Empire explorations: The Best Things To Do In New York
From historic architecture to award-winning restaurants and Broadway debuts, our expert guide will give you the inside scoop on what to do in New York City. | By Tanvi Chheda | November 15, 2022 (Updated January 19, 2024)
An energetic, resilient metropolis of 20 million that’s home to so many cultures (there are more than 700 languages spoken within its limits), New York City keeps reinventing itself in the best possible ways. Read on and discover some of our favorite things to do in the Big Apple:
Quintessential New York: Visit sights like the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Central Park
Theater-bound: Catch the latest Broadway show for an unforgettable night of drama
Cultural pursuits: Be inspired by Monet, Picasso and Warhol at the Museum of Modern Art
Sights and attractions
No trip to New York City is complete without a visit to Lady Liberty. A symbol of freedom and hope, the 305-foot (93-meter) Statue of Liberty is a short ferry ride from downtown’s Battery Park. Book timed tickets to visit the pedestal and climb up to the crown (162 steps up a spiral staircase from the pedestal or 377 steps from the ground, the equivalent of a 20-story building!) for an up-close look at the statue and bird’s-eye view of New York harbor.
For sweeping city views, there are several perches to choose from — most notably the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building gleams in all its art deco glory, and with two observation areas to choose from (the 86th floor or the 102 floor), you have double the chances for stunning 360-degree views of the city below.
If you prefer to sightsee closer to the ground, clear spring and crisp autumn days are made for strolling. Our favorite spots? Across the mile-long Brooklyn Bridge, the world’s first steel suspension bridge, or in Central Park, the city’s 843-acre verdant jewel designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. The Central Park Conservancy runs 90-minute guided tours focusing on sections of the park such as the Ramble, Conservatory Gardens and North Woods.
Have a taste for some culture? High up on the (long) list of New York’s cultural highlights is a Broadway show. Snag tickets to the latest hot production or see a beloved favorite like “The Lion King” or “Wicked,” a retelling of the Wizard of Oz.
If museums are more your speed, make sure you have plenty of time on your hands. It would take more than a week to hit all of New York City’s world-class museums. One not to miss, however, is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with its 490,000-piece collection, including the Temple of Dendur, a Roman Egyptian temple from 15 BCE, commissioned by Emperor Augustus to the goddess Isis.
Prefer modern art? Stop in at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) for a peek at works by Monet, Matisse, van Gogh, Picasso and Warhol. The Guggenheim, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright with a curved exterior and spiral ramp inside, and the Whitney, reopened in 2015 in the Meatpacking District, are two other favorites for 20th century and American art. Families with younger children will also enjoy the Transit Museum, where kids can climb into old subway cars and commuter rail trains.
Shop until you drop
From books and toys to ready-to-wear, home goods and more, New York City has your retail needs covered.
Bookworms can browse for hours at McNally Jackson Books, or the Strand, which boasts 18 miles of books. In Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood, family-owned independent bookstore Books are Magic is a cult favorite.
SoHo is a mecca for designer boutiques, a veritable Who’s Who of fashion with numerous trendy names claiming outposts in the cobblestoned neighborhood. If visiting during the holiday season, toymaker FAO Schwarz, which moved from its famed Fifth Avenue location to Rockefeller Center in recent years, and Macy’s Herald Square, the department store’s flagship location, are worth visiting for their festive holiday decor alone.
Where to eat
A melting pot of a city that never sleeps means there’s always something good to eat, from pizza and bagels to international flavors and around 100 vegan restaurants.
For New Yorkers, the topic of pizza can be a sensitive one, and every style and establishment has a legion of loyal devotees. A few favorites to try: Rubirosa in the Nolita neighborhood downtown, Roberta’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Una Pizza Napoletana in the Lower East Side and Speedy Romeo in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
For more international fare, there’s Tamarind and no-frills Saravanaa Bhavan for South Asian food; Taim for falafel; Momofuku Noodle Bar for ramen and El Vez for Mexican. Can’t decide? Head to Chelsea Market and take your pick from the many food vendors – including Korean, Italian and Jamaican – within this bustling food hall.
Grab your walking shoes and start settling into the many fascinating corners of New York City waiting for you to explore. It’s a diverse mix of culture, architecture, history and food that will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.
Tanvi Chheda is a travel writer and family travel expert based in Los Angeles. From taking her daughter to Peru at the age of 2 to visiting several U.S. National Parks with her family, she loves seeing new places through her kids' eyes and encourages other families to do the same. A former Travel + Leisure editor, Tanvi has written for The New York Times, AFAR.com, Robb Report, Virtuoso Life and Ciao Bambino, among others.