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The best NYC tourist attractions that locals love

Our roundup of the best gardens, historical sites and museums that we adore just as much as the out-of-towners

Times Square

New Yorkers may loathe having to constantly move around slow-walking tourists on the streets, but in the end, we love many of the same city spots that sightseers do (admit it). We compiled our favorite iconic tourist attractions below, and the good news is there are so many great things to do in New York today that there’s enough to go around. And don’t worry, we can still keep the best art shows and NYC exhibits to ourselves…maybe.

RECOMMENDED: The best New York attractions

Bronx Zoo Wildlife Conservation Society

The massive institution is home to more than 5,000 creatures in myriad exhibits, including an outdoor baboon reserve, a sea-lion pool and an exhibit dedicated entirely to Madagascar. Visitors can ride the Wild Asia Monorail, which tours 38 acres of exhibits that house elephants, Indo-Chinese tigers, deer, antelope and Mongolian wild horses, or wander over to see two gargantuan Nile crocodiles. Amphibian fans can also read about the Wildlife Conservation Society's efforts to save the Kihansi spray toad, a species now extinct in the wild.

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The Bronx

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Critics' pick

Those searching for a little peace and quiet will love this verdant oasis. The garden, which is right next to two other neighborhood gems, the Brooklyn Museum and Prospect Park, was founded in 1910 and features thousands of types of flora, laid out over 52 acres. Each spring, crowds descend on the space for the Sakura Matsuri Festival, during which more than 70 trees bloom along the Cherry Esplanade. But equally impressive are serene spots like the Shakespeare Garden, brimming with plants mentioned in the Bard’s works.

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Prospect Park

Brooklyn Heights and Brooklyn Promenade

One of the thrills of living in New York City is staring at the iconic skyline—obviously the world’s best—every once in a while. You’ll find no better vantage point than the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge (enter at Park Row and Centre Street; nyc.gov). Stroll across the legendary structure and take in the view; if you look to the south, you’ll see Governors Island and the Statue of Liberty. Once you’ve hit Brooklyn, head into Brooklyn Heights and stroll along the Promenade, overlooking lower Manhattan.

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Brooklyn Heights

Central Park

Critics' pick

Divide-and-conquer might be the best strategy when exploring Central Park—its sprawling 840 acres are too great to take in during one visit. Instead, hit some of the highlights: Go for a stroll around the tranquil Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir (circle the 1.58-mile track a few times for an actual workout), or join the semiclothed hordes who lay out in Sheep Meadow during the summer. Or find the details in some of the park’s most famous attractions, such as lines from Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky” inscribed along the base of the Alice in Wonderland statue.

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Central Park

Coney Island Cyclone

No visit to Coney Island is complete without a ride on the Coney Island Cyclone, a fixture since 1927 that has spawned seven clones around the world. Heck, it was even declared a city landmark in 1988 and a National Historic Landmark in 1991. The twister takes just under two minutes to whiz you through a dozen drops (one at a heart-stopping 60-degree angle), achieving a top speed of 60mph. That may not sound very fast, but you’ll surely be humbled (which is to say petrified) by the ancient wooden tracks that look like they belong underneath a steam locomotive.

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Brooklyn

Chrysler Building

We won’t argue if you want to call this glimmering pinnacle of Art Deco architecture NYC’s most eye-popping skyscraper. Triangle-shaped windows in its crown are lined with lights, creating a beautiful effect come nighttime. Oozing a moneyed sophistication oft identified with old New York, the structure pays homage to its namesake with giant eagles (replicas of ones added to Chrysler automobiles in the 1920s) in lieu of traditional gargoyles and a brickwork relief sculpture of racing cars, complete with chrome hubcaps.

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Midtown East

Ellis Island

Critics' pick

Trace the history of U.S. immigration with a visit to the three floors of objects, photographs and interactive displays housed on the famous island next door to Lady Liberty herself. The exhibitions are an evocative, moving tribute to the people from so many countries, who made the journey to America filled with dreams for a better life. The audio tour is highly informative and is available in nine languages. A new children’s audio tour is narrated by animal characters and is available in five languages.

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Bushwick

Empire State Building

It’s worth braving the long lines, steep ticket prices and dizzying heights to see the city from atop this storied building. Built in 1931, the skyscraper is the second-tallest building in New York and is one of the most immediate symbols of Gotham, so much so that it’s played a role in films such as King Kong, An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle.

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Midtown West

Flushing Meadows–Corona Park

Critics' pick

This massive green space still features remnants of the 1964–1965 World’s Fair, including the 140-foot-high Unisphere, a mammoth steel globe that was the fair’s symbol (and site of the apocalyptic battle scene between humans and aliens in the first Men in Black movie). Also visible are the remains of the New York State Pavilion, erected by Philip Johnson for the fair. Measuring 350 feet by 250 feet, this now-eerie plaza is bordered by 16,100-foot steel columns. While you’re there, pop into the Queens Museum of Art.

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Queens

Grand Central Terminal, Main Concourse

Critics' pick

The MTA spent 12 years removing decades of cigarette smoke and train exhaust from the ceiling of the train station in order to recapture its sea-green splendor. You can get an idea of how much elbow grease was needed for the project—the cleaners left an untouched, almost-black tile over Michael Jordan’s steakhouse. Visit at midday, when you can stare up at the zodiac signs painted in gold leaf on the ceiling without being trampled by commuters.

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Midtown East
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Comments

13 comments
felicity S
felicity S Spammer

I've always seen Central Park in all sorts of movies, but I've never visited that place. I also want to make a priority to swing around to get a tour in the Statue of Liberty! Wow, there's just so many places to see in New York, I realized, when you mentioned all of them here! Would you recommend to get a tour of every place, or just see these places yourself without a tour? My husband and I are going to start traveling this spring! 

James L
James L BannedSpammer

There seem to be all sorts of different tourism attractions in New York.  The interesting thing is that a lot of attractions probably deal with architecture or landscapes.   I think that most cities, even out of the US, probably have some good tourism attractions.   I guess it would probably depend on the people and what they want to see exactly. 

Shenoi v
Shenoi v Spammer

I couldn’t currently have asked for a much better blog. You’re there to provide excellent advice, going right to the point for simple understanding of your readership.


Belkys P
Belkys P

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johnson
johnson

These are great but you just can't leave Times Square out. Merely passing by Times Square is not the same thing as taking a day exploring it. It has some of New Yorks finest tourist attractions. One that comes to mind is the Discovery Exhibition center that keeps changing it's exhibits (they're always fantastic!) - http://www.discoverytsx.com/ is where you can find more details about their latest exhibits.

Piedad
Piedad

Cosas distintas para visitar

Del
Del

We could go in to the city.

Del
Del

We could go into the city.

Sam
Sam

Great thing to do as a tourist - photo tours! citifari (www.citifari.com) offers 3 great tours: concrete jungle, central park and night tour. The night tour is a must. Check them out!!