Explore New York City

Top 12 Must-See NYC Attractions

New York City is home to some of the world’s most noteworthy buildings, parks, zoos and more. Here is our list of the top 11 must-see attractions in The City That Never Sleeps.

New York City is home to some of the world’s most noteworthy attractions. Historic landmarks? You got it. Expansive zoos and gardens? Of course. No matter what’s on the agenda, the Big Apple has it. Here are a few of our faves.

With so many high-rise buildings in the city, it’s pretty easy to find a spot perched in the clouds to take in a bird’s-eye view of this sprawling metropolis, but two historic edifices stand out from the rest: Top of the Rock Observation Deck at Rockefeller Center and The Empire State Building. The former was a gift to die-hard New Yorkers and big city newbies from John D. Rockefeller, and today folks still get the chance to enjoy panoramic views of Manhattan’s splendor from the 67th and 69th floors of the Art Deco GE Building, aka 30 Rock. Visitors can take in unobstructed views of Central Park, northern Manhattan and a so-close-you-can-almost-touch-it gander at the city’s pride and joy, The Empire State Building—which is next on our list.

This venerable skyscraper is known worldwide as the setting for meet-cutes in romantic comedies ("Sleepless in Seattle" comes to mind) and also reigned as the world’s tallest building for a number of years. A trip to the structure is an immersive experience, with breathtaking Art-Deco ceiling murals in the lobby and interactive audio devices. Of course, Kodak moment-worthy photo ops of the cityscape, Central Park and beyond from the open-air 86th Floor Observation Deck or the 102 Floor Top Deck don’t hurt. 

Central Park
Central Park (©iStock)

Although it’s great to take in each and every feature of the meticulously landscaped Central Park from above, nothing beats taking a stroll through the attraction’s grassy grounds—which span 843 acres from 59th to 110th streets, between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. The activities one can enjoy in the park are almost limitless—from paying your respects to The Beatles’ frontman and long-time NYC resident John Lennon at Strawberry Fields memorial; to people-watching at Bethesda Terrace; having a picnic in the park’s largest lawn, Sheep Meadow; or learning more about wildlife at the Central Park Zoo—home to animals from tropical, temperate and polar regions around the world. Make sure to watch the sea lions perform tricks during their feeding time at the zoo.

Speaking of zoos, Manhattan isn’t the only borough that boasts a famed wildlife park. In the Bronx, the city’s northern-most district, the Bronx Zoo is a great place to watch keepers feed sea lions and penguins; take a camel ride and explore exhibits like the Congo Gorilla Forest and see the Madagascar! attraction, which showcases unique wildlife from that island.

The New York Botanical Garden
The New York Botanical Garden (Courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden)

Also in the Bronx, The New York Botanical Garden is a tranquil, almost 250-acre space comprised of 50 different gardens. Inspired by the Royal Botanic Gardens in London, one standout feature of its U.S. counterpart includes the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory—a large Victorian-era greenhouse.

After a tranquil respite in the Bronx, a trip back to Manhattan, specifically Times Square, is the ideal locale to feel the frenetic energy of the city in full force. This Midtown neighborhood is home to many popular national and international restaurants, clothing stores and more with larger-than-life spaces (think a 110,000-square-foot Toys“R”Us with a 60-foot Ferris wheel). While walking through Times Square, you are sure to be drawn in by the huge marquees and signage for Broadway shows in the Theater District, gigantic billboards, and colorful characters and street performers who frequent the area. Make sure to take a photo—as well as take in great views of your surroundings—on the iconic red steps in Father Duffy Square. And, after, snag discounted Broadway show tickets at the TKTS booth at the base of the stairs.      

Farther downtown in Manhattan’s Financial District, the recently opened 9/11 Memorial is a tribute of remembrance and honor to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center site, near Shanksville, Pa. and at the Pentagon. The memorial also pays tribute to the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993. The Memorial features twin reflecting pools, which rest where the Twin Towers once stood. The names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the Memorial pools. While in the area, also make sure to visit The National September 11 Memorial Museum, which examines the implications and impact of the events of September 11, via multimedia displays, archives and more.

One World Observatory
One World Observatory (Courtesy One World Observatory)

Near the 9/11 Memorial—located at the top of One World Trade Center—the three-level, indoor One World Observatory is New York’s newest attraction. The experience begins when visitors enter through the Global Welcome Center at ground level and ascend in “Sky Pod” elevators to the 102nd floor and the See Forever Theater in less than 60 seconds. The Main Observatory, with floor-to-ceiling windows affording uninterrupted views in every direction (to the north, south, east and west), is on the 100th floor, while three distinct dining options, from casual fare to fine dining, are on the 101st floor. Throughout, the latest in innovative and immersive technology complements the bird’s-eye views from 1,250 feet above ground.

Before we leave the island, and discuss a few outer (or relatively outer) borough attractions, a trip to Manhattan wouldn’t be complete without a visit uptown to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the famed cultural institution on the eastern edge of Central Park. Nearly every art movement, discipline and country is represented on the museum’s multiple floors, from Medieval and Egyptian art to European sculptures, works from Africa and the Americas, and Contemporary masterpieces—so make sure to bring your walking shoes!

Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty (©iStock)

Few places match New York City’s diverse, multi-cultural population; and, since its inception, the city has been the gateway for immigrants from around the world yearning for a better life in the United States. Many of these weary travelers reached the city via the New York Harbor and saw a welcoming glimpse of the epitome of freedom: the Statue of Liberty. Located on Liberty Island—a 12-acre island a mile south of lower Manhattan—visitors to the more than 300-foot landmark can go inside the pedestal or crown. There’s also a museum inside the base of the Statue of Liberty. The same travelers who saw glimpses of the famed statue also made the trip to Ellis Island before embarking on their new lives. This former federal immigration processing station processed more than 12 million third class and steerage immigrants between 1892 and 1954. Today, visitors can explore historic areas including the Baggage Room, Registry Room/Great Hall, as well as the Balcony and Dormitory Room, view thought-provoking exhibits and, possibly, learn more about their own ancestors.

Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge (©iStock)

Another iconic landmark in NYC history is the Brooklyn Bridge, a 5,988-foot suspension bridge that spans the East River and connects Manhattan to Brooklyn. On any given day, thousands of New Yorkers and visitors make the journey across the bridge—taking in awe-inspiring views of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan along the way.

However you choose to spend your time in NYC—be it exploring the city’s historical, cultural or recreational attractions, know that the city offers something for everyone—with new favorites being added every day.