I know what you’re thinking: do we really need another post with the top 10 tourist attractions of NYC? Well, the answer is: we do. Big cities around the world, whether it’s London, Paris or New York, are places that people always want to hear about.
We love these great centers of diversity, of street life, of fashion, art, and gastronomy. And one of the difficulties of traveling to these places is that the top attractions, even when commercialized and crowded with hundreds of tourists, are a must see.
If you decide to skip them, you’re simply going to miss out. There’s no New York City without the Empire State Building, no London without Big Ben, no Paris without the Eiffel Tower, no Berlin without Brandenburg Gate.
This past winter, I visited New York for the first time in years and I renewed my love for the city. It wasn’t the fake connection you have with NYC while binge-watching Friends or Sex and the City, or some of the iconic gay artists that have made NYC part of their art.
It was my life, unfolding before my eyes, while sitting in the sun on the High Line, while eating French toast in a diner and while letting my mind wander in the many amazing museums and galleries. It was all about my strolls in Central Park and my nights in Brooklyn.
However, a lot of my best memories of NYC from this last trip were, surprisingly, from the top 10 tourist attractions. Sure, I’ve been to NYC many times before. I have memories of visiting NYC as a child, or when I was younger and sillier in college, but now in my thirties as a gay man, the city was speaking to me at another level: I could understand more the diversity, the eagerness of some tourists to capture all they could because they’re leaving the city and probably won’t visit it again. I understood the comfortably chill pace of the long-term residents.
So, in partnership with Smart Destinations, I’m sharing my thoughts about these top 10 places to visit in NYC. The New York Explorer Pass makes visiting these attractions both smooth and easy. And in a city with millions of tourists trying to beat you to it, the card makes it easier to not just save money, but to skip the lines. An essential part of that NYC culture.
Top 10 Tourist Attractions in NYC
1. American Museum of Natural History
From the Hayden Planetarium with high-definition images of our universe (narrated by Neil DeGrasse Tyson) to the skeletons of dinosaurs, this is my favorite place to wonder about our humanity, our thirst for knowledge and our natural history.
The museum is obviously crowded with children and teenagers, dreaming of becoming astronauts, archeologists and marine biologists, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it. It’s one of the largest museums in the world. And as one of the top things to do, it’s regularly crowded—save time by getting your tickets in advance!
2. The MET – Metropolitan Art Museum
Walk out of the American Museum of Natural History, cross Central Park and discover the MET. Contemporary art and design (my favorite: Frank Lloyd Wright) lives here next to Egyptian tombs and Faberge eggs. It’s all about exploring the creativity of the human mind.
Go out, buy an overpriced NY hot dog and sit on the MET steps. This is what NYC is all about. Entrance fee to the museum is by donation (official suggested amount is $25) and you’ll have to queue up no matter how much you plan to donate—unless you’ve already got the New York Explorer Pass and then you can skip the lines.
3. Empire State Building
A legend of the city, it stands silently between 33rd and 34th streets. But once you take the elevator all the way up, you’ll see the vastness of NYC. If you come around sunset, you can see the city slowly illuminate.
Around the Hudson river and in Central Park, or inside the thousands of buildings, there are people working, living, loving, being alive. If you pay attention, you can see it all. The price might deter you, but this is one of the best views of NYC and with the New York Explorer Pass, you can save on the admission price and the waiting time.
4. Statue of Liberty – Ferry
NYC changes dramatically when you see it from the water. Take the ferry to visit one of the most iconic symbols celebrating the always-threatened ‘liberty’ and get that perfect skyline shot for Instagram. Enjoy your peaceful, happy moments there, but remember that freedom is – even today – something people all over the world still fight for.
The Statue of Liberty, like most NYC attractions, gets long lines of visitors especially in the summer months. And if you want to visit for an iconic sunset photo then it’s best to have a New York Explorer Pass to skip the lines. It’s when everyone else wants to visit the Statue of Liberty so you’ll be one step ahead with a pass.
5. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa)
Thousands of artists from all over the world have created beauty just to invite you to think and make you feel, and for me, this is one of the modern temples of human talent. Van Gogh, Dalí, Picasso, Rousseau, amazing temporary exhibitions and a great museum gift & souvenir shop.
Take your time when visiting the MoMA to appreciate beauty and forget the horrors of the world. Pro tip: don’t bring a backpack to avoid having to queue for the coat check.
6. National September 11 Memorial & Museum
New York City has had its fair share of history, and the 9-11 memorial and museum serves as a place of contemplation, but also of confusion. One simply doesn’t understand. The flowers in the names around the memorial pools.
The hundreds of people visiting, moving around a place that memorializes some of our darkest hours. We all lost something that day. But it’s important to remember and the stillness you’ll find in this safe space is a reminder. While the outdoor memorial pools are free and open to the public, with an entrance ticket you can get inside the memorial museum and visit the Oculus.
7. Guggenheim Museum
A perfect place for healing your soul. It’s not just about the Kandinsky art or the mechanized art installations. The building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is a masterpiece.
If it happens to be a cloudy, sad day in NYC, don’t forget to enjoy a cappuccino in their coffee shop, sit there and contemplate the rain falling slowly onto the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir just across the way in Central Park.
While the exterior of the building is iconic and certainly photo-worthy, make sure to get inside to see the famous Guggenheim spiral gallery.
8. Central Park
A romantic site where you can sit on the grass, read, go jogging and ride your bike. With iconic places like the Bethesda Fountain, the Belvedere Castle and the Delacorte Theater, Central Park offers a different type of chill-yet-hectic life as compared to the routine of NYC streets. Take some photos, explore the nature and enjoy riding your bike.
9. Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO
While there are countless things to see and do in Manhattan, it’s also important to step away for some hours. Plan a half-day at least to explore Brooklyn Bridge and the DUMBO area. While you can also ride a bike to get there, I definitely prefer the long walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.
On a sunny day, you won’t be alone as thousands of others are there to take selfies. The DUMBO area offers great street food (don’t forget to try a true NY slice of pizza), a lovely view of both the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, and a mesmerizing view of the NYC skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge Park.
10. Uptown/Downtown – Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus
Do you love being stuck in traffic? Visit NYC. Driving in NYC is a nightmare, and downtown NYC is loud and in perpetual movement. From Times Square, to Madison Square Garden, to the High Line, Battery Park and Wall Street with its famous sculpture of the Charging Bull, all requires moving around NYC.
So, let someone else do the driving, learn about these places with a guide and focus on taking good photographs. Hop-on, Hop-off buses may be super touristic, but with limited time in a city, it can be a simple and easy way to take in as many of the top tourist attractions as possible. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine when visiting new cities, and essential if you’re a first-time visitor with limited time.
These Top 10 tourism attractions, as I mentioned before, are essential for any New York City visit—no matter if you’re a first-time visitor or travel regularly to the city. The thing about NYC is that it’s so easy to discover new places on each visit—from street food vendors, small indie bookshops, new street markets…
But somehow these main attractions always seduce me and make me wonder why haven’t I yet moved to NYC (until I remember the hassle of buying or renting real estate in NYC).
There’s no question: NYC is one of the best cities of the world. Unfortunately for many tourists it can be a challenge to see and do it all during a short holiday visit, but that’s why the smartest tourists use discount packages like the New York Explorer Pass to save money, but importantly: to save time. You don’t want to be that tourist who went to NYC and skipped the MoMa because of the queues!