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 locals about their favorite places to visit in NYC. Here's what they said:
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.
Regally perched in Midtown, locals tell us that the main branch of the New York Public Library is 1000% 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!
Don't forget to say hello to Patience and Fortitude, the famous lions keeping watch over the library's entrance.
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.
Pick up a pastrami sandwich at Katz. Then, walk off those meat calories by exploring the neighborhood!
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.
“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.
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.
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.
For a fun free activity (and a chance to take a picture of the Statue of Liberty) hop on the nearby Staten Island ferry.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
You can catch a minor-league baseball game at MCU Park (go Cyclones!).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Head over to the promenade at night. The lit-up skyscrapers are nothing short of magical. Super romantic too…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Definitely, definitely, definitely go here for dim sum.
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!
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!
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.