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.
This post was originally published in 2021 and has been updated for 2023.
And if you don’t know where to even start when it comes to trip planning, you’re in luck! I’ve teamed up with Hotels.com to bring you this most essential New York City bucket list. It 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: Pod Hotel
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: Moxy NYC Chelsea
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: citizenM
Get the New York CityPASS
If you’re interested in ways to save money while checking off your New York City bucket list, the New York CityPASS is exactly what you need!
This booklet includes discounted admission to many 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! Grab your New York CityPASS here!
2023 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.
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.
The most popular ones are the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock (at Rockefeller Center) and the newest, One World Trade Center--the highest you can get in the Western hemisphere.
But which one is the best? Hit 'Read More' to compare the top 3, get all the necessary info, and find out which of these is included in the New York CityPASS! (Plus, I reveal my personal favorite.)
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.
Hit 'Continue Reading' below to get the best tips for planning your trip to the Statue of Liberty (and all the things NOT to do).
*The Statue of Liberty is included in the New York CityPASS.
Visit Ellis Island
As you probably know, Ellis Island was the first point at which immigrants stopped upon arriving in the United States. A trip here 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 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.
Hit the button below to see how to visit Ellis Island in a hurry by shaving time where you can and by knowing what to skip.
*Ellis Island is included in the New York CityPASS.
Pay your respects at the 9/11 Memorial and 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 have 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. It will be one of the most memorable stops of your travels.
See what it's like and get some interesting facts and info in this link.
*The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is included in the New York CityPASS.
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 am 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 in this link to plan the perfect trip!
Take a Thanksgiving dinner cruise around Manhattan
Okay so you've spent Thanksgiving morning at the Macy's Parade, now what should you do for dinner? Take a Thanksgiving dinner cruise!
I've taken a couple of these dinner cruises around New York City so I was super excited to see they offer them for Thanksgiving too.
The food is amazing, the experience is so much fun from start to finish, and you get to experience some of the best views on the water!
If you're looking for a kickass way to spend Thanksgiving that doesn't involve your kitchen and possibly a series of small fires, book one of these NYC Thanksgiving dinner cruises.
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 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 is not a hostel. The property is still top-notch and the locations are ideal. They have restaurants on site and fabulous rooftops!
Head on 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:
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.
*The Intrepid museum is included in the New York CityPASS.
Check out Little Island
New York City's newest public park 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.
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is such a major icon - obviously, walking across it should be on your New York City bucket list.
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 Brooklyn Transit Museum!)
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 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 check it out.
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.
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. Do yourself a favor and stop by at least to see what it's all about! It will wow you.
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.
See Van Gogh 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.
*The MET is included in the New York CityPASS.
Explore the art at MoMA
And if you like your art a little bit more modern, head over to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
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.
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'll 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.)
*But if you did want a traditional sightseeing cruise, one is included in the New York CityPASS.
Marvel at Grand Central Station
Whether you're headed anywhere particular or not, you must pop in to 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. I am never not awed by this place.
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.
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 be sure to check it out. I've seen a handful of shows and I'm not even a musical theater kinda person... but I cannot get enough. It's a level of production like you've never seen before.
Grab a slice
Of course you've heard of New York pizza--so don't forget to grab a slice or two while you're out on the town.
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.
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, family performances?
If none of that works for your schedule but you still want to check it out, you can even take behind-the-scenes tours any time of year.
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.)
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.
*The Museum of Natural History is included in the New York CityPASS.
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, 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.
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.
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. Hit the button below for a great list of some well-loved restaurants.
(No. 7 is one of my all-time favorites - I can't recommend them enough! - pictured here)
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 cannot go wrong with Halal Guys.
Found at the corner of 8th 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). 🔥
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.
Ride the NYC subway
This may be the most eye-opening experience you have in New York City.
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!)
Have a great time checking off your New York City bucket list!
More info for your trip to New York City
- Heading to New York City? Find more great places to stay here.
- Pick up a New York CityPASS to save 40% on NYC’s top attractions.
- Don’t forget a New York City guidebook for more information.
- Check out more New York City posts.
- Like this post? Have questions? Reach out on Instagram
What big things are on your New York City bucket list?
Let me know in the comments!
Save this info, pin these images ⇣