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Visiting New York City is something everyone should really do at least once, but you can’t expect to see it all in one trip. Unless you move here, you’ll barely scratch the surface, but there are ways to make the most of the limited time you have by including at least a few of these things to do on your itinerary.
Visit Times Square
What Is It? Times Square is the most frenetic part of the city, but it’s also a global legend as the cinematic epicenter of New York City tourism.
Why Do It? While many New Yorkers studiously avoid its cacophony of flashing lights and thick crowds, it’s an exciting, colorful place to experience, and you should at least take time to catch a glimpse of its neon lights after dark. Going at midnight when everything is brightly lit and bustling with activity is especially unforgettable.
Good to Know: Go early in the morning – as many TV shows have and are filmed at least partly in Times Square, you may even be able to get on a major news show like “Good Morning America,” which is broadcast live from Times Square.
See the City from the Empire State Building
What Is It? The Empire State Building is ultra-touristy is New York’s iconic landmark.
Why Do It? It is the city’s tallest structure one that should not be missed. Not only is it a photogenic spot in the city, but it’s romantic too.
Good to Know: Many visitors are surprised to learn that it’s open until 2 am every night, with the last elevator going up at 1:15 am. A late-night visit not only means skipping that long wait but enjoying the gorgeous illuminated skyline that’s sure to be a highlight of your trip.
Visit the Top of the Rock
What Is It? While visiting the Empire State Building is a must, there is one problem. You can’t see the building itself! The Top of the Rock, located 850 above street level in the Rockefeller Building, offers views of the city’s glowing lights after dark, as well as a fantastic view of the Empire State Building.
Why Do It? During the day you’ll be able to spot prominent landmarks that include everything from Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge to the Chrysler Building and the Hudson River. If you arrive shortly before sunset, you can enjoy both the day and nighttime views.
Good to Know: For those that need to choose between a visit to the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock due to time or money restraints, many feel that the latter offers the best experience.
See Masterpieces at Metropolitan Museum of Art
What Is It? The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or The Met as it’s more often called, is the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere.
Why Do It? It features a collection of over two million that spans the entire globe from antiquity to the present. All are housed in a massive, gothic-style building, established in 1872 with numerous expansions taking place since then. It would be possible to roam its labyrinth of corridors for days, so you may want to plan ahead and create a list of must-sees before you go. Some of the highlights include the European paintings with works by artists like Rembrandt, Rodin, Vermeer and Botticelli, while the Egyptian Collection features the Temple of Dendur, circa 23-10 BC, and the tomb of Perneb, circa 2440 BC.
Good to Know: Visitor favorites include Italian artist Caravaggio’s The Musicians and the seven-ton Sphinx of Hatshepsut. If you really want to see everything, you’ll have to come every day for at least a week.
Look for Treasures at the Brooklyn Flea
What Is It? Treasure seekers can find just about anything from clothes and antiques to furniture and just about anything you can imagine at the Brooklyn Flea, considered one of the world’s great flea markets.
Why Do It? Held in Dumbo and Chelsea, it blurs the traditional boundaries by throwing craftspeople, jewelers and locally-made fresh food into the mix.
Good to Know: Locals love to shop for one-of-a-kind vintage finds from the more than 100 vendors who gather here, and occasionally you may even spot a celebrity or two among them.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
What Is It? The Brooklyn Bridge is another one of the city’s most recognized landmarks.
Why Do It? It stretches over the East River, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan. By walking across its promenade, a boardwalk that’s elevated above the roadway, you’ll enjoy especially exhilarating views. When it opened in 1883, it was the longest bridge in the world – and the mayor even had to arrange for a herd of elephants to cross before people could be convinced that it was safe.
Good to Know: The beautiful bridge still continues to enchant as it has for over a century, you’ll be able to see the Statue of Liberty, Governor’s Island and the Manhattan skyline.
Go People Watching in Central Park
What Is It? Central Park isn’t just for tourists, locals love it too, which means it’s a perfect place for people watching and to enjoy a more authentic experience in the Big Apple.
Why Do It? The park is home to all sorts of attractions, with its own long list of things to see and do. When you want to get active, you can rent a bike and explore the 843-acre park, and its hidden histories and vibrant views, stopping at Strawberry Fields which hosts the Imagine Mosaic, a tribute to John Lennon, Belvedere Castle and the Alice in Wonderland sculpture. Or, rent a boat at the Loeb Boathouse and paddle around the water. If you’ve got kids along, they’ll appreciate visiting the Central Park Zoo.
Good to Know: Although it can be busy, especially in the southern section of the park, from 59th to 72nd Street, no matter how many people are here, you can always find a spot for a picnic or quiet contemplation.
Shop or Browse Fifth Avenue
What Is It? Fifth Avenue is like heaven for shopping enthusiasts as the home of some of the best shopping in the world.
Why Do It? Whether you have a wallet full of cash ready to spend, or you just want to window shop, this is the place to go. Located in the center of Manhattan, the best Fifth Avenue shopping takes place between 39th and 60th Street at NYC flagship stores. You’ll find everything from Tiffany and Louis Vitton to Gucci and Saks Fifth Avenue – as the saying goes, if you can’t find it on Fifth Avenue, it probably isn’t worth finding.
Good to Know: One of the best ways to cap off your shopping extravaganza is to enjoy sipping a glass of champagne at Bergdorf Goodman’s 7th-floor eatery, admiring the Central Park views.
Follow the Footsteps of Millions of Immigrants at Ellis Island
What Is It? For millions of immigrants, their first glimpse of America was the Statue of Liberty, which gradually grew from a vaguely defined figure on the horizon into a stately colossus.
Why Do It? As visitors approach Liberty Island on the ferry from Battery Park, they often experience a similar sense of wonder. The adjacent Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration tells the story of Ellis Island as well as immigration from the colonial era to today, through multiple galleries with photographs, artifacts and taped oral histories.
Good to Know: If you have an ancestor that came through Ellis Island, or aren’t sure if you do, you can search the database that contains the repository for over 22 million passenger records for those who arrived in the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924.
Pay Your Respects at the 9/11 Memorial
What Is It? The 9/11 Memorial was completed just before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, with the 30-foot waterfalls sitting on the footprint where the Twin Towers once stood.
Why Do It? The pools measure nearly an acre in size and are said to be the largest manmade falls in North America. At the edge of the pool are bronze panels that are inscribed with the names of the 2,983 people who died in the terror attacks at the World Trade Center site as well as at the Pentagon and in Flight 93’s crash in Pennsylvania.
Good to Know: In addition to the memorial, you can visit the memorial museum which tells the story of the tragic day through multimedia displays, narratives, archives and a collection of authentic artifacts. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about the lives of the men, women and children who died.
Take in a Broadway Show
What Is It? Mostly located in the area surrounding Times Square, over three dozen Broadway theaters host some of the greatest shows in town.
Why Do It? It’s the part of Broadway between 42nd and 53rd streets, including Times Square, that’s considered to be the home of the American theater industry. And there’s something for just about everyone playing, from big-budget musicals to stage debuts featuring Hollywood stars.
Good to Know: Seeing a live show in New York is unlike anything else – you may even have the chance to meet the actors afterward, or at a minimum, you’ll be a lot closer than you would have you just gone to a movie.
Catch a Home Game at Yankee Stadium
What Is It? Watching a game at Yankee Stadium is on the bucket list of just about every baseball fan – even if you aren’t a fan of America’s pastime.
Why Do It? The stadium is vast and stocked with a multitude of fantastic amenities. Going to a game really isn’t just a sporting event, for many, it stirs feelings of awe and reverence.
Good to Know: Arrive early, and you can also check out the onsite museum which boasts memorabilia, including signed baseballs and the old locker of catcher and American League MVP Thurman Munson. In the outdoor plaza past the centerfield wall, Monument Park features an inspiring collection of tributes to legends like Reggie Jackson, Yogi Berra and Babe Ruth.
Check out the World’s Largest Railway Station
What Is It? Grand Central Terminal is not only the world’s largest railway station at 76 acres, it’s the nation’s busiest.
Why Do It? Every day hundreds of thousands of subway riders and commuters use it – and it’s truly a living temple to the city’s illustrious past. When you step in, you’ll be stepping into a bygone era, with the elaborate celestial ceiling mural soaring above the jaw-dropping main concourse that was modeled after an ancient Roman public bath.
Good to Know: You can explore “secret” elevated passageways to take in an especially stunning view of the concourse, and discover what happens when you stand at the end of the Oyster Bar ramp and whisper into the wall.
Indulge Amazing Pizza at Grimaldi’s
What Is It? New Yorkers love to argue about who makes the best pizza, and it’s hard to go wrong with any of the main contenders, like Lombardi’s, Motorino and Di Fara’s, but if you can only try one, make it Grimaldi’s.
Why Do It? Not only will you get an incredibly delicious, coal-fired pizza, but you’ll enjoy an unforgettable view of Manhattan from one of the oldest and prettiest parts of Brooklyn, right under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. This New York institution is all about the elements that go into the city’s very best pies: fresh-made dough, fresh house-made mozzarella and crushed tomatoes, all cooked by the coal-burning brick oven.
Good to Know: It’s large and consistently thin-crusted to nearly the edge of the pizza, though not cracker-thin, with the edges often coming out with glorious, billowy charred bubbles.
Watch Noir at the Film Forum
What Is It? While New York is home to a number of great independent movie theaters, the Forum is the best of the best with its dazzling atmosphere.
Why Do It? House specialties include classics by Orson Welles and international noir from Jean-Luc Godard as well as lesser-known gems. The Film Forum is the only autonomous nonprofit cinema in New York City and one of the few in the U.S. It features two distinct but complementary programs, theatrical premieres of American independents and foreign art films, and repertory selections that include American and foreign classics, genre works, festivals and directors’ retrospectives.
Good to Know: A third screen features extended runs of popular selections from both programs, as well as new films.
Listen to Live Jazz in Greenwich Village
What Is It? Greenwich Village may be small, but it offers a wealth of New York nightlife options, especially great jazz.
Why Do It? Small’s, which borrows a name from the legendary Harlem nightclub of the 1920s, is strictly in the tradition of a Greenwich Village jazz cellar; a small, intimate place, packed with fans every night of the week who look forward to the sounds of vintage, established stars along with talented up-and-comers.
Good to Know: The Blue Note prides itself on being “the jazz capital of the world,” where musical titans go up against hot young talents. In Washington Square Park, free live jazz can often be enjoyed as well.
Ride the Wonder Wheel on Coney Island
What Is It? From the turn of the century to World War II, Coney Island was considered New York City’s playground, but after the war, it suffered years of neglect. The arrival of the new Luna Park amusement park brought it back to life again, thanks in part to its iconic Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone Roller Coaster.
Why Do It? It’s also famous as the home of Nathan’s Hot Dogs and the internationally renowned hot dog eating contest. If you happen to be here on the 4th of July, you won’t want to miss the gluttonous debacle.
Good to Know: In mid-June, usually the Saturday just before the official start of summer on June 21st, the annual Mermaid parade offers the chance to scope out lots of strange sights as the largest art parade in the country – an incredible, wild cohesion of ecstatic artistic frenzy.
Sip Drinks at a Rooftop Bar
What Is It? On your last night in the city, you may want to head to a rooftop bar.
Why Do It? The Top of the Strand, the Strand Hotel’s 21st-floor rooftop bar offers an uninterrupted view of the soaring Empire State Building – if you can grab one of the first-come, first-served benches that provide a front-row seat.
Good to Know: Other options include the lounge at Pod 39 Hotel, a rooftop bar that sits 17 stories above ground with a view of the East River, and Ides at the Wythe Hotel, an outdoor terrace bar on the sixth floor with sweeping vistas of Manhattan and the East River – a perfect spot to enjoy summer sunsets.