New York City is one of the world’s most popular megacities in the World. As such, it is a global cultural, financial, and media centre, and is a significant influence on commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, dining, art, fashion, and sports.
Having written that is clear that NYC provides endless activities and attractions. This post humbly tries to summarise some of the main ones.
Take a picture in Times Square
Times Square is a major commercial intersection, tourist destination, entertainment centre, and neighbourhood in Midtown Manhattan. It is formed by the junction of Broadway, Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street.
It is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions, drawing an estimated 50 million visitors annually. Approximately 330,000 people pass through Times Square daily, many of them tourists, while over 460,000 pedestrians walk through Times Square on its busiest days.
The reality is that the area is iconic, but is it not something people normally enjoy. It is one of those places to take a picture and move on. But I don’t think anybody would visit NYC without passing through it.
Attend a jazz concert
New York City is considered the jazz capital of the world. The breadth of unique venues in NYC includes legendary landmarks, contemporary lounges, pubs, and small theatres that offer a diverse variety of live jazz around the city.
The good news is that there are many venues in most of the boroughs, so you can pick one that is closer to your accommodation.
The picture above is from The Village Vanguard, arguably the most iconic jazz venue of all. The club was opened on February 22, 1935, by Max Gordon. Originally, the club presented folk music and beat poetry, but it became primarily a jazz music venue in 1957. It has hosted many highly renowned jazz musicians since then, and today is the oldest operating jazz club in New York City.
Check this jazz blog to find more venues.
Have “soul food” while you see a gospel show in Harlem
Gospel is another acclaimed musical genre in NYC. It is a traditional genre of Christian music which is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace.
Gospel music is characterized by dominant vocals and strong use of harmony with Christian lyrics. Black and Southern gospel music is largely responsible for the gospel’s continued presence in contemporary Christian music, with soul music by far the best-known popular music variant. The styles emerged out of the African-American music and American folk music traditions and have evolved in various ways over the years, continuing to form the basis of Black church worship even today.
The best area to enjoy this music is Harlem, which is also known for its intimate jazz clubs, soul food institutions and African-American heritage, Harlem draws a diverse crowd of locals and visitors. Two of the most iconic restaurants are Sylvia’s and Red Rooster, both offer gospel music shows and should food (see Red Rooster’s waffle and fried chicken in the picture above). The best day to go is Sunday, but you will need to book in advance. A short visit to Corner Social while you wait is also recommended.
Shop on 5th Avenue
Fifth Avenue is a major thoroughfare in Manhattan and one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world. It stretches north from Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village to West 143rd Street in Harlem.
It is also the traditional route for many celebratory parades in New York City and is closed on several Sundays per year. Moreover; the section from 82nd to 110th Streets, also alongside Central Park, is also nicknamed Museum Mile due to the large number of museums there.
To sum up, you don’t want to miss a walk along this avenue, including the Rockefeller Center which is metres away.
Taste beer in one or more breweries
The craft beer scene is outstanding in NYC. Hundreds of new microbreweries open every year, elevating the variety of craft beer and providing a huge offer of beer for all tastes.
A few years ago we published Best Craft Breweries in New York City. But this year we were surprised by the amount and quality of craft beer in general, and in particular IPA. It seems that IPA is the most popular and trendy beer at the moment, as most of the breweries and pubs we visited had at least 3 or 4 varieties.
The most popular brewery is still Brooklyn, now a world-class beer and iconic brand. We were also greatly surprised by the following breweries:
It may be not as popular as beer, but given that NYC is not one of the most famous wine regions in the US, there are quite a few places and even wine producers in NYC.
We visited a few and we even had some good tastings. Our two favourite ones were The Red Hook Winery in Red Hook (Brooklyn) and City Winery in Manhattan. Both of them offer tastings and pairings.
East at some iconic restaurants
There are so many good restaurants in NYC that are very hard to choose from. For that reason we wrote a dedicated post: The Most Iconic Restaurants in New York City, which contains our selection of restaurants, as follows:
- Katz’s Delicatessen
- Peter Luger Steak House
- Red Rooster Harlem
- Hometown BBQ
- Brooklyn Crab
- Di Fara Pizza
- Los Tacos No 1
- Keens Steakhouse
- Papaya King
- Mamoun’s Falafel
- Best Bagel & Coffee
- Additional: Rudy’s Bar & Grill
Visit the financial district
The Financial District comprises the offices and headquarters of many of the city’s major financial institutions, including the New York Stock Exchange (the world’s largest stock exchange by total market capitalization) and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Some of the most visited attractions, besides the stock exchange, in the area are Wall Street and its famous bull, the 9/11 memorial (see picture above), the South Street Seaport Historic District, the newly renovated Pier 17, the New York City Police Museum, the Museum of American Finance, the National Museum of the American Indian, Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel.
Have a drink on a rooftop
NYC has also plenty of skyscrapers, and many of them have rooftop pubs, restaurants, observatories and museums. So the general recommendation is to visit at least once. Some are normally busier than others, but you can book in advance.
The picture above is from The Edge, which is the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere located at 30 Hudson Yards, with a one-of-a-kind design. It’s suspended in mid-air, giving you the feeling of floating in the sky with 360-degree views you can’t get anywhere else. If you also choose this one, you can take the opportunity to walk around Hudson Yards, have a drink by the river and also do some shopping.
Other popular buildings are:
For more pubs take a look at this guide containing the 10 best rooftop bars in Manhattan.
Walk around Greenwich Village and Chelsea
Greenwich Village is one of the favourite neighbourhoods for many people. It is bordered by Broadway to the east, the North River (part of the Hudson River) to the west, Houston Street to the south, and 14th Street to the north. It is roughly centred on Washington Square Park and New York University.
Some attractions in the area include the Village Vanguard and the Blue Note which are still presenting some of the biggest names in jazz on a regular basis. There are also Comedy clubs such as Comedy Cellar. And of course, plenty of restaurants and pubs. The best you can do is get lost and walk around.
Adjacent to Greenwich Village are the neighbourhoods of NoHo and the East Village to the east, SoHo and Hudson Square to the south, and Union Square and Chelsea to the north. The latter is also a popular area, with the Chelsea Market being one of the most popular attractions.
Go to the MOMA museum
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is the museum you will probably don’t want to miss. It is an art museum located in Midtown Manhattan, on 53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
It plays a major role in developing and collecting modern art and is often identified as one of the largest and most influential museums of modern art in the world. MoMA’s collection offers an overview of modern and contemporary art, including works of architecture and design, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, prints, illustrated books and artist’s books, film, and electronic media.
The MoMA Library includes approximately 300,000 books and exhibition catalogues, more than 1,000 periodical titles, and more than 40,000 files of ephemera about individual artists and groups. It is ranked 15th on the list of most visited art museums in the world in 2021.
Walk or cycle in Central Park
Central Park is the most popular park in the US. It is the fifth largest park in the city, covering 843 acres (341 ha). It is the most visited urban park in the United States, with an estimated 42 million visitors annually as of 2016, and is the most filmed location in the world.
Main attractions include landscapes such as the Ramble and Lake, Hallett Nature Sanctuary, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, and Sheep Meadow; amusement attractions such as Wollman Rink, Central Park Carousel, and the Central Park Zoo; formal spaces such as the Central Park Mall and Bethesda Terrace; and the Delacorte Theater.
Given its size, you either cycle to increase your reach, or you take your time to walk around. If you are going to cycle, as we did, you can use the public CitiBikes. There are no docks inside the park, but there are plenty nearby.
View or visit the Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States and is recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886. It was designated as a National Monument in 1924.
As the most popular attraction in NYC, expect many visitors and possible queues. There are many tour operators like GYG where you can get the tickets, maybe in combination with another attraction.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to visit it but you want to see it from the distance, a great option is to take The Staten Island Ferry. It is a free service that goes from Manhattan to Staten Island and it is known for having the best views of the statue (see picture above). And you can also take the opportunity to do some shopping as there are many outlets right next to the ferry terminal.
Go to the marvellous Grand Central Station
The Grand Central Terminal is just a commuter rail terminal, the second-busiest train station in North America, after New York Penn Station. However; its distinctive architecture and interior design have earned it several landmark designations, including as a National Historic Landmark. Its Beaux-Arts design incorporates numerous works of art.
It is also one of the world’s ten most visited tourist attractions, with 21.6 million visitors in 2018, excluding train and subway passengers.
The main hall (pictured above) is just outstanding. And on the other floors are a good variety of restaurants and coffee shops as well.
Try some traditional pastries
In absolute numbers, the United States has a larger immigrant population than any other country, with 47 million immigrants as of 2015. This is reflected in the variety of food available, among other things.
Bakeries and coffee shops are not the exceptions, as you can get pastries from most countries in the world. One of our favourite pastries was Breads Bakery‘s chocolate babka, which I totally recommended. They also have many other things, although the babka seems to be their signature pastry.
Visit Chinatown and Little Italy
Chinatown and Little Italy are also top-rated attractions that millions of tourists visit yearly.
New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have the largest Chinese populations in the United States, and the Chinatown in NYC are some of the largest Chinese enclaves outside of Asia. Expect to find all kinds of Chinese food and other products, and of course, tourists.
Little Italy is also a major tourist spot. The neighbourhood is in Lower Manhattan and it is known for its large Italian population. It is bounded on the west by Tribeca and Soho, on the south by Chinatown, on the east by the Bowery and Lower East Side, and on the north by Nolita.
Walk on the High Line end to end
The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long (2.33 km) elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail created on a former New York Central Railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan.
Since opening in June 2009, the High Line has become an icon of American contemporary landscape architecture. The High Line’s success has inspired cities throughout the United States to redevelop obsolete infrastructure as public space. The park became a tourist attraction and spurred real estate development in adjacent neighbourhoods, increasing real-estate values and prices along the route. By September 2014, the park had nearly five million visitors annually, and by 2019, it had eight million visitors per year.
It is really an amazing walk that you should not miss. I strongly recommend walking on the high line end to end.
Cross Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is the southernmost of the four toll-free vehicular bridges connecting Manhattan Island and Long Island, with the Manhattan Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge, and the Queensboro Bridge to the north.
Only passenger vehicles and pedestrian and bicycle traffic are permitted. A major tourist attraction since its opening, the Brooklyn Bridge has become an icon of New York City. Over the years, the bridge has been used as the location of various stunts and performances.
Its walkway, located 18 feet (5.5 m) above the automobile lanes, is approximately 1.1 miles in length (or roughly 1.8 km). But not all visitors will walk the complete promenade, as there are a couple of places where one can reach the promenade along the way.
Once on the other side, don’t miss the opportunity to explore Dumbo and Downtown Brooklyn.
Walk around “hipster” Williamsburg
Since the late 1990s, Williamsburg has undergone significant gentrification characterized by a contemporary art scene, hipster culture, and vibrant nightlife that has projected its image internationally as a “Little Berlin.”
During the early 2000s, the neighbourhood became a centre for indie rock and electroclash. Numerous ethnic groups inhabit enclaves within the neighbourhood, including Italians, Jews, Hispanics, Poles, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans.
A good walk on Bedford Avenue and a visit to Domino Park is the minimum you should do in Williamsburg. Expect to find all kinds of hipster shops, including breweries such as Brooklyn and EBBS Brewing Co.
Visit alternatives areas in Brooklyn
Brooklyn is huge. The most visited areas are Dumbo, Downtown Brooklyn and “hipster” Williamsburg. The former is a trendy area with cobblestone streets and converted warehouse buildings that are now the backdrop for independent boutiques, high-end restaurants and trendy cafes.
Cobble Hill is another area to visit. It is a laid-back neighbourhood known for the hip cafes, relaxed bars and casual restaurants along Court Street, its main artery, and also Smith Street.
But there is more than that.
Greenpoint, home to a large Polish-American community, is evolving into a residential neighbourhood with hipster appeal. Traditional Polish shops and restaurants share the streets with trend-setting eateries, bars and live music venues. Galleries and artist studios are found in converted warehouses. The revitalized East River waterfront has parks and new high-rises with sweeping views of midtown Manhattan.
Red Hook was probably our favourite area. Set against a backdrop of shipping yards and pre-Civil War warehouses, it has a laid-back seaside village vibe. Young families and creative professionals make up a large part of the community. A mix of homey eateries and quirky bars, plus edgy art galleries and boutiques proliferate along Van Brunt Street, the main artery. Several indie distilleries and a winery offer tastings and tours.
Admire Manhattan from Brooklyn
Admiring Manhattan from the distance has a totally different feeling. And Brooklyn offers many places to do that. The best areas are between Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Head to places like WNYC Transmitter Park, Bushwick Inlet Park or North 5th Street Pier and Park for the best spots.
Westlight has some of the best views from its rooftop. So I strongly recommended booking a table and having a cocktail or two, at least.