New York City – Popular things to do
New York, the city of dreams. What can I tell you about this city that hasn’t already been said? I recently visited New York for a few days with a friend over my birthday. We had a great vacation seeing some of the most popular sights of New York. We visited in late September and it was a bit cooler than usual and a bit cloudy. The weather didn’t make for the best photos. But of course we still had a great time.
Before the trip we did a lot of research of which area to stay in. And there is almost too much information and different meanings about this on the internet. It was a bit overwhelming. We ended up staying in Soho which we thought was very good. We were close to a subway station and in a relatively calm area. I thought we had a good starting point for exploring the city here.
During our four days in the city we had a pretty tight schedule seeing and visiting the most popular things. We were really trying not to stress ourselves too much. But it was pretty hard, we of course wanted to see as much as we could.
Not sure I can tell you anything that hasn’t been said on all other sites on the internet, but here are my photos and what I thought about the most popular things to do in this big city.
1. Top of the rock
Those of you who have read my other posts know I am a sucker for a nice view. Everywhere I go I want to get a view over the area. Sometimes it means walking up several steps of stairs in an old church to get a view over an old city (Florence), taking a zipline up a mountain (Gibraltar) or hiking a mountain (Skuleberget).
I think you can guess how my research looked like before the trip. There are so many places in New York to go to get a view. We chose to go visit Top of the Rock which is on the top of the Rockefeller center. This is where you get the classic view over midtown and downtown Manhattan with the majestic Empire state building rising in the middle of the city.
Top of the Rock has different opening hours depending on the season. It opens sometime in the morning and closes in the evening or around midnight. To visit you have to buy a ticket reserved for a certain time. The time around sunset is the most popular time so these ticket are a little more expensive. We bought our tickets over the Internet and picked the time 5 pm. This way we would get the view in daylight and we could wait up there for the sun to set as well. As the sun set the area started to get really crowded.
After a long day of walking and many new impressions it was really nice to just stand there looking out over the city, seeing the sky get darker and darker and watch the lights turn on. I think this was the highlight of the trip. We managed to get good spots for the view, but it was really crowded. On the top floor there are no glass windows so this is where you want to go for photos.
Don’t forget to check out which color The Empire State Building will have when you plan your visit. They change the color of the lights according to The Empire State Building Tower Lights Calendar. Some nights it can even be all dark. We didn’t check this at all before we visited, but it was just a regular day with their regular lights on.
You also get a view to the north side of the city overlooking Central Park. I had big expectations for this view, but I got a bit disappointed. I guess the light had something to do with it, but also the big building being constructed right in the middle of the view!
2. Brooklyn Bridge & Manhattan Bridge
The most popular bridge in New York is the Brooklyn Bridge. It is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and I understand why. The bridge has two floors, the lower for cars and the upper for pedestrians and bikers. From the walk over the bridge you get to see the beautiful construction of the bridge as well as the great view over the Manhattan skyscrapers.
The bridge was built in 1883 and was the first one connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn. We crossed the bridge in the direction of Brooklyn and we were lucky to finally see the sun when we were there. No matter the weather and time of the day, it’s a must to visit Brooklyn bridge!
From the bridge it’s a short walk down to the water. We took a walk along the water and watched the popular skyline of downtown Manhattan.
Don’t miss the neighborhood Brooklyn Heights when you’re in the area. Walk up the boardwalk to get a view and continue to the building area. I liked the area as it was so calm, green and quiet.
We had lunch with this view:
Brooklyn Bridge is the most southern bridge connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn. But just a short walk north from it lies the Manhattan Bridge. The area between the bridges is called DUMBO and is another popular photo spot. This felt like a very hip place with many people hanging out.
A very popular photo place is this with the Empire state building seen through Manhattan Bridge.
A short walk from Dumbo you reach the Manhattan Bridge. It is a lot more louder than Brooklyn bridge since it has car traffic on the same level as the pedestrians. So the walk here wasn’t as enjoyable as on Brooklyn bridge. But you get a pretty nice view over Brooklyn bridge.
If you walk over Manhattan bridge in the direction we did, Brooklyn to Manhattan, you end up right in the middle of Chinatown.
3. Statue of Liberty
And so finally we got to see Lady of Liberty. This big statue on Liberty island has been a symbol for freedom and the U.S. since it was initiated in 1886. It’s a really popular tourist spot!
There are many tourist boats offering tours to see the statue. We didn’t want to visit the island or the statue, just see it from the water, so we chose to take the free commuter boat. It leaves from White hall to Staten Island pretty often and takes about 30 minutes. We then had to stay on Staten Island for 30 minutes and wait before taking the ferry back again.
More than The Statue of Liberty you also get a nice view over downtown Manhattan and its skyline.
4. Central Park
Like I think you know, Central Park is a very big park right in the middle of Manhattan. It is known for being a calm and quiet oasis right in the middle of a super busy city. It was a little grey on the day we were here so I don’t think the park showed itself from its best side. But this too is a must to visit in the city. After a busy day walking around the city or shopping it’s nice to just sit down here and relax for a while.
5. Times square
Definitely one of the most popular places in New York. The streets around here were really crowded, both during the day and in the evening. The first time we were here it was daylight and I wasn’t that impressed. Even though all the billboards were there there was something missing. The feeling was all different when it got dark. I normally don’t like crowded places and I’m not really a city girl, but I did think it was really cool to be there!
6. High line park
On the west side of Manhattan there’s an old abandoned railroad called the High Line. The railroad was used from 1934 to 1980 but has now been transformed to a public park. I think it’s a really cool idea to use the old railroad and make it open for everyone with the pathway and the green right in the middle of the city. You are surrounded by high buildings and have views down to the roads.
The park is 2.4 km long and at some places there are smaller food trucks and places to buy drinks. It’s a nice place to go to and relax from the busy city life.
The northern end of the line is by the water with a view to New Jersey.
7. Museum of Natural History
Even though both me and my friend can enjoy a good museum we had decided before the trip that we would prioritize seeing the city outdoors, strolling around and feeling in the city. Not leaving time for any museums. But as the last day came we didn’t really know where to go, so decided to go to a museum. And seriously, this was almost the highlight of the trip, it was so good!
The museum is so big with many different sections it was a bit hard to grip. I didn’t know it would be so big and interesting so we just started at the bottom looking at the african animals. After a while we realised it was best to go to the exhibition about the dinosaurs, since that was our reason to visit, before the time would run out. And it was so cool, I was really impressed. To think that these animals have walked on our earth is just so mind blowing.
We stayed at the museum for more than 3 hours and still didn’t have time for everything. Unfortunately we had to leave for the airport so we missed the climate exhibition. Didn’t spend enough time at the space exhibition either. I think it’s best to visit the museum on several days so you don’t get too tired and can give all the exhibitions enough time. That is if you have enough time in the city…
8. Enjoying the view of the city from roof top bars
I mentioned before I did a lot of research to get the best views over New York. And if you don’t want to pay admissions to the expensive viewpoints like the Empire state building or Top of the Rock, roof top bars are excellent. I did a pretty thorough research on rooftops and we had time to visit some of them. Here is a fraction of the bars that offers views in the city.
A nice modern bar located in China town. The atmosphere is good and friendly, and the nachos and drinks are very good too. It has two balconies that both have very nice views.
We went here for lunch and thought the balcony was closed as we were seated inside. Afterwards we found the terrace with a pretty great view of The Empire State Building.
Pretty cool surrounding right? This is located around midtown close to the UN headquarters. A very cosy place to grab a bite or drink at. I really liked the atmosphere here.
It’s a good idea to check out some roof top bars in advance, this way you can just check your map when you’re out walking and see if you have anyone close to you.
Ground zero – 9/11 Memorial
This isn’t really a fun place to visit or somewhere you go to have a good time. But it’s a must to go out of respect for the city. Every city has its own history. Normally the history is so old though and quite hard to grasp. But what happened on 9/11 wasn’t that long ago and touched the whole world and forever changed it.
I am a very emotional person and found it hard visiting the memorial. Standing there by the fountains thinking of the two towers that once stood here, right in the middle of the city, that collapsed. All the movies and photos I’ve seen from that day were real, it happened right here. It was a chilling moment.
It got even worse when I saw that everyday they put white roses on the names of them whose birthday it is. A really beautiful memorial indeed.
You have no choice but to visit ground zero while in New York to pay your respect. There’s also a museum, but it was hard enough to visit the memorial so we have to save that for next time.
We had almost four full days in New York and didn’t have any problems filling them up. We tried not to stress but to enjoy everything, but still the days passed by really quickly and we were really tired every night from all the experiences and maybe some jet lag.
I felt very happy after the trip and thought we had a great time. But I feel the city has so much more to offer. Next time I will see more of Central Park, go up One World Observatory, maybe visit the Statue of Liberty, go to Harlem, do some shopping, visit museums… The list goes on forever…