So, I received an email from my friend who was coming to New York City for 10 days. Since I often reside in the Big Apple, she reached out for some personal suggestions of places to eat and attractions to visit during her stay. She wanted my top New York City tourist to do list.
I premise my top New York City tourist to do list with the fact that there is always something interesting happening in NYC and there is so much to see and do. There are countless restaurants, approximately 27,000 in the New York City area, with about 11,000 being in Manhattan! This said, things here move fast, literally in a New York minute!
What I mean by this, is that, one minute a restaurant is there, and the next, it can be closed. Something that is extremely popular on Friday, can be passé by Monday. Exhibits and shows come and go, as do musical acts. Sometimes reservations and/or tickets can be hard to come by, especially at last minute.
I am suggesting to my friend, and any of my fellow travelers who plan on visiting NYC, some of my all time favorites. My top New York City tourist to do list includes local hangouts that you may not find in your tourist book. Especially with restaurants, I find that many of the best are the slightly tucked away local hidden gems, so don’t feel like you need to eat all of your meals in Times Square. You can get most anywhere in NYC easily on the NYC subway system which also includes busses and ferries.
Tips to Get You Going in NYC
A great way to orient yourself in an unfamiliar city is to take a ride on the Open Air Hop On Hop Off Bus. This tour not only provides an overview of the history and attractions, but also gives you easy transportation to the various areas while taking in views. It is a great alternative to being underground.
While in Times Square, don’t miss the opportunity to take photos with your favorite life-like celebrities wearing famous fashions at the iconic Madame Tussauds. Also, this attraction has all day hours until late at night, so if you are jet lagged, or are looking to fill a gap in your schedule, this can fit in most anywhere in your travel plans.
Restaurants – Top New York City Tourist To Do List
I am always excited to share my favorites with you. One of the best aspects of travel is sharing experiences with others as we all get to learn and know about this amazing world and view it from each other’s perspectives. Please share your own favorite restaurants, food traditions, and recipes with the Jenny In Wanderland International Food and Dining Group!
NYC Restaurants in Top New York City Tourist To Do List:
The restaurants listed are divided into city areas in order for you to travel plan more easily.
- Loebs Boathouse (Reviews/Info) UPDATE: CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE: In Central Park with water views and seasonally you can row a boat after your meal on the serene, tree reflected water.
- Joe Allen (Reservations): In Theatre District; Upscale Favorite before taking in a Broadway Show. If you are lucky you may even catch some of the cast and crew dining here too!
- Mr Chow 57th Street (Reviews/Info): Upscale Midtown East restaurant with a fun Chinese menu and famous dumpling demonstrations and celebrity clientele.
- Stella 34 (Reservations): A famed Patina Restaurant Group establishment, make a day of this beautiful location with its upscale vibe, delicious pizzas, and large windows overlooking the Herald Square area. It is located on the 6th floor of the largest US department store, Macy’s, where you can take a break from shopping ’til you drop. It also has a great happy hour and a nice party to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade live!
- Mimi’s Restaurant and Piano Bar (Info): This timeless old-style local piano bar in Midtown is noisy and fun. It has quite a history, dating from 1956, and good down and dirty Italian food. Mimi’s is always a fun evening of rowdy piano playing to popular tunes from some of NYC’s finest (and most unique) entertainers.
- Cacio y Vino (Reservations/Info): East Village establishment with a cozy ambiance offers the cacio e pepe dish is served from inside a giant cheese wheel!
- Nomad (Reservations): Always a Nomad favorite, this Moroccan/Mediterranean restaurant has a great atmosphere and eclectic menu.
- Gemma (Reservations): If you find yourself near the historic Bowery Hotel, this fun Lower East Side, rustic style Italian restaurant on its first floor, has yummy food in a warm atmosphere.
- Dirt Candy (Info): This upscale Lower East Side vegan, multi-course restaurant, has a fun and creative NYC vibe and is gourmet for anyone’s palate.
- Coco Pazzo (Info): Just go. An easy casual Tuscan eatery in Soho for lunch or dinner.
- Katz’s Deli (Info): Located on the Lower East Side and a true NYC institution. This is one of the last remaining original Jewish Delis in NYC and has been operating since 1888. It is famous for its legendary pastrami and corned beef. The portions are huge, so come hungry!
- Magnolia Bakery: Stop into the original bakery location in the West Village and try one of the unique flavored cupcakes, made famous in the hit series, Sex and the City.
TIP: For an amazing Girl’s Day Out in NYC, take the Sex and the City Tour, complete with a stop for a famous cosmo drink and sex toy purchase!
Italy and Chinatown
- Buddha Bodai (Reservations/Info): -In Chinatown, this casual vegan and kosher restaurant offers a huge book-like menu and family size portions.
- Additionally, Little
Italyand Chinatown are always fun to walk around and often have cultural festivals happening like this one you can book now. Just choose a festive establishment and grab a seat.
Upper East Side/Harlem
- Donna Margherita (Reviews/Info): Upper East Side hidden gem; fantastic Italian selections and personal service with daily specials. Chef often visits tables.
- Móle (Reservations/Reviews): Upper East Side authentic Mexican restaurant with super cute atmosphere and good bar happy hour.
- Mughlai Indian (Reviews): Intimate Upper East Side restaurant with great tasting food and wide selection. Plenty of vegetarian options. Stop in at lunchtime for their half price special.
- Ginger Root – UPDATE: OPENING AS YI JOE LOO – Upper East Side Asian vegan restaurant that is always excellent. The flavors are great and portions are generous.
- Jones Wood Foundry (Info/Reviews): Upper East Side British restaurant with fun food choices and an ambient patio.
- Mrs An Thai (Reviews): Harlem casual and cute restaurant that completely understands vegan. Plenty of options for meat eaters too and excellent flavors.
- Tacos and Tequila: Cute and casual reasonably priced Mexican joint on Upper East Side with an expansive menu, including tons of vegan options.
Also see Jenny In Wanderland article on “How to Find Dining Options While Traveling.”
New York City Museums
There are so many amazing museums and galleries in New York City – where to start? Well, I guess here. These are some of my favorites based on content and “must see” on the tourist list. However, this is a short list. If you have more time, or have been to NYC before, or are taking a “travel day” in your home city, perhaps you want to delve into some of the other less known, but impressive choices.
TIP: A great way to save money and discover sites you may not know about, is by using a NYC Attraction Pass, offering entry into over 100 sites and attractions.
Popular Museums on the Top New York City Tourist To Do List
- Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
- Brooklyn Museum
- 911 Museum
- Whitney Museum
Visit yourself or take this Guided Tour to orient you for your visit to the MET and MOMA. Included is entrance to each and skip the line at MOMA.
Or explore the 911 Museum and Skip the long line. This tour also includes the ferry and self guided Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island visits for one low price.
Impressive Museums You May Not Know About
- The Jewish Museum
- Museum of City of New York
- The Morgan Library & Museum
- International Center of Photography
- Museum of the Moving Image
- El Museo Del Barrio
- Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
Gardens on the Top New York City Tourist To Do List
New York City is an amazing place, but even the die hard city lover can become overwhelmed by the quantity of people, buildings, and stimulation that are a constant in this larger than life space. Parks and greenery are an important part of healthy city life and New York does not disappoint.
Jenny’s Favorite Less Known Outdoor Spaces in NYC:
- Randall Island (Info) has a great nature trail along the East River with riding stables, sports fields, and picnic areas. This free public park offers beautiful views of Manhattan.
- Brooklyn Botanic Garden (Info) is a large, peaceful botanical garden to both explore and relax in. They offer a variety of interesting events. There is generally a fee to enter.
- Highline (Info) is a free public park and walking path built on a historic freight rail line, offering nature, art, and design along the way. It should be noted that you can often see political opinions reflected in the art displayed from adjacent apartments along this trail.
Tip: Consider this diverse tour that not only provides interesting information while touring the Highline, but also ends at the famous Hudson Yards with a climb on the spectacular Vessel Sculpture that provides great Photo opportunities from high above.
- Fort Tryon (Info) houses the Met Cloisters Museum, and sits high on cliffs overlooking the Hudson River and city. There are many beautiful walking paths and historic structures as well as a dog park.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
- Brooklyn Bridge Park (Info) is an 85 acre park along the East River and even has a Pebble Beach! There are various athletic courts, a strolling promenade, boat launches, interactive gardens, and concessions, all with great views under the Brooklyn Bridge.
TIP: While in Brooklyn, consider this small group Walking the Brooklyn Bridge and Dumbo Food Tour to get interesting area information and the local scoop.
- Central Park (Info) has so much to see and do in this free, public park; From the famed Strawberry Fields to the Alice in Wonderland Sculpture, there is so much art and nature to take in. I am always amazed at the diversity within this park. It even has a zoo (fee). It is a place to get some sun, ride a bike, exercise, play tennis, picnic, hike, or people watch. From rowing a boat to exploring a castle, Central Park is always great fun.
*Do NOT miss out on one of the most beloved activities in Central Park! Pre-Book your Central Park Horse and Carriage Ride Now!
Bars & Clubs
There are more bars and clubs in New York City than I can name, and many come and go in a “New York minute,” as the saying goes.
Here is a Diverse Bar/Club List of a few of Jenny’s Favorites:
Depending on your mood, some really cool places are “come as you are”, while others are definitely “dress to impress”:
Come As You Are
- UES Storage Room (Info) is an ice cream shop upstairs, but a secret speak easy downstairs. This was the original storage room of famed Elaine’s, mentioned in Billy Joel’s song, Big Shot.
- Fraunces Tavern (Info) is the oldest structure in New York City and is both a bar/restaurant and a museum.
- Pete’s Tavern (Info) is another of the oldest bars in New York City.
- Rum House (Info), inside the Edison Hotel is a dark little mixology place, great for a pre-Broadway drink.
- Pyramid Club (Info) is an iconic nightclub fixture of NYC. UPDATE: SHUTTERED IN OCTOBER 2021 – HASN’T REOPENED – Located in the East Village since 1979, the Pyramid was instrumental in defining the drag, gay, punk and art scenes of the 1980s. It closed after 41 years, but reopened in a nearby new location recently. Don’t miss 80’s night, where many even rock the matching fashion!
- Blue Note (Info), one of the iconic jazz supper clubs of the Big Apple, provides an intimate atmosphere to see up close and personal live music. While you can come in jeans, many men wear sport coats, although not required.
Dress to Impress
- 1 Oak (Info) is an upscale celebrity club scene; Dress to impress (if you can get in).
- Apollo (Info) of 1920’s Harlem, famous for its televised amateur night, is a theatre venue where you can experience famous and local talent perform.
- The Top of the Standard (Info) has awesome views & an upscale atmosphere; Be sure to score an invite! Stay at the Standard and gain special guest access to one of the hottest venues in NYC!
- Bemelmans (Info) is an upscale jazz lounge inside the famed Carlyle Hotel, where you can book one of the most sought after rooms in the city. Woody Allen is a regular performer here.
Additional Fun New York City Attractions
NYC gets crowded so be sure to book in advance if there is an activity you absolutely do not want to miss!
- Visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on this amazing all inclusive tour.
- Take a Walk around NYU Campus
- Visit St Patrick’s Cathedral and discover the mysteries of the largest gothic-style cathedral in the US with this pre-booked audio guide.
- Visit Wall Street with a financial insider & see the Charging Bull Statue. Also don’t miss the Fearless Girl Statue as well!
- Wander through over 6 million books, exhibits, & architecture at the NYC Public Library, a National Historic Landmark.
TIP: Don’t Miss Library Way! When walking to the NYC Public Library, you will find Library Way. You need to approach the Library from the east on 41st Street. This public walkway contains literary quotes and thoughts along the pathway, on bronze art, and embedded into the sidewalk every couple feet.
Music and Art
- Take an East Village Rock Tour and learn all about the 3 genres of music that shaped the culture of rock here. See the sites of CBGB and former apartments of Joey Ramone, Iggy Pop, and Madonna
- Book a Broadway Show
- Go on a Harlem Gospel Tour. Some include brunch.
Food and Drink Related Activities
- Eat cheesecake (Anywhere and everywhere you can!)
- Have high Tea at the famous Plaza or the Pierre Taj Hotels
- Eat NYC pizza (As much as possible!) To help fulfill this goal, take an NYC Pizza Walking tour!
- Shop on Madison Avenue. From 57th to 86th on the East Side is a famous luxury area where you will find a variety of designer and upscale boutiques.
- Play in FAO Schwartz
- Hudson Yards offers a high end shopping experience and plenty of upscale dining
- Visit the iconic Macy’s flagship in Herald Square
- Enter the ultra modern Westfield World Trade Center to discover a large selection of stores and restaurants in a cool atmosphere
- Shop on famous 5th Avenue. Don’t go alone! Join this small group and discover the luxury of 5th Avenue with a luxury fashion stylist who can help you with styles, latest fashion, cuts, and budget. Afterwards enjoy a drink and compare purchases with new friends.
- Enjoy Bryant Park (Nearby NYC Library) that has an ice rink in winter and outdoor seating, public use games, and bars and restaurants in summer. Also check the park schedule for free performances, yoga, and special events.
- Take a ride on the NYC Ferry on the East River and sit outside, up top. The fare is the same price as a subway ticket and it is really a beautiful ride. You can get some great photos of Manhattan and Brooklyn and even catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty
- Gawk in Times Square at all the lights, advertisements, and shops
- Visit the Central Park Zoo and see an amazing array of wildlife over 6.5 acres, right in the heart of Manhattan
- Explore Rockefeller Center with its shops, restaurants and TV studios. Be sure to Buy a ticket to visit the famous Top of the Rock Observation Deck over the city.
- Go up the Empire State Building to its famous 86th floor observatory.
- Ride an elevator up the three story, 1 World Trade Center Observation Tower and visit the tallest building in both The USA and Western Hemisphere.
- See the city from one of its newest decks, The Edge, the tallest observation tower in the Western Hemisphere.
New York City is an amazing place to explore. You really can’t go wrong.
Share your Wanderland NYC experiences here in comments, or visit Ask Jenny™ to ask travel related questions. Jenny and her team will personally respond. By asking your questions at Ask Jenny, you are also helping other travelers gain information too!
Also see Jenny In Wanderland Top 25 Travel Locations to Take a Selfie Now