New York City Travel Guide

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Free Things To Do in New York City

If you have extra time, St. Patrick's Cathedral is worthwhile.
  • #1
    Things to do in New York City
    View all Photos
    #1 in New York City
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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." 

  • #3
    Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rock Observation Deck
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    #3 in New York City
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME 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.

  • #4
    St. Patrick's Cathedral
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    #4 in New York City
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    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. 

  • #5
    Bryant Park
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    #5 in New York City
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #8
    Grand Central Terminal
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    #8 in New York City
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #12
    New York Public Library
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    #12 in New York City
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME 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.

  • #13
    Times Square
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    #13 in New York City
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #14
    The High Line
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    #14 in New York City
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    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."

  • #16
    Chrysler Building
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    #16 in New York City
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME 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. 

  • #19
    Fifth Avenue
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    #19 in New York City
    Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #24
    Brooklyn Bridge
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    #24 in New York City
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    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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