New York Travel Guide – Top 10 Vacation Highlights

New York is known as the city that never sleeps, and as cliché that might be, it is also true. One of the largest cities in the world, it is a traveler’s dream with dozens of world famous museums, well known monuments and ginormous parks the size of a small town.
New York Travel Guide
Table of Contents

In order to really explore New York one must spend quite a lot of time in this breath taking city. However, there are a handful of places that must be seen by everyone that takes their first steps in New York. From the iconic Central Park to shinny skyscrapers, this American city feels like a brand new experience no matter how many times you get to visit it.

With over 8 million inhabitants, New York is the most populous city in USA, and the most important cultural and financial center in North America. At first the region was inhabited by Native Americans until the middle of the 17th century when Dutch settlers moved into the area that later became New York.

During the Revolutionary War, about a third of all battles took place in this region, while during the American Civil War about 1 in 7 New Yorkers who served died in service.

One of the most important moments in recent history also took place in New York. During the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers of World Trade Center in Manhattan were targeted by two hijacked planes which were flown into the towers. Over 2,600 people died after the towers collapsed and the city’s scape was forever changed after that day.

New York is divided into five boroughs each with their own distinct traits: Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens. Each of these boroughs has several important touristic highlights and it takes several days to really explore each of them.

However, the heart and soul of New York is in Manhattan, with its world renowned museums and dazzling skyscrapers. Just to discover this borough it will take you several weeks. Most streets of New York are numbered and run from north to south and from east to west, which makes the entire metropolis quite easy to explore. Among the places that can be more confusing is the West Village with its angled streets.

New York is also the place where more than 12 million immigrants entered the country through Ellis Island in search for the American dream while being welcomed by the most well-known American symbol – the Statue of Liberty.

Central Park is also one of the most popular spots in the city, especially since it was featured in a number of famous movies and TV shows. In fact, the entire city of New York is one of the most recognizable cities in the whole world because of the fact that it appeared in hundreds of movies and TV series, several of which were shoot on the actual streets of the city.

All in all, the city of New York is a true wonderland for any type of visitors. From its world renowned museums to gigantic parks and breathtaking architecture, this metropolis is the perfect vacation destination for even the choosiest tourist.

1. Broadway

One of the most well-known streets in New York, and probably in the world, is Broadway. From the many theaters that line the street to the fact that the route goes through another world famous place, Times Square, Broadway is the first place visitors should see the second they get into the city.

Weather you have enough time to take in a show or not this area should definitely be on your must see list. The lights, the crowds, the atmosphere, Broadway Street is the epitome of New York. And, as you cross it you end up in one of the most famous place in the world – Times Square.

There are about 40 large theatres in and around the Theater District, which is located between 53rd and 42nd Street and Ninth to Sixth Avenue. However, here, tourists will discover more than just theaters. Some of the most famous restaurants and hotels have chosen this area to open their business.

Broadway has been the home of the beast theater in the world for over a century and half and even today, some of the most popular marquises are part of the city’s architecture.

Though the most popular part of Broadway Street runs diagonally across Manhattan from north to south, the actual route is 33 miles long and crosses not only Manhattan, but the Bronx, Yonkers, and several other municipalities until it ends in Sleepy Hollow in Westchester County.

Though walking through the entire 33 miles stretch is not exactly easy, a stroll through the Great White Way, as the area where Broadway crosses Seventh Avenue is commonly referred to, will definitely be worth the effort. Despite the fact that this area is quite busy day and night, the best time to see it, is at dark when the lights of the marquises and the massive digital billboards are turned on. In fact, the area is so bright at night you’ll think it’s the middle of the day.

Tourists who find themselves into Times Square for the very first time are mesmerized by the massive crowds and bright lights. Make sure you take it all in from the colorful billboards to street vendors and the famous Naked Cowboy, a street performer who plays the guitar wearing nothing but underwear, cowboy boots and, of course, a cowboy hat.

Times Square is also home to some of the largest flagship stores in the world, (the Toys “R” Us store here has an indoor Ferris wheel) to museums, TV studios and famous fast food chains.

Every year, more than a million people ring in the New Year in Times Square which is also the place where the annual New Year’s Eve ball drops for the delight of everyone present.

2. Central Park

One of the largest and most famous parks in the world, Central Park lies right in the heart of New York City. Covering over 800 acres of land, this rectangular shaped park is a true oasis among the imposing steel skyscrapers in Manhattan. This area has gained recognition in the past 60 years, thanks to its appearances in numerous movies and television shows.

Originally Central Park was opened in 1857 on about 770 acres of land, later expanding to its current size.

The park was designed by two famous architects, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead, after they won a design competition. One of the most visited parks in the United States; Central Park is bordered by Fifth Avenue, Central Park West, Central Park North and Central Park South. Except for the famous Fifth Avenue, all the other streets which border the area were named after this park.

Central Park houses several landmarks including the Central Park Zoo, the Central Park Conservatory Garden, the Delacorte Theater, the Belvedere Castle, several artificial lakes and ponds, two ice-skating rinks, many bridle paths and walking trails, an outdoor amphitheater, a wildlife sanctuary and a large area of natural wood, several playgrounds and meadows.

The park also has over 25,000 trees and thousands of exotic and native plants. The area is also popular among birdwatchers who love to admire here migratory species like the Atlantic flyway or the red-tailed hawk, and of course the more common ducks and swans. The park is also home for several mammal species including raccoons, chipmunks, opossums and squirrels.

Just like other world famous parks, Central Park is decorated with several sculptures, some erected right in the park and others donated throughout the years.

Among the most popular attractions in the area is the Central Park Zoo, which actually contains four zoological gardens and an aquarium, which houses many species from leafcutter ants to polar bears.

The Delacorte Theater is also the home of the famous “Shakespeare in the Park” festival, an outdoor festival which features Shakespeare’s plays. The performances are free and each year gathers thousands of spectators.

The park is a popular destination for bike enthusiasts and for those who love to take a stroll through nature. Central Park is very friendly for hikers and bikers, with dozens of dedicated lines which circle the entire area.

Visitors can also choose to take horseback rides through some parts of the park or they can opt for the more romantic option – a horse-drawn carriage ride, which are arguably, the most romantic way to explore Central Park.

3. The Empire State Building

Manhattan’s skyline has become a true symbol for the entire city of New York. With its distinguished skyscrapers, this area is best seen from afar. Architecture buffs will truly love this part of town where they can explore every scraper, while those who are not afraid of heights can take in breathtaking views of the entire city from above.

Skyscrapers are one of the most famous highlights in Manhattan and several buildings have become true icons. The most popular one is also one of the oldest one in the city.

The Empire State Building held the title of the tallest building in the world (it’s over 1,450 feet tall) for nearly forty years. Finished in 1931, after three years of construction and over 3,400 workers, mostly immigrants from Europe worked at this project.

In 1973, when the World Trade Center was completed, the North Tower became the tallest building in the world, with a height of over 1,360 feet. After the tragic events of 9/11, the Empire State Building was once again the tallest building in New York City until 2012 when One World Trade Center (1,792 feet) was inaugurated.

Because of its impressive height, the Empire State Building quickly became a symbol of New York City. The edifice has a total of 102 stories, the first 85 are used as commercial and office space, 16 stories are the Art Deco tower and the 86th floor is an indoor and outdoor observation deck. What is more, the 102nd floor is also an observation deck.

This building is a very popular touristic attraction, not just for its interesting history, but also for the observation decks. Though visitors must wait in five very long lines in order to reach the observation decks, the effort is truly worth it because of the breath-taking 360 degrees views.

The 80th floor houses a gift shop and an exhibit which showcases details about the building’s construction.

Both outdoor observation decks are one of the most popular in the world. The one on the 86th floor is larger and offers the best views over the city. The building is visited by thousands of tourists each year. In fact, the building makes more money from ticket selling than from renting office space.

The Empire State Building gained its popularity not just for its impressive height and great observation decks, but also for the fact that it has appeared in a number of movies and television series.

4. Metropolitan Museum of Art

The largest museum in the United States of America, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is also one of the most popular museums in the world. It houses more than two million works of art, making it one of the largest art galleries in the world.

The museum, also known by New Yorkers as the Met, is located near Central Park, but it also has a smaller branch called “The Cloisters”, in Upper Manhattan. The Cloisters showcase some of the most extensive displays of European medieval art.

The main building of the Met welcomes more than 5 million visitors every year and offers an extensive art collection which features exhibits from arms and armors, to decorative arts, musical instruments and photographs, all divided among 17 curatorial departments.

Inaugurated in 1870, the Metropolitan Art Museum’s building encompasses several architectural styles, especially since the actual building was renovated and had several additions throughout the years.

The building is so large that is almost impossible to go through every exhibit in just one day. In fact most visitors choose to dedicate several days to this museum in order to properly explore the over 2 million square feet building.

One of the most popular areas of the Met is the Costume Institute which features over 35,000 costumes and accessories. Though the department doesn’t offer a permanent installation because most costumes are old and fragile, the Institute holds two shows each year using some of the costumes. Each show is dedicated to a certain designer, trend setter of fashion trend, which means every show is a must see.

The museum features at least one work from almost every European master, but also some of the finest examples of Byzantine, African and Islamic art.

Another popular part of the Metropolitan Museum is the garden on the roof on the southwestern corner of the building. The roof garden has a café and a bar and it offers incredible views over Central Park and most buildings in Manhattan.

5. Ellis Island

Tourists who spend enough time in New York City should definitely not miss the opportunity to visit one of the most important spots in the United States – Ellis Island. Located in Lower Manhattan, this is the place where more than 12 million immigrants arrived in the United States of America between 1892 and 1954. Here, travelers in search for the American dream went through legal and medical examinations before being permitted to entry the country.

Right next to this tiny island, tourists can spot one of the most well-known symbols in the world – the Statue of Liberty, the same statue which welcomed immigrants over century ago.

Today, the building on Ellis Island has been transformed into a museum where visitors can find out more about the stories of immigrants who stepped for the first time in America through this place. The museum features films, photos, recordings and the American Family Immigration Center.

In fact, about half of all American citizens can trace their families’ history to at least one of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island.

The only way to get to Ellis Island is by taking the ferry from Battery Park in New York or Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Usually a trip to Ellis Island includes a stop to Liberty Island, where the actual statue is. Both islands are part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument since the 60’s.

Ellis Island has over 27 acres of land and most of it is part of New Jersey. The Immigration Museum is housed in a red-brick building which replaced the former wooden edifice which burned down in 1897. The most popular part of the museum is the American Immigrant Wall of Honor where visitors can see the names of 600,000 people who passed through Ellis Island.

The museum also houses a theater where curious tourists can see short movies about the history of this famous landmark.

Those who choose to travel all the way to Ellis Island will definitely make a pit stop to the imposing Statue of Liberty.

The neoclassical statue is 305 feet high; it was a gift from France to celebrate the centennial of the US and symbolizes the freedom of the United States. Inside the pedestal there’s a gift shop and a museum where visitors can admire the original torch.

Visitors can also take the elevator all the way to the top to the observation deck for a 360 degrees view over Manhattan’s cityscape. What is more, those who purchase special passes can climb the stairs all the way to the crown for even more impressive views.

6. St. Patrick’s Cathedral

The Neo-Gothic Cathedral of Saint Patrick is one of the most recognizable symbols of New York City and one of the most famous churches in the US. The church is also the seat of the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

The building took more than 20 years to be finished and, when it was finally inaugurated in 1879, it was the largest Gothic style cathedral in the United States of America, which is still true to this day. The building is near the popular Rockefeller Center and it is a very beloved touristic destination. Throughout the years the building went through several reconstructions, but it still has kept its original design.

The cathedral was originally built by the Irish Catholic congregation, as a replacement for the smaller parish church known as the Old St. Patrick’s. Today, the Old St. Patrick’s is still used as a parish church and is the oldest Catholic building in New York City.

The St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a massive building made out of white marble and stone. It can seat about 2,400 people and it contains several gorgeous altars and statues. The building itself is so large it occupies an entire city block, between Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue and 50th and 51st street.

Visitors can take a free guided tour throughout the cathedral in order to explore each part of this impressive building. Inside, tourists can admire the imposing Pieta statue, which is three times larger than Michelangelo’s famous work of art with the same name. The beautiful stained glass windows were created by several artists in Boston, but also in Europe in the English city of Birmingham and a little town in France, Chartres.

The cathedral also houses several altars, two of which were designed by famous New York jewelry retailer Tiffany’s.

The crypt under St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the final resting place for several important Catholic figures, while the Requiem Masses for many famous people throughout history was also said here, including baseball player Babe Ruth, singer Celia Cruz, former US senator Robert F. Kennedy and entertainer Ed Sullivan.

Apart from its breathtaking interior, St. Patrick’s Cathedral should also be seen from afar, particularly from the nearby Rockefeller Center and GE Building. That way, tourists can really take in this monumental building.

7. West Village

Manhattan has several neighborhoods, each with their own distinct features. Downtown of Manhattan is mostly known for its bohemian areas, lined with art galleries and small cafes. The heart and soul of this area of Manhattan is West Village, the place where some of the most important cultural trends in the past century were born.

The area became popular among artists and writers during the middle of the last century. Since then the neighborhood has changed several times, but its bohemian air is still present to this day. A stroll through the streets of West Village is the perfect way to experience everything New York City has to off, from its culture and politics to its penchant for retail.

Located by the Hudson River, between 14th Street, Huston Street and Sixth Avenue, West Village differs from other New York neighborhoods because most of its streets are set on an angle not perpendicular from north to south and from east to west like the rest of the streets in the city. What is more, most of them are not numbered. Even New Yorkers get lost sometimes when roaming the streets of West Village.

The area is also popular among the younger population thanks to its trendy bars and night clubs. The trendiest ones can be found on Bleecker and Christopher Streets. Make sure you at least have a drink at the White Horse Tavern, on Hudson Street, a favorite among writers like Norman Mailer or Dylan Thomas. Also in the neighborhood is one of the most important universities in US, New York University, which is why the area is so popular among the younger crowds.

The area is also home for the Jefferson Market Library. The peculiar looking building located on the Avenue of the Americas used to be a courthouse until 1945, when several community preservationists, including writer E.E. Cummings, managed to rescue the Victorian Gothic building and turned it into a library.

Another hotspot in West Village is the Meatpacking District, an area formerly known for the large number of slaughter houses and packing plants. However, the district became famous among celebrities and most of the slaughterhouses were replaced by high end boutiques and luxurious restaurants. By the beginning of the 21st century, only 35 slaughterhouses and packing plants were left.

In 2009, a linear park was built on an elevated section of a disused railroad. Known as the High Line, the park is over 1,4 mile long and it was inspired by Promenade Plantee built in Paris at the beginning of the 90’s.

The High Line runs from the 34th Street to Gansevoort Street and a final part of the park is expected to be opened by 2015. There are more than 200 plant species growing alongside the High Line, but the true attraction of this park are the amazing views over the city and the Hudson River.

The largest park in Manhattan after Central Park can also be found in West Village. Hudson River Park includes batting cages, playgrounds, and soccer and tennis courts.

West Village is also the setting for some of the most popular TV shows and movies which took place in New York City. However, West Village will always remain the place where Edith Wharton, Jackson Pollock, Henry James, and Jack Kerouac created some of their most famous works.

8. Bergdorf Goodman

New York City is a true mecca for shopping enthusiasts since some of the largest stores in the world are located here. Though there are several shopping districts speeded around New York City, the soul of Manhattan’s retail is alongside Fifth Avenue, from 57th Street to the upper 40s. Here some of the most popular flagship stores greet their visitors with luxury products.

Also on Fifth Avenue tourists can find some of the oldest department stores in US: Henri Bendel, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. Though most tourists don’t really have the budget to make serious purchases in these stores, their unique and luxurious displays are reason enough to pay them a visit.

The most impressive department store is Bergdorf Goodman. In fact this luxury shop has two locations directly across from each other. The department store was founded in 1899 by French immigrant Herman Bergdorf. At the beginning it was a tailor shop near Union Square. Two years later, one of Bergdorf’s apprentices, Edwin Goodman, bought part of the business, thus the shop changed its name in Bergdorf Goodman in 1901.

Five years later the store’s location was moved to 32nd Street, not too far from its location today. Since Bergdorf was not interested in expanding its business, Goodman bought his part of the store and turned the company into an even more successful one.

In 1928, Goodman built a Beaux-Arts style building on the site of Cornelius Vanderbilt the II’s mansion, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, which is also the store’s present location.

In 1972, under the patronage of Edwin Goodman’s son, Andrew, the luxury department store was sold to another American retailer. Since then the high-end department store was expanded several times, and by 1990, the men’s store was relocated right across the street to make room for more women stores.

Today the building has eight floors and some stores have dressing rooms with breathtaking views over Central Park.

9. Grand Central Terminal

Another symbol of New York City is the grandiose Grand Central Terminal, one of the largest railway stations in the world. Also referred to as Grand Central Station, this famous landmark is located in Midtown Manhattan, on Park Avenue and 42nd Street.

Grand Central Station was built in 1871 and it has 44 train platforms and two floors, serving almost 200,000 New York commuters every day. Because of its impressive spaces and beautiful detailing, this railway station became one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.

At the beginning there were three buildings in the current location of the Grand Central Station, all of them with the same purpose. However, by 1913, the station was rebuilt into one imposing Beaux-Arts style building. The new terminal was inaugurated in February 1913, and because it is made mostly from granite, to this day the edifice emits relatively high levels of radiation.

The railway station has several restaurants, a food market, and dozens of retail stores. An annex of the New York Transit museum is also housed here and, until 1944, the attic of the west wing was an art school, the Grand Central Art Galleries, which was created by famous American portrait painter John Singer Sargent.

The most popular feature of Grand Central is its ceiling, in fact the Main Concourse’s ceiling. Featuring a ginormous astronomical mural, the ceiling gained its former glory in 1998 when the building went through extensive renovations. The mural was designed in 1912 with the help of several astronomers, but the rendering is not astronomical accurate. But that doesn’t mean it’s not striking.

In the 30’s the ceiling was replaced because of the falling plaster and throughout the years the mural was covered with nicotine from smoking and tar. However, after extensive renovations the mural was restored and travelers can once again marvel at its beauty.

Those who want to see how dark the ceiling used to be, there’s still one dark tile remaining above one of the restaurants.

The Dining Concourse, which is right below the Main Concourse, houses most of the lounges and restaurants including the Oyster Bar, the oldest business in Grand Central.

The Vanderbilt Hall, which is named after the prestigious family which built and owned Grand Central, is the entrance area from the 42nd Street. Nowadays the hall is used as an exhibit area and for the popular Christmas Market. Near the Vanderbilt Hall, another famous tourist attraction is the Campbell Apartment, the former office of John Williams Campbell, a millionaire American financier. Today, the Campbell Apartment is an elegant cocktail lounge.

On the outside, the Grand Central Terminal is also beautifully decorated with many statues and intricate gold and bronze details.

For most tourists, the Grand Central Terminal is one of the first places they get to explore, not just for the fact that many tourists arrive in New York City by train, but also for its museum like building. The cathedral like building attracts thousands of visitors, which is why the building is quite crowded throughout the day.

10. Coney Island

New Yorkers who want to escape the busy loud streets of the city often take a trip to Coney Island. A residential neighborhood right by the beach in Brooklyn, the area is actually a peninsula, mostly famous for its amusement parks.

The first buildings were built on Coney Island during 1840’s and soon the area became a beloved vacation spot with amusement parks and seafront restaurants. In fact, Coney Island was the largest amusement area in the United States. After the Second World War the neighborhood lots its popularity and most of the theme parks were closed. However, in the past few decades, Coney Island regained its popularity and once again became New York’s playground.

Coney Island has about 50 separate rides and attractions, but The Cyclone a roller coaster built in 1927 is the most popular one on the island, alongside the Wonder Wheel, a large Ferris wheel, which offers amazing views over Manhattan from the top.

Right on Surf Avenue, Luna Park is the most well-known amusement park. The first one was opened in 1903 and it was closed after more than four decades. Later, in 2010, another amusement park with the same name was inaugurated bringing Coney Island its former glory. Apart from the historic Cyclone Roller Coaster, Luna Park also features 19 rides from the heart stopping Thunderbolt to the children friendly Tea Party.

Aside from Luna Park, tourists can spend time riding hundreds of rides at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, Eldorado Arcade, Kiddie Park and many more amusement areas.

Coney Island also boasts a broad sandy beach starting from West 37th Street which is over 2 miles long. This is the second most popular attraction on Coney Island after the amusement parks, though several parts of the beach also feature many rides.

Street food is another prominent feature of the Coney Island. Several street vendors and dive bars are decades old and still among the most popular. Tourists who spend the day on Coney Island should definitely have a hot dog at Nathan’s Original, which was first open in 1905, or a burger at Ruby’s, the oldest bar on the boardwalk.