New York: the 22 best attractions and highlights
New York is the city of all cities. To give you an overview of what you absolutely have to see, in this article we’ll show you our 22 highlights and attractions in New York.
We love New York and if there’s any city that we’d travel to over and over again, it’s definitely New York City.
The abundance of sights in New York can quickly get overwhelming though, especially when you’re in the city for the first time.
We don’t want that to happen to you. That’s why we’ll tell you about our 22 absolute top highlights of New York in this article.
We’ll show you which sights you definitely aren’t allowed to miss in New York and of course give you all the important info you’ll need for visiting each sight.
For an even better overview, we’ve sorted the sights into different categories.
You can navigate easily by using the links on the table of contents.
General tips: how to make visiting New York’s sights stress-free
Before we tell you about our 22 top highlights in New York, we quickly want to give you a few tips to help you make the best of your time in New York.
#1 Buy tickets for sights in advance
Sightseeing in New York can certainly become a little stressful. At most attractions, the first order of business is standing in line: buying tickets, security control, waiting for elevators. You should always calculate this into your planning.
So if you plan a little more time for each attraction, you won’t get yourself into a tight situation once you get there.
Good to know: in most cases, you can at least avoid standing in line for the ticket counter by ordering your entrance tickets online beforehand. It’s actually cheaper to do that in many cases and saves you some time once you’re there.
We’ve therefore put the links to the online ticket offices for each of the sights presented here.
#2 Save time and money with city passes
The various city passes for New York are also popular with travelers to the city. With these passes, you gain entrance to numerous attractions in New York. Financially, it’s in some instances cheaper than buying individual tickets, at least when you visit a relatively large number of sights.
In total, there are 5 different city passes for New York. For every attraction in this article, we’ll let you know whether its entrance is part of the city passes.
We show you whether one of these passes is worth it for you in our detailed comparison:
#3 Optimally plan your visit to the sights
New York is huge, so it’s definitely worth doing some planning in advance for your visit to the different attractions. It’s best to make a plan where you write down which sights you’d like to visit on which days.
We’ve written a detailed itinerary for one week in New York. You can easily adjust the plan for 3, 4 or 5 days:
So, enough with the introduction. Now we’re getting to our 22 top sights in New York.
The most important sights on a map
Since orientation in New York isn’t always so easy at first, we’ve plotted the most important sights on a map.
You can also save the map to your computer or phone:
#1 The Statue of Liberty
Let’s get started with the most famous structure of New York, which you can’t miss under any circumstances.
The Statue of Liberty is THE symbol of New York. It used to be the first thing that immigrants saw of the US as they entered the port by ship.
Today, the Statue of Liberty is one of the most well known sights in New York. We’ve concisely written down all of the important info on the Statue of Liberty for you here.You can find a more detailed description of the different ticket options and visiting in a separate article:
Info about visiting the Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is found south of Manhattan on the small Liberty Island.
Right next to Liberty Island is Ellis Island. Newcomers were registered here between 1892 and 1954. Almost half of the current population in the USA have ancestors that immigrated through Ellis Island.
Today, Ellis Island is a Museum where you can retrace the steps of immigrants of that era – from luggage room to the medical examination.
There, Americans can find out in a database which of their ancestors landed here and from where they started the long journey to the USA.
You should plan a relatively long time for your visit to the Statue of Liberty. Security at the ferry alone can often take up to 2 hours. In total, you’ll need significantly more than half a day for the visit.
Our tip: we think that a trip to Liberty Island isn’t absolutely necessary, since it’s just too time-consuming and you can see the statue better from the water anyway. So we suggest just taking a boat or ferry ride instead.
Tickets for visiting the Statue of Liberty
If you’d still like to go to the Statue of Liberty, you have the choice between different ticket options. The tickets are sold on the website of Statue Cruises.
All tickets include visiting Liberty Island and Ellis Island, inclusive of the museum on Ellis Island. You can optionally also book a visit to the base and crown of the Statue of Liberty. The crown tickets are strictly limited, so you should take care of getting a ticket as soon as possible.
Visiting Liberty Island and Ellis Island is also included in all 5 New York passes.
Daily 9:30 am to 3:30 pm (last ferry going to Liberty Island)
Whitehall St (R)
South Ferry Station (1)
Boat ride that goes past the Statue of Liberty
To see the Statue of Liberty from up close, we’d recommend a boat tour.
The Circle Line offers a very nice boat tour. We suggest the Best of New York tour, which takes you around Manhattan besides the Statue of Liberty, so you can see the most important New York landmarks from a new perspective on the water.
The Harbor Lights Cruise is also very beautiful. The tour goes along the same route, but during the evening. It’s of course especially lovely in New York then.
If you’re traveling to New York on a tight budget, you can also just take a ride on the free ferry from the southern tip of Manhattan to Staten Island and back again. We’ll introduce the Staten Island Ferry further below in more detail as its own attraction.
#2 Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is one of the most well known skyscrapers of the world. For several decades, it was actually the tallest structure in the world and an icon of progress.
Even though by now there are a few taller buildings in New York, a visit to the Empire State Building remains as an absolute must-do for many.
The view is still definitely one of the best that New York has to offer.
Info on visiting the Empire State Building
The Empire State building is one of the highlights of the city that hardly any visitor leaves out. It’s accordingly crowded there. Tickets cost 42 dollars and it’s definitely worth buying them online ahead of time.
The tickets for the second platform that’s a little higher cost 75 dollars. We don’t think that it’s really worth it though.
You should plan around 2-3 hours for your visit to the Empire State Building.
34th Street / 5th Avenue
33 St (4, 6)
34 St Herald Square (B, D, Q, R)
Tickets for the Empire State Building
As already mentioned, admission for the Empire State Building costs 42 dollars, which is equivalent to around 36 euros.
You should without a doubt buy the tickets beforehand. When doing so, you have the choice between two options:
#1 Standard ticket: with the standard ticket for 46 dollars, you bypass the line at the ticket counter.
#2 Express ticket: this ticket costs 85 dollars, but with it you can jump the lines at the entrance and at the escalators as well. If you’re tight on time, it’s definitely a good option.
By the way, a visit to the Empire State Building is included in all available New York passes.
Our photo tip: the New York Citypass is especially interesting for photographers, as it allows you to go up the Empire State Building twice in one day so you can take photos by day and by night.
#3 Rockefeller Center & Top of the Rock
Rockefeller Center is also an icon that everyone’s heard of. If you come to New York in the winter, you can take a spin on what’s probably the most famous ice skating rink in the world.
Not only in winter, but in every season, you certainly can’t miss the viewing platform with the wonderful name Top of the Rock, which is found at the top of Rockefeller Center.
Out of all of the viewing points in New York, we think this one is the nicest. You have a great view of Central Park in the north (although there’s new construction busily underway between Rockefeller Center and Central Park) and you’re looking at the Empire State Building in the direction of the south.
The view from the Top of the Rock is also so special because there aren’t any obstructive window panes in the way, so you can take really good photos.
Our photo tip: tripods are forbidden on the viewing platform. On the topmost level though, we saw several photographers that set their mini tripod (we have our Gorillapod SLR with ballhead for that) on the wall. It didn’t seem to bother anyone.
Info on visiting the Top of the Rock
The Top of the Rock is usually not as crowded as the Empire State Building. The viewing terraces on Rockefeller Center are also much more spacious, so it’s a bit more pleasant up there overall.
You should plan around 1 to 2 hours for the visit.
50th Street / 6th Avenue
47-50 St - Rockefeller Center (B, D)
Tickets for the Top of the Rock
Admission costs 40 dollars per person, which is equivalent to around 34,50 euros. It’s also recommended here to buy the tickets in advance to avoid the lines.
As one of the most important attractions of New York, the Top of the Rock is of course included in all available New York passes as well.
Also brand new: the Edge viewing platform
And since we’re on the topic of great views: Edge, the highest outdoor viewing platform of the Western hemisphere, is currently being built in the gigantic new Hudson Yards building complex.
At 335 meters high, the structure juts out 20 meters away from the skyscraper called 30 Hudson Yards and is made completely of glass.
That means you have a 360 degree view of Manhattan, the rest of the city, and also the state of New Jersey during good weather. What’s more, you can look at the streets of Manhattan 100 stories down through the glass floor. Absolutely thrilling!
The viewing platform opens in March 2020, but you can already buy tickets. A simple, fixed time ticket costs 36 dollars per person.
Level 4 of the shops and restaurants Hudson Yards
Hudson Yards (7)
#4 9/11 Memorial &Museum
September 11th, 2001 left New York and the world in shock. The city remembers this day and its victims with the 9/11 memorial and a museum.
Both are very worth seeing and even though it’s very heavy, we can really recommend a visit.
At the places where the Twin Towers once stood, there are two deep pools that have water falling into them from their edges.
Around the pools, the names of all 2,983 people who lost their lives on September 11th are engraved.
There is also a museum at the memorial, which we can really recommend visiting as well. The complete day and its aftermath is reconstructed in the 9/11 museum.
There are many original sounds, photos and video recordings, as well as countless display items that were recovered from the rubble.
Info on visiting the 9/11 memorial and museum
The admission to the memorial is free, the admission to the museum costs 26 dollars. You can buy the tickets online in advance and then avoid having to stand in line for the ticket counter.
Visiting the 9/11 museum is also included in all New York passes.
30 to 60 minutes are enough for visiting the memorial, but you should plan more time for the museum. You’ll easily need two to three hours to really grasp everything.
If you get a headset for the audio guide tour and want to take your time with the many image and sound recordings, you’ll of course need more time.
Our tip: there’s also a 9/11 museum audio guide app, which you can download to your phone before your visit. The complete version of the app is in English (among others, Robert de Niro and other witnesses of the time have a chance to speak), but there’s also a shortened version in German.
180 Greenwich Street / Fulton Street
World Trade Center (E)
WTC Cortlandt (1)
Park Pl (2, 3)
#5 One World Observatory
On the site of the old World Trade Center now stands the new One World Trade Center.
In our opinion, the new building is lacking architectural grace. The Twin Towers looked more elegant and made a bigger impact on the skyline of New York than the somewhat bulkier new building.
The new subway station of the World Trade Center is definitely worth seeing though. The main hall, called the Oculus, is a real eye-catcher and a great photo spot.
The highest viewing platform of the city is found on One World Trade Center: the One World Observatory. We don’t think that the view comes close to the ones of the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock though.
Unfortunately, the viewing platform isn’t so great for photographers either, since everything is behind glass.
Info on visiting the One World Observatory
Admission to One World Trade Center costs 42 dollars. It’s also recommended to get tickets in advance here.
The One World Observatory is, unlike many attractions, not included in all New York passes. The tickets for the viewing platform are only included in the Explorer Pass and the New York Sightseeing Pass.
285 Fulton St
World Trade Center (E)
WTC Cortlandt (1)
Park Pl (2, 3)
#6 Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is still an icon of engineering. At its opening in the year 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world and a technical sensation.
Now it’s just one of several bridges that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn over the East River, but it’s still a real highlight.
A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is always a must for any visit to New York.
Info on visiting the Brooklyn Bridge
In our opinion, it doesn’t really matter in which direction you cross the Brooklyn Bridge. Both sides have their charm.
The pedestrian walkway is actually very crowded around the clock, and there are always narrow places where tourists and commuters on bikes get in each other’s way.
So be careful to keep to the pedestrian side of the path in order to not disturb the commuters on their bicycles.
If you like when it’s a little emptier, it’s best to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge early in the morning.
Manhattan side: Brooklyn Bridge / City Hall (4, 5), Chambers Street (J)
Brooklyn side: High Street / Brooklyn Bridge (A)
#7 Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station is probably one of the most popular film settings in New York. In countless films, moving farewells, clandestine money handovers and wild chases take place here.
Grand Central Terminal is definitely much more than just a simple train station.
The imposing train station hall with the famous clock in the middle is a true sight and for us is one of the most beautiful train stations of the world.
In total, Grand Central Station has over 67 tracks, more than any other train station worldwide.
Our tip: Don’t only take a look in the main hall, but also go into the many vestibules and hallways. There’s a lot to discover there.
A really special place, that even many New Yorkers themselves don’t know, is the Whispering Gallery.
It’s a foyer with four archways and four corners. When someone stands in one of the four corners and says something, the person who’s standing in the opposite corner can hear it. Crazy!
We tried it, and it really worked. The Whispering Gallery is found right before the Oyster Bar in a side entrance to the main hall.
If you see people strangely standing in a corner somewhere, you’re in the right place.
42nd Street / Park Avenue
Grand Central - 42nd (4, 5, 7, S)
#8 Flatiron Building
The Flatiron Building is one of the most striking buildings in New York. It’s found at the junction of Broadway and 5th Avenue.
The sharply pointed building is reminiscent of an iron and got its name thanks to this.
Our tip: you can get a nice view from above of the Flatiron Building from the viewing platform of the Empire State Building.
23rd Street / 5th Avenue
23rd Street (6)
#9 Wall Street
Wall Street is the center of the worldwide finance market and the most famous icon of American capitalism.
In the middle of this street in the Financial District is the famous New York Stock Exchange.
Until 2001, you could still visit the stock exchange and see the wild hustle and bustle on the trading floor from a visitors platform.
For security reasons, that’s unfortunately not possible anymore, but it probably wouldn’t really be so exciting anymore.
Since trade is now handled electronically, screaming stockbrokers waving papers around are now already a thing of the past.
The Charging Bull, which is really close to Wall Street in Bowling Green Park, is also worth a quick detour.
The famous bull sculpture is always surrounded by a ton of tourists. For an undisturbed picture, it’s best to swing by very early in the morning.
Wall Street (4, 5)
Broad Street (J, Z)
#10 Chinatown & Little Italy
For us, wandering through the different neighborhoods of New York is the absolute highlight of New York.
Perhaps not the biggest sights of New York are waiting for you here, but for us, the individual neighborhoods are sights in and of themselves.
Two of the neighborhoods that you definitely can’t miss are Chinatown and Little Italy. Above all, in Chinatown you feel like you’re in another world.
All of the stores and signs are in Chinese. There are excellent Chinese restaurants and typical Chinese shops.
Mott Street and Mulberry Street are especially worth seeing. Also be sure to make a detour to Columbus Park.
On warm days, Chinese seniors meet here. They play board games or meet to play music together.
The singing isn’t always to everyone’s musical taste, but it’s always a nice experience.
North of Chinatown, Little Italy is found. The Italian quarter was absorbed by Chinatown in recent years, and exists today as no more than a handful of streets.
Even so, you get an impression of how it used to be here when the Italian community was larger in New York, and you of course can still get amazing pizza here.
#11 Greenwich Village & SoHo
For us, two of the nicest neighborhoods in New York are Greenwich Village and SoHo. Both neighborhoods are found in the southwest of Manhattan and are shaped by small cafes, galleries and individual shops.
Greenwich Village is also the center of student life in New York. Washington Square Park, with its famous arch, is the center of campus for New York University (NYU). All of the buildings around the Park belong to the university.
Both Greenwich Village and SoHo don’t have any huge attractions to offer. The appeal simply exists in roaming the streets and letting yourself watch life pass you by.
Brooklyn is much more than just a city quarter. Brooklyn is one of 5 New York boroughs, or a district, which is in turn made up of many small neighborhoods.
Brooklyn and Manhattan are divided by the East River. For a long time, Brooklyn wasn’t a place that tourists would go. That’s changed by now.
Brooklyn is hip and has a lot to offer.
We can only recommend that you reserve a day of your time in New York for Brooklyn. There’s a ton to discover.
#13 Discover New York’s neighborhoods
New York of course has a huge amount of further neighborhoods to explore. For example, there’s Harlem, a historical center of African American culture, in the far north of Manhattan, the hippy East Village or the Meatpacking District, which has experienced a true renaissance in recent years.
Let yourself simply drift through the different areas. To us, that’s the best way to get to know and really absorb New York.
#14 Metropolitan Museum of Art
Of course, New York also has a multitude of absolutely top-class museums to offer. We’ll tell you about our highlights here.
We especially find the art museums in New York really exciting, above all the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or Met for short.
The Met is a museum in the superlative. More than 7 million visitors come to the museum per year. The collection is comprised of more than 3 million exhibits, which are shown alternately across the more than 130,000 square meter exhibition space.
Info on visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art
You’d really need at least a full day to even begin to cover the enormous collection.
Only very few visitors have that much time unfortunately. So we’d suggest that you make a plan of what interests you in advance.
The museum is divided by eras. Everything from antiquity to modern art and photography is included.
We concentrated especially on the exhibition rooms with modern artworks during our visit, and that alone was already overwhelming.
Tickets cost 25 dollars and are valid for three consecutive days for the main museum on 5th Avenue, as well as for two outposts, The Met Breuer and The Met Cloisters.
If you don’t want to wait in line for the ticket counter, you can easily buy your ticket online ahead of time.
Admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is also included in all New York Passes.
5th Avenue / 82nd Street
86 St Lexington Av (4, 5)
Even more art awaits you at the Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA for short.
From Picasso to Matisse, all the way to Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol, you’ll find famous works by nearly all the great modern artists here.
Info on visiting the MoMA
Depending on how intensely you’d like to devote yourself to the artworks, you’ll need between two hours and a whole day for a visit.
Admission costs 25 dollars for the MoMA. You can of course also buy tickets online here.
Besides the New York Citypass, entrance to the Museum of Modern Art is included in all other New York passes.
Attention: entrance is free for the MoMA on Fridays between 4:00 to 8:00 pm. If you’re really interested in the exhibited artwork though, we’d discourage you from visiting on a Friday evening. The museum becomes so crowded then that it’s really just no fun. You can barely stand still in a corner because you’re constantly surrounded by a swarm of people or are being knocked into.
53rd street / 5th Avenue
5 Avenue / 53 St (E, M)
#16 Guggenheim Museum
There are regularly changing art exhibits in the Guggenheim Museum. The Museum is not just worth a visit for the artwork though, but also for its unusual architecture.
Info on visiting the Guggenheim Museum
Admission to the Guggenheim Museum costs 25 dollars. You can get tickets online or on site. The museum is included in all New York passes as well.
The museum is not particularly large, so you should plan around two hours for a visit, depending on the exhibition.
Our money saving tip: if you only want to take a quick look at the inside of the museum, you can do it without buying a ticket. The foyer is freely accessible.
Thursdays and wednesdays closed
5th Avenue / 88 Street
86 St Lexington Av (4, 5)
#17 Central Park
For a major city, New York is surprisingly green, and some of these green spaces are actually among the top attractions of New York.
The most famous park of the city and perhaps even the whole world is of course Central Park.
In the middle of the canyon of high-rises, the huge park extends 4 kilometers long and 800 meters wide and attracts up to 500,000 visitors daily.
There are numerous sights in the park. Among them are the reservoir, the Central Park Zoo and of course Strawberry Fields, the memorial designed by Yoko Ono for John Lennon.
Info on visiting Central Park
You can easily spend half or even a whole day in Central Park. There’s just so much to see.
If you don’t have a lot of time, we’d suggest that you visit the southern part of the Park above all else. Here, you’ll find the pretty lake and Strawberry Fields, among other things.
Daily 6:00 am to 1:00 am
Line A, B, C (various stations)
#18 High Line
Another relatively new attraction in New York is the High Line.
On a more than 2 kilometer long elevated railway where freight trains used to run, a park was developed in recent years that snakes through the forest of high-rises in southern Manhattan.
Info on visiting the High Line
The High Line opens every morning at 7:00 and closes between 7:00 and 11:00 pm depending on the time of year. There are various entrances to the railway.
We’d recommend walking the whole High Line completely from north to south, or the other way around. You should give yourself around an hour for it. Entrance to the High Line is free.
23 St (C, E) or 14th St/8 Av (A, C, E, L)
#19 Staten Island Ferry
To conclude with, we still have a few activities in New York that you definitely can’t miss.
It doesn’t matter whether these are classic sights or not. For us, they’re simply a part of visiting New York.
An absolute must-do for us is a ride on the free Staten Island Ferry. Directly adjacent to Battery Park on the southernmost tip of Manhattan, you’ll find the ferry terminal for the ferry to Staten Island.
The journey lasts around 25 minutes and offers a great view of the southern skyline of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
Info on riding the Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry is very popular since the journey is completely free. The ferry is actually intended for commuters that live on Staten Island and work in Manhattan.
The ferry is especially full during peak hours. So we’d recommend going on the ferry during the weekend or outside of rush hour.
After arriving in Staten Island, you have to get off the ferry briefly and can then directly board again. It’s not possible to stay seated unfortunately.
Whitehall St (N, Q, R, W)
South Ferry Station (1)
#20 Times Square & Musical visit
Times Square is another New York icon that probably everyone knows. The square on Broadway is above all an evening spectacle, when the enormous billboards on the skyscrapers light up brightly.
Did you know that a little over 100 years ago, Times Square was still a small, sleepy town square with little apart from a few horse stables? Crazy, right? You can hardly imagine that today.
It was only after the New York Times opened its offices in the square in 1904, which eventually helped Times Square get its name, that the area flourished.
In the 1920s, the first theater was established and today Times Square is the center of musical theater on Broadway.
Info on visiting Times Square
Times Square is especially jam packed during the evening. Thousands of tourists marvel at the square and of course all want to take a photo. The square is now traffic-calmed, since the masses of people didn’t get along so well with the car traffic.
It was still too much of a hubbub for us though, so we just quickly took a photo and fled back to the quieter areas.
Our hotel, the CitizenM Times Square, was also not far from all the action, so we often passed by – also at times when it was calmer.
Times Square isn’t quite as crowded during the day, but it’s also not as impressive then.
46th Street / Broadway
49th St (N, R, W)
Info on seeing a musical
For many travelers, going to a musical in New York is a definite must on the agenda. The selection is huge. Around Times Square, there’s one musical theater after the next, so you might have a difficult time choosing.
If you have a specific show that you’d like to see and want to get the best possible tickets for it, you should buy the tickets in advance as soon as possible.
But if you’re flexible about which play you want to see, then you should look for cheap tickets once you’re there instead.
Generally, there are extra seats for the same evening that are often half the price or even cheaper.
You can get cheap last minute tickets every day at the TKTS booth on the corner of Broadway / 47th street.
In the meantime, you can check beforehand online which tickets are available on which days.
You can also find a huge selection of tickets, also a few days in advance, on the website Hellotickets.
#21 Shopping in New York
It’s not a traditional attraction, but it’s just a part of New York: shopping. New York is a true shopping paradise. Above all, clothing is definitely cheaper in New York than in Germany. So you can score a lot of deals.
Tip: in New York, the prices in stores are always given without the tax included. There’s always an extra sales tax, which comes to 8.875 percent in New York. There’s an exception though: pieces of clothing that cost less than 110 dollars are exempt from a sales tax. Here, the net cost is the same as the gross cost. The limit of 110 dollars applies to each article. Two pairs of shoes that are each 100 dollars are also tax free.
You should also make note of the German customs regulations. You’re allowed to import your purchases of up to a value of goods of 430 euros (ca. 500 dollars) from New York to Germany duty-free.
The department store Macy’s is not just a shopping temple, but a true attraction. It’s among the biggest department stores of the world. Across 10 floors, there’s everything that a shopper could dream of.
Above all, there’s a huge selection of clothing here, some of which is very affordable. There’s actually always some kind of sale, so bargain hunters can get their money’s worth across the whole year.
34th Street / 7th Avenue
34th St / Penn Station (1, A, C, E)
#22 Food & Markets
New York is of course also a paradise for foodies. There probably isn’t a single culinary specialty from the whole world that you can’t find here.
The many food markets are especially great. Chelsea Market is particularly worth seeing, a huge market hall between 9th and 10th Avenue and 14th and 15th Street.
15th Street / 9th Avenue
14 St / 8 Av (A, C, E, L)
Those were our top 22 attractions and highlights in New York.
What are your favorites? Which sights in New York can you definitely not miss? We’re happy to read your comments!