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Along with the more traditional attractions such as the Statue of Liberty, Times Square and Brooklyn Bridge, we can suggest a host of alternative ways to soak up the culture and history of New York. Learn all about the millions of immigrants who set up new lives in the city at the Tenement Museum and Ellis Island, relax in Washington Park while listening to a live jazz performance, taste your way through the multicultural streets and markets, and gain a different perspective of the Manhattan skyline from a bicycle, boat or helicopter.

Every time I arrive into New York, I'm met with the feeling of visiting somewhere so familiar on the one hand and so alien on the other. There's always somewhere new to explore and somewhere familiar to return to.

USA specialist Molly

Things to see and do in New York

Visit the Tenement Museum

Set in restored tenements (small apartments that housed waves of immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries), this eye-opening museum in Lower East Side is a testimony to the lives of immigrants who traveled from many different countries to make a new life in New York.

The 19th-century building was once home to 7,000 immigrants of various faiths and nationalities, many of whom faced prejudice and economic hardship. You can explore how they’d have lived and worked through touring the building’s restored apartments and businesses and taking a guided walking tour around the local area.

Take in views of the skyline

Brooklyn Bridge sunset, Manhattan, New York The New York skyline is unmistakable, and there are several ways you can take it all in during your trip. While many head to the top of the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Center’s Top of the Rock Observation Deck arguably offers a better vista as you’re able to look out onto the Empire State Building itself. A high-speed shuttle elevator takes you up 70 storys, from where you have 360-degree views over the cityscape.

The One World Observatory at the One World Trade Center also offers sweeping views from the 100th floor. It looks out over the Hudson River below, or you can admire the twinkling lights of the Manhattan skyline from the river itself on an evening boat trip. For a bird’s eye view of the city, take to the skies for an exhilarating 20-minute helicopter ride.

Enjoy live music in Washington Square Park

Most recognizable for its marble arch monument, Washington Square Park is also a green space in the city filled with the sound of music as artists from the nearby New York University music department use the grounds as a performance space. On a sunny day, it’s well worth strolling around the park’s lawns and enjoying a picnic under the shade of the trees while listening to a performance. Musical acts can range from banjo-playing duos and solo pianists to full jazz bands complete with drum kits.

An annual music festival is also held in the park each summer in June. It offers a varied program of free musical performances, including classical orchestras and jazz bands.

Soak up culture at The Highline

Part park, part art gallery, The Highline is where New York's past meets the modern day. Opened in sections between 2009 and 2014, The Highline is a 2.3 km (1.5 mile) green space that runs along a disused rail track in Manhattan. The elevated track, which once served the meatpacking district, has been repurposed into a quirky park where you can enjoy fantastic views of the city and the Hudson River.

Planted with over 200 species of flora, including meadow flowers, grasses and birch trees, the park also presents cultural attractions such as modern art installations in the form of photographs, audio clips and sculptures. Taking a stroll through this creative space provides welcome relief from the city’s bustling streets. Guided tours give an insight into The Highline’s history and design.

Sample the food

In New York, food is everywhere you look. The Smorgasburg outdoor food market in Brooklyn, taking place every weekend between April and October, allows you to sample a cross-section of the food on offer throughout the city. More than 100 local vendors serve up a variety of gourmet food, including oysters, tacos, roast meats, ramen (Japanese noodle soup) and all manner of sweet treats, demonstrating the ethnic diversity of the city’s cuisine.

If you’re a fan of Italian food, head to Eataly on Fifth Avenue — a huge complex that’s home to a wide selection of Italian food stalls and restaurants. For a quintessential taste of New York, The Pickle Guys set up shop daily on the Lower East Side, serving all things pickled. The friendly staff love to chat and will let you sample their produce before you decide what to buy.

Explore the history of Liberty and Ellis Islands

Statue of Liberty, New YorkThe gateway for millions of immigrants arriving into New York in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ellis Island has a fascinating history. Between 1892 and 1954, over 12 million immigrants from Europe and elsewhere passed through the island’s Immigration Station. Here, they would undergo a rigorous inspection before being permitted into the country.

Now a museum, you can look around the former station and learn about the historical immigration process and the immigrants’ lives. Their descendants make up nearly half of the USA’s current population.

In the same tour you’re able to visit Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty proudly stands. Here, you’ll have wonderful views over New York Harbor and the city’s distant skyscrapers.

Get lost in the American Museum of Natural History

Familiar from so many films, the American Museum of Natural History delights visitors of all ages with its interactive and informative exhibitions. In one day you can learn about the infinite universe, see reconstructed dinosaur skeletons hanging from the ceiling, peer at age-old fossils and discover how the Earth’s wildlife has evolved over time.

Regularly changing temporary exhibitions mean that no visit is ever the same. Interactive spaces give children a fun, hands-on learning experience, as do activities such as digging for fossils in a sand pit and hunting for wildlife in a replica baobab tree.

Cycle around Central Park and over the Brooklyn Bridge

If the weather is pleasant, cycling is one of the best ways to explore Central Park. Pedaling your way around at a leisurely pace, you’ll be able to cover most of the 3.4 sq km (1.3 sq m) park in an afternoon, although some parts of the trails are surprisingly hilly. There are several routes to choose from, ranging between 2.7 km (1.7 miles) and 9.8 km (6.1 miles). All the paths are well-maintained, if a little busy during the summer.

Another option is to cycle along the Hudson River and over the Brooklyn Bridge, formerly the largest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge has a walkway running down its center designated for pedestrians and cyclists. Along the route, you’ll have views of the Hudson River Park, Battery Park, the Statue of Liberty and the Lower Manhattan skyline.

Best time to visit New York

New York is a fantastic city to visit year-round, but it transforms into a Christmas wonderland throughout December. From the historic Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center to the numerous outdoor ice skating rinks and the Christmas light displays, it’s a dazzling place to get into the festive spirit.


Festivals, events and seasonal reasons to visit

  • The annual Macy’s Day Parade is on the last Thursday of November and has become synonymous with celebrating Thanksgiving. One of the biggest holiday spectacles in the US, over three million people arrive to watch huge decorative floats, cheerleaders and marching bands parade through the streets.
  • New Year’s Eve in New York sees fireworks fill the sky and crowds of partygoers celebrating in Times Square, creating an electric atmosphere.
  • The baseball season runs across the country from April to September. Catching a Yankees or Mets game in New York makes a good introduction to this quintessential American experience.

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Audley Travel Specialist Shannon

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    • Bike the Brooklyn Bridge
      Liberty Island, New York

      Bike the Brooklyn Bridge

      Bike the Brooklyn Bridge

      This is a wonderful opportunity to pedal on a traffic-free bike path along the Hudson River, past famous landmarks and over the Brooklyn Bridge.

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    • Bike the Greenway & Central Park Tour
      Central Park, New York

      Bike the Greenway & Central Park Tour

      Bike the Greenway & Central Park Tour

      Join a small group of fellow cyclists for an afternoon of exploring the sites of New York's Central Park.

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    • Top of the Rock Observation Deck
      The New York skyline

      Top of the Rock Observation Deck

      Top of the Rock Observation Deck

      Discover New York from 70 stories up in the city's only crystal-clear 360° observation deck at the top of the Rockefeller Building.

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    • Financial District Walking Tour
      Wall Street, New York

      Financial District Walking Tour

      Financial District Walking Tour

      This two-hour Saturday afternoon walking tour takes you through the oldest parts of New York City.

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    • Empire State Building Observatory Ticket
      Empire State Building, New York

      Empire State Building Observatory Ticket

      Empire State Building Observatory Ticket

      Located on the 86th floor, 1,050 feet (320 meters) above the city's bustling streets, the Observatory offers panoramic views from within a glass-enclosed pavilion and from the surrounding open-air promenade.

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