New York City. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world and one of the most popular destinations in the US. Sprawling, busy, exciting — there’s a reason people call it the city that never sleeps!
It has something for everyone — including lots of budget-friendly activities for travelers looking to stretch their pocketbook. I lived in the city for years and still return often. Whether you’re looking for history, nightlife, food, or art, this city won’t disappoint.
To help you plan your trip, here are the best things to see and do in NYC — no matter your budget!
1. Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island
At 151 feet tall, the Statue of Liberty is spectacular to see up close. But the real highlight of this duo is Ellis Island. Here you’ll learn about the immigrant experience and get a sense of the people who helped build the city. There’s such a great sense of history there that you can’t help but be impressed.
2. Central Park
The perfect way to relax in the city and leave the crowds behind is to spend the day in Central Park. It’s free, there are lots of paths to walk (or run), bike lanes, lakes to row in, and a zoo. The park spans over 150 square blocks (840 acres) it’s easy to spend hours wandering around. During the summer months, there are often free concerts and theater productions (line up early for tickets to Shakespeare in the Park).
From the late spring to the early fall, there are free guided walks run by the parks service on Saturdays at 11am. I’m a big fan of laying out in Sheep’s Meadow on a hot, sunny day with a book, some food, and a bottle of wine.
3. World Trade Center & 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Wander the somber memorial and then take in the view from the new “Freedom Tower.” On the elevator up, you can see pictures of the historical development of the city and how it’s changed over the years. To get a deeper understanding of 9/11 and the events that unfolded, visit the museum. It’s home to some moving exhibits that illuminate the significance of the tragedy and its impact.
180 Greenwich Street, Financial District, Lower Manhattan, +1 212 266 5211, 911memorial.org. Daily memorial hours are from 7:30am–9pm. Daily museum hours are from 9am–8pm (closes one hour later on Fri–Sat). The memorial is free to visit and entry to the museum is $24. Free admission on Tuesdays after 5pm (on a first-come, first-served basis).
4. Wall Street
Take a photo with the famous Charging Bull statue (which was commissioned in 1989 and is made of bronze) and then walk to Wall Street and see where all those bankers destroyed the economy. While there isn’t much to see here (the Museum of American Finance is temporarily closed) it’s still an iconic part of the city and worth seeing with your own eyes, if only briefly.
5. Battery Park
Named Battery Park for the old batteries (cannons) that defended the city, you can stop here for music and street performers in the summer, people-watching, relaxing, and some lounging in the sun with a good book. You can also explore the ruins of the old fort that kept watch over New York City. The Park is large and can get a little hectic but there are some tremendous views of the harbor that make it worthwhile.
6. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge offers an easy 25-minute walk into Brooklyn and the waterfront park on the other side of the bridge. Stopping to take photos and meandering along the way will make the walk about 40 minutes — which is definitely worth it! You get a lot of wonderful views of Manhattan as you make your way across. I enjoy doing this walk at night when downtown is all lit up (and there are fewer crowds).
7. Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal is the city’s historic train station. It was going to be torn down in 1975 but was saved by Jacqueline Kennedy, who raised money for its preservation. There are free historical tours on Wednesdays. I love coming to the main concourse and looking up at the “stars” in the ceiling and people-watching as everyone races to and fro.
Also, there’s an amazing eatery in the basement called the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant. And for fancy (and expensive) cocktails, visit the Campbell Apartments and step back into the 1920s (dress code enforced). The space was once the office of John W. Campbell, a member of the New York Central Railroad’s board of directors and finance tycoon from the 1920s.
89 E. 42nd Street, Midtown, grandcentralterminal.com. Opening daily from 5:30am–2am. Tours are held daily at 12:30pm for $30 per person with discounts available. Purchase at mas.org/tours or at the ticket windows.
8. Trinity Church
Trinity Church is one of the oldest churches in America. The original building burned down in 1776, but the current church is still beautiful and one of the most iconic sights in the city. It has an ornate Gothic-style structure and is famous for its colonial graveyard, where you’ll find many famous Americans (including Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers).
74 Trinity Place, Financial District, Lower Manhattan, +1 212 602 0800, trinitywallstreet.org. Opening daily from 7am–6pm.
9. The Guggenheim Museum
This museum is home to a renowned collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, early modern, and contemporary art. The cylindrical museum (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) is considered one of the 20th century’s most important architectural designs. It’s one of my favorite buildings (and museums) in the city.
1071 5th Avenue, Upper East Side, +1 212 423 3500, guggenheim.org/new-york. Opening Sunday–Wednesday and Fridays from 10am–5:45pm, Saturdays from 10am–7:45 (closed Thursdays). Admission is $25 with discounts for students and seniors. On Saturday nights from 5:45-7:45pm, admission is by donation.
10. City Hall
New York’s City Hall is a great piece of historic architecture. It also has a beautiful little park nearby that’s filled with office workers during lunch (in the summer anyway). To learn about the building’s history, art, and architecture, take one of the guided tours. On a tour, you’ll be able to see the rotunda, the city council chamber, Governor’s Room, and the City Hall Portrait Collection. It’s a great place to learn about the city and how it functions.
City Hall Park. Pre-reserved tours are typically offered for groups (10–20 people) on Mondays and Tuesdays at 10:30am and for individuals on Thursdays at 10am. There are also first-come, first-served tours on Wednesdays at 12pm.