This New York City bucket list is perfect if you’re a first-time visitor to the city, or just still trying to check off the classics after a few visits.
New York City has so many layers and is ever-changing. Honestly you could visit a thousand times and never experience it all. But some things will always remain classic, essential New York City experiences.
And if you don’t know where to even start when it comes to trip planning, you’re in luck! This most essential New York City bucket list covers all the most iconic things to see and do in NYC, introduces a few newbies but goodies, and suggests a few great places to stay to get you started.
Where to stay in New York City
As you can imagine, there are hundreds of amazing places to stay in New York City for all budgets and needs. So, to get you started, here are a few of my personal favorites:
I’m a big fan of the New York Pod Hotels and have stayed in them many times (multiple locations, multiple room types). New York’s Pod Hotels offer you the best possible value there is for NYC hotel rooms. However, they do that by offering small, no-frills rooms.
A Pod Hotel stay is definitely unique but it’s also so fun and a great way to save some cash. Plus, they have the best locations you can get for those prices! They have three Midtown locations: Pod 39, Pod 51, and Pod Times Square.
For everything you need to know about New York Pod Hotels, check out my review and guide in that link!
Book your stay at the Pod Hotels here.
Moxy NYC Chelsea
The Moxy is a 4-star hotel just a couple of blocks from the Empire State Building and it is so cool. This place has such a chic, modern vibe and the views here are unbeatable.
It has an on-site restaurant, two bars and lounges, and has breakfast available. Located just a few minutes’ walk from some of the top New York City bucket list stops, the Moxy is a great, centrally-located hotel. (There’s also a Times Square location if you want to check that out!)
The rooms are on the smaller side (though nothing like the Pod Hotels) but you will not feel cramped with those floor-to-ceiling windows.
Book your stay at the Moxy NYC Chelsea here.
citizenM Times Square
Another super hip Midtown hotel is the citizenM, located just around the corner from so many stops on this New York City bucket list.
It, too, has a restaurant and two bars, available breakfast, and great city views. It has a 9.2/10 rating and reviewers love the cleanliness, comfort, friendliness of the staff, and the perfect location.
Book your stay at the citizenM here.
Get the New York CityPass
This booklet includes discounted admission to five of New York’s top sights (all of which are featured in this post) and even allows you to skip the line in most cases! You’ll save 40% on admission to these sights just for having the CityPASS. Think of it like a bulk discount.
I use CityPASS whenever I’m in a city that offers them and I highly recommend them. Save almost half on the sights you’re going to be visiting anyway. There are no losers here!
Check out the New York CityPass here.
Get the New York GoCity Pass
Similarly, the New York GoCity Pass also saves you tons of money, but this one isn’t limited to just the five attractions. This one actually includes a ton more options as far as awesome things you can do in NYC. It also includes some great activities like cruises, food tours, and more.
GoCity even has a guarantee that you’ll save money or they’ll refund you the difference!
Check out the New York GoCity Pass here.
2024 New York City Bucket List
New York City has so many awesome experiences to offer. Start here with this essential New York City bucket list. Enjoy the “Big Apple!”
1. See the city from a sky-high observation deck
One of the best introductions to the city is to head up to one of New York City’s best observation decks. Honestly, this is the coolest way to see NYC and you’ll never get tired of the views.
There are the classics: the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock (at Rockefeller Center), and the Statue of Liberty’s crown. But there are many newer ones as well: One World Trade Center (the highest you can get in the Western hemisphere actually!), the Edge, and SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.
But which one is the best? Well, that’s a matter of personal opinion I’m afraid. But, I do have a post about 3 of the best NYC observation decks here. It compares all kinds of things like price, views, experience, and more. Check it out in that link!
Four of these observation decks are included in the New York GoCity Pass and two of them are included in the New York CityPass. This awesome tour from Walks includes admission to SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.
2. Visit the Statue of Liberty
New York’s leading lady is one of the neatest National Parks in the country. Take the ferry out to Liberty Island, head up inside the Statue of Liberty’s crown, and learn so much about this historic American icon.
I’ve done this four times in three years and I never get tired of it. But there is a right way and a wrong way to add this to your New York City bucket list. Check out my full post on visiting the Statue of Liberty for all the best tips for planning your trip (and all the things not to do).
3. Visit Ellis Island
As you probably know, Ellis Island was the first point at which immigrants stopped upon arriving in the United States. This place is such an enlightening trip through America’s history and admission is actually included in your Statue of Liberty visit.
However, I still didn’t visit it on my first three trips to the Statue of Liberty because I ran out of time to fit it in! Ellis Island is a necessary addition to your New York City bucket list but, if you’re like me, you don’t have the five hours it requires to see it all.
Check out my full post here on how to visit Ellis Island in a hurry. It will help you shave time where you can and clue you in on what to skip.
4. Pay your respects at the 9/11 Museum
Maybe this isn’t the most uplifting item on your New York City bucket list, but it will be the most eye-opening. The 9/11 Museum is one of the most well put-together museums I’ve ever visited and I recommend a visit to everyone. It’s thoughtful, educational, and unforgettable.
The surrounding memorial is something else you can’t miss. I guarantee this will be one of the most memorable stops of your travels. See more of what it’s like and get some interesting facts and info in my post all about visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
5. Experience the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was on my personal New York City bucket list for, oh, just about my entire life. I’m so happy to have finally done it! It was everything I dreamed and more. It really is an absolute must-do if you’re able to visit the city during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Celebrity-driven floats, iconic balloons, clowns, confetti, dancers, marching bands, ahh it’s so exciting! Get all my best Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips here to plan the perfect bucket list trip.
6. Take an awesome sightseeing cruise
One of my favorite things to do in New York City is to see it from the water. And the awesome thing is that there are so many ways to do this. I’ve been on a ton of cruises around New York City and they’ve all been unique in their own way.
On these cruises you get to see the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, and the Statue of Liberty from totally unique perspectives. Definitely add a sightseeing cruise to your NYC bucket list.
The standard Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise is included in the New York CityPass. But the New York GoCity Pass includes that and a few more options: the Harbor Lights cruise, the Statue of Liberty at sunset cruise, the NYC Landmarks cruise, and a few others.
7. Better yet, take a dining cruise
Even better than a typical sightseeing cruise is an NYC dining cruise. I’ve taken a few of these myself and can attest to how totally fun they are.
If you’ve just attended the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and are wondering where to eat dinner, definitely check out the NYC Thanksgiving dinner cruise I took. If you’re looking for a fun brunch idea (without the crowds and long wait times), check out this brunch cruise I also took!
They also have New Year’s Eve cruises, lunch and dinner cruises, holiday cruises like Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Mother’s Day, and tons more.
The food on these cruises is so good (way better than you’d expect for sure); there are live musicians; and they take you up close for some of the most awesome views of the most famous landmarks. All-in-all, these experiences are so much fun from start to finish.
If you’re looking for a kickass way to spend Thanksgiving that doesn’t involve your kitchen and possibly a series of small fires, check out my Thanksgiving dinner cruise experience here. And for all the other NYC dining cruises you can take, check out City Experiences here.
8. Take a New York City bus tour
Another super fun way to see the city is from the top of an open-air double-decker bus. Yeah, these may be super touristy… but you’re a tourist! Who cares! They’re also really fun and informative and provide you with some of the best NYC views.
For this, check out Big Bus tours (my personal favorite). These hop-on, hop-off tours also double as transportation around New York City so that’s a huge bonus!
The New York GoCity Pass includes a 1-day Big Bus tour, plus three other specialty NYC bus tours.
9. Stay at a Pod Hotel
Yes, this is absolutely a New York City bucket list-worthy activity. If you want a truly New York hotel stay, book one of the bunk rooms at one of the Pod Hotels. I’ve stayed in these solo, with friends, and even with my husband and the laughter never ends. It’s a hilarious sleepover in the big city that you can actually afford.
But, this isn’t a hostel. The properties are still top-notch and the locations are ideal. They have restaurants on site and fabulous rooftops! Get the lowdown on these awesome places to stay in my New York City Pod Hotel guide.
10. Head down to the New York Transit Museum
If you already know this museum is underground then you understand that joke. The New York Transit Museum is a total hidden gem – and quite literally as this museum is located underground in a former subway station in Brooklyn.
It’s dedicated to all things New York City transportation and I promise it’s more interesting than it sounds. My favorite part is the collection of historical subway cars dating back to the 1920s. You can hang out on subway cars from all the decades to see how much they’ve changed.
You will be surprised at what you could find on some of the older ones! Get all the details here in my full guide to visiting the New York Transit Museum.
11. Visit the USS Intrepid
The USS Intrepid is a World War II aircraft carrier docked right here in Manhattan and makes up part of the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. (There’s even a space shuttle!)
This carrier spent time in the Pacific theater and has been torpedoed, hit by kamikaze planes, and is now an interesting way to learn about World War II right here in New York City. Plus, it’s just one of many New York City World War II sites you can check out while you’re here. (I’m also a WWII historian, if you didn’t know.)
12. Check out Little Island
One of New York City’s newest public parks is Little Island – a super interesting park built over the Hudson River on the ruins of Pier 54. The site is worth a visit just to check out the uniqueness of its design, but it’s also a great place to hang out, relax, explore, and get inspired. (Like how I was inspired to add this to my New York City bucket list after my latest visit, lol.)
13. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is such an icon – obviously, walking across it should be on your New York City bucket list. No question. Besides being so historic and recognizable, the trip across is so interesting. The views from here are incredible and you’ll learn a lot about how not to walk in the bike lane.
Seeing this incredible piece of engineering up close is so cool and you’ll love seeing it in movies and TV shows every time afterwards! (And after you walk over the bridge from Manhattan, you can visit the Transit Museum!)
The New York GoCity Pass includes a Brooklyn Bridge walking tour, a guided Brooklyn Bridge bike tour, and even Brooklyn Bridge bike rental if you’re really adventurous!
14. Check out Rockefeller Center (especially during the holidays)
Rockefeller Center is great at all times of the year, but during the holiday season is when you’ll really want to make sure to stop by. During the Christmas season, Rockefeller Center gets totally decked out–the skating rink, the big tree, the lights and decorations. It’s so iconic New York!
It can get crowded so prepare for that. But you can’t visit Manhattan during the holidays and not come here to check it out.
The New York GoCity Pass includes a Rockefeller Center tour.
15. Chill out in Central Park
Central Park is one of the largest urban parks in the world and the list of what you can do there is almost endless. Regardless of what time of year you visit, Central Park should always be on your New York City bucket list.
You can go ice skating, row boats on the lakes, watch live theater, run/walk/stroll, picnic in the park, and even visit a real-life castle. There are beautiful fountains and bridges, free activities, quirky museums, meaningful memorials, and so much more here in Central Park.
The New York GoCity Pass includes a Central Park TV and movie sites walking tour (awesome!), a bike tour, and even all-day bike rental so you can spend all the time you want here.
16. See what Times Square is all about
Times Square is… well, it’s a lot. But would any New York City bucket list be complete without it? No way. It’s full of stores, restaurants, and people vying for your attention and tips. There are lights, signs, screens, and it’s a total sensory overload.
There’s always some kind of performance, something crazy to look at, and, somehow, still traffic going through it all. Times Square is recognizable around the entire world, so do yourself a favor and stop by at least to see what it’s all about! I’m not saying you have to spend a great deal of time here, but it will wow you.
The New York GoCity Pass includes a Times Square walking tour if you’d prefer to have someone hold your hand through it all. (I wouldn’t blame you.)
17. Explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Personally, I’m a big fan of art museums and the Met is one of the best in the U.S. You can see Van Gogh’s self portraits, Monet’s Waterlilies, Degas’ dancers, a Jackson Pollack, and more.
There’s an Egyptian wing with incredible mummies and artifacts, Asian art, coats of armor, European paintings and sculpture, Greek and Roman art, Islamic art, and so so so much more. Really, you could spend a day here. (But if you want to see just the highlights, check out this Met highlights tour from Walks.)
18. Explore the art at MoMA
And if you like your art a little more modern, head over to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) next. MoMA showcases an evolving collection of more than 200,000 works of modern and contemporary art.
However, arguably one of the biggest reasons to visit MoMA is to lay your eyes on Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh–one of the most famous works of art in the world.
Admission to MoMA is included in the New York GoCity Pass. (It also include admission to the Guggenheim Museum if you’d enjoy that as well.)
19. Ride the Staten Island Ferry
Ok sure, maybe you’re not going to Staten Island, but this should still be on your New York City bucket list. For starters, a trip on the Staten Island Ferry is totally free. But, the real reason you should visit is for the views.
Leaving from downtown Manhattan and heading straight across the harbor to Staten Island, you get incredible views of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and more! And all. for. free.
Other people pay tons of money for sightseeing cruises where you get the exact same views. (Plus, you can drink on the Staten Island Ferry. Just a wee bonus.)
And if you did want to spend some time on Staten Island, three of its museums are included in the New York GoCity Pass. Just saying.
20. Marvel at Grand Central Station
Whether you’re headed anywhere particular or not, you must pop into Grand Central Station. This place will amaze you. The celestial ceiling is so beautiful and watching the entire operation of the terminal from one of the upper decks is such great people-watching.
When taking the train from Boston to New York City I always end up in Grand Central. And I am never not awed by this place. Check out this popular official Grand Central tour to learn a ton of cool stuff about it. (There’s a lot of secret stuff here.)
21. Take in a Yankees game
There’s no doubt that the New York Yankees are the most famous of all New York sports teams—a game here should definitely be on your NYC bucket list. (If you’re a baseball fan and you’re visiting during baseball season that is.)
If you’re visiting in the off-season though, you can still take tours of Yankee Stadium so you can still scratch that NY baseball itch.
The New York GoCity Pass includes tickets to a Yankees game and a Yankee Stadium tour, so you’re covered on all fronts.
22. Pop into St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Conveniently located right across the street from Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest Gothic Revival cathedral in all of North America and occupies an entire New York City block.
It dates back to the 1850s, has been featured in tons of movies and TV shows, and is really something to see. Pop in and check it out (both inside and out) while you’re in the neighborhood.
The New York GoCity Pass includes a St. Patrick’s Cathedral tour (w/ express entry).
23. Walk the High Line
New York City’s High Line is an elevated park constructed on former rail lines and one of the many urban trails in NYC. It makes up a 1.45-mile long trail that seemingly hovers over the city.
Along the route are interesting pieces of art, gorgeous flower gardens, great city views, and lots of fun stops. I love how the city planners have been able to repurpose this awesome part of New York City history.
24. See a Broadway show
The caliber of talent in Broadway theater is something I haven’t seen anywhere else on Earth. It’s seriously the most dumbfounding phenomenon.
When in New York City, pick a Broadway show that speaks to you and check it out. I’ve seen a handful of shows and I’m not even a musical theater kinda person… but I can’t get enough. It’s a level of production like you’ve never seen before. Get the latest listing of shows here.
25. Eat some pizza!
Of course you’ve heard of New York pizza–so don’t even think about leaving New York City without grabbing a slice or two. (I’m pretty sure that’s one of the deadly sins?)
You can find great pizza almost anywhere you look in New York City, but my all-time favorite is Artichoke Basille’s. I mean, this stuff is sinfully good, I kid you not. You’ve never had pizza this indulgent before.
26. Eat some amazing food in Chinatown
I find myself in Chinatown every single time I’m in New York City. Not necessarily on purpose, I’m just innately drawn to all the incredible food.
Tea shops, and noodle shops, and dumpling shops, and dim sum spots–they’re all incredible. Wander the streets on your own and pop into the places that look the best (or, really, have the most people). Or stop by one of my all-time faves: Xi’an Fine Foods.
The New York GoCity Pass includes two Chinatown walking tours to get you started.
27. Better yet, take an NYC food tour
One of the main reasons I visit New York City so often is literally just for the food. The food offerings in New York are probably the best in the entire United States. But since there are so many hours in a day and so much space in that tummy, maybe a food tour is just what you need.
I love food tours because you get to sample so many different and delicious things in a more compact timespan. You also get to see cool parts of the city you never would’ve known about otherwise, and learn so much about the history behind what you’re eating.
Check out some of these awesome New York City food tours:
- Lower East Side Food & History Tour – featuring the famous Katz Deli!
- Ultimate Greenwich Village NYC Food Tour – featuring pizza (!!!) and a historic pasta making machine.
- Chinatown & Little Italy food tour – Two of the best NYC food destinations, hands down.
Two different food tours are also included in the New York GoCity Pass.
28. Visit Radio City Music Hall
Every New York City bucket list should feature Radio City Music Hall–but how you take it in is up to you. There’s always the Rockettes, but did you know Radio City Music Hall also features famous musical acts, comedy, and family performances?
If none of that works for your schedule but you still want to check it out, a behind-the-scenes Radio City Music Hall tour is included in the New York GoCity Pass.
29. Visit the American Museum of Natural History
You could spend an entire day at the American Museum of Natural History. (If only we could spend a night there like Ben Stiller, *sigh.*)
See ancient dinosaur skeletons and other fossils, check out the biodiversity and environmental halls, learn about planetary sciences and human origins, and so, so much more.
Admission to the Museum of Natural History is included in the New York GoCity Pass.
30. See the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center
Again, I really wouldn’t call myself a “theater” person, but maybe I am? In addition to the Broadway shows you can see, another spot for unbelievable talent is the New York City Ballet.
If you can, I highly recommend a viewing of the Nutcracker during the holiday season. It’s pure holiday perfection. See what shows they’re currently offering here.
31. Check out some of your favorite NYC movie locations
I don’t know how many movies have been made in New York City, but I’d be willing to bet it’s like… the majority? All over New York City you can visit the actual locations from some of your favorite New York movies and TV Shows.
Think: the Ghostbusters firehouse, the apartment from “Friends” (seen at the top of this blog post), Carrie Bradshaw’s brownstone, Katz’s Deli from When Harry Met Sally, Tom’s Restaurant from “Seinfeld,” the top of the Empire State Building (Sleepless in Seattle, plus you can check “observation deck” off your New York City bucket list) for just a few of the thousands of examples.
I even took my parents on a full You’ve Got Mail sightseeing tour when they came to visit. There are just so many!
The New York GoCity Pass includes both a Central Park movie and TV sites walking tour as well as an NYC TV & Movie Bus Tour.
32. Grab some street food from the Halal Guys
Picking up some street food is essential to any New York City bucket list, and you absolutely can’t go wrong with Halal Guys.
Found at the corner of 6th Ave and W 53rd St, they offer some of the best quick food in the city–gyros, platters, falafel, and more. The chicken and rice platter is my personal go-to. Just go easy on the red sauce (unless you don’t want to taste food for another week).
33. Take a walk down Wall Street
Everyone’s heard of Wall Street, so if you’ve never been there you should consider adding it to your New York City bucket list. See the famous statues like Charging Bull, Fearless Girl, and the statue of George Washington.
The New York GoCity Pass even includes a walking tour of Wall Street where you can see all of these, visit the New York Stock Exchange, and learn all about this street’s history and financial importance.
34. Hit up 5th Avenue
If you came to shop, 5th Avenue is calling your name. It’s home to all the top designer brands (but much more for us non-billionaires). During the holidays, it’s worth a stroll down 5th Ave just to check out the elaborate window displays. The rest of the year it’s a great excuse to feel fancy.
35. Ride the NYC subway
This may be the most eye-opening experience on the entire New York City bucket list. Riding the subway is an absolute must-do for new visitors to the city.
Besides being a great (and cheap) way to get around the city, it’s an experience in and of itself. (My first time was a disaster. Good luck!) Get all the NYC subway maps you need here.
More info for your trip to New York City
- Where to stay: Read reviews and find more great places to stay here.
- Rental cars: Check out the best rental car deals here.
- How to save: Pick up either a New York CityPASS or a New York GoCity Pass
- Pack this: Don’t forget a New York City guidebook and this USA customs and culture guide if you’re visiting us from afar.
- Read more: Check out all my New York City posts here.
Like this post? Have questions about New York City? Let me know in the comments below! Have a great time checking off your NYC bucket list!
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