Things to Do in New York City
The skyline of New York City has starred in hundreds of movies, making it one of the most iconic man-made landscapes in the world. And while the former World Trade Center once stood as the defining image of this electric city, today’s landscape has shifted slightly—though it remains just as memorable.
Travelers who wander the Big Apple’s crowded streets will find themselves at the foot of dozens of architectural landmarks—from the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building to the sky-high spire of Freedom Tower. It’s easy to marvel from the pavement, but visitors who want to experience the skyline in all its wonder need explore beyond the sidewalks.
Travelers looking to go all out can fly high above the city in one of the popular and grand helicopter tours. But there are still plenty of options for those on a budget.
New York's most famous bridge crosses the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Taking a walk across this historic suspension bridge is a must-do NYC activity, with fabulous views on every side.
Built in the 1870s and '80s, the Brooklyn Bridge was one of the first suspension bridges to be constructed in the USA. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. The soaring Gothic towers at either end are particularly dramatic when floodlit at night, their tall elongated arches an iconic New York sight.
Check out the observation points under the support towers, with panoramic illustrations depicting the history of New York's waterfront, then stay on to watch as the city lights of Manhattan and Brooklyn switch on at dusk.
Central Park, a huge rectangular slice of oxygenating greenness, is New York City's lungs and soul. Taking up a mammoth 843 acres (341 hectares) in Uptown Manhattan, Central Park is laced with walkways, jogging paths, and woodlands.
Not just a place for relaxation, Central Park is also home to a zoo, skating rink, theater, reservoir, boating lake, fountains, bridle paths, and a carousel. If you’re feeling peckish after all that activity, drop into the Loeb Boathouse for a buffet brunch or dinner.
Popular photo stops in Central Park include the Alice in Wonderland and Balto the Malamute statues, the Belvedere Castle atop Vista Rock and the John Lennon memorial gardens at Strawberry Fields, opposite Lennon’s former home in the Dakota apartment building.
Travelers looking to experience life on the top of the world need look no further than the spire of One World Observatory. The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, this lower Manhattan skyscraper has a high-speed elevator that shoots visitors straight to the 102nd floor in less than 60 seconds. Impressive time-lapse technology showcases the transformation of the city from the 1500s to modern day as guests make their ascent.
The major attraction, known as the Discovery Level, is located on the 100th floor of One World Observatory. Visitors say the 360-degree views highlight the best of Manhattan and offer impressive looks at surrounding waterways and iconic city skyline. Several high-tech installations provide travelers with the unique experience of zeroing in on specific neighborhoods or checking out real-time footage of streets far below.
Located at 460 Madison Avenue, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest gothic-style Catholic Cathedral in the country, as well as the seat of Timothy Michael Dolan, the archbishop of New York. Completed in 1878, St. Patrick’s Cathedral welcomes more than five million visitors each year who come to take part in mass, light candles, attend choir and organ recitals, participate in public programs and view the art and design of the building. Before entering, take in the white marble exterior, pinnacles and 330-foot twin spires reaching toward the sky. Inside explore the many chapels of the church, each one named after a different saint. Additionally, the Rose Window is 26 feet in diameter and showcases a masterpiece of 20th-century century stained glass art. Note: If you’re interested in visiting the crypt where all the Archbisophs of New York are buried you’ll need to make an appointment.
For a memorable dose of Art Deco design in all its glory, immerse yourself in the 1930s Rockefeller Center. A complex of 19 buildings and gardens, the Rockefeller Center is where you'll find the famous ice rink and Christmas tree, Radio City Music Hall, the NBC Studios, and the Top of the Rock observation deck atop the soaring Art Deco GE Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. (Fans of the television show '30 Rock' will also recognize this as the TGS studio offices.)
For shopping and dining there are more than 100 stores, 40 eateries, and an underground shopping concourse.
Go behind the scenes on an NBC Studios tour, stopping off to have your photo taken at the news desk or give an impromptu weather report. Rockefeller Center tours highlight the rich assortment of Art Deco statues, sculptures, and murals on display, including the famous gilt statue of Prometheus in the Lower Plaza and Atlas on Fifth Avenue.
More Things to Do in New York City
Wall Street is synonymous with New York's Financial District and the New York Stock Exchange. The history of early New York, of New World capitalism and American commerce all come together in Wall Street, named for the protective barrier that once marked the northern boundary of the tiny Dutch settlement known as New Amsterdam.
There are some grand examples of architecture on Wall Street, including the classic pediments and pillars of the New York Stock Exchange and the 18th-century Federal Hall, commemorating the site where the first US Congress convened and Washington was sworn in as president.
On Broadway at Wall Street, historic Trinity Church hosts choral concerts and has an interesting museum and cemetery.
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a unique journey through all things military and maritime, with spectacular interactive exhibits. Located at Pier 86, the complex boasts authentically restored vessels, the most impressive being the World War II aircraft carrier the USS Intrepid and the submarine USS Growler.
You’ll also spy a British Airways Concorde, as well as Sikorsky, Skyhawk, and Vietnam-era Iroquois Huey helicopters. As for space memorabilia, the new Space Shuttle Pavilion is now open and showcases Enterprise, the first space shuttle. You can also visit a replica of an Aurora capsule and try out the virtual flight zone, which simulates the exhilaration of flying in a supersonic jet.
New York City is more than the bright lights of Broadway, the billboards of Times Square or the boutiques of SoHo. Travelers who want to make the most of their visit to the Big Apple should be sure to include a stop in Lower Manhattan, where plenty of culture, history and landmarks reign supreme. Whether it’s a couple of hours or an entire day, there’s something for every kind of visitor in this diverse destination.
History lovers can check out the African Burial Ground Museum or the 9/11 Memorial, while outdoor enthusiasts can revel in the sunshine of Battery Park or the cruise along the waters on the Staten Island Ferry. Bargain shoppers will love the deep discounts of iconic Century21 and the unique stores located at the South Street Seaport.
Lower Manhattan is also home to the world-famous financial district, which means a visit to Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange and its massive bull are an absolute must!
The Chrysler Building is an outstanding example of flamboyant Art Deco architecture, in all its glory. A riot of shiny automobile-inspired curves and radiator-cap gargoyles, the 77-story skyscraper was built from 1928 to 1930. Its most striking feature is its pointed, zigzag-detailed crown and spire.
You can enter the lobby to gaze at the Art Deco splendor of its murals, but with no observation deck, that’s as far as it goes for visitors. Perhaps the best view of the Chrysler Building is from its arch rival, the Empire State Building.
Transporting more than 100 million vehicles annually, the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River connects northeastern New Jersey to Manhattan. With its steel beams and cables, the double-decker suspension bridge is one of the most recognizable in the world. Informally known as “GW” or “The George,” the bridge also allows for pedestrians and bikers to cross, allowing for sweeping views of the New York City skyline. Its lower level (affectionately referred to as “The Martha,” after Washington’s wife) was added after initial construction to allow for greater capacity.
Considered a marvel of modern engineering, the bridge has been recognized as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. At the time it was built it was twice as long as any existing suspension bridge, and remains a favorite New York City landmark. It is the busiest motor vehicle bridge in the world, and os home to the world’s largest free-flying American flag.
New York Harbor, located at the mouth of the Hudson River, is home to stunning views of the Big Apple and Lady Liberty. Ranked among the largest natural harbors in the world, this gateway to Manhattan is also one of the most scenic, offering travelers incredible photo ops along urban walking paths, bridges and piers. Visitors can Jet Ski, kayak and boat in the New York Harbor waters, where popular dinner cruises and sunset sails take place daily. This epic waterway also services major cruise liners as they enter and depart Manhattan. But even travelers who arrived in New York via land or air can experience the thrill and the beauty of the waterway on a Staten Island Ferry ride or one of the other public boats that transports both locals and visitors in and around the city.
History, recreation and leisure come together at Chelsea Piers, a group of four historic piers on the Hudson River. Some of the most famous ocean-going liners tied up at these docks, including the Lusitania; but these days Chelsea Piers is making waves as an entertainment and sports activities precinct.
You can have a go at more than 30 different sports at Chelsea Piers. Tee off with a round of golf at the Golf Club, work out in the Sports Center health club, go ice skating at the Sky Rink, play football or basketball in the Field House, or join in a game of ten-pin bowling at 300 New York. You’ll also find an indoor rock-climbing range, gymnastics facilities, a day spa, dance studios, and a training facility for elite athletes.
Although a completely separate island that needs to be reached by way of ferry, Governors Island is technically part of the borough of Manhattan. To reach the destination -- which is open from late May through the end of September and is less than a half mile away from Lower Manhattan -- you can take a free ferry from the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street. Originally a military outpost, Governors Island began allowing warm-weather visitors in 2006. The island features 172 acres of history and tranquility through heritage sites, biking, picnicking, art and culture. Two remaining 19th-century forts, Fort Jay and Castle Williams, take visitors back to when the island was used for inner harbor defense. Additionally, because there are no cars or motorized vehicles allowed on the island, visitors enjoy renting bikes and cycling along the island’s 2.2-mile Great Promenade or to Picnic Point for some lunch and a direct view of the Statue of Liberty.
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is one of the oldest buildings in Morningside Heights (a neighborhood in Manhattan’s Upper West Side) and is the home of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The historic cathedral is not only one of the oldest buildings in the area – it’s one of the most secretive. A tour through the cathedral yields the perceptive visitor many visual treasures, from a rare gold triptych by Keith Haring (his last work before his death) to an unusual sculpture of the Archangel Michael, the decapitated head of Satan, and nine giraffes (!).
The cathedral is home the largest rose window in the United States (the fifth-largest in the world), constructed from 10,000 stained-glass pieces. Other stained-glass windows depict historic, religious, and modern scenes. The cathedral is also one of the few buildings in Manhattan that allows visitors to access its roof, which provides a fantastic view of the New York City skyline.
Times Square is a legendary NYC landmark, synonymous with all the glam and glitz of the Big Apple. It’s New York’s hub for flashing neon advertisements, Broadway’s famous theaters, rubbernecking tourists, and the ball drop on New Year’s Eve.
Of course, Times Square isn’t a square at all, but the triangular intersection of several main thoroughfares. Thankfully, Broadway is pedestrianised as it passes through Times Square, from 42nd to 47th Streets, with plaza seating allowing visitors to actually stop, look, and relax.
A visit to Times Square is an essential part of the New York experience, whether you come here to shop, dine, drink, see a show, or just gawp at the flurry of different architectural styles, spectacular neon signs, and bustling New Yorkers.
Columbia University is the oldest institution of higher learning in New York, and the fifth oldest in the USA. Fans of history and of architecture will be interested in the university’s historic buildings, which have been highlighted in many feature films. Most notable is Low Memorial Library, which appears in the New York City Register of Historic Places. Built in the Roman classical style, the former library now contains the university’s visitor center and its administration offices.
Just below the library is a large plaza – a popular gathering place for students. Past a promenade (called College Walk) is the south campus where Butler Library, Columbia’s main library, stands. South campus also contains the student center, student residences, classroom buildings, and the Graduate School of Journalism. North of Low Library is Pupin Hall, a national historic landmark due to the atomic research done there by Columbia's scientists.
This 550-acre parks is the second largest in New York City and home to a scenic walking, biking and running path where thousands of New Yorkers can run, ride and stroll without having to wait at crosswalks or navigate busy city streets. Epic stretches of greenway meet up with the scenic Hudson River, where travelers can picnic on uninterrupted strips of lush grass or quiet tables nestled onto well-developed piers.
In addition to places designed to rest and relax, Hudson River Park boasts plenty of recreational sites as well. The Waterside Park near 11th Avenue and 24th Street houses a massive sports activity center with a playground for kids and basketball courts for adults. Famed Chelsea Piers, with its indoor ice skating rink, soccer fields and driving range is also located off of Hudson River Park.
Located on Central Park West at 79th, the mission of the American Museum of Natural History is “to discover, interpret, and disseminate information about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe through a wide-ranging program of scientific research, education, and exhibition.”
The museum is expansive, and you can easily spend an entire day exploring it. Founded in 1869, the institution features space shows, an IMAX theater and permanent exhibitions on animals, space, dinosaurs, Theodore Roosevelt, human origins, global cultures and the environment. Check out the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians to learn about the anatomy and behavior of these creatures, or the Hall of Primitive Mammals, which traces the evolution of lower branches of mammals like the armadillo and sloth. Additionally, the Hayden Big Bang Theater will make you feel like you’re experiencing the event in real time.
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