It’s not a stretch to say that New York City has more individual landmarks and attractions than any other city on Earth. There are certainly some others that come to mind, like London, Rome, and Sydney, but it’s hard to definitively pick one over the other. Places like these can be a ton of fun to travel to because in a way there’s a standard, general itinerary laid out for you. There are sights that people, websites, and guidebooks will tell you you just have to see in person. The only problem is, there tend to be dozens of them.
That means it becomes necessary to narrow things down, which is what I’m going to try to help with here, specifically relating to New York. You should certainly consider your own preferences and anything you’ve always wanted to see or do when traveling to New York, or anywhere for that matter. However, these are one writer’s recommendations for five of the attractions to see and skip as you narrow down your itinerary for the Big Apple.
See: Central Park
The idea of “seeing” Central Park has always been somewhat misleading. Someone took the trouble to map Central Park in locations around the world, proving the point that it’s about half the size of some major cities and larger in area than some small countries (like Monaco, for instance). You can spend days exploring the park and still not see everything, from lakes to fields to the zoo to an actual castle, and more. But you should at least devote a few hours if you can, because it’s a magical place in person.
Skip: Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center often pops up on lists of New York’s top attractions. There are some interesting things to see within, and during the holidays it’s worth a visit because it’s about the most festive place in the city. For all intents and purposes though it’s often just another big building and surrounding area.
See: Times Square & Theater District
Times Square gets the “touristy” label for a reason, but it’s still fairly spectacular the first time you step into it. At once towering, expansive, and oddly enclosed, it feels like stepping into a science fiction novel full of lit-up billboards and herds of people who all seem to have somewhere to be. As a bonus, you can also walk straight into the main theater district from Times Square, and this too is an area worth exploring – particularly if you have tickets to a show (which are surprisingly easy to score with just a bit of planning).
Skip: Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is an icon in New York, America, and really in the history of engineering. It will always be special. However, the main reason to actually visit in person has generally been to journey to the top and look out over the city from an unrivaled vantage point. And now, the Empire State Building is the third tallest building in New York, with more skyscrapers being built at an alarming rate. You won’t miss glimpses of the building from around the city, but if you want to visit a skyscraper opt for the new World Trade Center instead (and catch the moving 9/11 memorial while you’re there).
See: The Metropolitan Museum Of Art
This isn’t exactly a controversial choice. The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, or “The Met,” is one of the most incredible museums on the planet. It’s gigantic, beautiful in and of itself, and filled with more art, history, and intrigue than you can imagine. Like Central Park, it can take days to properly explore, but a few hours is better than nothing, and in fact is one of the true highlights of a visit to New York.
MoMa, the Museum of Modern Art, is New York’s next most famous museum. And to be clear, you should definitely check it out if you’re fully confident that you enjoy authentic modern art. Most people who don’t specifically study or enjoy this style have a hard time grasping what’s so special about it though (including yours truly), which means MoMA isn’t the best option for a casual tourist stop. If you’re looking for an alternative to the Met that might be a little smaller and more intimate, consider the Frick or the Cloisters.
See: The Statue Of Liberty
The Statue Of Liberty is a little touristy as well, but if nothing else it’s fascinating for its history. It was built by the French and shipped to America in parts – and only after France displayed its head at Paris’ Universal exhibition to raise funds for its completion. It was then assembled just off the shore of Manhattan as a beacon of liberty and a welcome to immigrants traveling to the United States in search of opportunity and prosperity. If you keep all of this in mind, rather than treating it like some generic monument, it can be a fairly extraordinary stop on your trip.
Skip: Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal is extraordinary and beautiful. However, it’s one gigantic New York City attraction at which one glance gives you most of what you’re going to get. So in a way, the pictures do it justice and it doesn’t have to be a top priority.
See: Wall Street
When most people hear “Wall Street” they think of stock traders and big business. This actual area in downtown Manhattan, however, is a unique and charming corner of the city. Yes, it’s bustling with activity and men in expensive suits much of the time, but old buildings, cobblestone roads and nearby waterside restaurants make it feel different than the rest of the city. Oddly enough, for all its fame, it’s a part of the city you don’t see quite as much of in photos, movies, and the like.