Discover the best things to do in New York City's five boroughs.
If you live in New York, the city unfolds itself to you slowly, allowing you to discover every nook and cranny of the metropolis. But, if you’re a visitor, how do you know where to go in NYC? A one-week visit in New York can leave you blinking wildly in the subway station, wondering which train to take as crowds shove past you in Times Square.
An average of 66 million people visit New York each year, and for good reason. The city is resplendent with visible history—whether it’s the prohibition-turned-speakeasies tucked away behind barbershops and hot dog joints or the cobblestone streets and pubs dating back to the days of George Washington. To visit New York is to embrace a kind of romantic nostalgia found only in the dirty martinis of jazz clubs like the Village Vanguard, where John Coltrane played, or in the Porterhouse steaks from the historic Frankie & Johnnie’s, where Sinatra dined.
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In a city where greenery can be hard to come by, Central Park offers an oasis for nature-starved New Yorkers eager to feel the grass between their toes, bask in the shadow of towering trees, and breathe in fresh air (or as close to fresh air as one can get in Manhattan). Covering more than 800 acres, Central Park is the city’s fifth-largest park, flanked by the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, and Harlem.
Originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park has served as a model for other urban developments and local parks, including Brooklyn’s Prospect Park (see slide 27). Of the 22 statues that dot Central Park, most are dedicated to historical men while the rest honor fictional female characters like Alice in Wonderland. This changed recently with the unveiling of the Women’s Pioneer Statue, which is the only statue in the park dedicated to real historical women. Another site worth checking out is the Belvedere Castle (yes, there’s a castle in Central Park), which offers both stellar views of the park and an exhibit of natural historical artifacts.
INSIDER TIPCentral Park is a popular spot for birdwatching. The best place to go see the birds is near the Belvedere Castle, where avid bird watchers can spot hawks.
The Loeb Boathouse
While visiting some of Central Park’s most renowned attractions—like the Bridle Path and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir—consider taking a leisurely boat or gondola ride at The Loeb Boathouse. Boating in Central Park became popular back in the 1860s, clearly prompting the need for a boathouse. In 1872, a Victorian-style boathouse was constructed, which was eventually replaced with a more rustic storage building in 1924. By 1954, the boathouse was gussied up and redesigned as the Loeb Boathouse as we know it today.
INSIDER TIPRowboats are available for rent from April through November, while gondola rides begin in May.
Free Music and Theater Performances
As you follow the signs and path into Central Park, you’ll arrive at Rumsey Playfield, the longtime home of Central Park’s Summer Stage, which brings free and low-cost performances featuring an eclectic mix of genres. For live theater, stroll about a half-mile north, and you’ll arrive at the Delacorte, which is very close to the Great Lawn. For nearly six decades, the Delacorte Theater has been home to Shakespeare in the Park. With productions overseen by The Public Theater, this summertime tradition offers free tickets to theatergoers via a lottery system.
The Upper East Side holds one distinct advantage over the Upper West Side: it is home to Museum Mile, a mile-long stretch along Fifth Avenue, and home to the city’s renowned cultural institutions. Museum Mile is one of the best ways to take in the rich diversity that this city has to offer—from El Museo del Barrio and The Jewish Museum to the prestigious Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Highline is an elevated park that stretches 1.45 miles along the west side of Manhattan. The park sits on the bones of old train tracks that once belonged to the New York Central Railroad. There’s much to see on the Highline—from viewpoints that overlook the streets of Manhattan to the 14th Street passageway offering curated entertainment—but the best spot to visit is the Chelsea Thicket. Found between 21st and 22nd Street, the Chelsea Thicket is where the original steel tracks run through a dense foliage of shrubs, flowers, and trees.
INSIDER TIPThe Highline offers elevator service for guests unable to take the stairs. Check their website for the current status of the various elevator entrances.
Stone Street and Fraunces Tavern
You don’t have to go far to find signs of old New York hidden around the city. Stone Street is a magical place where the old and new converge on a cobblestone street dating back to 1658 when New York was a Dutch colony called New Amsterdam. Nestled in the Financial District, Stone Street is a small block flanked by old taverns and restaurants, none of which are more iconic than Fraunces Tavern. Considered the first and oldest pub in New York City, Fraunces Tavern was opened in 1762 as Queen’s Head Tavern. This pub is so historic that George Washington is said to have said goodbye here to his officers of the Continental Army back in 1783. Grab a pint in the bar Washington once stood and then take a stroll down Manhattan’s oldest street.
INSIDER TIPDuring the summer months, the entirety of Stone Street offers outdoor dining and happy hour beneath a canopy of twinkly lights.
The Strand Bookstore
If you love books, The Strand is a must-visit. This independent bookstore near Union Square is beloved by New Yorkers for both its history and its long list of notable former employees. From rock star Patti Smith to actor Sam Shepherd, everyone worked at The Strand and paid their dues shelving novels. During the COVID pandemic, The Strand announced they were in danger of closing, prompting New Yorkers to band together and save the bookstore, rallying people with the hashtag #SaveTheStrand.
The Flatiron Building
New York is home to some beautiful buildings like the Chrysler and Empire State, but in this writer’s opinion, nothing comes close to the ageless beauty of the Flatiron. Built in 1902, the triangular-shaped Flatiron Building was originally called the Fuller Building after the man who built it, George A. Fuller. As for the present-day name? Some people believe the Flatiron was nicknamed after its resemblance to a cast-iron clothing iron, but the truth is the triangle area on which it stands (made up of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, 22nd, and 23rd Street) was known as the Flatiron before the building was even built.
INSIDER TIPGrab a bite at the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park and enjoy your meal on one of the many benches or tables available, all of which stand in perfect view of the Flatiron Building.
There are just some things you need to see if visiting New York for the first time, like Times Square, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty. There are a few ways to see Lady Liberty in all her glory—the first is to take a ferry to Liberty Island, the second (and more financially savvy way) is to coast by on the free Staten Island Ferry, and the third is from the shore at Battery Park. This 25-acre park is found at the southern tip of Manhattan and offers perfect views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. There are a few things to enjoy in this park, from playgrounds for the kiddos to gardens and bike paths, but our favorite is the SeaGlass Carousel. This aquarium-themed carousel ride mimics the movement of marine animals and is as much a joy to ride as it is to look at.
Sure, Grand Central is a train station, but to see it as nothing but a transportation hub would be a mistake. This New York icon is a cultural destination complete with over 60 shops, must-visit restaurants, hidden cocktail bars, and a gorgeous Beaux-Arts architectural style. Grand Central is worth a visit for the food alone. Grab a drink at The Campbell, a stunning cocktail bar housed in the former office of John W. Campbell, a financier and railroad tycoon. Then head for dinner at the gilded Oyster Bar, which has been slinging succulent bivalves since 1913.
New York is home to over 8,000 restaurants across the five boroughs, which means choosing a place to eat can be daunting. If traveling with family or friends all craving different cuisines, the task of finding a restaurant can prove even more challenging. Enter: Chelsea Market, a food and retail pop-up marketplace housing some of the city’s best artisans and eateries under one roof. From tacos to gelato, there’s a little bit of something here for everyone.
One of the great things about New York is how much the city can surprise you. Most visitors know to expect the crowded avenues of Manhattan, but when they discover that New York is home to a sleepy fishermen’s island (see #34) or the medieval Cloisters—it can come as a shock. Part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters look like a Medieval European castle rising out of Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan. Here, you’ll find a slew of Medieval art, architecture, and woven tapestries dating back to the 12th and 15th centuries.
Washington Square Park
There’s just something about Washington Square Park and how it attracts New Yorkers from all walks of life. Rain or shine, snow or sun, this park is always bustling with New Yorkers sunbathing on the grass, sketching by the fountain, playing with pups at the dog park, or listening to live music from one of the many street performances. The park is as unique as the people who frequent it. Originally a burial ground with an estimated 20,000 bodies beneath, the park has lived many lives as a cemetery, a parade ground, and now a gathering spot for the many artists and intellectuals, oddballs, and creatives that call Greenwich Village home.
INSIDER TIPWhether it’s ghost tours for Halloween, a doggy costume contest, or a massive pillow fight—there are always events unfolding at Washington Square Park. See what’s coming up here.
The South Street Seaport
The South Street Seaport is a historic neighborhood that looks like Manhattan circa the 1900s. Boasting waterfront views, cobblestone streets, and charming row houses—you’ll find a slew of seaside restaurants, shops, and attractions to discover. Start with a visit to the South Street Seaport Museum for a little history lesson on what makes this part of town so special, then treat yourself to a bite at one of the fantastic eateries here (we recommend Momofuku Ssäm Bar). Afterward, grab a post-meal cocktail at the outdoor Garden Bar.
I don’t need to tell you to visit Rockefeller Center because chances are, it’s already on your list. What I do need to tell you is to book one of the Winter Domes at City Winery in Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center is crowded year-round, but getting anywhere near the Rockefeller Tree and ice rink during the holidays is near impossible. To actually enjoy your visit to Rockefeller, book a winter dome at City Winery, which will get you a private igloo, mulled wine, and views of the Rockefeller tree and ice rink. If you book the domes between 1 p.m. and 3:45 p.m., the minimum spend is $150 instead of the $250 minimum spend for reservations after 4 p.m.
The Plaza Hotel
While a stay at the Plaza Hotel might break the bank, it’s worth treating yourself to a cocktail or afternoon tea at the Palm Court inside this New York landmark. Opened in 1903, if the Plaza’s walls could speak, they would surely share the stories of the many world leaders, dignitaries, artists, and celebrities who have graced its rooms. So many films have been shot at The Plaza—from Home Alone 2 to Sleepless in Seattle to the Great Gatsby to Bridesmaids—but for this writer, it’s the Plaza’s ability to transport you to 1920s New York that is the real draw.
Little Italy & Chinatown
New York is made up of immigrants whose rich cultures and vibrant cuisines define the city. A quick subway ride and you can be transported around the world, from the hot pot restaurants on Korea Way on west 32nd to Little Italy and Chinatown down by Canal Street. You can visit both Little Italy and Chinatown in the same afternoon, and you should. Start with lunch at Nom Wah, the oldest dim sum restaurant in the city dating back to 1920. From there, explore the mom-and-pop-owned specialty shops that line Chinatown, where you’ll find everything from fantastic teas to delicate chopstick sets. As you walk in the direction of Little Italy, notice how Chinatown seems to melt into Little Italy. One moment you’re surrounded by the Chinese lettering of dumpling joints and fruit stands, and the next, it’s cafés and restaurants boasting spaghetti.
Corona Park has come a long way from serving as the host of two World Fairs (1939 and 1964). As you enter the park, you’re greeted by its famous Unisphere, the majestic steel globe popularized in film and music. Designed at the 1964 World Fair, the 120-foot-tall globe has become a symbol for peace and unification.
Queens is home to a myriad of museums that celebrate the borough’s history and its artistic talents. Visit the Queens Museum, with exhibitions including its permanent World Fair collection to the stunning Tiffany Glass collection. For music buffs, stop by the nearby Louis Armstrong Museum, the once modest 1940s home of the father of jazz. If art is more your scene, you’ll want to check out the Noguchi Museum, which celebrates the work of the late Isamu Noguchi. If visiting the Astoria neighborhood, make sure to check out the Museum of Moving Image, which celebrates the history of television and filmmaking, with occasional screenings.
Gantry State Park
If you’re standing in upper Manhattan and happen to look across the East River, you might spot a giant Pepsi-Cola sign reflected in the brackish water. This sign is part of the 12-acre Gantry State Park in Queens’ Long Island City neighborhood. It’s worth hopping on the 7 train to visit this riverfront, where you’ll be greeted with stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, a selection of food trucks, and even a dog park for your furry friend. And the sign? Well, the iconic 1936 neon Pepsi-Cola sign was originally part of the Pepsi bottling factory until it closed in 2003 and was relocated to Gantry State Park. For millennials out there, you may remember Britney Spears dancing in front of the Pepsi sign in her 2011 “Joy of Pepsi” commercial.
Queens Night Market
Queens has been hailed as the most diverse county in the country, making this New York borough a true eclectic food destination. Across from Citi Field is the perfect place to sample the best of the borough at the seasonal Queens’ Night Market. At the night market, you’ll find a diverse selection of food, including Cuban sandwiches, Clay Tandoor kebabs, Tibetan momos, Salvadoran pupusas, Jamaican jerk chicken, Cambodian noodles, Mexican chicharrones, and so much more. Come early to enjoy some nearby attractions like the Fantasy Forest Amusement Park, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and the Queens Zoo, which underwent an extensive renovation thanks to a partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Manhattan’s Chinatown is fantastic but undeniably a big tourist attraction. To experience New York’s other Chinatown, take the 7 train to Flushing. Flushing is bigger and is often touted as being more authentic than its Manhattan counterpart. There are seriously so many good things to eat in Flushing, from Sichuan to spicy lamb noodles that can be washed down with a refreshing boba tea.
Socrates Sculpture Park
There are many reasons to come to Astoria, and Socrates Sculpture Park is just one of them. Located on the waterfront off Vernon Boulevard, this park is more of an outdoor museum with an ever-evolving exhibit of artisan-made sculptures. The best part of the park (beyond its free admission) is it’s off the tourist track, meaning you’ll enjoy an art-filled experience with views of the Manhattan skyline and no crowds.
The Welling Court Mural Project
A short walk from Socrates Sculpture Park is the Welling Court Mural Project, a community project series of street art paintings. With over 150 murals produced by local artists, the Welling Court Mural Project has been ongoing for over 11 years. The project is said to have started as a community effort to beautify what was once considered a rough part of Queens. The project worked, and today this neighborhood is full of vibrant murals.
Alley Pond Park
Chances are you won’t find Alley Pond Park in most New York City guides, which is a shame. This charming park happens to be home to the oldest and tallest tree in all of New York City, nicknamed “the Queens Giant.” The 133.8-foot tulip poplar tree is between 350 and 450 years old and a gift from the Dutch West India Company to the first settlers of Manhattan.
Another prime example of where to find old New York, Jane’s Carousel is an antique merry-go-round dating back to 1922. The carousel was lovingly restored by artists and philanthropists Jane and David Walentas before being moved to Brooklyn Bridge Park where it now stands.
INSIDER TIPHead over to the corner of Water and Washington Street for one of the most popular photo spots. This intersection gives you a perfectly framed view of the Manhattan Bridge and Empire State Building.
The second-largest park in Brooklyn (behind Marine Park), Prospect Park has over 500 acres of bike and running paths and sprawling green lawns. It sits directly across the street from the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. Some of the park’s most beloved traditions include Smorgasburg, a seasonal outdoor food festival held every Sunday, and BRIC’s Celebrate Brooklyn, which has presented free live music, dance, and other events for over 40 years.
Prospect Park borders many neighborhoods like Park Slope, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, and Windsor Terrace. None of them are arguably more diverse than Flatbush Avenue, which has long been home to Brooklyn’s growing Caribbean communities. While there, check out caribBEING, a mobile arts and cultural marketplace that helped spearhead efforts to rename Flatbush Avenue “Little Caribbean,” honoring the many contributions Caribbean communities have made in Brooklyn.
Formally known as WNYC Transmitter Park, this nearly 7-acre public space can be found in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood. Originally, this area was acquired by the WNYC radio station and used as the site of two broadcasting antennas —hence the name “Transmitter Park”—but today is a great gathering place boasting stellar views of the midtown Manhattan skyline and Empire State Building. To get to Transmitter Park, hop off the G train at Greenpoint Avenue and walk towards the waterfront. After you soak in the city views, take some time to explore the Greenpoint neighborhood, which is home to a slew of locally-owned bookstores, restaurants, wine shops, and specialty stores.
INSIDER TIPAn awesome way to get to Transmitter Park and Greenpoint without taking three different subways is via the NYC Ferry. The Greenpoint landing stop is currently under construction but check back for updates on its reopening.
There is something wonderfully whimsical and creepy about Coney Island. With its vintage rollercoasters and weather-worn clown face staring down at you, the boardwalk feels as though you’re walking through an amusement park suspended in time. On a warm summer day, Coney Island is just the best. Take the N train to Coney Island, and you’ll be greeted with a scene that looks more like California than New York. Visit Luna Park to enjoy the rides or walk down the beachfront boardwalk while holding cotton candy and soaking in that saltwater breeze off the Atlantic.
INSIDER TIPLuna Park is not open year-round. Check their website for updates on their opening.
Keep walking down the boardwalk past Coney Island, and you’ll find yourself in Brighton Beach. The Brighton Beach neighborhood is home to the largest population of Eastern European immigrants hailing mainly from Russia and Ukraine. Nicknamed “Little Odessa,” you’ll want to come here for the food. Nowhere else in New York will you find better Eastern European cuisine, such as steamy perogies and pelmeni or vibrant and frothy Borscht.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re staying in New York and have access to a kitchen, stop by one of the local grocery stores and pick up a pack of frozen perogies to cook up later.
The Green-Wood Cemetery
Paris has its Père Lachaise Cemetery, and New York has the Green-Wood cemetery. While the idea of spending an afternoon at a cemetery might not be your cup of tea, Green-Wood is a beautiful and historic place with rolling hills, an arboretum, prime bird-watching, rolling grasslands, and historic tombstones belonging to people like the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat or the famous newspaper editor Horace Greeley. Come to Green-Wood to wander the stunning grounds or hop on one of the available trolleys for a tour.
INSIDER TIPThe Green-Wood Cemetery hosts many events—from trolley tours to candlelit ghost tours. Check their site for event listings.
WHERE: The Bronx
While nearly every visiting traveler knows to visit Manhattan’s Little Italy, few know to check out the Little Italy of the Bronx, famously known as Arthur Avenue. Check out restaurants like the old school Dominick’s to the moderately-priced (but worth the splurge) Zero Otto Nove, which The Real Housewives of New York City visited for one of their infamous lunch outings.
WHERE: The Bronx
City Island doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of New York City, but that’s what makes it so special. Whether you take the 6 train and hop on the BX29 bus or opt to drive—you’ll be surprised to find yourself in what can only be described as a sleepy fishermen’s island, complete with seaside eateries boasting their “catch of the day” and quiet streets lined by Victorian homes. While Manhattan is crowded, fast-moving, and overwhelming, City Island is quiet, calm, and easy-going. Come here for the crab shacks and fresh seafood; stay for the vintage toy shops and historic charm.
The Staten Island Ferry
WHERE: Staten Island
Remember how I said there are a few ways to visit the Statue of Liberty? If you want to sail by Lady Liberty without paying for the Liberty Island ferry, then board the Staten Island Ferry. Not only can you get stellar views of Lady Liberty, but the ferry ride will also give you the best views of Lower Manhattan and Ellis Island as you sail across New York Harbor. This completely free ferry operates 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, and transfers passengers between Manhattan and Staten Island.