From the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building to Times Square, New York is home to a wealth of iconic landmarks and cultural attractions. It's only natural to want to see them all, so we've compiled an efficient, fun guide to the city's most famous locales and how best to make the most of your visit. While this tour starts on East 42nd Street in Midtown, you can skim through this guide and do things your own way, like a true New Yorker.
There's no better place to start than the Empire State Building, the Depression-era triumph of New York elbow grease and Art Deco regality that is arguably the most iconic building in the modern world. At its 86th floor observatory, the most commanding panoramic views of New York City and the surrounding areas are on display, with the requisite viewfinders and souvenir shop. Since the Empire State Building is a magnet for tourists and gets pretty crowded at times, with lines stretching onto the sidewalk and around the corner, savvy visitors buy themselves some time with the NY Skyride, which comes with a pass to skip ahead of the lines.
At the far east side of Manhattan, on 42nd Street, you can start a single street trek with the United Nations, where you can tour the facility where every recognized nation in the world convenes to discuss international politics, law, economics, the developing world, human rights, and, probably most importantly, diplomatic solutions to military conflicts. From there, heading east will take you directly to the Chrysler Building, which raced alongside the Empire State Building during the Depression for the title of "tallest building in the world." It won for 11 short months before the spire was affixed to the Empire State Building, pulling it well ahead of its shiny, Art Deco brother. Unfortunately, no tours are allowed in the Chrysler Building.
Next to it, however, is a far more well-traveled attraction: Grand Central Terminal, the majestic railroad terminal that's considered among the most beautiful in America, with its stunning brass clock, exquisite staircases, and stone architecture. The celestial ceiling, with its luminescent constellations sparkling in the natural light that bathes the main concourse, was restored in recent years after decades of accumulating layers of grime. The restoration crew left a small patch of ceiling untouched to provide a comparison between the revitalized ceiling and its former state. A vast array of stores and eateries within the terminal, including the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant. The Municipal Art Society, the private non-profit organization that plays guardian for the city's historic districts and landmarks, offers occasional tours of Grand Central as well.
Further west along 42nd Street, you'll also pass the New York City Public Library's main branch. When it was opened in 1911, the building was the largest marble structure in the United States, flanked by two marble lions (named Patience and Fortitude). Despite a recent renovation of the research facilities and reading room, a complete modernization is planned for the library's centennial birthday. There are also several exhibits, murals, and even a gift shop, making it well worth a visit. Next door to the library is Bryant Park, one of the many smaller parks that dot the concrete map of Manhattan. A summer movie series, chess tables, and a few places to eat makes the park an amenity-rich spot that's perfect for relaxing. Besides the outdoor, drive-in style movies, Bryant Park hosts many cultural events, including New York Fashion Week and concerts, as well as a skating rink in the winter.
A block to the east, you'll find yourself in Times Square, the new shining jewel and symbol of Midtown's commercial boom. The area is home to television networks and Broadway theaters alike, with the overlapping Theater District meeting MTV Studios and the Late Show with David Letterman, as well as tourism hot spots like Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum and the epic Times Square locations of the Disney Store, Toys 'R' Us, and the cavernous Virgin Megastore. Before you hit Broadway, do take a look at our list of all current Broadway productions as we have great rates on all the shows.
For food in the timeliest of squares, there's the Hershey's Store for the aching sweet-tooth. Aside from the usual country-wide franchise restaurants, Times Square is home to B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill, where they serve up live music alongside traditional American cuisine. Then there's the delicious pan-Asian cuisine at Ruby Foos and the succulent steak of the Heartland Brewery & Chophouse.
From Times Square, it's a short walk to Sixth Avenue and 52nd Street, where you'll find both Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center. The latter, of course, is home to Top Of The Rock, a 70-story high observation deck, the famous ice skating rink, and a wealth of upscale shops. The electronics-oriented might want to check out the Nintendo World Store and Brookstone. Rockefeller Center is also home to NBC Studios, which offers tours and tickets to live tapings of shows.
Now, as you go along Fifth Avenue, you come to the Museum of Television and Radio and its collection of over 100,000 international programs from the seventy-five years of television and radio history. It's a great way to spend the afternoon resting your feet and taking in a historical piece (or pieces) of pop culture. Just one block north of that is the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), one of the most comprehensive collections of contemporary art in the United States. Stopping at the MoMA is an imperative, although the Target-sponsored free admission on Fridays usually leads to an uncomfortable avalanche of visitors, so it's best to steer clear on those evenings.
Fifth Avenue is an attraction all by itself, so much so that we've devoted an entire guide to it. Fifth Avenue is also home to some of the most exclusive, upscale stores in the world: Tiffany & Co., Bergdorf Goodman, and, of course, the original Saks Fifth Avenue. Check out our Shopaholic's Guide to New York for a complete listing of shopping opportunities throughout Manhattan.
By this point in your day you'll probably be exhausted. However, if you're still up for more sight-seeing your best bet is to catch a cab about 30 blocks uptown towards 80th Street and check out the wealth of art museums and galleries on the Upper East and West sides. If you're only going to see one museum while you're in New York, make sure it’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its extraordinary scope is breathtaking, with rooms of medieval armor, Egyptian tombs, Greek and Roman sculptures and much, much more. You can safely plan on staying a few hours before moving on; taking in the entire museum would consume the better part of a day. The neighborhood is also home to art galleries like the Elkon Gallery and the Miele Frank J Gallery. There are, in fact, so many museums and galleries in the area that it is often referred to as Museum Mile, and each June, a festival of free admission between the area attractions turns the twenty-or-so block stretch of Manhattan into a pedestrian art fair. As with the rest of Manhattan, there are also several great places to eat nearby including the Clove Restaurant and Sofia Fabulous Pizza.
Across Central Park from the Met is the American Museum of Natural History. Much like the Met, you could easily spend any entire day on the museum's massive exhibition halls, each of which houses stunning arrays of artifacts and specimens from around the world and across all of history. The AMNH is also home to the Rose Center For Earth And Space, a massive addition that includes a planetarium and a modeled recreation of the Big Bang.
Chances are, though, on your way from the Met to the AMNH you'll pass through New York's "flagship" Central Park, where again you could spend the daylight hours trying to cover all 843 acres of greenery or checking off your list of the 275 species of birds sighted in the Park. That's not to say that the city doesn't burst through Central Park in places: several restaurants linger within its borders, like the Tavern On The Green and the Boathouse Café. Make sure to read through our Central Park and its neighboring museums .
Not to be left out, Lower Manhattan has plenty to offer the interested traveler, like Battery Park at the southwestern tip of Manhattan. From there, you can take the ferry to Staten Island, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. Battery Park's main attraction, though, is Castle Clinton National Monument which commemorates the history of the surrounding land. Tours of the park are also available or you can view our Battery Park City neighborhood guide for a more inclusive walkthrough.
Contrary to popular opinion, people in the Financial District do need to eat, so try the sustainable food kiosk Picnik in the Battery Conservancy, which presents a mini-model of consumer and eco-conscious food service and emphasizes local produce from small farms and global vendors who meet Fair Trade benchmarks. Picnick's profits also go—in part—back to supporting the Battery Conservancy. Battery Gardens is another food favorite in the area, offering an amazing view along with delicious fare., but you'd be remiss if you didn't try out Chanterelle or Rosanjin.
Now that you've dragged yourself silly around the entire island and weighed yourself down with a wonderful evening meal, catch one of the many cabs that swarm the Financial District and tell the driver to take you back your hotel. After all, you should know the way by now!