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21 Amazing Things to Do in New York City!

My family spent a good ten years in the NYC area, and now I fly there regularly - So I am excited to document all the places I visited on my last trip this past Spring and over the years - I love NYC!

If you are flying into NYC, sometimes, the route that the plane takes as it near the city is surprisingly scenic. If you get lucky, you may be able to get a picture like this one, so be on the look out!

Arial view of New York City
Arial view of New York City

NYC is like a grid, divided into streets and avenues. Avenues run north-south and streets run east-west. You will hear locals giving directions in terms of street coordinates: "Meet me at 37th and 6th" - which basically means, meet me at the intersection of 37th Street and 6th Avenue. So, learn the jargon!

To minimize travel time, you should break up your explorations into three parts:

  1. Lower Manhattan / Downtown NYC

  2. Midtown Manhattan

  3. Uptown

Each area offers wonderful things to explore. I personally prefer midtown the most because we used to live in this area when we first got married and we have a ton of great memories here. I also think Uptown is great for folks who want to focus on museums and performances, it is also the most upscale. Downtown has many of the must-do attractions so you can't miss it.

When you look at the cost of air tickets and hotels, you will find that Summer and Fall rates are higher. Midtown NYC between 50th and 60th is likely to be pricey but any hotel with oomph and views may be more expensive irrespective of location. Play around with this interactive hotel booking app to get approximate pricing.

You should obviously download the Uber and Lyft apps but I would also recommend learning to use the subway system. It is so much easier than trying to find a cab in the city. And, no getting stuck in traffic jams! So, try the famous yellow cab once, but then - be brave and try the subway!

If you punch the locations on Google Map, you will get some quick information on which train to take and which station to get off on. If you going toward Downtown, you choose the downtown train. If you are going uptown, you choose the Uptown train - It is not that difficult, you will learn it quick! Just buy one refillable MetroCard for the entire family and swipe it for each member at the entrance of the stations. Once it runs out of money, go back to the machine and re-fill it.

If you have limited time, get yourself on a Hop Off - Hop On bus. This is a great way to see the city!

Big Bus is one of those options but there are others too. You can buy the tickets online and then meet your tour bus guide at a designated meeting spot. They even have an app so you can track your bus route in real time.

Many tourists swear by a discount New York Pass. For example, this pass offered by Headout is a 5-day pass to 100+ attractions. It does offer a ton of savings! You can also get a one-day pass.

Must-do things in Downtown NYC

Freedom Tower aka One World Observatory (Downtown NYC)

This is the best way to get a 360° view of the NYC skyline. The observatory is located on floors 100-102 of One World Trade Center, with exhibits & restaurants. The SkyPod™ Elevators climb 102 stories in 47 seconds. You need to buy tickets in advance for both general admission, guided tours and restaurants. Make it a date night with this special treat!

9/11 Memorial & Museum

This memorial honors people killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993, recognizes the courage of those who survived, and salutes those who risked their lives to help others. The museum is open 6 days a week, buy your tickets here.

Photo credit: Paul Sableman

While you are there, do a quick exploration of the SeaGlass Carousel, a ride that gives you a feeling of underwater weightlessness! This is an activity for little kids, of course but parents are allowed to ride with their child.

Statue of Liberty

Visit the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Ferry service to both Liberty and Ellis Island is the only way to get there. Most people choose to only see the statue and not go to the island at all but if you wish to go, plan 2-3 hours and know that the museum may close earlier. You need to buy separate tickets to get inside the pedestal but the trip up to the crown is closed since 2001.

You can choose a cheaper, more reasonably priced ferry ride during the day or a sunset cruise to see the statue in the evening. The day we got married, Puneet and I took a sunset cruise, which is really romantic! The statue looked beautiful.

Check out the futurist-looking Oculus

This structure represents the city’s strength and a beacon for resilience. It took about 12 years to create and is now a transportation hub with shopping and dining options. To see it, take the subway lines stopping at Fulton Street and Cortlandt Street or take the PATH to WTC.

Spend an evening at the South Street SeaPort

After the destruction left behind during hurricane Sandy, this neighborhood restored itself. You would love the energy here! It is only about a 15-minute walk from the New York Stock Exchange - A fun place to shop, dine and to meet people!

Photo credits: South Street Seaport

Things to do:

  • Party at the Rooftop Pier 117

  • Visit IPIC, the Seaport spot for a full restaurant-and-movie theater experience

  • Check out the Tom Fruin's plexiglass, and 'The Canvas' shopping space that highlights sustainable brands and the culinary experiences in the 'Tin Building 'by Jean-Georges

  • Eat at TAGMO, Momofuku, Dante or Malibu Farm among others!

Stop by the Financial District and say Hello to the Charging Bull and the Fearless Girl on Wall Street

New York City's Fearless Girl has drawn countless tourists and is a symbol of the fight for gender equality. Wall Street is the business heart of NYC and visitors love to check out the New York Stock Exchange, banks and brokerage houses. Whenever they are available, you can also do a tour of the Federal Reserve.

Photo credit of the raging bull and fearless girl: and AP

Explore Lower Manhattan: SOHO, Little Italy and China Town

An acronym for South of Houston Street (SOHO) is all about shopping, art galleries, architecture, luxury boutiques and independent designers! SOHO is a popular neighborhood, one that you must plan to visit.

Check out the Museum of Ice-cream if you can - You will need to reserve tickets but this is a multi-level sensory experience and you can eat as much ice-cream as you want!

Just 15-20 minutes away from SOHO, you can get a cultural experience and also grab a bite in Little Italy or China Town. West Village is also known for its restaurants!

Must-do things in Midtown Manhattan

Times Square

The most happening part of town, hands-down. Be OK with crowds and photo-taking tourists. Personally, I prefer going to this area in the evening when the billboard lights are shining bright!

Bang in the middle of Times Square, you will find a few attractions that you should check out:

  • Madame Tussaud's NYC where you can get up close to the 'wax figures' of your favorite celebrities. 234 W 42nd St

  • Watch a show: TKTS Booth is the best place to get discounted Broadway and Off Broadway tickets. 7th Ave. Or check this link for Off Broadway shows.

  • Participate in a TV show recording: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, etc. If you are lucky, you can get tickets, check a few months in advance. 513 W. 54th St., between 10th and 11th St. Get your tickets here.

Looking to bike or Segway? Start your journey in midtown.

Take a stroll down Fifth Avenue and adjacent streets

This entire area is bubbling with energy with luxury stores and tourists from all over the world! It is New York's best 'window shopping' street with the world's most expensive retail spaces - so check out the stores, including Saks Fifth and Bergdof Goodman. Find the list of stores here.

Visit the iconic and visually stunning St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Museum of Modern Art. If you are visiting during Winter months, check out the HUGE and beautifully decorated Christmas Tree at Rockefeller, go ice-skating at the rink right there, watch the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular and admire the window dressings of all the fancy stores!

Go Up the Empire State Building

Intended to be the world's first 100+ story building, the Empire State Building is an architectural marvel with dazzling lights that holds the annual ESB Run-Up (ESBRU) that puts runners from around the globe to the test as they race to the building’s 86th floor – more than 1,500 steps! This famous building was named the #1 attraction in the US by the 2022 TripAdvisor Traveler's Choice Award. Ticket reservations are required to visit this iconic building.

Visit the Macy's on Herald Square

Macy's Herald Square is the flagship of Macy's department store, as well as the Macy's, Inc. corporate headquarters. It is one of the world's largest department stores. If you visit during Spring, you HAVE TO catch the Macys Flower Show - 14 full days of flowers. It is phenomenal!

Be entertained at Madison Square Garden

They call it the world's most famous arena so if you can, why not watch a game here? Or a concert? Or a boxing match, maybe? Find tickets and event schedule. We watched a musical concert here a few years ago, it was electrifying!

Visit the Grand Central Terminal

The Grand Central Terminal is NYC's crown jewel, a historic and world famous landmark. It is also a food and shopping destination with 60 shops and 35 places to eat. And of course, it is railway station. "Meet Me At The Clock" is the best way to ensure you are able to find the folks you are there to meet!

Walk to Bryant Park and visit the New York Public Library

This is a fun and busy public space with great summer activities for everyone: Play a game of chess or ping pong, read a book, listen to music, engage in people-watching or watch a performance or a movie at Bryant Park! In the Winter, the lawn is transformed into NYC’s only free admission ice skating rink, surrounded by the Holiday Shops and The Lodge bar and food hall.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has 92 locations across Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, commonly known as the Main Branch, 42nd Street Library or the New York Public Library, is the flagship building in the New York Public Library system. It is free to visit.

Visit the Samsung 837 Experience, then walk the 'High Line' and end at Hudson Yards

There are many Samsung stores around the world but Samsung 837 on 837 Washington Street is what one would call an interactive playground!

A few minutes from the store, you should find a staircase to go up to the High Line, a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. Saved from demolition by neighborhood residents and the City of New York, the High Line opened in 2009 as a hybrid public space where visitors experience nature, art, and design. You can also get to the High Line from several other entrances. Click here to find the entrance closest to you.

Finally, the cherry on the cake is Hudson Yards, New York’s newest neighborhood and home to more than 100 diverse shops and culinary experiences, corporate offices, public arT, modern residences, 14 acres of public plazas, gardens and groves and the world’s first Equinox Hotel®. Many call this area 'The New West Side'.

There are some great places to eat here, but if you prefer to walk around the Meat Packing district and then eat at Chelsea Market, that's also not too far away.

By the way - The newest observation deck called the 'Edge' is an amazing way to get a full 360 view of NYC. Located at 30 Hudson Yards, this sky deck is suspended in mid-air, giving you the feeling of floating in the sky.

Photo Credit: Edge NYC website

Experience the Wizarding World at Harry Potter New York

Harry Potter New York is the first official Harry Potter flagship store, located in the heart of New York City next to the iconic Flatiron building. Get an awesome VR experience at 935 Broadway! Stop by the Butter Beer Bar and pick a wand.

The Harry Potter store uses a virtual queue system to manage capacity, so you need to add your name to the virtual waiting line. When we went this spring, we could just walk in to the store (despite what we had read on the website) but we needed advance reservations for the VR experiences - which were really fun!