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21 Places to Visit in New York City Locals Love

Updated September 19, 2023

There are endless places to visit in New York City, the City that most definitely never sleeps. What are the best places to visit in NYC? Since locals know best — and our team is based in New York City — we asked some locals about their favorite spots across the Big Apple for the adventure seeker, the foodie, or the history enthusiast. 

Whether you’re visiting NYC or planning a staycation, work with a local to plan your trip. Our locals in New York will plan a safe trip away from the crowds—full of up-to-date info you might not find online. Learn more.

#1: Greenwich Village

Washington Square Park | 3005398/Pixabay

“The Village” is a classic NYC neighborhood—a mashup of culture, history, and fun. Centered around Washington Square Park (another locally beloved spot), Greenwich Village was for decades the center of bohemian life in NYC. Retrace the steps of NYC luminaries like Bob Dylan!

With easy proximity to other neighborhoods, Greenwich Village is an excellent place to stay in NYC. And you don't have to break the bank. Finding a hostel through HI USA is a great way to keep your trip under budget—without sacrificing location. 

Local Tip:

You'll find the famous Comedy Cellar near Washington Square Park, but don't get stuck in tourist traps—there are tons of other comedy shows nearby, and many of them are free.

#2: The Brooklyn Heights Promenade

Brooklyn Heights Promenade | Shinya Suzuki/Flickr

Right across the river from downtown Manhattan, the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood isn’t just a collection of historical townhouses and fancy restaurants—it’s also home to one of the greatest views in the world. One of the most iconic viewing areas to see the expansive views of the East River and Manhattan skyline is the rooftop bar and restaurant at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. The Brooklyn Heights Promenade, a public park running along the riverfront, offers the ideal view of Lower Manhattan’s gargantuan skyscrapers. If you’re looking for your ideal NYC photo-op, this is it.

Local Tip:

Head over to the promenade at night. The lit-up skyscrapers are nothing short of magical. Super romantic too if you are in the market for a much-needed date night

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#3: The New York Public Library (Central Branch)

New York Public Library | Clay Banks/Unsplash

Regally perched in Midtown, locals tell us that the main branch of the New York Public Library is 100% worth a visit. Constructed at the beginning of the 20th century, the building’s massive and gorgeous exterior is only overshadowed by the stunning reading rooms within and the endless book options that it houses.

See NYC like the locals do. Our local trip planners in NYC say that NYPL usually offers cool, free exhibits as well. They also suggest taking the time to wander through the nearby Bryant Park. It's a great spot for people-watching! If reading at the library is not your vibe, but you are a bibliophile, check out Strand bookstore in Union Square. This is a landmark shop with one of the largest literary inventories. 

Local Tip:

Don't forget to say hello to Patience and Fortitude, the famous lions keeping watch over the library's entrance.

#4: Williamsburg

Williamsburg, in North Brooklyn, is thought of as New York’s hipster capital. Here, you'll find tons of colorful street art, vinyl stores, thrift shops, and many of NYC's coolest breweries. On that note, locals suggest visiting East Williamsburg, where you can find locally beloved breweries like Grimm's and a beautiful view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Local Tip:

If your trip lands on a weekend, check out Smorgasburg, a lively market (open-air in the summer) that offers a diverse selection of international food from 100+ vendors. 

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#5: The Lower East Side

The Lower East Side of Manhattan bursts with classic NYC “cool.” Here, locals tell us you'll find off-the-beaten-path gems like the feminist Bluestocking bookstore, as well as NYC institutions like Katz's Deli and the always fascinating Tenament Museum. There are even a few dance clubs if you are in the mood to get your groove on.

Local Tip:

Pick up a pastrami sandwich at Katz. Then, walk off those meat calories by exploring the neighborhood or dancing!

#6: The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Museum of Modern Art | Lenny21/Pixabay

Our NYC trip planners tell us that you can't leave the MoMA off a list of must-visit places in NYC. Aside from The Met, it’s probably the most beloved museum in the city. Be sure to check out the rotating exhibitions alongside the museum’s permanent collection—both are worth exploring.

MoMA is $25 to visit but free on Fridays. Also, if you are traveling with children under 16, their admission is free. Don't worry if that’s not within your budget—there are plenty of ways to enjoy New York's vibrant art scene if you're traveling on a budget. You just need to know where to look! Our trip planners can suggest their favorite art galleries in town, or tip you off on how to enjoy many of New York's museums for free. 

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Sierra, recent ViaHero traveler to Portugal

#7: Trinity Church

Wall Street is the site of the most important stock exchange in the world, but locals tell us that there are plenty of things to do even when the finance and investment bankers go home. Check out the spot where Washington was inaugurated in 1789, find the nicks left by the bombing of 1920, and make sure to visit Trinity Church, where some of our Founding Fathers are buried (including Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler). Afterward, walk a few blocks down to the southern tip of Manhattan Island, where New York’s original Dutch settlement was located. Don’t forget to check out the Wall Street Bull and the famous statute of the Fearless Girl.

Local Tip:

For a fun free activity (and a chance to take a picture of the Statue of Liberty) hop on the nearby Staten Island ferry.

#8: Chelsea

The High Line in Chelsea | Wikimedia Commons

Artsy and colorful, locals tell us that Chelsea is a joy to explore. Spend an afternoon wandering the High Line, an elevated-railroad-turned-park, grab lunch or a mouthwatering snack from the Chelsea Market, and dip into one of the neighborhood's high-end galleries to see work by some of the world's most famous artists. If you’re not hungry, Chelsea Market also has a number of shopping stores so you can bring a souvenir (or two) back home.

#9: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met | ram0nm/Pixabay

It can be hard to know where to start in NYC—especially when it comes to the city's incredible museums. Our trip planners suggest prioritizing a visit to The Met

The museum has a fantastic collection. You could literally—LITERALLY—spend days exploring it. Masterpieces of art, historical artifacts from all over the world, real ancient Egyptian temples—the Met has it all. 

Local Tip:

It is free to visit The Met museum on Tuesdays from 5 pm to close.

#10: Central Park

Visiting Central Park is a lot of fun, especially on a Citibike. Rent a bike with the click of a button to see the highlights: The Great Lawn, Strawberry Fields, The Jackie O. Reservoir, etc. But for a unique perspective, see what locals say about Central Park.

Our local trip planners note that the park is massive—it spans from 59th Street (Midtown) all the way up to 110th (Harlem). And there’s tons of stuff to see right along the borders of the park, like the Upper West Side, The Dakota (where Lennon was killed), and The American Museum of Natural History. Or, you can take a long stroll through one side while nursing an iced coffee.

#11: The Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge | dfsym/Pixabay

More than 100 years old, the wooden Brooklyn Bridge is iconic. Locals tell us that, yes, you'll encounter lots of tourists here. But it's worth it! (If you want to avoid the crowds, aim to visit early in the morning.) It's tough to beat the incredible view of Manhattan when you walk over from Brooklyn. Make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes for the long walk.

Enhance your trip with local knowledge. Crossing the bridge is fun in either direction, but our trip planners say if you hang out in Brooklyn you can explore the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge Park. And treat yourself to a slice of Grimaldi’s pizza

Local Tip:

If you want to stroll across a bridge but avoid the crowds, cross the Manhattan or Williamsburg bridges instead. They're parallel to the Brooklyn Bridge, so you'll still get an incredible view. There are fewer people—but you'll share the bridge with some noisy subways.

#12: Coney Island

Coney Island | Benjamin Voros/Unsplash

The birthplace of the amusement park, Coney Island is part attraction, part neighborhood, and part history lesson. 

Locals suggest riding The Cyclone (the world’s oldest functioning rollercoaster) and grabbing a hot dog at Nathan’s (the ubiquitous NYC hot dog shop).

Local Tip:

You can catch a minor-league baseball game at MCU Park (go Cyclones!).

#13: Brighton Beach

Use local knowledge to get off the beaten path. Our trip planners tell us that up the beach from Coney Island is a hidden gem: Little Odessa. 

Centered around the Brighton Beach neighborhood, Little Odessa (also known as Little Moscow) is home to a massive population of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants. Locals suggest grabbing a pirozhki and wandering the streets of Brighton Beach.

#14: Prospect Park

Prospect Park | Julio Rivera/Unsplash

If you're going to explore NYC like a local, then you've got to see Prospect Park. Our trip planners rave about the immense beauty of this Brooklyn gem, which spans over 520 acres. Both Central Park and Prospect Park were designed by the team of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux—but, reportedly, they viewed Prospect Park as their masterpiece

You'll find fewer people in Prospect Park, and way more locals than in the more touristy Central Park. Here, you can explore the beautiful Brooklyn Botanical Gardens as well as the park's winding trails, bridges, waterfalls, and peaceful lakes. In the summer, you’ll find groups of friends, families, and lots of adorable dogs enjoying an afternoon in Prospect Park.

Local Tip:

Make sure to check out Grand Army Plaza at the northern tip of Prospect Park. The enormous Civil War memorial there is fascinating to see. And if you head over on a Saturday, you'll catch the weekly Greenmarket!

#15: Park Slope

As you explore Brooklyn, use insider tips to see a side of this borough that most miss. Our trip planners suggest pairing a trip to Prospect Park with a stroll around its surrounding neighborhoods.

Park Slope, to the west of the park, is full of traditional brownstones and hip cafes. If you're looking for a free thing to do in NYC, walking the neighborhood on foot is a cool way to rub elbows with locals, enjoy some classic Brooklyn beauty, and get off the beaten path.

Local Tip:

Check out the nearby Green-Wood Cemetery. It sounds weird, but this place is gorgeous—and full of the graves of esteemed New Yorkers. Plus it's free to visit!

#16: Flushing, Queens

Dim sum | chaliceks/Pixabay

If you're looking to get off the beaten path and enjoy incredible food, look no further than Flushing, Queens. Our trip planners tell us that Flushing is home to a diverse community—it's a one-stop-shop for delicious cuisine including Indian and Asian food like dumplings and ramen, cool sights, and a visceral look into NYC's epic melting pot. Flushing is also home to the Mets who play at the newly renovated CitiField, so you may even want to catch a baseball game if it’s during their playing season.

Local Tip:

Take the 7 train to Main Street, Flushing and spend hours eating dim sum, lo mein, and drinking bubble tea.

#17: The Top of the Rock

Locals say they wouldn't recommend spending too much time in the area around Rockefeller Center, but the view from the top of the building—“The Top of the Rock”—is totally worth it. From there, you can actually *see* the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, 1 World Trade Center, etc. in all their glory.

Local Tip:

Looking for a rooftop view on a budget? Hit up a rooftop bar. While the drinks aren't budget-friendly, locals tell us you can usually enter a rooftop bar without paying a cover. If you don’t drink alcohol, enjoy a mocktail or a soda and enjoy a beautiful sunset.

#18: The Cloisters

A total hidden gem, locals note that The Cloisters are unknown even to many New Yorkers. The backstory: almost a century ago, industrialist John D. Rockefeller Jr. purchased four medieval French cloisters and had them moved, brick by brick, to Fort Tryon Park. There, they were reassembled and filled with medieval art from several private collections. Rockefeller even bought the land directly across the river and refused to develop it (to retain the rustic feel). If you can make it up to 190th Street, a walk in this historical park—and a visit to The Cloisters—is a cool way to spend the afternoon.

If you’re nervous about walking around this far uptown, you’ve been watching too much SVU—New York is very safe these days. If you’re still nervous about exploring on your own, though, we’d recommend getting some insider safety tips from a New York local.

#19: The East Village

East Village from above | Chris Ford/Flickr

Manhattan's East Village is chill. Here you'll find free comedy shows in the back of bars, hidden speakeasies, tiny bookstores, and streets filled with colorful graffiti.

Locals suggest checking out St. Mark’s Place (the epicenter of American punk), Tompkins Square Park, and as many dive bars as you can find. 

Since we're all about sustainable travel, we'd recommend staying at a Kind Traveler property. They're the first socially conscious hotel booking and sustainable travel media platform—staying with them empowers travelers to positively impact communities and the environment in the destinations they visit!

#20: The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

You can't miss these two tourist treasures: The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Located on neighboring islands in New York Harbor, these attractions are worth the visit simply for their place in American history. The Statue of Liberty is a beacon of hope. Ellis Island is the harsh reality of the immigrant experience. Both are accessible via the frequent ferries that leave from Battery Park (at the southern tip of Manhattan). Go ahead and look up if your family passed through Ellis Island!

#21: Hudson Yards

Though a newer neighborhood, Hudson Yards is not one you want to miss. Here you can visit the very-Instagrammable Vessel, an open-air, 150-foot-high structure that looks like a honeycomb. Or, you can go shopping in the upscale indoor shopping mall. If shopping isn’t your thing, be sure to visit Van Leeuwen Ice Cream for an authentic pint of NYC-style dessert.

Local Tip:

The 7 train is the easiest way to get to Hudson Yards, or you can take the express bus M34-SBS if you want a scenic view.

BONUS: Adventure to upstate New York

Fall in upstate New York | John Marquis/Flickr

Part of New York's immense charm is how easy it is to get to nature. And the nature upstate is spectacular. In June 2020, ViaHero launched in Hudson Valley and the Catskills! Now is the perfect time to plan a weekend getaway from NYC

So, how to get there? Renting a car is a great way to have control and privacy during your trip (although Metro-North is a good option as well).

If you have a big group and are eager for an adventure, we recommend a service like Bus.com. They connect travelers with vetted bus partners across North America, which makes it easy to plan large-scale transportation (even with complicated routes or multiple vehicles).

Plus, you'll have choices between buses or vans, and using a driver or driving yourself. Learn more about Bus.com

Whatever you chose, work with a local who can help plan your visit. They'll provide local insight on best practices for social distancing, hiking trails, and exploring their hometowns. Learn more

Still have questions about travel to New York City?
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