When you think of travelling in the US, New York is one of the first places that will pop into your head. It’s been romanticized by movies and popular culture for good reason – it’s an awesome place to visit.
There are so many great things to see and do (and eat), that I’ve been lax in not creating the New York bucket list before!
It was one of the first trips that I took within the US, and even though it was the middle of February, and I could only visit for the weekend, I was determined to go and have a blast.
So a few months ago, I decided to draw on the collective wisdom of the travel blogging community to put together a list of the best things to do in NYC.
New York Bucket List
Here you’ll find everything from attractions to visit, to places to eat, and the whole gamut of things to do.
Getting around the city is easy – the New York subway is pretty famous. Yes, it can be crowded, and run late, or there’s track work, but it’s better than sitting in traffic.
Climb The Vessel
Written by Maya and Sari from Chasing Lenscapes.
New York City is such a great city to explore with so many attractions and things to do. No matter how many days you spend there, the New York bucket list seems to only get longer. If there is one thing you must include in your itinerary is climbing the Vessel at Hudson Yards.
The Vessel is the latest Instagram obsession and rightly so. First, it is an unusual structure, an architectural marvel if you like. We are talking about a copper-colored 46-meter-tall structure. It is comprised of 154 interconnected staircases, almost 2,500 steps, and 80 landings. The Vessel doesn’t resemble anything you’ve seen before!
In addition, once you climb it, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Chelsea and the whole area. It is not an easy task to climb this beehive-like structure, but it is definitely worth it. The Vessel supplies dozens of beautiful viewpoints and challenges you to be creative with your photography.
Oh and did we mention climbing the Vessel is actually free? Yes, unlike many of NYC’s other attractions, this attraction is totally free.
The Vessel is part of Manhattan’s newest neighborhood, Hudson Yards, which was built over an active train yard and is considered as the most expensive real-estate development in the history of the United States.
Nevertheless, many beautiful public places were included in this project, and the Vessel and its surrounding public square and gardens are part of them.
The Vessel was opened on March 19, 2019, and it’s one of New York’s most popular attractions, so even though it’s free, you’ll need to reserve a ticket to climb it (in person, on a first come, first served basis), since only a limited number of visitors are allowed to climb it at any given time.
Since it’s so popular you’d better reserve a ticket at least a few days in advance. This is one of the best things to do in New York City, so don’t forget to include it in your itinerary!
New York’s Museum of Modern Art
Written by Francesca Makana from Homeroom Travel.
The Museum of Modern Art is one place you really cannot miss when visiting New York City. The MOMA was established in 1929 when Abby Rockafeller, the wife of John D. Rockafeller, decided to set up a small museum.
It originally contained only modern art, and later grew to contain more of a variety of work. As it gained popularity, the museum grew bigger and began to acquire more popular pieces such as works by Picasso and Van Gogh.
The MOMA is centrally located in the midtown area on 53rd Street and is easy to get to by public transportation. The museum now contains 47,000 square feet of gallery space spread over six floors.
During the summer season, the museum terrace on the roof is open, as is the sculpture garden on the first floor. Make sure not to miss the collection of water lily paintings by Monet, as well as works by Picasso, Van Goh, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol.
General Admission tickets cost $25 and the museum is open from 10:30am-5:30pm. On Fridays, the MOMA stays open until 9pm and admission is free from 5:30-9pm.
Visitors have the option of buying tickets online to skip the line. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours wandering through the galleries. The amazing assortment of art, makes the Museum of Modern Art one of the bucket list places in New York City.
Visit the 9/11 World Trade Center Memorial & Museum
Written by Anjali Chawla from Travel Melodies.
You can’t visit NYC and not go to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It has to be on your New York itinerary.
Located at the World Trade Center, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum commemorates the victims (a staggering number of nearly 3,000 people) of the 9/11 terrorist attack, the most devastating tragedy in American history.
Terrorism, the greatest danger to humanity, still lurks around every corner. The feeling of not being able to do anything about it besets you, tears roll down your face, and you find it hard to contain your emotions. This is how strongly you feel as you touch the names of the victims engraved along the edges of the beautiful twin reflecting pools with cascading waterfalls on four sides.
I left a rose and a piece of my heart as I paid homage to the thousands of innocents killed in 1993 and 2001 attacks while breathing in the solemn beauty of the 9/11 memorial.
The National September 11th Museum chronicles the stories of loss, resumption, and hope during and after the incident to remember the victims, their families, and the survivors.
The 9/11 Memorial is free to enter while the National September 11th Museum costs the entry ticket $26 per adult. It’s open from 9 am to 8 pm.
Written by Helga Dosa from ShegoWandering.
Brooklyn’s gem, Williamsburg is a really abstract neighborhood in New York. It’s located on the upper side of Brooklyn, near the East River.
Since the late 1990s it went under a gentrification defined by contemporary art scene, hipster culture, and a vibrant nightlife that has projected its image internationally as a “Little Berlin”. The mixture of cultures is that makes it really unique! The neighborhood was inhabited by big groups of Italian, Jew, Hispanic, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans.
The first thing I’m sure you’ll love are the buildings! They are colorful, many of them are covered with amazing street art, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll find Narnia too! Under those colorful blocks, there are plenty of restaurants, lovely bookshops, music stores, tattoo salons, cafes, natural cosmetics shops, and basically anything you can imagine and explore.
To find the best burgers, go to 160 Berry Street, in Shake Shack! There are also many cafés which function as co-working spaces. If you’re a Starbucks lover, they have a great shop on the corner 7th Street and Bedford Avenue, where you can work as well.
Another perk of the neighborhood is that it’s really safe, especially between Metropolitan Avenue and 12th Street, around Bedford Avenue.
It’s also much cheaper to stay here, and if you’re asking me, The Pod Williamsburg is a great hotel to choose. The nightlife, food, drinks and shops are also cheaper. I’ll use the beer as an example, compared to Manhattan, in Williamsburg it’s usually about $6 cheaper!
Now how to get there from Manhattan? The fastest public transport options are the subway and the ferry. You can take a bus as well, but it’s going to take you ages!
BONUS TIP: Taking a walk near the East River is something you shouldn’t skip! During the day is beautiful too, but the best is to go in the night, when Manhattan is all lit up.
The view is just amazing! Absolutely amazing! The great thing in the summers, that you’ll see people walking there even in very late hours (1AM-2 AM).
All in all, if you’re looking for something different, colorful, filled with life and music, that’s also cheap, that offers a lot to explore, far from the crowds of Manhattan, Williamsburg is a really great place to visit/stay in!
Eat at Wafels & Dinges
Written by Lily Fang from Imperfect Idealist.
Wafels & Dinges offers most mouth-watering Belgian waffles, found in hard-to-miss yellow food trucks across Manhattan.
The company was created in 2007 so NYC residents would no longer have to settle for the disgrace of “soggy waffles,” according to the company’s quirky website.
The unusual company name can be attributed to the Dutch spelling of “waffle,” and the Flemish word for “thingamajigs”: dinges. The idea is that you get a Belgian waffle and top it with whatever “thingamajigs” you want, like chocolate and strawberries, or even bacon and peanut butter.
If waffles aren’t your thing, you can also get freshly-squeezed lemonade, coffee, hot cocoa, and ice cream.
The company is also known for its “spekuloos” spread (traditionally spelled “speculoos”), which can be bought in a jar, or spread on your waffle. This spread has the consistency and appearance of peanut butter, but is made from ground spiced cookies, similar to gingerbread cookies.
It’s easy to stop by one of the food trucks during a trip to NYC, as they’re at many popular tourist sites. A few top locations include Central Park, Times Square, the Museum of Natural History, and Bryant Park. You can also find the flagship sit-down restaurant in East Village.
Note that the menu will vary based on whether you visit the food trucks or flagship store, as the flagship store will have more options for dining in, and for buying in bulk (because who doesn’t need a bulk order of Belgian waffles?!).
Walk the Highline (elevated park)
Written by Ann Tolman from Ann Plans Travel.
The hustle and bustle of New York City can be mesmerizing at first glance. However, those feelings can quickly get lost, turning into claustrophobia and overwhelming stress as you make your way through the overcrowded city streets day after day. You may feel stuck in a dirty city without an end in sight.
The Highline is a saving grace for locals and tourists alike looking for an escape from everyday life in New York. Located on the far west side of Manhattan, the nearly 1.5 mile-long park stands elevated high above the city.
It provides breathtaking views and photo ops along the way while giving visitors a break from the crowded streets below. The public park was built on a historic freight rail line, giving new life to the once lifeless structure. It’s full of rich history waiting to be explored.
Along the trail there are unique structures, art and plants. It’s eye candy throughout, and worth walking the entire trial. Benches, tables and chairs are scattered along the path providing a peaceful escape for those looking to soak up some much-needed sun or a break from their every day mundane routines. With subway stops and stair access every two blocks, it’s easily accessible.
Located on the south end of the Highline, you’ll find the Chelsea market. It’s full of a variety of restaurants, fruit markets and local shops, giving you quick access to lunch that you can bring up to the Highline. So, you can enjoy a peaceful picnic for one while enjoying the views of the city. Even on days when the park is crowded with people there is still a sense of serenity and silence.
See a show on Broadway
Written by Taylor Deer from Brown Eyed Flower Child.
One thing you cannot miss during a trip to New York City is seeing a Broadway show. In my opinion, Broadway is one of the most special parts of New York City and there are so many wonderful plays out there featuring talented actors, singers and dancers.
What is great about Broadway is that there is a show out there for everyone to enjoy! If you are a movie lover, you have to see Disney musicals such as Aladdin, The Lion King, and Frozen, along with Moulin Rouge and Mean Girls.
Love music? Then you would definitely enjoy The Tina Turner Musical, Diana (a story of Diana Ross) and Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations.
For those who love to read classic novels, you cannot miss out on seeing The Phantom of the Opera, Matilda, Chicago, Mrs. Doubtfire, and West Side Story.
For all of the history buffs out there, one of the top award-winning plays to see is Hamilton. In addition, for everyone who loves original musicals, you then have to watch Wicked, The Book of Mormon and Dear Evan Hansen. No matter what, you will definitely not be disappointed when you see a play in New York City because Broadway always does an amazing job!
Whenever I am in New York City to see a Broadway show, I always love to make a day out of it.
Located next to the Theater District in Midtown Manhattan is Hell’s Kitchen where you could savor amazing food at New York City’s most renowned restaurants.
I also recommend treating yourself to some retail therapy at the shops and stores along 5th Avenue and enjoy a lovely stroll through Central Park.
Lastly, if you are visiting New York City during the holiday season, you cannot miss out on seeing all of the lovely Christmas decorations and displays in and around Rockefeller Center, surrounding the Theater District.
Enjoy cocktails & brunch at Tiny’s and the Bar Upstairs
Written by Destiny Snyder from Appetite for Adventure.
When you think of New York City, I’m sure that like me, you think of huge skyscrapers that fill the skyline of the city, which is exactly why when I saw Tiny’s and the Bar Upstairs it stood out like Meredith on casual Fridays (any Office fans out there?? If not, a quick Google image search will suffice).
You can find this gem in the heart of Tribeca. I went here to enjoy some delicious cocktails, but had I not been so pressed for time, I would have loved to enjoy their brunch. Honestly, I would have loved to enjoy any of the meals they offer.
Going back and refreshing my memory with their menu, just reiterated the fact that I will be paying a visit to Tiny’s many more times in the future— at least until I can say I’ve tried everything on their menu.
Even every last one of their sides sounded delicious. Choices like cheddar and chive tater tots, Brussels sprouts with granny smith apples and candied pecans, and charred cauliflower, to name a few. And don’t even get me started on the entrees. The menu presents New American cuisine with Southern and French influences.
BONUS TIP: Because Tiny’s is quite small and can fill up easily, I would try going during the week during slower times.
If you do want to do brunch on the weekend, be sure to make a reservation ahead of time (reservations during the week can also help).
What I did have here was my favorite drink during my entire NYC visit. If you are a foodie or a lover of craft cocktails from places with unique vibes, then Tiny’s definitely needs to be on your list. I enjoyed the Kissed by a Rose— vodka, sparkling rose, cranberry, lemon, thyme, and vanilla. If you don’t enjoy cocktails, they also have a lot of mocktail offerings and coffee specialty drinks as well!
Aside from the amazing food and drink options, the place is so dang adorable. With whimsical, deliberately unpolished decor, you can feel the history of the building that dates back to 1810. Check out more pics from my trip here!
Do the Lower East Side Historic Walk
Written by Lucile Hernandez Rodriguez from Lucile HR.
Manhattan’s Lower East Side is filled with culture and history, which makes it one of New York City’s most interesting places. And if you have the time, going for a Lower East Side Historic Walk over the weekend will give you a unique experience.
There are signs with information about the history of the place all around the neighborhood. But if you want to fully immerse yourself in the rich history of the American people and learn more about them, do not miss the Tenement Museum.
You won’t be seeing artifacts encased in a glass in this kind of museum. Instead, you will be touring a single tenement building, which was once home to immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s. And because it is a well-preserved building, it provides an insight as to how life was for the immigrants back in the day.
A group tour is required if you want to visit the Tenement Museum but enjoying a historic walk along the Lower East Side can be done on your own. Other points of interest in the Lower East Side include family-owned delis, which are over 100 years old, historic churches and synagogues, and old theaters.
Experience immigrant life on the Ellis Island hard hat tour
Written by Melissa Luther from Navigation Junkie.
The Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Tour is a very well-known attraction in New York that is at the top of most bucket lists for visiting the city. Lesser known, however, is the Hard Hat Tour of Ellis Island.
The Ellis Island tour takes you inside the main building of Ellis Island Including the baggage area and Great Hall, which features museums and changing exhibits, while the Hard Hat Tour will take you into the untouched hospital buildings of Ellis Island, including the laundry room, kitchen, autopsy room, different hospital wards, pharmacist house, and the doctors home.
Throughout the tour you will learn about the history of the hospital complex, which was functional from 1902 to 1930. After being screened at the Great Hall, immigrants that were determined to be unfit for entrance into New York were sent to the Ellis Island Hospital, where they would be held for varying lengths of time, from weeks to months until they were well enough to enter the United States or until they were deported.
Also along the tour you will also find 22 exhibits that are part of the art exhibit Unframed-Ellis Island. This art exhibit was created by JR, a French street artist. The exhibits are archived photos that were taken and transferred to the crumbling remains of the hospital.
This is a great activity for anyone interested in the history of Ellis Island and exploring the untouched, crumbling ruins of the buildings so important to United States history.
The tours are offered on select dates and last 90 minutes. The tour involves being on your feet for the entire 90 minutes, so be sure to wear good shoes and make sure that you’re in good enough shape for the entire tour. People under the age of 13 are not permitted on the tour.
All visitors must wear a hard hat, provided at the start of the tour. Also included in this tour is access to the Statue of Liberty and the Public parts of Ellis Island. Be sure to add this to your bucket list for a unique spin on this popular attraction!
Visit the MET Cloisters
Written by Tiana Bantis from Passport of Memories.
The MET Cloisters (Metropolitan Museum of Art), found in Fort Tyron Park, is the perfect getaway from the bustling city. This is definitely a hidden gem in New York, not many people know about this location so it’s the perfect off the beaten path place to unwind.
It’s only a short drive or subway ride away with the A line train. The Cloisters are a branch of the MET and when you buy tickets they are valid for three consecutive days and you have access to all three MET locations in the city. It’s a great deal so definitely take advantage!
RELATED: Best places to eat and drink in NYC
The Cloisters are a preserved monastery and have beautiful gardens that are a great spot for couples, families and solo travelers.
The Cloisters showcase art and architecture from medieval Europe and have a beautiful court yard that is open in the summer months! Inside it features beautiful artifacts, tapestries, sculptures and more! This is a great location to take some beautiful photos both inside and outside!
The grounds are beautiful to walk around, with gardens everywhere and it over looks the Hudson river. Before you head back downtown be sure to explore Fort Tyron Park, this park is beautiful at sunset with many trails and beautiful look out points!
Take a New York TV and movie tour
Written by Elizabeth from The Fearless Foreigner.
With so many iconic sights on your New York bucket list, it can be hard to choose what to see. A New York TV & movie tour is the perfect way to visit some of the best places in the city and see where some of the most well-known shows and movies were filmed.
There is always something exciting about seeing a place you saw on the screen in real life! I have taken a lot of great tours in NYC, but the On Location Tours are some of my favorites.
There are a variety of tours depending on your interest. Some have a general theme and cover a large portion of Manhattan, others are specific to one area and/or specific to one series or movie. Based on how much I enjoyed all three of the tours I took, I feel confident that they are all awesome.
The general tour is a great one if you want to see a lot of Manhattan. If you are visiting in November or December choose the Holiday Lights & Movie Sights tour. Most of the tours take place on a bus, but the Central Park tour is a walking tour. It’s an ideal tour if you prefer walking and want to discover more about the park than you would on your own.
In addition to seeing famous locations and filming sites in the city you also get to learn interesting tidbits about the shows or movies. The guides are actors so you can guarantee that you will be entertained. I also thought seeing a short clip from the movie or TV show on the bus before seeing the place in person was a nice touch.
Whether you are a first time visitor or have lived in the city for years, a TV & Movie tour is something you should not miss in the city that never sleeps!
Experience the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Station
Written by Neha from Travel Melodies.
Grand Central Terminal is an iconic station and a must visit attraction in New York. Just visit the station for the sheer beauty and architecture. You will not find yourself alone admiring and taking pictures. No wonder it is one of the most visited places in NYC.
It is an important and busy rail terminal, located at the intersection of 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan, and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Built in 19th century, it is a living legacy of engineering and architecture design.
As you enter the pretty façade, you are welcomed into a huge concourse. The marble floors and the green arched ceiling gives a warm hue to the terminal. The huge ceiling bears the painting of celestial bodies and stars that had been painted directly on the ceiling when first created.
And how can anyone miss the large four faced historic clock above the information booth, that is currently being valued at 20 million dollars?
Climb the grand staircase from the main concourse to the dining concourse. Take a break at one of the multiple restaurants inside the Grand Central and savor from the wide options.
Grand Central is not just a tourist attraction but the lifeline of New York that will make you fall in love with it.
Stroll through Central Park
Central Park is almost the only place where you’ll get some peace and quiet while you’re in New York. But even then it’s not guaranteed.
The park is beautiful year round, and we should know, considering we visited in February and had a blast traipsing through the snow-covered park. Central Park is the place to come for some photographs with greenery.
As you’ve seen further up in this post, there’s the beautiful Mall to stroll, and you should also check out the John Lennon Strawberry Fields memorial, and the Alice in Wonderland statue.
From May to September you can rent a rowboat from the Loeb Boathouse and row to your heart’s content on the lake in the park. It’s a great spot to view the turtles and other water-bound wildlife.
If you’re more drawn to animals of the equine variety, why not take a carriage ride through Central Park? Be warned that it’s a pricey option though 0 it costs $68 for a 15-20 minute ride, or $150 for a 45–50 minute carriage ride.
Wander Times Square
You didn’t think I was going to leave out Times Square, did you? This is where you go when you want to have your senses truly assaulted with bright lights, loud noises, and people bumping into you from every direction.
But Times Square is a truly iconic spot that needs to be firmly at the top of your New York bucket list. There are lots of different tours that you can take to experience the history of Times Square, including the self-guided New York audio tour.
Otherwise, there are heaps of things to do in Times Square, such as watch Good Morning America from its studios on the corner of West 44th Street and Broadway. If you visit between 7AM-9AM you just might be lucky enough to be on the air!
For a more “touristy” experience, head to Madame Tussauds wax museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum of oddities and the unusual, Hershey’s Chocolate World, or Gullive’s Gate where you’ll experience miniature cities from around the world.
Gaze down at New York from the Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is open until very early in the morning (2AM to be precise) to allow everyone a view of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Climb the Empire State Building at any time to drink in the city drenched in sun, or twinkling by night. But be warned, this is a very popular attraction, so if you want to avoid too many people, plan to visit very early in the morning (it opens at 8AM) or very late at night.
Start by buying your tickets online so you can dispose of that queue. You can choose to visit the 86th or 102nd floors, or both, if you’re a fan of heights. You might want to note that the 86th floor is usually pretty crowded, and you’ll be looking out through windows, not an observation deck.
The 102nd floor spits you out onto an observation deck with even clearer views, that are better for photographers out there.
Feel your jaw drop at the American Natural History Museum
You can easily spend all day (actually, you could easily spend three days) at the American Natural History Museum without getting bored.
Here you’ll find exhibits for everyone – including dinosaur fossils and bones, meteorites, ocean life, a planetarium and space exhibits, and a hall dedicated to the origins of humanity.
It all spans four amazing floors, so as you can imagine, I can’t list everything here, but you should check out the American Museum of Natural History website to find out what temporary exhibitions will be showing during your visit.
**Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these links you don’t pay a cent more, but I receive a small commission, that is put towards the running of this blog.