New York City itself is a bucket-list destination. But simply arriving at J.F.K. (or visiting Times Square) isn't enough to check the city off your list. To make your Big Apple trip truly bucket-list worthy, you're going to have to get out of your comfort zone to experience some of the best dining, shopping, culture, and nightlife in the world. Below, check out our list of top bucket-list experiences in NYC, from touristy classics to locals-only favorites.
1. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Walking from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, across the East River, is an excellent way to start off a bucket-list trip in NYC. The iconic Brooklyn Bridge was constructed in 1883 and spans over 1,595 feet. If you move at a brisk pace and don’t stop for too many photos of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline, it takes about 30 minutes to cross. The adventurous can also bike across the bridge (there are Citi Bike stations near the bridge’s entrance), but it’s not advised on the most crowded days, as tourists tend to wander into the bike lane. Bonus points for crossing the bridge during the day and at night, for the same views in a different light.
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2. Splurge on a designer souvenir in SoHo.
Sure, there’s a time and a place for an “I Heart NY” T-shirt, but why not splurge on a designer item that you’ll treasure for years? SoHo, in Lower Manhattan, is a haven for luxury shoppers. You’ll find everything from Prada and Gucci to Alexander Wang and Isabel Marant in a several-block radius. You can also check out the sale racks at Bloomingdale’s or head over to Artists & Fleas for art, vintage clothes, books, and jewelry made by local artists.
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3. Eat something iconic in all five boroughs.
A list of New York City’s greatest foods is seemingly endless: pizza, hot dogs, bagels, doughnuts, pretzels, Chinese dim sum, and pastrami are just a few of the standouts. And that doesn’t take into account the authentic ethnic food enclaves found in all five boroughs — or Shake Shack. For visitors with bigger budgets and bigger appetites, the city is home to a whopping 71 Michelin-starred restaurants (as of 2018). To truly experience the city, you’ve got to taste it.
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4. Go to the top of the Empire State Building.
A visit to the top of the Empire State Building is high on the list of touristy to-dos, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. The 102-story Art Deco skyscraper in Midtown has some of the best views of not only Manhattan, but also New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Plus, there’s some interesting history about how the world-famous skyscraper was engineered and built. Upgrading to an express pass is worth it if you want to skip the lines.
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5. Walk the High Line in Chelsea.
Both tourists and locals tend to adore the High Line, a 1.45-mile-long elevated walking trail and park on the west side of the iconic Chelsea neighborhood. The green space is home to gardens and art installations, and there are lots of spaces for visitors to sit down and soak in the river views.
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6. Get your thrills at Coney Island.
Coney Island may seem slightly out of the way for Manhattan-based tourists, but it’s only an hour on the subway from Lower Manhattan. The beach and iconic boardwalk are open year-round, though Luna Park amusement park is only accessible from Easter to Halloween (rides are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day). Summer months also host a plethora of activities, from minor league baseball games and fireworks to the Mermaid Parade and famous hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous.
7. Meander through Central Park.
Central Park serves as the idyllic backdrop for harried New Yorkers. The urban park, between the Upper West Side and Upper East Side, is so massive that it’s easy to forget you’re in a densely-packed urban center. It’s impossible to see everything the park has to offer in just one visit, but some highlights include the Central Park Zoo, the Great Lawn, the carousel, and Kerbs Boathouse. Biking, carriage rides, and picnics are popular activities.
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8. See a Broadway show and Times Square.
A Broadway show doesn’t have to break the bank, thanks to apps like TodayTix and day-of discounted tickets at TDF’s TKTS booths in Times Square, Lincoln Center, downtown Brooklyn, and the South Street Seaport (note that you won’t score tickets to big-name shows, like “Hamilton”, at a discount). Seeing a show also provides an ideal opportunity to check out the lights and shops of nearby Times Square. Pro tip: Visit Times Square after dark to truly appreciate the sea of neon lights.
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9. Visit the Strand Bookstore.
The Strand is a family-owned independent bookstore with more than 18 miles of new, used, and rare books on its shelves. The always-buzzing multi-story shop is a favorite among New Yorkers for literary events with famous and less well-known authors. Plus, there’s a cute kids’ section and lots of New York City art and fun souvenirs for sale. The tote bags make excellent gifts.
10. Ride the Staten Island Ferry.
A free ride on the Staten Island Ferry is a picturesque and budget-friendly way to take in views of the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge. The ferry service operates 24/7, 365 days a year, but tourists should avoid peak rush hour times, when the boat is filled with hordes of New Yorkers who depend on the ferry to get to and from work. The boat runs between St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island and the Whitehall Ferry Terminal (also known as South Ferry) in Manhattan. There’s a snack bar onboard that sells beer and food.
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11. Visit the Statue of Liberty.
Cruising past the Statue of Liberty really isn’t the same as stepping foot on Liberty Island — but reservations are required. There are three types of ticket available: Grounds Only, Pedestal Ticket, and Crown Ticket. If you want to go all the way up to the crown, plan ahead as tickets book up months in advance. Ferries depart from Battery Park, and it’s a pleasant boat ride over to the island. Once there, depending on your ticket, you’ll either be able to walk around the scenic island and take pictures of the statue, or go inside. There are walking tours, a souvenir shop, and a restaurant.
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12. Take a dip in Rockaway Beach.
Most NYC tourists don’t think of the city as a beach destination, but the Rockaways in Queens provide a fun and unexpected way to experience New York. Known as “The People’s Beach,” Jacob Riis Beach is a popular spot for overheated locals and tourists all summer long. The boardwalk offers trendy dining outlets from Manhattan and Brooklyn, with everything from frozen sangria to fried clams to ice cream. You can rent bikes and paddleboards, and take surf lessons on the mile-long stretch between Beach 149th and Beach 169th Streets.
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