If you have ever traveled to New York City, you know it really is a city that never sleeps. Over the last ten years, I’ve been there on numerous occasions, including a family trip, mother/daughter weekends and even as a chaperone on a high school trip. Usually we have at least one big activity planned, like a Broadway show, a shopping spree or a quest for pizza. But with so many activities to choose from, the thought of spending a few days in this vibrant city can be overwhelming. Here are 20 ideas to add to your NYC bucket list, from iconic sites to local foods, including several that are free or low cost. A few of these are still on my list waiting to be checked off later this year.
1. See a Broadway Show. Whether you are spending a weekend or longer, taking in a Broadway show is near the top of the list for most people. If you have some flexibility with both your schedule and the show you want to see, you can always try to get half price tickets the day of the show, but this requires standing in line and waiting. For most people, buying tickets ahead of time at a reputable site like Broadway.com usually works best.
2. Go to the the Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building. This is one of those iconic New York City experiences that everyone should enjoy at least once! It’s often less crowded at the Top of the Rock, but I think the views are amazing from either location. Both spots offer a glittering view of NYC if you decide to visit after the sun goes down.
3. Take the NBC Studio Tour. We loved this tour when we took it several years ago, and it’s a fun option with teens. Along with learning about the TV production process and behind the scenes access to real television studios, recent updates to the tour include the opportunity to produce your own show. If the cost of the studio tour is too much for your budget, arrive outside the studios at Rockefeller Center in the early morning to be part of the live broadcast of the Today Show.
4. Walk the High Line. Take a break from the crowded sidewalks and busy streets and stroll along this elevated park in Manhattan’s West Side. Check their calendar for a schedule of free 45-minute guided tours. This is definitely on my list for my next visit.
5. Eat Your Way Through Smorgasburg. Last summer, we took the subway to Prospect Park to check out this classic Brooklyn flea market and were not disappointed. This seasonal Sunday market (Prospect Park) is perfect for foodies who want to try local specialties. The line to try the popular Ramen Burger was way too long, but the dessert from Wowfulls hit the spot on a hot summer day. Check their website, as there are several Smorgasburg locations.
6. Visit NYC During the Holidays. With seasonal window displays, glittering lights, outdoor ice skating and holiday markets, there is plenty to do during December. Round out your holiday visit with tickets to the Christmas Spectacular with the famous Radio City Rockettes.
7. Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge. This is another item I hope to check off this year. You can easily spend a few hours strolling from one side to the other and back across the pedestrian walkway. Check out my New York City Travel & Food board on Pinterest, where you’ll find several pins detailing what you need to know before you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
8. Visit Chelsea Market. Stroll through this popular block long food hall with over 35 vendors to browse. Be prepared for a crowd, and try to arrive early in the day if you can.
9. Take a Ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Book tickets in advance for this popular attraction, especially if you want access to the Crown of the Statue of Liberty. You can depart from Battery Park on the New York side, or Liberty State Park on the New Jersey side. Explore Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants passed through over a period of 62 years. Because both sites are part of the National Park System, Ranger-guided tours are also available.
10. Ride the Carousel in Central Park. From April through November, stop and take a ride on this iconic piece of history in Central Park. It’s classic fun for all ages, and an easy walk from the south entrance of the park.
11. Buy Some Cheese at Murray’s Cheese Shop. If you like cheese, be sure to swing by Greenwich Village and stop by their flagship cheese shop. It’s one of the stops on the Original Greenwich Village Tour by Foods of New York Tours.
12. Spend the Afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History. From fossils to mammals, you'll find so many cool exhibits at this family-friendly museum. Take a self-guided tour such as the Dino Tour or the Night at the Museum Tour. The new Mummies exhibit will be starting March 20, 2017, and running until January 7, 2018.
13. Eat on the Street. During select times in summer and fall, be sure to check out Broadway Bites pop-up food market. Just don’t go if you are indecisive, because the food choices are endless. Located in Greeley Square at Broadway, between 32nd and 33rd Streets. Be sure to check their website for specific dates.
14. Take a Free Food University Class at Eataly. Stop by this amazing Italian marketplace with restaurants, shopping and daily free classes and demonstrations. From learning how to shape pasta to olive oil tastings, it's a fun place to spend a few hours. There are now two locations in the city.
15. Visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The 9/11 Memorial fills 8 of the 16 acres at the World Trade Center. The Museum documents the events of September 11, 2001 through two core exhibitions, one which commemorates the lives of the 2983 people who died on that tragic day.
16. Check Out Famous Movie Locations. So many spots in New York City have been included in movie scenes and TV shows over the years, such as the Friends apartment building or the famous Hook and Ladder Co #8 from Ghostbusters. If a guided tour is not in your budget, Free Tours by Foot is a great resource for self-guided movie tours, including their guide to Lower Manhattan Film and TV locations and Central Park Movie and TV Tour.
17. Be Entertained While you Eat at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. If a Broadway show is out of your price range, head over to Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where you’ll find the aspiring Broadway stars of tomorrow, singing their hearts out while serving breakfast, lunch and dinner (and breakfast is often the least crowded).
18. Take A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour. Meet in Manhattan where you will be whisked away to Brooklyn on a luxury bus for a fun-filled 4 hour tour. Fill up on delicious pizza, visit Coney Island and watch Hollywood and history come to life. Plus the views coming in and out of the city are awesome! Read more at Why You Should Add a Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour to Your NYC Bucket List.
19. Visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) or the Museum of Modern Art. Spend some time at one or both of these popular art museums, which were included in the USA Today’s 20 Most Visited Museums in the USA. The MET offers free admission for teens in middle and high school so check online for all the details. The MoMA also has numerous family friendly ways to explore.
20. Ride the Subway. It wouldn’t be a true experience in New York City without a trip on the subway. We’ve taken the subway on several occasions, and my only advice is to make sure you are entering the correct entrance for the line you are riding on. First timers can take the N, Q, R, 4, 5, 6 line and head over to Dylan’s Candy Bar on 3rd Avenue. Your reward will be sweet!
I’m excited that CityPASS has come out with New York C3 - a new pass that provides discounts for visiting some of the most popular attractions in NYC. What I love most about this pass is that visitors can choose which 3 attractions out of 10 choices to visit, which is great for shorter trips and allows some planning flexibility. The pass is valid over a 9 day period, and includes iconic places like the Empire State Building Experience, American Museum of Natural History, and the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island. Museum goers can choose the Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. There are also options for several sightseeing cruises.
Don’t know where to stay in NYC? Here are some hotel recommendations based on our personal experiences over the last few years.
This post contains affiliate links.
Why You Should Add a Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour to Your NYC Bucket List
4 Days of Tasty Travel from the Farm to the City
10 Things to Do in New York City with Teens (Guest Post on Kidventurous)
Pin for Later