New York City is one of America’s most iconic locations. With landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, the energy of Broadway, and the allure of world-class museums and shopping, there’s plenty to experience. Whether you’re planning to visit for a few days or a few weeks, you probably want to make sure you see as many cool things as possible when in town.
That’s where this list can help. You’ll find 10 cool things to do in New York City, plus smart advice on making your trip as affordable and enjoyable as possible. This list, culled from travelers’ reviews, guides, and native New Yorkers, will help you have a magical time in this exciting town.
Best Times to Go to New York City
Many people feel that spring and fall are the best times to go to New York City. The weather is mild, so you can easily toggle between indoor and outdoor activities. November through December time is also a popular time to visit New York. There are many holiday events and decorations to see, like the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center or the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes, as well as winter markets at various parks where you can find great gift items while drinking hot cocoa.
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Bad Times to Go to New York City
Summer travel to New York City is popular, so you’re more likely to find crowds. Factor in the possibility of high heat and humidity, and perhaps you may want to think twice if that doesn’t appeal and your schedule allows for flexibility.
Winter (after the holidays, that is) is a time that many people avoid New York City. Yes, it can be cold, but there’s a silver lining. If you’re looking for how to save money on hotels while in NYC, the best time to go would be between January through March. There will be fewer people vying for hotel rooms, so rates are likely to be lower. You can still get your fill of great restaurants, shopping, shows, and museums.
Average Cost of a New York City Vacation
If you’re visiting New York City for the first time, you’ll probably want to stay in Manhattan versus in one of the other boroughs, to be closer to most of the celebrated attractions. However, Manhattan can be expensive, so if you’re looking to save money, you could also look at staying in another borough, like Brooklyn, which is becoming a destination in its own right.
Hotel prices will also vary a lot within Manhattan based on your location, date of visit, and quality of hotel. You can find hotels for anywhere from $150 to $550 per night in Manhattan.
When budgeting for a trip to New York City, don’t forget to include things like:
Food, whether that’s an omakase menu at a Japanese place or a pretzel from a street vendor, plus drinks
Entertainment. Perhaps you’ll see a Broadway show, visit museums, or stop by a comedy club. Factor those in.
Transportation. New York City is a very walkable town, but distances can be significant. Make sure you have funds for taxis, Ubers, and bus and subway rides. Don’t overlook the city’s ferry system either; you can get great skyline views traveling by boat.
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A Few Notes on Financing Your Trip
A New York trip can be pricey, so heed this advice:
• When planning your New York City vacation, be wary of “book now, pay later” travel options. Those can lead you to rack up significant debt. To save money on interest, you should try to save up for at least some of your expenses ahead of time.
• Make sure to do your research on where to keep a travel fund. An interest-bearing savings account can earn you some extra cash towards your trip.
• If you’re thinking about booking a trip to New York City (or anywhere, actually), look into travel insurance. You could get sick right before your departure, your luggage could get lost, and other unforeseen circumstances could crop up. If you pay for your trip with certain credit cards, they may provide travel insurance for certain situations. You should understand how credit card travel insurance works when deciding whether to purchase private travel insurance.
10 Fun Must-Dos in New York City
If you’re planning a trip, it can be difficult to narrow the list down to only 10 top things to do in New York. Here are cool highlights mostly for a tourist who is new to New York City, but there are some things on the list that you may not have been to before even if it’s not your first visit. Most attractions and events are in Manhattan, since that’s where most tourists stay. However, you will see a few options in other boroughs. Also, New York City can be expensive, so note the free activities and sites included in the list.
A couple of quick notes:
• New York City is one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the United States, so you likely won’t need to think about renting a car. You can visit most sites and attractions by walking or taking the subway or a taxi.
• You’ll find that NYC can also be a great city if you’re traveling with pets. You can walk your dog in Central Park or down any sidewalk without issues.
The following are recommendations for the top 10 fun things to do while visiting New York City.
1. Explore Central Park
Central Park is one of the most famous parks in America. It offers much-needed green space to the city, with a zoo, playgrounds, fountains, monuments, bridges, sculptures, walking/running paths, a boat pond and boathouse, an ice-skating/roller-skating rink, and more. Plus, there are many events, concerts, and activities that happen year-round in Central Park. Central Park is free, and is open from 6 am to 1 am.
2. See the Skyscrapers
Skyscrapers are part of what makes New York City so famous. The Empire State Building was considered the world’s tallest building when it opened in 1932. It’s no longer the tallest, but it’s still a world-famous attraction. Located in midtown Manhattan, it’s been seen in countless movies and TV shows. And from that high up, you get an incredible view of this iconic city.
Ticket prices for this attraction can be pricey. Visiting the main 86th-floor open-air observatory cost $38 to $44. You can also get a ticket that will also allow you to go all the way up to the 102nd floor observation deck for $73 to $79. One way to make the price feel a bit less steep: Get cash back when you charge your tickets thanks to credit card rewards. esbnyc.com/
Other places to take in a great view: The Edge NYC (edgenyc.com/en) at Hudson Yards, Summit One Vanderbilt (summitov.com/) in Midtown, and One World Observatory (oneworldobservatory.com/) downtown.
3. Scoot over to the Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty, all 305 feet of it, is a copper-clad neoclassical statue that is perhaps one of the most iconic symbols of freedom and welcome in the world. You can visit the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island by taking a ferry from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. Plan on devoting several hours to exploring this celebrated artwork.
Tickets cost $19 to $31.50 and include a round-trip ferry ride, access to the grounds of the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, the Statue of Liberty Museum, and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum on Ellis Island. If you want to go inside the monument, you’ll have to purchase a ticket that includes “Pedestal Access.” These tickets cost $25.30 to $31.80. nps.gov/stli/planyourvisit/fees.htm
You can also view the Statue of Liberty for free from The Battery.
4. Discover the Heart of Midtown Manhattan
Architecture fans will delight in Rockefeller Center, a fantastic collection of Art Deco buildings in Midtown Manhattan with a plaza, a skating rink, sculptures, NBC Studios, stores, and restaurants. If you ever watched 30 Rock or the tree get lit during the holiday season, you are probably familiar with it. It can be a fun place to explore or simply grab some coffee and do some window-shopping.
You can get tickets for a tour of Rockefeller Center ($27) or to go to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck ($34 to $40). Nearby is the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Saks Fifth Avenue’s original store, and Bryant Park. rockefellercenter.com/
5. Visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum
The National September 11 Memorial and Museum honors the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The memorial features twin reflecting pools where the World Trade Center’s twin towers once stood. The museum includes poignant multimedia displays, artifacts, and real recordings from the day, giving visitors a chance to contemplate the tragic events and remember the losses endured.
The museum is open Wednesdays through Mondays from 9 am to 7 pm. Tickets to the museum cost $17 to $29, and tours are available. 911memorial.org/
6. Stroll Along the High Line
Here’s another of the best things to do in New York: Walk the High Line, a 1.5-mile pedestrian walkway and park that’s been constructed along an abandoned elevated rail track. It’s now beautifully landscaped with lush, naturalistic plantings, and you’ll also see artworks on display as you stroll along. In addition, you’ll pass through several Manhattan neighborhoods, winding from Hudson Yards through Chelsea to the Meatpacking District, above the traffic. The High Line, which is open from 7am to 10pm, is free to enter, which can help be a way for families to afford to travel. thehighline.org/visit/
It can be a fun detour to descend from the High Line in Chelsea and visit some of the art galleries that the neighborhood is known for. Or, at the southern end of the High Line, take a brief walk to Little Island, a new public park that’s actually in the Hudson River (littleisland.org/).
7. Be Amazed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (also known as “the Met”) is a vast trove of masterpieces from around the world. Whether you’d like to see some Tiffany stained glass, Dutch landscapes, Medieval armor, or ancient sculptures, you’ll find it at the Met. You may not be able to see everything in one day, but even if you only have a couple of hours free, it’s worth a visit. It’s located on the Upper East Side, at the edge of Central Park, and its grand front steps are where many locals and tourists alike enjoy sitting in good weather.
Tickets to the Met cost $17 to $30; kids under age 12 are free. If you’re a resident of New York State or are a student in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut, you have the option to “pay what you wish” for your tickets. The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm, except for Wednesdays and a few holidays. metmuseum.org/
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8. See a Broadway Show
Some would say a trip to New York City is not complete without seeing a Broadway show. Whether that means a long-running hit, like The Lion King, Hamilton, or Chicago, or something brand new, the excitement of live theater makes for a signature NYC experience. Broadway is located near Times Square and houses theaters with many plays and musicals. Shows rotate, and ticket prices vary drastically depending on the show, day, and seat. broadway.com/
There are dozens of great restaurants nearby that cater to the pre-theater crowds and will get you in and out on time for your curtain. Picking where you want to eat can be a fun challenge, and a great way to enjoy dinner and a show.
9. Get Acquainted with a Big City Garden
Although not located in Manhattan, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is an expansive and beautiful park with unique plants, conservatories, and events. There are 13 gardens within the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, including the Japanese Hill and Pond Garden with cherry blossoms that peak during April of each year, as well as a Shakespeare Garden.
Tickets cost $12 to $18. The Garden is closed on Mondays, and hours vary depending on the time of year, so check the website before going. bbg.org/visit
Or head to the Bronx and visit the New York Botanical Garden. It has a magnificent Victorian-style conservatory, forests, a gorge, and flowers (including an award-winning rose garden) on 250 acres, making it America’s largest city garden. Admission for adults is $35 for an all-garden pass, including a tram tour; the garden is typically open from 10 am to 6 pm, except on Mondays. nybg.org/visit/admission/
10. Find a Food Hall
Of course, you’ll eat well while in NYC. One fun way to get a taste of city life is to visit one of Manhattan’s fun spaces full of food stalls. These range from the Tin Building (everything from egg sandwiches to caviar) downtown by South Street Seaport, Essex Market (bagels, kebabs, Peruvian fare, and more) on the Lower East Side, Chelsea Market (from crepes to tacos) in the Chelsea neighborhood, UrbanSpace NYC (multiple locations with dumplings, pizza, ramen, among other delights), and Midtown’s Urban Hawker, with Singaporean food.
New York City is a travel destination that few people can resist. This high-energy city has something to offer almost anyone, whether you’re interested in shows, shopping, food, art, or (surprise!) parks and gardens. If it’s your first visit or your seventh, you’ll find dozens of fun things to do in New York City that can make for an incredibly memorable trip.
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What free things can I do in New York?
There are plenty of free things to do in New York. In addition to special free events, you can walk on the High Line, check out Times Square, or take a walk through Central Park.
What should I do on my first trip to New York?
If you have never been to New York City before, seeing such iconic sites as Central Park, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty can be worthwhile.
What are some things to do in New York when you’ve been before?
If you have been to New York City before, you may have visited the major tourist sites already. Some lesser-known things to do in New York include visiting the Brooklyn Botanic Garden or New York Botanical Garden, taking a food tour, riding the Roosevelt Island Aerial Tram, and checking out Queens Museum. You might also explore Williamsburg, a popular Brooklyn neighborhood, or walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Photo credit: iStock/bloodua
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