20 Tourist Attractions in NYC Worth Visiting—Even for Jaded Locals
There's so much to see and do in New York City on any given day that it can be a little overwhelming. There are world-class museums, restaurants, and attractions in every borough. Special events are a seemingly everyday occurrence, yet New Yorkers can be guilty of avoiding some of the city's best attractions—labeling them as just for the tourists. But, we're here to tell you those tourist attractions are part of the allure of living in this metropolitan mecca, and to prove it, we've come up with this list of 20 tourist attractions even jaded locals should visit regularly.
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1. Broadway Shows – Midtown West
Attending a Broadway production is a magical and unforgettable experience—a truth that's magnified by Broadway's COVID-induced closure. From Harry Potter to Hamilton, The Lion King, and more, several Broadway shows are kid-friendly, and theaters could use New Yorkers support more now than ever.
2. Brooklyn Bridge – Brooklyn Heights & Lower Manhattan
A walk over the Brooklyn Bridge is sort of a rite of passage. How many iconic scenes have used the behemoth bridge as a backdrop? On a blue-sky day, strolling across its span offers amazing views of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Even better, you can explore all Brooklyn Bridge Park has to offer before or after your journey.
There's so much to see at the American Museum of Natural History, though dinos are always a great jumping-off point. Photo by author
3. American Museum of Natural History – Upper West Side
AMNH is an absolute must-see, especially for families. We love its renowned dinosaur and marine life collections, and the planetarium puts on stunning shows. If you feel like you've seen it all, take note: Travelling exhibitions make limited-run appearances, like The Nature of Color, and the Mignone Halls of Gem and Minerals recently reopened following an overhaul.
4. Chinatown – Chinatown
This NYC neighborhood is well-known for its parks, temples, turn-of-the-century architecture, annual festivals and celebrations, and, of course, its amazing food.
5. Coney Island – Coney Island, Brooklyn
Amusements galore are the trademark of this Brooklyn neighborhood. Whether you want to ride the roller coasters, take a spin on the Wonder Wheel, frolic in the sandy shores of the beach, stroll the boardwalk, visit the aquarium, or even take in a minor league baseball game, Coney Island is the place to be. Annual events, like the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest and the (sadly canceled in 2021) Mermaid Parade, are worth a trip all on their own.
You don't need to go to a playground to have fun in Central Park. Photo by Jody Mercier
6. Central Park – Upper East and West Sides
Spanning more than 800 lush, green acres, this urban oasis provides a respite for tourists and locals alike. From amazing playgrounds to lakes, meadows, trails, concerts, and plays, Central Park is every New Yorker's backyard.
7. Governors Island – New York Harbor
This slice of green space—and history—in New York harbor has captivated our attention for years. This summertime playground offers plenty of action. You can bike, play, kayak, and even go glamping on the isle. See art, check out an annual festival, enjoy its evolving food scene, and then plan another trip because, really, there's too much to do in a day.
8. Grand Central – Midtown East
Even if you're not boarding a train—maybe especially when you're not boarding a train—Grand Central is worth seeing for its architecture, restaurants, shopping, and seasonal displays. Likewise, might we suggest a visit to its crosstown neighbor, Moynihan Train Hall, which is only getting more spectacular as more amenities debut.
The views are only part of the attraction at The Empire State Building. Photo by Jody Mercier
9. Empire State Building – Midtown West
While no longer New York City's tallest building—or even its tallest observation deck—the Empire State Building is still a must-see. Beyond taking in the stunning NYC skyline, a visit to the Empire State Building is a lesson in history, architecture, and the marvels 1930s engineering.
10. The High Line – Chelsea
Brave the crowds to visit The High Line—timed-entry tickets are still required on weekends, but they are FREE—a formerly abandoned portion of elevated railway on Manhattan's west side. It's peppered with amazing, ever-changing public art, spectacular all-seasons landscaping, and unique outdoor play spaces for kids.
11. Museum of Modern Art – Midtown West
MoMA is one of my top museum choices, not only for its collection of impressive modern art but for its kid-friendly programs, outdoor sculpture garden, and spectacular design store. Currently on-view, you'll also find a super cool retrospective on Alexander Calder's work.
Contemplate larger-than-life pieces at NYC's biggest art museum, The Met. Photo by Jody Mercier
12. The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Upper East Side
One visit isn't enough to see everything at The Met, but we've got a whole post on what to see with kids in this fabulous museum. For starters, make sure to check out the Ancient Egypt wing and the Costume Institute, two of my family's favorite galleries.
13. New York Botanical Garden – Bronx Park, the Bronx
This outer-borough gem is well worth your time—and easy to get to on the Metro-North. Its beautifully curated gardens, children's garden, special exhibitions, and annual events make this a cultural gem an absolute must-see. We love its annual holiday train show, and its rotating exhibits—like the current Kusama: Cosmic Nature—keep us coming back time and again. The fact NYC residents can claim FREE admission on Wednesdays gives you no excuse not to visit.
14. One World Observatory – World Trade Center
The title of the tallest building in the city actually belongs to One World Trade, where high-tech elevators take you to the 102nd-floor observatory in about a minute. On a clear day, you can peruse a 360-degree view that includes Manhattan, New York Harbor, Staten Island, Governors Island, New Jersey, Queens, and Brooklyn in floor-to-ceiling windows.
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Love it or hate it, Times Square is quintessential NYC. Photo courtesy of NYC & Company
15. Times Square – Midtown West
While definitely touristy and crowded, nothing captures the energy, frenzy, and excitement of New York like Times Square.
16. Top of the Rock Observation Deck – Midtown West
You can't beat the views from the open-air deck on the 70th floor of the Comcast Building. Even if you visit the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock offers a different, completely worthwhile in its own right, experience. Plan to dress up and enjoy a drink at the Rainbow Room when you visit.
17. 9/11 Memorial and Museum – World Trade Center
Particularly apropos as the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is an important way to learn more about September 11. The Memorial is beautiful, serene, and deeply moving, while the Museum features artifacts, photos, and videos about the attacks.
No matter how many times you pass her, the Statue of Liberty is a powerful sight. Photo by Jody Mercier
18. Statue of Liberty – New York Harbor
For a long time, I thought taking visitors on a free Staten Island Ferry ride past Lady Liberty was close enough, but once I visited Liberty Island, I realized there's something special about taking the ferry and standing thisclose to the mammoth sculpture. Add in the on-site museum and trip to Ellis Island, and this outing is worth the price of admission, fighting the tourists, and dealing with airport-style security before you board the ferry, trust us.
19. The Bronx Zoo – Bronx Park, the Bronx
While we love all of NYC's zoos and the aquarium, The Bronx Zoo is a cut above. We love the large enclosures housing a diverse array of wildlife, plus fun extras like the Nature Trek, Wild Asia Monorail, and Children's Zoo—never mind that thanks to The Zoo—there are celebrities everywhere...even if they have scales, feathers, and fur.
20. Flushing Meadows Corona Park – Flushing, Queens
Flushing Meadows is to Queens what Central Park is to Manhattan, and this massive green space has tons of family-friendly amenities that make it worth the long trek on the 7 train. The newly re-opened New York Hall of Science is one of the best children's museums in NYC. The park is also home to the National Tennis Center (where you can book public courts for 50 weeks of the year!), an amusement park, the Queens Zoo, the Queens Museum, a mega splash pad, and even the Queens Night Market. In short, there's something for everyone here!