Tagging along on my dad’s business trip, my first visit to New York City started with a four-hour car ride that eventually deposited us in the middle of Times Square, where I found myself overwhelmed and overjoyed by the sights and sounds of the biggest city in the United States. The few days we spent there would, in many ways, shape who I would eventually become, although I didn’t know that at the time. I savored corned beef sandwiches washed down with chocolate egg creams. I watched Star Wars Episode I in a movie theater in Midtown. I got my very own tour of the NBC studios led by Uncle Steve, my dad’s best friend, whose role as a network executive somewhat magically granted me access to sets and studios I couldn’t believe a high school student like me could see in person. Later, I sat in the back of a conference room and listened to my dad give a talk on a topic I couldn’t quite grasp, but I was in awe of how everyone in the room hung on his every word as the learned what he had to teach them. Years later, as someone who regularly finds herself sharing ideas and information to conference attendees in similar settings, it makes me smile to think about how one quick trip to New York City eventually played such a big role in who I grew up to be. Then again, a good vacation always has the power to shape and inspire us.
New York City has inspired those kinds of stories for millions of people. It’s one of the first places people from beyond the USA’s borders will think of when imagining what America is like. The city daily welcomes young adults hoping for fame, fortune, or just a chance to succeed in their careers. And for millions of us, it’s the setting for just about any kind of vacation you want to take: from sightseeing to shopping to food, and from history to culture to nature, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. If you’re planning to make New York City the destination for your own vacation, here are just a few of the spots we love that we think you’ll really enjoy, too.
Statue of LibertyIf there was ever an iconic landmark in any city, the Statue of Liberty in New York City would be it. A gift from France to the United States, the Statue of Liberty has welcomed visitors and people seeking the American dream for well over a century. Standing on Liberty Island in the Upper New York Bay, it’s hard to imagine a more welcome sight than the image of the Roman goddess Libertas, standing with a torch raised above her head. For thousands of people who immigrated to the USA, Ellis Island was their destination, but it was the Statue of Liberty who first welcomed them home.
Visiting the Statue of Liberty is as close to an essential bucket list item as you can get when planning a trip to New York City, and if you are planning your very first visit—or have never been to the statue before—it’s worth taking the ferry over to experience it in person. As a bonus, a stop at Ellis Island is included with many ferry tickets, which offers a fantastic chance to learn more about how so many families came to call the USA home.
Arguably, one of the best ways to experience the Statue of Liberty is to do so from afar; after all, it’s hard to admire it if you are standing on the pedestal alongside it. One of our favorite views is from the Staten Island Ferry, which doesn’t stop at Liberty Island but does provide a terrific vantagepoint from the water. It’s completely free to ride on the Staten Island Ferry, so if the weather is nice it’s well worth your time to take the 25-minute ride from Manhattan to Staten Island. From there, explore a new part of the city or join the line to take the return trip back to Whitehall Terminal. If seeing the statue from land is more your speed, Battery Park is a great spot for photos. During our most recent visit we were excited to find the spot pretty empty, which gave us plenty of space to take photos and enjoy what felt like a private viewing of one of the most famous statues in the world.
Times SquareIf the Statue of Liberty is New York City’s welcoming committee, Times Square is its heart. While locals might strongly disagree with that assertion, for a visitor it’s the pulse of Times Square, with billboards that light up and stretch into the sky and people in character costumes and throngs of people darting past each other, that draws travelers in. Around any given corner you’ll find a Broadway theater, an eclectic shop, or a slice of New York-style pizza. Pedestrian-only spaces are ideal for resting, people watching, and plotting your next stop in the city.
Visiting Times Square feels flashy, and it is, but it’s not without a unique history that reflects the grit and glamor that are synonymous with the Big Apple. After becoming integral to the city throughout the beginning of the 20th century, it was hard hit by the Great Depression when it was home to penny arcades, peep shows, and institutions characteristic of the seedy underbellies of most cities. Ultimately, it was the tourist community that helped to turn Time Square’s reputation around; as more people arrived to experience the city’s theater and restaurants, Times Square began to distance itself from the shadier businesses that defined it for decades. Today, visitors who spend time in Times Square are part of that transformation. There are few other places on this planet that boast the same energy, and it’s hard to imagine a trip to New York City without a stop in Times Square.
September 11th MemorialOne of the most sobering spots to visit during a trip to New York City is the September 11th Memorial, which is located where the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers stood until they were destroyed on September 11, 2001. 2,977 people lost their lives to terrorism, and the memorial remembers people who were on their way to work, passengers on board American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, and first responders who bravely ran to save people from the deadliest terrorist attack in human history and the single deadliest incident for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States.
We spent about an hour at the memorial, which is comprised of two memorial pools surrounded by the names of those who were lost that day. Looking across the memorial, single flowers placed on victims’ names reminded us that loved ones still visit the memorial to this day to remember and honor people who were taken too soon. As I stood in front of the memorial that surrounds where the South Tower once stood, I saw the names of passengers from United Flight 175. One name stood out: Ruth McCourt and her daughter Juliana were traveling to Disneyland that morning, and my podcast co-host Shelly told her story on an episode of Take to the Sky: the Air Disaster Podcast. In that moment, I thought of her story and of her best friend Paige Hackel, who was on American Airlines Flight 11. Every single name represents a unique story and someone with plans and aspirations that were never realized. Visiting the September 11th Memorial is not an easy thing to do in New York City, but it’s one of the most valuable stops to add to your itinerary.
Central ParkNew York City is the city that never sleeps, but it’s at its most relaxed in Central Park. It offers almost 850 acres of mostly green space, and it’s an enormously popular place for runners, dog owners, and tourists looking for a respite from the concrete jungle.
There’s a lot more to do than walk or run through the park. Hundreds of different types of trees and flowers make it an ideal place to learn more about nature, and several tours escort visitors on themed treks to learn more about the park’s history, forgotten corners, and architecture. And there are plenty of surprises to uncover while exploring; one of our favorites is the obelisk, known as Cleopatra’s Needle, which was created in the early 1400s and brought from Egypt all the way to New York in 1870s. They were commissioned by Pharaoh Thutmose III for the Temple of the Sun in Heliopolis, and eventually they were separated when one was relocated to New York and the other sent along to London. We have visited both (as well as their homeland in Egypt!), and sitting in front of a 600-year-old piece of history—something older than our country—was a fun way to remember past vacations in an unexpected way.
Another interesting place to check out in Central Park is the Belvedere Castle. You’ll find it near the middle of Central Park, and it’s an historic castle dating back to 1867. It was quiet when we visited, hidden away from most of the tourist routes, and we loved the beautiful setting overlooking the Central Park Turtle Pond. The overlook dock even had pieces of bread available for people to feed the turtles and ducks—it’s the perfect peaceful spot if you’re looking to get away from the big city crowds.
Visit the home of the New York Stock Exchange with a trip to Wall Street, which is one of the most influential places in the United States economy. For visitors arriving by 9:30 in the morning on days that trading is open, you can hear the bell signaling the opening of the market from outside the building. You can also see two of the city’s most well-known statues: the charging bull, which symbolizes the bull market and times when stock prices rise, and the Fearless Girl statue that depicts a young girl confidently staring at the NYSE building. For many girls, she symbolizes female empowerment: she is leadership and success in a four-foot-tall bronze frame. As someone who owns her own business, her presence strongly resonated with me, like it does for many girls and women who stand beside her.
One other must-see building on Wall Street is Federal Hall, where the Continental Congress met in the 1700s as the USA began to take shape. George Washington was sworn in as the country’s first president on its balcony, and it is also where the Bill of Rights was both proposed and ratified and where some of the Constitution’s amendments were authored. Many people don’t realize that New York City was the nation’s capital before Washington, DC claimed that role, and you can immerse yourself in our national history by visiting one of the most important buildings in New York City.
There are many ways to experience New York City, and although the on-the-ground experience will connect you to its energy, that experience finds some needed balance on the observation decks that provide a very different view.
It’s hard to beat Top of the Rock, which provides panoramic views of the skyline from the top of Rockefeller Center. From 70 floors above the ground, visitors are treated to some spectacular sights that range from the tops of skyscrapers to the expanse of Central Park. The viewing deck spans over three floors, and two of them are entirely outdoors and ideal for photos. It’s easy to spend an entire hour there, especially if the decks aren’t crowded and you can enjoy some space to pause and soak it all in.
The Empire State Building will take you even higher above the city; located on the 86th floor, you’ll have the chance to see locations that stretch beyond even the farthest corners of the city. On very clear days, some visitors have been able to see locations as far away as Delaware.
The OculusOne of the most unique pieces of architecture in New York City belongs to the Oculus, a building that prominently features white steel protrusions that stretch like the wings of a dove into the sky. The Oculus was devised in the aftermath of September 11th, when the city was looking for a way to encourage people and businesses to return to the area. Designed to be a massive transportation hub, locals and tourists arrive, depart, and pass through via the PATH train and 10 subway lines.
Today, the Oculus is a light-filled space, and beyond the subway it’s a popular shopping destination with many high-end stores. Standing inside, it’s possible to look up and see the Freedom Tower stretching into the sky. On September 11th every year, due to its very specific architectural design, sunshine pours into the building and illuminates it at 10:28 AM, the moment when the South Tower fell. The Oculus symbolizes hope, resilience, and the future for many visitors.
Visiting Hudson Yards in New York City connects you to a huge collection of tall buildings, great food, and interesting sights. Our favorite spots are the Vessel and the Edge; the Vessel is a 16-story tall art installation comprised of 154 interconnecting staircases, and the Edge is an observation deck that takes visitors 100 stories into the sky. Both provide a unique take on exploring the city; the views from each are impressive and distinctive, as is the experience of visiting Hudson Yards.
The UnisphereOne of our favorite trips to New York City was inspired by a trip to the US Open, and just beyond the entrance to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is one of our favorite sculptures: the Unisphere. When the World’s Fair went to New York City in 1964, the Unisphere was created to symbolize the theme Peace Through Understanding. It’s the largest globe in the world, measuring 120 feet by 140 feet. Although it wasn’t well-received at the time—many people called it uninspired—the Unisphere’s popularity has grown over the decades, and today it provides a great backdrop for a selfie while representing a little bit of New York City’s history.
The Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most recognizable parts of the New York City skyline, and pedestrians and cars traverse it as they journey between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Stretching just over a mile, the Brooklyn Bridge offers great city views, and it’s especially popular during warm summer months at sunset when the city starts to light up a bit brighter. If you have the energy after a day of exploring, it’s a great way to stretch your legs and see the city from a different vantage point.
What to Do in New York City
There is a lot to see and do in New York City. Here are a couple of our can’t-miss activities!
► Ride the Subway
New York City is brimming with taxis, but oftentimes the fastest and most inexpensive way to get from place to place is to take the subway. The New York City subway is iconic in its own right; busy, loud, and just a tad confusing, it takes some practice to get comfortable with planning a route and navigating transfers. A lesson we learned when trying to grasp the Tokyo subway system was to rely on Google Maps, which provides detailed directions that tell you what train to take, when it will arrive, and what exit to choose at your arrival station.
Once you get on your intended train, subway cars are typically full of people from all walks of life. You’ll see business professionals, students, parents trying to keep their kids from darting off, musicians who perform in hopes of making a few dollars from generous commuters, and many others who are off to their own corners of the city. Like with all public transportation, keep an eye on your valuables and be aware of your surroundings for an uneventful trip.
► Attend a Broadway ShowIn so many ways, New York City is synonymous with Broadway. There are 41 Broadway theaters that feature some of the most talented performers in the world, and there is often a show for every interest and taste. Tickets can sometimes be acquired at steep discounts just a few hours before most shows, but the most popular performances sell out quickly. It’s a good idea to purchase tickets in advance if your schedule doesn’t provide much flexibility, you don’t want to spend your vacation time waiting in a ticket line, or you have your heart set on seeing a specific show.
I typically seek out musicals when attending a Broadway show, and during our most recent visit to New York City our family got tickets to Come From Away. It is one of the most profound performances I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying, and watching a show about the love and community born from the horror of September 11th so close to Ground Zero was a changing experience for all of us. If you’re curious about Come From Away and how this kind of experience can connect to how we use our vacation time, take a few moments to read this article written by my dad, who loved the show as much as we did.
Our Post: A Trip to Broadway: Come From Away
► Visit a Museum
New York City is home to some of the most well-known and beloved museums in the world, and you can spend an entire vacation doing nothing but visiting them. With exhibits that change all the time, there’s something new to see and experience no matter how often your travels take you through New York City.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art welcomes more than 6 million people each year and is the city’s most visited museum. It’s recognized for its extensive collection, which has more than 2 million pieces that stretch back over 50 centuries.
The American Museum of Natural History is famous for its role in the movie Night at the Museum, and one look at the towering skeleton of the tyrannosaurus rex illustrates how much you can learn from a visit. With exhibits that cover practically every known living creature on Earth, the museum is especially popular with families.
The Museum of Modern Art is home to works of art by some of the most famous artists in history, including Van Gogh, Monet, Kahlo, Picasso, Warhol, and Dalí. From the famous melting clocks (Dalí’s Persistence of Time) to Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, you’ll encounter some favorite pieces while undoubtedly discovering many new ones.
The Guggenheim Museum is as famous for its architect as it is for the artists whose works are on display inside. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the circular building, and visitors can explore using a spiral ramp that connects the floors.
The Museum of the City of New York is a great place to learn about New York City; exhibits tells the stories of the neighborhoods and people that are forever woven into the fabric of the city.
What and Where to Eat in New York City
You won’t have any trouble finding great dining options in NYC! Here are a few of our favorites.
► CheesecakeNew York cheesecake is hard to pass up when visiting the city, and while you’ll find plenty of flavors to choose from it’s hard to say no to a simple, plain cheesecake—and adding cherries or sour cream topping is a classic enhancement. We never leave the city without stopping by Junior’s, which boasts a terrific deli menu as well as some of the best cheesecake in the city.
Of all the famous foods to eat in New York City, there is almost nothing more iconic than a slice of New York style pizza. With distinctively huge and foldable slices, you’ll find a pizza spot around almost every corner, and it’s almost impossible to make a bad choice. When it comes to choosing a pizza place, don’t overthink it; slices tend to be inexpensive, lines aren’t usually that long, and part of the fun is in finding your own favorite. If you’re hoping for recommendations, John’s Pizza is an institution and if often recommended by locals (keep in mind they don’t serve slices—whole pies only!). In Times Square, we really liked Patzeria in the Theater District, right near our hotel with huge, flavorful pizza slices served on paper plates for easy transport.
A bagel with cream cheese is a perfect breakfast if you’re on the go in any city, and in New York you’re always on the go. Fortunately, bagels are easy to find, and boiled in New York City water they tend to consistently have the perfect texture: a little crunchy, a little doughy, and dense enough to balance out a schmear of cream cheese or some lox. I couldn’t pass on a rainbow bagel from Liberty Bagels on the way to Penn Station, and despite the fact rainbow bagels feel a little too trendy to be tasty this one had just a hint of sweetness and an ideal texture. I was a little sad we didn’t buy a half dozen for breakfast treats once we were home, but there’s always another bagel on another trip to look forward to!
► Fraunces TavernFraunces Tavern is the oldest restaurant in New York City, and if you’re interested in a drink or a meal in a spot that once hosted some of history’s most famous figures this is a great choice. George Washington hosted some of his soldiers at the pub just nine days after the end of the Revolutionary War to thank them for their service, and today you can have a pint and some pub-inspired fare in the same spot. We sat outside to enjoy some wine and oysters, and it was reminiscent of sitting in Old Town Alexandria and dining at places like Gadsby’s Tavern—another place that hosted the first president—as we took in the centuries of history that have unfolded between Washington’s visit and ours.
More Information: FrauncesTavern.com
► Corned Beef Sandwiches
Jewish delis got their start in New York City, and they are a favorite of ours when we use our vacation time in the city. Katz’s Delicatessen remains the gold standard, and you’ll find corned beef on many menus at delis in all neighborhoods. If you make your way to the Bronx, Liebman’s is a great choice, as is Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen in the Garment District. Add in some matzoh ball soup and a pickle and you just might have the perfect meal as long as you remember every deli’s main rule: never, ever put mayo on a corned beef sandwich!
► Tavern on the Green
A true special occasion restaurant, Tavern on the Green is located in Central Park and is spectacular in just about every way. We visited on my mom’s birthday, and every dish was perfectly prepared and presented. Sitting in the light-filled restaurant, we enjoyed how it transformed from airy to cozy as the sun set and the natural light was replaced by candlelight. Outside, the courtyard lit up under fairy lights that made the whole experience feel as magical as it was.
More Information: TavernOnTheGreen.com
Where to Stay in New York City
There are thousands of hotels to choose from when visiting New York City, and if you are the type of traveler who enjoys planning out your vacation before taking it you may find your hotel choice is influenced by the places you want to see. New York City is huge, and even with the subway and taxis it can take a long time to move from place to place. Consider a hotel that is either central to the spots you want to visit or located close to most of them. The time you save transiting between destinations can be used to explore new spots, enjoy longer meals, or make the most of new experiences.
Our most recent trip to New York was centered around our afternoon seeing Come From Away, so we chose the W Hotel in Times Square. Just a few minutes from both the theater and Junior’s, it was an ideal location that provided some great views of Times Square from our hotel room.
More Information: Booking.com/w-new-york-times-square
We researched our options on Booking.com before selecting the right hotel for us; take a look below to see if Booking.com has a hotel that will work well for your trip to New York City, too.
Enjoy New York City!
New York City has hosted many vacations for me over the years. From weekend trips focused on eating and exploring to bleisure trips that added a day or two to a planned business trip, each of them is somehow based on that very first trip I made in high school, where I had the chance to use a vacation to see a very different side to what I thought was possible for me. Whether your visit unlocks something similar—for you or your traveling companions—or it simply provides the backdrop for adventure or relaxation, we have no doubt you’ll find something that makes a New York City trip memorable and meaningful for you, too.
Want to discover a few more interesting cities around the world? Check out these articles from the archives!