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See New York City like a local. Work with a local to plan your trip.

20 Places to Visit in New York City Locals Love

ViaHero
Updated June 11, 2020

Places to visit in New York range from hidden gems to popular tourist attractions. With five boroughs and millions of people, you won't lack for spots to explore! But it can be hard to know where to begin. That's why we asked a few of our NYC locals about their favorite places to visit.  

Go beyond the guidebook by having an NYC local plan your trip. With their help, you'll see a side of New York that most tourists miss. Learn more.

"Linelly helped us beyond anything we could've planned ourselves. Everything she suggested for us was spot-on, and I feel we got the best experience by following a local's guidance."
Kate, Recent Traveler
Kate, Recent Traveler

#1: 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, 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.

Local Tip:

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

#2: 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 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.

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!

Local Tip:

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

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#3: 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 Deli and the always fascinating Tenament Museum

Local Tip:

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

#4: 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. Don't worry—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 to how to enjoy many of New York's museums for free. 

#5: Greenwich Village

Washington Square Park | 3005398/Pixabay

“The Village” is classic NYC—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 on 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.

#6: Trinity Church

Wall Street is the site of the most important stock exchange in the world, but locals tell us that you'll find lots of cool stuff to see in this area. 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.

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. 

#7: Chelsea

Chelsea | Javier Salido/Unsplash

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. 

#8: 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. 

#9: Central Park

Visiting Central Park is a lot of fun. Definitely 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.

#10: The Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge | LucillaDalPozzo/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. 

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 with 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. 

#11: 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!). 

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#12: 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.

#13: 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 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. 

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!

#14: Park Slope

Park Slope | Josh Wilburne/Unsplash

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 Greenwood Cemetary. It sounds weird, but this place is gorgeous—and full of the graves of esteemed New Yorkers. Plus it's free to visit! 

#15: 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.

Local Tip:

Head over to the promenade at night. The lit-up skyscrapers are nothing short of magical. Super romantic too…

#16: 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. 

#17: 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.

#18: 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, cool sights, and a visceral look into NYC's epic melting pot. 

Local Tip:

Definitely, definitely, definitely go here for dim sum. 

#19: The East Village

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), Tomkins 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

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 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). Go ahead and look up if your family passed through Ellis Island!

BONUS: Adventure to upstate New York

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

Work with a local 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?
Why not ask someone who lives there? ViaHero connects you with a local to help plan your trip. They’ll create a guidebook based on your personal travel style.
You’ll see a unique side of a destination and travel independently—all while saving time and money in the planning process. Find a local today.

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