104 Best Things to Do in New York City: A Local’s Guide
Check out my ultimate local's guide to the best things to do in New York City. Including non-touristy things to do, it'll be a trip you won't soon forget.
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One of my favorite things about living in New York are those magical movie moments where you look up and get to stare at the most incredible view that gives you major main character energy.
It’s always a pinch-me moment every time I would stare out of the cab window on my way home after a night out to my old apartment on the Upper East Side, passing the MET, and Central Park with its glowing streetlamps.
Or if I was coming from Brooklyn, the view as we sped down the highway with the city and Brooklyn Bridge all lit up.
Now that I’m a nomad, I miss all those magical nights, but thankfully still get to experience them a few times a year when I’m home.
There’s nothing like the excitement of seeing the city below as my plane flies over Manhattan on its way to LaGuardia.
In fact, I’m not afraid to admit I cried (yes, it’s that spectacular on a clear day) when I saw it for the first time after being out of the city for a full year during COVID when I was living in Canada.
I know not everyone gets to enjoy the city as much as I get to, so if you’ve got limited time, and want to experience some of the best views in NYC, hit up a couple of my favorite spots from the list below!
I know if you haven’t been to the city before, Sheep Meadow in Central Park isn’t the first place you’d expect to have an amazing view, but trust me on this one.
Grab some picnic supplies, and head to the meadow for an afternoon picnic.
The second you get there you’ll understand why this is a spot all the locals favor in the summer.
Fair warning, the field is closed during the winter, but you can still catch the view from behind the fence.
Summit One Vanderbilt is one of the latest observation decks to open in NYC.
It’s got a mirrored ceiling, walls, and floor, making the views you get out of this world, especially at night when they reflect the city lights.
The best part is that you can grab drinks while you’re enjoying the view. Just book a spot at Danny Meyer’s new spot APRÈS.
It’s a great date night spot!
Book your entry early to guarantee getting to check out this epic view!
On a clear day, you can see five states from the observation deck at the top of One World Trade.
As of 2022, it’s ranked as the 8th tallest building in the world, and the tallest in NYC.
My favorite time to go up is near sunset.
It’s really beautiful watching as the sun goes down and New York’s lights shine.
Make sure you get to see the view by booking your tickets ahead of time!
You’ll be able to see the entire way down 42nd Street from this less touristy look out.
The best part is that because you’re on an elevated pedestrian bridge, you’ll be able to easily get that classic shot down the center of the street without fighting traffic.
Head to Tudor City Bridge early morning or late evening for the best views.
Stroll down The High Line for beautiful views and great people watching.
In the summer, you’ll be able to enjoy tons of plants and flowers, plus occasional performances.
Plus, all year round, you can swing by 10th Ave. Square and Overlook to check out a really cool view of the city below, plus Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
The square can be tricky to spot. It’s just past the Chelsea Market Passage, near 17th street.
If the weather is nice, head to The Edge, the tallest outdoor sky deck in the western hemisphere.
They suspended their sky deck in mid-air, giving you an insane view of the city below thanks to its glass floor.
You can also grab a drink at their bar while admiring the epic views. This is especially romantic at sunset.
If you’re really feeling adventurous, they’ll let you climb part of the building.
No joke, City Climb will let you scale the outside of the skyscraper, over 1,200 feet in the air.
It’s the highest open-air building ascent in the world.
I haven’t done it yet, but it’s definitely on my New York bucket list.
Book early to guarantee a place at this popular spot!
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is something every tourist and local should do at least once in their lives.
Besides being totally iconic, it also offers some pretty incredible views.
You’ll see the Statue of Liberty, beautiful views of both the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines.
I normally grab a coffee before strolling across, since the bridge can get chilly if it’s windy.
Since I always start on the Manhattan side, I go to Birch Coffee on Beekman Street (between Nassau and Willams).
Fun Fact: The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States.
With both indoor and outdoor observation decks, Top of the Rock is a classic lookout point for a reason.
Each observation deck gives a different perspective of the city, and they all boast incredible views.
In fact, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Brooklyn.
Since this is one of the most popular lookouts, I’d definitely book your time slot early to avoid having to wait when you arrive.
Obviously, the most popular time is sunset, so if that’s when you want to go, don’t wait to book tickets!
Guarantee your place at the Top of the Rock by reserving tickets today!
One of my favorite spots to take photos with the skyline in the background is from DUMBO’s waterfront.
It’s gorgeous any time of time, plus once you’re done taking in the views, there’s a bunch to check out around the neighborhood.
Don’t forget to visit Time Out Market, which also offers some gorgeous views of the skyline while you eat.
Visiting the rooftop exhibit at The MET is one of my favorite things to do during the summer in NYC.
There’s normally some sort of cool sculpture, plus a booth to buy coffee, snacks, and cocktails to enjoy while taking in the unique view of Central Park.
Fair warning, the rooftop is only open during the warmer months, and can be tricky to find if you don’t know about.
You’ll want to take the elevator by the Fabergé eggs in order to reach it.
There’s no time limit, but I’d say aim to get there early to score a prime bench to enjoy your coffee on.
Book your tickets to the MET early to guarantee a spot!
This beautiful castle in the middle of Central Park offers stunning views of the park below.
Though, my favorite view is the one you get of the Delacorte Theater, where Shakespeare in the Park performs every summer.
Every summer for years, I would take a small picnic and find a spot overlooking the theater in order to watch the shows, especially the productions that were impossible to snag tickets to.
I didn’t always get the best view or audio, but it quickly became one of my favorite summer traditions.
Either way, it’s worth stopping by to check out the view and to take a few cool photos of this iconic New York castle.
Everyone is always obsessed with glimpsing Lady Liberty, but what about catching the city from her point of view?
Since you’re likely planning a trip to visit her anyway, buy a ticket to go inside. You’ll be able to see the view from her pedestal, which is about 10 stories tall.
Fair warning, there’s 215 steps to conquer before you get there, however don’t worry, there is an elevator for those who cannot use the steps.
If you’re really feeling up to it, you can also climb to the top and see the view of the city from inside her crown.
Unfortunately, there’s no elevator to the top, so you’ll need to climb all 162 steps to the top from the pedestal.
Reserve your tickets early for the best availability!
One of the first things everyone wants to see when they land in NYC is Times Square.
This chaotic area is home to tons of shops, hotels, restaurants, street vendors, theaters, at least 100 screens displaying ads, about a dozen costumed “characters” who will harass you for money and photos, tourists who walk too slow and locals who just want to shove past them, and of course maybe a rat or two.
As a local, who worked in Times Square for almost a decade, this area’s lost a bit of magic for me, but I do still get a delight every time I see one of my out-of-town friends light up with excitement the first time they experience it.
You’ll definitely want to hop on the big red steps and do a photoshoot or a bit of people watching.
If you’re able to stay awake until midnight, you won’t want to miss the “Midnight Moment”, when all the screens display artwork at the stroke of midnight. Even most locals don’t know about this hidden gem!
If you’re afraid of heights, you’ll probably want to skip this and take the train to Roosevelt Island instead, since these gondolas do rock a bit.
If that doesn’t deter you, you’ll get a magnificent view of the city as you ride the tram 250 feet above the East River.
The entire ride is only about four minutes, so it’s a quick trip.
Lucky for you, the views from the island are just as worthwhile.
Strolling along the riverside with a coffee in hand is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the peace of the island.
You’ll see some gorgeous views of Manhattan, which are especially nice around sunset as the city skyline lights up.
The Empire State Building is easily one of the most iconic landmarks in New York City.
It’s been immortalized in films in King Kong, Sleepless in Seattle, and On the Town.
Ask pretty much anyone in the world about it, and chances are they’ve at least heard it.
So it’d be a crime not to head to the top of this legendary building to take in the views at least once.
I can still remember the first time I went to NYC with my mom. It was one of the first places we went when we got to town.
We were both in awe of just how large the city really is once you see it from the vantage point of The Empire State Building.
You’ll see magnificent views of The Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, and even into New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, and even Massachusetts on a crystal cloudless day.
Don’t miss out on seeing this iconic view, book your tickets today!
Little Island is one of NYC’s newest additions that a lot of tourists still forget to put on their to-do lists.
Don’t miss out on wandering around this cute man-made island in Hudson River Park at Pier 55.
You’ll get magnificent views of downtown Manhattan, the Hudson River, and New Jersey.
Plus, some beautiful sunset views if you time your entry right.
Local’s Tip: Go to the Southwest Overlook for some of the best views of NYC from Little Island.
With stunning views of the midtown Manhattan skyline,including The Empire State Building, visiting Gantry Plaza State Park is a must if you’re in Long Island City.
This 12-acre park is in a former dockyard, and has plenty of manicured lawns for picnics, a basketball court, playground, sports fields, and even a handball court.
This is another prime area to enjoy a romantic sunset picnic during the summer.
It’s also home to the famous “Pepsi Cola” neon sign that’s a popular background for IG photoshoots.
One of my favorite views of the city is when I’m flying in or out of Laguardia and the plane soars over Manhattan.
You can see Central Park, The Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, and more on a clear day.
If you’re booking a flight from LGA, look up which side of the plane you should sit on for the best view of NYC, based on your flight path.
You can also really splurge, and book yourself a ride over the city in a helicopter.
This is a big bucket list item for me, that I’ve heard is absolutely amazing.
This is a once in a lifetime experience you’ll absolutely want to book early!
One of my favorite places to hit up when I’m in midtown is the Time Warner Building.
It’s got tons of great shopping, a Whole Foods that’s perfect for stocking up on picnic supplies for Central Park, plus some absolutely incredible views of the park and the traffic wheezing around Columbus Circle below.
Head up to the second or third floors, some a magnificent view down Central Park South, or hit up one of these restaurants for a meal with a view:
I’m also dying to catch a show at Jazz at Lincoln Center, which has found a home in Columbus Circle.
I’ve caught some great broadcast performances from there, and the views look incredible.
If you’re looking for a romantic date night location with a view, check this place out!
With 85 acres to stroll around and explore, Brooklyn Bridge Park is a true gem, especially during the summer when they screen movies with a view of Manhattan’s skyline in the distance, during their Movies With a View series.
Don’t fret if you’re not in town during the summer. There’s still plenty to do, including roller skating, basketball, bouldering, soccer, and biking.
Either way, this is a great spot to catch the sunset any time of year. It’s magical watching as the skyline across the East River starts to light up as darkness falls.
If you’re looking for a way to catch some gorgeous views of the city and The Statue of Liberty from the water for free, hop on the Staten Island Ferry.
The total trip one way takes about 25 minutes and is so worth it!
Once you’ve arrived in Staten Island, you can either hop on the next ferry back to Manhattan, or do a bit of exploring.
I’d take at least a couple hours to wander around since you’re already there.
If you’re looking for a unique dinner, head to Enoteca Maria. It’s run by a bunch of Italian grandmas who alternate cooking and creating menus each night.
One of my friends went over the summer on a date night and said it was such a cool and delicious experience.
If you’re looking for that iconic street photo with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, you’ll want to head to the intersection of Washington Street and Water Street.
You’ll want to go super early in the morning to snag a photo without too many people in the background.
Otherwise, you may have to play the waiting game to shoot without a bunch of people on the sidewalk behind you.
Between lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, you’ll find Governors Island.
From this vantage point, you’ll get superb views of both the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New Jersey skylines, plus The Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
It’s home to tons of cool events, including art exhibitions, food festivals, and more.
They also offer bike rentals, hammocks to relax in, a hill with slides for kids, and even dog days during the winter where you can bring your pooch to run around.
If you’re really feeling adventurous, check out Collective Governors Island. They host glamping experiences, and offer delicious culinary treats, plus spa and wellness activities.
It’s something I’m dying to do this summer with friends.
Fun Fact: Governors Ball music festival used to take place here, but because of how popular it got, they moved it to Randall’s Island, and eventually to Citi Field.
This 1,826-foot-long esplanade over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Brooklyn Heights.
Head here for a beautiful stroll with stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn Bridge.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade is another brilliant spot to chill with a book, take a walk with coffee, or stage a little Instagram photoshoot.
I really love coming here in the evening and people watching, since it feels less touristy than some of the other promenades in Brooklyn. There are also a ton of cute dogs being walked, which I love, and always a splendid view at sunset.
Fun Fact: Abraham Lincoln supposedly said “There may be finer views than this in the world, but I don’t believe it,” when he got out of his carriage in 1864 on the ridge that gives Brooklyn Heights its name.
I hope this list has given you all the inspiration you need to plan hitting up some of the best views of NYC during your visit.
Let me know in the comments below which views you’re most looking forward to checking out!
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