If you look up New York on Tripadvisor you’ll see a list of nearly 800 attractions/things to do in NYC! One thing’s for sure – you’ll never get bored in the Big Apple. New York is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations so by definition most of it’s attractions would be deemed to be “touristy”. In New York you are unlikely to have a unique experience that no one else has had ( without spending ALOT of money) but of course your attitude to and perception of any experience does make it unique to you. It’s best to just except and embrace that NYC is a commercial and tourist mecca and enjoy the excitement and buzz that it generates. As we will see, many ‘touristy” attractions are actually a lot of fun.
Depending on how long you are there for and whether it is your first or 6th visit, your priorities for what you want to see and experience will be different. If you are visiting New York for the first time it is an excellent idea to go on a hop on hop off double decker bus tour of Manhattan. Yes, hundreds of tourists are herded on and off these buses everyday, but it remains an excellent and affordable way to orientate yourself to the island, and it helps you prioritise where you want to go back to and explore further.
The first time I visited New York I did both a bus tour, and a circumnavigation of Manhattan by boat on the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise. The boat cruise is a fantastic way to see the Manhattan skyline, the fabulous architecture of the old and new high rises, and the famous Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. The banks of Hudson river are especially glorious in the Fall. You get to experience some great leaf-peeping without having to leave the city! The Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise appears to be the most popular option amongst tourists and they are very experienced operators.
Central Park is arguably my favourite place in New York. It is a huge park – 50 street long and 3 avenues wide and there is so many beautiful spots to visit and fun things to do. It really is too big to get around by foot if you only have time for one visit. I would recommend renting a bike or taking a pedicab. A pedicab is a great way to see the park without exhausting yourself. Many of the drivers are quite knowledgeable and will tell you a lot of interesting facts about the park. The pedicabs cost between US$2-3:50/min but you can negotiate a fee for a certain time period. I don’t recommend the horse drawn carriages as there are concerns about the horses’ welfare. Other touristy but fun things you can do in Central Park include: having a caricature of yourself sketched by a local artist; renting a row boat on The Lake; skating on Wollman or Lasker rinks in the Winter; watching teams of shirtless athletic street buskers strut their stuff in the Summer.
Despite being jam packed with tourists, noisy and frankly an assault on the senses, Times Square is a must see during any visit to New York. The lights are spectacular and the place always has a festive atmosphere. You might even join in the madness and get your photo taken with Elmo or one your favourite superhero (but don’t forget to tip them!).
The 9/11 memorial is a popular if somewhat morbid destination on the NYC tourist circuit and it is a sobering and poignant tribute to all the innocent people that lost their lives in the 2001 terrorist attack. I do think the concept and execution of the memorial is extremely well done. I personally don’t like to dwell on sad and tragic events repeatedly so I will probably visit it only one more time, when the museum is completed.
The High Line park was created from an abandoned elevated railway track and is a wonderful place to take a stroll in the Spring and Summer. The gardens are lovely and you get great views down over the neighbourhoods below. Talking of views, if you want a view down over the city people usually recommend the Top of the Rock over the Empire State Building as the queues are shorter, the view is just as good and you get to see a great view of the Empire State Building!
Finally, I know that Broadway shows are expensive but going to one or more shows really will make your New York vacation truly magical. If you can’t afford Broadway prices then go to something Off-Broadway like Peter and the Star Catcher (which happens to be ex-Broadway). They are usually smaller productions but are often just as good as Broadway. As well as Peter, we’ve been to Pippen, Book of Mormon and Matilda which were great.