20 landmarks to see in New York City

Don't wait for Mom and Dad to visit to check out these essential city sights.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Central Park, Sheep Meadow

    Central Park, Sheep Meadow

  • Statue of Liberty

  • Photograph: Jeffrey Gurwin

    Grand Central Terminal

  • Citi Field

  • Staten Island Ferry

  • Katz's Delicatessen

  • Photograph: Zenith Richards


  • Roosevelt Island Tram

Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

Central Park, Sheep Meadow

Central Park, Sheep Meadow

Spend a day wandering through Central Park
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. 59th to 110 St between Fifth Ave and Central Park West (212-310-6600, centralparknyc.org). Daily 6am--1am; free.

Take a ferry to the Statue of Liberty
Lady Liberty's beacon still beckons (although these days, it's mostly to the city's visitors, not new immigrants). Rather than admire her from afar, hop on a boat to check out the 125-year-old statue. For a closer look, snag a spot on one of the National Park Service's free half-hour tours of the grounds (Liberty Island; call 212-363-3200 or visit nps.gov/stli for more information); the NPS also offers tours of the statue's crown, which are limited to 240 people per day (so reserve your tickets in advance). Or simply climb aboard the New York Water Taxi (departs from South Street Seaport, Pier 17, South St at Fulton St; call 212-742-1969 or visit nywatertaxi.com for details; $15--$25), whose Statue of Liberty Express Tour Route allows you to circle her island before heading back to shore.

Stare at the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal
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. Grand Central Terminal, E 42nd St between Park and Lexington Aves (212-340-2583, grandcentralterminal.com). Daily 5:30am--2am; free.

Sample dim sum in one of three Chinatowns
New York's not the only city with a dedicated Chinese enclave, but it might be the only metropolis with three Chinatowns in three separate districts. In Manhattan, you can try a variety of dishes—the restaurant offers more than 20 types of dumplings—during the dim sum brunch at Dim Sum Go Go (5 East Broadway between Bowery and Catherine St; 212-732-0796; daily 10am--10:30pm). Meanwhile, intrepid gastronomes can find a sampling of regional Chinese fare at enclaves in Flushing, Queens or Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Ride the Staten Island Ferry
For the cheapest ride around New York harbor, enter this vessel, which offers great views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan, a cash bar with beer and—best of all—free admission. In service since 1905, the ferry line runs 24 hours from Whitehall Terminal to St. George; the 5.2-mile run takes about 25 minutes. When you get to the Island, make a pit stop at Cargo Caf (120 Bay St between Slosson Terr and Victory Blvd, St. George, Staten Island; 718-876-0539), which features draft beer, a full dinner menu, and occasional film screenings and trivia nights.

Take in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium or Citi Field
Even though you're no longer technically in the House That Ruth Built, a game at the pristine, two-year-old Yankee Stadium (River Ave at 161st St, Bronx; 718-293-4300, yankees.com) is still enthralling. National League fans would do well to check out Citi Field (Roosevelt Ave at 126th St, Flushing, Queens; 718-507-8499, mets.com); if the Mets are striking out, you can eat your feelings at Shake Shack or Blue Smoke. Make it an affordable day out by snagging a spot in the bleachers—just don't forget the sunscreen.

Scarf down a big sammich at Katz's Deli
This cavernous cafeteria is a repository of New York history—glossies of celebs (surely you remember that scene in When Harry Met Sally...) crowd the walls, and the classic Jewish deli offerings are nonpareil. Start with a crisp-skinned, all-beef hot dog for just $3.35. Then flag down a meat cutter and order a legendary sandwich. The brisket sings with horseradish, and the thick-cut pastrami stacked high between slices of rye is the stuff of dreams. Everything tastes better with a glass of the hoppy house lager; if you're on the wagon, make it a Dr. Brown's. But make sure you keep track of the ticket they hand you at the door; the fee for a lost stub is $50. Katz's Delicatessen, 205 E Houston St at Ludlow St (212-254-2246, katzdeli.com). Mon--Thu, Sun 8am--11pm; Fri, Sat 24hrs.

Catch some hot jazz at a cool club
Plenty of history has been made at Village Vanguard (178 Seventh Ave South at 11th St; 212-255-4037, villagevanguard.com): John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Bill Evans have grooved in this hallowed hall. Newbies should start by checking out the 16-piece Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, which has been the Monday-night regular for more than 30 years. A bit farther downtown, Blue Note (131 W 3rd St at Sixth Ave; 212-475-8592, bluenote.net/newyork) prides itself on being "the jazz capital of the world." Bona fide musical titans rub against hot young talents, while the close-set tables in the club get patrons rubbing up against each other.

Take the Roosevelt Island tram
Thanks to the boxy red tram that glides above the East River, Roosevelt Island may be one of the only spots in New York City that's a joy to get to via public transportation. The main attraction is the view from island's waterside park benches: a unique perspective of the midtown skyline, as well as views of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. Wander around a bit, then take the urban carnival ride back from whence you came. 59th St at Second Ave (rioc.com). Mon--Thu, Sun 5:45am--2:30am; Fri, Sat 5:45am--3:30am; $2.25.

Visit an 18th-century watering hole
Fraunces Tavern (54 Pearl St between Broad and Water Sts; 212-968-1776, frauncestavern.com; daily 11am--4am) has a storied history: The bar was the site of George Washington's famous farewell to the troops at the Revolutionary War's close, and the building housed the fledgling nation's departments of war, foreign affairs and treasury in the 1780s. These days, it's home to a collection of historical artifacts, as well as a bar and restaurant. Tipples at the pub, run by Dublin's Porterhouse Brewing Company, include Porterhouse's own brews (like Oyster Stout and the easy-drinking Porterhouse Red). After you've knocked a few back, snap a pic with the Charging Bull statue (Broadway at State St) around the corner—just don't be like the dude who was photographed in his undies atop its massive shoulders, back in 2009. (It ended up being totally innocuous, but still, don't be that guy.)

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