Every day of the week, 24-hours a day, there’s always something going on in the city that never sleeps. From big-name museums to meander through, architectural wonders to gawk at, galleries to see, and neighbourhoods to explore, you’d have to live seven lives to experience all the best things to do in New York.
Below our expert shares his pick of the best experiences and things to do in New York. For more inspiration, see our guides to the city’s best hotels, restaurants, nightlife, bars, shopping and free things to do, plus how to spend a weekend in New York.
Visit the famous lady at The Statue of Liberty
This gargantuan 305ft Gallic-designed sculpture is one of the world’s most identifiable icons. The first thing you notice: she’s shorter than you think, but once you’re standing at her base she looks majestic. Don’t miss the second-floor museum dedicated to all things Lady Liberty (it includes the original torch). Free entrance, but visitors must get a time-stamped ticket.
Insider’s tip: The statue has been situated on Bedloe’s Island since 1886 (renamed Liberty Island in 1956). For a fantastic view of lower Manhattan, make a reservation to access the figure’s crown.
Scope out vistas of downtown from the One World Observatory
The One World Observatory’s viewing deck has proved a resounding hit, with its ‘Sky Pods’ that whisk visitors up to the 102nd floor in under a minute. Once you get to the viewpoint (the official height is 1,776ft), the city’s spectacular, dazzling panoramas unfold in front of your eyes. The 100th-floor Sky Portal seems to float in space.
Insider’s tip: Make sure you experience the City Pulse, an interactive HD video concierge service that connects you to any neighbourhood you want to find out about below.
Sip cocktails at ‘the best bar in the world’
Founded by two blokes from Belfast, Dead Rabbit is often awarded the title ‘World’s Best Bar’. The theming is inspired by John Morrissey, the leader of the Irish-American gang the Dead Rabbits, and the classic taproom is home to America’s largest collection of whiskey. There is also live Irish music with pub grub.
Insider’s tip: It gets packed here every night, so afternoon sessions are a safer bet.
Getting in: Reservations recommended
Nearest metro: South Ferry; Whitehall St.-South Ferry
Browse the oddities at New York’s quirkiest museum
The – say it with us – Mmuseumm is dedicated to neglected, overlooked and underappreciated items. Most of the artefacts are temporary, part of a moving exhibition, but among the permanent objects on display, the pièce de résistance is the shoe that was fired at then-President George W. Bush while he was giving a press conference in Baghdad.
Insider’s tip: It’s hard to find. Stroll down a non-descript alleyway and if the metal doors are swung open, you’re in luck.
Nearest metro: Canal St.
Discover New York’s real jazz scene at Mezzrow
Legendary local clubs like the Village Vanguard and Blue Note are known throughout the world and listed in every guide book, but this basement jazz club, Mezzrow, is frequented by real jazz lovers who come to hear up-and-coming (as well as established) musicians while sipping Manhattans and snacking on charcuterie and cheese.
Insider’s tip: Walk-ins are welcome, but to ensure a seat make a reservation.
Getting in: Reservations recommended
Nearest metro: Christopher St.
Make a foodie pilgrimage to Russ & Daughters
Any food-obsessed denizen of, or visitor to, New York City needs to come here. It all began in 1914 when Joel Russ, who had been selling herring from a wooden cart for a decade and a half, opened the tiny shop. He quickly discovered, however, that business only picked up when his three beautiful daughters worked behind the counter.
Insider’s tip: First timers should order the classic bagel with fish roe. Take a trip around the corner to Russ & Daughters Cafe, a sit-down affair in homage to the shop, and a hot ticket for brunch.
Nearest metro: F to Second Ave
Lower East Side
Go back in time at a recreated tenement block
The Tenement Museum is an excellent primer on the neighbourhood’s past, and offers a general history of immigration in New York City, a reminder that 99 per cent of the United States is non indigenous. Rooms have been recreated to resemble a typical Lower East Side tenement building and the staff are beacons of knowledge on the subject – ask them anything.
Insider’s tip: Spending time in the excellent bookshop stocked with books about New York’s working class history is a stimulating addendum to the experience.
Enjoy rooftop sundowners at the Whitney Museum of American Art
The Whitney, once one of the most overlooked of the major New York art museums, is now housed in a dynamic Renzo Piano-designed building and getting the attention it deserves. The 18,000-piece collection of mostly 20th-century art from artists like Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keefe, Max Weber and Jackson Pollock makes the museum a beacon of modern American art history.
Insider’s tip: Time your visit at sunset and head to the top-floor terrace for wonderful orange-hued views of lower Manhattan.
Get high at the city’s newest viewpoint – Summit One Vanderbilt
At 365 meters up, Summit One Vanderbilt is the highest viewpoint in Midtown Manhattan and is located in the fourth-tallest building in the city. The immersive, interactive experience begins on the groundfloor at Grand Central Terminal when you get whisked up to the 91st through the 93rd floors. Employees encourage guests to lay down on the mirrored floors and look up at the mirrored ceilings of the main room. And then there’s the observation deck which actually looks down on the Empire State Building (and pretty much every other structure in the city).
Insider’s tip: Upgrade your visit so that you can ascend in a sleek glass elevator and then enjoy a cocktail with your view.
Soak up the views from the Empire State Building
There probably won’t be a giant ape at the top, but the views from the 86th-floor observation deck will take your breath away. Completed in 1931 and consisting of 60,000 tons of steel, the Empire State Building was the tallest skyscraper in the world until the World Trade Towers were erected in the Seventies.
Take a boat cruise around Manhattan
Hop on a three-hour Circle Line Best of NYC (Full Island Cruise) to see three rivers, seven bridges and the extraordinary forest-covered cliffs overlooking the Hudson around Fort Tryon Park, in the north-west corner of the island. You will see a Manhattan you did not know existed. Food and refreshments are available on board, and the live narration is usually very entertaining.
Insider’s tip: It’s cheaper to book tickets online and essential to reserve them in summer, when cruises are very popular.
Nearest metro: Times Square-42nd St.
Wander around the Rockefeller Center
There’s plenty to see and do at this Art Deco masterpiece of a building, including a sunken roller/ice skate rink, high-end shops, Top of the Rock (an observation platform 70 storeys from the ground on the top of the 1933 GE building), and tours of Rockefeller Center which depart every two hours. Wandering through the complex is free; going to the top will cost you. In the last few years, several restaurants run by some of the city’s top chefs have opened up here, so come hungry and try to get a table at Le Rock, Jupiter, Lodi, Five Acres, or Naro.
Browse – then eat – some modern art
Picasso, Dali, Kahlo, Matisse and Warhol are just a few of the names you’ll find at the Museum of Modern Art, which is flooded with natural light and an absolute pleasure to wander through. Keep an eye open for outré pieces by New York artists, such as Dan Graham’s two-way mirror glass pavilion installation in the sculpture garden. In-house restaurant, The Modern, serves up edible art on a plate that tastes terrific.
Insider’s tip: Head to the fifth floor right away. The most popular galleries – those with Pollock and Warhol, et al – are at the top. Then work your way down.
Upper East Side
Rub shoulders with local artists at an intimate soirée
The Frick, an Upper West Side museum, tends to get overlooked – but it shouldn’t. Housed in a mansion with a Roman atrium, it offers a great collection of works by the likes of Goya, Velázquez, El Greco, Rembrandt and other renaissance masters. Most are still hung the way they were when the collector, Mr. Frick, was alive.
Insider’s tip: Go to one of the Frick’s regular intimate salon evenings with classical music concerts, dance and discussions with artists, scholars and writers.
Nearest metro: 68th St-Hunter College
Marvel at the architecture of the striking Guggenheim
An architectural game changer? That’s one way of describing this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building. Built in 1959, the Guggenheim Museum is an artistic object in itself. While the building is one of the chief attractions here, the great art just seems like a bonus. There are 700 works of art by over 300 artists, including Kandinsky and Picasso, among others.
Insider’s tip: Even if you don’t intend to see the art, make sure you visit the building itself for some wonderful photo opportunities – especially inside, with views of eloquent inverted coil wending its way up the curvature of the building.
Upper West Side
Find tranquility in the city’s Cloisters at the Met
The Metropolitan Museum’s centre of medieval art boasts interiors filled with Madonna and Child sculptures, paintings from the Middle Ages, and tapestries of slaughtered unicorns. However, many locals and visitors take the 40-minute subway ride (and subsequent 10-minute stroll through Fort Tryon Park) to get to the Cloisters because of the peace and tranquility it affords.
Cheer or jeer at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night
Few other theatres have been more responsible for shaping soul and pop music than this Harlem performance venue. Since opening in 1914 and then starting Amateur Night 20 years after that, many legends and greats have come through its stage doors, including James Brown, Lauren Hill, Billie Holiday, D’Angelo, and Ella Fitzgerald. Barack Obama even held a fundraiser here when he was candidate.
Insider’s tip: Make sure you check out the famed Amateur Night, where for $30 (£22) you can watch the audience either cheer or jeer a future (or unlikely) star off the stage.
Take in Brooklyn’s strangest museum
When you hear the words ‘reliquary’, images of saints’ bones, vials of blood or strands of holy hair might come to mind. But this small, intriguing Williamsburg museum has no such things. Instead, you’ll find relics of the city itself: an old subway token, kitschy long-gone souvenirs, and various memorabilia from the 1939 World’s Fair which took place here.
Insider’s tip: One section of the museum is dedicated to private collections, which need not necessarily be New York themed, so you could bring along your own oddities and trinkets for consideration.
Nearest metro: Bedford Ave.
Lay Down Some Beats at the Universal Hip Hop Museum
Hip-hop was born in the South Bronx, so it’s perfectly fitting that the city’s only museum dedicated to the ultra-popular music genre is smack in the center of it all. The Universal Hip Hop Museum has interactive video and audio displays, posters from the early days before hip-hop became a global phenomenon, and photos of the first rap stars who hailed from this very area, taking visitors through fascinating rhythm-induced spin around the history of hip hop. In 2024, the museum will move to a new state-of-the-art multi-floor building a few hundred meters away.
Nearest metro: 149th St./Grand Concourse
Wander around one of Brooklyn’s hippest neighbourhoods
Red Hook, Brooklyn feels like you’ve stumbled upon a fishing village in Alaska sometime around 1991. Locals wear flannel shirts and beanie hats, and everyone knows each other. Which is part of the appeal of this neighborhood, cut off from the rest of Brooklyn by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the largest public housing project in the city. Stroll down Van Brunt Street, the neighborhood High Street. Eat at Hometown Bar-B-Que, the best barbecue joint in the city. Pop into Pioneer Works to marvel at the work of some up-and-coming artists. And then perch yourself at the bar at Sunny’s, a local institution that’s been serving up pints and potent drinks since the 1890s when it was frequented by sailors and fishermen.
Insider’s tip: To save time, after taking the metro to the nearest station, Smith 9th Streets, hop on a CitiBike, New York’s bike-sharing program, and point it toward Red Hook.
Nearest metro: Smith 9th Streets
Learn how to shuffleboard
The owners of the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, Ashley Albert and Jonathan Schnap, have brought a slice of geriatric Florida fun to Brooklyn by getting the young and the hip into shuffleboard. This palace of fun boasts several lanes and a few bars. Ballers can rent cabanas for the evening – think unlimited booze by the hour – to get the full-on Royal Palms experience.
Insider’s tip: There are a handful of house cocktails but first timers should opt for the gin-and-coconut-juice-laden Shuffleboard Bob.
Nearest metro: Union St.
Enjoy a ‘P-art-y’
Set in a late-19th-century Romanesque Revival school house, hence the name (Public School 1), Moma’s Queens branch is an underrated museum housing scores of thought-provoking contemporary art. Time your visit for Saturday afternoon so you can hit the weekly ‘Warm up’, a DJ-ed party that gets the art crowd hopping.
Insider’s tip: Come hungry. Mina’s, run by chef Mina Stone, serves up creative takes on Greek and Mediterranean staples that makes for the perfect art-gawking break.
Nearest metro: Hunters Point Ave./Court Square