Things to Do in New York City
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!
Located in Central Park, Strawberry Fields encompasses 2.5 acres dedicated to Beatles band member John Lennon. Opened in 1985, five years after Lennon was murdered outside his home at The Dakota apartments, the memorial is named after The Beatles’ hit “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The focus of the memorial is a stone mosaic with inlaid tiles spelling out the word “Imagine,” named after another famous Beatles’ song. This is where you’ll catch impromptu jam sessions by fans, especially on the anniversary dates of John Lennon’s birthday on October 9 and death on December 8. It’s also a place for vigils, such as after the September 11th attacks, as well as memorials for other beloved musicians. While the entire memorial is a place of peace, the Garden of Peace is particularly special, filled with plant life and rocks donated by 150 different countries for contemplative meditation.
An Episcopal Church located in Lower Manhattan at the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway, Trinity Church is one of the oldest churches in the United States. In 1696, a small group of Anglicans were granted approval from Governor Benjamin Fletcher to purchase land for a new church. The next year, Trinity Church received a charter from King William III of England. Today, the Trinity Church you see is the third building in the same location, built in 1846 in a Neo-Gothic style. Until 1890 when the New York World Building was completed, its 281-foot spire and cross was the highest point in the city. Along with the building’s impressive architecture -- including intricate stained-glass windows, sandstone facade, Gothic spires, dramatic pointed arches and heavy bronze doors depicting bible scenes -- Trinity is known for its vibrant music program and dedication to outreach.
Radio City Music Hall is one of New York's leading music and entertainment venues - in fact, its vertical neon sign is a New York icon. Radio City Music Hall is also the largest indoor theater in the world, with the world's biggest stage curtains to match.
Part of the 1930s Rockefeller Center, the legendary 6,000-seat theater hosts the annual Christmas Spectacular as well as a stunning line-up of singers, bands, comedians and performers throughout the year. Take a Stage Door tour to learn about the Radio City Rockettes, explore the glorious Art Deco interior and see the Great Stage.
Located next to the Financial District where Fulton Street meets the East River, South Street Seaport is a historic neighborhood known for its attractions, shopping, restaurants, nightlife and harbor views. In the summer, locals flock to the area to have beers and frozen margaritas on the pier as well as catch the water taxis and ferries to sites like the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and Governors Island from Pier 16. Browse the many shops like Victoria’s Secret, Britches of New York, The Body Shop and Filmline Gallery. You can also get to know the area’s rich sea commerce history through the Seaport Museum, as well as ships docked at Pier 17 that act as living museums. For dinner and drinks, simply hop along the many venues on Pier 17 or head to Beekman Beer Garden, which offers a full menu, refreshing beers and close-up views of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Located on the southern tip of Manhattan, Battery Park is a 25-acre public park sitting right on the New York Harbor. The attraction is named after the artillery batteries that were once positioned there for protection. When visiting, it’s enjoyable to explore the many gardens, as well as admire the views of the Statue of Liberty and relax on a bench and listen to the water. While Battery Park gives visitors a chance to enjoy the outdoors, it also provides a glimpse into the past. For example, in 1855 the park’s Castle Garden became the world’s first immigrant depot. Additionally, the park also served as the gateway for European newcomers long before Ellis Island existed. Littered around the grounds you’ll also find memorials like the East Coast Memorial that honors the U.S. 4,601 missing servicemen who died during combat in the Atlantic Ocean during WWII and the New York Korean War Veterans Memorial, commemorating military personal who served during the Korean Conflict.
More Things to Do in New York City
Located in lower Manhattan, TriBeCa, or “Triangle Below Canal,” is known for its cobblestone streets, low crime rate, trendy restaurants and high-quality boutiques. Enjoy sashimi tacos, lobster ceviche and tuna tataki at Nobu, an upscale Japanese restaurant, or for something more budget-friendly, Tamarind Tribeca, which offers delicious chicken tikka masala, punjabi mutton and lobster masala. If you’re sightseeing, visit the Hudson River Park, featuring 550 acres of green along the Hudson River, or the Skyscaper Museum, which offers a look into the history of New York City skyscrapers and introduces visitors to important industry people. If you’re visiting in the spring, check out the Tribeca Film Festival to see inspiring independent and family-friendly films.
One of New York's most iconic buildings, the United Nations' official headquarters takes up several blocks of real estate by the East River in Midtown Manhattan. The complex is made up of several buildings, including the domed General Assembly Hall, visitors center and the very 1950s, high-rise Secretariat building. Landscaped gardens decorated with outdoor sculptures surround the complex and flapping flags fly in the breeze.
The best way to get a feel for the international goings on is to take a guided tour. Running throughout the day, the 45-minute tours provide valuable insights into human rights history, the UN and its missions, and the UN complex.
New York City’s famous Meatpacking District is a 24-hour destination known for its fashion, culture, design and food. This neighborhood, located on the west side of Manhattan, spans approximately 20 square blocks and is popular for its nightlife and even its historical side. The market-filled industrial center was once solely home to meatpacking plants, lumber yards and scores of open-air meat markets, and after an unseemly period during the 1980s when the area was a hotbed for scandal, a new transformation began. In the late 1990s, high-end boutiques and restaurants began opening, and the completion of the High Line Park in 2009 really set the Meatpacking District apart. And in May 2015, one of New York’s most well-respected art institutes, the Whitney Museum, opens its doors in the neighborhood. Although the Meatpacking District has changed significantly over time, its historical past is still evident today.
Madison Square Garden is one of the world’s most famous sports and entertainment stadiums. Dubbed the Garden, the 1960s-era indoor arena stands on the site of the much-lamented Beaux Arts Pennsylvania Station.
The Garden hosts around 320 events a year, and is the home of the New York Rangers hockey, New York Knicks basketball, and New York Liberty women’s basketball teams. You can also catch circus acts, athletics meets, dog shows, conventions, lacrosse, wrestling, boxing, or a rock concert.
There are several other venues within the complex, including the WaMu Theater, an expo center, restaurants, and retail outlets.
All-access daily tours go behind the scenes, and a series of plaques commemorate the achievements of athletes and performers on the Walk of Fame.
Like its neighbor Chinatown, Little Italy is a vibrant remnant of Manhattan’s legendary multicultural makeup. A great area for city walks, the focus is Mulberry Street and Old St Patrick’s Cathedral.
It’s a historic neighborhood of cobblestone streets, tenements, pizza bars, and Italian restaurants. The most authentic remnant of Little Italy is the section of Mulberry Street between Broome and Canal streets.
In September Mulberry Street hosts the 11-day San Gennaro street festival, with parades, street vendors, and outdoor food stalls.
Before Ellis Island there was Castle Clinton. This historic Lower Manhattan destination once served as the first immigration stop for foreigners moving to the U.S., with some 8 million people passing through its doors between 1855 and 1890. And while the iconic brick building has had many lives—as a beer garden, theater and even an aquarium—today it serves as a national monument and museum.
Visitors tend to agree that while Castle Clinton holds a historic place in the story of New York City and is certainly worth checking out, the interior offers only a couple of displays that showcases stories of the Big Apple. Travelers heading to the Statue of Liberty can purchase tickets inside and make Castle Clinton part of the Battery Park experience.
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.
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.
Spanning from just north of Washington Square to 142nd Street in Harlem, Fifth Avenue is often touted as one of the world’s most expensive shopping streets. This is particularly true when walking between 49th and 60th, where stores like Armani, Tiffany & Co., Bergdorf Goodman and the iconic Saks Fifth Avenue. Fifth Avenue is also home to many of New York’s essential attractions and museums, including the Museum Mile which runs from 82nd to 105th and features 10 museums, some of which include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum and the Museum for African Art. Rockefeller Center, a famous shopping, restaurant and office complex that is also home to NBC Studios, as well as the Flatiron Building, Central Park, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and The Empire State Building are also attractions found on Fifth Avenue. And for a bird’s-eye-view of the city, grab a cocktail at one of the avenue’s rooftop bars like 230 Fifth and Eataly’s La Birreria.
Connecting western Brooklyn with southeastern Manhattan, the Manhattan Bridge spans an impressive 6,855 feet across the East River. The suspension bridge allows for passage by vehicle, train, pedestrian, and bike. Construction on the historic bridge began at the turn of the century in 1901. Now it carries more than 450,00 people back and forth each day (the majority on public transport.) It remains an icon of New York City, shown in numerous depictions of the city on film and television.
Its design was revolutionary at the time, and served as a model for many of the long-span suspension bridges built after it. In 2009 the American Society of Civil Engineers named it a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. An arch and colonnade built to mark the bridge’s entrance from Manhattan still stands as a city landmark. With its four-columned towers and long cables, it is particularly beautiful to behold as the sun is setting.
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.
New York's Chinatown is a heady blend of cafes, sidewalk food stalls, street vendors, and traditional herbal medicine shops. There's more than 150 years of history to explore in this fascinating ethnic enclave, including the Museum of Chinese in America and a Mahayana Buddhist temple.
Bargain for not-quite-right perfumes and handbags, dine on dim sum at an authentic Chinese tea house, shop for exotic Chinese antiques, and find unusual ingredients in the Asian food markets to cook up a Chinese storm.
Central Park is a must-see for any visitor to New York City, and the small zoo within it is no exception. The daily feedings of the sea lions and the penguins always draw a crowd (the sea lions do tricks for their snacks), and the paths through the zoo’s five acres lead through a variety of habitats designed to recreate the animals’ natural environments. Around the sea lions’ pool (which has glass sides to better see the sleek animals under water) is a perennial garden with plenty of bench seating.
The Tisch Children's Zoo lets children get up close and personal with domestic animals like sheep, goats, cows, and even a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig. Little ones can pop a quarter in an animal-feed dispenser and let the animals eat from their hands, and they can touch small bronze sculptures of the animals next to each pen that emit the sounds of the animals they represent.
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