15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in New York City
One of the greatest cities in the world, New York is always a whirlwind of activity, with famous sites at every turn and never enough time to see them all. The vacation possibilities in this city are endless. Some people come here to enjoy the Broadway Shows, others come specifically to shop, and many come simply to see the sights; the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, the historic neighborhoods, and the multiple world famous museums. Any time of year and any time of day there is an endless array of things to see and do in New York.
See also: Where to Stay in New York City
1 Statue of Liberty and Battery Park
The Statue of Liberty was France's gift to America. It was built in 1886 and remains a famous world symbol of freedom and one of the greatest American icons. It is the world's largest statue and stands just less than 152 feet tall from the base to the torch, and weighs approximately 450,000 pounds. The statue offers a fine view of the New York Harbor and lower Manhattan. It is located on Liberty Island and a short boat ride is required to get to the statue. To see the statue from shore, Battery Park sits on the southern tip of Manhattan and affords great views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. From here visitors can catch the ferry to the statue and Ellis Island.
Pre-purchasing tickets is a must during the high season and a good idea at any time of year. Tickets to go inside the statue sell out. Also, trying to buy tickets at the ferry can be fine if you know what you're doing but tricky if you don't, with hawkers claiming to be "official representatives" trying to sell you more expensive tickets before you can find the ticket booth. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Guided Tour can be purchased in advance. This is a three hour trip that takes you to both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
2 Empire State Building
Along with the Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building is New York's most famous landmark. The 381 m tall, 102-storey building was the tallest in the world until the 1 World Trade Center tower rose higher 41 years later. Topped with a mooring mast for airships, the Empire State Building immediately became a landmark and a symbol for NYC when it opened in 1931. There are actually two observatories atop the Empire State Building. The 86th Floor Observatory (1,050 feet) is reached by high speed, automatic elevators, and has both a glass-enclosed area, which is heated in winter and cooled in summer, and spacious outdoor promenades on all four sides of the Building. The 102nd Floor Observatory stands 1,250 feet above the bustling streets below. On clear days visitors can see for distances up to 80 miles, looking into the neighboring states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as New York.
The line to go up the Empire State Building is almost always long, and during peak times, it can be ridiculous, making the whole experience more frustrating than it needs to be. It's well worth buying the Empire State Building Ticket - Observatory and Optional Skip the Line Ticket that lets you bypass the lines. This is a flexible ticket, good for up to a year, so if the weather is bad, you can save the ticket and use it another day.
3 Central Park
Central Park is the playground of New Yorker's. This huge park in the city center is one of the things that makes New York such a beautiful city and not simply a concrete jungle. The park has many attractions within its borders and has been featured in countless TV shows and movies. Some of the places of note within this green space that visitors will probably be familiar with are Strawberry Fields, the Central Park Zoo, and the Lake, which is used for skating in winter, and paddling in summer.
While going for a walk in the park is always lovely, renting a bike makes the whole experience a lot less tiring and gets you to the sites quicker. It's also very reasonably priced. If you are going to be in New York outside of the winter season and looking for a leisurely outing, book a NYC Central Park Bike Rental.
4 Broadway and Shubert Alley
Taking in a Broadway show is one of the highlights of a visit to New York City. Considered the pinnacle of American theater, it has long been world renowned for its performances. This is the place to come to see the latest shows and the long running classics. Broadway usually refers simply to Broadway theater which encompasses a large number of theater venues in the theatre district and along the street of Broadway. For the most popular shows tickets should be purchased well in advance.
Shubert Alley is a famous pedestrian only alley in the theater district, and home to two well known playhouses; the Shubert on 221 West 44th Street and the Booth at 22 West 45th Street. Historically, aspiring actors would frequent Shubert Alley looking for opportunities to perform in a play sponsored by theater baron, Sam S. Shubert. "A Chorus Line" played at The Shubert for a record 6,137 shows. The musical, "Oklahoma" debuted in 1941 at the St James playhouse just down the street. Other legendary places include Sardi's restaurant where many famous actors met and the Music Box Theater, where Irving Berlin staged "The Music Box Revue" in 1921.
5 Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or "The Met" as it is commonly known, was founded in 1870.
The permanent collection at the Met contains over 2 million works of art. Highlights of the collection include American decorative arts, arms and armor, costumes, Egyptian art, musical instruments, and photographs, along with much more. The Cloisters in northern Manhattan is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art which focuses on the art and architecture of medieval Europe.
6 Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center is a vast entertainment and shopping complex in the middle of Manhattan, and home to NBC-TV and radio and other media. There is an outdoor skating rink which is incredibly popular in winter. At Christmas a huge tree stands out front. Inside are shops, restaurants, and an observation deck. In front of the International Building is a famous sculpture of Atlas. The centerpiece is the 70-storey RCA Building, a slender, towering structure that offers views of midtown Manhattan. If you are looking for a place to see the city skyline, try the Top of the Rock Observation Deck.The "deck" includes three floors, located on 67th, 69th, and 70th floors. There are both indoor and outdoor viewing spaces, which are open to the public day and night. Buy your Top of the Rock Observation Deck Ticket in advance to make sure you don't miss out. These tickets come with a flexible voucher redemption policy so you can change the date if your plans change or the weather doesn't cooperate.
7 Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue has long had a reputation as New York's premier shopping area. Many top end designers have their flagship stores located along this famous avenue. Cartier, Tiffany, Bergdorf-Goodman, the famous Apple Store Fifth Avenue, and of course Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as many others line the posh avenue. Even none shoppers can enjoy a walk along Fifth Avenue.
8 Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883, was the world's first bridge to be constructed of steel. It spans the East River from Manhattan. The bridge is an American landmark that has inspired generations of poets, songwriters and painters. Engineer John Roebling conceived of the bridge in 1855 and worked out every detail from its two granite towers to its four suspended steel cables. In June 1869 while determining the Brooklyn tower site, a ferry crushed Roebling's foot. Three weeks later, before ground had been broken, Roebling died of tetanus. Roebling's son, Washington, picked up the reins and executed his Father's grand plans. In 1872, however, Washington developed caisson's disease which robbed him of his seeing, walking and writing facilities. The bridge features two powerful stone towers which are connected at the top with Gothic-shaped arches. They carry four cables that cross the East River.
9 Times Square
Formerly Longacre Square, Times Square was named in 1904 after the New York Times tower. The newspaper first posted current headlines along its famous moving sign, the world's first, in 1928. Long the heart of the Theater District, Times Square fell into decay during the Depression when many theaters shut down. The city cleaned up the area by inviting corporations such as Disney to move into the area. Today, Times Square has become a much safer place, day and night, with shopping, theaters and restaurants galore, not to mention its mammoth billboards.
Address: Broadway and 7th Avenue
10 Chrysler Building
The Chrysler Building is one of New York's most recognizable landmarks. Though never occupied by the Chrysler car company, the Art Deco building remains firmly associated with the auto giant. Its spire resembles a car radiator grill with a series of triangular windows. The gargoyles adorning the exterior are modeled after hood ornaments. Built in 1929, the Chrysler Building was briefly the world's tallest building and remains the epitome of Art Deco architecture.
Address: 405 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10174-0002, United States
11 New York Public Library
The New York Public Library's main branch was designed by architects, Carrere & Hastings, in the Beaux Arts style. The library, with its impressive rooms, is a prominent city attraction that has been featured in many movies and TV shows over the years. Visitors may even feel a sense of familiarity upon entering. Although colloquially known as the main branch, the proper name is actually the Stephen A Schwartzman building. It opened in 1911 to immediate acclaim. An enormous library, the Main Reading Room alone stretches two city blocks and the Periodicals Room holds 10,000 current magazines. The collection at this location is vast to say the least.
Address: Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street
12 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is home to one of the world's finest collections of modern art. The unique building, likened to a giant white shell, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1943. Visitors take the elevator to the top floor and walk down the spiral ramp while viewing paintings. The works of Picasso, Chagall, Modigliani, Kandinsky, Leger, Manet and many others are displayed.
Wright's single spiral ramp is ingenious and functional, while the outer "shell" design was aimed to make the building appear like a piece of sculpture. During construction, Wright battled city officials who demanded one fire escape per floor. Wright argued that there was only one floor, one continuous one, in his building, so it required only one escape.
Address: 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10128-0112, United States
13 Wall Street
Stretching for 8 city blocks from Broadway to South Street is the world famous Wall Street. This street and the surrounding area are home to some of the most important exchanges in the world including the New York Stock Exchange, the NASDAQ, and the New York Mercantile Exchange. Also located nearby are the impressive Trinity Church and the Federal Reserve. Wall Street is a popular tourist attraction and it is common to see a large number of tourists walking around craning their necks looking up at the impressive skyscrapers.
14 St Patrick's Cathedral
St. Patrick's Cathedral is one of New York's finest examples of Gothic Revival, with its massive bronze doors (weighing 20,000 lb each), white marble facade, 330 ft spires, the Great Organ, rose window, bronze baldachin, 2,400 seating capacity, and the statue of Pieta at the side of the Lady Chapel. With more than 5.5 million visitors annually, the cathedral is a major destination for believers and tourists alike. The building was erected in 1879 and has been carefully restored and maintained throughout its existence.
Address: 14 E 51st Street
15 South Street Seaport
The South Street Seaport was New York's port during the 19th century. Today, after restoration and development, the seaport is brimming with stores, restaurants, historic buildings and museums, the Fulton Fish Market, and views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River.
Historic ships dock alongside the piers and a nineteenth-century paddlewheeler offers harbor cruises. This National Register Historic District lies between the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge, Fletcher Alley, Pearl, and South Streets.
Where to Stay in New York City for Sightseeing
The best way to truly experience New York is to stay in Manhattan, rather than trying to commute from the suburbs, which can be time consuming and a little tiring. The hotels mentioned below are all centrally located in Manhattan and close to many of the major attractions.
- Luxury Hotels. These hotels are all top-end and unbeatable in terms of location. The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park and the Mandarin Oriental are both located near the south end of Central Park. The posh Langham Place, New York, Fifth Avenue is close to the Empire State Building and Bryant Park. Located near Times Square and tilting a little more to mid-range is the boutique Casablanca Hotel Times Square.
- Mid-Range Hotels. Mid-range hotels in good locations include the 414 Hotel, just went of Times Square, and the Hilton Garden Inn, located in a great position near the Empire State Building.
- Value Hotels. It's possible to find quality hotels at a little better price by staying just a few blocks outside of the most central areas. Some popular, modestly-priced hotel options include the Hampton Inn Manhattan/United Nations, just east of the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Terminal. The Seton is a quaint, boutique hotel, just a short walk south of the Chrysler Building. Near The Seaton is the more modern Pod 39 Hotel. All of these offer comfortable, good-value accommodation.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to New York
With so much to see and do in New York, purchasing a couple of tours can really help cover all the main attractions and make sightseeing easy and enjoyable. Walking everywhere can be tiring, and figuring out the subway isn't for everyone. There are many tours to choose from, but the following offer a good mix of attractions and experiences, and they are all guaranteed lowest prices.
- Explore the city by bus. For getting your bearings, seeing the sights, and learning a little history, there is no beating the traditional open-top sightseeing bus. Take a Big Bus New York Hop-on Hop-off Tour to cover all the top sights and save yourself a whole lot of walking, so you will still have some energy to take in dinner or a show in the evening.
- See the sights from water. Take a Manhattan Island Cruise to see the city skyline and city landmarks from the water, along with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. These are 2.5-hour cruises that run in the morning and afternoon and include a live guided narration.
- Get an aerial perspective. Indulge yourself with a Big Apple Helicopter Tour and fly over one of the most amazing cities in the world. These 15-minute flights take you past the landmark buildings in downtown, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. This tour will give you a whole new appreciation for the density of the buildings and the size of Central Park.
Other Notable Attractions
Carnegie Hall opened in 1891 as New York's first great concert hall. Musicians from Tchaikovsky, who conducted on opening night, to Leonard Bernstein and The Beatles have filled the hall. It is said to have some of the best acoustics in the world. While the best way to enjoy the hall is to take in a performance, one of the best ways to learn about it is on a guided tour. The tour offers a comprehensive look at the hall, insight into the construction, and discusses some of the artists who have taken to the stage. Tours end at the Rose Museum.
National September 11 Memorial
The World Trade Center's twin 110-storey towers once dominated the Manhattan skyline, but were destroyed by suicide-piloted jetliners on September 11, 2001, with tragic loss of life. Where the two towers of the World Trade Center once stood now stand two square reflecting ponds, each one acre in size. Known now as the National September 11 Memorial, the area is a tribute to the almost 3,000 people killed as a result of attacks on September 11, 2001 and also the six people killed in the earlier World Trade Center bombing in February 1993.
Surrounded by trees and grass, the ponds are recessed, with water cascading over the sides of the pools. These are now the largest manmade waterfalls in the North America. Around the pools are bronze panels with the names of the all those who were killed in the attacks.
Radio City Music Hall
Lying in the shadow of Rockefeller Center is Radio City Music Hall. This 1932 Art Deco theater offers musical extravaganzas and films, as well as guided tours. The building was built and financed by the Rockefellers during the 1930s. Radio City Music Hall is among the largest indoor theaters in the world and its prominent marquee stretches for an entire city block. More than 300 million patrons have passed through its doors over the years and today it remains a popular entertainment venue hosting major events like the Grammy Awards and the Tony Awards.
Grand Central Station
Although called Grand Central Station by many people, the correct name for this building as actually Grand Central Terminal. The building opened in 1913 as a Beaux Arts terminal for the subway and train stations. Outside, the 42nd Street colonnaded faces and the statuary on top are highlights. Inside, the Grand Staircase (of marble steps) and the Grand Central Oyster Bar are lovely touches. The unique ceiling shows a celestial scene and has been restored to its full glory. In addition to its main purpose, Grand Central Terminal has an extensive selection of retail shops and restaurants to service the many thousands of people passing through on a daily basis.
The Cloisters houses medieval art in a building that itself features medieval cloisters, chapels and halls. Sculptor George Barnard founded the museum in 1914. In 1925, John Rockefeller funded the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 1925 purchase of the collection and donated the site at Fort Tyron Park.
New York's Chinatown has become a center for Chinese restaurants, antique and craft shops, temples, and festivals. This densely packed area is always a lively and colorful spot in the city, and a prominent tourist attraction. The streets are generally crowded with people and, where space allows, outdoor stalls with fruits and other goods. The biggest festival is Chinese New Year which takes place sometime in February each year.
Bryant Park was a seedy area known for crime, and a hangout for undesirables, until 1989 when the city reclaimed it and turned it into an oasis for workers and visitors. The grounds feature monuments and gardens, and "Le Carrousel", a popular carousel. A games area makes available chess boards, checkers, and backgammon boards for a small fee. If you don't want to play it is still interesting to watch others playing on a summer's day.
Since the turn of the century New Yorkers have been escaping to Coney Island to enjoy the amusement rides and beach.