Things to Do in NYC | The Best Events and Activities
This post covers the best things to do in New York City, written by a local tour guide.
We include a top 10 list, free things to do, nighttime activities, things to do with kids as well as showing you the best neighborhoods and foods.
And before we get started, consider joining our NYC Travel Tips + Hacks Facebook group and get ideas from travelers who have visited NYC.
- Top 10
- Free Things to Do
- At Night
- Family-Friendly Activities
- By Neighborhood + Month
- Top Attractions + Museums
- Suggested Itineraries
Below is our list of the top 10 things to do in New York. In each listing, we add links for more in-depth looks at each choice and related items.
For more ideas on top popular attractions, check out our comparison guide on tourist discount passes, which could help you save money on entry fees.
1. Take a Sightseeing tour
Many people visiting NYC will look into taking a bus tour, particularly a hop-on-hop-off tour but there are many different options.
Check out our comparison guide on NYC bus tours to see which, if any, may be right for you.
We offer approximately 40 different tours, including free, self-guided, guided, and GPS-enabled audio tours of every neighborhood that you will likely visit as a tourist in NYC.
We also compare several “See NYC in a Day” tours.
2. See a Broadway Show
There are dozens and dozens of Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals and plays to name here. See what’s playing when you are in town.
Learn how to save money on Broadway tickets through lotteries and other discount options. We explain them all in detail.
You may also want to consider taking a Disney on Broadway tour, as it includes an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look in a theater and try on actual props and costumes from notable musicals!
3. View the Stunning New York Skyline
Now there is the brand new “The Edge” at Hudson Yards.
Each has its own vantage point, as well as different prices of admission, varying wait time, and opening/closing hours.
Read our post which breaks down the pros and cons of each to help you choose which view is right for you.
You can still get incredible views of the city for free.
NYC is home to multiple major sports teams. In fact, the Big Apple is home to 2 teams for each sport.
NYC is also home to the NYC Marathon, the U.S. Open Tennis Championship and many other smaller events.
5. Visit the 9/11 Memorial + Museum
Located in a simple, spacious wide-open plaza in Lower Manhattan, this memorial to the lost lives of 9/11 is an essential feature of New York City. The memorial is free to visit.
The National September 11th Museum, which covers the tragic events of 9/11 through artifacts, documents, and films, does have a cost.
6. Visit Lady Liberty and Ellis Island
For some, this is a must-do for visitors to NYC. You will need to plan to spend 4-5 hours to see both islands, but it really is worth it.
The views on the boat cruise out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are wonderful.
We offer tips for planning your visit to both attractions and include our own self-guided tours of both islands.
Alternatively, you can also get tickets for pedestal access with some Statue of Liberty tours.
7. Enjoy a Boat Cruise Around Manhattan
You can choose between single ride tourist boats, hop-on-hop-off all day boats, speedboats, and sailboats. There are also nighttime rides and dinner and music cruises.
We review and compare all of NYC’s boat tour options.
If you are on a budget, there are several free boat rides, including the Staten Island Ferry.
8. Eat Real New York Food
There are plenty of great places to eat in New York City and you don’t have to spend a lot of money on some of the world’s tastiest foods.
We offer suggestions of where to find the best versions of iconic New York foods, such as pizza, bagels, pastrami or knishes, as well as restaurants that will suit your mood, budget, and location.
You might also consider taking one of our pay-what-you-like food tours in NYC.
There are also some more specific food tours that focus on snacks like pizza and gelato in Greenwich Village.
9. Stroll through Central Park
This pastoral escape from the hustle and bustle of the city streets is everything you imagined it would be.
With wide-open spaces, rides, zoos, sculptures, shade trees, ponds, and lakes, there are so many things to do in Central Park.
Watch a 32-minute version of our longer live guided tour.
10. Get a Tourist Discount Pass
A tourist discount pass affords you discounted entry into most of NYC’s most popular attractions.
While the passes themselves certainly aren’t free, if you plan your itineraries well, you will end up getting one or two attractions for free each day.
There are several different types of passes, so be sure to read our comparison post to learn about how you can save the most money on your trip.
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FREE THINGS TO DO IN NEW YORK CITY
Aside from walking the Brooking Bridge, strolling through Central Park or visiting the 9/11 Memorial, there are so many more things to do for free or almost free in NYC!
From world-class museums to boat rides offering stunning skyline views, you could keep yourself occupied for several days without busting your budget.
Podcast Episode: Listen to tour guides Lori and Katherine discuss free things to do in NYC on an episode of our NYC Travel Tips podcast.
1. Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
This bridge is loved by locals who never tire of the sense of freedom one feels when walking across the bridge. Tourists love it because of the incredible skyline views.
Read our guide to walking the Brooklyn Bridge, which has some helpful tips for making your walk unforgettable.
Whether you join one of our pay-what-you-wish Brooklyn Bridge Tours or go on your own, this is a walk you absolutely should make while in New York City.
2. Ride the Free Staten Island Ferry (day or night!)
Take a free ferry ride from Manhattan to Staten Island and back again.
Whether you ride it during the day or at night, you will get spectacular views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
You might also be interested in riding the East River Ferry, which costs the same as a subway ride.
3. Experience the splendor of Grand Central Station
From its massive celestial ceiling to its secret ‘whispering gallery’, there is no train station like it in the world.
The station is actually a terminal that includes local subways as well as dozens of train tracks destined for locations as far as 3 hours out of NYC.
Seeing its beauty is nice, but Grand Central is so much more impressive when you learn the truly fascinating history (and some secrets). Watch our video guide to this great terminal.
4. Walk the High Line – day or night!
The High Line, a most unusual city park, is built on an abandoned elevated railroad.
A stroll on your own is lovely, but the history of this park is engaging from stories of Titanic survivors to the controversies over the changing cultural landscape of this centuries-old neighborhood in Chelsea.
We also offer a GPS-enabled audio tour of the High Line narrated by one of our professional guides.
5. Attend a TV show taping
Totally free, totally fun! We have compiled a list of New York TV Show Tapings along with how you can get tickets.
Some of the most popular shows do require advanced planning, such as:
But there are many other shows that you can apply for once you are already in New York City.
6. Wander the streets of Chinatown
Despite the fact that there are now several larger Chinatowns in New York City, Chinatown in Lower Manhattan remains the oldest, most authentic, and most mysterious.
Wandering its narrow winding streets takes you to another place and time as if you are no longer in New York City.
Discover things to do in Chinatown.
7. Check out street art in Bushwick
New York has some of the finest street art and graffiti art in the world.
Street art has been elevated in the last two decades as a serious form of artistic expression and Bushwick in Brooklyn is one of the best neighborhoods to see amazing street art.
Visiting Bushwick and the Bushwick Collective Street Art Gallery is easy to do and makes for an off-the-beat activity during your stay.
You can use our self-guided tour that tells you how to get to Bushwick and where to find the best art.
You can join us on any of our pay-what-you-like Street Art Tours including our Bushwick Street Art Tour offered on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays at @2 pm with additional days in the summer season.
Read our guide Things to Do in Brooklyn for more ideas.
8. Ride the Roosevelt Island Tram
The Roosevelt Island Tram, which some might refer to as a cable car or gondola, provides a skyline view of the city like no other.
We provide details on the best times to go, where you can find the tram station, how to get tickets and other tips.
Like the Staten Island Ferry, this is a great day or night option.
It’s not technically free, but it costs the same as a subway ride, so who’s counting?
Be sure to read our self-guided tour of Roosevelt Island.
9. Enjoy a Free Museum Day
NYC has more museums than you can count, and while most have a cost, there are several museums that are always free or work on a pay-what-you-like model (just like our tours).
Some of these museums are top names, such as the Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Museum, and the New York Public Library.
Additionally, there are numerous museums that offer free days, when they will accept donations from the grateful public, including the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the National September 11th Museum.
Read our post where we list all of these opportunities.
10. Take a Free, Self-Guided Tour
While we hope you will take many of our pay-what-you-wish guided walking tours, we also have over 30 self-guided walks that are absolutely free.
Each tour comes with step by step directions between each stop as well as neighborhood information.
We also offer audio tours, some that are free, and others that cost just $1.99.
Some top tours are:
- Central Park
- Greenwich Village
- The High Line
- Grand Central Station
- and so many more
TOP NYC ATTRACTIONS
Below is a list of many of the best attractions.
For in-depth information on how to visit these attractions, simply click on the attraction’s name and you will be taken to another post with information such as:
- ticket prices and ways you can find discounts and ways to visit for free.
- days and hours the attraction is open/closed, holiday hours.
- directions on how to get to the attractions.
- tips and suggestions on how to make the most of your visit.
- and in many cases, we include reviews of tour companies that offer tours of the attraction and self-guided tours.
As you plan your trip, you might also decide to consider purchasing a tourist pass. Tourist passes help you save money by packaging attractions together for one flat price.
So many of the attractions and activities listed in this post are included in the various tourist passes.
We encourage you to read our post comparing the different New York City Attraction Passes. These passes are great deals for some and not for others.
There are countless museums in New York City – too many to list on this page! For information on the dozens and dozens of other museums in NYC, click here.
Below are the most well-known museums. Just click on the name to find out details on hours, the price of admission, directions on how to get there, what else there is to do nearby, and more.
You can visit many museums for free, such as the American Museum of Natural History.
If you buy tickets at the museum you will see the ticket price listed with small print underneath saying “by suggested donation.” This simply means you can pay what you want.
Not all museums offer free admission all the time but do offer specific free days or free hours. find out which museums are always free, which are “by suggested donation” and which have special free hours/days, see our extensive list of museums in NYC.
- American Museum of Natural History and Rose Space Center (always by suggested donation)
- Museum of Modern Art (Free Friday nights)
- 9/11 Museum and Memorial (Free Tuesday nights)
- Guggenheim Museum (Saturdays 5:45 pm-7:45 pm “pay what you wish”)
- Whitney Museum of American Art (Fridays 7:00 pm-9:30 pm “pay what you wish”)
- National Museum of the American Indian (always free)
- Tenement Museum (no free hours)
- Metropolitan Museum of Art (no free hours; New York residents can pay a suggested donation)
Building walls and subway stations of New York City are museums in a way, and you can see brilliant artworks for free if you know where to look. Click the links to find out.
Looking for more things to do?
Fundreds has a list of 150+ of the best things to do in New York City (including our tours!)
THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN NYC
A great place to start is to look at our top things to do with kids in NYC.
There you will find many of the top attractions, the best times to go and also alternatives depending on the age of your children.
Take a look at our map of 25 Things To Do with Kids in Midtown Manhattan. The fun never ends for kids in NYC!
Attractions & Museums
Below are the most satisfying and kid-friendly experiences just click on the links below to be taken to our posts on that specific attraction and you will find useful information about these attractions such as best times to go, prices and hours, discounts, directions to get there and other nearby activities.
- American Museum of Natural History
- Bronx Zoo
- Madame Tussauds (see picture on right)
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not
- Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
- The New York Aquarium
- Brooklyn Children’s Museum
- Children’s Museum of Manhattan
- South Street Seaport Museum
- New York Transit Museum
- National Geographic Ocean Odyssey
Take a Food Tour
Kill two birds with one stone: you get the history and culture and they get fed.
Kids also love our Lower East Side Food Tour with a visit to the Donut Plant, which we believe are THE best doughnuts in the city.
If your children enjoy foods like pizza and gelato, they may like the Greenwich Village food tour offered by Take Walks.
Many of our non-food tours are suitable for kids as well including our Central Park Tours (see video above), our High Line Tours (see video above) and for the courageous kids, one of our New York Ghost Tours.
Take a Bus Tour or Boat Ride
Bus tours are great when traveling with kids because it gives the little ones a chance to rest up a bit during a day of sightseeing.
Since Hop-on, hop-off bus tours generally stop at the popular attraction locations, you can use the bus to move from destination to destination and it is a lot more interesting for your child to look out a bus window then stand in a crowded subway.
Our post The Best Hop-On, Hop-Off NYC Bus Tours can help you decide which is best for you and your child.
If you are traveling with tweens or teens, they will probably enjoy a ride on one of the three popular speedboats, The Shark, The Beast, and The Sea Wolf.
If you were planning on getting tourist passes for the family, the good news is that The Shark and The Beast are included in all tourist passes except the City Pass.
If you are concerned that the cost of tickets for an entire family, try the Staten Island Ferry which is free, passes by the Statue of Liberty and runs 24 hours a day!
You can find other options by looking at Free New York Boat Tours.
To find out about the many options available see our post Which New York Boat Tour or Cruise is Best?
The Great Outdoors
When you and your child are tired of concrete sidewalks and noisy cars, head off to one of these green spaces where you can romp and play in New York style.
Visit Governors Island
Governors Island is a small recreational vehicle-free island just 7 minutes by ferry from Lower Manhattan.
You can rent bikes, kayak for free, picnic, visit the various playgrounds, and try out the longest slide in NYC — three stories high and 57-feet long!
Read our post on Governors Island for information on open hours, how to get there, and what activities are offered.
Romp, Ride, or Roll in Central Park
You can go roller-skating in the summer, ice-skating in the winter, or take a bike ride.
We have a pay-what-you-wish Central Park bike tour (bike rental costs extra) which is something that everyone in the family can enjoy.
Climb, Kayak, and Carousel-Ride in Brooklyn Bridge Park
Located near Brooklyn Heights, the enormous Brooklyn Bridge Park offers all sorts of athletic activities from rock climbing, roller skating, kayaking, and more.
There are basketball and handball courts, multiple playgrounds, and even a seasonal pop-up pool. The little ones will love the historic Jane’s Carousel.
THINGS TO DO AT NIGHT
There is no lack of things to do at night in NYC and many of the items in other sections of this post are also great night options.
Below are just a few more examples of the many things to do at night in the city that never sleeps.
For even more ideas, check out our master post on things to do at night in NYC.
See a Broadway Show
An unforgettable way to spend an evening in New York City is to see a Broadway show or play.
You don’t have to pay full price for tickets if you are flexible with your choice of shows.
Nighttime Sightseeing Tours
Seeing specific parts of New York City at night with a guide to point out things you might not have otherwise noticed can make for a great and inexpensive way to spend an evening.
Our pay-what-you-wish night tours cover several different neighborhoods, each beautiful at night in its own way.
If you want to start your evening early and get some beautiful photos of New York City, try a sunset tour.
ENJOY A NEW YORK MEAL
There are plenty of great places to eat in New York City and you don’t have to spend a lot of money on some of the world’s tastiest foods.
Below are our suggestions of where to find the best versions of iconic New York foods, as well as restaurants that will suit your mood, budget, and location.
You might also consider taking one of our food tours of NYC. They are pay-what-you-like.
New York Bagel
You haven’t really had a bagel until you have had a New York bagel. Some say it’s the NYC water that makes them so good.
With hundreds of bagel stores, how to narrow down the choices? With our list of 15 Best Bagels in New York City,
New York Pizza
Here are the best pizza places in New York City. They are organized by neighborhood so no matter where you are, you can find a great food stop.
A few are family-style where the pizza is served in big pies and the family shares. This is a really fun way to enjoy a great meal.
For an authentic New York dining experience, eat a meal al fresco on Mulberry Street at the best Little Italy Restaurants.
New York Delicatessen
There are very few real delicatessens left in NYC, the kind where you can get a great pastrami sandwich 6 inches tall.
For inexpensive, delicious food in one of NYC’s most exotic neighborhoods, try these restaurants in Chinatown.
Other great eats
Two neighborhoods are especially good to find diverse and affordable food choices
Best Greenwich Village Restaurants This list includes Mexican and other ethnic food, sushi, vegan, kid-friendly food, cheap street food and restaurants that are good for groups.)
We have a Greenwich Village Food Tour but if you are unable to join us or want to explore the area and food on your own, use our Greenwich Village Snack Food with a self-guided tour.
Lower East Side restaurants This list has some of the really good LES restaurants in all price ranges.
If you want to get a sampling of the foods typical of the neighborhood, try our Lower East Side Food Tour.
Grab a drink
You want to get a drink. It should be simple. It is, but it isn’t! With hundreds of drinking spots to choose from, you might want some help in deciding where to go.
To mix your drink with some New York history, visit one of several Historic New York City Bars, including the famous McSorley’s Old Ale House that has been open long enough to have served both Abraham Lincoln to John Lennon.
If you want some guidance, or maybe you are traveling solo and want some drinking buddies, Pub Crawl, Cocktail Tour or Bar Tour.
You can also try a Free New York Brewery Tours and Tastings.
THINGS TO DO BY NEIGHBORHOOD AND MONTH
One way to organize your trip to New York is by neighborhood. NYC is very much a patchwork of many neighborhoods with defined boundaries.
Of course, you can join us for one of our many pay-what-you-wish walking tours for deeper insight into the neighborhoods shared by one of our knowledgeable and personable guides.
Below is a list of 13 top areas. You can also use our interactive neighborhood map, which will help you visualize where each area is in relation to the others.
- Lower Manhattan
- Midtown Manhattan
- Times Square
- Central Park
- Greenwich Village
- East Village
- Little Italy
- Chelsea and the High Line
- Brooklyn Heights
- DUMBO (Brooklyn)
- Check out even more neighborhoods.
Below are annual events that occur during the 12 months of the year, and if you click on the link you will be taken to our detailed posts of these events and more.
We also wrote a post on when is the best time to visit NYC with tips for each season.
We also included links to the typical weather for each month so you know what to expect and pack accordingly.
- January (weather)
- February (weather)
- March (weather)
- April (weather)
- May (weather)
- June (weather)
- July (weather)
- August (weather)
- September (weather)
- October (weather)
- November (weather)
- December (weather)
Winter Holiday Season (Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb)
- Christmas in New York City
- Where to Go Ice Skating in New York City
- New York Holiday Lights Tour
- Holiday Shows in NYC
- NYC Christmas Movie Tour
- Restaurant Week in January
Springtime (March, April, May)
- Free Tours by Foot schedule is blooming with more than 8 free guided tours offered every day.
- Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival
- Tribeca Film Festival
- Easter Parade and Easter Bonnet Festival
Summer in the City (June July, Aug)
- New York City Summer Guide
- Shakespeare in the Park
- Things to Do on Governors Island
- Free concerts in Central Park at Summerstage
- New York City Beaches
- Restaurant Week in late July
Fall (Sept, Oct)
- Little Italy’s San Gennaro Festival
- NYC Broadway Week
- New York Caribbean Carnival Parade
- Village Halloween Parade
- Columbus Day Parade
For those looking for some structure planning a short stay in New York City, we’ve created several different itineraries so that you can hit the road running.
There’s no need to spend your time figuring out how to squeeze it all in. Our itineraries take care of that for you.
When planned well, you can see an awful lot of New York City in just one day. Our One Day in NYC tour is a lot like the 1890s song “Sidewalks of New York!”
We’ve got you going to the “East side, West side, all around the town”. How’s this for one day?
- Morning: A stroll in Central Park, seeing world-famous Rockefeller Center followed by lunch in Grand Central Terminal.
- Afternoon: Catch your breath and gear up for a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, exploring Wall Street and the oldest streets of New York City, a free ferry ride with amazing views Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, finished with a visit to the 9/11 Memorial Plaza.
- Evening: Dinner at one of the many eateries in the Oculus, the newest part of the World Trade Center. Or see a Broadway show instead. You can also take one of our pay-what-you-like New York Night Tours.
“Bright Lights, Big City – Throw yourself right into the heart of the city in Midtown Manhattan starting at Times Square, the gorgeous and historic New York Public Library, and stunning Grand Central Terminal.
You’ll visit Rockefeller Center and visit the Top of the Rock, one of the city’s three observatories. The 360-degree views will take your breath away.
After looking down on Central Park from above, you’ll then spend some time exploring it’s most well know parts. Afterward, if you can muster the energy, see a Broadway show!
“Historical New York” – Find out where it all began by strolling some of the oldest streets of the city. Start off at Trinity Church, built in 1846 but with a congregation that dates back to colonial days.
Head over to Wall Street with the world-famous New York Stock Exchange Buiding and Feral Hall, where George Washington was sworn in as the first president.
Walk down to Battery Park, where the Dutch colonized ‘New Amsterdam” in 1624.
Ride the free Staten Island Ferry for fantastic vistas, see the solemn and moving 9/11 Memorial and go to the top of One World Observatory and be blown away by just how much and far you can see. End your day with a relaxing walk on the High Line Park.
“Live Like A Local” – Having seen the big sights, it’s time to relax and spend the day doing what New Yorkers do on their days off: walk, shop and eat.
Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is a great way to start your day and you will certainly work up an appetite. Lunch in Chinatown fits right in. After your meal, you can explore the old streets and shop for souvenirs or knock-off bags.
Wander up through Little Italy and over into SoHo. Round out your day in Greenwich Village with an inexpensive meal and people-watching that is priceless.
Just click here to get all the details on this itinerary.
This itinerary is a variation of the above, with more emphasis on the places kids enjoy like the American Museum of Natural History and the Bronx Zoo.
It’s not so overly child-focused so it is an itinerary that will keep the whole family entertained. Because some of the most popular attractions among the young ones (and adults too) are a bit pricey, we include tips and advice on how to get discounts or even pay nothing at all!
Just click here to see this family-friendly itinerary.
There’s no reason you can’t see a heck of a lot in a few hours. This post recommends different tours and activities that won’t take all day and won’t take a bite out of your wallet.
The post also includes details on the quickest ways to get to and from the major airports and where you can store your luggage.
Itineraries with a tourist pass
One way to add some structure to an itinerary is to purchase one of several tourist passes that offer savings on activities and ticket prices while offering you the flexibility to decide which of those activities or attractions to see.
TIP: For a complete explanation of tourist passes, which ones are available and which might be right for you, read our post, New York City Attraction Passes | Which One Is the Best to Buy.
Having a tourist pass is like being a kid in a candy shop! So much to see and it’s already included in your pass — but where to even begin?
The New York Pass has some great suggested itineraries on their website that make the most of your time and save a fair amount of money when using their pass.
- Day 1: Start the morning off with a Big Bus Hop-on Hop-off Tour. Get oriented to the city while seeing major sights from an open-top bus. Then midday, visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum. In the late afternoon, spend some contemplative time at the 9/11 Memorial. Then step inside the 9/11 Museum to learn about the events of that day through pictures, videos, and artifacts.
- Day 2: Wake up and head up to the Empire State Building to admire the 360-degree views of the city. A great way to start your day. Then take a relaxing Circle Line Cruise and see the city from an entirely different perspective. Finish your day with an easy bicycle tour in leafy Central Park.
- Day 3: Begin your last day with a voyage on the unique bus tour called The Ride. You’ll see some major sights and get some surprises too. Then go see your favorite celebrities at Madame Tussauds wax figure museum. Afterward, go to the Top of the Rock observation deck for panoramic views of the city. Finally, spend your evening enjoy a taste of New York on a food tour.
If you were to visit all these attractions without a New York Pass, you’d pay $400. With a 3-Day New York Pass, you would save $141 on admission!
That’s it! And don’t forget, consider joining our NYC Travel Tips + Hacks Facebook group and get ideas from travelers who have visited NYC.