Whether you’re a local realizing you’ve yet to fully explore the city or an out-of-towner who doesn’t know the Met from the MoMA, these quintessential stops will help you catch a glimpse of NYC’s beating heart.
When the Brooklyn Bridge was constructed in 1883—extending 1,595 feet across the East River, connecting lower Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights—it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Now, it’s a historic staple in the New York City skyline, transporting commuter car traffic underneath and touristic foot traffic above. Standing beneath one of the twin granite Manhattan Towers, all arches and rectangles with city skyscrapers rising in the distance, will at once inspire a sense of grandiosity and slightness.
New York Philharmonic
New York City’s preeminent symphony orchestra primarily performs at the world-renowned David Geffen Hall, within the Upper West Side Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The Max Abramovitz-designed auditorium seats 2,738 people in a grand, imposing room that adds to the drama of the classical music performances. This experience is for everyone: You don’t have to understand the history of the symphony or concerto being played in order to appreciate the profundity of the experience.
Coney Island has a reputation as a circus-worthy tourist trap, which is exactly what it is. But you may be surprised by the old-timey charms of this beachfront American town. You’ll definitely be impressed by the food—Queen Cobra Thai, Red Hook Lobster Pound, and El Gato Nacho, in particular. Locals and tourists hang out on the beach, eat ice cream cones on the promenade, and stand in line for the famed Cyclone roller coaster.
The High Line
The High Line is a perfect example of what New York City does best: cleverly rehabs old spaces into exactly where you want them to be. When a 1.45-mile-long abandoned freight rail on Manhattan’s West End was transformed into an elevated, mixed-use public park in 2009, New Yorkers came running. Towering 30 feet above buzzing 11th Avenue, the High Line is a masterful feat of landscape architecture that melds walkways, benches, and chaise longues with grass, perennials, trees, and bushes in perfect unkempt-kempt harmony.
Step off the crowded sidewalks of 59th Street into Central Park and you’ll hardly realize what lies before you: 693 acres of man-made gardens, meadows, forests, and rolling hillsides. If you ambled down every one of Central Park’s pathways, you would walk 58 miles. Along the way, you pass fountains, monuments, sculptures, bridges, and arches. Plus 21 playgrounds, a winter ice-skating rink, a zoo, and even a castle. But you’d hardly notice the four major crosstown thoroughfares, which cleverly disappear into foliage-covered tunnels.
9/11 Memorial and Museum
Every American should visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at least once. As you enter the museum, you descend from the street to bedrock level—the foundation of the former Twin Towers—and are placed in a meditative mindset, forced to recall where you were on that fateful day. The museum itself is a masterful balance: It’s grand in scale, contemplative in its construction, and personal in its execution. It pays homage to the enormity of the loss, both physical and spiritual.
Located on four acres in northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, the Met Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is America’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the art and architecture of the Middle Ages. The building overlooks the Hudson River and actually incorporates five medieval cloisters into a modern museum structure, creating a historic, contextualized backdrop in which to view the art.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Frank Lloyd Wright designed the iconic building that houses Solomon R. Guggenheim’s modern art collection, which includes paintings by Kandinsky, plus works by Picasso, Klee, Miró, and more. If you have time for a meal, head to The Wright, a James Beard Award-winning American bistro on site.
From the double-height ceilings to the distinct dining areas (organized by food group—meat, fish, vegetables, pasta and pizza) and the breadth and depth of its specialty curation, you’ll want to move into this gourmet Italian market and food hall within minutes. It’s hard not to be impressed by all that Eataly has to offer. There are hard-to-find Italian specialties—single-estate extra virgin olive oil, white truffle sauce, mushroom risotto, Ligurian pesto. There’s an on-site cooking school, and the 14th-floor rooftop restaurant, Birreria.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is, as the name implies, a historic tenement house (two, if you want to get technical). On a tour of the tenements, you’ll hear personal histories of the working-class individuals who lived there and see how they made do with cramped quarters to build new lives in America. On a neighborhood walking tour—the other way to visit the museum—you’ll learn about the evolution of the Lower East Side and how its thriving immigrant population made it the most densely populated area in the country during the 1900s.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
For nearly a century and a half, the Met has remained the cultural epicenter of New York City, thanks to forward-thinking exhibits and an extensive permanent collection. With its Gothic-Revival-style building, iconic tiered steps, and Central Park location, the building is a sight to be seen. But step inside its Great Hall—as a ceaseless parade of museumgoers move to-and-fro—and you’ll feel the overwhelming sense of possibility and discovery that lays beyond.
The Met Breuer
When the Whitney Museum of American Art relocated to its jazzy new downtown headquarters in 2016, it wasn’t long before the Metropolitan Museum of Art swooped in on Marcel Breuer’s Brutalist-style building for its latest extension. The new annex, dubbed the Met Breuer (BROY-er), showcases modern and contemporary works that are as thought-provoking as the landmark space in which they reside.
Statue of Liberty
Last year, a record 4.4 million tourists visited Liberty Island, the 14-acre swath of land one mile south of lower Manhattan upon which the Statue of Liberty rests. While there is no fee to visit Liberty Island, you do have to pay for a round-trip ferry ride via Statue Cruises. The ferry also stops on Ellis Island, part of the national park, which houses the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, where visitors can search ship manifests for the records of their relatives. If you plan to visit the Statue’s pedestal or crown, plan ahead: There are a limited number of tickets available each day and they sell out weeks, if not months, in advance.
Whitney Museum of American Art
The Whitney got a major upgrade when it relocated from the Upper East Side to its new, vastly-expanded Meatpacking headquarters in 2015. It houses 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries, four outdoor exhibition spaces and terraces, and a ground-floor restaurant and a top-floor bar, both by Danny Meyer, one of the town’s toniest restaurateurs.
The Strand Book Store
With its towering stacks, filled with more than 2.5 million titles, this 86-year-old bookstore is less neighborhood haunt, more globally recognized institution. You could call the Strand’s employees tour guides, considering their deft ability to find the exact title you’re looking for and recommend a book you may not have otherwise plucked from the shelves.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Set in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, the grandiosity of MoMA is deceptive. The museum spans 630,000 square feet, housing spaces for exhibitions, film screenings, public programming, education, and scholarly research. It’s a known quantity—with the crowds to prove it. The Museum features 125,000 square feet of gallery space filled with modern and contemporary art. The range is far-reaching, but the execution is measured and the galleries are well-paced.
Smorgasburg is an artisanal food market with some 100 local vendors that attracts tens of thousands of people every weekend. It’s open at its outdoor locations from April through October (Saturdays in Williamsburg, Sundays in Prospect Park), and indoors from November through March in Industry City. Admission is gratis, but expect to pay up as you make your way from stall to stall. Locals love it because it allows you to discover new chefs, restaurants, and producers.
Dover Street Market New York
When London shopping mecca Dover Street Market debuted its New York outpost in December 2013, throngs of accessorized fashionistas camped out for days outside its Lexington Avenue entrance. Dover Street is more than just a luxury department store; it’s a fashion-meets-art exhibition space. Featured designers configure their own display areas, allowing the shopper to interact with the clothes in a holistic manner that takes you inside the designer’s world—as opposed to just picking through dresses hanging on a metal rack.
The Frick Collection
The Henry Clay Frick House, er, mansion, spans an entire city block along Fifth Avenue—and nearly every inch is filled with the art enthusiast’s collection of old master paintings and fine furniture. As if it wasn’t already impressive enough, the Frick Collection recently announced a forthcoming upgrade and expansion of the institution’s facilities by renowned architect Annabelle Selldorf.
This non-profit contemporary arts center, founded by artist Dustin Yellin, is like a mini PS1. It’s set in a converted 19th-century warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The ground-floor gallery seamlessly blends with the outdoor garden, creating one of the largest exhibition spaces in New York City that’s used for public arts programs, artists residencies, live music performances, special chef dinners, and private events.
The Morgan Library & Museum
The Morgan is like a multi-hyphenate millennial—only instead of actress/model/influencer/whatever leads to early retirement, it’s museum/library/landmark/historic site/music venue. Inside the multimillionaire’s personal library, expanded into a must-see museum and cultural space, you’ll find rare artifacts, paintings, and books, some dating back to 4000 B.C., that are worth more than your house.
For almost two centuries, this 172-acre isle in the heart of New York Harbor was closed to the public, operating as a military base. Now, anyone can visit Governors Island’s monuments, parks, and exhibitions during summer (May through October, seven days a week). To get there, all you need is a round-trip ferry ticket, and New York residents just have to show a valid state license to ride free. Governors Island has immediate escapist appeal, but most people go for a memorable event: music festivals, pop-up dinners, art exhibits, dance performances—the list goes on.
Central Park Zoo
Central Park’s small namesake zoo is one of midtown Manhattan’s most popular family attractions. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the number of wildlife—the Central Park Zoo is just 6.5 acres (compared to big sister Bronx Zoo’s 265 acres). But intimacy and accessibility are the appeal for Manhattanites, who take their kids here to see a rare snow leopard, ruffled lemurs, grizzly bears, penguins, sea lions, and more.
This world-class performance hall seems from another era. It’s known for its namesake industrialist founder, as well as its Renaissance Revival architecture, outstanding acoustics, and the list of famous musicians who’ve graced its stages. Performances are typically for adults, but Carnegie Hall hosts a few “family days” throughout the year, during which kids can listen to live performances, build handmade instruments, and sing and dance with professional musicians.
Washington Square Park
If people-watching is your sport, Washington Square Park is your place. Entertainment is a given in this intimate, not-quite 10-acre space, filled with career chess players, musicians, performers, students, sunbathers, strollers, and general throngs of Greenwich Villagers, desperate for a bit of fresh air. Take your time as you go through: Pause beneath Washington Arch, honoring our country’s first president (for whom the Park is named), and observe the laurel wreaths and intricate motifs that extend from the base to the keystones, atop which twin eagles perch like constant watchmen.