Like many New York natives, I will swear that New York City, with all its flaws and rough edges, is the greatest place in the world. Living there on my own was simultaneously the one of the hardest and best things I’ve done. New York will always seem like home to me. If you are fortunate enough to live there, or even to visit, there are certain things that you can’t miss out on. Here are, in my humble opinion, the best things to do in New York City.
1. Stroll along the Hudson River.
Take in waterfront views of the world-famous Hudson River via the elevated walkways of Hudson River Park.
2. Go bar-hopping in the East Village.
Forget the overpriced rooftop bars – the East Village is where the fun is at. Find a great Happy Hour deal at a dive bar, squeeze your way into a speakeasy, or discover a little-known craft beer at a taproom. There are dozens of possibilities. Jimmy’s No. 43 is an old favorite of mine.
3. Eat halal food from a sidewalk cart.
After leaving NYC, my halal food cravings got so strong that I eventually learned to cook it myself. You’ll know a halal cart is nearby when the fragrant smell of cooking meat hits your nose. You can’t go wrong with the Halal Guys‘ cart on 53rd and 6th, but my go-to was always at the corner of 14th and 3rd – cheaper and a shorter line!
4. Walk around Rockefeller Center at Christmas time.
This is the most touristy thing on the list, but I just had to. Between the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, 5th Avenue department store displays, ice skating, and the Rockettes show at Radio City, there’s plenty of holiday spirit to go around.
If you are around during the holidays, make sure you also swing downtown to Union Square for the holiday market!
5. Visit museums – as many as you can.
With the amount of museums and constant rotation of exhibits, this never gets old. I’ve been visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum since I was a baby and each visit is a different experience. Plus, a lot of museums have free admission days or suggested donations, where you choose what to pay to enter.
For a compiled list of museums with free and suggested fees, check out my free guide to New York City here!
6. Grab a journal, sketchpad, or book and spend the afternoon at a park.
Fewer things are more restorative than passing a leisurely afternoon on the grass. There are so many parks to choose from in the city – Central Park alone offers a wide range of options from the Great Lawn to Sheep Meadow. I personally love lounging by the fountain in Washington Square Park.
7. See the New York Public Library’s Schwarzman Building.
The Schwarzman Building is that public library, with the iconic lion statues in front, and it’s so much more than a place to check out books. You can enjoy rotating exhibits, special events such as author talks and craft workshops, the free children’s program, and guided tours of the building’s renowned architecture. You can even get married here!
8. Eat a real bagel – slathered in cream cheese.
There’s nothing like a plump, doughy New York bagel. I haven’t found anything that comes close to the real thing. Make sure to order your bagel with cream cheese, and add lox (smoked salmon) to make it a full meal. Ess-a-Bagel is a classic if you’re in Manhattan. If you want to go off the beaten path, my favorites are the coconut bagels at Brooklyn Bagel in Astoria, Queens.
9. See a Broadway show (for cheap!)
There are lots of ways to score cheap Broadway tickets – the lottery, standing room tickets, student or military discounts, and same-day rush are all possibilities. Set realistic expectations (you won’t be seeing Hamilton for free anytime soon) and research your options online before putting down money on a ticket.
10. Ride the (free!) ferry to Staten Island for a view of the Statue of Liberty.
Skip the pricey boat ride to the Statue of Liberty and take the free Staten Island ferry instead! The ferry will bring you close enough to the statue for some great photo ops as well as provide lots of other beautiful waterfront views.
11. Indulge in a boozy brunch.
Brunch with a drink in hand is as much a New York tradition as riding the Subway. A refreshing mimosa with breakfast really hits the spot after a late night out. One of my go-to’s is the Moroccan-inspired Cafe Mogador in the East Village.
12. Walk or bike across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Appreciate the beauty of this iconic bridge up close by taking a stroll from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Make sure to bring your camera! Across the river, you can rest at Brooklyn Bridge Park before making the trip back.
13. Enjoying a hot chocolate and pretzel croissant at City Bakery.
This is the perfect treat on a hot, snowy day. Their hot chocolate is nearly syrup-thick and must be enjoyed with a gigantic homemade marshmallow on top. Meanwhile the salt of the pretzel croissant cuts the sweetness of the hot chocolate.
14. Go on a shopping spree.
You can find stores to fit any taste or budget in New York City. Check out 5th Avenue by Central Park South for big-name department stores, DUMBO for trendy, independent boutiques, and the Village for thrifting.
15. Grab a Shake Shack burger at Madison Square Park.
Visit the original burger stand in Madison Square Park and order one of their famous burgers with crinkle fries and a malted shake. (Yes, it’s worth the wait, believe it or not). Enjoy your food al fresco as you people-watch.
16. Catch an Upright Citizens Brigade show.
So many famous comedians began as performers with the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improv show that you’ll find equally shocking and hilarious. With tickets at $5, it’s super-friendly on the wallet too.
17. Window-shop at The Strand.
Boasting 18 miles of books, the Strand is a book lover’s paradise. Discover your next read, shop the rare books, or relax in the children’s section. Don’t overlook the budget books on the shelves outside – you can books in new or good shape for $1!
18. Eat authentic Dim Sum in Flushing.
Sure, you could go to Chinatown and get good Dim Sum. But going into Flushing is an adventure in itself. Everything is way cheap and it’s packed to the brim with immigrant families, hardly a tourist in sight. Plus, the Dim Sum at Asian Jewels beats anything I’ve had in Manhattan.
19. Wander around the West Village.
It’s so easy to get lost in the West Village – the streets aren’t parallel or numbered, and they simply don’t make sense. And that’s a great thing – there’s so much to discover in the West Village that you should allow yourself to get lost among its historical buildings. If you happen to find Bosie Tea Parlor, stop by for tea service and pastries.
20. Get cultured at Lincoln Center.
Every music buff is familiar with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Lincoln Center‘s associated organizations include the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, and New York City Ballet. Score same-day tickets for 25-50% off regular price.
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Have you tried any of these activities? If so, what? If not, what would you be most interested in doing? Comment below!