ViaHero · May 15, 2019
With five boroughs, millions of people, and hundreds of cultures mashed together, New York is maybe the most diverse and exciting city in the world. But with so much to do and see, what are the places you have to check out when you visit? Although the possibilities are endless, we’ve put together this list to include some of the city’s most fun, historical, and culturally interesting neighborhoods and attractions. These are the 20 places you need to visit in New York City. Any questions? Send us a message.
1. Greenwich Village / Washington Square Park
“The Village” is what New York is all about—a mashup of culture, history, and fun. Centered around Washington Square Park (another must-visit), Greenwich Village was for decades the center of bohemian life in NYC. Notable residents like Edgar Allen Poe and Bob Dylan wandered its tree-lined streets and alleyways, and the East Coast hippie movement was born in the shadow of Washington Square Arch. Today, New York University dominates most of this neighborhood. And though the area has lost a bit of its bohemian edge, it’s still a great place to soak up some authentic NY culture, grab a slice of pizza, and hit a student-beloved cafe.
Notable spots: Washington Square Park, Caffe Reggio (the original cappuccino), The Brown Building (site of the Triangle Factory Fire), and Union Square. Though really, this list is endless—make sure to chat with a New York local for hundreds more village recommendations.
2. Katz’s Deli / The Lower East Side
If you’re a meat lover, we guarantee that a Katz’s pastrami sandwich will be one of the best things you’ll ever eat. Founded in 1888, this beloved delicatessen is one of the last true hallmarks of the legendary Jewish Lower East Side. Tuck into a towering pastrami on rye with plenty of spicy brown mustard (but don’t you DARE use mayo) and marvel at the melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Afterward, work off those meat calories with a walk through the neighborhood—the Lower East Side has largely been incorporated into Chinatown and SoHo, but you can still find hallmarks of its fabled immigrant history if you know where to look.
Pro tip: The Tenement Museum is around the block, and very much worth a visit. Or, if you can still stand to eat after consuming your veritable meat mountain, head to Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery just down the street. This author’s grandfather used to go there with his father back in the 1920s, and it’s just as delicious today.
3. The New York Public Library / Bryant Park
Perched in Midtown, the main branch of the New York Public Library is so worth visiting. Constructed at the beginning of the 20th century, the building’s massive and gorgeous exterior is only overshadowed by the stunning reading rooms within. When you’re up there, don’t forget to wander through Bryant Park right next door—it’s a great people-watching spot, especially around lunchtime (since there are thousands of offices surrounding the park).
Pro tip: During wintertime, the Bryant Park lawn is transformed into New York’s most picturesque skating rink. And if you come in December, you might even catch the holiday market!
4. Trinity Church / Wall Street
Not just the site of the most important stock exchange in the world, Wall Street is also stuffed with interesting stuff to see. Check out the spot where Washington was inaugurated in 1789, stare up at some of the tallest buildings in the world, and make sure to go inside 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.
5. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ok, if we wanted to dive into all of New York’s great museums, we’d be here for years. But if we’re talking museums that you absolutely can not miss, we have to go with The Met, front and center. There’s just so much to see; you could literally—LITERALLY—spend days exploring it. Masterpieces of art, historical artifacts from all over the world, real ancient Egyptian temples, you name it. Simply put: it’s home to the treasures of civilization.
Pro tip: We’d really recommend planning out your visit to The Met beforehand; once you’re inside, you’re going to want to see…everything. In fact, we’d recommend planning an entire day around your visit—there’s plenty of stuff to do around the museum, and you’re not going to want to do much walking afterward.
6. Central Park
Saying you should visit Central Park is like saying you should visit Texas—it’s ridiculously nonspecific. Obviously, you need to see the highlights: The Great Lawn, Strawberry Fields, The Jackie O. Reservoir, etc. Just make sure to talk to an NYC expert before you go; otherwise, there’s a good chance you’ll miss out on the park’s real gems. Want to see where your favorite movies were filmed? Want to walk in John Lennon’s footsteps? Want to dive into the park’s amazing history? All you need is some local info.
Pro tip: Many people don’t realize it, but Central 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 Museum of Natural History.
7. The High Line / Chelsea Market
If you’re one of the few souls who hasn’t heard about the High Line, you’re in luck: you get to learn about it now! A 1.5-mile park perched above the West Village and Chelsea, the High Line was originally a huge section of elevated train track (prior to the subway, New York was crisscrossed with these elevated tracks).
In 2009, one of Lower Manhattan’s few remaining sections of elevated track was transformed into a beautiful park—the High Line (and it’s since been expanded even further). Our advice: grab a bite at the nearby Chelsea Market (a Nabisco factory-turned-gourmet-food-hall), head up to the park, and have a picnic with an amazing view.
8. The Brooklyn Bridge
The first bridge across the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge was constructed all the way back in 1883. And honestly… it’s absolutely worth visiting. Not only is the bridge beautiful and full of history, but it also offers one of the best walking paths around. Take an afternoon and amble across the bridge. The views alone make it worth it, but you’d be making a huge mistake if you didn’t grab a slice of Grimaldi’s pizza and hang out in Brooklyn Bridge Park afterward.
Pro tip: If you want an absolutely amazing view of the Brooklyn Bridge itself, think about walking over the Manhattan or Williamsburg bridges instead.
Until now, this list has been tragically Manhattan-oriented. But no more! If you know anything about New York, you’ll know that Brooklyn is where it’s at. And for good reason—since the 2009 real estate boom, it’s become increasingly difficult for artists, students, and young people to afford to live in Manhattan.
Enter Williamsburg. This North Brooklyn neighborhood was the first to experience the overwhelming gentrification that has now engulfed much of the city, and as a result, for many years Williamsburg was thought of as New York’s hipster capital. Today, however, the neighborhood has become so popular that many of its hipster residents have moved on—leaving an upscale, safe, and trendy neighborhood full of boutiques, fashionable eateries, and young families. Our advice? Have a local expert make you a personalized walking tour of Williamsburg so you don’t miss anything you want to see.
10. Coney Island
The birthplace of the amusement park, Coney Island is part-attraction, part-neighborhood, and part-history lesson. Known for many years as “New York’s playground”, Coney Island’s thrilling-and-terrifying boardwalk attractions fell into decline after their heyday in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
Today, however, the area is going through a resurgence. You can still ride The Cyclone (the world’s oldest functioning rollercoaster), grab a hot dog at Nathan’s (the ubiquitous NYC hot dog shop), and even catch a minor-league baseball game at MCU Park (go Cyclones!). Moreover, Coney Island has somehow managed to retain its creepy-yet-wonderful Victorian carnival-and-freak-show vibe, and is known for its unparalleled burlesque scene.
Pro tip: Coney Island officially “opens” every spring with the massive and amazing Mermaid Parade. This year the parade will be on June 22nd—if you’re in town, you NEED to get dressed up and join the revelry!
11. Brighton Beach / Little Odessa / Little Moscow
Just up the beach from Coney Island is a hidden gem that few outside of Brooklyn knows about: 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. If you’ve never had the opportunity to travel through Eastern Europe, don’t fret—grab a pirozhki and wander the streets of Brighton Beach instead.
12. Prospect Park
As fundamental to Brooklyn as Central Park is to Manhattan, Prospect Park is hands-down one of the greatest urban parks in the world. Spanning over 520 acres, it was designed by the same architects that created Central Park—but it’s much less crowded than its twin across the river. It’s also much wilder, and its hills and forests are filled with hidden nooks and crannies (think secret gardens and ponds). It’s also home to the Prospect Park Zoo and the criminally underrated Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
Pro tip: Make sure to check out Grand Army Plaza at the northern tip of Prospect Park. If you head over on a Saturday, you might even catch the weekly greenmarket!
13. Park Slope / Windsor Terrace
While building out your NYC itinerary, make sure to pair your visit to Prospect Park with a stroll around its surrounding neighborhoods. While each one offers something special, the neighborhoods that line the park’s western edge—Park Slope and Windsor Terrace—are particularly adorable. Developed at the end of the 19th century, these upscale neighborhoods are filled with traditional brownstones, huge trees, and adorable cafes. Basically, they’re exactly what you picture when you think of a traditional Brooklyn neighborhood.
Pro tip: If you haven’t had your fill of adorable Brooklyn neighborhoods, be sure to check out nearby Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens.
14. The Brooklyn Heights Promenade
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. 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.
Pro tip: Head over to the promenade at night. The lit-up skyscrapers are nothing short of magical. Super romantic too…
15. The Top of the Rock
Back into Manhattan we go! As you may have noticed, we haven’t yet mentioned your typical NYC tourist attractions—Midtown, Times Square, the Empire State Building, etc. And there’s a reason for that: they’re awful. Well, that’s not entirely fair, but you get the point—they’re packed with tourists, there’s not much to see, and they’re not very interesting. The one exception: Rockefeller Center.
While we wouldn’t recommend spending too much time in the actual area around Rockefeller Center, 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.
16. The Cloisters / Fort Tryon Park
A total hidden gem, 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 an absolute must.
Pro tip: 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.
17. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Yes, we know we said we weren’t going to talk about museums—but we just couldn’t leave the MoMA off a list of must-visit places in NYC! Why? Aside from The Met, it’s probably the most popular museum in the city. Be sure to check out the rotating exhibitions alongside the museum’s permanent collection—both are very much worth your time.
Pro tip: There are tons of art museums in New York, so chat with an art-loving New Yorker for recommendations on which ones you’ll like best.
18. Flushing, Queens
While Queens doesn’t offer much in the way of tourist attractions, New York’s largest borough does offer some amazing cultural experiences—for proof, look no further than the massive Flushing neighborhood. Home to sizeable populations of Asian, Hispanic, European, and Middle Eastern immigrants (as well as a large African-American community), Flushing is a one-stop-shop for amazing food, cool sights, and a look into the melting pot that is NYC.
Pro tip: Have a local trip planner make you a walking tour of the best Chinese dumpling spots in Flushing. Your tastebuds will thank you.
19. The East Village / Alphabet City
The hippest neighborhood outside of Brooklyn, The East Village is located at the junction of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side. At the beginning of the century, it was filled with immigrants. In the ‘80s, it was filled with drugs. Now, it’s filled with NYU students who need cheap housing.
And what is Alphabet City, you ask? Well, when you go far enough east, numbered avenues stop and lettered avenues begin. Example: east of 2nd Ave. is 1st Ave. East of 1st Ave. is Avenue A. East of that is Avenue B. Makes sense, no? These lettered avenues (A-D) are collectively known as Alphabet City. Like Greenwich Village, this area has lost much of its bohemian edge in the last 15–20 years (Rent takes place on Avenue B in the early ‘90s)—but it’s still a really fun place to hang out.
Notable spots: St. Mark’s Place (the epicenter of American punk), Tomkins Square Park, every sleazy dive bar you’ve ever known and loved.
20. The Statue of Liberty / Ellis Island
We end our list with 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 ubiquitous place in American history. The Statue of Liberty, a beacon of hope. Ellis Island, 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).
Pro tip: If you want an up-close view of both spots but don’t want to spend the day exploring them, consider taking the Staten Island Ferry to and from Staten Island. The ferry is completely free and sails right past the statue and Ellis Island. While there’s not much to see or do on Staten Island, the ride itself is lovely!
Ready to embark on your NYC trip of a lifetime? We thought so. Before you do, make sure to chat with a local NYC travel expert for help planning your itinerary. They’ll help you design your trip around what *you* want to see (because New York is *their* city) and help you avoid the numerous tourist traps. Plus, they’re on hand with 24-hour phone support if you need any help. Any questions? Feel free to message us. And don’t forget to check out:
- Connect With a Local to Plan Your Trip
- NYC Travel FAQ 2019
- Prices in New York—A Guide to Spending Money
- Places to Stay in New York City
- New York Budget Travel
- Things to Do in NYC 2019
- The Dos and Don'ts of New York Travel
- Transportation in New York City—A Guide
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