Must-see in New York City

New York's Must-See Attractions for the Perfect Big Apple Adventure

There are endless things to do in New York City, from visiting world-class museums and art galleries to exploring the city's diverse neighborhoods, dining at some of the best restaurants in the world, and taking in breathtaking views from atop towering skyscrapers.

Laura Ratliff
June 9, 2023

Welcome to the exhilarating metropolis that is New York City. Known for its iconic skyline, diverse culture, and rich history, NYC is a treasure trove of things to do, no matter your interests. From world-class museums like the Met and MoMA, tranquil escapes like Central Park and Wave Hill, and incredible architectural landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge or the Empire State Building, New York truly offers something for everyone. Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, or a nature lover, traveling solo, with friends, or with kids in tow, New York has something special for you.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, known as “The Met,” is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious art museums, boasting more than 2 million works of art spanning thousands of years of history. Don’t miss the Temple of Dendur, an ancient Egyptian temple housed within the museum, and be sure to take advantage of the Met’s Cantor Roof Garden for stunning views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline, as well as seasonal art installations. Admission is “pay what you wish” for New York residents.

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

No visit to New York City is complete without a trip to the iconic Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Located in the New York Harbor, these national monuments provide a glimpse into the city’s rich immigrant history—more than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island during the 62 years it was open. Reserve your tickets in advance to ensure a spot on the ferry and consider visiting the statue’s crown for breathtaking views.

Luna Park

Luna Park, located in Brooklyn’s iconic Coney Island neighborhood, is a lively amusement park that has entertained visitors for generations. Steeped in history and nostalgia, this vibrant destination offers a delightful blend of classic rides and modern thrills. From the legendary Coney Island Cyclone wooden roller coaster to the hair-raising Thunderbolt, Luna Park promises a memorable experience for all ages. While at Coney Island, take the chance to stroll along the boardwalk, relax on the beach, and savor a world-famous Nathan’s hot dog for an authentic taste of New York City’s playful side.

Central Park

Central Park is an 843-acre oasis in the heart of Manhattan—and the most-visited urban park in the US, offering a serene escape from the bustling city. Visitors can explore the park’s picturesque trails, rent a rowboat at the Loeb Boathouse, try their hand at fishing or birdwatching, or catch a performance at the Delacorte Theater during summer.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

One of the world’s foremost collections of contemporary and modern art, the Museum of Modern Art’s collection includes almost 200,000 works, ranging from lesser-known artists to heavy hitters like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Vincent Van Gogh. It’s truly a must-see for any art enthusiast. Don’t skip the sculpture garden for a peaceful outdoor experience.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a neo-Gothic masterpiece in Midtown Manhattan’s heart. Popular for fairy-tale weddings and devout Catholic visitors, this architectural marvel was finished in 1879 and remains one of the best examples of an American Gothic church. Take a moment to appreciate the 94 stunning pieces of stained glass and intricate stonework.

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is a poignant tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people. The museum chronicles the events leading up to the attacks, while the outdoor memorial features two reflecting pools symbolizing the fallen Twin Towers, with every victim’s name inscribed around the perimeter. Give yourself plenty of time for your visit, as the experience can be emotionally intense.

Brooklyn Bridge

An engineering marvel at its completion in 1883, the iconic 1,595-foot Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan to Brooklyn over the East River. While cars, bikes, and pedestrians can access the bridge, a leisurely stroll offers stunning views of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty. On the Brooklyn side, you’ll be in the DUMBO neighborhood, known for great views, excellent restaurants, and the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge Park. The best time to walk across the bridge is at sunset or sunrise.

The High Line

The High Line is a unique, elevated public park built on a former railway line in Manhattan’s West Side. This urban oasis offers stunning views of the city and the Hudson River, as well as art installations, lush greenery, and relaxing seating areas. It can get quite crowded, so plan your visit during off-peak hours to avoid crowds and enjoy a peaceful stroll.

The American Museum of Natural History

With exhibits showcasing dinosaurs, outer space, and the ocean’s depths, the American Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s largest and most renowned natural history museums, drawing more than 5 million visitors annually. Don’t miss the iconic 94-foot blue whale model and the Hayden Planetarium for an immersive experience of the cosmos.

The Cloisters

The Cloisters is a serene museum dedicated to medieval Europe’s art, architecture, and gardens. In fact, it was even built using parts of several medieval French abbeys that were disassembled and shipped to New York City. A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this unique attraction in Fort Tryon Park has more than 5,000 objects, including illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, and tapestries from the Middle Ages.

Trinity Church

Trinity Church is a historic Episcopal church in Lower Manhattan, just a few blocks from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Completed in 1846, this Gothic Revival masterpiece is home to an impressive collection of stained-glass windows, sculptures, and historical artifacts. The adjacent Trinity Churchyard is also popular with visitors and is home to the final resting place of notable figures such as Alexander Hamilton.

The Whitney Museum of American Art

The Whitney Museum of American Art is a contemporary art museum in the Meatpacking District. Focusing on 20th- and 21st-century American art, the museum showcases a diverse collection of works by emerging and established artists. Take advantage of the outdoor terraces for amazing views of the city and the High Line.

Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo is one of the world’s largest and most famous zoos, offering a unique wildlife experience in the heart of New York City. Home to more than 4,000 animals representing more than 650 species, the zoo provides an opportunity to explore various habitats and learn about conservation efforts. The 6.5-acre Congo Gorilla Forest and Tiger Mountain, which allow guests to get up close and personal with these big cats, are must-see exhibits.

The New York Botanical Garden

The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx is a lush and expansive oasis featuring more than 50 gardens and collections. Wander through the enchanting landscape, marvel at the historic Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, and participate in seasonal events and exhibits, like the famous holiday train show. The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden is one of the most popular destinations in the garden, housing more than 650 varieties that bloom each year from May through October.

One World Observatory

Explore NYC With Public Transportation

Take advantage of New York City's vast public transportation system to explore the city's attractions more efficiently and cost-effectively. With its extensive subway, bus, and ferry networks, you can easily reach virtually every attraction on this list while avoiding traffic congestion and expensive parking fees. You don’t even need to purchase a Metrocard—all subway stations have tap-to-pay technology now.

Located atop the One World Trade Center, the One World Observatory offers a bird’s-eye view of New York City from the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The 100th-floor observatory features interactive exhibits and provides stunning 360-degree views of the city. Visit during twilight hours for a mesmerizing experience.

Apollo Theater

The Apollo Theater, located in Harlem, is a historical venue that has showcased some of the most legendary names in American music and entertainment. Attend an Amateur Night show, where future stars can shine and soak in this iconic venue’s rich history and energy.

The Guggenheim Museum

Designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Guggenheim Museum is a modern art museum on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The museum’s unique spiral design provides an unforgettable setting for exploring contemporary and modern art. Don’t miss the Thannhauser Collection, one of the earliest collections of contemporary art established early in the 20th century.

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a unique attraction on the decommissioned aircraft carrier, the USS Intrepid. The museum is home to several exhibits and artifacts. However, visitors primarily flock to the Intrepid to see the Growler submarine, the only American guided missile submarine open to the public; the British Airways Concorde; and the Space Shuttle Enterprise.

Governors Island

Governors Island is a 172-acre island in New York Harbor, offering a peaceful escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. Accessible only by ferry, this car-free oasis features historic buildings, lush green spaces, and unique art installations. Rent a bike and explore the island, or relax in one of the many hammocks.

The Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum, located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is a fascinating window into the lives of immigrant families who lived in the neighborhood’s historic tenement buildings. Take a guided tour through restored apartments and learn about the families who once called them home, providing a unique perspective on New York City’s rich immigrant history.

The Morgan Library & Museum

The Morgan Library & Museum is a hidden gem in Midtown, showcasing the impressive private library of noted financier J.P. Morgan. Marvel at the ornate architecture, rare books, manuscripts, and artwork, including works by Rembrandt and Michelangelo, and be sure to visit the stunning McKim-designed library and the serene, glass-enclosed central courtyard.

Wave Hill

Wave Hill is a 28-acre public garden and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River in the Bronx. With meticulously manicured gardens, enchanting woodlands, and stunning river views, this peaceful oasis is perfect for a relaxing day. Attend a guided tour, participate in seasonal events, or simply enjoy the tranquility of the lush surroundings.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, located in Morningside Heights, is the largest in the world. This monumental Gothic Revival building features awe-inspiring architecture, intricate carvings, and stunning stained-glass windows. Join a guided tour to learn about the history and symbolism of this magnificent cathedral—several different tours are available showcasing various aspects of this architectural marvel.

The Frick Collection

The Frick Collection is an elegant art museum typically housed in the former Upper East Side mansion of industrialist Henry Clay Frick. While the original building undergoes renovations, the impressive collection of European paintings, decorative arts, and sculptures is housed in the former Brutalist home of the Whitney Museum.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Flushing Meadows Corona Park, located in Queens, is the city’s second-largest public park and a hub of recreational activities. In addition to hosting special events throughout the year, the park is home to iconic structures from the 1964 World’s Fair, including the Unisphere. Visitors can also explore the Queens Museum, the New York Hall of Science, and the Queens Botanical Garden, all within the park’s boundaries.

New York Transit Museum

The New York Transit Museum, situated in a decommissioned subway station in downtown Brooklyn, offers a fascinating look into the city’s public transportation history. Guests of all ages can explore vintage subway cars, learn about the engineering nuances of the subway system, and peruse exhibits detailing the evolution of the city’s buses, trains, and bridges.

Broadway

Broadway, often called the Great White Way, is the beating heart of New York City’s vibrant theater scene. Nestled in the bustling Times Square district, Broadway is home to an array of world-class theaters showcasing long-running classics like “The Lion King” to newer hits such as “Hamilton.” Attending a Broadway show is an unforgettable experience that combines remarkable talent, dazzling set designs, and breathtaking performances. To immerse yourself in the magic of Broadway, be sure to buy tickets in advance and consider exploring the Theater District’s many excellent restaurants to make your night on the town truly memorable.

Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

Embrace the city that never sleeps by visiting popular attractions during off-peak hours—you’ll beat the crowds and experience NYC’s magic in a whole new light.

Situated in the sometimes-forgotten borough of Staten Island, Snug Harbor is a vibrant cultural hub within an 83-acre park. The center features beautiful gardens, including the Chinese Scholar’s Garden and the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, and galleries showcasing contemporary art and maritime artifacts, performance spaces, and more.

Hudson Yards

Hudson Yards, situated on Manhattan’s West Side, is a modern urban development quickly becoming a prominent destination for locals and visitors. This sleek and futuristic neighborhood has luxurious residential and office buildings, cultural attractions, and public spaces. One of Hudson Yards’ most notable landmarks is The Vessel, a unique honeycomb-like structure designed by architect Thomas Heatherwick. The development is also home to The Shed, a flexible cultural venue that hosts a diverse range of events, from art exhibitions to live performances, as well as a plethora of upscale dining and shopping options, including the high-end Shops at Hudson Yards.

Socrates Sculpture Park

Head to Long Island City, Queens, to explore this unique open-air museum and public park set on a former landfill site. Socrates Sculpture Park is home to various large-scale sculptures and multimedia installations and regularly hosts special events, workshops, and outdoor film screenings. This unique waterfront space also has stunning views of the Manhattan skyline.

New York Aquarium

The New York Aquarium, located in Brooklyn’s iconic Coney Island neighborhood, is the oldest continuously operating aquarium in the United States. It’s home to more than 350 different species and 8,000 specimens, including sharks, sea turtles, and sea lions. Don’t miss the immersive “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!” exhibit and the daily Aquatheater shows.

The Noguchi Museum

The Noguchi Museum is dedicated to the life and work of Japanese American artist and designer Isamu Noguchi. The Long Island City Museum has an incredibly serene sculpture garden and galleries showcasing Noguchi’s sculptures, drawings, furniture designs, and stage sets. It’s a peaceful escape and a unique artistic experience that’s off the beaten track for many tourists.

Eldridge Street Synagogue & Museum at Eldridge Street

The Eldridge Street Synagogue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is a beautifully restored 19th-century synagogue and a National Historic Landmark. The Museum at Eldridge Street offers a glimpse into Jewish immigrants’ history and the synagogue’s role in their lives. Marvel at the stunning architecture, intricate stained glass, and rich cultural history.

Louis Armstrong House Museum

Music lovers should make a pilgrimage to Corona, Queens, to visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum, the former home of legendary jazz musician Louis Armstrong. This modest house-turned-museum is filled with memorabilia, photographs, and personal artifacts that provide an intimate glimpse into Armstrong’s life. Guided tours offer insights into his career, his impact on music, and his love for his neighborhood.

National Museum of the American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian, located in the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in Lower Manhattan, is dedicated to the life, languages, literature, history, and arts of the Native peoples of the Americas. Explore the diverse and rich cultures of Native American tribes through an extensive collection of artifacts, art, and interactive exhibits. Attend special events, films, and lectures to further enhance your understanding and appreciation of these vibrant cultures.

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock, located at the iconic Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, is an extraordinary observation deck that offers visitors a chance to experience New York City from a breathtaking vantage point. Standing 70 stories above street level, the three-tiered deck provides sweeping, unobstructed views of the city’s iconic skyline, including landmarks such as Central Park and the Empire State Building. Visitors can explore the indoor and outdoor viewing areas while taking in the remarkable 360-degree panoramas, and interactive displays offer an engaging and educational experience. Top of the Rock is not only a must-visit destination for photographers and sightseers but also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the history and glamour of Rockefeller Center.

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock, located at the iconic Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, is an extraordinary observation deck that offers visitors a chance to experience New York City from a breathtaking vantage point. Standing 70 stories above street level, the three-tiered deck provides sweeping, unobstructed views of the city’s iconic skyline, including landmarks such as Central Park and the Empire State Building. Visitors can explore the indoor and outdoor viewing areas while taking in the remarkable 360-degree panoramas, and interactive displays offer an engaging and educational experience. Top of the Rock is not only a must-visit destination for photographers and sightseers but also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the history and glamour of Rockefeller Center.

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About the author

Laura RatliffLaura Ratliff is a New York-based writer and editor. She lives in downtown Brooklyn with her husband and their beloved dogs. Originally from Texas, she now considers New York City her home. She typically spends more than 200,000 miles on a plane each year and stays in plenty of hotels.