New York City is a place that’s hard to top. Here you will find a perfect combination of big city attractions and quaint neighborhood characteristics, a place where cultural significance seeps into every alleyway.
For decades, the streets of New York have drawn in dreamers, artists, and travelers alike. With so much to do and see in one city, your biggest challenge may be deciding what not to do and see. So to help, here’s everything you need to know about planning an amazing trip to New York City.
By virtue of its location on the northeastern seaboard, New York City originally made its name as a busy harbor town. But today, with a population of over eight million people (the highest population density of any city in the U.S.), it’s known as much more than just a powerful seaport.
This mesmerizing metropolis is composed of five distinctive boroughs — Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx — each neighborhood proudly possessing its own unique qualities and atmosphere. The city is home to some of the most iconic tourist attractions in the world such as Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, and boasts a number of world class cultural landmarks like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Broadway Theatre district.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
Due to its staggering population, New York has no shortage of airports. The city itself is home to two: LaGuardia (which only welcomes domestic flights) and JFK International. But Newark Liberty International Airport, which sits just across the Hudson River in New Jersey, is also a popular option.
When considering accommodation for your stay, the options are virtually endless. Airbnb leads the long list, and is a perfect way to integrate yourself into the subtleties of different pockets of the city. Keep an eye out for seasonal deals, and try booking as far in advance as possible. Staying at hotels in areas like Manhattan can ring up quite the bill, but hostels are also available for those with smaller budgets. It’s also possible (and affordable) to stay in towns just outside the city, like Hoboken, Jersey City, or Weehawken, New Jersey.
With such a long list of attractions, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that New York City is humming with visitors no matter the time of year. It’s worth noting though, that as a northern city, there’s no hiding from the weather. Although each season brings something of interest, this also means temperature and weather should be taken into account when deciding on the specifics of your trip. On the other hand, the city’s northern coordinates allow for seasonal activities such as picnicking in Central Park or watching the Times Square Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve. This isn’t something to discourage your plans, but rather something to embrace and take advantage of, if possible.
One of the best things about world-class cities are their public transportation systems, and NYC is no exception. Although much of the city is walkable (especially when sticking to a single neighborhood), there are plenty of alternatives for getting around.
The favored choice — for both time and money — is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The MTA offers both bus and subway options, the latter boasting an extensive system that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week (the only in the world). If you’re planning to use the MTA’s services, single passes can be bought at any subway station. If your trip is going to last more than a few days, you can purchase MetroCards, which allow you to hop freely between subways or buses within a fixed timeframe.
If you’re looking for something more physically challenging, and if the weather permits, there is always the option to hop on a bike and pedal your way through the city. Citi Bike has established a reputable bike-sharing system with over 10,000 bikes and a user friendly phone app. For those who may be unfamiliar with biking through busy streets, don’t stress — there are plenty of bike paths throughout each neighborhood, especially along the rivers.
Speaking of the rivers, New York City has a number of ferries that help with daily commutes. NYC Ferry also has their own mobile app, and those looking to ride once will only pay $2.75 (the same cost as a subway pass).
Finally, the most unique mode of transportation in NYC is the Roosevelt Island Tram. Seen mainly as a novelty, the tram carries residents and visitors over the East River — at a peak height of 250 feet (76 meters) — connecting Roosevelt Island with Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Note that this mode of transportation can also be accessed using a MetroCard.
THINGS TO DO
Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is probably New York City’s most well-known landmark. Since its arrival as a gift from France in the late 19th century, people have flocked to Ellis Island to witness this welcoming symbol of freedom. It’s best to plan ahead when you want to visit, as getting to this UNESCO World Heritage Site requires taking a ferry and paying an entrance fee.
In the heart of Manhattan is Central Park, a 843-acre green space packed with historical landmarks and room to relax — a gem that shines during every season. Make your way through the blooming gardens in spring, around the sparkling fountains in summer, under the changing leaves of fall, or over the snow-covered bridges in winter. While there, some type of live event is sure to be happening, and you can enjoy the area by foot, bike, horse carriage, or even, weather permitting, ice skates.
Staten Island Ferry
Staten Island is one the city’s five boroughs but, due to its southern location, it’s often overlooked. The subway doesn’t run to the island, so the only way to get there is via boat. And what better way to see it than by taking a ferry ride across the harbor? While on the water, passengers are treated to lovely views of Lower Manhattan’s skyscrapers and the iconic Statue of Liberty. The best part? This ferry is free.
Professional Sports Game
If you’re looking to get your sporting fix, you won’t have to look far. There always seems to be a game on — New York City has two baseball, basketball, and hockey teams that all play in the downtown area (the city’s football teams actually play across the river in New Jersey). The storied franchises that call this city home play in some of the best stadiums and arenas in the country, including Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium.
At the corner of Broadway and Seventh Avenue is a landmark that has become synonymous with New York City itself. Times Square is a bustling stomping ground for shopping and entertainment, and a place 360,000 people pass through everyday. The central area of the square stretches from 42nd to 47th streets, the blocks walled with bright billboards and storefronts. It’s here you can expect to feel the gravitational pull of the city — and all the excitement associated with it!
National September 11 Memorial and Museum
As the name suggests, this memorial pays homage to those lost and affected by the tragic incidents that took place on September 11th, 2001. There is both an outdoor memorial and an indoor, multimedia museum, which are both located in Lower Manhattan. Here you’ll find remarkable monuments that reflect the bravery and camaraderie of a city brought together by misfortune.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Universally nicknamed “The Met,” this Manhattan museum holds the title as the nation’s largest. Not only rich in size, the museum also boasts an unbelievable amount of artwork (estimated at over two million pieces), ranging from contemporary to medieval times, and is a fascinating compilation of architecture, too.
The Museum of Natural History
Founded in 1869, the Museum of Natural History has been a New York City spectacle for ages. The museum is full of endless intrigue, from a butterfly conservatory to a stunning visual journey into cosmic exploration. There’s something special about this imaginative place that is sure to spark an interest in people of all ages, and is a must for any NYC itinerary.
New York Public Library
With a staggering collection of nearly 53 million books and documents, it’s no surprise that the New York Public Library is one of the best on the planet. Today, the library celebrates its longevity of over 100 years with its visitors, and offers patrons a chance to get up close with rare collections of religious and literary texts. Elegantly built, this a place for book-lovers to get lost for hours while wandering the grand hallways and tranquil reading rooms.
One great thing about New York City is no matter where you find yourself, you won’t be far from the water. As a harbor city, a perfect way to enjoy the ocean views (and see the city from new perspectives) is by taking the ferry to Governors Island, which can be accessed from Manhattan or Brooklyn. Used considerably during the War of 1812, the island is home to two historic forts (Castle Williams and Fort Jay), as well as biking trails, hammocks, and a beautiful fountain.
Socrates Sculpture Park
Nestled in the borough of Queens is Socrates Sculpture Park, an ever-changing outdoor art installation. The park overlooks the East River and features multi-faceted artwork unlike any other in the city. When visiting, don’t worry about paying a fee — the park is free and open 365 days a year, from 9 a.m. until sundown.
Although there are roughly 41 theaters in the city’s Theatre District, there is only one Broadway Theater, located at 1681 Broadway in midtown Manhattan. The theater has had its struggles throughout the decades, especially with the rise of motion pictures, but it has battled on, ensuring some of the best entertainment the city has to offer. The shows change from year to year, ranging from “The Color Purple” to “Cinderella,” but it’s a unique experience every time.