Empire State Building

The Empire State Building, a definite must-do NYC experience. (Courtesy Empire State Building)

Top Things to Do in New York City

By Mackenzie Allison on 05/02/15, updated 05/25/17
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New York City is home to a few of the most famous attractions in the world, iconic, historic and even new—such as the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Here are what we consider to be the very top of the heap, your absolute must-sees before leaving town. If you're looking for a quick way to score tickets to NYC's top destinations, CityPASS offers admission to the most popular attractions at a reduced rate, rolled into one ticket.

Some of these places—such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island—require advance planning, since a ferry trip to the venue is involved. Others get sold out quickly—the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum—so buying tickets ahead of time is a must. Then there are others, like the Met, the American Museum of Natural History and Central Park, that you can take in on the spur of the moment, though be forewarned: These are the top sights to see in the Big Apple, so you should pretty much expect crowds everywhere you go.

But trust, us, it will be worth the long lines and the crowds. This is, after all, our city at its very best.

Empire State Building

Empire State Building (Courtesy Empire State Building)

Attractions

Empire State Building Experience

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. The structure offers breathtaking Art-Deco ceiling murals and, of course, Kodak moment-worthy photo ops of the cityscape.

Statue of Liberty

(©gary718/Shutterstock)

Attractions

Statue of Liberty

Practically since its inception, the city has been the gateway for immigrants to the United States, with many reaching the city via the New York Harbor and seeing the welcoming glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. Today visitors go inside the 300-foot landmark pedestal or crown and also visit the museum located at the base of the statue.

One World Observatory

One World Observatory is situated on levels 100, 101 and 102 of the One World Trade Center building in Lower Manhattan (Courtesy One World Observatory)

Attractions

One World Observatory

The observatory is housed on levels 100, 101 and 102 of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere; One World Trade Center. Besides panoramic views of NYC, visitors can expect interactive exhibits and dining options and get whisked to the "top of the world" in under 60 seconds via sleek Sky Pod elevators.

Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration

Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration (Courtesy Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration)

Attractions

Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration

Immigrants to NYC yearning for a better life in the U.S. made the trip to Ellis Island before embarking on their new lives, and this former federal immigration processing station processed more than 12 million immigrants between 1892 and 1954. Today, visitors can explore historic areas and possibly even learn about their own ancestors.

National September 11 Memorial & Museum

National September 11 Memorial & Museum (Courtesy National September 11 Memorial & Museum)

Attractions

National September 11 Memorial & Museum

This sobering museum honors the memory of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 and Feb. 26, 1993 World Trade Center bombing and examines the ongoing significance and impact of the events of September 11. While in the area, visit 9/11 Memorial, a tribute to those nearly 3,000 killed on Sept. 11 in NYC, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pa.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art David H. Koch Plaza. (©The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Attractions

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The most well-known institution on the Upper East Side’s famed Museum Mile, the Met is home to almost any and every art discipline imaginable, including Gothic Revival, Ancient Near Eastern Art, medieval armor, arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas; the Costume Institute's dazzling collection of 35,000-plus costumes; and much more.

American Museum of Natural History

American Museum of Natural History (Courtesy American Museum of Natural History)

Attractions

American Museum of Natural History

Founded in 1869, this Upper West Side institution is home to exhibits of the natural and anthropological variety and also boasts a world-class planetarium—the Hayden Planetarium in the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Check out the gigantic whale in the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life and the museum is also ideal for dinosaur fans.

The High Line

(©Iwan Baan)

Attractions

The High Line

This elevated freight rail line turned public park snakes from Manhattan’s W. 34th St. south to Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District. The park covers little more than a mile and visitors can enjoy views of the West Side and Hudson River, art installations and tours of species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees.

Central Park

Central Park (Courtesy Central Park)

Attractions

Central Park

These grassy grounds span 843 acres from 59th to 110th streets, between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West, and activities to enjoy are limitless—from paying your respects to Beatle John Lennon at Strawberry Fields to people-watching, visiting the Conservatory Garden, having a picnic at the Sheep Meadow or visiting the Central Park Zoo.

Top of the Rock

The view looking north from Top of the Rock (Courtesy Top of the Rock)

Attractions

Top of the Rock

Originally a gift to New Yorkers from John D. Rockefeller, 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 grand views of Central Park, northern Manhattan and the so-close-you-can-touch-it Empire State Building.

Times Square

(Courtesy Times Square Alliance)

Attractions

Times Square

In this bustling district, the twinkling lights of theater marquees and the multimedia displays of ads screened on skyscrapers wow visitors. The area boasts larger-than-life retailers, including a Toys “R” Us with a 60-foot Ferris wheel. Get discounted theater tickets from the TKTS booth under the red staircase in Duffy Square.

Lincoln Center

(Courtesy Lincoln Center)

Entertainment

Lincoln Center

This Upper West Side cultural oasis is home to the New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet and The Metropolitan Opera. Visitors enjoy a year-round schedule of classical music, ballet, theater, opera and jazz in more than 40 concert halls and public spaces on and off its revitalized campus. The attraction also boasts free events.

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal’s main concourse. (Courtesy Grand Central Terminal)

Attractions

Grand Central Terminal

While visiting this historic transportation hub, travelers can take pictures of the four-face clock and astronomical-themed ceiling in the main concourse, share secrets in the Whispering Gallery, savor a steak at Michael Jordan’s The Steak House N.Y.C. or sip cocktails in the luxurious Campbell Apartment.

Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge (Courtesy iStock)

Attractions, Areas to Explore

Brooklyn Bridge

The longest suspension bridge at the time of its opening in 1883, this iconic structure connects Brooklyn to Manhattan. The historic site lends itself to picture-perfect views of the awe-inspiring Manhattan cityscape, so opt for a stroll across the attraction to Brooklyn—Brooklyn Bridge Park waits on the other side.

Map of Top Things to Do in New York City

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