When one thinks of what to do and see in New York, one inevitably thinks of Manhattan, its lights and skyscrapers.
New York is the dream destination for many and a great city brimming with possibilities. First time visitor? There is so much to discover that your itinerary can be approached in many different ways. To make sure you don't miss any corner of this city, here are my must-see places in Manhattan:
1. Marvel at the lights of Times Square, day and night
I still remember the first time I visited New York, I left my bags at the hotel and we quickly went down to the subway to get out at the Times Square stop. It was already night and my first contact with the streets of the Big Apple was this: the impact of the lights of Times Square had me ecstatic for several minutes and then I knew that it would be my favorite city, forever.
What to see in Times Square
- Just look up to see some of the largest advertising screens in the world.
- It is quite common to see the famous half-naked cowboy and other characters surrounded by tourists lining up to take a picture with him (if you do, you will have to tip him).
- Disney Store
- M&M's themed store, where you will be a kid again.
- Low cost clothing stores, such as H&M or Gap (at Gap they usually have quite a few sweatshirts and t-shirts personalized with New York details, so it's a good place to buy more original "souvenirs".
- Well known themed restaurants such as the Hard Rock Café, Bubba Gump or Planet Hollywood.
- The famous ball with which New York celebrates the New Year's Eve chimes.
- The famous red stairs from where you can appreciate the square from a higher perspective.
- Fast food street stalls: pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers...
Times Square at Christmas
If there is one time of the year when Times Square becomes the center of everything, it is Christmas (which by the way is one of the best times to visit New York). The square starts warming up with large crowds on the night of the famous Black Friday (last Friday of each November) and that gives the starting signal for Christmas shopping. In addition, days before Christmas Eve is celebrated the "Santa Convention": a parade with thousands of "Santa Clauses" in costume.
Why I like Times Square
Every time I visit Manhattan, I pass by during the day and at night: the atmosphere of New Yorkers crossing (always in a hurry), tourists gawking at the screens skimming the sky and dozens of costumed characters, hot dog carts and teenagers shopping. When you're in Times Square you know you're at the epicenter of the modern world.
Isa's Traveller Tip
Times Square is a great choice for the first stop on your trip. Marvel at its lights and watch out for cabs! Although the square is invaded by pedestrians, the traffic doesn't stop. Welcome to Manhattan!
2. Visit the Cathedral of New York: St. Patrick's Cathedral
Surely you didn't have this in mind when you started to imagine your trip to the Big Apple, but I recommend that you don't miss it and I'll tell you why. A ten-minute walk from Times Square, located on Fifth Avenue and in front of Rockefeller Center is St. Patrick's Cathedral, the largest neo-Gothic Catholic temple in North America.
What you will see
It is a very special building, not only for its exterior (its white marble facade stands out among the skyscraper buildings that surround it), but also for its interior, where there are two organs with about 10,000 pipes with which spectacular music recitals are performed from October each season.
Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral you can see a sculpture of the Pieta, which is three times larger than Michelangelo's in Rome. Note also the 8-meter-diameter rose window above the main organ and the altar of St. Louis and St. Michael. Many of the best tours of New York in Spanish pass through here.
Why I like St. Patrick's Cathedral
When you plan your trip to the city of skyscrapers you never imagine that right there, in the focus of modernity and avant-garde, you can meet such a spectacular classical building. Admission to the temple is free, so it won't cost you anything to go in and take a look, and the contrast with the rest of the attractions you will visit on your trip shows you that in New York there is literally everything.
3. Shopping on Fifth Avenue
The well-known Fifth Avenue in New York connects the north and south of Manhattan, being one of the most important arteries of the city and also one of the most expensive. Not in vain is known by the nickname of the "Avenue of Millionaires" for having the most exclusive hotels and stores in the Big Apple as Armani, Prada, Chanel or Tiffany, among many others. Here are some of the best things to buy in New York.
What you will see on Fifth Avenue
Surely you will pass by this avenue several times throughout your trip, but if you allow me a tip, leave the rush aside and stop to spend an afternoon contemplating its shop windows and entering the most famous stores in its streets.
Very close to Central Park you have the Trump Tower, and from there, a myriad of stores, malls and tourist attractions such as the Empire State Building, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, the MET, the Public Library and below, the Flatiron Building, the first skyscraper in New York. By the way, if what really brings you to New York is shopping, don't miss Woodbury Commons, the best outlets in New York.
Top five stores and storefronts
- The famous Tiffany & Co jewelry store: in addition to its several floors of luxurious jewelry, it has recently opened a cafeteria on its top floor so that you can finally fulfill that "breakfast with diamonds".
- Saks Fifth Avenue: a shopping mall with incredible window displays where you will lose track of time.
- Apple Store: this Apple Store, in my opinion, is not just another one. Close to Central Park and fully glazed, it will make you forget any Apple Store you have visited before.
- Abercrombie & Fitch: not everyone is lucky enough to have an Abercrombie in their hometown, so it's a good place to get your hands on the legendary sweatshirts of the American brand.
- NBA Store: whether you are an NBA fan or not (and I'll tell you more about attending a game later) you will definitely want to get a cap or a T-shirt of the most important basketball league in the world. This is their official store in New York, so don't hesitate to visit it.
Why I like Fifth Avenue
I admit that as a shopping addict, I am not very objective on this point, but if there is something that Fifth Avenue sneaks into my ranking is mainly because it is one of the most iconic avenues in Manhattan, a key point to orient you when you go from one place to another and a place to shop (or dream of shopping), whatever your budget. Plus, Central Park in the background always adds a magical touch.
4. Get cultured at MoMA
Leaving Fifth Avenue behind and entering 54th Street, you will find the unmissable MoMA Museum of New York, the most important museum in the world on modern art and one of the best museums in New York. It has a vast collection of works by famous artists such as Dali, Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, among many others.
- Address: 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019.
- MoMA opening hours: open from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm.
- What to see at MoMA: if you do not want to spend too much time, it is best to focus on the fourth and fifth floors, which is where the works of artists such as Warhol, Pollock, Matisse and Cézanne are exhibited.
- Ticket prices and discounts: I tell you all about the price and how to buy them in my article on how to visit MoMA.
Why I like MoMA
There are many museums in New York, but MoMA is one of the most dynamic and light-hearted, making it a tremendously popular attraction, even if you go to New York with children.
You can see the most representative works of art of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries and discover the most famous series of Andy Warhol, who marked a before and after in the history of modern art. If you are considering visiting other museums, consider the following: the Guggenheim, the MET Museum and the Museum of Natural History.
5. Contemplate the Manhattan Skyline by climbing the best skyscrapers
You could say that the soul of New York resides in the skyscrapers that make up its skyline. The list of observatories in the city is long (you can also climb the Empire State Building, One World Observatory, The Edge and the new Summit Vanderbilt) and each one shows a different and unique facet, but for many (and for me too) the Top of the Rock is the best observatory to enjoy the most fascinating panoramic view of New York in all its splendor.
The favorite, the Top of the Rock
The Top of the Rock observation deck is located in Rockefeller Center, a huge complex of restaurants, offices, stores, theaters and television studios that was built during the Great Depression in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. From Top of the Rock, the views of the city are spectacular: you will have a wonderful panoramic view of Central Park, a perfect view of the Empire State Building and you can see the skyline of Downtown (the financial district) in the distance, but in great detail.
In addition, the observation deck is quite large and open-air, allowing you to enjoy your moment up there even more, without rushing, crowds or crowds. Getting to the Top of the Rock is very easy and once there you can also take the opportunity to eat at the best restaurants near the Top of the Rock.
Why I prefer the Top of the Rock
Climbing to the Top of the Rock was one of the experiences that impressed me the most on my trip to New York. Seeing the skyscrapers from the top is a must to see Manhattan from a bird's eye view, and although there are bars or restaurants on other rooftops, the views from the Top of the Rock are unbeatable. By the way, you can also climb to the Top of the Rock at night. You won't regret it, promise!
6. Immerse yourself in the magic of Broadway Musicals
You come to Manhattan to have fun, to be surprised at every corner and, as far as possible, to daydream. That's why Broadway musicals will make you lose track of time (no matter how old you are!) Here it's no excuse that you don't like theater. The magic of Broadway will perform and will leave you with your mouth open, whether you go with family, friends or as a couple.
Of course, I recommend that you reserve your tickets in advance to ensure the best seats on the date you want and at a better price than at the box office, where you will also save having to wait in long lines.
The most outstanding musicals:
- The Lion King: it's not only the king of the jungle, it's also the king of the billboard. It's been playing on Broadway every night since 1997 and is the most-watched musical in history. There's a reason, isn't there?
- Aladdin: my favorite. Maybe because I went to see it with less expectations than I had for the Lion King, it surprised and overwhelmed me in equal parts.
- Chicago: travel to Chicago in the 1920's and enjoy an unparalleled soundtrack.
- The Phantom of the Opera: a perfect classic if you prefer to get out of the "ideality" of the Disney world.
Just walking along the sidewalks and seeing the luminous billboards will awaken your curiosity to see one of these world famous shows. It is probably the best place in the world to see a musical, which in my opinion you have to do (at least) once in your life.
7. Step inside the New York Public Library
Returning to Fifth Avenue (I warned you, it's the hub of it all), you'll find the famous steps of the Public Library. This impressive three-story neoclassical building will catch your eye with its decorated marble staircase at the entrance, with two fountains and two lions nicknamed Patience and Fortitude.
Inside it holds more than three million books, including in its catalog a letter from Christopher Columbus, some manuscripts of William Shakespeare, a draft of the Declaration of Independence of the United States and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible in the McGraw rotunda. Almost nothing!
What to see inside the Public Library
Surely its reading rooms will transport you directly to "Ghostbusters," "Breakfast at Tiffany's" or "The Day After Tomorrow," as they filmed several of their scenes there. The most famous of all is the Rose Reading Room, on the third floor: for its large dimensions (it is as big as a soccer field) and its ostentatious decoration with hanging lamps, massive oak tables and beautiful frescoes on the ceiling.
Why I like the Public Library
I will not deny that the fact that it is free is an incentive to take a look and go inside even if only for a few minutes. This bookstore has been the scene of several movies and not by chance. It is certainly the best reading room I have ever seen. It seems incredible that you can find a place with so much calm and peace in the middle of bustling Midtown.
8. The best basketball league in the world, at Madison Square Garden
Madison Square Garden, popularly known as "The World's Most Famous Coliseum", is a huge indoor arena in Midtown Manhattan. With five floors and a capacity of more than 20,000 spectators, it is famous for being the "home" where the Knicks (NBA) and the Rangers (NHL) play.
Madison Square Garden also hosts musical events (and in fact the best artists in the world have performed here) but if during your visit to New York you want to attend an NBA game, you can't miss the New York Knicks here. If you've made up your mind, here's how to buy NBA tickets in New York.
If you are more in the mood for an ice hockey game, you can also watch the New York Rangers.
Why I recommend a visit to Madison Square Garden
As I said, you come to New York to have fun and even if you don't like sports or the NBA, watching a basketball game in the United States is a real spectacle of music, dancing, partying and above all, sport, of course. Get your cap and hot dog ready and try to catch one of the t-shirts thrown by the cheerleaders. Maybe if you're lucky you'll even get caught on the mythical "kiss-cam"!
9. Grand Central Station, a crossroads in the heart of Manhattan
Grand Central Terminal is the most important railway station to see in Manhattan and one of the architectural jewels of New York. This prodigy of art and engineering was inaugurated in the nineteenth century and you may have seen it in many movie series. A real crossroads at rush hour.
You will recognize it by its main lobby called Main Concourse decorated by a huge celestial vault with frescoes of constellations. Once inside you can also contemplate its three large arched windows and its iconic clock as well as a huge American flag in memory of the victims of 9/11.
Why I like Grand Central Terminal
As a movie and series lover, it may sound a bit geeky, but I really wanted to see the famous hall of this station. If you want to see it in full swing, I recommend you stand in the center of the hall at rush hour, around 5pm. Be prepared to be amazed by the millions of New Yorkers you'll see speeding through.
Isa's Traveller Tip
Take advantage of your visit to Grand Central Terminal to have a drink in one of its cafes and restaurants, although the most famous and oldest of them is the "Oyster Bar" dating from 1913.
10. Have a picnic in Madison Square Park
While it is true that Central Park is the main lung of Manhattan and the largest urban park in New York, on Fifth Avenue next to the Flatiron building is located a small park not known by all visitors to the city that is an oasis of calm in the middle of bustling Midtown: Madison Square Park (for me, one of the best parks in New York).
Here it is common to see office workers taking a break from work and it is also very frequented by New Yorkers because there are usually exhibitions and outdoor concerts.
What to do or see in Madison Square Park
It has an area with tables and chairs where you can sit and enjoy a tea, a sandwich or an ice cream while you take a break from your day of sightseeing in Manhattan. In addition, the first Shake Shack restaurant is located here, so you know... take advantage of the break to recharge your batteries with a good burger, a hot dog and a giant milkshake.
Why I recommend Madison Square Park
No offense to Central Park (I know you'll visit it anyway, because it's a must), I found Madison Square Park to be super authentic. Many tourists overlook it (and that, believe me, makes it even more authentic) and take a walk or eat on the lawn in picnic mode is a great plan to rest during a marathon day of touring Manhattan.
11. Museum of Natural History
Before leaving the Midtown area, I can't help but recommend one of the most visited museums in the United States: the New York Museum of Natural History, which has topped every list of the best science museums on the planet since its founding in the 19th century.
Dedicated to the dissemination of information about the universe, the Earth and the human being, this museum is one of the main tourist attractions in Manhattan due to its relevant collection, full of fossils, minerals and even meteorites, which appeals to both adults and children. A plus point to take into account if we travel to New York with the family.
Why I like the Museum of Natural History
Although I have never been a big fan of museums, I recognize that the visit to the Museum of Natural History is very enjoyable and surprising. It is a great parenthesis in your trip and it will abstract you from everything you have seen so far in Manhattan. In fact, if you only have time to visit one museum, I would definitely recommend this one.
12. Journey to the heart of Harlem at a Gospel Mass
A stroll through Harlem is a must during your visit to Manhattan. This area of the city is related to the African-American community and in its beginnings it had an impressive artistic effervescence in dance, painting and music. In fact, in Harlem began his artistic career great stars of the song as Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin and James Brown. Here are the best places to listen to live music in Harlem.
What to do in Harlem
If you are passionate about music, the best way to soak up the culture of Harlem is to take a tour of the Harlem neighborhood, where you will get to know its genuine atmosphere and streets with a lot of history. You'll even experience the spirituality of attending a Gospel Mass at a local church.
Why I like Harlem
New York is a city of contrasts and if we stay only with the majesty of the skyscrapers of Midtown and Downtown, we would be leaving a large part of the city to know. Harlem is not only a neighborhood of Manhattan, but the heart and soul of a community with a tradition and culture deeply rooted in the history of the city. A Gospel Mass in one of Harlem' s churches will be the final touch to your visit to this area.
13. A bittersweet but unmissable tour in Manhattan: the 9/11 Memorial
Leaving the north of the island, if we travel south of Manhattan, we will find, located at Ground Zero in New York, the 9/11 Memorial. This is one of the most moving visits to make in New York. It pays tribute to all the victims who perished in the terrorist attacks of 2001 and really makes a great impression to leave the feelings to the surface.
What you will see at Ground Zero
In the same place where the Twin Towers stood today is located the Memorial Plaza, two large fountains fed by waterfalls surrounded by bronze plaques where the names of all the victims are engraved.
In turn, these pools are surrounded by hundreds of oak trees, creating an oasis of meditation that invites you to remember the past and fill the future with hope. However, among all of them stands out one called "The Surviving Tree", the only one that survived the tragedy.
Why I recommend the 9/11 Memorial
We all remember in greater or lesser detail what happened on that terrible September 11 that changed the modern world. The 9/11 Memorial is a delicate and sensitive tribute to the victims of this tragedy and also has a museum where a collection of more than 10,000 objects recovered from the rubble is exhibited. I tell you more details about the visit in my 9/11 Memorial Tickets and Tours guide.
14. Become an executive for a day on the streets of the Financial District
The financial district, in the heart of Downtown Manhattan, is probably the most representative neighborhood of New York. Its narrow and long streets flanked by huge skyscrapers will barely allow you to see the sky, immersing you fully in the rush and stress suffered by those who dedicate marathon days to their work on Wall Street.
What to see in the Financial District
- Wall Street, the most representative street of this neighborhood
- The new World Trade Center (where the One World Observatory is located), built after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.
- The famous New York Stock Exchange
- The Wall Street Bull (with its obligatory photograph for the superstitious)
- Trinity Church, an architectural oasis amidst so many modernist skyscrapers
- Battery Park, with the piers to set sail for the Statue of Liberty
15. Dive into the bowels of Chinatown
New York is a multicultural city where different religions, races and cultures coexist. If after attending a Gospel mass you wish to complete this mystical experience in the city, at 133 Canal Street in Chinatown is located the Mahayana Buddhist temple, with the largest Buddha in New York measuring 5 meters high.
What to see or do in Chinatown
- In addition to the Buddhist temple, you can enter the Chinese Museum in America in order to learn about the history of this community in the United States.
- You can also go hunting for the best deals in Chinatown and browse its stores where they sell all kinds of products at very cheap prices.
- You can stroll through its quiet Columbus Park.
Here is a compilation of the best things to do in Chinatown so you don't miss anything.
Why I like Chinatown
It is one of the most popular neighborhoods in New York and although personally I would not dedicate more than a couple of hours, it is highly recommended to stroll through its streets to perceive a totally different atmosphere than the one you find in nearby SoHo or Wall Street itself. Again, this area represents the contrasts and reality of the city, so do not hesitate to dedicate a visit during your stay in Downtown.
Also take the opportunity to taste the best Asian food in the city in the best places to eat in Chinatown.
16. Sail to the Statue of Liberty
This gift from France to the United States on the 100th anniversary of its independence has become the country's most famous monument and a symbol of freedom and democracy.
The Statue of Liberty, 46 meters high, is located on Liberty Island and can be visited by ferry. This experience is highly recommended because you will be able to see this spectacular sculpture up close and enjoy the views of New York from the sea.
Why I like this experience
The skyline of the financial district is seen to perfection and it is also a totally relaxing experience that will allow you to take a break from long walks.
17. Enjoy the nightlife of Manhattan with its live jazz clubs
New York is the perfect setting to enjoy the best jazz. Since most of Chicago's best musicians moved to New York in the late 1920s, the city soon became a jazz mecca. Almost all the relevant styles of this musical genre have emerged in the Big Apple in recent years, and musicians from all over the country have come here to work their way up to the top.
In Harlem, many clubs have live bands, but if you prefer to go somewhere iconic you should enter the Village Vanguard. Despite opening its doors in 1925, it has hardly changed since then and that accounts for much of its charm. When you go down the stairs of this place you will see some small tables where you can have a drink during the concert and several pictures of the musicians who have played, and there are many of them.
In Times Square
Other jazz clubs to see in Manhattan are "Iridium", known for having a variety of bands playing different genres such as jazz, blues and rock every day of the week. As it is right in Times Square, it is a perfect option to end the day if you have your hotel in this part of the city.
Near Times Square is located another jazz club with a long history, "Birdland", whose name comes from the popular musician Charlie Parker and his nickname "Bird". This club is an essential part of the history of jazz in New York, especially in the 50s and 60s. Today, Birdland is known for its bands in residence and for hosting such popular events as the Umbria Jazz Festival in New York and the annual Django Reinhardt NY Festival.
If you also feel like enjoying the authentic New York nightlife, don't hesitate to have a good cocktail at one of the best rooftops in New York.
18. Spend an afternoon of shopping at Macy's
If you want to take a souvenir of your trip to New York and, in addition, you love shopping, you have to reserve time in your agenda to go to Macy's, the largest store in the world located on 34th Street, known as "The Fashion District", in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.
Besides being one of the most popular places among New Yorkers for shopping, its history and anecdotes also make it worth a visit. For example, did you know that the first Santa Claus to work in a department store during Christmas was Macy's in 1862 and that this store organized the first Thanksgiving parade in 1924?
Its building was declared of Historic Interest and tourists are offered a 10% discount on all their purchases. How not to take a tour of this mall?
Why I recommend Macy's
Far from the strict luxury of other Manhattan malls, here you will find brands and products for all budgets. In addition, you will always find special offers (do not forget to check the Tax Free policy for travelers from outside the United States). If you' re traveling to New York at Christmas, Macy's and its decorations are a must.
19. Enjoy New York's gastronomy in its authentic markets
Drinking and eating are two of the favorite activities for travelers on vacation, especially in New York for its endless culinary possibilities. I've written a guide about 10 places to eat in New York City, but here are my favorites in Manhattan to whet your appetite:
Gotham West Market in Hell's Kitchen
West of Times Square in Hell's Kitchen, a neighborhood brimming with bars and restaurants, is Gotham West Market, a food hall where there are no fast food chains, but restaurants with a more elaborate gastronomic offer that share space in a large open room on the first floor of the building.
Gotham West Market is a fairly quiet place with a fairly wide menu to choose from (ramen, pizza, sandwiches, tacos, burgers, crepes, etc.) so there will be no problem to agree on when to eat if you travel in a group to New York. This market has a little bit of everything.
Little Spain Market
Another option to see in Manhattan is the newly opened Little Spain Market, located in the trendy Hudson Yards neighborhood inside the 10 Hudson Yards building. A gastronomic space dedicated to the flavors of traditional Spanish cuisine by the prestigious chef José Andrés in collaboration with the brothers Ferrán and Albert Adriá.
Little Spain has a dozen stalls where you can savor great classics of Spanish gastronomy such as tapas, sandwiches, cocas, cheeses or Spanish wines. In addition to these places to snack, the restaurants Mar, Leña and Spanish Diner complete the offer with outdoor space to enjoy the best of Spanish cuisine outside Spain. While you're there, take the opportunity to visit the new trendy neighborhood, Hudson Yards.
Finally, Chelsea Market is one of the most famous gastronomic markets in New York. It is located in the Meatpacking District next to the High Line, an urban park built on former elevated railroad tracks, which crosses the west side of Manhattan.
It is a former cookie factory converted into a beautiful market where it has retained its old industrial style with exposed brick walls and high ceilings giving it a lot of personality. Strolling through Chelsea Market is a pleasure, not only for its decoration but because here you can buy delicacies from around the world and order something to eat at their fast food stalls (sushi, tacos, noodles, pasta or seafood, the specialty of the market).
Also, did you know that Oreo cookies were invented in this place? Look at the walls, they are full of Oreo references!
20. Have fun at Madame Tussauds
Located in Times Square, it opened its doors in 2000 to realistically portray celebrities from all fields (film, music, television, sports, politics, etc.) and the public can interact with these wax figures in the mounted scenographies.
Why I liked Madame Tussauds
Everything is prepared at Madame Tussauds to have a great time.What to see at Madame Tussauds in New York? There are special shows like King Kong (where you will face an imposing animatronic of this legendary and ferocious ape), Marvel 4D Experience (an entertaining interactive activity with superheroes like the Hulk, Captain America, Thor or Iron Man) or Ghostbusters (where you can catch your own ghost).