Best Things to Do in New York City (a NYC city guide)

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Looking for insider tips on things to do in New York City?

As part of our city guides series, we chatted with Kate Voyage who has visited New York City 10 times since 2003, and since 2007 has been spending July and August there each year.

Kate shares with us her local tips on the best things to do in NYC including where to eat, sleep, drink, shop, explore and so much more!

Statue of Liberty

Things to do in New York City

Why visit New York?

It’s got energy and personality like no other city. All the attractions (food, theater, art, parks) are world-class.

things to do in new york city
Free yoga in Bryant Park?

Best things to do in New York City

I love big glitzy Broadway shows. Go to at least one during your trip to New York. To get an idea of what’s on and popular vs. not popular, check out the Broadway grosses and look at the percentage of seats sold and average ticket price.

Unless a show is selling out, you can easily Google for discount codes.

Using online discount codes will save time and usually give you better seats compared with using the discount TKTS booth that’s in Times Square. You can typically use the discount code at the box office to save online booking fees.

Biking around Central Park (one of the most famous places in New York) and then over the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan are other top things to do in NYC.

You can hire bikes online here or take a bike tour. Or walk around one of these other parks in NYC. 

And don’t miss the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock for iconic NYC views.

Biking around Central Park - one of the best things to do in New York City
Biking Central Park – things to do in New York City. Image: Dreamstime.com

Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting is at the MOMA (The Museum of Modern Art). You can get in free from 4.30-8pm on Fridays.

Other major museums include the Metropolitan Museum of Art “the Met” (admission is by suggested donation, you do not have to pay the full amount), the Museum of Natural History, and the Guggenheim. I personally like the Frick.

You’ll have fun just walking around. There’s no need to pack in “NYC attractions.”

If you are visiting with your family, New York has some amazing amusement parks. Coney Island is a classic!

things to do in new york city
see Van Goph free on Friday nights

Tours, Sightseeing & Passes

Viator is a Trip Advisor company and offers small group tours of NYC, plus passes and tickets to the most popular places and attractions including the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and One World Observatory.

I can personally tell you how valuable guided tours are. You learn so much and don’t have to figure out how to get to the biggest and most popular attractions.

Best Neighborhoods in NYC to explore

I spend most of my time in the theater district and the east village neighborhood. They are my favorite places to visit in New York.

For the east village, go to Union Square at the intersection of Broadway and 14th St. The theater district is Broadway from 42nd St to around 52nd St. The main entrance to Central Park is at 59th St.

From Union Square you can take the 14th street bus West over to the Highline, a former elevated train track that has been turned into an urban park in the sky.

It’s concrete with some plants rather than the grass you’d expect of a park, but it’s still nice.

Looking for free things to do in NYC? A great walk is just up or down the length of Broadway. Each 20 numbered blocks is around 1 mile, so 14th St to 44th St (30 blocks) is 1.5 miles. Note that this doesn’t apply to the avenues, only the streets.

Or walk the High Line!

Neighborhoods south of 23th street tend to be the cooler neighborhoods (except that the financial district at the bottom tip of Manhattan isn’t very cool). Great hoods include:

  • Village/West Village
  • Soho
  • Chelsea
  • the East Village
  • the Lower East Side
  • Upper west side
  • Midtown Manhattan
  • and Tribeca.

I would skip Little Italy or Chinatown (unless you’re going to Chinatown to eat).

For Brooklyn, you can take the L Train to hipster central Williamsburg or take a stroll around Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, or Park Slope if you’re keen to venture beyond Manhattan.

These are nice places to stroll to see Brooklyn, which has its own unique character separate from Manhattan.

things to do in new york city
Brooklyn Bridge Park

Where to Eat in NYC

Ok, what to do in New York City if you’re hungry.

Yelp.com is great for NYC food recommendations.

If you want to know which restaurants are currently the trendiest, try NY Mag’s Grub St blog.

Grub St also tends to have good information about the possibility of getting reservations. Some super trendy places have no reservations policies and the wait can be up to 3 hours.

For cheap eats, my favorite is Taim falafel bar in the West Village. They also have a new falafel truck. Their falafel is consistently on NYC’s best lists. It lives up to the hype, and it’s vegan.

Another street food favorite is the dosa vendor in Washington Square Park (lunchtimes).

Washington Square Park - things to do in New York City
Washington Square Park. Image: Dreamstime.com

For coffee, I like drinking Stumptown cold brew in the lobby of the Ace Hotel (on 29th St, near Broadway). This hotel lobby has seating and is a great place to have a quiet meeting. Joe in the West Village is also a popular coffee option. It’s close to Taim falafel.

If you’re in the mood for gelato after (or before) walking around Central Park, there is a branch of Grom Gelato, near the Columbus Circle 59th st entrance.

“For restaurants, you have hundreds of options. You’re in the restaurant capital of the world”.

Pok Pok NY is new and hot for Thai.

Michael White’s Marea is consistently recommended for Italian.

All the way up the scale, you can go fine dining at Per Se, Daniel, Jean George, and Le Bernardin.

Think of all your favorite judges from Top Chef, Google their restaurants, and then check previously mentioned Grub St for hints on getting reservations.

If you want to be cooler, you can try Brooklyn hotspot Franny’s.

Chowhound Manhattan is another excellent way of doing foodie trip research, and you can even view menus in advance on Menupages.

NYC restaurants are known for being very crowded and discourage lingering with design elements like backless seats. Do some research before taking your parents to trendy restaurants.

Don’t visit NYC without eating…

  • Bagels – I like Murray’s Bagels in Greenwich Village, on 6th Ave between 12th and 13th. It’s just West of Union Square.
  • A close second, pizza! NY’s best pizza is a hotly debated. Di Fara in Brooklyn is very popular and serves slices. Slices in NYC are as big as your head. Be warned!
  • For Vegan Pizza options, try Cafe Viva on 2nd Avenue between 11th and 12th St.

Where to Drink in NYC

New York Magazine have a big feature on where to drink on each night of the week in NYC.

The lobby lounge at the Mandarin Oriental serves cocktails and has an amazing view of Central Park.

There is no need to limit your drinking to night time, New Yorkers are also very fond of drinking with brunch. Try the spiked coffee with brunch at Sons of Essex.

To drink for free you can go to an art show opening. Try The Skint to find info. They’re often quite fun. You can just walk in, chat to people, and have a few drinks.

Best places for a night on the town

Top things to do in New York City in the evening:

  • A Broadway show.
  • Bryant Park is open very late at night for ice skating in winter.

There are of course tons of clubs and bars if you’re looking for fun things to do in NYC of an evening. Try Motor City Bar if you like Dive Bars, or the previously mentioned Ace Hotel for something more lux.

things to do in new york city
stars on Broadway

Where to Stay in New York City

I get sublets using Craiglist or through friends. If you’re looking for a sublet and have any NYC-based friends, just ask them to do a Facebook blast on your behalf. Rent is so high in NYC that NYers are often keen to sublet.

If I have any days before my sublet starts, I stay at the Hosteling International located at 103rd and Amsterdam (dorms only). It’s a really nice hostel.

At the risk of this sounding like an ad for the Ace Hotel (it’s not), it’s a great mid-range hotel option for people who want to keep it classy. Their rooms start around $229, which is cheap for New York, and include free wifi.

For a splurge (and possibly to tick an item off your bucket list), the uber famous Waldorf Astoria has surprisingly good rates. They start around $369 a night, but there are also some good packages around.

things to do in new york city
Union Square

Markets & Shopping in NYC

The Union Square farmers market is amazing in summer and one of the top things to do in NYC.

It’s on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Fridays are the best.

For people from outside the US, the chain stores that I think are worth checking out are: The Gap, H&M, and JCrew. There is a JCrew in the Time Warner Center right next to the 59th St entrance to Central Park.

There’s also an awesome Wholefoods supermarket in the Time Warner Center, with seating and even a microwave. Perfect for lunch or supplies for a picnic in Central Park (and for a clean toilet near Central Park!).

There are multiple branches of The Gap and H&M.

The Century 21 Discount store near the World Trade Center is good(ish) for designer labels at discount prices. Prices are probably better at designer discount stores in other states (such as Ross Dress for Less, which isn’t in NYC but is in places like LA and Vegas).

My most fashionable friends like Soho, which is where you’ll find boutique shops.

If you have kids – or you happen to love video games – check out Nintendo New York. It is right by Rockefeller Center (which has lots of clean bathrooms too).

things to do in new york city
Union Square farmers markets

Festivals & Events in New York

I’ve been in NYC for Gay Pride, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and 4th of July.

The 4th of July Fireworks are cool but the public viewing areas are claustrophobically crowded. I’d be more inclined to avoid major events and festivals than seek them out.

As a visitor, it’s a pain to work around attractions being closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

things to do in new york city
gay pride

Getting Around New York City

The subway is incredible. I love it. You can buy a 7-day pass ($29) or a 30-day pass ($104).

Unlike other cities, there are no zone restrictions. For the same fare, you can use any subway including to Brooklyn and Queens. A subway pass is also valid for the buses.

things to do in new york city

With the exception of “crosstown” buses that travel east/west rather than north/south, I don’t generally recommend the buses though. You’ll just end up stuck in traffic.

Google maps will give you subway directions if you click on the public transport symbol.

There’s a reason why Sarah Jessica Parker has such toned legs (apart from wearing heels all the time)! NYC is an amazing walking city. A combination of walking and the subway is best.

Take a stroll along the Hudson River in New York City
Stroll along the Hudson River

Best time of year to visit New York

Most people say fall is the best time to visit New York City. I like summer in New York because there are so many free events taking place. Only go in summer if you like the heat. Temperatures in the 90s F/30s C are common. The weather is bleak in winter.

Favorite NYC side trip

Don’t leave.

There’s just too many things to do in New York City. These days I spend more time in Brooklyn than in Manhattan, so I would say Brooklyn as a side trip if you only think of NYC as Manhattan.

But if you want to escape for a day or two, try one of these weekend getaways from NYC.

things to do in new york city
Biking Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan

Getting to New York City

You can easily fly into any of three airports. Kenndedy/JFK, La Guardia (LGA), and Newark (EWR). Transport links from all three are good.

There are also cheap buses from Boston, Washington DC, and Philadelphia. Mega Bus is a good choice.

Best insiders tip for New York

My best insider tip on things to do in New York City is to find free events using The Skint. This will get you off the tourist trail if you wish to do that.

I love New York because …

Of New Yorkers! They’re generally friendly and helpful. There is a sense of anything is possible, people having self-confidence, and people living life their own way.

Especially in Brooklyn, there’s also an amazing sense of highly concentrated creativity. New York is inspiring and energizing.

Bonus New York City Travel Videos

Plan Your Trip to NYC

Accommodation in New York

  • Booking.com has 625 hotels, apartments and hostels in NYC. You get free cancellation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.

Flights to New York

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).

Tours & Sightseeing

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Author Bio – 30traveler.com is a blog devoted to travel beyond backpacking, featuring short and long trips with a focus on vegan/vegetarian travel. You can also connect with Kate on her Facebook page and twitter.

Are you planning to visit NYC?

If you have already been, do you have any tips on things to do in New York City? 

What do you think are the top things to do in New York?

Share in the comments below.