21 Best NYC Tourist Attractions
NYC is one of the most popular destinations in the world, so naturally there are a million different things to do and see around the city. It can be overwhelming for most, especially if it’s your first time visiting.
Avoid rushing and going crazy trying to decide what is best to see by checking out this list of the best NYC tourist attractions to include on your to-do list.
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I believe it’s a rite of passage to see a Broadway show on your first trip to the city. It’s one of the things NYC is most famous for. In fact, if you follow my travel blog, then you’ll know just how theater obsessed I am. The theater scene in NYC is the reason I moved to the city. I would go up to four times a week!
Since it’s the spot for world-class theater, you’ll likely get the chance to see a production that will blow you away and leave you with memories you’ll be talking about for years to come. I’ve seen pretty much everything playing, so if you need a show recommendation, let me know! I’m always thrilled to chat about the theater, especially when it’s guiding someone seeing their first show.
If you’re looking for a tour to supplement your Broadway experience, check these out!
The Empire State Building
Head up to the top of the Empire State Building for a view you’ll never forget.
I can still remember the first time my mom and I got to the top. We had just spent over an hour in line waiting to have our turn to see the view — and thank goodness it didn’t disappoint!
My only regrets were that we didn’t spring for the fast pass to the top, and that we didn’t time our visit to happen at sunset, because that truly would have been a next level experience.
Either way, if this building is on your to-do list, I highly suggest booking your visit early and splurging to skip-the-line — it’s worth it!
The Statue of Liberty
I think it’s safe to say that Lady Liberty is probably the most iconic New York tourist attraction of all. If you don’t at least glimpse her while you’re in town, you’ve made a mistake.
You can get a fantastic free view of The Statue of Liberty by hopping on the Staten Island Ferry, or get a close-up view by booking a tour. I think tours are way more exciting, especially if you want to learn a few fun facts about the statue or the neighboring Ellis Island.
You can’t visit NYC and not spend at least a few hours roaming around Central Park. This is truly the heart of the city. I bet I’ve spent hundreds of hours here over the last 15 years.
You need to plan some time to wander around the park, get lost in its beauty. Or plan a picnic, carriage ride, or pedicab tour to fully experience this iconic NY landmark.
No matter which option you choose, I can guarantee this magical park will quickly become one of your favorite spots in the city.
9/11 Memorial and Museum
I think everyone should at least swing by the 9/11 Memorial to pay their respects while in town. The two waterfalls are in the outline of where the Twin Towers once stood. It’s totally free to visit, and truly one of the most powerful spots in the city.
Afterward, I highly encourage you to plan to visit the museum. It’s a deeply moving experience and a true slice of New York history. You’ll see tons of artifacts and special exhibits, as well as hear stories from locals about 9/11 and the days following. Just book your entry ticket early, as tickets are limited in number and can sell out.
One World Observatory
One World Observatory is one of my dad’s favorite places to go anytime he visits me in the city. On a clear day, you can see up to six states, plus the elevator ride up is cool as they show how the city built up over the years in the 47 seconds it takes to get to the top.
I highly suggest planning to visit around sunset. That way, you’ll get an epic view of the skyline as the lights turn on across the city. This is also one of the busiest times to go, so you’ll want to book your tickets early.
Grand Central Terminal
Checking out the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal is a must while in NYC. The best part is that it’s totally free to visit.
You can marvel at the architecture and iconic constellation ceiling, then easily hop on the train to your next destination.
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is one of my favorite things to do when showing off NYC to visitors. I love grabbing a coffee and strolling over it either early in the morning when the city is quiet and just coming alive, or at night just before sunset.
The best part is there’s plenty to do on the Brooklyn side, including tons of spots to eat and shop.
American Museum of Natural History
There’s way more than just dinosaur bones at the American Museum of Natural History. You’ll also see Lucy, one of the most complete skeletons of early humans, plus the Great Blue Whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life.
Plan to spend a few hours wandering around, and book your tickets early for easy entry.
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
If you’re checking out NYC hotspots on social media, then chances are you’ve noticed there’s a new observation deck in town.
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt was basically created to be an Instagrammers dream, with its incredible views and mirrors, which give the visitor a gorgeous and unique perspective on the city.
Since this is the hottest observation deck of the year, I’d highly recommend booking your tickets early to guarantee you get the full experience.
Edge Observation Deck
Competing with SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is the new Edge Observation Deck in Hudson Yards.
It may not have tons of mirrors, but it has a killer view, and the option to scale the side of the building. It’s also the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere.
This is another attraction you’ll absolutely want to book ahead of time, since everyone wants to check out the skyline from that high up.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
More commonly referred to simply as The Met, this is easily my favorite museum in all of New York. I would visit once every few months when I was living in the neighborhood.
Here you’ll find one or two special exhibits, with at least one of those centered on fashion history. I suggest checking out whichever fashion exhibit is on, as normally they are really impressive.
Also, if you’re visiting during the summer, you must check out their special rooftop exhibition. It normally involves a cool sculpture on the roof, but the primary draw is the bar and stunning views of Central Park.
Everyone dreams of coming to New York to see the bright lights of 42nd Street. Take at least a few minutes to explore the area at night when it’s all lit up, or sign up for a walking tour of the Theater District during the day.
If you visit near midnight, check out the “Midnight Moment”. It’s a unique 3-minute nightly spectacular where all the screens showcase rotating art installations from around the world, from 11:57 PM to midnight.
The Intrepid Museum
Top Gun fans and history buffs will love visiting The Intrepid Museum.
The coolest part is that the museum is actually on an aircraft carrier that’s a National Historic Landmark. The museum even has the space shuttle, Enterprise, a Lockheed A-12, and a British Airways Concorde on display.
The Guggenheim is easily the coolest building in all of New York.
It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is one of 5th Avenue’s most iconic buildings. Plus, it’s one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in New York.
The museum houses an eclectic collection of recent and slightly older modern and contemporary art. The entry lines can end up going around the block, so book your entry ahead of time to avoid a long wait.
Who hasn’t dreamed of strolling down 5th Avenue laden with shopping bags, especially after watching Sex and the City?
For a quieter visit, stroll down 5th Avenue after a night on the town to admire all the lights without the crowds. This is my favorite way to enjoy the holiday lights, if you’re in NYC at that time of year. Or pull a Breakfast at Tiffany’s and grab a coffee and croissant to enjoy while you walk and watch the city come alive.
New York Public Library
Speaking of Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City fans will recognize the NYPL as the spot where she got jilted by Big, while architecture fans will appreciate the insanely beautiful interior and exterior design of this New York landmark.
The library offers free tours of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, just check the website to sign up early.
Top of the Rock
Top of the Rock is believed by some to have the best view of NYC, since you’ll actually get to see its most iconic building in the distance lighting up the skyline: the Empire State Building.
I like it because they have the option of dining or drinking downstairs at The Rainbow Room. It takes sightseeing to a new level, especially if you’re celebrating a special occasion. I’d recommend hitting up the observation deck first around sunset, then going down to grab a drink or dinner so that you get to enjoy the glittering skyline.
Like with most popular NYC tourist attractions, you’ll want to schedule your visit early for the best availability.
Radio City Music Hall
Obviously, if you’re in town during the holidays, seeing The Radio City Rockettes is a simple decision.
But what if you’re visiting during the rest of the year? Is it worth checking out Radio City? Absolutely!
Even though you’ll miss seeing the Rockettes, this old theater is still worth taking a peek inside. They host tons of ticketed events and concerts throughout the year, including The Tony Awards.
Whatever you do, just buy tickets early if you don’t want to be disappointed or pay over the odds. If there’s nothing exciting playing while you’re in town, booking a tour of the theater is a great chance to see this seriously impressive and historical space.
Whitney Museum of American Art
The Whitney Museum is a must-see for anyone who appreciates American art.
My favorite part of the museum are the films by Andy Warhol and paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The museum also has outdoor patios, which are a great place to take in a unique view of the city and The High Line.
I always enjoy visiting the museum in the morning when they first open, then grabbing lunch at their restaurant before strolling The High Line and finishing with a drink at Chelsea Market.
If you prefer modern art, visiting MoMA — or the Museum of Modern Art to give it its full name — is a must.
They always have really cool exhibits, some of the most unique art you’ll likely ever encounter, plus well-known pieces like Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. Just book entry early for the best experience, as the line to buy tickets in person gets quite lengthy, especially when they have special exhibits running.
Wrapping It Up
I hope you get to explore as many places as possible during your visit to NYC.
Just remember to not rush and enjoy every moment of the city and all the unique experiences it offers, and when in doubt, try booking a City Pass or bus tour to make the most of your visit.
Ally is on the adventure of a lifetime. She started it during one of the biggest epidemics of our time and she hopes to inspire others to travel. She shares valuable tips, explore other cultures, and push her boundaries in far-off places while living out of two suitcases!