There is a famous saying about New York City, which so well connects with our first trip experience here.
‘One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five year. ‘
From the moment we landed in NYC, the iconic city literally took over us. This place energizes, and inspires you to come out, and experience it to the fullest – day and night. There is so much on offer. Even mundane things like the subway, become a piece of art or an awesome performance center. The two weeks we spent here, was not enough.
We did a lot of research for this trip, and post our experience, we thought of writing a blog on our 20 best experiences in New York City. Yes 20. We started with a list of 10, and realized you can’t do justice to New York with only ten and hence made this into a Top 20 list.
Hope you enjoy reading it, and may this be a good starting point to explore this wonderful city. At the end of the description for each attractions, wherever possible, we have included a Visitor Tip, which may be useful in planning your trip.
This is my longest post yet and took me around 4 months to complete. So hope you like what is provided here!
No. 1 Thing to do in New York :
Broadway – Mecca of Real Entertainment
Even if you are not a theater buff, go watch a Broadway play, or a musical at one of 40+ venues @ Theater district, and believe me, this will be an experience you will cherish for ever.
Going to Broadway at New York’s Theater District is like visiting the mecca of real entertainment.
The first time we watched Broadway, was in London, we had no clue of what it was like –just wanted to experience it. So we got hold of the cheapest tickets, and went for a random show The experience was one of the best ever.
So this time in New York, we did a bit of research, and bought tickets for Les Miserables, one of the oldest running Broadway plays. The whole experience was so incredible. The quality of acting, and singing, is of the highest level, and watching them perform for over 150 minutes right in front of you, is simply awesome.
This is without a doubt, the No.1 thing we recommend in New York.
P.S If possible, watch this year’s Oscar Winner Birdman, and then visit Broadway you will appreciate the visit even more!
Broadway is not cheap, with tickets for a good show upwards of $200 peak season. If you are ok with watching any of the Broadway shows, you can save a lot of money by buying tickets on the same day at TKTS booths. There are 3 TKTS booths in NYC, one @ Times Square, @Brooklyn and at South Street Seaport. Times Square has the most crowds, so try and skip that. Visit one of the other venues and you have a better chance, since lines would be shorter.
You can also check at the ticket window directly, for lower priced tickets. We in fact, managed to get a cheaper ticket at the theatre itself, though it involves quite a bit of running around from one theatre to other
For every show, there is also a lottery, wherein, an hour before the show you can win tickets at real discounted rates. But there is no guarantee, and you may end up watching nothing that day.
No. 2 Thing to do in New York :
Times Square : Truly @crossroads of the world
Within an hour of us reaching New York, after a 16 hour flight, we were at Times Square. The excitement and energy here was enough to make us forget our jet lag, and prepare us for an awesome time ahead. This is what Times Square does to you.
Standing on that red carpet at Times Square, you have truly arrived at the crossroads of the world. And it’s this place which makes you realize why New York is so special.
The locals may hate this location, but as a tourist, especially first timer, I can’t imagine how you won’t like this. This would easily be among the top 10 destinations you would ever visit.
Times Square is truly at the cross roads of the world. With thousands and lakhs of people around you, the sight of what’s possibly the largest collection of brightly lit, biggest neon billboards, the iconic TKTS booth with red stairs, performances happening all around you, this place is simply a stunner. But I can’t write much about it, you need to feel the excitement and energy of the area. It’s really amazing.
Don’t eat anywhere @ Times Square area, the food is strictly ok, and expensive. Just walk around, and enjoy. See it both during the day, and night. It’s good fun. This place is so alive, 24×7, so go there even at 3 am, just to have fun!
Post Sunset, the place all lits up, and you can watch all the neon signboard in full glory. Great time to see Times Square.
No. 3 Thing to do in New York
Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island
Without a doubt, the Statue of Liberty is one of the most recognizable landmarks when you think of the United States, and not just New York. And therefore no trip here would be complete without a visit to the Liberty.
It’s easy accessible. You can reach the base using public transportation. And all you need is a short ferry ride to the Liberty Island. The ticket provides access to the island, however if you need access to the crown jewel you need to book at least 3-6 months in advance since there are limitation on intake.
The view of Liberty as you reach closer, and when you are right below it, against the backdrop of the blue sky is really stunning. You don’t realize the massive height of the statute till you are at the Liberty Island.
The ticket to the island includes a trip to Ellis Island, which is a wonderful place to study how the immigration took place back in history. It’s great to see how carefully this place is preserved for future generations to appreciate the hardships of immigrants, and their contribution to the American society.
You actually can experience this place from the point of view of an immigrant, and the various stages he had to undergo, to finally become American citizen. A truly emotional experience.
Statue of Liberty is ok for 30 minutes visit. There is really not much one can do on the island. Keep more time for Ellis Island, which requires more time to be truly appreciated.
The best views of Lady Liberty from the top deck, on the right side of the boat. You may get some of your best pictures from the ferry ride because all pictures taken from on the island will be looking up at the statue, rather than from straight on. You need to allocate 3-4 hours for the entire trip.
For Crown Jewel tour, book at least 3-6 months in advance.
No. 4 Thing to do in New York :
Roosevelt Tramway : Aerial View of Manhattan
Never fall in the trap of taking the helicopter tour to see New York. There is is a cheaper (well almost free), and more enjoyable experience for an aerial view of Manhattan. This is through Roosevelt tramway, which operates from 59th Street to Roosevelt Island.
This is a hidden gem, not many people may know about it, but certainly a fine New York Experience.
The 7 minutes journey gives you an aerial view of Manhattan, and you can click some stunning pictures. The best part. It’s free if you have a metro subway card. You can actually take unlimited rides!
Once at Roosevelt island, you can walk around the park, and get a good view of Manhattan and then hop back using the tram.
Since the base station of tram from the Manhattan side is a bit tough to find, it’s better to reach Roosevelt Island by the subway, and then once you exit the subway at Island, the tram station is right outside.
When you enter sit/stand in the forward direction to get a good view and pictures.
No. 5 Thing to do in New York :
Halal Guys, New York
I am not a foodie ,and yet this ranks so high in my list, can imagine how good this must be.
You must be wondering why a food cart is so high on this blog. Believe me, I was equally curious, when I first heard about them, during my research. Arguably the most well know street food in New York, it had over 6000 reviews with the highest rating. There must be something special here.
So we didn’t waste much time, once we were in New York.
On our second evening, we reached their location, which is midtown Manhattan. For 10 USD ( i don’t remember exactly now) for a chicken gryo plate you get most awesome food with white and red sauce. Even at 11 pm, there was a long line of people – tourist and locals for the food. One plate of chicken gryo is good enough for 2 people. Simply superb, and must be experienced.
Please be sure you are buying from original Halal Guys.. There are many which mention Halal on their food cart.
Midtown West, Theater District
6th Ave & W 53rd St
New York, NY 10019
Be really hungry when you come here or you may not enjoy this as much! There is no sitting place so be prepared eat, standing at one of the corners.
No. 6 Thing to do in New York :
Ground Zero, 911 Memorial Museum, St. Paul Chapel
Another place not to be missed during the NYC trip, would be Ground Zero and the 911 memorial museum. Its the place where the two iconic twin towers stood, and post 9/11 have been preserved as reflecting pools. It’s an emotional experience, just to stand there and reflect on the names of those who died during that fateful day. The whole place though crowded, is silent at the same time with many praying for those lost their lives in the attack.
You can also visit the 9/11 memorial museum, which is a beautiful experience, contains footage and remains of that day. It has various, audio video footage relating to 9/11 attacks.
Next to the museum, you will find the new One World Trade Centre, the new iconic building of New York. This is currently the tallest building in New York.
You can also visit St. Paul’s Chapel close to the 911 memorial. This was the place where most of the rescue workers slept and set as the base post the 9 11 attacks. You will find a lot of tribute about 9/11. Also the chapel, which George Washington visited.
The visit to the museum is free every Tuesday 5-7 pm. Book early online. And be prepared for huge crowds during that time.
No. 7 Thing to do in New York :
Empire State Building
Just like Statue of liberty, Empire State Building is yet another iconic landmark which is most associated with New York, thanks to the millions of times its shown in films and televisions to depict New York City.
The first time I saw the Empire State Building for real, from quite a distance, as we were approaching it was a special experience. The mere sight of the building from a distance, as it stood, towering over other buildings, was memorable. To finally visit this landmark, was like a dream come true. I could still recall that moment.
The ESB is a iconic landmark, and the second highest building in New York (after One World Centre), with stunning view of New York’s vast landscape seen from its 86th floor observatory.
Because of its popularity, the biggest problem with ESB is the waiting time; we went around 4 pm, on a clear sunny day, and found the wait time to be upwards of 4 hours. Since we stayed next to ESB, we came back again at 11 pm and this time, waiting was now only 20 mins.
It is extremely cold and chilly up there, but they have an enclosed observatory, which helps a lot.
You also have the Top of the Rock observatory, for views of New York. It is recommended you do TOTR during the day and ESB during night.
The biggest advantage of visiting ESB is the fact that it operates from 8 am right up to 2 am .Best times to go to avoid the crowd – first thing in the morning or after 9 pm.
If you don’t want to stand in queue they have an express pass which is worth $49 , but doesn’t make sense since you can always access it during night with no lines
Don’t listen to anyone who tries to sell you tickets outside or promises you a fast track visit.
No. 8 Thing to do in New York :
Grand Central Station
The best part about the Grand Central Station is that you don’t need to wait in line or spend too much time to appreciate this landmark. But a visit here would be enough to leave a lasting impression in your mind, about one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.
Since we were here during Christmas, the whole feel was even more festive and special, with lights and the Christmas tree providing a great visual treat. The main terminal building is where all the action is. The majestic staircases, the high walls, the iconic clock and buzzing atmosphere all make this real special visit. There is even an Apple iStore inside.
The basement has a lot of eateries, and was good place for us to grab a quick meal while travelling in all directions during our hectic travel.
Visit the Grand Central Station as a stopover while travelling between landmarks in NYC. You can even have a nice lunch at the basement, there is a large food court at the base level.
No. 9 Thing to do in New York :
Central Park : Where getting lost is purely intentional!
Central Park is yet another iconic landmark of New York City which we all have heard about and watched so many times on TV, and at the movies. So coming here is like a mini dream come true, and another tick off the bucket list
What is stunning about this place is that it’s really another world altogether. Spread over 700 acres, bang in the middle of the city, this is one place you can get lost easily, but enjoy the experience nonetheless.
We went there during Christmas, so it was damn cold and really could not enjoy the walks, but I can imagine how beautiful this place would be during spring season.
After all the fast paced enjoyment that NYC offers you, Central Park provides you the perfect opportunity to unwind and relax before hopping back to NYC life. Just take a stroll, sit, talk with your loved ones or alone and have a sandwich. A great way to spend half a day
Well there are many things to do at Central Park from our research, we went Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Fountain, Central Park Zoo, Loeb Boat House, and Strawberry Fields
No. 10 Thing to do in New York :
Wall Street and The Financial District
Go here on a weekday to really get a feel of this place, and to experience what it’s like to work in the most celebrated financial district of the world – ‘The Wall Street’. There is certainly something powerful in the air when you walk through these streets,
The most famous landmark, is of course, the Raging Bull just a few minutes’ walk from the Wall Street and is always crowded with people trying to get a pic and selfie!
You will also find the Trinity church right in the center of the financial district. The New York Stock exchange is yet another great landmark in this area and for those of us who are connected with stock markets it’s a great place to visit.
Spend 2 hours here. Battery Park and Staten Island Ferry is nearby from this place.
No. 11 Thing to do in New York :
5th Avenue Walk : Window shopping truly at its best.
If you are in New York, you can’t miss the walk along the 5th Avenue Street to experience the premier shopping street of the world.
Bang in the center of Manhattan, extending from around 34th street (starting from Macy’s) right up to 60th street ( the Apple store) you will find almost all the big brands having their premier stores here. During festive season, each store competes with the other in decorations and lighting and stunning window displays. Its a sheer delightful walk along the fifth avenue just to watch the window displays of all these stores.
The SAKS store is the most visited for its special laser light show which takes place every 8 minutes or so .
You can take this trip right after you visit central park and start from Apple store all the way up to Macy’s
Don’t miss the holiday show at SAKS its simply stunning
Time : 2 hours
No. 12 Thing to do in New York :
High line Walk
One of the most romantic places to spend an evening would be @ The Highline. It’s basically a landscaped walkway, built in place of an old elevated railway track, which is now extinct. So this elevated walk provides you fantastic views of the Hudson River on one side, and the city from the other. The whole walkway is beautiful with plants on either side. You even have benches at intervals, so you can spend time leisurely.
No. 12 Thing to do in New York :
Staten Island Ferry
One of the best free things to do in New York. Hop on to a Staten Island Ferry, which transports you from Manhattan to Staten Island in around 25 minutes free of cost! You get great views Manhattan, and Statue of Liberty. It’s a bit crowded but a great experience, and it costs nothing. This boat is huge in size and can accommodate like a thousand people in one go so really it’s a great fun way to spend time in New York.
The ferry runs every 30 minutes and the terminal is close to battery park.
No. 13 Thing to do in New York :
It’s easily, one of the most romantic things to do in New York. We went there early morning, and waked from Manhattan to Brooklyn side and then back after a quick stopover. The views on both sides are simply breathtaking and the whole atmosphere with so many people walking along with you, the bicycles zipping past and the vehicles below, make it a real memorable experience.
Don’t do this in a hurry. Enjoy the experience! Don’t walk along the bikers designated area.The views from Brooklyn to Manhattan side are the best.
No. 14 Thing to do in New York :
Top of the Rock
Situated at Rockfellar centre, the Top of the Rock provides great view of New York from its observatory. The views from top are really nice considering you also get to see the Empire State Building as background (which you can’t when you are at the ESB observatory) and Central Park.
Since this is a timed ticket, there is less rush and waiting time, so you can spend good amount of time watching the views and clicking photos. Do remember that the observatory has almost 3 levels, so once you reach here, visit the third level so you can take the best pictures first.
It’s advisable to go at TOFT in the morning and ESB in the evening since you can then see central park clearly else by evening it just looks like a dark patch.
No. 15 Thing to do in New York :
The whole experience of visiting the Cloisters Museum is what sets it apart from the other museums. It is located in a secluded part of Manhattan, you need to travel around an hour each way to reach this place. Its right up on a hill, and during the month of December, it was just lovely. The whole walk towards the museum on an elevated road, overlooking the Hudson river, early morning was a great experience.
The museum itself looks like a castle from the outside, and has a tiny entrance. The museum is relatively small, but incredibly personal. You immediately feel a connect with the exhibits, and want to learn more about them. Though I am not much a fan of museums but I enjoyed studying most of the exhibits.
You can easily visit the museum in 2-3 hours.
If you buy a ticket at Metropolitan Museum of Art ( MET) the same ticket would be valid at Cloisters too same day.
No. 16 Thing to do in New York :
Intrepid Air and Science Museum
If you love airplanes, submarines and rockets, you will love this place. But even if you don’t, this is a good one time visit.
We had heard a lot about this museum from our research, and it did not disappoint. Though a little expensive, it was certainly worth the experience.
There are three main aspects to the museum, the submarine , the space shuttle and the Concorde.
The submarine Growler was clearly the highlight for us. We personally enjoyed the Growler Submarine, since it was so unique and gave us a first-hand experience of a submarine and the living conditions inside it
Post the submarine visit, you can visit the three decks which have airplanes on display. All of them are very well maintained and extremely informative.
The space shuttle was kinda disappointing since it wasn’t real one so and since they charged additional for this one. I guess would not have done it again.
If you have less time you may skip this. However the submarine experience is unique.
No. 17 Thing to do in New York :
Chinatown is yet another must visit place in New York.
When you are in Chinatown, you are completely in a different world and there is nothing remotely New York in this part of town. All you can see is red signboards of restaurants and shopping places. And that’s what makes it so unique.
It’s not as organized and clean as other places in New York but that’s exactly the point. You are in for a different experience.
Beware of people selling you fake branded handbags and other accessories, you can try some Chinese food at good outlets (check yelp) but we suggest just walking across Chinatown is a unique and memorable experience.
Don’t buy anything. Don’t really expect anything from this place. Just enjoy the experience!
No. 18 Thing to do in New York :
New York Library
The exteriors of the New York Library is legendary. The two marble lions adorn the outside, and makes for a great background picture. The interiors are equally grand, from the lobby, to the staircase, the ceilings, and the many reading rooms; the whole experience is peaceful and wanting. You need to be silent at all times, and some of the reading rooms are not accessible to general public but that’s ok you still get a feel of the entire place. A great place to spend an one hour.
If one is interested there is a free guided tour which takes place at 2 pm on certain days.
No. 19 Thing to do in New York :
Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall
The Rockefeller center during Christmas is a magical experience. Possibly, the most famous and stunning Christmas tree towering over the famous ice skating rink, is simply outstanding. Thousands of people throng this place, trying to take a picture with the Christmas tree as the background. The whole atmosphere is buzzing during festive season.
The Rockefellar centre itself consists of around 20 building in the vicinity, and includes the Top of the Rock so when you visit TOTR you can also take a tour around. At the basement you will find many shops and eateries
During festive season its best to go late evenings. This can be combined with the 5th Avenue Walk
No. 20 Thing to do in New York :
Circle Line Cruise
The Circle Line Cruise is a great and lazy way to see the city. Just hop to one of the many 2 -3 hour cruise they offer, then sit back and relax.
The views from the sea along with the commentary are really a great way to get an overview of the city landmarks. The view of the Staten island and Statue of Liberty, is really the highlight of this cruise, and also the stunning Manhattan skyline at sunset when all lights are lit up is the best photo opportunity during this trip. You also get some nice views of the Brooklyn bridge
The boats frankly are not in the best of condition, pretty basic. Seats look old and weary. If you can accept that, its a nice way to see Manhattan.
Go early to get the best seat. The whole experience depends on where you sit. Don’t miss photo ops of the statue of Liberty and Manhattan Skyline
Bonus This to Do
Trip to Brooklyn
I can assure that any native Brooklynite would kill me for including Brooklyn in this list.
Brooklyn should not be one of the top 20 things do to when in NYC but rather have a list of its own.
Most tourists ignore Brooklyn completely and spend all their time in Manhattan. That’s a big mistake. Cause Brooklyn is the place where all people from NYC live and you have to truly experience this .
It’s so big that if it were to be a separate city it would be the 4th largest city in the US. I was fortunate to hear the wonderful history of Brooklyn by a native tour guide. Though we just spent very less time in Brooklyn, it is worth exploring this place more in future visits.
Don’t forget to eat at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory right under the Brooklyn Bridge.
So that was our list and I hope its a great starting point for you to plan your trip. Below are some of the other tips we would like to share and the itinerary we followed
- Use the 7 days Unlimited Metro Card. Travel by Subways is most convenient.
- The biggest challenge is finding the right exit out of the subway for your destination. You can save a lot of time if you know which exit to take. One of the Apps – Exit Strategy can help you in this.
- Since it was paid we did not go for it but later realized we should have as we spent some time figuring out the exits for each destination
- If you are staying for over 1 week makes sense to stay at two separate locality so its easier to explore different areas.
- We stayed at Staybridges Suites – Times Square and Hilton – Chelsea
- Staying close to major locations helps you maximize your experience time even though it may be a little expensive.
- Choose hotels close to the subways.
Travel from Airport
- We found the buses at the airport to be most convenient for transfer to our hotel since we were located close to one of the stops.
- CityMapper for Travel : I have mentioned in my blog that the best app for travel has to be Citymapper. ( http://www.stevannoronha.com/travel-in-london-know-more-than-locals-in-less-than-20-mins/)
- Fortunately this app was also avalaible for New York. It saved us a lot of time to travel
- Yelp for Food : Best App to decide where to head for food.
- Our Itinerary Can Be Downloaded Here .
- We didnt really stick to this beacuse of weather but it helped in planning our entire trip
- Also as a bonus we had a docket of all information we collected from the various websites and put it at one place. Its not organized but gives you a broad idea of the various places. Over 60 landmarks are listed with useful information. Pls. use this as only reference and do your own research for correct figures! Link to Docket
Hope you find this useful.
And finally, this is our pic at Times Square! Take care