Things to Do in New York City

This post has information on the best things to do in New York City. Below you can find links to information on the city’s top attractions, museums, points of interest, kid-friendly activities, food, self-guided tours of over 20 neighborhoods, and suggestions for things to do at night.  Each link leads to a much more comprehensive page on that particular topic.  Be sure to consider one of our pay-what-you-wish tours to explore these neighborhoods.  


Top Attractions + Museums

Things to Do with Kids

By Neighborhood

Suggested Itineraries

Free Things to Do

Things to do at Night

Seasonal and by Month

Taste New York Food


 

 

TOP 10 FREE THINGS TO DO IN NEW YORK CITY

You will be pleasantly surprised at how many things there are to do in NYC that won’t cost you a dime! From world-class museums to boat rides offering stunning skyline views, you could keep yourself occupied for several days and only spend money on accommodations and food and transportation unless you like to walk.  As for those necessary costs, below you will find tips on how to keep those costs down. 

For hundreds of other free things to do, check out our post “Free Things to Do in NYC”.  Be sure to also check out our “Guide to NYC on a Budget“.

 


1. Take a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge  Brooklyn-Bridge-pedestrian-view

This bridge is loved by locals who never tire of the sense of freedom one feels when walking across the bridge. Tourists love it because of the incredible skyline views. Whether you join one of our pay-what-you-wish Brooklyn Bridge Tours or go on your own, this is a walk you absolutely should make while in New York City.  We also have a GPS audio tour that includes one of the Bridge.

Read our “Visitor’s Guide to Walking the Brooklyn Bridge” which has some helpful tips to making your walk unforgettable.  

 


2.   Ride the free Staten Island Ferry  (day or night!)

Take a free ferry ride from Manhattan to Staten Island and back again. Whether you ride it during the day or at night, you will get spectacular views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Our guide to Riding the Staten Island Ferry should come in handy. Be sure to plan your free ferry ride so that you can take our free, pay-what-you-like Lower Manhattan Tour before or after.  

Read our full post on how to ride the Staten Island Ferry for more details.

 

 
 

3.  Visit the 9/11 Memorial  

911-Memorial

Located in a simple, spacious wide-open plaza in Lower Manhattan, this memorial to the lost lives of 9/11 is an essential feature of New York City.  Its massive twin fountains are an architectural wonder and a must-see. Click here to find out about how to visit the Memorial. 

We suggest that you consider a tour of the Memorial to learn the history of the Twin Towers, the construction of the Memorial and gain insight into the significance of the Memorial’s design. We offer several pay-what-you-wish tours: a World Trade Center Tour, which focuses on the Memorial (Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2 pm). We also have an audio tour of the Memorial.

 


4.  Stroll through Central Park 

Central Park

This pastoral escape from the hustle and bustle of the city streets is everything you imagined it would be. Wide open spaces, shady trees, ponds and lakes surrounded by the beautiful buildings that line the park’s perimeter which, by the way, is 2.5 miles (4023 m) long and 1/2 a mile (804 m) wide. 

We offer several different pay-what-you-wish Central Park tours, but we know that many travelers prefer to explore at their own pace. Check out our GPS-enabled audio tour and our post Things to Do in Central Park which includes a free self-guided tour, maps, and activities for kids.

 


5.  See the splendor of Grand Central Station 

Grand-Central-Terminal-inside

From its massive celestial ceiling to its secret ‘whispering gallery’, there is no train station like it in the world. Simply called Grand Central for short, the station is actually a terminal that includes local subways as well as dozens of train tracks destined for locations as far as 3 hours out of NYC. Seeing its beauty is nice, but Grand Central is so much more impressive when you learn the truly fascinating history (and some secrets).

We recommend taking a tour of some kind and in our post, Grand Central Terminal Tours, we review and compare various tours, including our own guided pay-what-you-like tour. Whether you explore alone or join a tour, Grand Central should be on your list of must-sees.

 


6.  Walk the High Line – day or night!  

The High Line is one of the most unusual city parks, built on an abandoned elevated railroad. A stroll on your own is lovely, but the history of this park is engaging from stories of Titanic survivors to the controversies over the changing cultural landscape of this centuries-old neighborhood in Chelsea. We recommend that you consider a walking tour for a rounded experience of this unique park.  We offer several variations of the High Line Park Walking Tours, but if our timing doesn’t fit your schedule, check our post listing other fine tour companies with High Line tours as well as our downloadable PDF self-guided tour and a GPS-enabled audio tour of the High Line narrated by one of our professional guides. 

 

 


7.  Attend a TV show taping Tickets to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Totally free, totally fun! Being in the studio audience of one of your favorite shows is possible. We have compiled a list of New York TV Show Tapings along with how you can get tickets.

Some of the most popular shows do require advanced planning, such as Saturday Night LiveThe Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. But there are many other shows that you can apply for once you are already in New York City.  

 


8.  View the stunning New York skyline   

Skyline at Night

For incredible vistas and panoramic views,  you will want to visit one of the three observation decks: the Empire State BuildingOne World Observatory (Freedom Tower) or Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center. Each has its own vantage point, as well as different prices of admission, varying wait time, and opening/closing hours. Our post Which is Best: Empire State Building, Top of the Rock or One World Observatory? breaks down the pros and cons of each to help you choose which view is right for you.  

If you want to stay closer to the ground or prefer to not pay the steep prices of the 3 observatories, you can still get incredible views of the city, in some cases for free. Check out our post on the Best Skyline Views of New York City.  

 


9.  Wander the streets of Chinatown

Chinatown New York

Despite the fact that there are now several larger Chinatowns in New York City, Chinatown in Lower Manhattan remains the oldest, most authentic and most mysterious. Wandering its narrow winding streets takes you to another place and time as if you are no longer in New York City. Chinatown is a fairly small neighborhood, but has enormous history and is best explored with a guide.  

Our fun and delicious Chinatown Food Tour introduces you to sights, sounds, and savory tastes. Several of our other pay-what-you-wish tours cover Chinatown such as our SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown Town Tour and our All-in-One Downtown Tour.

 


10.  Check out street art in Bushwick

New York has some of the finest street art and graffiti art in the world. Street art has been elevated in the last two decades as a serious form of artistic expression and Bushwick in Brooklyn is one of the most densely populated areas in NYC to see the best street art created by world-renowned artists. Visiting Bushwick and the Bushwick Collective Street Art Gallery is easy to do and makes for an off-the-beat activity during your stay. You can use our self-guided tour that tells you how to get to Bushwick and where to find the best art or you can join us on any of our pay-what-you-like Street Art Tours including our Bushwick Street Art Tour offered on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays @2 pm with additional days in the summer season. Click here to view our full tour calendar to see days and times. 

 


 

For more suggestions of free activities see our guide to Free Things to Do in NYC.  

 


Back to top


 

TOP ATTRACTIONS

Below is a list of many of the best attractions. For in-depth information on how to visit these attractions, simply click on the attraction’s name and you will be taken to another post with information such as:

  • ticket prices and ways you can find discounts and ways to visit for free.
  • days and hours the attraction is open/closed, holiday hours.
  • directions on how to get to the attractions.
  • tips and suggestions on how to make the most of your visit.
  • and in many cases, we include reviews of tour companies that offer tours of the attraction and self-guided tours.

As you plan your trip, you might also decide to consider purchasing a tourist pass. Tourist passes help you save money by packaging attractions together for one flat price. So many of attractions and activities listed in this post are included in the various tourist passes. We encourage you to read our post comparing the different New York City Attraction Passes. These passes are great deals for some and not for others.

 

 


Back to top


BEST MUSEUMS Moma

There are countless museums in New York City – too many to list on this page! For information on the dozens and dozens of other museums in NYC, click here. Below are the most well-known museums. Just click on the name to find out details on hours, price of admission, directions how to get there, what else there is to do nearby and more. 

You can visit many museums for free, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. Both have steep admission prices of over $20 per person but you can visit for free!  If you buy tickets at the museum you will see the ticket price listed with small print underneath saying “by suggested donation.”  This simply means you can pay what you want. 

Not all museums offer free admission all the time but do offer specific free days or free hours. find out which museums are always free, which are “by suggested donation” and which have special free hours/days, see our extensive list of museums in NYC. 

Street Art 

Building walls and subway stations of New York City are museums in a way, and you can see brilliant artworks for free if you know where to look. Click the links to find out.

 


Back to top


 
THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS

A great place to start is to look at our 3-day kid-friendly itinerary.  There you will find many of the top attractions, best times to go and also alternatives depending on the age your children.  For other ideas, look at our Top 10 Things to Do with Kids in New York City. But why stop at 10? Take a look at our map of 25 Things To Do with Kids in Midtown Manhattan.  The fun never ends for kids in the NYC!

Take a Food Tour

The Great Outdoors

 

Kid-Friendly Attractions & Museums

Take a Bus Tour or Boat Ride

 


Attractions & Museums 

Below are the most satisfying and kid-friendly experiences just click on the links below to be taken to our posts on that specific attraction and you will find useful information about these attractions such as best times to go, prices and hours, discounts, directions to get there and other nearby activities. 

 


Take a food tour Greenwich-Food-Tour-with-Kids

Kill two birds with one stone: you get the history and culture and they get fed. Amongst our most popular family-friendly food tours are our Greenwich Village Food Tour, our Chinatown Food Tour that includes a stop at the most awesome candy store and the Lower East Side Food Tour with a visit to the Donut Plant, which we believe are THE best doughnuts in the city.

Many of our non-food tours are suitable for kids as well including our Central Park Tours (see video above), our High Line Tours  (see video above) and for the courageous kids, one of our New York Ghost Tours.

 


Take a Bus Tour or Boat Ride 

Bus Tours Bus Tour

Bus tours are great when traveling with kids because it gives the little ones a chance to rest up a bit during a day of sightseeing. Since Hop-on, hop-off bus tours generally stop at the popular attraction locations, you can use the bus to move from destination to destination and it is a lot more interesting for your child to look out a bus window then stand in a crowded subway.  

Our post The Best Hop-On, Hop-Off NYC Bus Tours can help you decide which is best for you and your child.

 


Boat Rides 

Rib boat

If you are traveling with tweens or teens, they will probably enjoy a ride on one of the three popular speedboats, The Shark, The Beast and The Sea Wolf. If you were planning on getting tourist passes for the family, the good news is that The Shark and The Beast are included in all tourist passes except the City Pass.  If you opt for The Sea Wolf, use our promo code FTBF to receive a 5% discount at check out. If you are concerned that the cost of tickets for an entire family, try the Staten Island Ferry which is free, passes by the Statue of Liberty and runs 24 hours a day!  You can find other options by looking at Free New York Boat Tours

To find out about the many options available see our post Which New York Boat Tour or Cruise is Best?  

 


The Great Outdoors

When you and your child are tired of concrete sidewalks and noisy cars, head off to one of these green spaces where you can romp and play in New York style.


Visit Governors Island Slide Hill

Governors Island is a small recreational vehicle-free island just 7 minutes by ferry from Lower Manhattan.  You can rent bikes, kayak for free, picnic, visit the various playgrounds, and try out the longest slide in NYC — three stories high and 57-feet long! Read our post on Governors Island for information on open hours, how to get there and what activities are offered. 


Romp, Ride or Roll in Central Park

As we wrote above, Central Park is filled with activities which we list in our post Things to Do in Central Park.  You can go roller-skating in the summer, ice-skating in the winter or take a  bike ride. We have a pay-what-you-wish Central Park bike tour (bike rental costs extra) which is something that everyone in the family can enjoy.


Climb, Kayak and Carousel-Ride in Brooklyn Bridge Park 

Located near Brooklyn Heights, the enormous Brooklyn Bridge Park offers all sorts of athletic activities from rock climbing, roller skating, kayaking and more. There are basketball and handball courts, multiple playgrounds and even a seasonal pop-up pool. The little ones will love the historic Jane’s Carousel. 

 


Back to top


THINGS TO DO AT NIGHT   

There is no lack of things to do at night in NYC.  In fact, even to locals, the options can be overwhelming.  Many of the items in other sections of this post are also great night options, such as riding the Staten Island Ferry (free), walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (free), visiting the 9/11 Memorial (free) or walking the High Line (free).  Our Top 10 Things to Do in New York City at Night post offers suggestions of not just what to do, but the best places to do it. Below are just a few more examples of the many things to do at night in the city that never sleeps.


See a Broadway Show 

An unforgettable way to spend an evening in New York City is to see a Broadway show or play. You don’t have to pay full price for tickets if you are flexible with your choice of shows. Read our post on how to get discount Broadway tickets. If Broadway or Off-Broadway isn’t your thing, how about a live comedy show?  


Nighttime Sightseeing Tours

Seeing specific parts of New York City at night with a guide to point out things you might not have otherwise noticed can make for a great and inexpensive way to spend an evening. Our pay-what-you-wish night tours cover several different neighborhoods, each beautiful at night in its own way. We have a Midtown Manhattan Night Tour911 Memorial and Brooklyn Bridge Night TourGhost Tours and a Dark Side of the High Line Tour. 

If you want to start your evening early and get some beautiful photos of New York City, try a sunset tour. We have a Sunset on the High Line as well as Central Park. During the holiday season, we offer a Holiday Lights Tour and an NYC Christmas Movie Tour.

 


ENJOY A NEW YORK MEAL 

There are plenty of great places to eat in New York City and you don’t have to spend a lot of money for some of the world tastiest foods. Here are suggestions of where to find the best versions of iconic New York foods, as well as restaurants that will suit your mood, budget, and location. This list was compiled by our local guides, some who have lived here for decades. Trust us, we know where to find the best of the rest.  You might also consider taking one of our food tours of NYC.  They are pay-what-you-like.

New York Bagel – You haven’t really had a bagel until you have had a New York bagel. Some say it’s the NYC water that makes them so good. With hundreds of bagel stores, how to narrow down the choices? With our list of 15 Best Bagels in New York City,

New York Pizza – Here are the best pizza places in New York City. They are organized by neighborhood so no matter where you are, you can find a great food stop. A few are family-style where the pizza is served in big pies and the family shares. This is a really fun way to enjoy a great meal.

Italian – For an authentic New York dining experience, eat a meal al fresco on  Mulberry Street at the best Little Italy Restaurants.

New York Delicatessen – There are very few real delicatessens left in NYC, the kind where you can get a great pastrami sandwich 6 inches tall. Fortunately, we still have Katz’s (yes, the very same one where (Harry met Sally).

Soul Food – A Harlem institution is Sylvia’s  and for other options check out “Where to Find the Best Harlem Soul Food”.

Chinatown – For inexpensive, delicious food in one of NYC’s most exotic neighborhoods, try these restaurants in Chinatown

Other great eats – Two neighborhoods are especially good to find diverse and affordable food choices 

Best Greenwich Village Restaurants  This list includes Mexican and other ethnic food, sushi, vegan, kid-friendly food, cheap street food and restaurants that are good for groups.) We have a Greenwich Village Food Tour but if you are unable to join us or want to explore the area and food on your own, use our Greenwich Village Snack Food with a self-guided tour.

Lower East Side restaurants  This list has some of the really good LES restaurants in all price ranges. If you want to get a sampling of the foods typical of the neighborhood, try our Lower East Side Food Tour.

 


Grab a drink     

You want to get a drink. It should be simple. It is, but it isn’t! With hundreds of drinking spots to choose from, you might want some help deciding where to go. Start off with our Guide to Bars in New York City. If you want to save some money, learn all about what Happy Hour is and who has the best deals in the city. To mix your drink with some New York history, visit one of several Historic New York City Bars, including the famous McSorley’s Old Ale House that has been open long enough to have served both Abraham Lincoln to John Lennon.

If you want some guidance, or maybe you are traveling solo and want some drinking buddies, Pub Crawl, Cocktail Tour or Bar Tour. You can also try a Free New York Brewery Tours and Tastings. For stunning views of New York’s skyline, splurge a bit on your drink and get yourself to a rooftop bar.

 


Back to top


 

THINGS TO DO BY NEIGHBORHOOD

One way to organize your trip to New York is by neighborhood. NYC is very much a patchwork of many neighborhoods with defined boundaries. You can explore on your own and we’ve created over 40 self-guided tours, many of which also provide tips on things to do, restaurants and places to stay, as well as several GPS audio tours.  Of course, you can join us for one of our many pay-what-you-wish walking tours for deeper insight into the neighborhoods shared by one of our knowledgeable and personable guides.  Below is a list of 13 top areas. 


 


Back to top


 

THINGS TO DO BY MONTH AND SEASON

Below are annual events that occur during the 12 months of the year, and if you click on the link you will be taken to our detailed posts of these events and more. We have also included links to the typical weather for each month so you know what to expect and pack accordingly.

Winter Holiday Season (Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb)

Springtime (March, April, May)

  • Free Tours by Foot schedule is blooming with more than 8 free guided tours offered every day. 
  • Sakura Matsuri  Cherry Blossom Festival
  • Tribeca Film Festival 
  • Easter Parade and Easter Bonnet Festival 

Summer in the City (June July, Aug)

Fall (Sept, Oct)


Back to top


 

SUGGESTED ITINERARIES

For those looking for some structure planning a short stay in New York City, we’ve created several different itineraries so that you can hit the road running. There’s no need to spend your time figuring out how to squeeze it all in. Our itineraries take care of that for you. These itineraries can also be used enhanced with our pay-what-you-wish two hour guided walking tours or enhanced with our self-guided tours and GPS- enabled Audio Tours.


One Day in New York City

  • When planned well, you can see an awful lot of New York City in just one day. Our One Day in NYC tour is a lot like the 1890s song “Sidewalks of New York!” We’ve got you going to the East side, West side, all around the town. How’s this for one day?
    • Morning: A stroll in Central Park, seeing world-famous Rockefeller Center followed by lunch in Grand Central Terminal.
    • Afternoon: Catch your breath and gear up for a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, exploring Wall Street and the oldest streets of New York City, a free ferry ride with amazing views Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, finished with a visit to the 9/11 Memorial Plaza.
    • Evening: Dinner at one of the many eateries in the Oculus, the newest part of the World Trade Center. Or see a Broadway show instead. You can also take one of our pay-what-you-like New York Night Tours

3 Days in New York City 

  • Day 1  “Bright Lights, Big City  – Throw yourself right into the heart of the city in Midtown Manhattan starting at Times Square, the gorgeous and historic New York Public Library, and stunning Grand Central Terminal. You’ll visit Rockefeller Center and visit the Top of the Rock, one of the city’s three observatories. The 360-degree views will take your breath away. After looking down on Central Park from above, you’ll then spend some time exploring it’s most well know parts. Afterwards, if you can muster the energy, see a Broadway show!
  • Day 2  “Historical New York” – Find out where it all began by strolling some of the oldest streets of the city. Start off at Trinity Church, built in 1846 but with a congregation that dates back to colonial days. Head over to Wall Street with the world famous New York Stock Exchange Buiding and Feral Hall, where George Washington was sworn in as the first president. Walk down to Battery Park, where the Dutch colonized ‘New Amsterdam” in 1624. Ride the free Staten Island Ferry for fantastic vistas, see the solemn and moving 9/11 Memorial and go to the top of One World Observatory and be blown away by just how much and far you can see. End your day with a relaxing walk on the Highline Park.
  • Day 3  “Live Like A Local”  – Having seen the big sights, it’s time to relax and spend the day doing what New Yorkers do on their days off: walk, shop and eat. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is a great way to start your day and you will certainly work up an appetite. Lunch in Chinatown fits right in. After your meal, you can explore the old streets and shop for souvenirs or knock-off bags. Wander up through Little Italy and over into SoHo. Round out your day in Greenwich Village with an inexpensive meal and people-watching that is priceless.

Just click here to get all the details on this itinerary. 


3 days with Kids in New York City 

This itinerary is a variation of the above, with more emphasis on the places kids enjoy like the American Museum of Natural History and the Bronx Zoo. It’s not so overly child-focused so it is an itinerary that will keep the whole family entertained. Because some of the most popular attractions among the young ones (and adults too) are a bit pricey, we include tips and advice on how to get discounts or even pay nothing at all!  Just click here to see this family-friendly itinerary.


A few hours in New York – a Layover itinerary

There’s no reason you can’t see a heck of a lot in a few hours. This post recommends different tours and activities that won’t take all day and won’t take a bite out of your wallet. The post also includes details on the quickest ways to get to and from the major airports and where you can store your luggage.

 


Itineraries with a tourist pass

One way to add some structure to an itinerary is to purchase one of several tourist passes that offer savings on activities and ticket prices while offering you the flexibility to decide which of those activities or attractions to see. TIP:  For a complete explanation of tourist passes, which ones are available and which might be right for you, read our post New York City Attraction Passes | Which One Is the Best to Buy.

Having a tourist pass is like being a kid in a candy shop! So much to see and it’s already included in your pass — but where to even begin? The New York Pass has some great suggested itineraries on their website that make the most of your time and save a fair amount of money when using their pass.

3 Days with a New York Pass

  • Day 1: Start the morning off with a Big Bus Hop-on Hop-off Tour. Get oriented to the city while seeing major sights from an open-top bus. Then midday, visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum. In the late afternoon, spend some contemplative time at the 9/11 Memorial. Then step inside the 9/11 Museum to learn about the events of that day through pictures, videos, and artifacts.
  • Day 2: Wake up and head up to the Empire State Building to admire the 360-degree views of the city. A great way to start your day. Then take a relaxing Circle Line Cruise and see the city from an entirely different perspective. Finish your day with an easy bicycle tour in leafy Central Park.
  • Day 3: Begin your last day with a voyage on the unique bus tour called The Ride. You’ll see some major sights and get some surprises too. Then go see your favorite celebrities at Madame Tussauds wax figure museum. Afterwards, go to the Top of the Rock observation deck for panoramic views of the city. Finally, spend your evening enjoy a taste of New York on a food tour.

If you were to visit all these attractions without a New York Pass, you’d pay $400. With a 3-Day New York Pass, you would save $141 on admission!  They also have suggested a 5-Day Itinerary and a 7-day ItineraryDefinitely consider looking into buying a pass to create an itinerary.

 


Back to top


 

Written by Courtney Shapiro

Tags: