Best Things To Do in New York City
Even if you're not mesmerized by the city's soaring skyscrapers and monuments, you'll be blown away by its flourishing arts, food, fashion and nightlife scenes. You can spend your morning browsing Fifth Avenue's designer racks and your afternoon catching stunning city views from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck. Or, if you're an art lover, you can admire the striking works on display at the Met and the Guggenheim before feasting on ethnic fare in Chinatown or Little Italy. If you still have some energy (and cash) left over, don't miss the chance to snag tickets to an award-winning Broadway show or hop over to one of the low-key rooftop bars and jazz clubs illuminating the Meatpacking District after dark. For a little more guidance when touring the city's top attractions, consider signing up for a guided tour.
Updated February 11, 2020
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This part-park, part-museum, part-concert hall swallows central Manhattan, and many of the city's most notable attractions are situated next to it or within its limits (the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, to name a few). But travelers insist that you shouldn't just pass through Central Park on your way to another place. This 843-acre green space is a favorite of New Yorkers and tourists; you can come here to exercise, dine, go to the zoo and more.
“Central Park is fantastic year-round, and is a must-see for anyone coming to New York," says Josephine Danielson, head concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel New York. "People may not realize Central Park has several hidden treasures. If you’re looking for something different, I tell guests to visit the Conservatory Garden."
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Visitors love the American Museum of Natural History off Central Park West. Whether you're exploring the interactive exhibits on the land, the sea or outer space; user reviews take on a common theme. This museum is incredible. Even the cafeteria and gift shop are worth your notice.
There are approximately 32 million artifacts inside, spread across four city blocks, 25 buildings and through 45 exhibition halls, so don't even plan on seeing everything in one day. The Rose Center for Earth and Space is a particular favorite, but you should also plan on visiting the dinosaurs, the Hall of the Universe and the Butterfly Conservatory (on display from October through May). Local experts also say this museum is one of the best things to do as a family visiting New York City. "It’s an imaginative place, good for anyone of any age ... and it's educational and interactive," says Richard Tucker, head concierge at The Refinery Hotel. Local experts say the institution is one of the city's can't-miss museums.
- #3View all Photos#3 in New York City0.7 miles to city center0.7 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
This iconic plaza has it all – beautiful sculptures, an enormous skating rink, a fishbowl view of NBC Studios, plus hordes of stores and restaurants. Though undoubtedly there will be intense crowds, this is an experience that's worth having at least once. During the wintertime holidays, the plaza sparkles with an illuminated Christmas tree and skaters gliding across the ice rink. But don't fret if your New York adventure doesn't take place during the cold months. There's plenty to do year-round. If you plan ahead, you can spend a morning watching a taping of the "Today" show, an afternoon observing the city from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck and an evening catching a performance at Radio City Music Hall.
Travelers say the Top of the Rock offers some of the best views of Manhattan and say the experience is worth every penny. Visitors recommend booking the combo ticket that includes a tour of the building and the observation deck access.
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This sprawling cathedral sits amid the hustle and distinctively secular bustle of Rockefeller Center. But that doesn't take away from its otherworldly vibe. Whether you're religious or just making an architectural pilgrimage, you can't help but be impressed by St. Patrick's.
Travelers love the small historical church's beauty and stained glass windows but say you don't have to carve out too much time to see it. Previous vacationers also suggest visiting at Christmastime to really see the church in all its glory.
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Just south of Times Square lies some of the most beautiful 4 acres in Manhattan – Bryant Park. Though its lush green space has existed for more than 150 years, Bryant Park was a revitalization project of the 1990s that made it a sanctuary for locals and tourists alike. This is the preferred place for midtown Manhattan professionals to come eat lunch, for fashionistas to strut during fashion week and for performers to showcase their talents during Broadway in Bryant Park and Piano in the Park.
You don't need a preplanned event to enjoy Bryant Park – you could simply come here to enjoy the scenery or to use the free Wi-Fi. Recent visitors do offer a few suggestions though, like stopping in the New York Public Library (which sits facing the park's Great Lawn), ice skating around the Pond or riding on the French-style carousel. The list of activities doesn't stop there. Bryant Park also hosts yoga and tai chi classes, knitting circles, chess tournaments and literary events. Unsure of where to start? Mull over your choices in the park's eateries: Bryant Park Grill and Bryant Park Café. Recent visitors say a stroll through this park makes for a delightful respite from the busy city and many note how well-maintained the grounds are.
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No museum in the United States is as celebrated as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Spilling over with masterpieces from all over the world, including notable collections from Ancient Egypt and classical antiquity, "the Met" is an art experience unlike any other, and like much in New York, it's impossible to see all the museum has to offer in one day (or even two days, for that matter). If you've never been there, then you should definitely visit its permanent collections (the first floor's Greek and Roman art, Egyptian art and the second floor's Islamic art exhibits are especially popular with travelers). If you've already visited the Met a time or two, then plan your next trip around the semiannual exhibits by the Costume Institute, or head to The Met Cloisters, an offshoot museum that's dedicated to medieval Europe's art and architecture located in Fort Tyron Park.
Travelers adore the Met, calling the facilites and artwork first-class. Many suggest consulting the museum's website to strategize what exhibits you'd like to see ahead of your visit to make the most of it. You can also sign up for a separate guided tour for a more in-depth understanding of the museum's contents.
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The National September 11 Memorial & Museum serves as the primary tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks, as well as the six lost in the 1993 bombing. The memorial's twin reflecting pools and man-made waterfalls rest as eerie footprints where the World Trade Center's Twin Towers once stood. The 1-acre pools are enclosed in bronze panels on which the names of every victim are inscribed. The museum spans across 110,000 square feet and relays the narrative of the attacks through a series of multimedia displays, real-time recordings, authentic artifacts and an interactive table.
Recent visitors cited the overall atmosphere of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum as sobering but moving. "After 9/11 the whole city changed, the mentality changed," says Shawn Harris, head concierge at the WestHouse Hotel New York. "What was knocked down, we rebuilt, and it's a monument to our strength. It's gorgeous inside even though a little somber." Many travelers say they were impressed with the site as a whole, noting its respectful and informational displays.
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At this beautiful train station, you can eat some lunch or shop till you drop, but recent travelers most enjoyed just taking in the scenery. Before you enter, be sure to snap a few shots of the ornate beaux-arts neoclassical architecture outside. Inside the celebrated main concourse, you're treated to glimmering marble floors, gold and nickel-plated chandeliers and a sky-themed ceiling. Food options range from the upscale (Michael Jordan's The Steak House N.Y.C. or The Campbell Apartment) to the legendary (the Oyster Bar or the gourmet kiosks at the Grand Central Market) to the fast and easy (Starbucks). As mentioned, there are also plenty of shopping options, though most travelers suggest you leave most of Grand Central's pricey merchandise in the store. If you want a train-themed souvenir, visit The New York Transit Museum Store in the shuttle passage.
Travelers call the train station "iconic" and say it's a beautiful space to walk through or to grab a meal and people-watch.
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New York City Tourist 101 dictates that you must swing by this landmark structure in midtown Manhattan. And despite the hefty admission fees, the crowds and the long lines, recent visitors insist that you won't be sorry. In fact, taking a trip to the top of the Empire State Building is either the perfect way to begin or end your Big Apple excursion – on a clear day you'll be able to the see the city's major highlights some 1,050 feet beneath you. Pick up the multimedia tour, available in eight languages, which guides visitors through the icon's exhibits and views with additional background on the building's history. The tour is included in the admission price and given to guests to enhance their visit.
Looking up at the art deco skyscraper from the ground is also pretty spectacular, especially in the evenings when there's a little mood lighting. The Empire State Building's tower lights have maintained a tradition of changing color to recognize various occasions and organizations throughout the year since 1976. In 2012, its iconic tower lighting system was modernized by replacing its flood lights with a dynamic lighting system unique to the Empire State Building, with more than 16 million colors in limitless combinations and effects. The Empire State Building stages dazzling light shows celebrating holidays and events, often synchronized to music broadcast simultaneously on iHeartMedia's radio stations.
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This brightly shining beacon draws visitors year-round. So let's discuss your visiting options. The most popular method involves waiting at least 90 minutes for the ferry to cart you from Battery Park (in Lower Manhattan) to the statue located on Liberty Island, then making a stop at Ellis Island before returning to the mainland. The first boat of the day leaves at 9 a.m., the last boat leaves around 3:30 p.m., but almost all travelers complain of the long, disorganized lines and security screenings on top of the $18.50 ferry fee for such an abbreviated trip.
To avoid some of the hassle and make the most of your day, travelers offer a few tips. One, get in line extra early so that you can get on one of the first boats. Two, purchase a ticket and catch the ferry at the Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey (you'll get the same tour but face shorter lines). If you're short on time, have no fear – you can still view the monument from Battery Park or the High Line. Taking a guided tour is another hassle-free way to see the iconic landmark. Several of the city's best boat tours circle the Statue of Liberty, making for some spectacular photos.
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You don't have to be an art lover to appreciate the Museum of Modern Art; this airy midtown gallery also doubles as a shrine of pop culture and 20th century history. Some of the most significant contemporary pieces hang on its walls, including Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans," Van Gogh's "Starry Night," Dalí's "The Persistence of Memory,"Monet's "Water Lilies," and the list goes on and on. In October 2019, the museum reopened after completing an expansion project that added more than 40,000 square feet of gallery space, as well as a performance studio that features live programming.
Recent travelers were impressed by the extensive art collection and loved being able to see the museum's famous paintings. The $25 entry fee for adults ($14 for students; $18 for seniors; free for kids 16 and younger) can be hard to stomach, but reviewers insist you won't regret the money spent and note that if you visit on free Fridays you'll have to deal with crowds. Heed the advice of the museum and arrive after 6 p.m. without a large bag or backpack to avoid the brunt of the Friday night rush.
- #12View all Photos#12 in New York City0.3 miles to city centerSightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND0.3 miles to city centerSightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
This main branch, officially called the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, attracts plenty of book lovers, history junkies and architecture aficionados. Most people swing by the Bryant Park landmark to say hello to Patience and Fortitude (the famous stone lions guarding the entrance) and to admire the lovely beaux-arts design.
If you're in the mood to read, you'll find an exhaustive collection of maps, in addition to special collections of English and American literature, English Romanticism and rare books. This library is also the site of several lecture programs and a children's section. Recent visitors were impressed with the library's beautiful architecture and say it's a great place to wander through if you have an hour or two to kill.
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Some say that Times Square is like a five-block metaphor for New York City itself – it's exciting, colorful and always jumping. Others describe this area of midtown Manhattan as artless, overpriced and congested. Perhaps this commercial stretch from West 42nd to West 47th Street is a little of both, and though locals would advise you to avoid it, you should at least catch a glimpse of its neon lights. Most travelers recommend visiting the area after dark to see the marquee displays. Many add checking out Times Square before or after a Broadway show is the perfect time to fit it into your schedule.
Times Square's biggest tourist draw is the annual New Year's Eve ball drop. Revelers crowd the area to see New York's famous Waterford crystal ball descend 77 feet from a pole on the One Times Square building. If you're feeling brave, take a trip to New York and Times Square at this time of year and watch the ball drop for free! Just plan on coming in the early morning and staying all day, and note that the area is super crowded, even by New York standards.
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Set on an abandoned rail track on Manhattan's West Side, this sprawling nearly 1½-mile-long landscaped park stretches over three of the city's most lively neighborhoods: the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen. Standing 30 feet above street level, the High Line offers sweeping views of the Hudson River and Manhattan's cityscape. But the vista isn't the only reason visitors and Manhattanites flock to this manicured green space. Here, you'll find continually changing public art installations, a handful of food vendors and a sprawling picnic and sunbathing area (known as the 23rd Street Lawn).
Recent visitors recommend escaping to the High Line when you need a break from the city's hustle and bustle. Many say on a sunny day this is one of the best ways to take in the views of Manhattan, calling it "urban oasis."
- #15View all Photos#15 in New York City1.4 miles to city centerTours, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND1.4 miles to city centerTours, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Known for everything from cheap eats to authentic international fare to Michelin-starred restaurants, New York City is a culinary hot spot and undoubtedly one of the best foodie cities in America. However, chances are you won't have time to experience everything the city has to offer in just one trip. One way to get a taste of New York's excellent cuisine across a variety of neighborhoods is to take a food tour.
Whether you want to explore a particular borough or neighborhood, or even a specific cuisine or dish, you'll find a tour to appease your taste buds. Relying on traveler reviews and expert analysis, U.S. News rounded up the best food tours in New York City. Though tours vary in length and price, they all receive rave reviews from past travelers, who applauded the variety of food and the expert knowledge of the guides.
- #16View all Photos#16 in New York City0.6 miles to city centerSightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND0.6 miles to city centerSightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Technically, the Chrysler Building is an office building open Monday through Friday, but you don't need to go inside to appreciate its aesthetic appeal. Recent visitors praised the building's unique architectural style. Built in 1930, the Chrysler had a short-lived run as the tallest building in the city, before it was usurped of its title by the Empire State Building. Nevertheless, this 1,046-foot high skyscraper remains a favorite of New Yorkers for its classic art deco style. And unlike the Empire State, at this site you won't need an expensive entry ticket, a strong stomach to stand soaring heights or patience for long lines to see what all the fuss is about. You can behold the building's menacing gargoyles and triangular openings from many spots in Manhattan. If you do have a chance, however, go inside to see the lobby's ornately painted ceiling or the beautiful woodwork on the elevators.
You'll reach to the Chrysler building if you take the S, 4, 5, 6, or 7 trains to the Grand Central-42nd St. station.
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Some out-of-towners spend their entire New York trip at one show or another on the Broadway circuit. And if you like plays and musicals, this is where you should be: "The Great White Way" represents the heart and soul of American theater. Considering that nearby Times Square is a dizzying maze of sights and sounds with no real starting point, some visitors suggest you can see all you need to of that neighborhood just by trundling back and forth between shows.
Travelers agree that attending a Broadway performance is a must on any visit to the Big Apple. Most were impressed with the beautiful marquees, the cozy theaters and the exceptional talent on stage. "Broadway is so much a part of the fabric of NYC. It’s synonymous: New York and Broadway," says Chris Heywood, senior vice president of global communications for NYC & Company, the city's tourism organization. "And there’s something for everybody, it’s family-friendly and there are shows for adults."
- #18View all Photos#18 in New York City5.7 miles to city centerParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND5.7 miles to city centerParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Wander along Brooklyn's Washington Avenue, and you can't avoid stumbling upon this verdant 52-acre park. A main highlight here is the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, punctuated by wooden bridges and Japanese maples. And if you arrive at the end of April, you can't miss the Cherry Esplanade (Sakura Matsuri) when rosy cherry blossoms burst into bloom. Another standout: the Shakespeare Garden, which contains more than 80 plants described in the playwright's works.
Thanks to the garden's extensive collection, which includes 13 gardens and five conservatories, there's plenty of scenery to soak up here. Plus, you can take advantage of year-round exhibits and events, such as family planting workshops and the Chile Pepper Festival in October. After you've taken respite in Brooklyn's cherished green space, recent visitors suggest moseying over to two staples located down the street: Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Museum (you can buy a combo admission to both the garden and the museum for $25).
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It's fitting that St. Patrick's Cathedral would be on the same street as stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany & Co. and Van Cleef & Arpels. That's because for many people, shopping is a religious experience, and here between 34th and 59th streets you'll find the holy grail. Even if you're not planning to put your credit card to work at high-end stores, travelers say a stroll along Fifth Avenue is a must. It's one of the top places top shop in the city, according to local experts.
Though some say Fifth Avenue's stores are too expensive to go all-out, the ritzier storefronts stand side-by-side with more reasonably priced shops like Gap, the Disney Store and Sephora. The stores on Fifth are somewhat mainstream, however; if you have a funkier style, head to SoHo.
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Tucked inside an 18th-century New York mansion that once belonged to steel tycoon Henry Clay Frick, this robust art collection features works that span from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. While here, you can admire the works of renowned artists like Manet, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Goya, Degas and Turner, among other masters. The collection includes several permanent galleries, as well as the Portico Gallery, which showcases sculpture, ceramics and decorative arts.
Recent visitors highlighted the Frick as a vivid illustration of the grandeur of the Gilded Age, adding that the museum is a much more manageable size compared to others in the city.
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It's where Ella Fitzgerald pined for the man she loved, the Rolling Stones couldn't get no satisfaction and Lady Gaga had a "Bad Romance." Among performers, there's no New York concert venue that's quite like Radio City Music Hall. You can visit the space for a performance or to get a dose of its lengthy, melodious history on a one-hour Stage Door Tour.
In fact, it's through the stage door that most visitors experience Radio City. Enthusiastic guides will stroll you passed the Great Stage and let you see the hydraulic elevators that transport the stage sets. Travelers enjoyed the backstage tours, citing the knowledgeable guides and the iconic venue's interesting history as reasons they enjoyed the up-close look. One word to the wise: Take your tour earlier in the day – the closer you get to show time, the more abbreviated your history lesson will be. Visitors who were here for a show say there's not a bad seat in the house.
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Known as the "the People's Playground," this famous amusement area in Brooklyn has witnessed an illustrious past. In the early 1900s, Coney Island enticed New Yorkers to visit with its bathing pavilions, seaside resorts and amusement park. The Great Depression took its toll on the fun-loving spot, causing many attractions to close. But after years of economic instability, Coney Island has reclaimed its place on the Brooklyn map, with a fresh roster of eateries and entertainment (including a July Fourth hot dog-eating contest and an annual Mermaid Parade) found along the boardwalk. Coney Island now features several separate amusement parks, as well as a museum, which hosts a variety of exhibits and shows.
According to recent visitors, Coney Island is a worthwhile trip in the summer if you have the time and have younger kids in tow.
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The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, or simply, "The Guggenheim," is one of the most well-known art museums in the country, and it's just as renowned for its cutting-edge design as it is for its pieces. The coiled building (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) stands out on Fifth Avenue at 89th Street. Inside, the halls are chock full of some of Norman Rockwell's, Pablo Picasso's and Wassily Kandinsky's best work.
Travelers agree this museum "never fails to impress." Visitors loved the building's design and architecture, and the variety of works housed within.
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One of many signature landmarks of New York City, the Brooklyn Bridge is also one of the oldest suspension bridges in the country. Its six-lanes (and one pedestrian and bicycle walkway) span the East River, connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn. Walking across the bridge remains a tourist pastime.
Some visitors decide to skip the bridge in favor of other attractions, but if you're short on money, this truly is one of the best ways to experience the city and to get a unique view of either borough. You can take the A or C train to the High Street stop in Brooklyn and stroll along the bridge back to Manhattan. It takes about 30 minutes to walk from one side to the other, and it's free to visit. For a unique perspective of the bridge, consider signing up for boat tour, many of which pass under the iconic landmark.
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For 62 years, this was the United States' main immigration entry point and many U.S. citizens have at least one ancestor who passed through here. You can just glimpse Ellis Island (north of Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty) when you stand on the shores of Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. But most agree that to truly appreciate this historic site you'll have to take one of the Statue Cruises ferries over for a visit.
On the island, swing by the Main Building and the Immigration Museum housed inside. Stop by the "Treasures from Home" exhibit to peruse some of the family heirlooms and keepsakes that immigrants brought over on their journey. You can also do a little digging on your own family tree at the American Family Immigration History Center.
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According to travelers, these 265 acres sheltering more than 4,000 animals should be near the top of every young family's itinerary in New York. And if you're an older visitor, the Bronx Zoo could be a great way to escape the nonstop activity in Manhattan. If you're not an animal lover, however, stay far away – this zoo's claim to fame is that it's the largest metropolitan animal park in the country.
Previous visitors do note prices are rather expensive at this zoo. The "total experience" tickets, which include access to the gorilla forest, children's zoo, butterfly garden, JungleWorld, bug carousel, the 4-D Theater and monorail, cost $39.95 for adults (and $29.95 for kids). Or you can pay around $6 to visit any one of these individual attractions. Factor in parking and dining fees, and your visit could be quite pricey.
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One of the most famous music halls in the United States, "the Apollo" started as a burlesque theater in 1914. By the 1930s, it transformed into a concert hall that helped launch the career of several black musicians. A then-unknown Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson (with the Jackson 5) and Stevie Wonder all performed on the Apollo stage during an Amateur Night competition. If you're in Harlem on a Wednesday you can still go to Amateur Night, something previous travelers highly recommend. You can reach Harlem and the Apollo on the A, B, C or D trains to 125th Street.
The theater also hosts other live performances throughout the year, with prices varying by performance. The box office is open on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. Visit the Apollo's website for an event calendar.
- #28View all Photos#28 in New York City1.5 miles to city centerEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND1.5 miles to city centerEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Stroll through the courtyard of the Metropolitan Opera House even if you're not going inside for a performance. Every element of this opulent building – from the limestone architecture, to the lobby's glittering chandelier, to the acoustics in the concert hall – is gorgeous. Travelers call this opera house a feast for the eyes and ears. Tickets are notoriously expensive (as much as several hundred dollars for the best seats), but the sticker shock evaporates quickly if you're into performing arts. You can try to score a same-day ticket at a discounted rate, plus there are discounts for senior citizens.
The Metropolitan Opera House features spring performances by the American Ballet Theater and fall and winter performances by the Met Opera Company. Show times and ticket prices vary by performance and seating, so check the Met Opera's website for additional details. You'll find the opera house at Lincoln Center Plaza on Manhattan's Upper West Side – take the 1 train to 66th Street.
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