Unforgettable Experiences: Things to Do in New York

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  • New York rivals every other metropolis in the world because it has countless eclectic neighborhoods to explore.
  • From the pristine architecture of the Upper East Side to the gritty excitement of the Lower East Side, there’s something for everyone in this cultural touchstone. 
  • You’ll find over 40 museums to explore, 23,000 restaurants in Manhattan alone, and shocking waves of green in oases like Central and Bryant Park. 
  • Bring your wallet because, even though there are plenty of things to do for free, you’ll want to experience the type of fine dining that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. 
  • Whether you’re a solo traveler or looking for some family fun, New York will graciously host and bring something to the table for everyone in your party. 
an aerial view of new york city at night
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They say New York is the city that never sleeps. But, the truth is, it’s far too fascinating to be boxed into a cliché like that. 

If you ever stroll the quiet streets before the busy bustle of a workday, you’ll be amazed these are the same sidewalks that just hosted millions of people in its bars, coffee shops, restaurants, and nightclubs.

Manhattan is no one thing, making it difficult to contain a list of things to do in New York. But that’s also its appeal, as there’s something within this metropolis for everyone. 

If you’ve had one of the greatest cities on earth in your sights, it’s time for a new travel blog to add to your growing trove of treasured getaways. 

Together, we’ll mainly focus on Manhattan before expanding our horizons into the rich history of New York’s Hudson River Valley.

Window Shop on 5th Avenue

5th ave new york street sign
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Grand Central Station is one of the hubs in and out of New York City. It’ll help you spider out in any direction you want to go throughout the five boroughs or up through New York State, thanks to the highly efficient Metro North train line. 

The terminal is centrally located to help you kickstart your New York City trip of a lifetime. There are several exit points out of the terminal but, if you choose the 49th Street doors, you can make a clean break for 5th Avenue, the land where top-shelf shopping dreams come true. 

We’re talking Tiffany’s, Cartier, Saks, and more. Along the way, you’ll spot Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the flagship stores for brand names from Banana Republic to Bergdorf Goodman. 

Towards the end of this high-end retail paradise, you can’t miss The Plaza Hotel. If you have time to step inside for a cocktail in The Champagne Bar, you won’t be disappointed. The splendor and decadence of this world-class hotel rivals the Ritz and the Waldorf Astoria. 

Once your taste buds are satiated, all you have to do is walk across the street to step into one of the most spectacular oases in the world: an 843-acre greenscape right, smack, dab in the middle of one of the bustiest metropolises in the world. 

Stroll Through Central Park

pov of person walking in central park with buildings in the back
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Central Park is a great place to stroll whether you’d like to gather your thoughts with some alone time or travel in a pack of family and friends. Given the relatively small size of the island of Manhattan, it’s astonishing to consider Central Park is larger than, say, Monaco. 

If you’re with the whole family, the Central Park Zoo is well worth the time you dedicate to it. To qualify for a list of free things to do with kids in New York, there are also 21 official playgrounds for the kiddos to giggle and climb their way through. 

All throughout, you’ll find fountains, lakes, and surprising views that feature both greenery and skyscrapers. Even though you’ve already trekked all over Midtown Manhattan, there are an additional 58 miles of pedestrian routes within these green walls. 

Be sure to take a little time to study a map before entering the park to avoid getting too far down the rabbit hole. That said, you can also pick up a pedicab to get back to 5th Avenue, so fear not. 

When your feet need a rest, stretch out on the expansive green meadows that stretch over this sacred space of land in the midst of a bustling city. You can also paddle out on the water for a little while or rent a bike to sail through the park with a bit more ease. 

If you time it right, this is one of the most spectacular spaces to take in an evening concert under the starry New York City skyline.

Stay a Night at the Library Hotel

view of the library hotel entrance
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If you’re a bookworm traveling alone or share a love of reading with your partner, you simply must stay at the Library Hotel. It could quickly top your list of the best things to do in New York for couples who like to bond over their shared love of reading.

Since you’ve already made it this far, splurge on one of their packages so you can receive a book-themed tote bag upon check-in and a basket of treats on your bed.  

The views from the hotel are spectacular, as it’s centrally located in midtown on 41st and Madison. While there, be absolutely certain you head to the rooftop for an evening cocktail. 

The hotel is aptly named because it’s blocks away from the New York Public Library, housed in the architecturally stunning Schwarzman Building. 

Right behind the library is Bryant Park, another one of the best things to do in New York for free. Take a seat for a shady break with your favorite book. It’ll be very reminiscent of Les Jardin des Tuileries in Paris.

If you’re here around Christmas time, Bryant Park showcases Christmas stalls cute enough to rival any of the European Christmas markets. 

Explore the Lower East Side

little italy sign in new york
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With midtown covered, let’s head a little further south. There are plenty of neighborhoods to explore in the Lower East Side like the East Village, Alphabet City, Chinatown, Bowery, Little Italy, and Soho. 

Soho is home to some of the prettiest boutiques, perfect for a unique piece of jewelry or framed piece of art. Strolling these streets is one of the best free things to do in New York City, although you’re likely to blow a few bucks in the irresistible shops and galleries. 

Much like London with its delightful neighborhoods, lower Manhattan boasts the same charm and appeal. You can poke around each neighborhood to see which one speaks to you the most. With wine bars, bistros, and rooftop lounges galore, lower Manhattan offers a wonderful blend of satisfying shopping points and refreshing restaurant breaks for hors d’oeuvres. 

Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

view from on the brooklyn bridge
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This is one of the top things to do in New York for free that leads you to a cultural touchpoint. Brooklyn has its own, unique personality. It’s a little more gritty, a little more edgy, and packed full of colorful charm. The entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge is also in lower Manhattan, across the street from City Hall on Centre Street. 

When you get to the other side, dine at any one of the fine eateries in the neighborhoods of DUMBO or Brooklyn Heights. DUMBO is short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass due to its location on the East River between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. 

It’s one of the best examples of an “up-and-coming” neighborhood done right. It got lucky with its waterfront location, but the cobblestone streets also feature beautiful historic buildings filled with world-class restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, and boutiques. 

Brooklyn Heights is another charming place to roam with its ivy-covered brownstones and secret gardens. It defies the odds of finding a sumptuous suburb in the heart of the second-biggest borough. 

You’ll feel safe and enthralled all at the same time. It’s a bit like stumbling upon Savannah in New York, thanks to its cobbled streets, delicious eateries, and gentle green spaces for the whole family to enjoy. 

Take the Train Up to Cold Spring, NY

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With Midtown and Lower Manhattan covered, let’s think bigger. You can take on New York City throughout the week and enjoy a country escape for the weekend. Many of these retreats are smooth sails on the Metro North train line out of Grand Central Station. 

Nestled near Storm King Mountain, you’ll find a Hallmark movie town called Cold Spring. It dazzles and delights at the end of an hour-and-a-half train ride out of Grand Central, along the Hudson River, and into the Hudson Valley.

The main street is speckled with antiques, boutiques, cafes, bookstores, and breathtaking views over the Hudson, making it one of the best free things to do in New York State. You’ll be so enamored that this is the same river that trails along the west side of Manhattan. 

Countless Airbnbs are yours for the taking in this happy little hamlet. End your night with a spoonful of ice cream from Moo Moo’s Creamery while you sit in the square with waves of music wafting through the air. 

Visit Mohonk Mountain House

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To access Mohonk out of Manhattan, you’ll need to head to another major hub, Penn Station, to board an Amtrak train. This is another great option if you’re looking for a weekend jaunt out of the city. 

Mohonk Mountain House is a luxury resort with all the spa-like amenities to lift out of the city traffic and into a heavenly oasis. Condé Nast named it the #1 resort in the entire northeast just last year. 

The palatial mountain house is a National Historic Landmark (NHL) committed to environmental stewardship and sustainability. On the property, there are over 85 miles of awe-inspiring trails to explore, along with countless activities like canoeing, spa bookings, live music, yoga classes, and more. Award-winning farm-to-table cuisine is also included in your overnight stay. 

If you’re a Sex and the City fan, you’ll know this is where Miranda did her damnedest to ruin her honeymoon with Steve. One look at the website and you’ll easily see why the showrunners chose this resort out of all the places to day trip out of New York City.

Walk the High Line Into Chelsea

pov of person walking the highline in new york
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With your weekend getaway carefully recorded in your journal, it’s time to head back to the hotbed of excitement. We’ve covered central Manhattan and the Lower East Side. Now, it’s time to head to the West Side, which was visible on your train ride back to the city from Cold Spring. 

The High Line is a spectacular creation born from the artistic minds of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf. These architects took an abandoned elevated railroad track and turned it into a garden oasis where lovers can stroll hand in hand and families can wander together before their next adventure. 

In this 1.45-mile sanctuary, stretching from Gansevoort to 34th, you’ll wonder if you’re really strolling through a garden suspended in the air in lower Manhattan. The High Line is easily one of the most enthralling free things to do in New York.

Below, you’ll see some of the sights and sounds of Chelsea which roughly encompasses West 19th – West 23rd across Eighth and Tenth Avenues. 

Dip into the Chelsea Market to secure a few snacks for your hotel room. Or, if the kiddos are with you, take the opportunity to plan some activities on Chelsea Piers. Filled with skating rinks, carousels, skate parks, bowling alleys, and waterside parks, Chelsea Piers will live on in your kids’ minds for years to come. 

Highly unique experiences tucked into complex cityscapes also exist in Singapore. If Southeast Asia is also in the cards, you’ll love this colorful list of the best things to do in Singapore

Dine in Hell’s Kitchen

burger fries and beer from 5 napkin burger in hells kitchen
Rob Jacobs / Flickr

Sticking with the West Side, you may be interested in a few of the dining options in this trendy Upper West Side neighborhood. It’s one of the gourmet meccas of the world, offering a bustling nightlife. 

Gordon Ramsey made it famous, so you know the food options abound. Some of the hotspots include Empanada Mama and Kashkaval Garden for Mediterranean delights. 

You’ll have a bit of a hop, skip, and a jump back across town and down to the end of Midtown Manhattan if you’re still staying at the Library Hotel. But, you’ll be so glad you stepped into this insatiable inferno. 

If, by the way, you’re a foodie who loves this kind of vibrant culture, be sure to check out our list of the best things to do in Miami next. 

End With a Museum and a Meal

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What an exciting whirlwind, right? With this itinerary, you’ve started in Midtown, stretched down to the Lower East Side, dipped into Brooklyn, wandered up through the state of New York, and ventured back down to the West Side. Give yourself a pat on the back because you’ve covered some of the most beautiful expanses in this sparkling icon of a city. 

If you’d like to wrap things up with a quieter activity, select any one of the world-renowned museums New York City has to offer. The museum scene is one of the main reasons why New York is one of the top vacation destinations in the world. There are over 40 museums worth visiting, including: 

  • The American Museum of Natural History
  • The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The Guggenheim
  • The Whitney Museum of American Art
  • The Morgan Library and Museum
  • The Tenement Museum
  • The Intrepid

After all that walking and culture, you’ll want a little sustenance. Depending on which museum you select, there will be plenty of dining options on every corner to savor the special memories you just added to your bank. Being a part-time food critic is everybody’s calling when they’re engaged in the many things to do in New York City.

If you depart from MoMA or the Museum of Natural History, you’ll be within easy reach of Grand Central Station again to board a train or plane back home. You may also want to keep the Port Authority Bus Terminal on your radar, as it will help you board a bus out to JFK. 

Best Things to Do In the New York: The City That Never Sleeps

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With a tremendous sense of accomplishment under your belt, you’ll go home feeling like a million bucks, even if you just spent a couple thousand. While these are the best things to do in New York on any given day of the year, don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path whenever something catches your eye. 

The streets of New York are filled with secret corners and hidden treasures. That’s the magic of Manhattan. There are pocketfuls of surprises everywhere you turn. 

If you’re looking to venture a little bit further north and cross into Canada, check out this list of things to do in Toronto. With shops, restaurants, public parks, and lakefront benches galore, you might as well check this bustling metropolis off your list next!  

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