When coming up with the best things to do in NYC, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Gotham draws millions of tourists from all over the world with its renowned art museums, summer music festivals, New York attractions—and let's not forget the long list of bars and restaurants in NYC. We hit the streets and social media and asked you to tell us your favorite things about living in the greatest city in the world; the result was a mix that would inspire even the most jaded city-dweller. Here are the 101 best things to do in NYC—events, free things to do and hot spots in the city. Get out there and enjoy it.
The 101 best things to do in NYC
“Recline on the High Line’s wooden lounges. It’s a really calming, litter-free spot of nature just above a bustling, stressed-out avenue.”—Dia, Bushwick
After years of legislation and major landscaping, the community group Friends of the High Line was able to transform the former elevated train line into a public space in 2009. Now people walking along the park’s gardens or stretching out on one of the coveted lounges can find tranquility above the busy Meatpacking District and Chelsea.
“Watch a midnight movie at Nitehawk Cinema. I love seeing the horror films of my youth —and they serve beer!”—Bill, Greenpoint
While this theater caters to late-night movie lovers, it also welcomes new parents of babies one and younger on Tuesday afternoons. (Yay, new-mom activity!) The spotlight this summer is on comedians in film—you can never get enough of Beverly Hills Cop and Eddie Murphy Raw.
“Get to the Tenement Museum for an engaging guided tour, you'll learn so much and have a new appreciation and understanding of immigrant life in New York.”—Evelyn, Greenpoint
Guided tours of this Lower East Side institution bring the history of New York’s immigrant population from the mid-1800s through to the early 20th Century to life. Before its incarnation as a museum, 97 Orchard Street was once home to dozens of working class Irish, German, Jewish and Italian families.
“Stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge—it’s so romantic that is has the power to turn platonic relationships into something more.”—Javier, Little Italy
Fourteen years and 600 workers (including the original designer, who died during construction)—that’s how long it took to build the Brooklyn Bridge, which has been an iconic landmark of the city since 1883. Thankfully, the NYC Department of Transportation removed the hundreds of “love locks” that were attached to the bridge last year, protecting its status as a historic landmark.
“Watch amazing actors at Shakespeare in the Park. They somehow always manage to make the plays accessible, even to those of us who didn’t understand them in high school.”—Beth, Glendale
While experiencing Shakespeare outdoors is one of summer’s greatest traditions, this year is extra-special, since the theater will be honoring 400 years of The Bard’s legacy. We recommend visiting in May for Taming of the Shrew, a comedy that anyone dealing with a crazy of relationship while balancing male/female dynamics will appreciate.
“Ride on the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island, because no roller coaster can top the thrill of not knowing if you’ll survive a jerky antique Ferris wheel.”—Cara, Gowanus
Celebrating its 96th year this summer, the Wonder Wheel is the center of Coney Island’s famed boardwalk entertainment. Built by the Eccentric Ferris Wheel Company (yes, that’s a real thing) out of Bethlehem-forged steel in the 1920s, this ride is perfect if you want a birds-eye view of the park and ocean.
“Celebrate the Sakura Matsuri [Cherry Blossom Festival] at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. It doesn’t feel like spring until I’m surrounded by cherry blossoms, and I love the elements of Japanese culture.” —Liz, Windsor Terrace
When the winter finally begins to thaw in early April, the pink buds on the cherry blossom trees greet the rising temperatures, and it’s a sight to see. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden pays homage to the Japanese spring festival Sakura Matsuri with Kabuki dance, tea ceremonies, anime/manga cosplay and cherry blossom as far as the eye can see.
“Walk the fruit streets of Brooklyn Heights. They have that Brooklyn-from-the-movies feel.”—Dana, Crown Heights
In the mid-1800s, prominent Brooklyn Heights resident Lady Middagh saw the “pretentious” street names in her ’hood—those named after Brooklyn’s wealthy families—and decided to take matters into her own hands by changing the street signs by cover of darkness to Cranberry, Orange and Pineapple. The names stuck and to this day add even more charm to the historic 19th-century brownstones and tree-lined streets where several movies, like Moonstruck, were filmed.
“Start on a dim-sum crawl on Doyers Street in Chinatown.”—Nadia, East Village
This narrow, curved street is somehow never as crowded as the rest of the ’hood. It’s also home to a true classic: Nom Wah Tea Parlor, open since 1920, which is the oldest New York dim-sum pioneer still standing. If Nom Wah’s too crowded, nearby Ping’s Seafood boasts addictive crab dumplings, and your tab at spacious standby 88 Palace likely won’t stretch past $10 per head.
“Look at the tapestries at the Cloisters, because they’re really beautiful and many are quite unusual—they took a lot of time and artistry to make.”—Catie, Bushwick
Want to feel like you’ve been transported to medieval Europe without leaving NYC? Head to Fort Tryon Park to visit the Cloisters and get lost looking at the chapels, sculptures, unicorn tapestries and gardens. Impress your history-buff friends with this fun fact: the museum was reconstructed from five European abbeys that were dismantled in the 1930s, sent to New York, and reassembled as the buildings you see today. See? History is fun.
“Taking out-of-towners to the Museum of Natural History—looking at the big blue whale from their eyes reminds you just how amazing it really is.”—Alise, Upper East Side
While the most beloved and well-known exhibit is the blue whale—suspended from the ceiling in the oceans room to remind tourists and locals of the magnificence of the sea—it’s only one of the many reasons to visit. Two awesome new reasons to go, even if you’ve think you’ve seen it all: Dinosaurs Among Us (did you know some had feathers, similar to birds of today?) and Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World (opening the end of May), which features four live species, including a forest-dwelling crocodile.
“Get down to one of the Celebrate Brooklyn! concerts in Prospect Park.”—Jesse, Red Hook
One of the best things about summer in Prospect Park is the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival featuring live music under the stars. While catching acts like the Violent Femmes and the Digable Planets makes for a fun, nostalgia-filled night out, you shouldn’t miss your chance to catch two great music-and-movie combos: David Bowie in the cult classic Labyrinth with the Donny McCaslin Group (who backed Bowie on Blackstar), and Run Lola Run, with a live score by The Bays. The best part: All of the above are free.
“Peruse the $1 shelves at Strand Book Store. it’s a great way to kill time.”—Rachel, Washington Heights
Founded in 1927, Strand is perhaps the most beloved indie bookseller in the city, with more than 2.5 million new, used and rare tomes—or as the sign outside says, 18 MILES OF BOOKS—cramming the shelves. Not only are there plenty of $1 used options out front, but many new titles are sold well below list price. Bibliophiles can spend hours checking the staff picks, classic novels, poetry, novels and nonfiction. We suggest walking up to the third floor, where early editions and rare signed copies are available for purchase.
“Enjoy the company at the Gallow Green rooftop bar—it has actors who stay completely in character as people from a bygone era while they chat with you over cocktails.”—Andrew, Midtown
Atop the McKittrick Hotel, home to immersive theater extravaganza Sleep No More, you’ll find this beautiful, lush watering hole. Amid the vines, shrubs and twinkling lights, musicians play jazz music and actors with British accents in elaborate costumes provide entertainment. Even without the performers, the garden party setting and punch served from copper bowls is enough to charm most anybody.
“See animals at the Bronx Zoo—for free!”—Danny, Flushing
If you’ve got a hankering to reconnect with wildlife, play hooky on Wednesday and visit the biggest metropolitan zoo in North America—for free! With over 265-acres of animals and wildlife, you won’t be able to see everything in one day, but you can take a two-hour tour of the Congo Gorilla Forest, World of Reptiles or the Himalayan Highlands exhibit. Be sure to pay a special visit to the American Bison, which was just declared America’s national mammal.