranked bar in the world, the Dead Rabbit, where you can get some truly unique cocktails. This is also where you will find the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. In my opinion the best way to experience the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island is with a licensed guide. Not only will you get to skip the long lines but you will also learn a lot more about the history of these two important landmarks. You can book your tour tickets here.
My favorite hangout spots down here are Clinton Hall, Stone Street (Ulysses), Distilled, Stout, and Insomnia Cookies.
4. Indulge in the Latest Fad
From the Cronut and Churro Ice Cream Sandwiches to Rainbow Bagels and the Ramen Burger, there’s always a crazy new food phenomenon going on in New York City. Google is your best friend to find out what’s hot when you’re in town.
The Latest: DO (pronounced dough), where people eagerly wait 3 hours to get their hands on scoops of raw cookie dough sold like ice cream! If sweets aren’t your thing, there is always the recently invented sushi burrito…
Allergic to gluten? Don’t worry, NYC is also home to lots of amazing gluten-free restaurants.
5. Check out the NYC Skyline
The view from the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock is popular, but I would recommend heading downtown to the One World Trade Center, where its Observatory recently opened and offers an unrivaled view and experience.
Insider Tip: Avoid standing in long lines and buy your ticket to the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, or One World Observatory online. Click the respective link to buy your tickets today.
Don’t forget to also head over to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, or Jersey City – where you’ll find spectacular views of the iconic Manhattan skyline. You’ve got to witness these views yourself, and they also make for perfect Instagram shots!
6. See a Broadway Show
Everyone knows that Broadway and its headlining shows top the list of best things to do in New York City – it’s a quintessential NYC experience, but can be pricey even for mediocre seats.
For a unique experience to brag about that won’t break the bank, I’d recommend looking into an Off-Broadway show, where you’ll get much better seats and a lot more bang for your buck. It’s a unique experience and often features well-known performers (for those even more adventurous, there is Off-Off-Broadway, which are new, experimental shows that take place in small theaters for $15-$25).
Alternatively, look into getting tickets at one of NY’s many comedy clubs, one of the most entertaining (and underrated) experiences in the city. Many of them are known to have popular comedians unexpectedly stop in (fingers crossed)! Cirque du Soleil just debuted a new show, “Paramour.”
7. Hit an Outer Borough
Gentrification has run rampant in the boroughs outside Manhattan, and popularity in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx has skyrocketed. A lot of the hottest NYC spots now require an Uber or subway ride from core Manhattan.
Check out the Brooklyn Flea Market or Smorgasburg during the summer; eat Dim Sum in Chinatown in Flushing, Queens; or visit the lions at the Bronx Zoo. The possibilities and experiences here are endless, and there are always new things popping up, so you’ll never run out of new opportunities!
8. Watch a Sporting Event
This is one of my favorite ways to experience a new city, and there’s no place better (although it can be fairly expensive). There’s a wide variety of sporting events you can watch, but it completely depends on what time of year you’re visiting.
Between Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center, Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, MetLife Stadium, and Red Bull Arena, you should be able to find something that piques your interest. They also host some big-name concerts. Be sure to take a look at their websites!
9. Go for a Stroll
While you’re going to be doing a lot of walking no matter where you are – NYC has some incredible spots that you should specifically make time to explore.
Central Park (you could spend a few days here), The High Line (don’t forget to stop for gelato), Fifth Avenue (bring your wallet!), Brooklyn Bridge (go early to avoid the crowds) are the hotspots in New York City.
If you are looking for more off the beaten path spots head downtown where you can walk along the West Side Highway through Battery Park – one of my favorite places to catch a sunset overlooking the Hudson River, and there are views of the Statue of Liberty. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden in Prospect Park is also a great spot to visit in the summertime.
10. Visit a Museum
NYC is one of the cultural centers of the world – and no trip to the Big Apple would be complete without a trip to at least one museum. It’s home to some of the most well-known and diverse museums in the world – you could spend a week just visiting all of them!
The ones you know: The Met, Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Natural History, Whitney Museum, and The Guggenheim
The ones you don’t: Museum of the City of NY, The Frick Collection, NY Transit Museum, Brooklyn Museum
Where to Stay in New York City
Here are our top recommendations of hostels and hotels in New York City. All are centrally located, highly rated and have excellent facilities.
- Best Hostel: HI NYC Hostel
- Best Budget Hotel: Pod 39 Hotel
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: citizenM Times Square
- Best Luxury Hotel: The Knickerbocker
Don’t forget to also take a look at Airbnb. There are many cool Airbnbs in New York City, and many of them are cheaper than your average hotel. Click here to get up to $55 off your next booking with Airbnb.
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