New York

11 must do’s when visiting New York City

New York City is one of the greatest and most impressive cities in the world. The city’s soaring skyscrapers are the first thing that leave an overwhelming impression when visiting this magnificent city. It’s true, these streets will make you feel brand new and big lights will inspire you like Jay-Z and Alicia Keys would say. 😉 There are so many things to do and to see in New York that a lifetime isn’t enough to explore it all. We already shared our favorite museums in New York City and a New York City guide for TV show lovers, now it’s time to share our must do’s when visiting New York City. From famous monuments to breathtaking city views, we cover it all. We also include the big-hitters that will help you catch a glimpse of the city’s beating heart. Keep in mind that we visited New York for ten days, if you’re going for a shorter period of time you probably won’t be able to visit everything.

1. Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Must do's when visiting New York City: Statue of Liberty

When visiting New York, the Statue of Liberty is a must-see. This iconic statue is one of the world’s largest statues and remains a world symbol of freedom. It was a gift from France to the United States and is still one of the top attractions in America. Our first time visiting was as impressive as we thought it would be!

Since we bought a New York Citypass to visit all the attractions, the boat trip to the Statue of Liberty included a stop at Ellis Island as well, where you can visit the Immigration Museum (included in the ticket). The museum is located in the historic immigration station complex. This was an interesting visit because it really provided great insights into the lives of thousands of immigrants that were looking to start their American Dream.

2. Times Square

Must do's when visiting New York City: Times Square

Nothing screams New York more than Times Square. It is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions and known by literally everyone. The countless neon billboards and huge screens are a must-see, especially if you’re a first-timer. It can be a bit overwhelming, but is so impressive and exciting that you can’t stop looking at it.

Times Square is one of the busiest places, we were “lucky” that the jetlag always woke us up early so we could start exploring at the crack of dawn. It also was a rainy day when we visited, which made it the perfect moment to explore Times Square without too many crowds.

Every New Year’s Eve, up to a million people come to ring in the New Year at the ball drop, making this the most famous place in the world to welcome in the New Year. Since we visited New York during Christmas and New Year, this was also on our bucket list. Unfortunately, there were many COVID-19 infections around this time so this didn’t seem like a good plan to us, that’s why we didn’t end up doing this. One more reason to return again! (although true New Yorkers will hate us for this)

Not so fun fact: we ended up watching “Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer in New York”, luckily only after we visited Times Square. It is crazy to think Times Square wasn’t always as glossy, it used to be a symbol for a city struggling with violent crime.

3. Central Park

Must do's when visiting New York City: Central Park

Another must-do is walking around Central Park. Everyone has undoubtedly seen Central Park in a series or movie, but strolling around here is the best way to get a glimpse of the authentic New York City life. In winter, you can even ice skate here. During summer it is the perfect spot to have a romantic picnic with your beloved one. We have to warn you, Central Park is unlike most parks around the world. Don’t think you can spend less than an hour here if you want to see it all!

4. Visit one of New York’s observation decks

New York City has an impressive skyline which you can admire from multiple observation decks. Visits to both the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock were included in our New York Citypass, but even if this was not the case we would have visited both observation decks anyway.

Empire State Building

Must do's when visiting New York City: Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is one of New York’s most famous tourist attractions. It has been featured in countless movies and series. Here you can find the city’s highest open-air observation deck with thrilling panoramic views of New York City. The view really blew our mind, we could stare at it for hours! Although we were most excited to get to the top, the road up is an interesting one as well. You get to learn a lot more about the history of the building and get a glimpse at what movies the Empire State Building has featured in.

Top of the Rock

Must do's when visiting New York City: Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock, located in Rockefeller Center, is another spectacular observation deck. There are three floors with indoor and outdoor viewing spaces, but the viewing platform isn’t as high up as the one at the Empire State Building. If you really had to pick one of the two, we suggest you go for the Empire State Building! For some reason, the line at Top of the Rock took longer than the one at the Empire State Building, too.

5. Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge

Must do's when visiting New York City: Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most famous and recognizable landmarks of New York. Stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge, but also admire the bridge from the Dumbo neighborhood! The view of the bridge, and the view on it are simply overwhelming. We recommend visiting it both by day and night. Both are impressive experiences, but there is something extra special about seeing this iconic bridge at night, with the citylights in the background. It is so romantic our heart even skipped a beat.

Must do's when visiting New York City: Manhattan Bridge

Another iconic image of New York is the Manhattan Bridge viewing spot, located along Washington Street, also in the Dumbo neighborhood. Here you will find the best view of the Manhattan Bridge that New York has to offer. Since this is a very popular photography spot, it can get really crowded. Despite the crowds, it is still worth seeing in real life and if you’re patient enough you can get a picture with no-one in the background!

6. Walk around Soho and Chinatown

Must do's when visiting New York City: Chinatown

One of the many wonderful things about New York is its diversity, which is also reflected in the different neighborhoods. Right next to each other you can find Soho and Chinatown, two of the coolest and most fascinating neighborhoods in New York City. Start by exploring the art galleries and trendy shops in Soho, and end up eating a local specialty in one of the many restaurants at Chinatown. We suggest you look for places where there are a lot of Asian people dining, as these tend to be better (and cheaper). We ordered some noodles to-go from a local restaurant and had lunch in Columbus Park. This was a great experience, because when we arrived at the park there were some people playing cards and all sorts of gambling games!

7. Rockefeller Center

Must do's when visiting New York City: Rockefeller Center

We briefly mentioned Rockefeller Center since the Top of the Rock Observation Deck is located here, but Rockefeller Center has a lot more to offer. It is an entertainment and shopping complex, located in the heart of midtown Manhattan. We were lucky to be able to admire the huge iconic Christmas tree in front of the ice-skating rink. When we visited, there were some chalets available to sit in, which was really awesome! Best thing about these chalets was that they were (basically) free, as long as you bought something from Hombre Taco. Unfortunately for us, all cabins were taken when it was our time to order, but maybe you will be luckier next year! Close to Rockefeller Center you can find Radio City Music Hall, a famous entertainment venue.

8. Wall Street

Must do's when visiting New York City: Wall Street

The world-famous Wall Street is the heart of the Financial District, in Lower Manhattan. Make sure to stop to admire the statue of the Charging Bull, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Financial District and a popular photo opportunity for visitors. Our tip for a picture without 100s of other people: visit the Charging Bull on a Sunday before 9 AM, as there will be no-one there! This of course means you’ll have to come back to Wall Street if you want to experience it in all its glory, because the District is quite empty on Saturdays and Sundays (but full of life during the week).

Best time to visit Wall Street would be on a weekday around 11:30 AM and stay for approximately half an hour, as you will see hundreds of financial advisers and bankers taking their lunchbreaks!

9. Washington Square Park

Must do's when visiting New York City: Washington Square Park

At Washington Square Park you can find one of the city’s most recognizable monuments: the Washington Arch. You can find a lot of entertainers and performers here, which makes it the perfect location to take a breath and enjoy some people-watching. Friends lovers will also know this place, because it appears countless times as a short transition shot in the series!

10. Fifth Avenue

Must do's when visiting New York City: Fifth Avenue

Fifth Avenue is one of the most expensive and famous shopping streets in America. Here you can find many top designers like Gucci, Cartier, Tiffany & Co, Louis Vuitton, and many others. Fifth Avenue is also home to the famous and beautifully designed Apple Store. It’s definitely worth a walk, even for non-shoppers.

11. Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

Must do's when visiting New York City: Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

If you’re visiting New York during Christmas, the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights is a must-do! It is one of the most popular attractions to enjoy during the holiday season. Wander down the multiple blocks and avenues in Brooklyn and experience some over-the-top Christmas light decorations (think life-sized Santas, snowmen, candy canes,…). You can literally walk around here for hours and still be amazed, this is truly a magnificent experience and totally free.

Good to know

We mentioned the New York Citypass several times, so we wanted to share some more information about this pass. If you plan on sightseeing multiple days and want to visit all of the attractions, you can save yourself a lot of money by buying a New York Citypass. We bought the pass for approximately € 125 per person. This pass gives access to multiple museums and attractions at a discounted rate. They state on their website that the savings you get are almost € 100 per person! If you were going to visit all of the attractions anyway (like we were), we recommend buying the pass to save some cash!

We visited five attractions: Empire State Building, American Museum of Natural History, Top of the Rock Observation Deck, Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and 9/11 Memorial & Museum. You can choose between different options so if you don’t want to visit two observation decks for example, you can skip the Top of the Rock Observation Deck and go for the Guggenheim Museum instead. Check out their website if you’re interested in saving some money whilst visiting all of New York’s finest attractions!

Where to stay in New York

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