NEW YORK CITY BUCKET LIST: AN IN-DEPTH
While every individual’s New York City bucket list will vary, there are some top attractions that should, without a doubt, be on EVERYONE’s list. Below you’ll find the absolute essentials which I’ve pulled together after my Mum took me to the US for my birthday, where together we ticked off some awesome bucket list things to do in New York City. You’ll find more than just the standard bullet-pointed list, which should mean you get the absolute best of each site on your NYC bucket list!
One of the most iconic images you’ll see of New York City is that of Times Square. Instantly recognisable by the rainbow of lights, it’s the part of NYC that keeps the city alive 24/7. Personally, we think this is one of the best places to visit in the USA during Christmas and New Year, since people gather for celebrations to witness the infamous ‘ball drop’ (which signifies the start of a New Year). To see Times Square in all its glory, I recommend heading there in the evening – anytime after 6 PM. Although it will be really busy, this will provide a great atmosphere and the darkness will really emphasise the brightly lit up billboards – it’s one of the most instagrammable places in NYC.
THINGS TO DO IN TIMES SQUARE
Madame Tussauds is probably the closest you’ll get to any celebrity in NYC, and who said you had to mention the part where they were a waxwork!? A little white lie never hurt anyone. This ticket will also allow you to jump the queue…because ain’t nobody got time to wait around when you’re frantically trying to tick off your New York City bucket list!
Hard Rock Cafe; a famous brand dating back to the 1970s that will almost certainly provide you with some great American grub. Indulge in nachos, chicken wings, and burgers while rocking out to some classic electric guitar tunes to burn it all off! They’ve also got a pretty eclectic range of guitars dangling around the place too.
If you’re up for a boozy night, then Time Square has some of the best rooftop bars in New York. Bar 54 at the Hyatt Centric Times Square offers some of the best views of the city from both indoor and outdoor seating areas – heading here is one of the best things to do in NYC at night. If you’re looking to sit indoors then I’d recommend booking beforehand and if you want to sit outside, then get there early as you can’t reserve seats. It is THE place to be, so it will be busy and expensive but the cocktails and views will make it worth your while! During winter, they also have cute little igloos dotted about that are surrounded by some spectacular New York City Christmas decorations, which is pretty awesome.
There are also a few live webcams dotted around Times Square. After a few minutes of coordination, you’ll be able to give your family and friends a wave, along with a load of other people who are spying on the city too. Hmm, it’s kind of creepy when you put it like that…
WHERE TO STAY IN TIMES SQUARE
When my Mum and I visited NYC we stayed in Times Square and found it to be a perfect hub as it’s central to a lot of New York City bucket list activities. If your trip to NYC is going to be fairly short, then staying in Times Square is going to save you A LOT of time running backward and forward to the hotel. There are a lot of subways close by and all the shops are open until late…like, really late…we’re talking as late as 1 AM. That’s certainly past my bedtime but it’s great for the night owls of this world. The downside is that a lot of the restaurants are much more expensive than other areas of New York City and you’ll have a lot of competition if you’re trying to flag down a taxi. If that doesn’t bother you, then here are some recommended hotels:
Budget: Hilton Garden Inn Times Square Central
Mid-range: MOXY NYC Times Square
Luxury: The Chatwal
One last note on Times Square: it’s full of tourists and the perfect place for pickpocketers – I always carry a money belt to avoid getting targeted.
Where to find it: Times Square, Manhattan, NY 10036, United States
Probably THE most famous place to see a show in the US…or dare I say it, the world? Every theatre on Broadway is full of outstanding talent, no matter what genre takes your fancy. The shows typically last 90 to 120 minutes and tend to start between 7 PM and 8 PM, making them the perfect way to relax after a long day running around the city. My Mum and I chose Mama Mia which is always a great family favourite, however, I’ve also seen some other shows in the West End in London (another very famous group of theatres) that are also showing on Broadway.
The Lion King: Who doesn’t love a good Disney show? Especially when it involves cute, big, fluffy cats. This is perfect for those with and without children – at almost 27 years old, it’s probably number 1 on my list. I’d recommend sitting near the front if you can, as that way you’ll have the elephants walk right past you and it’s AWESOME.
The Book of Mormon: This is utterly hilarious and definitely not child appropriate. I’ve never been to the theatre and cried out of sheer hilarity before, and with 9 Tony awards under its belt, it’s unlikely to disappoint. Tom has seen multiple times and he’s not even into theatre that much, so it must be good.
Wicked: Dubbed as The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, it’s somewhat a different side to the better-known story of The Wizard of Oz. This is another great family favourite show that’s filled with songs you’ll be singing to for weeks afterward. And again, while it’s a great show for children, it’s also perfectly acceptable to see this show without children! If my recommendation alone isn’t enough to convince you that it’s great, then perhaps letting you know that it’s been running for 17 years is?!
You can pick up tickets to Broadway here.
Where to find it: 1681 Broadway, New York, NY 10019, USA
No matter what time of year you’re visiting, Central Park is utterly beautiful and one of the most famous landmarks in New York. You can stroll around the mile and half loop or hop on a horse and cart which will chauffer you around while you sit back and take a moment to relax…soooo romantic!
If you’re on a New York winter getaway, take advantage of The Wollman Ice Rink and elegantly glide from corner to corner as the snow falls around you. Or if you’re like me, wobble your way around while occasionally going splat on the floor. Ouch. You’ll be able to find the ice rink by entering at 59th Street and 5th or 6th Avenue of the park from late October until early April. You can check here for the latest pricing and opening times, however, it’s important to note that they only take cash and even if you don’t want to brave the ice, they’ll still charge you $5 to spectate…oh the power of a popular city…
Tip: You’ll soon work up a sweat once you start skating. I love anything that is Marino wool as it keeps you cool when it’s hot, and hot when it’s cool – it’s pretty magic. This makes it perfect for NYC Christmas activities, as you’ll fluctuate from cold to hot and back again very quickly. For this reason, a Marino wool base layer is an absolute must (him/her)!
Alternatively, if you’re visiting in summer, then have a go on the rowing boats or gondolas while you bask in the sun…summer dreaming as I sit here next to the radiator with 3 layers on, fluffy socks, slippers, and a hot water bottle – urghhhh. You’ll find these floating upon the second biggest lake in Central Park called ‘The Lake’…very original, New York….and it’s best accessed from any of the entrances between 72nd and 77th street on Central Park West. The rowing boats will cost you $15 for an hour and will fit up to 4 people, whereas the gondolas are $45 for 30 minutes and will seat up to 6 people. The higher price of the gondola is justified as your private host will do all the hard work of maneuvering you around the lake, allowing you to get a closer look at the nature the park has to offer – this makes it perfect for both children and adults! You can check the opening times here. Oh, and they only take cash too.
Tip: Nothing hinders me more than aching feet from wearing the wrong shoes to explore a city…who are these girls with feet of steel that strut around in heels all day long!? Make sure you get a great pair of fashionable yet lightweight runners like these (him/her).
Where to find it: There are many entrances around the Upper West and Upper East Sides of Manhattan.
Tip: Whilst you’re in the area, why not head on a Manhatten walking tour?
EMPIRE STATE BUILDING
The Empire State Building was one of the first things my Mum and I ticked off of our New York City bucket list. It’s crazy how fast you’ll fly up the elevator right to the top to witness the panoramic views of the city. You’ll be able to book tickets beforehand or on the day from inside the building. I recommend visiting when it opens at 8 AM if you don’t want to temporarily morph into a sardine! You’ll have the option of going up to the 86th floor which will provide great views through glass windows, or you’ll be able to head up to the 102nd floor which is outside and gives you the same view through a wire fence. It will set you back around £35/$48 USD/$61 AUD, plus a little extra if you want to go to the top – if you’re heading to the top then make sure you take a warm jacket (him/her) as you’re much more exposed to the wind.
If you’re looking for an extra special experience, the Sunrise Experience Ticket is a beautiful way to visit The Empire State building and you’ll get the added bonus of no crowds…which is pretty rare for NYC!
If you want to experience The Empire State Building both day and night, then this Empire State Building Day and Night Admission Ticket is at a great price!
Money-saving tip: If you want to see The Empire State Building from the outside rather than the view from it, then we’ve found a great money-saving hack which you can find here. Yep, you’re welcome!
Where to find it: Empire State Building, 20 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001, United States
GRAND CENTRAL STATION
Another great and iconic freebie that you need to add to your New York City bucket list is Grand Central Station. It feels more like a palace than a train station (although I am comparing it to train stations in the UK which aren’t particularly glamourous!). You can bet that a lot of people who are in the train station aren’t actually there to catch a train, but rather to snap photos of the historic décor that took 10 years to build and cost a whopping $2 Billion (in today’s money, anyway).
You’ll want to take a good camera to capture the best images possible of Grand Central Station. A great beginner’s camera is the FUJIFILM X-T100 which you can get at a great price right now!
If you want to dig a little deeper into the history of Grand Central Station then New York City Secrets of Grand Central Terminal Tour is the perfect activity to add to your nyc itinerary. You’ll be educated on the hidden gems and historical stories, as well as gain an understanding of the detail and design that is often missed. The tour prides itself on leading smaller groups to allow for a better experience for just £25/$35 USD/$45 AUD!
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST NEARBY
- New York Public Library
- Empire State Building
- Byrant Park
- Rockefeller Centre
- Times Square
Where is it: Grand Central Station, 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017, United States
The signal that you have arrived in NYC; Brooklyn Bridge! Walk, run, or drive over the long and stretched-out piece of tarmac connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan, taking artistic photographs of finer details as you go. If you want to get some pictures of the bridge from a distance, then there are a whole bunch of places which offer a great view, but here are my favourites:
Head down to Pebble Beach for a full-width view of the bridge with New York Cities skyline sparkling in the background. In my opinion, the best time to visit pebble beach for a stunning view of Brooklyn Bridge is sunset; you’ll need to get down there in good time though as it gets super busy and it’s a fairly small space!
Where to find it: Pebble Beach, 65 Plymouth St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, United States
ONE WORLD OBSERVATORY
The One World Observatory is part of the One World Trade Center and offers an experience from above, as well as heaps of cool stuff to do with innovation and inspiration! Not only that, but it’s the highest deck in NYC…so although it might not be great for vertigo, it’s certainly top-notch for the views. It’s a suitable spot for both adults and kids alike and you can purchase tickets here!
Where to find it: One World Observatory, 117 West St, New York, NY 10006, United States
YACHT SKYLINE TOUR
Hop on the New York City Sunset Cruise on Yacht Manhattan Tour and enjoy travelling in style along the Hudson River! You’ll be able to get some great views of the bridge from plenty of different angles as you sip Champagne and soak up the sun…just make sure to plaster yourself in my all-time favourite, oil-free and water-resistant sunscreen to avoid some serious lobster looks. We all know that water bounces those rays right onto you!
TIME OUT MARKET
This trendy food market situated in Dumbo is packed full of great food – you’ll find sweet treats to scrummy vegan nourish bowls, Japanese dishes to big juicy burgers; it’s a win-win for everyone. In their upstairs area, you’ll find the perfect space to tuck in while you check out the view from beside the river.
Where to find it: Time Out Market, 55 Water St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, United States
Tip: Again, it’s absolutely pivotal that you have a good camera for this!
The Vessel is a lesser-known, yet fast becoming a key point of interest that a lot of people add to their New York City bucket lists. It’s situated in Hudson’s Yard, which is a relatively new development on the West side of Manhatten. Not only does it provide insanely great views of the ‘Big Apple’, but it’s also completely free – and let’s be honest, we all love a good freebie! You’ll be able to book your free ticket here to secure a timeslot in preparation for the 2500 steps you’ll soon be climbing. Yup, my legs ached at the thought of that too after racking up thousands of steps already on that trip – which is why a good pair of these is more important than ever (his/her)! But all is not lost if you can’t hack it, as there is a lift all the way to the top. You’ll typically need around 30 minutes to climb and explore The Vessel, however, you can spend as long as you like…so if you do fancy the climb then take your time. Nope – that rhyme was not intentional but it works.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO DO IN HUDSON YARN
You’ll also find a great shopping opportunity in the Hudson Yard Mall which is home to popular designers like Cartier and Rolex, as well as more reasonably priced stores such as Zara, H&M, and Sephora. If shopping isn’t up your street then discover art galleries such as The Shed, or head to the glass bottom observatory known ‘The Edge‘.
Tip: If you have kids, you cannot take a stroller up The Vessel.
Where to find it: The Vessel, 20 Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001, United States
It’s not until you see New York City from above that you truly appreciate all of the wonderful places and landmarks that it’s home to. You’ll duck and glide around the skyscrapers, through Central Park, and over the top of the Hudson River – it really is a once in a lifetime activity that you’ll remember forever. There are a variety of different options when it comes to hopping on a helicopter in New York, so I’ll give it my best shot below to help you pick what’s right for you:
If you’re travelling in a group, then this New York City: Private Helicopter Flight is a great option. It’s 30-45 minutes long and they’ll whiz around the most popular sights such as the Empire State Building and Central Park for roughly £200/$270 USD/$350 AUD. Your party will have the helicopter to themselves, plus the pilot of course, and you’ll be able to choose the time of day that best suits you. Personally, I think sunset is the best, as you’ll get the beautiful orange sky slowly being outshone by the city lights!
For solo travellers or those looking to learn a new skill on their trip, then the New York City: Helicopter Piloting Experience is perfect. It will cost slightly more than a regular helicopter ride, but hey, you get a new skill with it too which is pretty cool. Plus, ‘I’ve learned how to fly a helicopter in New York City’ is a slightly more impressive thing to tick off your NYC bucket list than just taking a regular trip – or at least I’d be more impressed if someone told me that! You’ll get 30 minutes of training before you set off on your 30-minute tour alongside the Hudson River with the city skyline glistening in the background. There is also the option to get a full recording of your piloting experience to watch back on in the future!
If you’re looking for an extra special and romantic date day or night, then the New York City: Private Helicopter Tour for Couples is guaranteed to impress. You and your loved one can sit back and relax as the pilot takes you on your own private 30-45 minute tour of the city from above. You’ll get to see all of the key landmarks from a birds-eye view for just £250/$340 USD/$440 AUD.
If you’re on a budget but you’re desperate to get a helicopter ride ticked off your New York City bucket list, then New York City Helicopter Tours is a great option to go for. While you’ll get slightly less time in the air (15-30 minutes), you’ll still get to see some key landmarks such as Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty for just £170/$230 USD/ $300 AUD.
Where to find it: Most companies start Westchester County Airport.
Alternatively, for something even more special you can head to the border of New York State and Ontario to take a helicopter ride over Niagra Falls.
Where to book: Helicopter Tour Over Niagra Falls
WATCH A GAME
Whether you’re a sports fan or not, watching a game in the city is a great addition to your New York City bucket list. The atmosphere of supporting a local team is enough to get any spectator hyped (or maybe I just get waaaaaaay too excited about stuff), and you’ll be sure to walk away wanting more. Below I’ll talk about some of the most popular options, however, if you’re searching for something else such as tennis or boxing then you’re in luck, as NYC is a hub for all things sport, and you’re guaranteed to find what you’re after on ticketmaster.
Baseball is by far one of the most popular sports to watch in New York City; coming from the UK, it seems that it’s so popular as it’s viewed as a classic American sport. If you’re visiting between April and October, it’s definitely worth trying to pick up some tickets to watch any of the 4 teams that represent NYC at the Yankee Stadium in Concourse, Bronx . While it’s not uncommon for games to last around 3 hours, there are heaps of tickets up for grabs, which means that you can usually pick some up at a decent price! Check out the official Yankee Stadium site for the latest dates and tickets and keep in mind that the earlier you book, the cheaper it will probably be.
If you’re not cut out for 3 hours of spectating then ice hockey is a great alternative. Luckily, just as the baseball season ends the ice hockey and basketball seasons start, so there’s always something on! There are a few different teams that play in New York, however, the flagship team is The New York Rangers and you’ll find them playing at the iconic Madison Square Garden (visiting MDG is probably a New York City bucket list activity in itself!). While tickets can be super cheap, they can also be super expensive if you’re trying to grab some last minute. For this reason, I’d definitely advise checking out the official Madison Square Garden website in advance.
As already mentioned above, the basketball season starts just as the baseball finishes. Running from October to April, you’ll be able to pick up some tickets for Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and see one of three NYC teams play ball. The New York Knicks are a popular choice to watch shoot some hoops, with tickets available from the official Madison Square Garden website.
You’ll most likely find tickets to all of the above on ticketmaster too, however, your first port of call should always be the official grounds website as you’ll likely get a better price.
STATUE OF LIBERTY
And last but not least on our New York City bucket list is the Statue of Liberty. While many countries have installed replicas of this old girl, they’re not a patch on the real deal. She’s been holding that torch up high since 1875 and my arm aches just thinking about it! She’s originally French, yet has called Liberty Island in New York City her home since 1876. There’s a few different ways to see the Statue of Liberty, so I’ll tell you a little bit about each way so you can decide for yourself which is best.
For those who aren’t prepared to cross the water or for those who are on a budget, then seeing the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park in lower Manhattan is one of the best options. Not only is it free, but you’ll also be able to get a picture from afar, meaning you’ll get all of her in your shot. If you’re lucky enough to catch a beautiful sunset, then this will make for a great artistic picture of the Statue of Liberty as a silhouette – particularly if you’ve got the FUJIFILM X-T100. Battery Park itself is also a great place for an afternoon stroll if you’ve got some good runners on (him/her)!
STATEN ISLAND FERRY
One of the best New York City freebies around is Staten Island Ferry. It runs 24/7 and operates like a taxi service between Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan and St. George on Staten Island. A boat leaves every 15-20 minutes on a weekday and every 30 minutes on a weekend, taking roughly 25 minutes to get from one location to the other. While you won’t get as close to the Statue of Liberty as some specific tours, you’ll get close enough to get a good picture if you’ve got a camera with a decent zoom! If you don’t mind the water, then this the best way to see the Statue of Liberty for free. For the timetable, check out the official Staten Island Ferry website.
LIBERTY AND ELLIS ISLAND FERRY
Taking the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Island is the classic way to tick the Statue of Liberty off your New York City bucket list. At just £15/$20 USD/$26 AUD, it’s not going to break the bank and will allow you to get up close to take some awesome photographs. This tour has the added bonus of an audiotape along the way!
If you’re looking for something extra special, then the Private Statue of Liberty Sailing Tour is a fantastic and luxurious option. This is a perfect tour for groups of up to 6 who want to travel in style without the disturbance of other passengers. They’ll also take you around some other key landmarks while you sit back and relax with a drink in hand!
Read more: 18 FREE THINGS TO DO IN NEW YORK CITY ALL YEAR ROUND
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