For the most part, New Yorkers--both born and bred, and those who have adopted it as their home--believe Manhattan is the center of the universe. In their minds, no city is as vibrant, culturally flush, fashion-forward, nor has a comparable restaurant/nightlife scene. While this New York-centricity may be grating, the truth is they’re kinda right. With its history, iconic buildings and architecture, never-ending arts, diversity of cultures and neighborhoods, and wealth of things to do, Gotham is undoubtedly among the top metropolises in the world. Simple advice for visitors: pack comfortable shoes and prepare to go, go, go.
For first-time visitors (and even third- and fourth-timers), navigating Manhattan can be a bit overwhelming. But once, you figure out the fairly straight-forward city grid, getting around is simple, whether you go the subway/bus route or prefer taxis. One of the best things to do, however, is to take a New York City Hop on Hop off Bus Tour. Valid for 48 hours, your ticket to the red, double-decker buses, which make 50 stops while cruising several Manhattan routes, is a fab way to see many of the city’s famed and most popular neighborhoods and attractions.
It’s certainly possible to spend all day cruising the city via your bus tour, but if you prefer to sink your teeth into some classic city goodness, why not start with a jaunt to the Upper Westside? Start at the famed American Museum of Natural History in New York City (79th and Central Park West) the adjacent Rose Center for Earth and Space, both filled with world-class exhibits. Before or after you hit the Fossil Halls or take in a mind-blowing Space Show, grab some grub at Zabar’s, (80th and Broadway) an iconic New York deli/bakery/market/ and orange-and-white beacon (featured in more than one memorable Seinfeld episode). Also nearby is one of the best bagel joints in the city H & H — and you haven’t lived until you’ve had on of their toasty hot everything bagels smeared with cream cheese and smothered in lox.
If it's a nice day and or you need a shot of green, meander into the 843-acre oasis that is Central Park, for prime people watching, gorgeous scenery, including the famed Reservoir Running Track, ice-skating rink, zoo, restaurants, boating and so much more. (Another fun thing to do is to take the Central Park Soiree private tour that includes a horse carriage ride around the park and dinner at the legendary Tavern on the Green.)
For your first evening in Manhattan, take in a classic Broadway show. A few of our favorites include Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia!, Avenue Q, Hairspray, and Beauty and the Beast. Bravo!
In Manhattan, fashion and shopping is serious business. Whether dressing like a chicly clad fashion minion, downtown urban hipster or professional power-suiter is your thing, you’ve found nirvana here. Designer ateliers, luxury specialty stores, discount retailers and hordes of independent boutiques selling stylish, not-seen-everywhere merchandise are stuffed into every cranny of the island from Harlem to Brooklyn.
Although it could take months, maybe even years, to truly make a dent in NYC’s shopping landscape, here are a few suggestions to get you started on your mass consumption. The city’s Garment Center in midtown is singularly New York. Building after building is filled with designer showrooms, where buyers throughout the world come to shop the market. It’s also home to Fashion Avenue (Seventh Avenue) and the Fashion Walk of Fame, featuring fashion sketches by lauded American fashion designers etched into the sidewalks from 35th to 41st Streets. The NYC Garment Center Insider Shopping Tour is the perfect way to get your fashion fix by visiting private showrooms, and shopping hot sample sales.
For cool boutique shopping, independent stores selling everything from standout men's, women's and children's labels to ooh-worthy gifts, jewelry, accessories and housewares, check out SoHo, the Meatpacking District, Greenwich Village's Bleeker Street (home to famed cupcake haven Magnolia Bakery), NoLita, and the Lower Eastside. If you prefer someone to show you the way to all the hidden gems and fashionable must-haves, the NYC, SoHo and NoLita Shopping Tour is ideal.
Those who are department store devotees, one of the best, especially for designer goodies at marked-down prices, is the Financial District's Century 21 . It's packed with merchandise and filled with bargain-happy natives and tourists, and whirling with energy. Try to avoid lunchtime if crowds make you queasy. Other stalwart Big Apple specialty and department stores not to be missed: Barney's, Henri Bendel, Bergdorf Goodman, and Sak's Fifth Avenue. Can't forget 34th Street's Macy's, the largest store in the world.
No doubt, all that shopping has made you hungry and anxious to show off one of your new glam outfits when you hit the town. How about a romantic dinner cruise, an evening jazz tour or soul food and jazz in Harlem?
Just walking around New York is an adventure in itself, but visitors surely want to take in as much as possible during their stays. Here are a few only-in New York sights, attractions and activities sure to wow!
TV and movie fans will be in big- and little-screen heaven, with several guided tours that whisk you past--and explore--some of the key locations and haunts of your favorites shows and movies. Those obsessed with Carrie Bradshaw and company, sign up for the Sex and the City Hotspots tour. Likewise, Tony Soprano devotees can't miss the Sopranos Sites tour. For a mix of your favorite TV and movie locales, the New York TV and Movie Sites Tour is the golden ticket.
While visiting the apartments and favorite hotspots of beloved fictional characters is a fun way to tour New York, another must is to view the Big Apple from above, in order to capture the city's magnificent landscape, including iconic buildings, bridges, monuments and more. Options abound, but here are a few ways to get a lofty perspective on the city that never sleeps: Take a helicopter flight over New York City and it's sure to be one of the most memorable parts of your trip--one that may only be rivaled by your view from the top of the Empire State Building. Top of the Rock is also amazing, and offers spectacular views especially of Central Park and the northern half of Manhattan.
And for a truly personal and one-of-a-kind experience, pound the pavement with your own personal photographer/tour guide and native New Yorker who will capture your day in keepsake colorful photos. Areas covered include Central Park, Times Square, Upper and Lower Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
The above suggestions are just a sliver of the things to do and see in New York City. If you need more inspiration, browse our complete list of New York City tours and activities.