Wander Freely Through New York
Top 10 Must-See Attractions in NYC
New York City is one of the most famous cities in the world, and it has been an integral part of our country’s history since it was first settled in 1624 as New Amsterdam. As a result, some of the most iconic attractions and landmarks in the US are here. If you put any city on your bucket list with a desire for one-of-a-kind experiences, NYC should definitely make the cut.
There are thousands, if not millions, of amazing things to see and do in New York City. But if we have to whittle it down to the Top 10, these are the attractions you must check out when visiting the Big Apple.
The Statue of Liberty has to be the #1 must-see attraction on the list. How do you go to New York City without paying homage to Lady Liberty herself? She represents democracy, freedom, hope and inspiration. So there’s no more inspiring landmark in the city, or arguably in the country.
This iconic symbol of New York was actually a 100th birthday gift from the people of France. Merci beaucoup, France! The statue was constructed in 1884, dedicated in 1886, and designated as a National Monument in 1924. Her tablet shows the date of American independence in Roman numerals: July IV, MDCCLXXVI (July 4, 1776).
You can buy ferry tickets to Liberty Island and neighboring Ellis Island, which include admission to the corresponding museums. Or you can take a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry, which offers amazing views as it cruises right past the statue.
While the Statue of Liberty is about looking to the future, Ground Zero is about honoring the past. This is where the World Trade Center Twin Towers stood until September 11, 2001. Rather than just one singular attraction, it’s an area featuring several landmarks that pay homage to the victims of the world-changing 9/11 attacks.
The Sphere is the only work of art retrieved from the rubble, mostly intact, after 9/11. This 25-foot bronze ball stood between the Twin Towers for 30 years and is now on display at Liberty Park.
The 9/11 Memorial honors the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks. Two reflecting pools have replaced the Twin Towers, with the victims’ names etched in the railing. Beside it you’ll find One World Trade Center, also known as Freedom Tower. At 1,776 feet tall (to match the year of US independence), it’s the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
And don’t miss neighboring structure The Oculus, a unique steel building designed in the shape of a flying dove, with a shopping mall and train station inside.
With its unmistakable art deco style, the Empire State Building is one of the most famous buildings on the planet, and it won a 2022 travelers’ choice award as the #1 Attraction in the US. Built in 1931, it was the world’s first skyscraper to have over 100 floors—it logs in at 102 stories and stands 1,454 feet high.
The nearby Chrysler Building, another art deco gem, was built in 1930 with the goal of becoming the world’s tallest building. At 1,046 feet tall, it did hold that record for almost a year until the Empire State Building (ESB) deliberately stole the title—yes, it was literally a race to the top.
The ESB managed to hold on to the honor for nearly four decades, until the Twin Towers were completed in 1970—easily taking home the win at 1,730 feet tall. And that explains why King Kong climbed the Empire State Building in the 1933 version of the film, but chose the World Trade Center for the 1976 remake.
Times Square is probably one of the most recognizable street corners in the country, and it’s located at the heart of NYC at Broadway and Seventh Avenue. To some, it’s an overcrowded outdoor shopping mall, while to others, it’s the vital energy of the city that never sleeps encapsulated into a few small blocks.
This is where tourists from around the world gather to celebrate New Year’s Eve with the famous crystal ball drop, and more than 50 million people pass through the square each year.
Did you know this spot was originally called Long Acre Square after London’s carriage district? It got renamed Times Square in 1904 when the New York Times moved into the building now known as Times Tower. It’s only 25 stories high, but at the time it was the second-tallest building in the city.
That New Year’s Eve marked the first celebration, with a fireworks display on the building’s roof at midnight. But more than just welcoming 1905, it was designed to promote the newspaper and its new headquarters. The Times only stayed in the building for eight years, but the name had already caught on, so Times Square it remains.
Everybody’s heard of Central Park, and no visit to New York is complete without experiencing at least a corner of this 843-acre oasis, home to multiple species of wildlife including squirrels, raccoons, ducks and turtles. Join the over 42 million visitors who enjoy the park each year, not to mention the characters from at least 350 movies that have been shot here.
See how many settings you can recognize from flicks like The Avengers, Spider-Man 3, Home Alone 2, Ghostbusters, Maid in Manhattan, When Harry Met Sally, 27 Dresses, Serendipity, Enchanted, Elf, Big Daddy, Kramer vs. Kramer, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Muppets Take Manhattan, and many more.
While you’re there, you can find hundreds of other things to see and do, including viewing its 70 works of art. That includes statues and monuments like Alice in Wonderland, Hans Christian Andersen, Strawberry Fields, Beethoven’s bust, and Bethesda Fountain.
The Rockefeller Center is a multi-block entertainment complex that houses NBC TV and was featured on the sitcom “30 Rock,” as well as plenty of other shows and movies. But it’s also an immediately recognizable landmark, especially in the winter.
If it’s Christmas time, be sure to see the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and go ice-skating on The Rink (which is actually open from October through April). If it’s summertime, you can still admire the bronze statue of Atlas or hang out by the “Today” show plaza for a chance to be on TV. You can also attend tapings of “Saturday Night Live” or “The Tonight Show.”
For some of the best panoramic views of the city, check out the Top of the Rock Observation Deck on the 70th floor. And while you’re there, don’t miss the gigantic Joie Chandelier, made of 14,000 Swarovski crystals in the shape of an upside-down 30 Rock.
New York has several large-scale bridges because the city has five boroughs separated by water. At one time, travel between the islands and peninsulas was only done by ferry, but bridges now link them all. The neo-gothic Brooklyn Bridge, with its thick steel cables and granite towers, was the first. When it opened in 1883, it was also the longest suspension bridge in the world at almost 1,600 feet. And it’s still the most famous of them all, sometimes referred to as “the eighth wonder of the world.”
This is the bridge that people tease about selling to someone gullible, with phrases like, “If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.” But unfortunately, it’s not just a joke … conmen have actually “sold” the Brooklyn Bridge to countless victims over the years. In fact, career swindler George C. Parker (1860-1936) used to do it several times a week, along with “selling” the Statue of Liberty, Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other major New York landmarks. Karma did eventually prevail here … Parker was caught and convicted several times and died while serving life imprisonment at Sing Sing Prison.
Beyond the fraud mystique, the Brooklyn Bridge comes with some fascinating history. It took over a decade to build, but the construction techniques were groundbreaking and set a precedent for using steel instead of iron. It lost the record for longest suspension bridge 20 years later, in 1903, when the neighboring Williamsburg Bridge surpassed it by 4 ½ feet.
P.T. Barnum once paraded 21 elephants across the bridge to prove how strong it was. Peregrine falcons, who previously almost died out, have been able to thrive by building their nests on top of the stone towers. And there’s a network of secret passageways and rooms under the bridge, including a Cold War-era bomb shelter.
From Wall Street to The Wolf of Wall Street (and other movies with more varied names, like Trading Places), the New York Financial District is etched into our collective psyche. At the corner of Wall Street and Broad Street you’ll find yourself gazing upon the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), one of the world’s top financial markets. Just imagine the fortunes that have been won and lost within these marble walls since it opened in 1903!
This is also the original (and illegal) home of the famous 3.5-ton Charging Bull sculpture, created by Italian artist Arturo Di Modica to encourage tenacity and prosperity in the wake of the 1987 Black Monday stock market crash. He secretly placed it outside the stock exchange in the middle of the night, but police removed it soon afterward. Now the bull stands in nearby Bowling Green, where about 1,000 tourists a day rub his nose (and other parts) for good luck.
Bonus tip: Three blocks away from the NYSE is the Federal Reserve Bank. Guided tours of the Fed’s onsite museum and basement gold vault are free every weekday.
It seems like people from around the world refer to any busy place as being “like Grand Central Station.” Did you know the massive cathedral-like building is actually called Grand Central Terminal, and Grand Central Station is specifically just the subway station below the terminal?
Grand Central Terminal is definitely a must-see historic landmark, opened in 1913 and referred to as New York City’s crown jewel. It’s a transportation hub, sure, but it’s also a shopping mall with over 60 stores and 35 eateries.
The four-sided round brass and opal Information Booth clock—estimated to be worth $20 million—is a convenient meeting place for thousands of people every day. And the magnificently majestic ceiling, with a gold leaf mural featuring the 12 zodiac constellations, makes this architectural beauty feel like a royal palace.
There’s an age-old debate over whether you should visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) or the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) if you can only visit one museum in New York.
And well, for most people, The Met wins out. It’s the largest art museum in the country, showcasing over 5,000 years’ worth of art from various cultures and periods through the ages, including paintings from the old masters, statues, ceramics, collectibles, textiles, Medieval armor, and ancient Egyptian artifacts. Its classic building has been a New York City icon since it opened in 1880, and you’ve seen it play a background role in countless movies and TV shows.
On the other hand, if you really just prefer modern art over history, the MoMA might be more your style. It has a newer building (opened in 2004) with newer architecture and focuses on more contemporary artists (relatively speaking) from the 1880s to present day. That includes Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Van Gogh and Warhol, although you can see works by most of those artists at The Met as well.
If you travel to New York City, don’t forget to take along a credit card that earns you points on travel. For example, Credit One Bank’s new Wander® Card offers 10X rewards points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked using their travel partner, 5X rewards points on other eligible travel, dining, and gas buys, and 1X rewards points on all other purchases.