Three life-changing words: New York City. Millions are drawn to it; some never shake it. Monumental, artistic, cultural, commercial, cosmopolitan. It's everything.

You'll never be bored here; the problem is narrowing down what to do. To help you get started, here's our list of 16 inspirational highlights that are perfect things to do on your next trip. Popular sights get very crowded. Brace yourself. The “outer-borough” (beyond Manhattan) experiences mentioned below will generally be less crowded. Ticket costs can also be substantial. Consider purchasing a New York CityPASS, which offers good discounts on top attractions.

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1. Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

The dramatic, iconic and copper-green Statue of Liberty dominates a small island in New York Harbor and casts its protective shadow over neighboring Ellis Island, site of a stirring Immigration Museum. Still symbolic today, they together served as an uplifting gateway through which over 12 million immigrants passed from 1892 to 1924. Both monuments are often visited on a combined ticket and best booked well ahead, especially for time in Liberty's pedestal or crown.

Discover more about the Statue of Liberty and book tickets

2. Empire State Building & Chrysler Building

The tallest building in the world when it opened in 1931, the 1454-ft Empire State Building has lost none of its prominence in the NYC skyline. Vistas from the outdoor, 360-degree view, 86th-floor deck and indoor 102nd-floor observatory are breathtaking, particularly at sunset. Look northeast at the art deco Chrysler Building, another spired, once-world-tallest wonder (dethroned by the Empire State). Buy tickets in advance and give a moment to the second-floor Story of an Icon museum.

Everything you need to know about the Empire State Building

3. One World Trade Center & One World Observatory

A photo from above of the glass buildings of the One World Trade Center
The One World Trade Center is one of the best things to do in NYC © Tony Shi Photography / Getty Images

The journey begins on the ground level of One World Trade Center, also known as Freedom Tower, which at 1776-feet is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. Sky Pod elevators with LED walls depict time-lapse animations of NYC's 500-year evolution during the 47-second, 102-story ascent to One World Observatory. Up top, three levels of distraction, including restaurant, bar and interactive guided tours, are no match for the truly incomparable panorama. Purchase ahead for timed-entry tickets.

Inside the One World Observatory

4. National 9/11 Memorial & Museum

The National 9/11 Memorial is located where the World Trade Center Twin Towers once stood. It features sobering tributes to the lives lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, most poignantly two sunken pools with cascades of water pouring into the fallen towers' footprints. Adjacent to the memorial is a profoundly moving museum with remnants and reminders of the tragic day. The memorial is free; museum tickets are best bought online in advance.

Make the most of your visit to National 9/11 Museum

5. Metropolitan Museum of Art & Met Cloisters 

“The Met” is NYC's most visited museum for very good reasons: 5,000 years of art from all over the world, two million individual objects and 17 acres of exhibition space. It's massive, astounding and seemingly inexhaustible. Frequently but unfortunately bypassed, the Met's uptown Cloisters were cobbled together from authentic sections of European medieval monasteries. Tickets cover three-day admission to both branches, as well as the new Met Breuer.

A shot of the backs of a crowd of people inspecting a painting
New Yorkers and visitors alike love The Met © Guillaume Gaudet / Lonely Planet

Directly across Central Park from the Met is another significant museum with broad scope (34 million artifacts!): the American Museum of Natural History where your ticket grants you access to more than 50 exhibits.

Art lovers will find modern masterpieces from Warhol, Pollock and more in the Museum of Modern Art but should book ahead to skip the line, particularly at weekends. Somewhat smaller and less crowded, though definitely comprehensive, is the Brooklyn Museum. For something much more contemporary and free of hordes, try Brooklyn's Bushwick Collective Street Art.

Discover more about the American Museum of Natural History and book tickets

6. Central Park 

Hemmed in by buildings, Central Park has 843 acres of green space – meadows, groves, gardens and lakes, as well as restaurants, theaters, concert venues, fountains, rinks, ballfields, playgrounds and much more. Park Drive, although often crowded, is a favorite of runners, skaters and cyclists.

Alternatively, Brooklyn's Prospect Park, also created by Central Park's landscapers, has all the same charm with far less throng. Cyclists should consider the 31-mile Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, especially the Hudson River Greenway segment.

What you need to know about Central Park  

7. Coney Island: New York Aquarium, Luna Park & the Cyclone 

Aerial of Coney Island Beach and amusement park, including carousels and food stands
Coney Island Beach is a must-see in the summer months. ©Keep Smiling Photography/Shutterstock

Jutting like a Brooklyn thumb out into New York Harbor's Lower Bay, Coney Island boasts a wide beach, seaside boardwalk and lively amusement park, all easily reachable by subway about an hour from Midtown Manhattan. Popular attractions include the family-friendly New York Aquarium, Nathan's Famous hot dogs, Deno’s Wonder Wheel and thrill-filled Luna Park, featuring the wooden Cyclone rollercoaster, a city and national historic landmark. Walk to nearby Brighton Beach for classic Russian/Ukrainian eats.

Coney Island: A New York City escape 

8. Brooklyn Bridge & Brooklyn Bridge Park

A shot of Brooklyn Bridge from below. Golden light shines through it.
Walking Brooklyn Bridge is a wonderful way to see the city © Alison Ridgway/Lonely Planet

Undoubtedly NYC's most beautiful river crossing, the 1596-foot-long, stone-towered Brooklyn Bridge was a world-first steel suspension bridge when it opened in 1883. Today, a walk along its pedestrian passageway delivers delightful Manhattan and Brooklyn skyline views.

Brooklyn Bridge Park, the 1.3-mile, 85-acre green space on Brooklyn's East River shoreline, prolongs the pleasure (and the Manhattan views, see below). Check out the waterfront, glass-enclosed Jane's Carousel and multiple revitalized pier-based leisure and activity areas.

9. Manhattan Skyline  

Manhattan's tumble of buildings is a mesmerizing spectacle, changing in the natural and manmade light, particularly at dusk and night. Harbor cruises are a fantastic way to enjoy it, but there are also numerous land-based vantages along the East River.

In Brooklyn: Brooklyn Bridge Park (see above), Brooklyn Heights Promenade, East River State Park in Williamsburg and Transmitter Park in Greenpoint. And in Queens: Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City and Astoria Park. For a once-in-a-lifetime splurge, there are also helicopter tours.

10. The High Line & Hudson Yards 

Man Running on the High Line Park in New York
The High Line Park has something for everyone © ferrantraite/Getty Images

The 1.5-mile-long High Line is an art-filled, community green space – featuring gardens, events, and amazing city outlooks – crafted out of an abandoned elevated railway. It can be packed on warm evenings, when the unique surrounding modern architecture lights up.

Its northern terminus is at the Hudson Yards, Manhattan's newest luxury development, with gourmet restaurants, upscale shops and singular attractions like Vessel, a multilevel public landmark, and The Edge, the city's highest (101st-floor) open-air observatory.

The High Line: highlights and local tips on NYC's elevated park 

11. Rockefeller Center: Top of the Rock & Radio City Music Hall

Perhaps best known for its winter backdrop – a world-famous ice-skating rink and New York's giant ceremoniously-lit Christmas tree – art deco Rockefeller Center is a busy, art-filled national historic landmark all year round. Still named after its America's-first-billionaire developer, John D. Rockefeller Jr, it claims highlights such as the 70th-floor Top of the Rock observation deck, Radio City Music Hall and NBC Studios Tours, as well as plenty of Midtown shopping and dining.

Is Top of the Rock worth a visit?

12. Times Square & Theater District

An actor smiles, wearing a lion headdress
Actor Jelani Remy as Simba in Broadway's 'The Lion King' © Mark Sagliocco/Getty

The neon lights really do shine bright on Broadway, especially in Times Square at the heart of the world's most celebrated Theater District. Day and night, it's billboarded sensory overload. In the area: dozens of marquee-fronted playhouses hosting box-office hits, Madame Tussauds, Ripley's Believe It or Not!, National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey, Bryant Park (Midtown's small but activity-filled green oasis) and the lion-flanked entrance of the New York Public Library, a national historic landmark.

13. New York City Subway & Staten Island Ferry

The wheels never stop turning in NYC, aided by its sleepless subway, one of the world's biggest. Another iconic part of its transit system is the free, orange Staten Island Ferry, the cheapest way to grab pics of Lady Liberty.

For NYC urban transport history, the kid-friendly Transit Museum has climb-aboard NYC subway cars from all eras. There's a museum annex and shop in Grand Central Terminal, the Midtown beaux-arts wonder with an unforgettably grand main concourse.

How New York City’s ferries became a portal to other worlds

14. Bronx Zoo & New York Botanical Gardens

Who'd have thought the US's biggest and oldest zoo is in NYC? The conservation-minded Bronx Zoo hosts 6000-plus animals on 265 acres of specially designed habitats. Adjacent to it is the New York Botanical Garden, a 250-acre, year-round nature showcase with dozens of indoor and outdoor gardens included in your ticket.

Central Park, Prospect Park and Flushing Meadows Corona Park (Queens) each have impressive smaller zoos, and the 50-acre Brooklyn Botanic Garden is famous for its seasonally blossoming cherry trees.

Visiting the New York Botanical Gardens

A close up of pink Lily Pads
New York City Botanical Garden in the Bronx is a great thing to do in New York © Boogich/Getty Images

15. Industry City, Brooklyn Navy Yard & Brooklyn Army Terminal

In a city that places a high premium on space, Brooklyn now claims three trendy and exciting rehabilitated industrial areas, commandeered by entrepreneurs, artisanal makers, retailers, artists, start-ups and nonprofits. Industry City occupies six large warehouses on the Sunset Park waterfront.

Further south, 100-plus companies fill the vast and storied Brooklyn Army Terminal. And east of Downtown Brooklyn, the expansive, historical Brooklyn Navy Yard is a modern made-in-Brooklyn manufacturing hub.

16. Yankee Stadium & Citi Field

New Yorkers take outsize pride in their sports teams, so how better to absorb the city's energy than at a game! The Bronx's Yankee Stadium and Mets' Citi Field in Queens are grand open-air stadiums, while Manhattan's Madison Square Garden, home of Knicks and Liberty basketball and Rangers hockey, and Brooklyn's futuristic Barclays Center, where the Nets basketball and Islanders hockey teams play, are enclosed. (The Giants and Jets football arenas are in nearby New Jersey).

Inspired? Book your favorite experiences now


Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Empire State Building
One World Observatory
9/11 Memorial Museum
American Museum of Natural History
Museum of Modern Art
See the Manhattan skyline from above with a helicopter tour
Top of the Rock
New York Botanical Gardens
Discover NYC at your own pace with a hop-on hop-off tour

This article was originally published in May 2021 and updated in September 2021. 

This article was first published May 2021 and updated September 2021

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