20 landmarks to see in New York City

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

  • Brooklyn Heights Promenade

  • Photograph: Ari Mintz


    How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

  • Empire State Building

  • The Cyclone

    The Cyclone

  • Photograph: Slve Sundsb / Art + Commerce courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty"

    "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty"

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis

    Bronx Zoo

  • Panorama of the City of New York

  • Photograph: Ilenia Martini

    The High Line

    The High Line

Brooklyn Heights Promenade

Stroll across a national landmark
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 St; nyc.gov), which celebrates its 128th birthday this year. 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, you have two options: Head into Brooklyn Heights and stroll along the Promenade (Columbia Heights between Middagh and Montague Sts, Brooklyn Heights; nyc.gov/parks), overlooking lower Manhattan, or detour to Brooklyn Bridge Park (enter at Atlantic Ave at Furman St, Dumbo, Brooklyn; brooklynbridgepark.org), where you'll find concessions from Bark Hot Dogs and sand volleyball courts (BYO ball) at Pier 6.

See a show on the Great White Way
Yes, tickets to Broadway shows can be outrageously expensive, but if you want to see Anything Goes or How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying without breaking the bank, you may be able to snag cheap tix. (It just involves a lot of patient waiting.) Discount tickets are available at the TKTS Booth in Duffy Square (W 47th St at Broadway). Or try the TKTS South Street Seaport Booth, at the corner of Front and John Streets, or TKTS Downtown Brooklyn, at One MetroTech Center on the corner of Jay Street and Myrtle Avenue. Theatre Development Fund has added a "Play Only" window at the Times Square booth under the red steps. All booths accept credit cards. For hours and details, go to tdf.org.

Get cultured at a blockbuster museum show
Sometimes it's worth fighting the crowds to see a major exhibit at one of the city's myriad institutions; right now, there are two huge shows that no visitor (or local) should miss. You'll have to wait for admission to "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave at 82nd St; 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org; Tue--Thu, Sun 9:30am--5:30pm; Fri, Sat 9:30am--9pm; suggested donation $20, seniors $15, students $10, members and children under 12 free; through Aug 7), but seeing the late British designer's exquisitely crafted pieces will likely erase your memories of standing in an hour-long queue. Across town, you can see some of the biggest creatures to roam the earth in "The World's Largest Dinosaurs" (American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th St; 212-769-5100, amnh.org; daily 10am--5:45pm; price varies, see website for details; through Jan 2), which features a model of a 60-foot-long Mamenchisaurus.

Take a spin on the 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. 834 Surf Ave at 8th St, Coney Island, Brooklyn (718-373-5862, lunaparknyc.com). $8.

Gawk at animals in the Bronx
Though the city is home to a few great animal parks, the Bronx Zoo is by far the largest, housing more than 4,500 creatures. Its most famous resident is undoubtedly Mia, the Egyptian cobra who escaped earlier this year (and memorably "tweeted" about her adventures around the city). But there are plenty of other cute critters: Sea lions put on a show for visitors (Mon, Tue, Thu--Sun 11am, 3pm), while all the babies—including a Grevy's zebra and a Przewalski's horse foal—will give you a cute overload. Check out more of the aww-dorable animals in our Bronx Zoo guide. Bronx Zoo, 2300 Southern Blvd at Fordham Rd, Bronx (718-220-5100, bronxzoo.com). Mon--Fri 10am--5pm; Sat, Sun 10am--5:30pm. $16, seniors $14, children 3--12 $12; Total Experience ticket $29.95, seniors $24.95, children 3--12 $19.95.

Explore New York's history in Flushing
The massive Flushing Meadows--Corona Park (111th St to Van Wyck Expwy between Flushing Bay and Grand Central Pkwy, Flushing, Queens; nyc.gov/parks) 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 (New York City Building, enter at 111th St and 49th Ave, Flushing, Queens; 718-592-9700, queensmuseum.org; Wed--Sun noon--6pm; suggested donation $5, seniors and students $2.50, children under 5 free), home to the Panorama of the City of New York, a ginormous scale model of New York City featuring Lilliputian landmarks, including the Empire State Building and Queens's own Citi Field.

See the ships at South Street Seaport
The former Fulton Street Fish Market building at Pier 17 (Fulton St at Water St; southstreetseaport.com) 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 (146 Beekman St between Front and South Sts; 212-962-0053, freshsalt.com), a cozy, nautically themed bar that was formerly a fish smokehouse.

Go to the top of the 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 currently the 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. Empire State Building, Fifth Ave between 33rd and 34th Sts (212-736-3100, esbnyc.com). Daily 8am--2am; ticket prices vary, check website for details.

Galleryhop in Chelsea
Don't be intimidated by dour gallerinas guarding Chelsea's myriad art spaces: The institutions, mostly centered on Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, host a rotating collection of big-name and emerging works that would make any contemporary art museum jealous. Stop by as many galleries as you like, since they're all free; or get an expert to guide you on New York Gallery Tours' regular journeys through the area (nygallerytours.com; $20).

Hang out on the High Line
Not all art in Chelsea is in the galleries—the neighborhood's elevated park also features a number of public art installations (we're partial to Sarah Sze's Still Life with Landscape [Model for a Habitat], a collection of birdhouses perched on an elaborate metal sculpture). With the opening of the green space's second half, which runs along Tenth Avenue between 20th and 30th Streets, this landscaped aerie provides an escape from the bustle of the city. Find out more about the popular park in our guide to the High Line. Ganesvoort St and Washington St to Tenth Ave and 30th St (212-206-9922, thehighline.org). Daily 7am--10pm; free.

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