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.
USA specialist Molly
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.
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 travelled 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
The New York skyline is unmistakeable, 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 Rockerfeller 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 storeys, 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 recognisable 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 programme 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
The 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. Pedalling 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 centre 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 Centre 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.
Suggested itineraries featuring New York
Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in New York, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of New York
Places & hotels on the map
Places near New York
- Philadelphia 83 miles away
- Stockbridge 113 miles away
- Lenox 118 miles away
- Lancaster 132 miles away
- Albany 133 miles away
- Sturbridge 137 miles away
- Newport, Rhode Island 149 miles away
- Saratoga Springs 163 miles away
- Baltimore 172 miles away
- Manchester 174 miles away
- Ithaca 176 miles away
- Martha's Vineyard 180 miles away
- St. Michael's 180 miles away
- Annapolis 181 miles away
- Gettysburg 183 miles away
- New York State 183 miles away
- Falmouth 185 miles away
- Lake George 187 miles away
- Boston 189 miles away
- Bennington 190 miles away
- Hyannis 203 miles away
- Washington DC 206 miles away
- Nantucket 207 miles away
- Woodstock 214 miles away
- Provincetown 218 miles away
- Chatham 220 miles away
- Lake Placid 245 miles away
- Rochester 251 miles away
- Kennebunkport 256 miles away
- Lincoln/North Woodstock 257 miles away
- Front Royal 257 miles away
- Burlington 262 miles away
- Sugar Hill 265 miles away
- North Conway 272 miles away
- Bretton Woods 276 miles away
- Williamsburg 281 miles away
- Richmond 289 miles away
- Virginia Beach 290 miles away
- Buffalo 293 miles away
Our expert guides to exploring New York
Written by our specialists from their own experiences of visiting New York, these guides will help you make the most of your time there. We share both our practical recommendations and the best ways to appreciate New York at its best.
Accommodation choices for New York
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit New York. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
Ideas for experiencing New York
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting New York, and which use the best local guides.