In a New York State of Mind
| A New York City Guide of Places to Visit
A visit to New York City is on many people’s bucket list. I was lucky to grow up in this electrifying city. I have enjoyed the views from the top of New York's iconic skyscrapers, eaten dim sum in Chinatown, played in Central Park as a child, and watched the U.S. Open in Queens. I have since moved away but still become excited when I get to return and be a tourist in my hometown.
Whether you are an art lover, sports fan, foodie, or fashionista, there are so many more things to do and see than you will have time for and it can be overwhelming. To help get you in a New York state of mind, I’ve compiled a guide of the top places to visit.
When to Visit New York City?
There really isn’t a bad time to visit New York City. If you like cooler weather, then fall or spring are great times to visit. The city is quieter, and it is more budget-friendly. Central Park is especially bursting with color during these seasons. Summer is hot and humid, but there are festivals, street fairs, outdoor movies and performances that make it bearable.
I love New York at Christmastime. Visit between Thanksgiving and New Year when the city comes to life with holiday magic. One of my favorite things to do is ice skating at Rockefeller Center under the enormous Rockefeller Christmas Tree. The highlight of the season are the dramatic displays in the department store windows along Fifth Avenue starting at Central Park.
Tip: The busiest times to visit the city are the months from June to August and November to December. Expect higher prices for flights and accommodations during these months. The cheapest times are during the colder months of January and February.
Navigating the City
New York City has five boroughs: Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. It is easy to get around the city via public transportation, taxi, ferry, and walking. Of course you can also take an Uber or Lyft.
A subway and bus ride costs $2.75. A seven-day pass with unlimited swipes on both is available for $33. Purchase and pay your fare with a MetroCard. A refillable card costs $1. Up to three children under 44" rides for free. Purchase a card outside the turnstile at most subway stations. You can transfer for free from subway to local bus or vice versa within two hours of using your MetroCard.
To hail a taxi, look for one that has its numbers lit up on top of the cab and raise your hand. All taxis accept cash, credit, and debit cards.
The NYC City ferry runs to all boroughs. You can purchase single-ride tickets for $2.75.
New York City streets run on a grid east to west. Most streets are numbered. Avenues run south to north, with numbers beginning on the east side.
The exception is Lexington, Park and Madison Avenues which are between 3rd and 5th Avenues, and then there is Broadway. Fifth Avenue is the east side-west side division line. The streets and avenues of lower and upper Manhattan have proper names.
New York City's Best Attractions
Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
This iconic bridge offers breathtaking views of the New York skyline. The Brooklyn Bridge is the world's oldest steel wire suspension bridge. A walk or bike ride on the pedestrian walkway will connect you between Brooklyn and Manhattan. It is one of the best ways to see the city.
Access the bridge across from City Hall on the Manhattan side and at Cadman Plaza or Tillary Street on the Brooklyn side. You can also take the A or C train to the High Street stop in Brooklyn and walk across into Manhattan. It takes about 30 minutes to cross the bridge.
Don't miss a visit to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade or the Brooklyn neighborhood known as DUMBO for extraordinary views of the NYC skyline, good food, boutique shopping, and great photo ops.
Views from the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center
The best views in the city are from above, atop the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center (Top of the Rock) observation decks. I prefer the views of Central Park and midtown from Rockefeller Center.
The landmark Empire State Building recently updated their visitor experience with double observation decks, new pop culture and historic exhibits. If it’s your first time in the city, it’s a must visit. I visited this summer and enjoyed the new experience.
Tip: Tickets to these observation decks are expensive, but you get a good deal if you purchase a City Pass.
Visit the 9/11 Memorial
The 9/11 Memorial Museum is a beautiful tribute honoring those who were killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks. Located at the World Trade Center, the museum tells their stories through media and artifacts. Two memorial pools are now where the towers once stood.
Tip: Tickets must be purchased in advance online. Admission is also an option of the City Pass.
Visit the City's Museums
Art and history enthusiasts could be in New York for a month and still not be able to visit all the museums.
Some favorites are:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as the Met, is the largest museum in the U.S. It’s permanent collections alone are a unique art experience. Head up to the rooftop for magnificent views of the skyline.
The Met’s Cloisters, is a journey to medieval Europe, in the upper west side of the city at Fort Tryon Park. It has the Hudson River as its landscape and makes a great second day Met visit. Please note the Met is closed on Wednesdays.
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History is the world’s largest natural history museum. If you like dinosaurs, this is the museum for you. It is home to a T-Rex and the biggest collection of dinosaur fossils in the world. The museum’s planetarium is a tour of the universe in all of its spectacular detail.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
If you are a fan of pop culture, MoMA is home to significant contemporary pieces from artists like Warhol, Picasso, Frida Kahlo, and Van Gogh.
The Guggenheim Museum is popular for world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s unique structural design. Its coiled shaped building stands out on Fifth Avenue’s upper east side. Inside, the museum walls are filled with both modern and contemporary art.
Brooklyn Museum is the city’s third largest, with an extensive collection of ancient and modern art.
The Tenement Museum
The Tenement Museum is a history lesson in how poor immigrants lived. It is housed in two former tenement buildings. The museum has historically restored apartments of the families that lived there. They also offer walking tours of the lower east side's historical sites. A new exhibit, Reclaiming Black Spaces, highlights Black stories and the communities they created in lower Manhattan. Walk in the footsteps of immigrants. Learn about the New York of yesterday, to understand the New York of today.
Take a Stroll in Central Park
You can't visit New York City without spending a couple of hours in Central Park. It is an 843-acre sanctuary from the busy city streets. This iconic urban park draws in over 40 million visitors a year and is one of the most filmed locations in the city.
Park highlights include the expansive Sheep Meadow (W67th), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir (W86th and E86th), extensive bike paths, the Loeb Boathouse (enter the park at E72nd), Strawberry Fields (W72nd), Central Park Zoo, the Conservatory Gardens (E104th) and Shakespeare in the Park (W79th and E79th).
The park separates the upper east and west sides of the city, running from 59th Street to 110th. Enter at 59th near Columbus Circle and work your way north. But see above, you can enter from so many places, it just depends on how you want to experience the park.
Tip: Join a free tour with Central Park Conservancy. The Conservancy has great volunteer opportunities for guests to help maintain the beauty of the park. It was one of my favorite ways to give back to the community.
Broadway is back
New York's Broadway is the best place in the world to see a play. So there are often many options available. Most of the theatres are located between W40th and W54th Streets, and between Sixth and Eighth Avenues.
Tip: For same- and next-day tickets, check out the TKTS booth in Times Square.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Two Islands in One
The Statue of Liberty is the most iconic New York City attraction and is a symbol of freedom for many. A ferry to the Statute of Liberty also takes you to Ellis Island. Millions of immigrants came through the Ellis Island Immigration Station on their way to making their American dreams come true.
Visitors should reserve tickets online in advance. Only pedestal visits to the Statute of Liberty are currently open, you cannot go to the crown at this time.
Tip: If you just want to see the Statue of Liberty, hop on a free Staten Island Ferry.
Experience Times Square at Night
You should visit Times Square at least once. The best time to experience this pulsating area of the city is at night. The streets from West 42nd to West 47th along Broadway and Seventh Avenues lights come to life with its bright lights, impromptu street performances, and stores that stay open until midnight. It makes you feel New York truly is a city that never sleeps.
Check Out Black Cultural Experiences
New York is one of the nation's oldest destinations filled with Black history and culture. The city honors the stories of Black people throughout the city.
African Burial Grounds
A six-acre memorial in lower Manhattan on Duane Street is the largest unearthed burial grounds in North America for both free and enslaved African descendants. It protects the historical role slavery played in New York.
Harlem and the Apollo Theater
Harlem, a neighbourhood in upper New York, has been established as a center of Black culture and creative institutions. It is home to organizations dedicated to educating and preserving the culture like the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, the Schomburg Center, and Langston Hughes House.
The Apollo Theater has been a haven for some of the greatest Black performers and a space for amateur dancers, singers, musicians, comedians and spoken word artists to be discovered. Amateur Night continues to be a highlight of the theater.
Alvin Ailey Dance Theater
Alvin Ailey was an American dancer, choreographer, and activist who founded the dance company to nurture Black artists. Alvin Ailey Dance Theater continues to create cultural opportunities around the world and preserves the Black cultural experience through a fusion of modern dance, ballet, and other styles.
Open Your Eyes to the City's Architecture
The city is an architectural tutorial filled with beautiful buildings. Here are the different styles you will find on some of New York’s famous and not so well-known buildings.
Art Deco: Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Waldorf Astoria, Radio City Music Hall
Beaux-Arts: New York Public Library , Ansonia Hotel, Brooklyn Museum, Grand Central Station, the Met, Penn Station, W New York Union Station, The Bronx Zoo, Flatiron Building, Washington Square Park Arch
Neo-gothic: St. Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity Church, Woolworth Building, The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Riverside Church, The Dakota, Central Park's Belvedere Castle, New York Life Building
Brownstones: Many New York City neighbourhoods are filled with brownstones. These city row houses first popped up in the early 19th century.
Modern Architecture: The Shed, the Oculus (WTC Transportation Hub), 57 West, One World Trade Center, Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, the Vessel
We welcome you to share your New York City recommendations in the comments. We are always looking to enhance our city guide experience for our readers. So please tell us your favorites.