Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

This really needs no introduction and is perhaps the symbol of New York City. You can see it from several parts of the city, but it is probably best seen from the tip of Battery Park City. While many choose to just view the Statue from the shore, there are boat tours available that take you to Liberty Island where you can access the pedestal of the Statue and for an added price, the Crown of the Statue as well. Do note that if you buy tickets to the Crown, you will have to make the 377-step climb up a small passageway to the top. There is no elevator access. Access to the Crown tends to sell out months in advance, so do book early online. These tours leave from both New York and New Jersey. There are also combination tours to both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, so consider that as well if you have an interest in doing both.

Ellis Island
Ellis Island

Ellis Island

Ellis Island is an iconic and special national icon for not only New Yorkers, but for many Americans. It was the port of entry for more than 12 million immigrants who entered the US from 1892 to 1924 and today over 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who arrived here.

In the 1980s, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened up on the Island and you can purchase tickets for your visit through several vendors, though “State Cruises” is the official ferry provider endorsed by the government and, as such, is the company we strongly recommend using. You can (and must) buy tickets for the ferry and entrance online in advance, selecting a specific date and time. These tend to sell out, so do plan in advance. There are also combination tours to both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, so consider that as well if you have an interest in doing both. Website

Times Square

Times Square may be the most visited tourist site in the world, and for good reason. Nowhere outside of Tokyo and Hong Kong can you experience such stimulation of bright lights and screens. New Yorkers tend to avoid Times Square due to the crowds, but it is still a delightful experience to be in the midst of the unrivalled hustle and bustle. Notable touristy stores in the area include M&M World, the Hershey Store, and Toys R Us (which features a small Ferris wheel).

Tourists beware: if you or your children pose for a picture with the various Disney characters packed in Times Square, they will likely request or demand that you pay them $5 or more afterwards. Note that this payment is not required, but you may feel pressured into doing so. Website

Grand Central

Arguably the most famous train station in the world, Grand Central is generally loved by New Yorkers and tourists alike. The vaulted green ceiling in the main concourse is worth the visit, and on the lower level there is a large food hall with many restaurants and bakeries serving up New York staples like Junior’s (of cheesecake fame), Shake Shack and Zaro’s Bakery. There are also some cool shops throughout the complex. Finally, don’t miss the whisper hall at the bottom of the ramps in front of the Oyster Bar, where you can stand in the opposite corner as someone else and have a whispering conversation. Website

Empire State Building

The world famous Empire State Building and the feature of many famous movies (King Kong, Sleepless in Seattle)! The Empire State Building is a 102-story skyscraper located in Midtown on 5th ave between 33rd and 34th streets. It’s actually just an office building, but it once was the tallest building in NYC and is also still home to the famous observation deck (actually two – on the 86th floor and the 102nd floor), and is still quite a popular attraction. It’s also pretty iconic in general and you simply cannot avoid seeing it if you plan to ever set foot in NYC anyway.

The observation decks are open 365 days a year (yes really) from 8 am to 2 am and there is live music on Thursdays – Sundays from 10 pm until 1 am. Main deck tickets (86th floor) are $32 and if you want the combo of 86th floor and 102nd floor, tickets are $52. There is no time limit, so stay as long as you’d like.

Do note, though, that there is no need to do both the Empire State observation deck and Top of the Rock. Both will offer fantastic views, but nearly the same views, so don’t waste time/money doing both. Top of the Rock is the same price as the lower observation deck and generally has shorter waits and fewer crowds, making it a great alternative to consider, as discussed below. Website

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock is the less famous, but often preferred alternative to the Empire State Building observation decks, located in Rockefeller Center (see description below). Though it isn’t quite as tall as the Empire State Building, many believe 30 Rock provides a better view of the city. You have Central Park to the North, Times Square to the West, Grand Central to the East, and of course the Empire State Building itself and FiDi further in the distance. Top of the Rock, at $32 per ticket, is the same price as the lower level deck of the Empire State Building, and has shorter waits and fewer crowds.

The Empire State Building is iconic, and if you want to have the romantic experience of going to the top of it, nothing can replace that experience. However, if you are just looking for great views of Manhattan, then for a cheaper, faster and likely less chaotic experience, you may want to consider Top of the Rock. Website

Rockefeller Center

This is truly a must visit when you’re in NYC. Rockefeller Center itself is a complex of 19 commercial buildings spanning several blocks in midtown Manhattan. It’s home to thousands of offices, but as a visitor, there are tons of things to do.

First, the area itself is great to walk around in. It’s lively, but not quite as crowded as Times Square. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes, shops, stores, etc. in the area as well as the world famous ice skating rink and the beautiful Christmas tree that is lit up annually in the tree lighting ceremony in December (described under Annual Events).

At Rockefeller Center, you can go to Top of the Rock from which you can see views of all of Manhattan and beyond or take the NBC Studio tour, for which tickets should be booked in advance. Rockefeller Center is also home to Radio City Music Hall, which is best known for its Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes. Inside Rockefeller Center there are countless shops, smaller eateries and full fledged restaurants in the main concourse. In the food court area by the ice rink there is plenty of indoor seating where you can pop in and relax for a bit.

We personally think Rockefeller Center is best seen during Christmas time as it’s one of the most festively decorated parts of the city, but it is worth visiting no matter when you are in town. Website

Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge, the second most famous bridge in the US, was built in 1883 and has since become a widely recognized and cherished icon of NYC. The bridge crosses the East River, connecting Brooklyn to lower Manhattan. You can get an excellent view of the bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park, but you can also walk across the bridge. We would recommend walking from the Brooklyn side to Manhattan so you can take in the spectacular views of Manhattan as you walk. You may want to avoid walking this direction close to sunset, however, as the sun will be shining directly into your eyes. Also, beware of bikers on the bridge – they share the pedestrian walkways and are not always very mindful of those on foot (who admittedly often wander into the difficult-to-distinguish bike lane).

Columbus Circle

Columbus Circle itself is a very busy traffic circle on the UWS, but it’s also home to “The Shops at Columbus Circle,” which is an upscale indoor complex housing many high end shops, cafes, restaurants, and even a whole foods and a gym. Right next door is the CNN building and it’s also a 10 minute walk north to Lincoln Center. Website

NY Public Library

The NY Public Library is a system of libraries, with branches throughout Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. It is the second largest public library in the US behind the Library of Congress and the fourth largest library in the world. The main branch on 42nd street and 5th Avenue is next to Bryant Park, making it a great opportunity to combine the two activities. Anyone can enter to browse the collection or do research, but you have to be a member in order to check out books and have access to the online portions of the library.

Throughout the library, there are reading rooms, the most famous being the Rose Main Reading Room, which is quite majestic. There are chairs, desks, and lamps throughout making it a nice place to do some work or study, though wireless is not provided and food and drink is not permitted. Website

Columbia University

Columbia University is located on the UWS in a neighborhood called Morningside Heights. The Columbia University campus is small, but the buildings are lovely and it has the grandeur of a prominent and historic university, which, of course, it is. The area is filled with cafes, restaurants (shout if you want recommendations!), and students, but the neighborhood surrounding it tends to be more residential. You will see families and children strolling around and it’s much more peaceful than most of the center of Manhattan. It is adjacent to Morningside Park, which is worth walking through while you’re there, and nearby the well-known Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Website