New York City
Things to do in New York City
"New York: The Game" Scavenger Hunt
Stray Boots New York: The Game scavenger hunt and tour takes participants through a series of clues and trivia questions sent via text message (or played on a web browser on a smart phone) to discover the secrets of the Big Apple’s landmarks, neighborhoods, and little-known sights. Along the way, players earn points by answering clues correctly – What is the middle name of Bryant Park’s namesake? How many city blocks make up a mile? – and completing tasks like snapping and sending photos. It's great for a date, an afternoon with the kids, or as a ploy to make your roommate or visiting in-laws disappear for a few hours. Choose from 11 zones/neighborhoods.
See where legends like Billie Holiday, James Brown, and Lauryn Hill got their start at this landmark 1914 theater in the heart of Harlem. Hour-long tours are offered daily, and are a must if you want a chance to follow in the fingerprints of the greats by rubbing the infamous on-stage tree trunk for good luck. Amateur Night Wednesdays, a long-time tradition held every week at 7:30pm, is still popular for a fun, interactive experience that sure beats the heck out of watching American Idol on TV.
The much beloved "Bloomie's,” a NYC mainstay, is an upscale department store and Saks Fifth Avenue rival that garners good reviews from native New Yorkers for its service and selection. There’s another, smaller location downtown on Broadway in SoHo.
This landmark zoo is worth the 45-minute subway ride from Midtown for its enormous range of fauna on display in variety of settings, from the Butterfly Garden to the 6.5-acre Congo Gorilla Forest and Tiger Mountain exhibit. The wide range of interactive programs and available tours includes up-close animal encounters and performances by Wildlife Theater, a troupe that showcases drama, puppetry, games, and songs. On Wednesdays, the entrance is by donation, so pay as you wish.
Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)
Brooklyn’s foremost cultural and artistic institution, and one of the city’s most favored venues, hosts some of the best acts around, from the traditional to the envelope-pushing avant-garde (like renowned concerts, film programs, and the occasional bodybuilding competition). Lovingly referred to by its appropo acronym, BAM, the venue houses a four-screen theater featuring independent and (some) mainstream films, an art gallery, bookstore, opera house, and a popular, self-named cafe that offers cocktails, reasonably priced fare, and free live shows nearly every weekend. Conveniently located two blocks from the bustling Atlantic Avenue subway nexus, BAM also provides an inexpensive ($7), post-show shuttle bus available for Manhattanites most nights.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Brooklyn’s beloved 52-acre retreat features no less than 10,000 plant species from around the world. This botanical wealth is exhibited in a string of specialty gardens, a handful of themed greenhouses – from tropical to desert – and a maze of paths lined with towering trees and fragrant flowers. The tranquil Japanese Garden, with its pond and a Shinto shrine, is a great place to contemplate the meaning of life. In early April, even Manhattanites cross the East River in throngs to catch the 200 cherry trees in full bloom and celebrate all things Japanese during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
Crossing the late 19th-century, Gothic-inspired bridge (one of the most famous and oldest suspension bridges in the United States) affords phenomenal views of the Manhattan skyline’s most famous sites (including the Statue of Liberty). It’s best enjoyed if you start your walk on the Brooklyn side (just hop the subway one stop over the river), but those who choose to start in Manhattan can benefit from ending their walk with a celebratory slice at Grimaldi’s pizzeria, just a few blocks away from the bridge’s Brooklyn base.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
There are many ways to soak in Manhattan’s iconic skyline, but this third-of-a-mile walkway a few minutes by foot from the Brooklyn Bridge along the banks of the East River is one of the best and most famous promenades, featured in dozens of films, including Annie Hall and Moonstruck. Rimmed with flowerbeds and bordered by the Height’s grand historic homes, the promenade makes for a perfect romantic stroll or a spot for pensive architecture buffs to gaze at the skyline.
The borough’s pride and glory, Brooklyn Museum is one of the country’s oldest and largest art institutions. Home to 1.5 million objects, the colossal Beaux-Arts building showcases a striking permanent collection of ancient Egyptian art. The frequently changing contemporary exhibits range from photography to sculpture. Hit up the popular First Saturdays (5pm to 11pm every first Saturday of the month), which draws in a sundry crowd for a free evening of fun, with live music, film screenings, and lectures.
Catch a Broadway Show
Experience the magic of the Great White Way with world-class shows in the grand old theaters surrounding Times Square. Hit up the recently improved TKTS booth (www.tdf.org) at the intersection of Broadway and 43rd Street for 25 to 50 percent discounts to popular on- and off-Broadway shows. Just get there early and come prepared with at least a couple backup choices, as the favorites tend to get scooped up fast.
This 843-acre urban oasis – "the lungs of New York City" – is full of treasures like the Central Park Zoo, lakeside Bethesda Fountain, and Loeb Boat House, where rowboats and bicycles are available for rent. Birdwatchers delight in spotting over 300 different species, while couples can enjoy a romantic stroll along one of the numerous winding pathways or catch a horse and buggy ride. In winter, opt to ice skate at the Wollman Rink under the skyline’s facade. In spring and summer, grab a $1 hot dog from one of the ubiquitous street carts and head to the park’s northeast corner Conservatory Garden, a six-acre swath of gorgeous European-style floral splendor.
Circle Line Cruises
Seeing Manhattan from the river provides the perfect introduction to the Big Apple. The sightseeing cruises by Circle Line range from 75-minute jaunts to three-hour tours that circumnavigate the island and take in three rivers, seven major bridges, five boroughs, over 25 renowned landmarks, and a close-up of the Statue of Liberty. Other on-water attractions include a two-hour harbor lights cruise and a 30-minute wet n' wild ride through the New York harbor in a speedboat (May through September).
This oceanfront Brooklyn enclave is a veritable slice of Americana well worth the one-hour subway ride from Midtown Manhattan. Although the once iconic Astroland amusement park has now shut its doors, main attractions like the rickety Cyclone (one of the world’s most famous roller coasters) and Deno’s Wonder Wheel are still in operation and comprise must-see sights for snapping a few fun photos. Highlights also include seaside strolls along the boardwalk; a visit to the quirky Coney Island Museum and the New York Aquarium; and chomping on a famous hot dog at the original Nathan’s.
DUMBO First Thursday Gallery Walk
DUMBO (an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is New York City’s latest artistic enclave, home to a gaggle of spacious galleries showcasing a variety of eye-opening works. The Brooklyn -based Two Trees sponsors free gallery walking tours on the first Thursday of every month, as well as occasional musical performances, wine-fueled receptions, and artists/curator talks (which takes place for 3-5 hours in the evening). Many galleries feature breathtaking views of downtown Manhattan, and most of the art displayed is for sale. Attendees can choose their own routes and, afterwards, take advantage of special drink discounts at select local bars. No RSVP required.
Empire State Building
Take in Manhattan from the heights of the 102-floor, inimitable Empire State Building. Its observatory is open for spectacular views day and night (the last elevator ascends at 11:15pm), but since upwards of 20,000 visitors are shuffled to the summit every day, consider these time-saving tips to separate yourself (as much as possible) from the hordes and get the most out of the experience: Buy your tickets online, go on a clear day/night, and budget at least two hours to get to the top and back.
If you have little ones in tow, be sure to hit this elaborate flagship toy store helmed by America’s oldest toy company (originally founded in 1862). A true fantasyland for any youngster, you and your little one can channel Tom Hanks in the movie Big by trying your feet at “Chopsticks” on the large floor piano upstairs. There’s even an ice cream parlor inside!
Harlem Heritage Tours
Authenticity is the main goal of this community-based business (popular mostly with out-of-town visitors), which has operated nearly a dozen different walking tours all over the neighborhood since 1998. Tour themes range from civil rights to gospel, jazz to general history. Foodies would do well to embark on the “Taste of Harlem” jaunt for sampling some of the best soul food north of the Mason Dixon line, though we recommend the “Take the A Train – Harlem at its Best” trip ($75, summer only). Named after Duke Ellington’s hit single, you’ll meet your guide downtown and literally take the musician’s favorite train all the way to Harlem, wander the area’s most historic streets, down a plate of soul food, and swing by the Apollo Theater’s infamous Amateur Night. Afterwards, you have the opportunity to sneak away on your own for a set of live jazz at a legendary club. All tours are led by resident guides, most of whom have lived in the neighborhood their entire lives and aren’t afraid to venture off-the-beaten path. Prices range from $25 to $100 per person.
Hop On (and Off) a Gray Line Open-Top Bus Tour
It’s more truth than cliché that New York is fast-paced, crowded, and loud, which is why a double-decker bus tour around the Big Apple makes sense for travelers short on time or who want to get their bearings straight before hoofing it or heading underground to the subways. It’s also a fantastic means of ogling the New York skyline’s upper architectural details, without getting stampeded by sidewalk foot traffic. New York Gray Line’s hop-on, hop-off tours run four loops and stop at practically every attraction in the city (though their Brooklyn line’s hop-on, hop-off service does have some operational kinks – we noticed prolonged service delays in between buses; we recommend only using it if you’re planning to stay on the bus for the entire circuit). En route, tour guides supply an animated history of the city, and because of new city noise restrictions, the buses are scheduled to start swapping out loudspeaker systems for headsets some time in 2011. Bonus: Upgrade your trip with a self-guided audio tour of four neighborhoods (World Trade Center and Financial District; Central Park, Columbus Circle, and Strawberry Fields; Chinatown and Little Italy; and Flatiron District and Madison Square Park). Advance tickets start at $39; audio tour costs $15 extra.
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
The go-to spot for classical and contemporary symphony, dance, jazz, opera, and theater hosts companies like the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet. Daily guided tours are available and free public performances are offered every Thursday at 8:30pm, featuring everything from spoken word to salsa by both local and internationally-renowned artists.
Make your way to 34th Street for a visit to this legendary, 11-floor mega-store, self-billed as the world's largest department store. Now a mega-chain hocking mostly mid-range wares at over 800 locations nationwide, a visit to the original is a must for any shopaholic to take in the annual spring flower show, check out the ever-changing window displays, witness the nexus of the famous Thanksgiving Day parade, or to simply see where it all began.
Madison Square Garden All Access Tour
Whether you’ve been to Madison Square Garden a hundred times or just seen it on TV, the All Access Tour is sure to show sports and music fans a side of the stadium they’ve never seen before. The tour takes visitors to the heights and depths of the Garden, from the box seats to the locker rooms, all the while presenting fun facts about the history of the stadium and its everyday operations. (Did you know it takes 200 individual pieces of wood to construct the basketball court on top of the ice rink?) Visitors will also see the Theater at MSG and meet a Knicks City Dancer. Tickets are $18.50 for adults, $12 for children.
Whether you're looking to impress a date, enjoy a fun-filled afternoon with friends, or come up with a unique gift idea, Manhattan Helicopters is your best bet for the ultimate sightseeing adventure. For your thrilling ride, you'll board a four- to six-person helicopter with cushy seats and custom giant windows. Seasoned pilots lead the tours, which you'll hear on your noise-reducing BOSE headphones with voice-activated microphones for communicating with fellow passengers. The Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and Central Park are just a few of the landmarks you'll see from a whole new perspective, 1,500 feet in the air.
Brooklyn’s own version of Central Park features 585 acres full of lush landscaping, biking trails, BBQ pits, the Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Museum, and even a small zoo. Free concerts can be caught in the band shell during the summer, while the blankets of snowfall in winter make for exceptional Kodak moments (and sledding). Grand Army Plaza’s year round Green Market operates every Saturday from 8am to 4pm, and there are a number of subway stations on each side of the park for convenient access to any corner.
Radio City Music Hall Stage Door Tour
Site of the yearly Christmas Spectacular, the landmark Radio City Music Hall is an Art Deco gem and one of the world’s largest indoor theaters – the size of an entire New York City block. The Stage Door Tour brings visitors backstage to witness the history of the beloved theater and uncover some of its secrets, like the hydraulic system for elevating the stage that remains unchanged since Radio City opened in 1932. At the end of the tour, you’ll meet one of the famous Rockettes. Tickets are $18.50 for adults, $10 for children.
This Art Deco masterpiece is home to Radio City Music Hall, NBC studios, and the Top of the Rock observation deck – great for panoramic city views. Pop into an outpost of high-end, international boutiques like La Maison Du Chocolat or the Kinokuniya Bookstore, or splurge on dinner at the Top of the Rock’s famously glam Rainbow Room. Come winter, the ice rink and Christmas tree in the flag-lined plaza take center stage.
Sail New York Harbor
One of the most exciting ways to view the iconic New York skyline is from the water. From early May through late October (or later, depending on the weather), Classic Harbor Line offers two-hour daytime sailings on two 80-foot, 1890s-style schooners along the Hudson River and into New York Harbor. Passengers aboard these majestic boats (each seats 49) can catch a glimpse of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty with Manhattan as a backdrop. The cruise includes complimentary beer, soda, and water. Tickets are $40 for adults, $25 for children, ages 3-14 (infants sail free). Sunset and evening sailings are also available.
See Manhattan by Helicopter
Get a rare bird’s-eye view of The Empire State Building during an exclusive four-person "Romance over Manhattan" helicopter tour. The 25-minute flight circles around New York’s most famous sites, including Central Park, the United Nations building, and the Statue of Liberty. Just be sure to show up 30 minutes early, and wear a smile for the complimentary photograph.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Built in the late 19th century, this is the largest Gothic-style Catholic cathedral in the United States and one of the largest cathedrals in the world. Outside, the impressive stone spires rise over 300 feet above bustling Fifth Avenue, while the interior is decorated with soaring stained glass windows and ornate wood and marble sculptures.
Stand Up NY Comedy Club
Since the club’s debut in 1986, some of the biggest names in comedy have gotten their starts at Stand Up NY, including Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Aziz Ansari. If you’re lucky, one of the club’s famous alums might just drop in for an unannounced performance! Late night hosts David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Conan O’Brien also have been known to use Stand Up NY as an audition space for new comedians. Regardless of who’s performing, you’re guaranteed a laugh a minute any night of the week.
Statue of Liberty
Catch the ferry from Battery Park – the fare (approximately $12) includes a stop at the iconic statue, as well as at Ellis Island, where between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants passed through New York Harbor (take a turn at the computers to see if you can find members of your family). Hours vary seasonally; be sure to get there nice and early before the lines get too long. If you go during the fall or winter months, dress warmly, as the strong winds off the river induce a wicked chill. As of July 4, 2009, visitors can again ascend the statue’s crown for the first time since 9/11, but access is limited and the 354-step climb is rather strenuous. Call 877-LADY-TIX or visit www.statuecruises.com to reserve tickets.
The High Line
The first section of New York’s most hyped and much-loved public park was originally constructed as an elevated railway in the 1930s (it’s been closed since 1980) – it was recently revamped by gung-ho greenhearts and opened to much fanfare in summer 2009. Featuring concrete pathways, gobs of greenery, water fountains, and wooden benches, it’s a convenient new place to kick back and relax beneath the surrounding skyscrapers in an area with previously little-to-no grass space. So far, entry is available via stairs at five points between Gansevoort and 20th Streets. The second section, running from 20th Street to 34th, opened in 2011; combined, the park is a mile-and-a-half long. Free walking tours are available on Saturdays in spring and summer. Open 7am to 10pm daily in spring, summer, and fall, 7am to 8pm daily in winter.
This over-the-top sensory experience clusters chain shops, restaurants, and tawdry attractions under sparkling neon lights – steer clear of the tourist traps and just spend some time ogling the spectacle. Repeat and new visitors alike will be delighted to discover that, since May 2009, Duffy Square and two lanes of traffic in the area’s epicenter have been closed off to cars as a pedestrian plaza – with tables and chairs, 16-foot-tall ruby-red bleachers (situated atop the TKTS booth), and free Wi-Fi now permanent public features. On Fridays at noon, line up for a free two-hour tour (no reservations required; www.timessquarenyc.org) outside the restored Embassy Theater for a guided glance of some of Time Square’s hot spots. See more Times Square suggestions in Top 10 Tourist Trap Tips.
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