10 Touristy Things to do in New York City

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Let’s face it, New York City has a lot to see. And being in the Big Apple may turn even the most well-seasoned off-the-beaten-path travelers into grinning, camera-toting tourists. It’s okay; it happens, especially in NYC.

So, for that tourist in all of us, here are the top 10 (“touristy”) things to do in New York City – plus a few extras.


Top 10 touristy things to do in New York City

1. Empire State Building

Kind of how you can’t visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, you can’t visit New York City without seeing the Empire State Building.

Crowded? Yes. Touristy? Very. But that doesn’t detract from the stunning views of the Big Apple that you get from the 86th floor. Go up at night to really have your breath taken away.

View from the Empire State Building

2. Rockefeller Center (and Top of the Rock)

If you’ve ever watched a movie set in NYC at Christmas, you’ve probably seen characters skating at Rockefeller Center, or visiting the giant Christmas tree.

Rockefeller Center, while admittedly probably more impressive during the winter months, should end up on your NYC itinerary any time of the year.


The square, lined with colorful flags, is also home to 30 Rock – the literal building where Tina Fey’s popular show of the same name was set. Here, you can pay to go to the Top of the Rock, a 70th-story observation deck not unlike the Empire State Building’s.

I actually prefer the Top of the Rock view to the ESB, simply because you not only get a 360-degree view of the city (and Central Park), but you can also see the Empire State Building in the New York skyline from here.

View from Top of the Rock

3. Go to a museum

New York City has no shortage of museums to visit. Like art? Check out the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) and the Cloisters, or the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). How about history? Head to the American Museum of Natural History or the Museum of the City of New York. There are so many great museums to choose from in NYC; these are just a few of the most popular ones.

If you’re in the mood for something a bit different, check out the New York Transit Museum, or the Museum of Sex.

(This is a photo of the New York Public Library. And, while not a museum, it's also worth visiting!)

4. Times Square at Night

Probably the most-visited (and therefore most crowded) spot in New York City is Times Square. The bustling hub has been made a little less so in the past years, as traffic has been diverted around the square, making it solely pedestrian traffic that you’ll have to wade through.

Even if you aren’t interested in things like the Hershey’s and MnM superstores that are in or around Times Square, you should still check it out. To really be overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the place, go after dark when everything is lit up. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even get serenaded by the Naked Cowboy.

Times Square in NYC

5. See a Broadway show

New York is known for its theater culture. Just take a walk through Times Square and you’ll be bombarded with 20-foot-high billboards announcing 20 different shows. If you have the time (and money), definitely catch a show, be it a musical or drama.


If you don’t want to pay a lot of money for tickets prior to your NYC visit, you still have options.

Visit the TKTS kiosk in Times Square the day of any show to see if they’re offering any deals. You can also find out beforehand if the show you’re interested in does rush tickets, sells standing-room only, gives discounts for students, or offers a ticket lottery.

My mom and I saw Wicked years ago through a ticket lottery. We entered our names in a drawing at the Gershwin Theater 2 ½ hours before showtime, and my mom's name was drawn 2 hours before the show. We were able to purchase front row tickets for less than $30 each. Other popular shows host lottery drawings, as well. And if you enter on a weekday outside of tourist season, you’re much more likely to “win.”

Go here for the latest info. on rush, lottery and standing room policies for current Broadway shows.

6. Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Perhaps one of the most iconic figures in American history, the Statue of Liberty is a must-visit for anyone traveling to the Big Apple. You can buy a ticket and catch the ferry down at Battery Park (beware long lines), and be dropped off at Liberty Island.

As of July 2009, you can once again be taken up into Lady Liberty’s crown for a unique view of the New York City skyline. Or, you can climb the steps to her pedestal, or simply admire her from the ground.

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Once you’ve had your fill of the green lady, hop back on the ferry and head over to Ellis Island. Most Americans can trace at least one ancestor who immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954, so you probably can, too.

You can go into the refurbished main building, which is now the Ellis Island Museum. Stroll through exhibits that chronicle the island’s role in immigration history, and try to imagine what it would have been like to be herded through and inspected in the Registry Room.

If you’re interested in your family’s own history, you can visit the American Family Immigration History Center, which provides professional assistance for investigating immigration history, family documentation and genealogical exploration.

7. 9/11 Memorial

I often feel like, 30 years from now, when my generation is the age of our parents, we’ll talk about “where we were” when 9/11 happened, just like our parents’ generation can pinpoint exactly where they were when JFK was shot. It’s the sort of cataclysmic event in American history that will undoubtedly make it into every history book for decades to come.

So, if you find yourself in lower Manhattan, be sure to pay your respects at beautiful 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

9/11 Memorial in New York City

RELATED: Visiting the 9/11 Memorial in NYC

8. Central Park

After visiting sites like the Empire State Building and Times Square, you’ll probably be convinced that New York City is nothing more than noise and skyscrapers. Head on over to Central Park, however, to have your assumptions changed. As hard as it is to believe, parts of the 843-acre park are quiet and relaxing. And green!

A popular part of the park for tourists is Strawberry Fields, which pays tribute to John Lennon. The entrance to this part of the park is off Central Park West, right across the street from where Lennon was fatally shot in front of the Dakota building.

Central Park
Central park is particularly pretty in the fall.

9. Get an ethnic taste

Head down to a few of New York City’s ethnic enclaves for a bit of culture – there are plenty to pick from. I recommend Chinatown and Little Italy to start with, as they are close to one another. Manhattan’s Chinatown is one of the largest Chinese communities outside of Asia. Little Italy used to be home to more than 40,000 Italians and cover 17 blocks, but has shrunk considerably. The food, however, is still delicious.

NYC Little Italy

10. See the city from Brooklyn at night

After dark, head over the Brooklyn Bridge and into Brooklyn Heights. Then walk down to the bank of the East River, where you’ll get a stunning view of the New York City skyline, with the illuminated bridge in the foreground. It’s one of my favorite views in the city.

And for even more ideas for Brooklyn, check out this huge list of things to do in Brooklyn.

Get a New York CityPASS

Planning to visit a lot of these touristy spots on your trip to the big Apple? If so, you'll want to purchase a NYC CityPASS in order to save on admission to some of the city's top attractions.

This attraction pass will get you admission into places like the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, NYC's top museums, and the 9/11 Memorial, a cruise out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and more. The more attractions you visit, the more money you save!

Check out the NYC CityPASS here.

Honorable Mentions

Take a stroll down Wall Street in Lower Manhattan and see where a majority of the nation’s financial transactions take place. You can stand in the spot where George Washington took his oath of office as the first president of the United States, and then cross over to Bowling Green and take a photo with the infamous Charging Bull statue.

Head down to the South Street Seaport at Pier 17, right on the East River. Here you can shop, eat, and get some great views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.

If you don’t want to pay the fee to visit Liberty and Ellis islands, hop on the Staten Island Ferry (free of charge) for a ride that will bring you in range of Lady Liberty and the Lower Manhattan skyline.

Stop in at Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. It’s the largest train station in the world by number of platforms (it has 44), and definitely is an impressive sight to see.

Central Park

Hopefully this list has given you some ideas if you've never been to New York City before, or at least brought back some memories of your time in the Big Apple if you have.

Do you have suggestions of other must-see NYC spots that aren't on my list? Share them in the comments below.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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9 Comments on “10 Touristy Things to do in New York City

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  1. The Central Park is my and my friends favourite place in the city as well as the Battery park. I still remember the days sitting next to the Great Lawn and Reservoir..

    […] own country is pretty damn special, too. It’s huge and diverse and very, very beautiful. From New York City to the Florida Everglades to the Grand Canyon to San Francisco, this country has SO much to offer. […]

    Great post, Amanda — I love the view of Manhatten from Brooklyn too. There’s rarely anyone there, and there’s some useful spots to plant your camera for those long exposures.

      Thank you! And yes, I feel like Brooklyn is almost one of those “little-known” touristy places in NYC… If such a place is even possible.

    Nice Top Ten, Amanda. NYC of all places is hard to distill into just 10.
    My favorite place in the city is the NY Library. The Lions and steps are iconic from Ghostbusters, and the park behind it is a great place to sit. It has(had anyway) free wi-fi. It is a shady place to sit in the summer and had a smaller ice rink in the winter too.

      Thanks! And you’re right — it’s really difficult to distill the city into just a single top 10 list (which is why a few honorable mentions made it in… haha). But hopefully I included enough good spots.

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