This post was last updated on October 13th, 2017
Not all that long ago, we shared a compilation of our favorite 50 things to do in Paris.
It was basically the result of a ton of research that went into planning our three-year-anniversary to the City of Love. Everyone writes about Paris, so we never expected the post to become our most popular. Naturally, it did. Turns out that ‘pinners’ love Paris even more than we do; our guide to 50 Cool Things To Do In Paris now has over 28,000 shares on social media.
We’re glad we aren’t the only ones who find Paris absolutely swoon-worthy. But we also got to thinking about some of the other iconic cities we’ve visited and accumulated a bit of research on. Do you all want more epic collections of cool things to do in some of our favorite cities around the world? Maybe not—but we thought we might as well see.
So we’re carrying on with a place that holds a very special spot in our hearts: New York City. Over six years ago, we took our first trip as a couple to this iconic city. It was magical, and in many ways set the tone for our travel-infused relationship. Fast-forward to this past Christmas, and we saw ourselves once again in New York City, this time looking for off-the-beaten track activities to explore.
We’re not experts on New York by any means, but we have picked up some insider knowledge on what to do – including both the touristy attractions and the ones local New Yorkers would recommend.
So here you have it: 50 Cool Things To Do In New York City.
Feel free to add to the list in the comments below, because that’s really what makes these posts so valuable in the end :)
Attractions In New York City
Photo by Matthew Dailey via Flickr
1. Central Park
No visit to NYC is complete without a visit to one of the most iconic parks in the world: Central Park. Dating back to 1857, Central Park is 843 acres of lush oasis in the center of what is otherwise a concrete jungle. Perhaps our favorite thing about Central Park is that there’s always something to do, whether it’s free yoga and concerts in the summer or ice skating and building snowmen in the winter. Take advantage of all the things to see and do in Central Park. One of the best ways to soak in the romance and see Central Park’s iconic attractions is with a lovely Pedicab Tour. Of course, you can also just spend a lazy afternoon meandering through the Rambles and picnicking in the grass.
2. The High Line
The High Line may not be a secret, but it is definitely one of New York City’s gems. An abandoned, above-ground railway stretching from the Meat Packing District to Chelsea, the High Line has been restored to feature botanical gardens, a walking path, and great views out over the river. Just avoid visiting on the weekends as it gets packed with both locals and tourists alike. To learn all about this refurbished piece of NYC’s past, try a guided walking tour that packs in the best of both the High Line and lovely Chelsea.
3. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum
A visit to the 9/11 Museum and Memorial Plaza is certainly an emotional experience, but one that should not be missed. The Memorial is free to visit; the museum costs $24 per adult but is free Tuesday evenings from 5pm to close. Check out this riveting tour to learn more about the events and heroism of 9/11.
4. The Empire State Building
Head to the 86th floor of this towering skyscraper to experience truly jaw-dropping views of Manhattan. We recommend this early access tour or you’ll have to wait in long lines for this ultra-touristy attraction (whatever you do, don’t go on Christmas Eve!), but the visit is certainly worth doing once. The Empire State Building is more than just a great view over NYC; it’s in many ways a symbol of The American Dream.
5. Top of the Rock
If you want majestic views of New York City that also include Central Park and The Empire State Building, then consider heading to the Top of the Rock. The observation deck at Rockefeller Center doesn’t see as many visitors as the Empire State Building, and many argue that the views here are even better.
6. The Statue of Liberty
Does the Statue of Liberty even need an explanation? Located in the New York Harbor, what started as a gift of friendship between France and the United States is now one of the most recognized and replicated statues in the world. Take the free Staten Island Ferry for gorgeous views of Lady Liberty. For a more in-depth tour that includes pedestal access, this priority boarding tour comes highly recommended.
7. The Brooklyn Bridge
Take a relaxed stroll or bike ride across the Brooklyn Bridge to enjoy the ambience and spectacular views over Manhattan and Brooklyn. We recommend hanging out on the Brooklyn side of the bridge sometime during your walk—there are numerous great places to grab a bite to eat here. Or get a totally different and unique view as you pass under the bridge on a Jet Ski Tour.
8. Grand Central Terminal
A visit to the Grand Central Terminal is the perfect activity for a cold or rainy day. Take time to enjoy the architecture, people watch (500,000 people stream through each day), learn the secrets of Grand Central Station via a scavenger hunt, or grab a bite in one of the cafes. Even if you don’t have much time, hop in to check out the impressive Vanderbilt Hall.
9. Washington Square Park
It doesn’t get as much press as Central Park, but it is still one of NYC’s most popular places to relax outside. Washington Square Park is located in Greenwich Village, and is most recognized for its famous arch.
10. New York Public Library
I love libraries in general, so naturally the New York Public Library is one of my favorite spots in the city. Even if you’re not a book nut, the library is worth a visit for its impressive Beaux Arts architecture and free exhibits. We prefer to wander on our own, but there are free guided tours of the library as well. Fellow travel lovers shouldn’t miss the Map Room.
11. MoMA Museum of Modern Art
It’s home to famous works of art such as van Gogh’s Starry Night, Monet’s Water Lilies, and Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans. For many NYC visitors, that’s enough to get them in the doors. There’s enough here to keep you busy for an entire day, so make sure you get your tickets in advance so you can skip the line. If you’re looking for something a bit edgier, then don’t miss a visit to MoMa PS1. The Museum of Modern Art’s non-profit contemporary art exhibition site is set up in Long Island City.
12. Times Square
Get in, then get out. Times Square is worth a stop on your first visit to NYC, but don’t plan on spending too much of your time here. It’s loud, chaotic, bright and fun—but also as touristy as it gets.
13. West Village
Though we’re not sure if most people would count it as an ‘attraction’, we love a casual stroll through the West Village. We love the historic brownstones and the tree-lined streets. We love the shopping and the dining and the cupcakes. If you want a quaint neighborhood to get lost in, then the West Village is a great pick.
Bonus: Metropolitan Museum of Art
With over 5,000 years of human history resting inside its walls, the MET is one of New York’s most visited museums. Beat the crowd and get insider access before the doors open to the public with an EmptyMet Tour.
Entertainment In New York City
Photo by Antonello via Flickr
Seeing a show on Broadway has to be one of the best things to do in NYC. We’ve only seen the Lion King, but next time we’re in the city we plan on purchasing tickets for Wicked. The Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis and Jersey Boys are other shows you can’t go wrong with. If you purchase your tickets in advance, you can typically find pretty good discounts.
If Broadway is just too mainstream, then consider seeing—and participating in—Fuerzabruta, Expect dancing, water, neon lights, a plastic bubble, and plenty of ‘wow’ moments at this unique interactive theater event. We didn’t visit so we can’t give a proper review, but this one from the Guardian is definitely intriguing.
16. Photograph The Skyline
Dan loves to set out on missions to photograph iconic skylines; if you’re anything like him, then don’t miss snapping at least a few photos of the New York City skyline. Some of the best spots are on the water, the observation decks, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Governor’s Island.
17. Experience The Holidays
Our last two visits to New York City have been over Christmas, and we’re fully convinced that it is one of the most magical times of the year to visit the city. In between the Christmas markets, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the ice skating, the decorations, the Christmas lights in Brooklyn, Santa Claus at Macy’s and the department store window displays, there’s just no way you can avoid spreading the holiday cheer.
18. Sleep No More
If you’re tired of Broadway (though I don’t know if that’s possible!) then don’t miss the unique interactive theater experience of Sleep No More. Sleep No More takes the audience on an individual journey through a performance of Macbeth. Once you enter the elevator to the McKittrick Hotel, a “restored hotel” which at times resembles more of a lunatic asylum than anything else, you are free to venture through the showing on your own accord. The adult-only theatre is quite dark (in more ways than one), perhaps not for those easily spooked.
19. Free Summer Concerts
If you happen to be visiting New York City during the warm summer months, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy live music in a number of the city’s parks. Whether it’s drum bands, dancing or movie showings, you’re bound to find an entertaining way to enjoy a night under the starts. You can find many of the 2016 events here.
20. Carnegie Hall
You can come and simply tour the hall, but for the ultimate experience get tickets for a performance. You’ll find orchestras, piano, singers, jazz and more on the schedule for the three different performance spaces.
21. Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre
Improve comedy, anyone? Then head to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, where famous Saturday Night Live cast members (including Tina Fey) got their start. There are locations both in the East Village and Chelsea. Check out the schedule online to see which venue is most to your taste.
22. Explore The Boroughs
There’s more to New York City than Manhattan alone. NYC is actually made up of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan. We recommend a day to explore Brooklyn, which is a fascinating neighborhood with absolutely delicious cuisine. The Bronx Zoo and nearby New York Botanical Garden are also popular options. You could even split up each day in a different neighborhood following this guide – the possibilities are virtually endless!
23. Have A Picnic
New York City has more green space than you might think; there are loads of places to choose from if you’re in the mood for a romantic picnic. Central Park might be the first location to come to mind, but also consider Madison Square Park, Prospect Park (one of our favs) or the Hudson River Park in Chelsea. Of course, only in NYC will you find a full-service picnic company specializing in artisans foods for your outdoor lunch in the grass.
24. Pizza Making Class
Okay, maybe this seems a bit random, but we included a cooking class in our guide to 50 cool Things To Do In Paris, so it seemed appropriate to include one here as well. Plus, who doesn’t love pizza? This two-hour pizza cooking class takes you through all of the steps—and it’s definitely on the top of our to-do list for our next visit to New York.
Wining and Dining In New York City
25. Visit A Speakeasy
Journey back to an era of prohibition, to cool jazz, to flirty flapper dresses and to the thrill of reckless lawlessness. Alcohol might be legal these days, but a renowned interest in the back alley speakeasies of NYC is flowing. Learn more from this entire post we wrote dedicated to speakeasies in NYC.
Not in New York but equally cool as the speakeasies is the Ruin Pub Crawl in Budapest. Recommend checking it out if you’re in that area of the world.
26. Use NYC Groupon Deals
Wining and dining in New York doesn’t have to be as expensive as most people think. We used a few Groupon deals while we were in NYC and got extremely lucky by choosing amazing restaurants and bars we would have visited anyway—but we got to do it for half the price. Just do lots of research before you buy any deal to make sure it’s worth the discounted price.
27. Eat Greek Food In Astoria
Queens has some of the best ethnic food in the entire city; Astoria in particular is known for its authentic and delectable Greek cuisine. Taverna Kyclades is one of our favorite restaurants. Don’t miss the fresh fish and grilled octopus.
28. Eat Pizza…Everywhere
It might sound cliche, but NY pizza is one of our favorite things in the world. No one seems able to agree on where you can actually find the best slice in town although a pizza walking tour of Manhattan will give you more than a few options to choose from. Dani’s House of Pizza in Kew Gardens is one of our favorites for its chilled out atmosphere, friendly staff and cheap prices ($2 a slice).
29. Eat Bagels
The pizza comes in at number one, but the bagels aren’t far behind. Locals say that NY’s phenomenal bagels has something to do with the water. All we know is that we’re suckers for the sheer variety of breads and cream cheeses typically available. Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee Company is one of our favorite places to grab breakfast, and New Yorkers seem to agree that this is one of the best locations in the city for bagels.
30. Eat Hot Dogs
You knew we couldn’t mention the pizza and bagels without giving tribute to the hot dogs, right? Grab a steaming dog from a vendor, head to the iconic Gray’s Papayas, or make your way all the way to Coney Island for one of Nathan’s Famous. Wherever you choose, you won’t be disappointed with this NYC classic.
31. Enjoy Happy Hour at Clover Club NY
This premium cocktail bar in Brooklyn is frequently dubbed New York’s best bar—a sweeping statement for a city known for its nightlife and high-end cocktail lounges. We didn’t get to visit ourselves so we can’t join in on the review, but you’ll definitely find us at happy hour here sometime in the future.
32. Indulge At The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory
While you’re n Brooklyn, hop over to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. Particularly satisfying on a hot summer day, the Ice Cream Factory boasts a great location on the Brooklyn waterfront. It’s convenient location next to the Brooklyn Bridge means you’ll likely have to wait in a long line before you can savor your scoop, but at least the view while you wait is nice.
33. Grab A Bite At The Chelsea Market
It gets busy quick here, but the buzz is enjoyable and the restaurants are delicious. The Chelsea Market is a particularly good stop if you find yourself on the nearby High Line or stuck in some miserable weather. If you need some help on where to eat (we chose the Korean-style ramen at Mok Bar), this guided tour will help.
34. Harlem’s Restaurant Row
Harlem’s receiving a lot of attention for its hot culinary scene, and for good reason. Frederick Douglass Blvd. is where you’ll find Restaurant Row, where there are plenty of unique restaurants to choose from. We’ve dined at Harlem Tavern, and loved both the menu and the ambience.
35. Fraunces Tavern
A museum, a restaurant and a historical landmark, Fraunces Tavern is a total dining experience. The location served as the headquarters for George Washington during the American Revolution, and a visit through the tavern’s museum will illuminate the rich history of the building. Even if you’re not a history nut, the drinks and food here are consistently delicious.
Experience Italian cuisine without ever having to leave New York. This gourmet Italian supermarket and restaurant is always crowded, so only visit Eataly if you don’t mind elbowing for space. That said, the food is delicious and the atmosphere rather fun.
37. Enjoy the Cupcakes
Maybe cupcakes are out of style now. But we’ve always loved cupcakes, so much so that rather than having a wedding cake, we had a five-tier tower of cupcakes. So yes, we did eat cupcakes in NYC—a luxury we don’t get on our round-the-world travels all that often. Magnolia Bakery is considered by many to be the best, but there is also Billy’s Bakery, Prohibition Bakery (guess what kind of cupcakes they feature?) and Georgetown Cupcakes (an export from D.C.). This dessert walking tour let’s you in on a few more mouth-watering venues where you can get your cupcake fix.
Shopping In New York City
Photo by Joey Lax-Salinas via Flickr
38. Brooklyn Flea
Meander through 100 flea vendors and 30 food vendors at the famous Brooklyn Flea. The market takes place outdoors from April through November, and is ranked ‘one of the best flea markets in the world’ by Travel + Escape. Whether you’re hunting for a bargain or just looking for a way to pass the morning, Brooklyn Flea is a great way to go.
39. FAO Schwarz
You don’t have to be a child to enjoy the oldest toy store in the United States. The toy shop is entertaining for all ages, whether you’re reminiscing about your childhood, hanging with Zoltar, dancing on the giant piano, or wondering why a $50,000 child-size Ferrari would ever be a good idea…
40. The Strand
Book lovers absolutely cannot miss this independent bookstore located on 828 Broadway. The legendary bookstore dating back to 1927 sells 18 miles of new, used and out-of-print books. There’s no better place to get lost in New York City.
Whether you’re searching for knock-off Kate Spades or you want to stock up on your Chinese green tea, Chinatown is the place for you. We would recommend avoiding the pushy vendors who offer to take you to their warehouse—no matter how enticing it might be—and instead opt to experience bits and pieces of Chinese culture. While you’re there don’t miss Prosperity Dumpling—some of the best dumplings we’ve had outside of Taiwan.
42. Historic Orchid Street Shopping District
One of New York City’s top shopping experiences, a visit to Orchid Street combines Vietnamese cuisine with upscale vintage fashion. You won’t necessarily find the crazy bargains you might have heard about here, but it’s still an experience no shopaholic will want to miss.
Nolita stands for North of Little Italy. Though today it might not feel very Italian, the quaint and quiet neighborhood is easily one of our top picks for shopping. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is nearby, meaning that you can combine your boutique shopping with a visit to the gorgeous church.
This trendy lower Manhattan neighborhood wasn’t always so stylish. But today it is one of the best places for boutique shopping and gallery hopping. We don’t know a ton about what’s in and what’s not (living out of a backpack will do that to you), but this guide to shopping in SoHo does.
45. Bleeker Street
Located in Greenwich Village, Bleeker St. is a great place to go for food and specialty stores, as well as chic clothing and trendy cafes. The street is said to have changed a lot in the past couple decades, but it looks like it’s remaining on track to be one of the top shopping streets in the world.
46. 5th Avenue
It’s consistently ranked one of the best shopping streets in the world for a reason. If you’re after upscale boutiques, designer name brands and legendary department stores, then this is the place for you. After all, it can never hurt to pop into Tiffany’s, even if you don’t have the budget for what’s on display.
47. Department Stores
We only visit the NYC department stores during the holidays to see the window displays, but if you enjoy shopping in department stores, then you can’t miss visiting some of the best in the world. Barney’s, Bloomingdales, Macy’s and Century 21 are some of the most popular ones. This detailed guide will make sure you don’t miss of the other hot spots.
48. Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market
If you’re searching for antiques, collectables, jewelry or anything and everything vintage, then this is the flea market for you. Located near the Port Authority Bus Station, this outdoor market is open year-round. (But know that if you visit during the winter months, fewer vendors will be around.)
49. Green Flea
The oldest—and largest—flea market in New York City, you’ll find a huge variety of ‘stuff’ and vendors, ranging from straight up junk to hand-crafted antiques. The market is both indoors and outdoors, so make sure you don’t miss any of it!
50. NYC Garment Center Shopping Tour
If managing NYC’s shopping scene on your own sounds like a nightmare, then hire an expert to guide you through it. On a NYC Shopping Tour, you’ll get the scoop on insider locations you otherwise might not know about, as well as exclusive discounts for visiting the shops on the tour.
Alright seasoned New Yorkers, let us know! What is our list missing? Any additional advice or cool things to see and do in New York City?
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