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The best New York tourist attractions that locals love

From historical sites to lush gardens and art museums, these are the New York tourist attractions that locals also adore

By Jillian Anthony, Dan Q Dao and Time Out New York contributors |
Best New York tourist attractions: Central Park
Photograph: Shutterstock/Sean Pavone

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

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best New York attractions

Best New York tourist attractions

Attractions, Parks and gardens

Brooklyn Heights and Brooklyn Promenade

icon-location-pin Brooklyn Heights

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; 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.

Attractions, Parks and gardens

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

icon-location-pin Prospect Park

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.

Coney Island Cyclone
Attractions, Arcades and amusements

Coney Island Cyclone

icon-location-pin Coney Island

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.

Brownstoner Brooklyn Flea
Photograph: Michael Kirby
Shopping, Markets and fairs

Brooklyn Flea

icon-location-pin Bedford-Stuyvesant

In the nearly five years since its debut, this market has elevated the vintage-shopping experience, setting a new standard for both goods and food vendors, and emphasizing local purveyors where possible. Its mini empire now includes markets in Fort Greene and DUMBO, as well as two food-focused Smorgasburg outposts. When temperatures plunge, the fest moves to the vast warehouse space of Industry City in Sunset Park. It’s as good a people-watching spot as you’ll find—plenty of established and wanna-be designers mill about—and the eats alone are worth the trip. Vendors change each weekend, so check the website the Friday before doors open to see who’s selling.

New York attractions
Attractions, Sightseeing

Staten Island Ferry

icon-location-pin Financial District

The price of a harbor crossing between Staten Island and lower Manhattan may be the only activity in New York City that’s cheaper today than it was in 1817. Back then, it was 25 cents; today, it’s free. This 24-hour ferry is a lifeline for commuters making their way from NYC’s southernmost borough, but it’s also a boat trip affording some of the finest views in the world. Keep your eyes peeled for Governors Island to the east and Ellis Island and Lady Liberty to the west as the Manhattan skyline recedes in the vessel’s wake.

Attractions, Religious buildings and sites

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

icon-location-pin Midtown East

This legendary house of worship counts Presidents, movie stars and business moguls among past and present attendees. While its intricate marble towers are a marvel of Gothic Revival architecture, St. Pat’s interior, including the Louis Tiffany–designed altar and spectacular rose window, is tremendous as both a feat of master craftsmanship and a source of spiritual inspiration.

Museums, History

The New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

icon-location-pin Midtown West

The New York Public Library system consists of 89 individual branches, but it’s this austere Beaux Arts building in Bryant Park—home to 75 miles of shelves housing a massive humanities and social sciences archive—that most readily comes to mind. The library’s free tours stop at the beautifully renovated Rose Main Reading Room and the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room. The program of special exhibitions rivals those of the city’s finest museums.

Things to do

South Street Seaport

icon-location-pin Financial District

The former Fulton Street Fish Market building at Pier 17 was rebuilt as a high-end shopping mall in the early 1980s, but if you’re looking to avoid throngs of people, we suggest detouring to the pier itself, where you can check out the largest privately owned fleet of historic ships in the country. Afterward, hit one of the area’s surprisingly decent drinking destinations: We're especially fond of Fresh Salt, a cozy, nautically themed bar that was formerly a fish smokehouse.

MoMA Sculpture garden and design rooms
Photograph: Michael Kirby
Museums, Art and design

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

icon-location-pin Midtown West

Sure, you could spend a day getting lost in the permanent exhibits, which showcase all manner of priceless pieces from renowned artists. But just as essential are this museum’s other elements, including an attached cinema that combines art-house fare and more accessible offerings, a sculpture garden with works by Picasso and Rodin, and the Modern, a high-end restaurant and bar run by Danny Meyer. Free Fridays, an alluring prospect considering the sizable entry fee ($25 for adults), are best left to the tourists and penny-scraping students; visit the museum when you can hunker down for a while. 

Chinatown, NYC
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Jorge Quinteros
Things to do

Chinatown, NYC

Take a walk in the area south of Broome Street and east of Lafayette, and you’ll feel as though you’ve entered not just a different country but a different continent. Mott and Grand Streets are lined with stands selling exotic foodstuffs such as live eels, square watermelons and hairy rambutans, while Canal Street glitters with jewelry stores and gift shops. Here you’ll find some of the best restaurants in NYC representing the cuisine of virtually every province of mainland China and Hong Kong, plus Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai and Vietnamese eateries and shops. As Chinatown—NYC's largest Asian community—continues to grow, it merges with neighboring Little Italy and the Lower East Side.

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