Looking for some cool things to do in New York City? This epic compilation is for you! Whether you’re wondering what to do in NYC this weekend or planning the ultimate New York City vacation, here are our top picks for exploring The Big Apple. 

Not all that long ago, we shared a compilation of 50 cool things to do in Paris. It was 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 to date!

We’re glad we aren’t the only ones looking for awesome things to do in Paris. But it got us thinking—what other iconic destinations are bursting at the seams with epic things to see and do? Why New York City, of course. 

So we’re carrying on our 50 Cool Things segment with a place that holds an extraordinary 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 native New Yorkers, but we have picked up a ton of knowledge on cool things to do in New York City—and we’re sharing those things with you all today! 


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 to anyone planning a New York City vacation. We know you local New Yorkers have a ton of great ideas for off-the-beaten-track New York City attractions. 



New York City Attractions


things to do in NYC
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 an oasis of 843 acres in the center of what is an otherwise 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. Taking advantage of all the things to see and do in Central Park on a gorgeous day is always a go-to for us when planning cool things to do in NYC. Of course, you can also 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 about this refurbished piece of NYC’s past, try a guided walking tour that wraps 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 undoubtedly an emotional experience and New York City thing to do that should not be missed. The Memorial is free to visit; the museum costs $24 per adult but is free to visit Tuesday evenings from 5pm until close. Check out this 1.5-hour walking tour of Ground Zero and the National September 11 Memorial 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 jaw-dropping views of Manhattan. We recommend this early access tour; otherwise, you’ll have to wait long for this top NYC attraction. (Whatever you do, don’t go on Christmas Eve!) That said, the visit is certainly worth doing at least 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 include Central Park and The Empire State Building, consider heading to the Top of the Rock. This 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 New York Harbor, which 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. It’s one of the New York sights that’s famous for a reason. 


7. The Brooklyn Bridge

Take a relaxed stroll or bike ride across the Brooklyn Bridge to enjoy the ambiance 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 perspective of the Brooklyn Bridge as you pass under it 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 NYC 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 Washington Square Park 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 visiting 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. 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 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, 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,’ a casual stroll through the West Village is one of our favorite things to do. We love the historic brownstones and the tree-lined streets, along with the top-notch shopping, dining, and cupcakes. If you want a quaint neighborhood to get lost in, then the West Village is a great pick.


Bonus NYC Attraction: 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.


New York City Entertainment


New York City things to do

 Photo by Antonello via Flickr


14. Broadway

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 are buying your tickets in advance, you can typically find pretty good discounts.


15. Fuerzabruta

If Broadway is just too mainstream, 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, 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. For more NYC travel photography inspiration, this post shares some of our favorite photo spots.


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. 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. If you are traveling to NYC during the holidays, consider one of these alternative accommodation ideas to save money on expensive hotels.


18. Sleep No More 

If you’re tired of Broadway (though I don’t know if that’s possible!), 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 visit New York City during the warm summer months, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy live music in several city parks. Whether it’s drum bands, dancing, or movie showings, you’re bound to find an entertaining way to enjoy a night under the stars. 


20. Carnegie Hall

You can come and simply tour the hall, but get tickets for a performance for the ultimate experience. You’ll find orchestras, piano, singers, jazz, and more on the schedule for the three different performance spaces at this iconic New York City landmark.


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 the best of Brooklyn, 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 in our guide to cool things to do in New York City as well. Plus, who doesn’t love pizza? This interactive 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.


Where To Eat In NYC


Where to eat and drink in NYC



25. Visit A Speakeasy 

Journey back to an era of prohibition, cool jazz, flirty flapper dresses, and the thrill of reckless lawlessness. Alcohol might be legal these days, but a renowned interest in the back alley speakeasies of NYC is still going strong. Please Don’t Tell is one of our favorite NYC speakeasies, but ask around when you arrive to discover the coolest cocktail bars in New York City.


26. Grab A Bite At The Chelsea Market

The Chelsea Market gets busy quite early on in the day, but the buzz is enjoyable, and the restaurants are delicious. The Chelsea Market is a particularly useful 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.


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 mouthwatering) 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 New York 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 low prices ($2 a slice).


29. Eat Bagels

NY pizza comes in at number one, but the city’s bagels aren’t far behind. Locals say that NY’s phenomenal bagels have something to do with the water. All we know is that we’re suckers for the sheer variety of flavors and cream cheeses 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 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 a 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. Its 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 beautiful.


33. 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.


34. Harlem’s Restaurant Row

Harlem’s receiving a lot of attention for its hot culinary scene—and for a good reason. Frederick Douglass Blvd. is where you’ll find Restaurant Row. We’ve dined at Harlem Tavern, and loved both the menu and the ambiance. We think Harlem’s Restaurant Row is one of the coolest things to do in New York City and definitely wouldn’t miss it. 


35. Fraunces Tavern

A museum, a restaurant, and a NYC 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.


36. Eataly

Experience Italian cuisine without ever having to leave New York. This gourmet Italian supermarket and restaurant are 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. Still, there is also Billy’s Bakery, Prohibition Bakery (guess what kind of cupcakes they feature?), and Georgetown Cupcakes (an export from DC).


Where To Shop In New York City


5th Avenue a New York City attraction
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 NYC 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.


41. Chinatown

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 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, but it’s still an experience no shopaholic will want to miss—and a veritable cool thing to do in NYC. 


43. Nolita

Nolita stands for North of Little Italy. Though it might not feel very Italian today, 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.


44. SoHo

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. 


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 of 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, 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, 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 the other hot spots.


48. Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market

If you’re searching for antiques, collectibles, jewelry, or anything and everything vintage, 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 vast 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 an 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 tour.


Alright seasoned New Yorkers, let us know! What is our list of cool things to do in New York City missing? 


50 Cool Things to Do in NYC


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