First-time in New York? 10th time? Avid New Yorker? The city has always something new and adventurous to offer to all visitors and even locals. The city is the capital of culture, history, adventures, attractions, and FUN! So much to do and see, but this also means that you might get "lost" trying to find what you really want to do in the Big Apple especially if you don't have lots of time at your disposal. This is a City Guide created to list some of the most popular attractions, monuments, museums, etc., with some tips and general info that hopefully can help you better prioritize your time around the Big Apple.
Did you know that we are actually headquartered in NYC?! It's where it all began for us. Our home, our office, our start. We even have a dedicated website to New York City (www.newyorkwelcome.net) where we list all our experiences, exclusive tours along with a very extensive City Guide.
The city has events and festivals throughout the year. Let's start with the most popular. If you are visiting NYC during one of these Holidays or Festivals, you will have even more things than usual to do!
Generally from the first week of December to the end of the month, NYC is in decked out with all sorts of Christmas Decorations. The famous Christmas Trees all around NYC, amongsts others, we point out the popular Rockefeller, Bryant Park, and Wall Street trees. The Holiday Windows such as Saks 5th Ave and Macy's will entertain children and adults alike. Several Holiday Markets (Union Square and Bryant Park the most popular,) Holiday Shows such as the Rockettes at Radio City Hall and a Christmas Carol on Broadway and much more. Plus, you need to carve some time to visit the residential neighborhood of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn to see some of the most over-the-top Christmas decorations you will have see. Bottom Line: Prices might be higher, availability might run low especially on weekends, must book well in advance, be ready for Big Crowds.
NYE completes the Holiday Season with one more Big Party. The Times Square Ball Drop is probably the most followed event in the entire world drawing over 1 MILLION attendees in the Square along with millions tuning in from all over. However, NYC offers lots of different parties. First of all, for those that don't mind spending the big bucks, many restaurants around Times Square will offer a Live Viewing of the Ball Drop with Dinner and Entertainment (be ready to pay up for this option!) Alternatively, elegant Yachts offer Gala Dinner Cruises with prime viewing of the Fireworks in the bay, lots of Nightclubs with dance parties and Jazz Clubs with Live Music Shows. You even have a Midnight Run in Central Park with Fireworks. There is something for everyone and every budget. Bottom Line: For those that want the Big Party, don't mind spending extra for the Hotels, love a Big Crowd, and want to combine the NYE celebrations with some Holiday vibes. Book well in advance.
We have all seen the one and only Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. If not live then tuned in while we usually prep for our big turkey dinner. The giant balloons floating down Central Park West and 6th Avenue to reach Macy's is quintessential Thanksgiving morning. One thing that might surprise you is that because a lot of New Yorkers actually are away for that last weekend of November, the city won't be overcrowded. Yes, tourists and visitors are coming in, but it still a great time to visit the city especially if you don't like big crowds. Black Friday is also "observed" in the city with both department stores and smaller boutiques offering incentives and you can even decide to take the bus and go to the popular Woodbury Common Premium Outlet if you want to find even better deals. But the main reason to come to NYC would be to see Live the Macy's Parade. Bottom Line: Average or slightly above-average prices. The main attraction will be the parade.
One of the most followed Marathons in the world. Over 55,000 people from all over come to participate. The first Sunday in November usually brings mild to chilly temperatures (depending on the year) and it's also around the time when the Foliage will color the city especially Central Park. If you or somebody traveling with you is running the Marathon, it is a great idea to combine the big race with a weekend exploring the city. Bottom Line: For those that are actually running the Marathon, the price might be slightly above average as lots of people come from different states and countries. Better to reserve in advance. If you are not running, then come the following weekend and save money.
For Independence Day, NYC usually schedules several events from the popular Hot Dog eating contest in Coney Island to the Fireworks along the East River. The reason to come to NYC during the July 4th festivities is the Macy's Fireworks adorning the Manhattan Skyline. The best way to enjoy the fireworks is usually aboard one of the Yachts sailing the bay (they offer live entertainment and elegant dinners) or maybe a party at one of the Rooftops or Restaurants that have a direct view of the Fireworks. If you don't want to spend money, you can try one of city parks but arrive hours in advance. Bottom Line: July tends to be hot and humid in the city. Hotel prices are average but the 4th of July Party will cost you and requires advance reservation.
The incredible Halloween Parade along 6th Ave in the West Village is known all around the US and even internationally. Thousands of spectators flock to 6th Ave to enjoy this big "block party" and thousands of people dressed in every type of costume walk the parade. This is a parade where anybody that is dressed up can participate. It's also a great time to explore the city with the temperature cooling down but not too cold and the leaves beginning to turn. Plazas, storefronts, and homes are decorated with pumpkins, spider nets, giant witch hats, skeletons, etc. Popular Nightclubs and Rooftops will organize parties as well. Bottom Line: a great time to come to enjoy the city in the Fall, see some foliage, and party. Prices might be slightly above average and you might have to make reservations in advance.
The festival was created by Robert De Niro himself in 2002 as a way to bring NYC back to life with live cultural events from the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It's a festival that has become increasingly popular with spectators and critics that has now a well-established role in the Film Festival Season. If you are passionate about movies and want to watch a Movie Premiere, maybe with the cast in the auditorium, this is definitely something for you. Similar to the Cannes, Toronto, and Venice Film Festivals. Not only several new movies are presented but the city will have lots of parties and events to complete the Festival. Bottom Line: If you want to see a movie being released, listen to panels with the cast or simply want to experience a Film Festival atmosphere. Prices are above average and you should book in advance.
If you love fashion and your dream is to sit and watch live one of the catwalks, well, NYC Fashion Weeks is one of the most renowned along with Milan and Paris. Usually, during this time there are several parties some more exclusive than others. Unless you are invited to the shows, it will cost you a pretty penny buying the tickets to access these Fashion Shows and some of the most coveted ones will only allow invitees. Nevertheless, this is an incredible time to visit the city all ready for Summer, with lots of Rooftops and activities to do and the temperatures are (usually) not yet scorching hot. Bottom Line: You really need to love Fashion Week and make sure you can secure either an invite or a ticket to get access. Prices tend to be higher than average, sometimes restaurants and rooftops might get shut down for private parties. Recommended to book in advance.
If you are a culinary connoisseur and a food lover you might want to consider planning your next vacay in NYC around Restaurant Week. The city sponsors 2 restaurant weeks one in the Winter and one in the Summer. They usually last around 2 or 3 weeks each (depending on the year) and hundreds of restaurants participate across the 5 boroughs -- even Michelin-starred restaurants! For many, this is the time to try expensive places that might otherwise be unreachable but that during this special occasion offer prix-fixe meals for $26 (two-course lunch) and $42 (three-course dinner.) You honestly can't beat that! Bottom Line: Say that you want to explore NYC through its food (which is amazing and diverse) you will be able to try several places while saving a pretty penny! If you don't mind the cold, you can come in the Winter and you will probably also find a great deal with your Hotel.
It's hard to select "only 9" attractions when it comes to NYC but here below we are listing 9 of the most popular ones. Those that at least once you should visit.
New York City has many Museums you can visit covering from Modern Art to Natural History. You can spend two to three weeks in the city just visiting museums. Let's see the 6 most popular ones.
One of the things that fascinates everybody, children & adults, New Yorkers & visitors, is the iconic City Skyline. You will see there are lots of ways to experience and enjoy the Skyline from cruises by the Bay to panoramic helicopter rides to panoramic restaurants and bars to the popular Observation Decks. Here below find the 4 Observatories now open in the city.
Indoor and outdoor viewing decks on the 86th and 102nd floors. You should visit the iconic Empire not only for its views but for its incredible history too, and of course to snap a pic with Mr. Kong. Recently renovated. Open 365 days a year. Price: From $32.
Not as "high" as the others listed here, it still is the best spot to capture the skyline with the Empire State Bldg in it and enjoy more close-up views of Central Park. On the 70th & 71st floors with indoor and outdoor decks. Open 365 days a year. Price: From $32.
The "new kid on the block." Edge is part of the NEW Hudson Yards complex on 34th Street and 11th Ave. Incredible outdoor terrace on the 100th floor with even a bit of glass flooring. Full Bar in the terrace available. Open 365 days a year. Price: From $32
Located on the 100th-102nd floor of the One World Trade Center, aka "Freedom Tower." Visit not only for unparalleled views of the Bay, Brooklyn & Downtown but to complete a visit of the WTC with the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Open 365 days a year. Price: From $32.
Let's ask Irene, New Yorker and resident Tour Guide. She will share with us some insights and tips on how to plan and execute a New York Vacation.
I always say you can spend a lifetime in New York City and still have things left to see and experience. If time and budget allow it, I would recommend between 5 to 8 days to enjoy the city and take advantage of the many museums, attractions, and activities the city offers. It's enough time so that you can visit 2 or 3 museums, take part in a couple of activities and tours, and explore different neighborhoods without feeling overwhelmed and rushed. I've also seen people that come for only 3 days, especially those that come here often enough, and some that stay for 2 whole weeks to really experience NYC at a lower pace more like a local.
Depending on the budget and the "setting" you want to be in, NYC offers many options. Above we spoke about the different neighborhoods and what they offer. Personally, you would have to pay me to stay in Midtown near Times Sq. because (as for many other NYers) I have a love & hate relationship with that area. By all means, if you are here for a business trip or you simply prefer to be centrally located then I would suggest somewhere around 6th or 7th Avenue between 50th and 59th street. That way you will have equally easy access to Central Park and Times Square, and it's generally a nicer area, well-served by subway trains with some good restaurant options, albeit pricey. But if you like to "immerse yourself" in New York City then I would recommend looking into other areas. Try the Upper East / Upper West for the most residential ones, the West Village, Soho & Tribeca, Williamsburg (Brooklyn) for young & trendy vibes. In these neighborhoods, it's easier to find "local joints" and eateries that are loved by locals not only for the quality of their foods but also their prices!
More to the point that you don't have to stay in Midtown to be "close" to everything -- NYC has a very extensive subway system that works 24/7. You can pretty much go anywhere hopping on a train. Generally, a ride will cost $2.75 but you can also get a weekly or a monthly unlimited pass that will allow you to use all public transports (subway, buses + tramway) as many times as you like. Depending on the "year" the subway is generally safe-ish but I always recommend practicing caution, stay alert and avoid to use it late at night especially to reach faraway neighborhoods or worst by yourself. Other ways I personally use and love to get around are -- ON FOOT because it's simply the best way to really experience NYC and with the FERRY. For the same price as a subway ride, you can hop on one of the many lines along the East River that connect the Bronx, Upper East Side, Queens, Midtown, Brooklyn, Wall Street, and even the Rockaways! Of course, the famous Yellow Cabs are always around and although you won't find a free one once it starts raining, between cabs and apps like Lyft, Uber, Via, etc, you can easily book a car. On average a ride could be between $15 - 25, of course, it depends on distance.
One thing for sure, NYC can be an expensive city for both locals and visitors. Especially if you are not familiar with how to get around, where to stay and what to do, you can end up spending quite a lot. However, if you plan ahead, and especially if you find the right deal for the Hotel, you can stay on budget and maybe even save some money. Flights aside, consider that Museums on average are between $15 to $25 and Attractions such as observatories, botanical gardens, zoos, or sightseeing cruises, etc. can go up to $35 to $55. Usually, Museums and Attractions offer some discounted rates for the military, seniors, students, and/or children. For Tours and Experiences consider a rate of $35-75 per person in a group setting or $60/75+ an hour for private guided services. So depending on how many things you want to visit & do you might spend from $50-100 to maybe $350-650 during a week-long vacation. It all depends on how many things you want to do and if you want private or group tours. For restaurants and food in general, as long as you avoid touristy places, you can find really good food that the locals love for $25-35 (lunch) and $35-55 (dinner.) Lots of places offer Prix Fix during Lunch Hours and Bottomless Brunches for $35-45 on the weekends. Generally, adult beverages are what brings up the check but you can try a Happy Hour to save on drinks. Let's talk about the Hotels. For decent accommodation (hotel or AirB&b,) I would consider between $175 to $275 a night. Note that we have a steep nightly occupancy rate so always add roughly 18% on top of the nightly rate to get an actual estimate on how much the room will cost. Of course, prices vary greatly, especially during the Holidays. If you are okay using public transportation, the unlimited weekly pass is $33. and you will basically be able to go everywhere in the city. Shows, Musical, and concerts can go anywhere from $55 to $250 per person based on the type of show and the season.
A lot will depend on what type of activities interest you the most. I would say at least once in a lifetime you should visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island because they are the very core and foundation of our City's and Nation's History. I always recommend one Observatory to enjoy the views, my favorite one is The Top Of The Rock for its central location guaranteeing great views of Central Park too. If budget allows, a Broadway Musical can be an incredible experience, and I would take a walking tour with a local guide, maybe of an off-the-beaten-path area, to get a better sense of the city not only historically but also culturally and socially.
Some of the things you will only find in New York, or at least they taste better over here are - Bialys, Bagel and Pizza. Plus, if you love exotic cuisines, NYC has one of the most diverse food scenes in the country. You should really save some of your budget to try the different cuisines the city offer.
Are you more of a winter or summer person? Does the hot & humid bother you? Then forget July and August. Does the extreme cold temperature make you wish you could hibernate? Then Forget January and February. For milder temperatures mid-September to mid-October or mid-April to mid-May. I need to make a special case for December because the city decked out for Christmas is something else, you might encounter snow or you might even have milder temperatures, it's hard to predict but the atmosphere is so unique, yes, can be more expensive and crowded, but if you can come during the week, you might find lower rates.
The city has lots of activities for the little ones. From Museums such as the Intrepid and the Natural History to Zoos and the Botanical Gardens. A sightseeing cruise might also be a fun way to see a lot of sights without having to walk much. The city also offers many playgrounds especially in the parks and residential areas that can allow the little ones to run around and make new friends.
It's all about researching and planning smartly. For the Flights, try to use miles if you have some, or check websites like Skyscanner and see what's the best deal out there. Especially if you have flexible days do a +- 3 days search and they will tell you the cheapest day to travel, and sometimes one-way tickets with different airlines will actually make you save money. For the Hotels, if you have special rates because of affiliation or credit card rewards, etc. you can maybe save some money that way, but usually, it's all about finding the right deal at the right time. With the right combination of location, amenities, compromises, you can get close to what you want and save. For museums and attractions, some places do offer Free Admissions one day of the week, so you can take advantage of those or you can buy one of the Saving Passes that will allow you to visit multiple attractions at a lower rate. It all depends on what you want to do but generally -- Plan, plan, plan! And then once in the city, don't be a Tourist! Yes, you are visiting a new place but if you try to mix in with the locals, you will see how much you can save. I've never paid $20 for a Hot Dog and would refuse to spend $5 for a bottle of water. Keep in mind that if something is "touristy" it will be more expensive. Just a few blocks away, you might be getting the same thing, or better, for half the price. Plus, check what free events the city is running during your travel dates. For example, in the Summer, many parks run free "under the stars" movies, live Broadway shows and free music, or free yoga classes, etc.
NYC could be a great starting point for some amazing road trips. Whether you want to do daily excursions or rent a car and go, you have options! From the sandy beaches of Long Island and the Hamptons to the slopes and mountains of Upstate NY, from the capital Washington DC to the city of brotherly love Philadelphia. From Boston and New England to down the East Coast to the Carolinas. Depending on time, budget, and preferences, you can build quite a trip from NYC.
If you want to dive more into exploring the city, you might be interested in reading these 3 articles. From how to score free museums, to traveling with kids and nailing the NYC Subway. These articles are found on our sister web-site New York Welcome. Over there you will have several articles to choose from including some talking about the best restaurants, gourmet cupcakes, how to choose the best Museum Pass, and many others.
We hope you will find this New York City Guide informative and helpful. Remember we are headquartered in NYC, if you need help planning your trip to the Big Apple, we are here to help!