When you think of what to do and see in New York, you inevitably think of Manhattan, its lights and skyscrapers.
New York is a dream destination for many and a great city brimming with possibilities. First time visitor? There is so much to discover that your itinerary can be approached in many different ways. To make sure you don't miss a single corner of this city, here are my Manhattan must-sees.
1. The best basketball league in the world, at Madison Square Garden
Madison Square Garden, popularly known as "The World's Most Famous Coliseum", is a huge indoor arena in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. With five floors and a seating capacity of over 20,000, it is famous for being "home" to the Knicks (in the NBA) and the Rangers (NHL).
Madison Square Garden also hosts musical events (and in fact the best artists in the world have performed here) but if you want to attend an NBA game during your visit to New York, you can't miss the New York Knicks here. If you've made up your mind, here's how to buy NBA tickets in New York.
If you're more in the mood for an ice hockey game, you can also watch the New York Rangers.
Why I recommend a visit to Madison Square Garden
As I said, you come to New York to have fun and even if you don't like sports or the NBA, watching a basketball game in the United States is a real spectacle of music, dancing, partying and above all, sport, of course. Get your cap and hot dog ready and try to catch one of the t-shirts thrown by the cheerleaders. Maybe if you're lucky you'll even get caught on the mythical "kiss-cam"!
2. Marvel at the lights of Times Square, day and night
I still remember the first time I visited New York, I left my bags at the hotel and we rushed down to the underground to get out at the Times Square stop. It was already dark and my first contact with the streets of the Big Apple was this: the impact of the lights of Times Square had me ecstatic for several minutes and I knew then that it would be my favourite city, forever.
What to see in Times Square
- Just look up to see some of the **world'**s largest advertising screens.
- It's not uncommon to see the famous half-naked cowboy and other characters surrounded by tourists lining up to have their picture taken with him (if you do, you'll have to tip him).
- Disney Store
- M&M's themed shop, where you'll be a kid again.
- Low-cost clothing shops like H&M or Gap (Gap usually has quite a few customised sweatshirts and T-shirts with New York details, so it's a good place to buy more original souvenirs).
- Well-knownthemed restaurants such as the Hard Rock Café, Bubba Gump and Planet Hollywood.
- New York's famous New Year's Eve chime ball.
- The famous red stairs from where you can see the square from a higher perspective.
- Fast food street stalls: pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers...
Times Square at Christmas
If there's one time of year when Times Square becomes the centre of things, it's Christmas (which is one of the best times to visit New York). The square begins to heat up with huge crowds on the night of the famous Black Friday (the last Friday of every November) and that kicks off the Christmas shopping season. In addition, a few days before Christmas Eve, the "Santa Convention" is held: a parade with thousands of "Father Christmases" in costume.
Why I like Times Square
Every time I visit Manhattan, I pass by it day and night: the atmosphere of New Yorkers crossing (always in a hurry), tourists gawking at the screens skimming the sky and dozens of costumed characters, hot dog carts and teenagers shopping. When you're in Times Square you know you're at the epicentre of the modern world. Oh, and if you want to see downtown New York at night without getting tired or lost I recommend booking the Manhattan night bus tour.
3. Visit the New York Cathedral: St. Patrick's Cathedral
You probably didn't have this in mind when you started to imagine your trip to the Big Apple, but I recommend you don't miss it and I'll tell you why. A ten-minute walk from Times Square, located in the middle of Fifth Avenue and opposite Rockefeller Center is St. Patrick's Cathedral, the largest neo-Gothic Catholic church in North America.
What you will see
This is a very special building, not only for its exterior (its white marble façade stands out among the skyscraper buildings that surround it), but also for its interior, where there are two organs with nearly 10,000 pipes with which spectacular music recitals are performed every season from October onwards.
Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral you can see a sculpture of The Pieta, which is three times bigger than Michelangelo's in Rome. Also note the 8-metre-diameter rose window above the main organ and the altar of St. Louis and St. Michael. Many of the best New York tours in Spanish pass through here.
Why I like St. Patrick's Cathedral
When you plan your trip to the city of skyscrapers you don't imagine that right there, in the heart of modernity and avant-garde, you can see such a spectacular classical building. The contrast with the other attractions you'll visit on your trip shows you that in New York there is literally everything.
4. Go shopping on Fifth Avenue
New York's famous Fifth Avenue connects the north and south sides of Manhattan and is one of the most important arteries in the city and also one of the most expensive. Not for nothing is it known as the "Avenue of Millionaires" for having the most exclusive hotels and shops in the Big Apple such as Armani, Prada, Chanel or Tiffany, among many others. Here are some of the best things to buy in New York.
What to see
On Fifth Avenue You'll probably pass by this avenue several times during your trip, but if you'll allow me to give you a piece of advice, leave the rush to one side and stop for an afternoon of window-shopping and browsing in the best-known shops on the streets.
Very close to Central Park you have Trump Tower, and from there, endless shops, shopping centres and tourist attractions such as the Empire State Building, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, the MET, the Public Library and further down, the Flatiron Building, New York's first skyscraper. By the way, if shopping is what really brings you to New York, don't miss Woodbury Commons, New York's best outlets, where you can go on an excursion that includes transfers and some discounts.
Top five shops and window-shopping
- The famous Tiffany & Co jewellery store: in addition to its several floors of luxurious jewellery, it has recently opened a coffee shop on its top floor so you can finally get your "diamond breakfast" fix.
- Saks Fifth Avenue: a shopping mall with incredible window displays where you will lose track of time.
- Apple Store: this Apple Store, in my opinion, is not just another one. Close to Central Park and fully glazed, it will make you forget any Apple Store you have visited before.
- Abercrombie & Fitch: not everyone is lucky enough to have an Abercrombie in their hometown, so this is a good place to get your hands on the legendary sweatshirts of the American brand.
- NBA Store: whether you're an NBA fan or not (and I'll tell you more about attending a game later), you'll definitely want to get your hands on a cap or T-shirt from the most important basketball league in the world. This is their official shop in New York, so don't hesitate to visit it.
Why I like Fifth Avenue
I admit that as a shopaholic, I'm not very objective on this point, but if there's one thing that puts Fifth Avenue on my list, it's mainly because it's one of the most iconic avenues in Manhattan, a key point to orient yourself when going from one place to another and a place to shop (or dream about shopping), whatever your budget. Plus, Central Park in the background always adds a magical touch.
5. Get cultured at MoMA
Leaving Fifth Avenue behind and heading down 54th Street, you'll find New York's MoMA, the world's foremost museum of modern art and one of the best museums in New York. It has a vast collection of works by famous artists such as Dalí, Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, among many others.
- Address: 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019.
- MoMA opening hours: open from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm.
- What to see at MoMA: if you don't want to spend too much time there, the best thing to do is to focus on the fourth and fifth floors, where the works of artists such as Warhol, Pollock, Matisse and Cézanne are exhibited.
- Ticket prices and discounts: I tell you all about ticket prices and how to buy them in my article on how to visit MoMA.
Why I like MoMA
There are many museums in New York, but MoMA is one of the most dynamic and light-hearted, making it a hugely popular attraction, even if you're going to New York with children.
You can see the most representative works of art from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and discover Andy Warhol's most famous series, which marked a before and after in the history of modern art. If you're considering visiting other museums, consider the following: the Guggenheim, the MET Museum and the Natural History Museum.
6. See the Manhattan skyline from the top skyscrapers
You could say that the soul of New York lies in the skyscrapers that make up its skyline. The list of observatories in the city is long (you can also climb the Empire State Building, One World Observatory, The Edge and the new Summit Vanderbilt) and each one shows a different and unique side, but for many (and for me too) the Top of the Rock is the best observatory to enjoy the most fascinating panoramic view of New York in all its splendour.
Top of the Rock is a favourite
The Top of the Rock observation deck is located in Rockefeller Center, a huge complex of restaurants, offices, shops, theatres and television studios that was built during the Great Depression in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. From the top of the Rock, the views of the city are spectacular: you'll have a wonderful panorama of Central Park, a perfect view of the Empire State Building and the Downtown skyline (the financial district) in the distance, but in great detail.
Plus, the observation deck is quite large and open-air, allowing you to enjoy your time up there even more, without rushing, crowds or crowds. Getting to the Top of the Rock is very easy and once you're there you can also take the opportunity to eat at the best restaurants near the Top of the Rock.
Why I prefer the Top of the Rock
Climbing to the Top of the Rock was one of the experiences that impressed me the most on my trip to New York. Seeing the skyscrapers from the top is a must for a bird's eye view of Manhattan, and while there may be bars or restaurants on other rooftops, the views from the Top of the Rock are unbeatable. By the way, you can also climb to the Top of the Rock at night. You won't regret it, promise!
7. Immerse yourself in the magic of Broadway musicals
You come to Manhattan to have fun, to be surprised at every turn and, as far as possible, to daydream. That's why Broadway musicals will make you lose track of time (no matter how old you are!). The magic of Broadway will perform and leave you open-mouthed, whether you go with your family, friends or partner.
Of course, I recommend you book your tickets in advance to ensure the best seats on the date you want and at a better price than at the box office, where you'll also save having to wait in long queues.
The most outstanding musicals:
- The Lion King: it is not only the king of the jungle, it is also the king of the billboard. It has been playing on Broadway every night since 1997 and is the most seen musical in history. There's a reason, isn't there?
- Aladdin: my favourite. Perhaps because I went to see it with lower expectations than I had for the Lion King, it surprised and amazed me in equal parts.
- Chicago: travel to Chicago in the 1920s and enjoy a unique soundtrack.
Just strolling down the pavements and seeing the brightly lit billboards will make you curious to see one of these world-famous shows. It's probably the best place in the world to see a musical, which in my opinion is something you have to do (at least) once in your life.
8. Grand Central Station, a crossroads in the heart of Manhattan
Grand Central Terminal is the most important railway station to see in Manhattan and one of New York's architectural gems. This marvel of art and engineering was inaugurated in the 19th century and you may have seen it in many film series. A real crossroads at rush hour.
You will recognise it by its main lobby called the Main Concourse, decorated by an immense celestial vault with frescoes of constellations. Once inside you can also see its three large arched windows and iconic clock as well as a huge American flag in remembrance of the victims of 9/11.
Why I like Grand Central Terminal
As a film and TV series lover, it may sound a bit geeky, but I was really looking forward to seeing the famous hall of this station. If you want to see it in full swing, I recommend you stand in the middle of the concourse at rush hour, around 5pm. Be prepared to be amazed by the millions of New Yorkers you'll see speeding through.
Take advantage of your visit to Grand Central Terminal to have a drink in one of the many cafes and restaurants, the oldest and most famous of which is the "Oyster Bar" which dates back to 1913.
9. Have a picnic in Madison Square Park
While it's true that Central Park is the main lung of Manhattan and the largest urban park in New York, on Fifth Avenue next to the Flatiron Building is a small park not known by all visitors to the city which is an oasis of calm in the middle of bustling Midtown: Madison Square Park (for me, one of the best parks in New York).
Here it's common to see office workers taking a break from work and is also very popular with New Yorkers because there are often exhibitions and open-air concerts.
By the way, a good way to get around New York is the underground (fast and cheap) but if you feel like enjoying the streets of New York from another point of view, taking a bike tour of Manhattan is a great idea.
What to do or see in Madison Square Park
It has an area with tables and chairs where you can sit and enjoy a tea, sandwich or ice cream while you take a break from your day of sightseeing in Manhattan. It's also home to the first Shake Shack restaurant, so you know... take the break to recharge your batteries with a good burger, a hot dog and a giant milkshake.
Why I recommend Madison Square Park
No offence to Central Park (I know you'll visit it anyway, because it's a must), but I found Madison Square Park to be super authentic. Many tourists overlook it (and that, believe me, makes it even more authentic) and taking a stroll or picnic lunch on the lawn is a great way to unwind during a marathon day of touring Manhattan.
10. Natural History Museum
Before leaving the Midtown area, I can't help but recommend one of the most visited museums in the United States: the New York Museum of Natural History, which has topped every list of the best science museums on the planet since its founding in the 19th century.
Dedicated to the dissemination of information about the universe, the Earth and mankind, this museum is one of Manhattan's main tourist attractions due to its relevant collection, full of fossils, minerals and even meteorites, which appeals to adults and children alike. It's a must-see if you're travelling to New York as a family.
Why I like the Natural History Museum
Although I've never been a big fan of museums, I must admit that a visit to the Natural History Museum is very enjoyable and surprising. It's a great break in your trip and will take your mind off everything you've seen so far in Manhattan. In fact, if you only have time to visit one museum, I would definitely recommend this one.
11. Journey to the heart of Harlem at a Gospel Mass
A stroll through Harlem is a must during your visit to Manhattan. This area of the city is associated with the African-American community and in its early days had an impressive artistic effervescence in dance, painting and music. In fact, Harlem is where great singing stars such as Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin and James Brown began their careers. Here are the best places to listen to live music in Harlem.
What to do in Harlem
If you're a music lover, the best way to soak up the culture of Harlem is to take a tour of the Harlem neighbourhood, where you'll get to know its authentic atmosphere and streets steeped in history. You'll even experience the spirituality of attending a Gospel service at a local church.
Why I like Harlem
New York is a city of contrasts and if we were to focus only on the majesty of the skyscrapers of Midtown and Downtown, we would be leaving a large part of the city behind. Harlem is not just a neighbourhood in Manhattan, but the heart and soul of a community with a tradition and culture deeply rooted in the city's history. A gospel mass in one of Harlem' s churches will be the final highlight of your visit to this area.
12. A bittersweet but essential walk in Manhattan: the 9/11 Memorial
Leaving the north of the island, if we travel south of Manhattan, we will find, located at Ground Zero in New York, the 9/11 Memorial. This is one of the most moving things to do in New York. It pays tribute to all the victims who perished in the terrorist attacks of 2001 and really makes an impression on the emotions.
What you'll see
at Ground Zero On the same spot where the Twin Towers once stood is the Memorial Plaza, two large fountains fed by waterfalls surrounded by bronze plaques where the names of all the victims have been engraved.
In turn, these pools are surrounded by hundreds of oak trees, creating an oasis of recollection that invites us to remember the past and to fill the future with hope. However, among all of them stands out one called "The Surviving Tree", the only one that survived the tragedy.
Why I recommend the 9/11 Memorial
We all remember in greater or lesser detail what happened on that terrible 9/11 that changed the modern world. The 9/11 Memorial is a delicate and sensitive tribute to the victims of this tragedy and also has a museum with a collection of more than 10,000 objects recovered from the rubble. I tell you more details about the visit in my guidebook of 9/11 Memorial Tickets and Tours in NYC.
13. Become an executive for a day on the streets of the Financial District
The Financial District, in the heart of Downtown Manhattan, is probably New York's most iconic neighbourhood. Its long, narrow streets flanked by towering skyscrapers give you barely a glimpse of the sky, immersing you in the hustle and bustle and stress of those who put in marathon days at work on Wall Street.
What to see in the Financial District
- Wall Street, the most representative street of this neighbourhood.
- The new World Trade Center (where the One World Observatory is located), built after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.
- The famous New York Stock Exchange
- The Wall Street Bull (with its obligatory photo for the superstitious)
- Trinity Church, an architectural oasis amidst so many modernist skyscrapers
- Battery Park, with the jetties for the Statue of Liberty
14. Dive into the bowels of Chinatown
New York is a multicultural city where different religions, races and cultures coexist. If after attending a Gospel service you want to complete this mystical experience in the city, at 133 Canal Street in Chinatown you'll find the Mahayana Buddhist temple, with the largest Buddha in New York at 5 metres tall.
What to see or do in Chinatown
- In addition to the Buddhist temple, you can visit the Chinese Museum in America to learn about the history of the Chinese community in the United States.
- You can also hunt for the best bargains in Chinatown and browse the shops selling all kinds of goods at bargain prices.
- You can stroll through its peaceful Columbus Park.
Here is a compilation of the best things to do in Chinatown so you won't miss anything.
Why I like Chinatown
It's one of New York's most popular neighbourhoods and although I personally wouldn't spend more than a couple of hours there, it's highly recommended to stroll through its streets to get a totally different atmosphere to the one you'll find in nearby SoHo or Wall Street itself. Again, this area represents the contrasts and reality of the city, so don't hesitate to pay it a visit during your time in Downtown.
Also take the opportunity to sample some of the best Asian food in the city at the best places to eat in Chinatown.
15. Sail to the Statue of Liberty
This gift from France to the United States on the 100th anniversary of its independence has become the country's most famous monument and a symbol of freedom and democracy.
The 46-metre high Statue of Liberty is located on Liberty Island and can be visited by ferry. This experience is highly recommended because you can see this spectacular sculpture up close and enjoy the views of New York from the sea.
Why I like this experience
The skyline of the financial district comes into perfect view and it's a totally relaxing experience that will give you a break from long walks.
16. Enjoy Manhattan's nightlife with live jazz clubs
New York is the perfect setting for the best jazz. Since most of Chicago's best musicians moved to New York in the late 1920s, the city soon became a jazz mecca. Nearly every major style of jazz has emerged in the Big Apple in recent years, and musicians from all over the country have come here to work their way up the ranks.
In Harlem, many clubs have live bands, but if you'd rather go somewhere iconic you should check out the Village Vanguard. Despite opening its doors in 1925, it's hardly changed since then and that's a big part of its charm. As you walk down the stairs here, you'll see small tables where you can have a drink during the concert and various pictures of the musicians who have played, of which there are many.
In Times Square
Other jazz clubs to check out in Manhattan include "Iridium", which is known for having a variety of bands playing different genres such as jazz, blues and rock every day of the week. Since it's right in the middle of Times Square, it's a great place to end the day if you're staying in a hotel in this part of the city.
Close to Times Square is another jazz club with a long history, "Birdland", named after the popular musician Charlie Parker and his nickname "Bird". This club is an essential part of New York's jazz history, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, Birdland is known for its bands in residence and for hosting such popular events as the Umbria Jazz Festival in New York and the annual Django Reinhardt NY Festival.
If you also feel like enjoying an authentic New York night, don't hesitate to have a good cocktail at one of the best rooftops in New York.
17. Spend an afternoon shopping at Macy's
If you want to take home a souvenir of your trip to New York and you're a shopaholic, you'll want to make time in your schedule to go to Macy's, the world's largest department stores' located on 34th Street, known as "The Fashion District", in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.
As well as being one of the most popular places for New Yorkers to shop, it is also worth a visit for its history and anecdotes. For example, did you know that the first Father Christmas to work in a department store during Christmas was Macy's in 1862 and that this shop organised the first Thanksgiving Day parade in 1924?
The building was declared a Historic Landmark and tourists are offered a 10% discount on all purchases. How can you not take a tour of this mall?
Why I recommend Macy's
Far from the strict luxury of other Manhattan malls, here you will find brands and products for all budgets. Plus, you'll always find special offers (don't forget to check the Tax Free policy for travellers from outside the United States). If you' re travelling to New York at Christmas, Macy's and its decorations are a must.
18. Enjoy New York's gastronomy in its authentic markets
Drinking and eating are two of the favourite activities for travellers on holiday, especially in New York for its endless culinary possibilities. I've written a guide to 10 places to eat in New York Citybut here are my favourites in Manhattan to whet your appetite:
Gotham West Market in Hell's Kitchen
West of Times Square in Hell's Kitchen, a neighbourhood brimming with bars and restaurants, is Gotham West Market, a food hall where there are no fast food chains, but rather restaurants with a more elaborate gastronomic offer that share space in a large open room on the ground floor of the building.
Gotham West Market is a fairly quiet place with a fairly extensive menu to choose from (ramen, pizza, sandwiches, tacos, burgers, crepes, etc.), so it's no problem to agree on what to eat if you're travelling in a group to New York. This market has a little bit of everything.
Little Spain Market
Another option to check out in Manhattan is the newly opened Little Spain Market, located in the trendy Hudson Yards neighbourhood inside the 10 Hudson Yards building. A gastronomic space dedicated to the flavours of traditional Spanish cuisine by the prestigious chef José Andrés in collaboration with the brothers Ferrán and Albert Adriá.
Little Spain has a dozen stalls where you can savour great classics of Spanish gastronomy such as tapas, sandwiches, cocas, cheeses and Spanish wines. In addition to these places to nibble, the restaurants Mar, Leña and Spanish Diner complete the offer with outdoor space to enjoy the best of Spanish cuisine outside Spain. While you're there, take the opportunity to visit the trendy new neighbourhood, Hudson Yards.
Finally, Chelsea Market is one of New York's most famous food markets. It is located in the Meatpacking District next to the High Line, an urban park built on former elevated railway tracks, which crosses the west side of Manhattan.
It is a former biscuit factory converted into a beautiful market that has preserved its old industrial style with exposed brick walls and high ceilings, giving it a lot of personality. Strolling through Chelsea Market is a pleasure, not only because of its decoration but also because here you can buy delicacies from all over the world and order something to eat from the fast food stalls (sushi, tacos, noodles, pasta or seafood, the market's speciality).
Also, did you know that Oreo biscuits were invented here and the walls are full of references to them!
19. Have fun at Madame Tussauds
Another must-see in Manhattan is the Madame Tussauds Museum, especially :::link|text=if you're travelling to New York with kids:::, as they'll have a blast in what is considered the best wax museum in the world.
Located in Times Square, it opened its doors in 2000 to realistically portray celebrities from all fields (film, music, television, sports, politics, etc.) and allow the public to interact with these wax figures in the staged sets.
Why I liked Madame Tussauds
Everything is set up at Madame Tussauds for a great time.What to see at Madame Tussauds in New York? There are special shows like King Kong (where you'll face an imposing animatronic of this legendary and ferocious ape), Marvel 4D Experience (an entertaining interactive activity with superheroes like the Hulk, Captain America, Thor or Iron Man) or Ghostbusters (where you'll be able to catch your own ghost).
20. Enter the New York Public Library
Back on Fifth Avenue (I warned you, it's the hub of it all), you'll find the famous steps of the Public Library. This impressive three-storey neoclassical building will catch your eye with its decorated marble staircase at the entrance, with two fountains and two lions nicknamed Patience and Fortitude.
Inside it holds over three million books, including in its catalogue a letter from Christopher Columbus, some William Shakespeare manuscripts, a draft of the US Declaration of Independence and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible in the McGraw rotunda. Almost nothing!
What to see inside the Public Library
Its reading rooms will probably transport you straight to "Ghostbusters", "Breakfast at Tiffany's" or "The Day After Tomorrow", as several of their scenes were filmed there. The most famous room of all is the Rose Reading Room, on the third floor, for its large size (it's as big as a football field) and its ostentatious decoration with hanging lamps, massive oak tables and beautiful frescoes on the ceiling.
Why I like the Public Library
I'm not going to deny that the fact that it's free is an incentive to take a look around and spend even a few minutes inside. This library has been the setting for several films and not by chance. It is certainly the best reading room I have ever seen. It seems incredible that you can find such a calm and peaceful place in the middle of bustling Midtown.
Frequently asked questions
How much can an NBA ticket cost?
Tickets average between 100 and 400 euros per person.
What's not to miss in Times Square?
The Disney shop, the low-cost H&M and GAP shops, the themed restaurants such as the Hard Rock Café, the red stairs and the New Year's Eve ball.
What are the best shops on Fifth Avenue?
Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue, Apple Store, Abercrombie & Fitch and NBA Store.
Which museums are the most recommended in Manhattan?
MoMA, Natural History Museum and Madame Tussands Museum,