It’s hard to find a more exciting place to explore than New York. It’s a lively metropolis, teeming with people and interesting sights and sounds, and home to a wide variety of attractions from which to choose. This is why it might be challenging to narrow the best of New York down to a manageable number of top things to do, given the sheer volume of the city’s attractions.
If you want to make the most out of your time in New York but don’t have any ideas for where to start, don’t worry; this handy guide will give you a list of the top places to visit so you can plan an itinerary you’ll look back on fondly for many years to come. These are not the standard tourist attractions, though; these are a little bit more unusual. With that in mind, read on to find out more.
1. Rockefeller Center
When it comes to the history and culture of New York City, Rockefeller Center is as central as its midtown Manhattan position allows it to be. Whether you’re there for the Christmas tree, the ice-skating rink, or the performances on the plaza outside the TODAY show, you’re in for a classic, family-friendly experience. Buy an extra ticket to Top of the Rock and look out over the city in awe because these views are some of the best you’ll find in the entire city.
2. Central Park
You might not even notice the 693 acres of gardens, meadows, woodlands, and rolling hills that await you once you leave the bustling sidewalks of 59th Street and enter Central Park. If you strolled down all of Central Park’s paths, it would take you 58 miles to cover the park. There are 21 playgrounds, an ice-skating rink in the winter, a zoo, a castle, and a number of fountains, monuments, sculptures, bridges, and arches to enjoy along the journey.
However, the four major crosstown thoroughfares are skillfully concealed behind tunnels surrounded by vegetation, so they go unnoticed. This is the perfect place to go for a stroll to get away from the city for a while.
3. The Whitney Museum of American Art
When the Whitney Museum of American Art finally moved from the Upper East Side to its new, far larger home in the Meatpacking District in 2015, the institution received a substantial facelift. It features four outdoor exhibition spaces, a great restaurant on the ground floor, and a relaxing bar on the top floor, both by renowned local restaurateur Danny Meyer.
The indoor galleries span 50,000 square feet and feature works by artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Avedon, and Alexander Calder. Two elevators, both built by different artists, transport passengers between floors. If you can do it, the steps give the best views of the Hudson River. Ascending a series of external stairs, you’ll reach the upper floors and sculpture terraces, where you can take in breathtaking views of the city and enjoy art in its natural setting.
4. Grand Central Terminal
In addition to being one of the busiest railway stations in the world, New York’s Grand Central Terminal is a fascinating glimpse into the city’s past, when rail travel was both a luxurious treat for the well-to-do and an essential means of transportation for the working class. The key is to avoid arriving during rush hour if you aren’t commuting in or out of the city so you can take your time exploring the city’s famous landmarks and shopping at some of the finest establishments in the world.
5. Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
Despite being located in the middle of Midtown, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) gives off an air of understated grandeur. The always-packed MoMA now has some breathing room thanks to the opening of several new galleries and performance areas in 2019. All of the permanent exhibits have been given a fresh curatorial makeover for a more contemporary and inclusive presentation. As an added bonus, the design-obsessed can now peruse a more extensive and superior gift shop. Make a beeline for the Collection Galleries on the museum’s fifth floor as soon as you arrive to enjoy some quiet time with masterpieces such as van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” and Monet’s “Water Lilies.”
6. New York Botanical Garden
Beautiful flower gardens, green fields, winding trails, and immaculate greenhouses can all be found in the New York Botanical Garden. Some areas are so quiet that you feel completely isolated from the rest of the world, while others are so large that you could even start to wonder if you’re still in the Bronx. Each year in the winter, the greenhouses play host to a train show depicting a miniature version of New York City, while spring and summer provide every conceivable flower treat, from cherry trees to peonies. Pack a picnic lunch and prepare to spend at least half a day here.
7. The Strand Book Store
With its soaring shelves housing over 2.5 million titles, this 94-year-old bookstore is less of a local store and more of a worldwide treasure. The staff at the Strand are like tour guides because they can quickly locate the book you’re looking for and suggest one you might not have picked up otherwise. You’ll leave the shop wondering why you don’t read more, and you probably won’t leave without a book or two.
8. Bronx Zoo
The Bronx Zoo is a terrific destination to spend the day outside of Manhattan, especially if you’re traveling with kids, as it is home to more than 700 different animal species scattered across 265 acres of parkland carefully constructed to resemble natural ecosystems. Be sure to see the sea lions, giraffes, gorillas, reptiles, flamingos, and other sea birds in their aviary.
9. Coney Island
You might think of Coney Island as a cross between a circus and a tourist trap, and to some extent, that is what it is, but it is also so much more. This American beach town may surprise you with its old-fashioned charm. You will love the food and drinks, especially from Tonno’s Pizza, Gargiulo’s, and Coney Island Brewery. Locals and visitors spend time on the beach, wait in line for the famous Cyclone roller coaster, and eat ice cream cones on the promenade. The beach, boardwalk, and places like Nathan’s Hot Dogs are all open all year, but the park itself is only open for part of the year.
10. Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park is a great area to people-watch. Whether it’s professional chess players, musicians, performers, students, sunbathers, pedestrians, or just the masses of Greenwich Villagers longing for some fresh air, there’s always something going on in this cozy, almost 10-acre spot. Go at your own pace and enjoy.