30+ Things You Cannot Miss in NYC
New York City is definitely something you should do in your life. Even if your traveling soul is not attracted to big cities’ clamor and traffic noise, the Big Apple’s cultural mixture will keep you entertained. Depending on your interests and preferences, I’m sure you will find activities to not get bored there. However, I think there are still some spots that cannot be missed if you ever happen to visit NYC.
I have already unveiled some useful tips on how to save money in this insanely expensive city and now I will complete those tricks with a list of things that you have to do/see in the city that never sleeps. Enjoy!
Map with all the spots on this list is attached in the end of the article :)
Statue of Liberty
I did not go to the Liberty Island to see the Statue (0) close up and I do not regret it. I don’t feel like it was worth spending a couple of dozens of bucks just to stand face to face with the most popular lady in NYC. However, I strongly recommend to take a cruise around the island or take a ferry to Staten Island and back (it’s free and described more thoroughly here).
You may as well see it from the Battery park (1) in the south of Manhattan. It is far, but still you can see it clearly.
I guess Brooklyn (7) is my favorite part of NYC. Even though, I spent most of the time on Manhattan and did not really explore other districts fully, I can honestly say that Brooklyn rules. The neighborhood has totally different spirit than Manhattan – it’s more chilled and laid-back. What’s more, the district’s full of murals, vintage stores and alternative bars and cafes, where you can hang out with friends. Also you can get an amazing view on Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge Park (5). I am aware it is a huge district and I’ve seen only a small part of it, but so far I love it!
Green Point (6) – a polish district in NYC is located in Brooklyn as well. It was a nice and sentimental reminder about the homeland:)
Wall Street & Financial District
This is where the big money is made. At least I’ve heard so. Wall Street (3) is just an ordinary narrow and quite short street, filled with banks and other financial institutions. Nothing really special, but still it is worth to know where the leading financial center of the world with the world’s largest stock exchange are.
After a stroll on the Wall Street head south to the famous Charging Bull (2) – a 3.4-meter and 3.2-ton bronze sculpture that symbolizes an aggressive financial optimism and prosperity. It is quite hard to get closer the the bull as everyone wants to take a shot with it and touch its balls (I am not sure why).
9/11 Memorial (4) is a bit depressing place, when we take into consideration what happened there in 2001. However, when you happen to visit the Big Apple you should go there and pay tribute to the victims who died on this tragic day. The memorial itself is a field of trees interrupted by two large, recessed pools located on the footprints of the Twin Towers. Names of all victims are inscribed on the parapets surrounding the waterfalls. Many of them have white roses inserted in carved letters.
Bear in mind that this area is under constant construction, so you cannot access everywhere. So plan how to get there in advance or ask for directions when you get closer. I ended up in a dead end street a few times and had to walk back and catch up my way, wasting my precious time.
China Town & Little Italy
Practically each nation living in New York has its own neighborhood, however China Town (8) and Little Italy (9) seem to be the most popular in the city.
China Town is much bigger than Little Italy. It is located in the lower Manhattan and is home to the largest enclave of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere with population around 100,000 people. It is colorful area with lots of Asian people and Asian restaurants, shops, markets etc.
Little Italy used to have large population of Italians. Nowadays, it is hard to hear Italian speaking on the streets. There are still a few Italian restaurants and cafe, though, but significantly less than a couple years back.
Converse Store at Broadway
I went to the Converse store (10) with an intent to purchase brand new sneakers that cannot be found anywhere else. Even though, I haven’t found what I was looking for there I do not regret visiting this cool shop. Just by the entrance there is a huge American flag made of Converse shoes and a big skull on the other side, also formed with sneakers. Reactions of clients entering the store were also quite funny. They were just passing by the pieces of art indifferently. When they saw me taking a shot of the “wall” they just stopped flabbergasted admiring a creativity of designers.
West Village (13) is nor like any other neighborhood in Manhattan as the streets there are ‘off the grid’, which means they are not perpendicular nor parallel to other streets of Manhattan. This is why I got confused when exploring there. I had already got used to the organized layout of New York streets and it was hard to get back to chaotic city plan. Also the architecture is totally different in West Village – there are lots of bricks town houses and residential streets are paved with setts.
High Line Park
High Line Park (17) is a nice green lane on the elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad that spans over Manhattan between 30th and Gansevoort Street (three blocks below 14th Street Street). It is a beautiful linear park, perfect for a stroll during nice weather (or in the rain as I had the chance to experience that). You can get great views on Manhattan and New Jersey from out there too.
Having its own identity East Village (11) is known for vibrant nightlife and diverse community. There are many New York famous speakeasy bars. Street art in this neighborhood is very rich as well and measures up to Brooklyn murals. I lived there for 3 days so I had the chance to get to know it well. If it is not on your way though I still recommend to take a walk around and visit a speakeasy bar.
There is one inconvenient thing in the neighborhood that I experienced on my own and struggled with for a few days – in most of the places you cannot pay by card. I found out about it when came to East Village. As my trip was going to an end I had only a few bucks in cash.
Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park (12) was my favorite of all parks in Manhattan. I am not sure if it has anything to do with the fact that it’s the area where Friends from my favorite sitcom lived, but it might be a reason. The park is located close to the New York University Campus, so there are lots of young people hanging out there. What’s more, it has a cool marble triumphal arch (the Washington Square Arch), standing in the beginning of the 5th Av and leading (almost) straight to the Empire State Building).
Union Square Park
Union Square Park (14) is an another park with lots of street performers, green market and lots of shopping malls. It is know for an impressive equestrian statue of U.S. President George Washington that is located in the middle of the square. This place has also a rich history, but as I am not a huge expert nor a great storyteller in this area I am not going to go through details.
Madison Square Park
Madison Square Park (15) is also a nice park, but to my opinion, no great scratch. There are many street performers, so you can also get the change to enjoy live music, but it’s basically everywhere in NYC. As I said nothing special. One thing that is worth seeing, though – a thin triangular tower in the shape of iron, that you’ve probably seen somewhere before – Flatiron Building(16).
Eat Street Fast Food
You just have to try a typical American burger or 2-dollar pizza. Period.
Enormous billboards, blinding lights, huge crowd and the mixture of the weirdest people I have ever seen – it perfectly describes Times Square (21) and the spirit of New York at the same time. This overwhelming amount of external stimuli might seem a bit discouraging, but Times Square is the place where you can really feel the soul of the city. You have to go there both at night and during day.
New York is a very touristy city with millions of visitors coming each every year. That’s why every company tries to take the most of the people coming to the Big Apple. Brands set up their stores that attract tourist not only because of their products, but also because these shops are cool spots and have many more attractions.
M&M’s store (22) is one of them. Visitors go there to check out huge so-called spokescandies. Of course, admiring all the stuff inside the M&M’s world is usually related to purchase and prices are not as friendly as colorful mascots. And the business is going.
Top of the Rock
The observation deck at the top of the Rockefeller Center building (23) is, in my humble opinion, the best choice if you want to admire the city panorama. The location of the sky scarper enables you to see all the other ones around including the Empire State Building, which is pretty impressive from the outside.
What is more, Top of the Rock has three floors (indoor and outdoor) for observation with relatively wide space. You do not have to squeeze between other visitors or wait ages to get a spot to take a panorama shot.
One more advantage is that lines are comparatively short, so you will not have to waste too much time.
Useful tip: Check out the weather before you get to the top. You do not want to spend 30 bucks for watching thick fog. You can always reassure at the cash registers. The customer service there is very helpful and they will not try to bamboozle you.
Bryant Park (19) is a nice small park between 40th and 42nd street. Perfect place to have your lunch out on a sunny day or just to relax on the perfectly mowed green lawn. During summer time you can watch movies on the festival organized by HBO and in winter ice skate on the specially prepared rink.
When you are in the neighborhood visit also the New York Public Library. It is also a famous spot for movie shooting. Maybe you will recognize some scenes.
Grand Central Terminal
Iconic railroad station, Grand Central Terminal (20) with long and rich history has been one of the most favorite places for filmmakers who perpetuated the terminal in many movies. I am not surprised about that. The building is visually appealing and is the quintessence of New York City. Just take a look at the terminal both from inside and outside and admire the architecture.
The Empire State Building
As I said before, Top of the Rock rocks in NYC when it comes to the view. However, I wouldn’t give the highest observation deck in the city a miss. I will not pretend that I had worse experience with the Empire State Building (18), but if I were to decide once again, I would go anyway.
First of all the view is totally different. The ESB is located more in the middle of all sky scarpers (south from Top of the Rock), so the view from the deck differs.
Waiting lines are much worse there, though. I spend about 2 hours altogether before I got to the top. However, I was there on sunny Sunday, during “peak hours”. It usually take a bit less (1-1.5h).
The biggest disadvantage for me in this observation deck was the lack of space. I had to elbow my way through the crowd to reach to another side of the deck.
I am not a big fan of Apple products, euphemistically saying, so I did not expect that I would like Apple store (25) so much. First of all, the building has a neat (and Apple-style) design, making great impression. Secondly, the store offers clients a full testing of products. You can try, compare, play and do everything with the devices. On top of that, geeky customer service reps can advise you on you choice.
Columbus Circle (26) is a traffic circle near Central Park. It was the very first place I saw in Manhattan when I got off subway. I remember how I felt overwhelmed with all these buildings around the roundabout at first.
There is a huge Columbus statue in the middle and I also got the chance to see a weird statue of Polish artist that was a part of contemporary outdoor sculpture exhibition along Manhattan. The statue depicted a bear with the camera hanging down from its neck and holding poop in the left paw.
I am not going to write at length about it. When you’re in NYC you just have to visit Central Park (27). Period. I was there when the weather was not hospitable so the lawns were still closed for pedestrians, but during the spring and summer time you can relax lying on the green grass. There are also many event organized in the Park, so before you go to NYC look it up. Maybe something will catch your attention.
American Museum of Natural History
American Museum of Natural History (28) is also a cool thing to do. Even not a big fans of museums (like me) will find exhibitions that would meet expectations of even the most picky mavens. You are not able to explore every inch of the museum thoroughly in one day though so you need to decide which interests you the most.
My personal recommendation is to go to the dinosaurs wing. They have huge skeletons of distinct species that extincted millions years ago. Very impressive, especially for a newbie like me who had never seen them before. I also loved the hall of human origins. Pretty cool to see how the humans evolved over the course of ages.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (29) has an impressive collection of pieces from numerous ages and cultures. You can even see the whole ancient Egyptian temple that was transferred in pieces to NYC and reconstructed in the interior of the museum.
Just like in the case of Museum of Natural History, it is impossible to visit all the exhibitions within one day, so I recommend you to pick up to 3-4 exhibitions you’d like to see the most and then if you have more time and you’re still not exhausted go for another one or two. Personally, I think that the Egyptian wing and and Islamic and Asian art are worth taking a shot. All these Persian, Bizantine, Indian etc pieces of art made a huge impression on me. People back then made precise and very detailed paintings or sculptures and it was all hand made, with no special equipment used.
Nice campus (30) in the upper Manhattan with two huge libraries (Butler and Low Memorial Library) and enormous square in between them. In front of the Low Memorial Library there is Alma Mater statue presenting the goddess Athena with hidden owl somewhere in the folds. Try to find it, but do not google it before, you’ll lose all the fun. There are some legends and traditions related to the own and a person who first finds it. Despite my efforts, I did not find the owl, but to say as an excuse I was running out of time then.
When you are close to the campus go and visit the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (31). Cathedral like a cathedral – there are lots of them everywhere (especially in Europe). However, the church was not the thing that attracted my attention.
In the garden by the cathedral, there is an extremely weird fountain with sculptures around it and I think that designer must have taken really good stuff during the creation process. It is called Peace Fountain and supposed to depict the struggle of good and evil surrounded by animals. However, the combination of different animals in one body is impressive. I haven’t seen such creatures in the most fantastical sci-fi movies or weird cartoons for children.
This is the neighborhood that you’ve got the highest possibility of meeting a celebrity. But it is not the reason I recommend you to wander around this district. This part of Manhattan significantly differs from the lower part. You will not find sky scarpers there and you can feel the life is going a bit (but only a bit) slower that in “the city”.On top of that, there are lots of great restaurants with nearly all food that you can find around the world. I had Ethiopian there and it was delicious!
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (24) is not something obligatory, but as I went there I added it to the list as an extra spot for those who might be interested in this kind of museum.
I went there as a third choice on my Smart destinations pass. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a cool place for naval air force, aviation or navy. I am not a big fan, but I had never been in similar museum before (or I don’t remember), so it was a nice experience. I would not repeat it though. It is cool to see all the submarine’s equipment or huge warship from the inside and find out a bit more about history, but it is good to see it once.
Would you add anything to this list? Write in comment!