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The Most Famous Things For Visitors to See and Do in NYC
Trying to decide what to do when you visit NYC? Start with this list of New York City's most popular attractions to get started planning your trip to the Big Apple. Popularity naturally brings crowds, but these attractions are all popular for a reason -- they're all pretty great.
Many of the attractions on this list are iconic NYC institutions and could very well be on your NYC bucket list. Do you find the idea of going to a popular attraction unappealing? We've included alternative options for each to give you a lesser-known (but still great) way to have a similar experience.
Of course, this is just the first of many lists of attraction round-ups to help you plan your NYC vacation. A few others to check out when you're done with this one:
- Best Free NYC Attractions - This list will help you stretch your travel budget further -- and you'll be surprised at just how many great things there are to do in NYC that won't cost a thing!
- My Favorite Things To See & Do... in NYC - Wish you had a friend to guide you in picking some great things to do? These are tried-and-true favorite recommendations from NYC locals.
- Best Things for Families to Do in NYC - Bringing the kids to NYC? Here's a list of great things to do with them in New York City. Don't worry, these are picks that will please the whole family from little kids to grandparents!
Attractions are listed in order of increasing popularity, but each of the highlighted attractions welcomes more than one million visitors annually!Continue to 2 of 13 below.
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Staten Island Ferry
Of the 22 million annual riders, roughly 1.5 million of the Staten Island Ferry passengers are tourists wanting to enjoy the view from this free ferry running between Manhattan to Staten Island.
Commuters and tourists can get a view of the harbor and the Statue of Liberty during the ride between lower Manhattan and St. George, Staten Island. Although it's not a terribly elegant affair, the round-trip free ride allows you an hour-long trip through the New York Harbor.
Alternative Idea: If your budget allows it, try Circle Line's Full Island Cruise, which offers a close-up look at the Statue of Liberty, as well as the opportunity to circumnavigate Manhattan with a tour guide providing narration throughout.Continue to 3 of 13 below.
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The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Founded in 1929 as the first museum dedicated entirely to contemporary art, the MoMA is host to an impressive collection of modern artistic efforts. From painting and sculpture to film and architecture, the Museum of Modern Art's diverse collection has something for everyone, including kids, which is probably why it attractions roughly 3 million visitors each year. They also have an amazing gift shop where you can buy beautiful souvenirs for yourself and your friends back home.
The museum has wonderful programs for families on the weekends, as well as guided tours, gallery talks and film screenings and events. The museum's iPhone app is free and offers tours, maps and offers a variety of options for sharing your experience on social media, as well as ways to create your own collections of images and artwork.
Alternative Idea: In SoHo, the New Museum offers visitors exhibits from emerging artists, with an emphasis on works by living artists. The galleries are frequently changed,... so there is always something new to see.Continue to 4 of 13 below.
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Ellis Island Immigration Museum
From 1892-1924, 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island when they arrived in America. Today, over 3 million visitors visit the Ellis Island Immigration Museum to learn about the immigrant experience. Some visitors come because their ancestors passed through Ellis Island, others come to do genealogical research, but the museum's interactive exhibits, walking tours and movies will appeal to anyone interested in learning about the hardships and challenges faced by immigrants passing through Ellis Island.
Visitors today will enjoy learning about the island's history and the role that it played in the lives of immigrants arriving from overseas, and the ferry ride through the harbor to get to Ellis Island is always fun too. Ranger-led tours are free and offered daily, and give visitors a wonderful overview of the museum. There are also special hard-hat tours of the hospital complex (ages 13+), see their website for ticket and schedule information.
Alternative Idea: The... Lower East Side Tenement Museum offers a series of dynamic guided tours of apartments located in a tenement museum and tells the stories of the immigrant families who lived and worked in these homes.Continue to 5 of 13 below.
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Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty was a gift to the United States in honor of the friendship established during the French Revolution. It has become an American symbol of freedom and welcome to the immigrants who come to the USA looking for a better life. It is also one of New York City's most popular tourist attractions, welcoming over 3 million visitors annually.
Only visitors who are in good health and plan in advance visit the crown of the Statue of Liberty, because tickets are limited to allow roughly 240 people per day crown access. Even if you can't visit the crown, a visit to Liberty Island can be very rewarding. It's amazing to see the Statue from Liberty Island and realize just how large it is. Ranger-led tours of the island are free and offer a great deal of information about the Statue of Liberty and its history.
Alternative Idea: Although this iconic landmark is on many must-see lists, if you're into climbing in tight spots, check out St. John the Divine's Vertical... Tour, which allows visitors to climb 124 feet through spiral staircases to the top of the world's largest cathedral.Continue to 6 of 13 below.
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Empire State Building
Tired of staring up at New York City skyscrapers? Check out the view of New York City from atop the Empire State Building. A classic New York City attraction, it offers nearly 4 million visitors each year wonderful views of New York City and the surrounding area. In fact, the 86th floor and 102nd floor observatories offer the two highest vantage points in Manhattan! The art deco building and lobby are beautiful to see too.
Alternative Idea: Want a great view with fewer crowds? Try visiting the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. It offers visitors great views of the Empire State Building, as well as Central Park.Continue to 7 of 13 below.
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American Museum of Natural History
Since opening to the public in 1869, the American Museum of Natural History has evolved and grown. In addition to the Rose Center planetarium and permanent exhibits, the museum hosts a revolving series of temporary exhibits, so there is always something new to see. The museum welcomes roughly 5 million visitors annually!
This museum is an amazing place for visitors of all ages -- everyone from toddlers to grandparents is sure to find something that is engaging and exciting to learn more about. Their app is super helpful for navigating the sometimes confusing layout.
It's easy to spend an entire day here -- in addition to exploring the many permanent and temporary exhibits, there are planetarium and IMAX shows to enjoy, guided tours and families will love visiting the Discovery Center that is full of hands-on activities for children. The food court and several cafes offer visitors a variety of different dining options, and a chance to refuel during an extended visit. Don't miss... our Tips for Visiting AMNH to make the most of your visit.
Alternative Idea: Also on the Upper West Side, the New-York Historical Society is New York City's oldest museum and offers visitors wonderful exhibits as well as its own children's museum, the Dimenna Children's History Museum.Continue to 8 of 13 below.
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Metropolitan Museum of Art
Over 2 million works of art from around the world and throughout history are housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. An iconic art museum, the Met is well worth a visit and offers such a vast and diverse collection that there's sure to be something that appeals to you -- which is probably why the museum welcomes over 6 million visitors annually. There's no way to see everything this museum offers in a single day, but there are so many impressive exhibits art lovers won't want to miss it.
There are free Museum Highlights tours offered daily, which are a great way to see a broad sample of the museum's collection and narrow down which areas to explore in greater depth.
Alternative Idea: If you want to visit a more modestly sized museum, consider The Frick Collection, located roughly 10 blocks south of The Met. Housed in the Fifth Avenue mansion of its founder, you'll enjoy artwork displayed in an intimate setting. (Due to the nature of the displays, children under 10 are not permitted.)Continue to 9 of 13 below.
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Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central is both an essential NYC transit hub and a beautiful example of Beaux-Arts architecture. Even if we exclude the commuters, 21.6 million out-of-town tourists visit Grand Central annually!
Renovations since its opening in 1913 have turned Grand Central into more than just a hub for transportation -- there are shops, dining and even a small transit museum available to visitors. The architecture and many special spots (including both the Campbell Apartment and the Whisper Gallery outside of the Oyster Bar) make this a particularly special destination -- and it's free to visit. For visitors looking for a guided experience, there are free tours available, as well as audio tours, a guided tour and an app available to help you navigate Grand Central and learn about its history and architecture.
Alternative Idea: Opened two years before Grand Central, The New York Public Library is another great example of Beaux-Arts architecture and just a short walk away!Continue to 10 of 13 below.
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More than 40 million people visit Central Park each year and the park's 843 acres have offered a welcome escape from the concrete jungle of New York City for over 150 years. New Yorkers and visitors alike come to Central Park year round to exercise, relax and explore.
One of the reasons that Central Park is such a magical place is that no matter how many times you visit, there's always something new to discover or explore. Visitors might enjoy a picnic in Central Park, watching a SummerStage concert or even taking a free walking tour offered by the Central Park Conservancy. There are so many great things to do in Central Park -- try one to discover for yourself what makes Central Park is so popular.
If you do visit, consider downloading their helpful app, it will make navigating the park easier, and even offers a free audio guide with celebrities talking about their favorite spots in the park.
Alternative Idea: Also designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Brooklyn's... Prospect Park welcomes just 8 million visitors annually and is 585-acres.Continue to 11 of 13 below.
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Welcoming nearly 800,000 visitors daily during the holiday season, Rockefeller Center is a great destination for visitors any time of year (and less crowded, though still nearly half a million people visit daily year round!) Built during the Great Depression, the complex's architecture and artwork make it destination-worthy, even without all the shops, restaurants and activities happening.
This midtown Manhattan landmark is probably most famous for its Christmas tree and ice skating rink, but it also offers visitors the wonderful Top of the Rock Observation Deck, where you can enjoy a great view from 850 feet above street level, and Radio City Music Hall, which hosts concerts, shows and performances year-round.
Alternative Idea: Visit the Shops at Columbus Circle for upscale shopping and dining options, as well as a lovely view looking out over Columbus Circle toward Central Park.Continue to 12 of 13 below.
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There are so many reasons to come to Times Square, it's no wonder than 400,000 people pass through the neighborhood daily, including 50 million visitors annually. The neighborhood has become more pedestrian-friendly with reduced traffic and more plazas created with seating and tables for relaxing and people watching, as well as food carts offering quick, yet delicious food to enjoy.
Times Square is most impressive after dark, when the glow of billboards and street signs make it hard to believe that it's nighttime. Curious what you can do in Times Square? Read about things to do in Times Square, including seeing a Broadway show, riding on a ferris wheel, and posing for pictures with celebrities.
Alternative Idea: Get away from the grid of Times Square and head south to Greenwich Village. There's still plenty of... great shopping and tons of restaurants to eat at, but there are also cobblestone streets and quiet spots to explore and relax.Continue to 13 of 13 below.
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Want More Ideas For Your NYC Trip?
Now that you've seen New york City's most popular things to see and do, here are even more ideas that you might want to consider for your trip: