Even if you’ve never been to New York, you might feel like you have. Its iconic skyline and world-famous landmarks, from New York Public Library to Grand Central Station, have featured in many films and TV shows over the years, making this one of the most recognisable city’s on the planet.
It’s the perfect destination for sightseeing and discovering the parts of the city that have been used as a film set, seeing them come to life before your very eyes. However much you’ve seen on screen there’s no substitute for the real thing.
As well as exploring the city, there are also many attractions and plenty of things to do in New York. This may be the city that never sleeps but, with so much to fit in, you need to make a plan so you don’t miss anything.
New York at a glance
NYC’s busiest attractions, including the bright lights of Times Square, are situated in the heart of Manhattan, one of five boroughs in the city alongside Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. Across them you’ll find a number of neighbourhoods, including Chinatown, Harlem, Greenwich Village, Dumbo, Theatre District and Little Italy.
The most popular borough however, situated at the core of New York City, is Midtown Manhattan which is home to the city’s most iconic sights and attractions.
Are you planning a trip to the USA? Read on to make sure you make the most of your time in one of the country’s most famous cities.
Travel advice when visiting New York
Data from the FBI has found that New York is one of the safest big cities in America. Over the last three decades, crime rate has decreased significantly and it is now safer than any other time in recorded history. However, you should make sure you have insurance, so you are covered if anything does happen.
Crimes against tourists are rare but one thing you should be aware of is pickpockets. Leave valuables that you don’t need in a hotel safe and make sure any items you do have on you are kept close by. As with any major city, it is important to keep your wits about you and be aware of your surroundings. Remember, jaywalking is prohibited in America, so make sure you cross at designated crossings and obey the signs.
There are several ways to travel around New York and visit other parts of America. Not only is it a historic landmark, Grand Central Station is also part of the Metro-North Railroad with three main lines, the Hudson, the Harlem and the New Haven. Alternatively, you can jump in one of the famous yellow taxicabs, which can pick up and drop off in any of the boroughs.
You can also use the subway to get around. As well as being one of the largest and oldest in the world, it is the most popular way to get around in New York. If you would prefer to be above ground, you can take the bus, including the hop on hop off. This will take you from Upper Manhattan through Midtown and towards Lower Manhattan. You’ll go past the city’s many landmarks, taking in the view from the top deck and seeing parts of New York you otherwise wouldn’t have seen, with added commentary.
Average accommodation costs
On average you can expect to pay between $150 to $300 a night depending whether you visit in low or high season.
Popular New York attractions
New York is home to some of the most famous and visited tourist attractions in the world. While there will be few you haven’t heard of before, you might like to know a little more about them if you plan to join the 60 million annual visitors.
1. Statue of Liberty
Did you know that the Statue of Liberty or, as it is officially known, Liberty Enlightening the World, was a gift from France for America’s 100th birthday? It is 100 metres from the base to the tip of the torch and on a clear day it can be seen from many miles away. You can join a tour to head over to Liberty Island, taking in the Lower Manhattan skyline during the journey. As well as getting close to the statue, you can even go up to the crown if you are happy to climb the 393 internal steps to reach the top.
2. The Empire State Building
A trip to New York wouldn’t be complete without seeing one of its most iconic buildings, and the Empire State Building dominates the skyline both during the day and when it is illuminated at night. At 443 metres, it was the tallest building in the world when it was first built in 1930 and kept the record until 1970 when it was overtaken by the World Trade Center. You can head up to the observation deck on floors 86 and 102 until 2am. Alternatively, you can go to the ‘Top of the Rock’ at the Rockefeller Center to look across at this famous building.
3. 9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center
While the tallest building in the world may now be in Dubai, the One World Trade Center is the tallest in the western hemisphere at 546 metres to the tip. The observation decks, which can be found on floors 100 and 102, can be reached in just 60 seconds. On the site of the former Twin Towers, you’ll also find Ground Zero. The twin reflecting pools are an acre each and lined with the names of the 3000 victims who lost their lives – some will be accompanied by a white rose to signify a birthday.
The best things to do in New York City
Whether you are a sports fan and would like to see the New York Yankees play at their stadium in the Bronx or watch your favourite band at Madison Square Gardens – dubbed ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena’ – there is something for everyone here. Some attractions you’ll have to book in advance to ensure you don’t miss out, while others you can walk in and won’t cost you a dime.
Here are just a few of the things you might like to do while you are in New York City:
Fly in a helicopter and take in the skyline
There are plenty of observation decks to choose from at the top of the city’s many skyscrapers but flying above the world-famous skyline in a helicopter and getting an aerial view is a truly magical experience. There are various flights to choose from, each one lasting approximately 15 minutes. You’ll enjoy a bird’s eye view of the landmarks with commentary from the pilot.
See a show on Broadway
There are 41 historic Broadway theatres just off Times Square in the Theater District. The Lyceum Theatre is one of the oldest and the first, in 1974, to be granted landmark status. There are a number of long-running shows, many of which have won Tony Awards, as well as new releases that can be seen before they come to the West End. You could be watching The Lion King, The Book of Mormon, Aladdin, Wicked or Hamilton – to name just a few.
Wander along the High Line
Head to the west side of Manhattan where you’ll find this elevated freight line. This mile and a half long ‘park in the sky’ dates back to the 1930s when it was used to deliver goods from the meatpacking district to West 34th Street. It was due to be demolished in 1980 but instead became the green space it is today, filled with trees and flowers 30ft above the city. As you wander through this tranquil area you’ll be able to take in views across the Hudson.
Excursions in New York
Staten Island is actually one of New York’s five boroughs. There is a free ferry that will take you here in just 25 minutes from Lower Manhattan. It is often used by tourists because you can see the Statue of Liberty from it, albeit from a distance. When they arrive on the island, many tourists turn around and head straight back to see it again. But it is worth taking some time to see what this borough has to offer.
As well as heading over to Liberty Island on the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty you may also like to hop off at Ellis Island to spend a couple of hours exploring and visit the immigration museum. While in New York Harbour you can also visit Governors Island, which is open from the beginning of May to the end of October.
Long Island is situated just outside New York, making it the perfect destination for a day trip. Far away from the hustle and bustle of the city you’ll find white sand beaches lapped by a turquoise sea that offers the perfect conditions for surfing. Here you’ll find some of the best beaches in America including Main Beach and Long Beach, which is only 45 minutes from New York by train.
Food and drink in New York
Food is a big part of American culture, soft drinks are often bottomless and both savoury dishes and desserts are piled high. One thing is for sure, you won’t go hungry in New York!
You’ll find cuisines from across the world but there are a few dishes that this city is known for.
You can expect to be eating pastrami – which is particularly popular with rye bread here. This is best sampled in Katz’s Delicatessen – which has been serving sandwiches since 1888 and is one of the most famous restaurants in the city.
A visit to the Big Apple also wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Shake Shack, a burger bar that started life as a food cart in Madison Square Park.
Pizza, or the dollar slice as it is sometimes known, bagels and hot dogs – which can be consumed 24-hours a day at Gray’s Papaya – are all staple dishes. For dessert you can look forward to a mouthwatering range of cheesecakes, washing it all down with coffee or a milkshake.
There are more than 75 Michelin-starred restaurants in the city, showing that it does fine dining just as well as it does fast food.
The city is also home to Smorgasburg, America’s largest weekly open food market. You can browse the 100 local vendors and sample their produce on Saturdays in Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn and on Sundays in Prospect Park. The New York Times has described it as ‘The Woodstock of Eating’.
New York at night
There’s a reason that New York is known as ‘the city that never sleeps’ – you’ll find many bars serving alcohol right through until 4am.
House Of Yes in Brooklyn came second in Time Out’s ‘50 best things to do in the world right now’. As well as DJs you’ll see circus performers, aerialists, burlesque dancers, magicians and so much more. It is known for its ‘out-there’ events and party-goers turning up in fancy dress.
There are also a number of Speakeasy bars to look out for in New York. One to visit is Please Don’t Tell in St Mark’s Place, which can be reached via a telephone booth in the back of a hot dog restaurant, Crif Dogs. The details of this bar are kept under wraps and you’ll need to make a reservation if you want to visit.
Is New York safe at night?
New York is largely safe at night, despite its reputation among some as a dangerous city. As mentioned above, it is actually one of the safest large cities in America and in the last decade alone, violent crime has fallen by half.
However, as with any major city, it is important to be aware of your surroundings, especially after dark. Stay with the crowd and avoid walking down quiet, dimly-lit roads – if you don’t feel safe, take a cab. Make sure you don’t carry any unnecessary valuables, keep any you do have out of sight and be aware of pickpockets.
Shopping in New York
This city is famed for shopping. It’s often referred to as one of the world’s fashion capitals and is home to the flagship store of some of the world’s biggest brands.
Fifth Avenue, which can be found in the centre of Manhattan, is where you will find many of these shops. Head here for the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch, Tiffany & Co., Prada, Gucci, Sephora, and Louis Vuitton. Make sure you don’t miss Saks Fifth Avenue, the luxury department store is among the most famous in the country.
The Meatpacking district, West Village and Chelsea are also great destinations for shopping with the perfect mixture of brands and boutiques. While Greenwich Village, Williamsburg and SoHo are the places to go for the city’s quirkiest boutiques.
A trip to New York wouldn’t be complete without a spot of retail therapy in Macy’s – America’s largest department store. You’ll find more than 10 floors at Herald Square.
New York Culture
New York’s most famous art gallery is also one one the largest in the world, stretching for a quarter of a mile and housing more than two million works of art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art or The Met, as it is also known, is situated on Fifth Avenue on the edge of Central Park. The building also boasts a rooftop terrace where you can take in the view with a cold drink after you have admired the art.
The Museum of Modern Art – or MoMA – can be found in Midtown Manhattan. Here you can see art that dates back to the 18th century through to the present day. Star pieces are Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
Step inside the Guggenheim Museum, in Upper East Side, to see work by Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso. The unusual shape of the building is as famous as the artwork that it holds.
Chelsea is the neighbourhood to discover the city’s art, while many of New York’s walls are decorated with street art. The Bowery Wall Mural is where Keith Haring painted a mural in 1982. It has since been used for commissioned murals, which change regularly.
Outdoor adventure in New York
There is only really one place to head to for outdoor adventure in New York and that is Central Park.
The 840-acre oasis offers a tranquil escape within the concrete jungle. Here you can get up in the morning and stretch during a yoga class or whizz around an ice rink during winter. You can also take a boat on the lake, enjoy the open-air theatre, listen to live music and come face to face with wildlife at the zoo. There is so much to discover. Either wander around at your own pace, hire a bike or take a guided tour on a pedicab or even horse and carriage.
A trip to the Big Apple wouldn’t be complete without seeing the landmarks and attractions that it is famous for. But, you may want to step off the well-trodden tourist trail and find some of the city’s hidden gems too.
You can take the Roosevelt Island Tramway to reach this island, which is technically part of Manhattan. The tram is an experience in itself as you take in wonderful views of the city. Once you arrive on the island, that was once home to asylums and prisons, you can visit Blackwell House, the sixth oldest in New York and the ruins of a Smallpox Hospital from 1856.
Coney Island, just across Brooklyn Bridge, is open from spring until autumn with an amusement area that boasts more than 50 rides and attractions, including white-knuckle roller coasters. Once you have been on the rides, you can come face-to-face with sea life at the aquarium and relax on the sandy beach.
Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
In the heart of Brooklyn you’ll find 52 acres of botanical gardens, dating back more than 100 years to 1911 when it was opened. Within the grounds you’ll discover the Japanese gardens, which was one of the first of its kind in the country. As you wander around this peaceful setting you’ll also see more than 18,000 types of plants. Make sure you go to the indoor tropical gardens and see the bonsai trees.
Best time to visit New York City
The best time to visit New York City is from April to June and September to early November. In these months the weather is warm but not too hot and the city is slightly quieter, so you can wander around the city in pleasant temperatures as you explore the attractions and avoid long queues and crowds. Christmas is also a wonderful time to be in NYC.
Now you know what there is to do in the Big Apple you can start planning your trip to make the most of your time in this popular city.
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