A Question I’m Often Asked: 17 Fun Places to Visit in New York City.

Readers who know I live in New York City often write to say, “I’m coming to New York. What should I do while I’m in town?”

I don’t have a lot of obscure recommendations to make — you’ve probably heard of all these suggestions — but for what it’s worth, here are some of my favorite places to visit.

If you’re thinking about planning a trip, research suggests that doing new and challenging things, like traveling, tend to boost happiness. It’s the atmosphere of growth! So it’s true that your adventure will probably make you happier.

  1. No surprise, I have to list the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Natural History. They’re both spectacular; inexhaustible; breath-taking.
  2. The High Line is a recent addition to the attractions of New York City. It’s an elevated park built along an old railroad line — which means it’s an outdoor experience, so take that into consideration.
  3. Central Park is a gorgeous place to visit. My favorite place there — and maybe in the whole city — is Bethesda Fountain. I also love the Alice in Wonderland Statue by the pond for model boats, also Conservatory Garden.
  4. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum — unforgettable.
  5. Walk around Chinatown. So fun.
  6. Ditto the Meatpacking District. (See #2 and #8.)
  7. The Frick Collection is a small museum, very quiet and peaceful. No kids allowed however (which is part of why it’s so peaceful, I suppose).
  8. The Whitney Museum of American Art is in its new location downtown.
  9. My favorite independent bookstore is Crawford Doyle — a wonderful bookstore, just a few blocks from my apartment.
  10. In Brooklyn, it’s really fun to walk along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, to look at the water and the Manhattan skyline.
  11. It’s also fun to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
  12.  I’ve been to Ellis Island twice — so thought-provoking, all about the immigrant experience. I’ve never actually visited the Statue of Liberty, but you get a great view of it from Ellis Island.
  13. Not as historically educational, but also fun, is Ripley’s Believe or Not. Also, Ripley’s is located in Times Square, and…
  14. No visit to New York City is complete without a visit to Times Square.
  15. In the end, one of my favorite things to do in New York City is just to start in one place and walk for hours in one direction. In the space of just a few blocks, the eco-system of the neighborhoods change dramatically. It’s fun just to see what’s around you. And along the same lines…
  16. Visit a grocery store, a drug store, and a toy store. Especially if you’re from another country (but even if you’re just visiting from someplace else), it’s surprisingly fascinating to look at these everyday places.
  17. And even if you live in New York City yourself, try visiting these places — or find new places to visit. In Happier at Home, I write about why it’s a happiness-booster to be a tourist without leaving home.

What have I overlooked — what places would you add to this list?

  • MJ

    One of my favourite places is the Cloisters in northern Manhattan. I find the art interesting and the gardens are gorgeous. Also the last time I visited with a friend, she insisted that we check out the Rockefeller Centre’s “Top of the Rock.” My thought was “meh,” but to be a good travelling companion I went. I loved the history and the views are stunning.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! I should’ve added the Cloisters! So beautiful, transporting.

  • Julie Coffin

    Perfect timing! I arrive Tuesday morning. Thanks, Gretchen.

  • Pola43malu

    The Empire State Building observation deck on a clear night. Awesome view.

  • Diane Howell Topkis

    Food-wise I’d suggest walking through Zabar’s and Eataly.

  • Cynthia Agals

    Perfect! I’ve been researching all week. We are close- only in Suffolk county, but really want to take the kids to some cool places in NYC for our upcoming long weekend. We usually just run in for a quick visit to see friends or a Broadway show. Thanks a bunch!

  • Allen Knutson

    Take the Roosevelt Island Tram, for the cost of a train transfer. Amazing views of the city from high overhead the middle of major avenues. (Then take it back, because Roosevelt Island is a little slice of New Jersey strangely placed in NYC.)

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! Excellent addition!

  • Karen

    How about the Staten Island Ferry? You get a close up view of the Statue of Liberty for free! If you’re a baseball fan, a Mets or a Yankees game is a must – so much fun.

  • VeggieNextDoor

    Any Bagel joint and Pizza joint.

    Get a flower from a corner flower stand.

    Love the Tenement Museum.

    And adults should check out a comedy club!

    • gretchenrubin

      YES. Such good suggestions!

      LOVE the Tenement Museum, how did I forget that?

      Also, go to the great magic show – Steve Cohen’s Chamber Magic. Elegant, sophisticated . https://www.chambermagic.com/shows

      Ah, New York City! How much I love it.

      • VeggieNextDoor

        I Miss new York! I love your idea for Chamber Magic. Sounds like such a memorable event!

  • Mary

    Many places you mention are places I want to go back to. I haven’t been to the 9/11 museum but I have been to the memorial. (wasn’t open yet) I would also suggest Little Italy and Grand Central Station. We went to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked over it with my Dad and siblings and most of our kids. (My Dad was born in Brooklyn) It was a beautiful day and a nice walk along with a beautiful view of the city

  • M. Laraia

    About New York places to visit. Your list was great, and I would add this:
    Pick up the Sunday NYT before you go and get tickets for a show. Or pick a list of shows you think you might like, and then make plans to get discount tickets. The very best theater in the world is in New York (with the possible exception of London,) and no one should miss going at least once.

  • guest

    Washington Square Park
    Trinity Church (downtown)
    When my friend came to visit we went to the United Nations. I would not have gone otherwise, but it was terrific.
    Shop in SoHo

  • Libbie Lamb

    I thik the Circle Line boat trip around Manhatten, or the Staue of liberty or an all day trup to West POint is the best deal in New York, I took many visitors on the sunset Circle line around the Staue of Liberty and by far it is the cheapest fun for the most scenic views of anything in New York.