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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shakespeare in the Park 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.
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.
Cherry Blossom Festival 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not your typical NYC public swimming hole, the Astoria Pool is one of the largest in the country, with a 330-foot main pool, an Olympic-standard diving pool and an additional wading pool. City planner Robert Moses reportedly designed it in 1936 with somewhat narcissistic intent: Swimmers looking up from the water could see one of his greatest accomplishments: the Triborough (now RFK) Bridge, also completed in 1936.
Hate football? Don’t be fooled by this gay sports-themed bar: Monday nights are devoted to music videos, with two for one Stoli drinks from 4-9pm. If you need a snack, the hunky, boxer-short clad bartenders will whip up anything from BBQ Chicken Sliders to Mini Boxer Burgers, a platter of sliders served with special sauce.
Since opening in Williamsburg in late 2013, this place is known for awesome live music and great stage views—no matter where you are in the venue. But the spot has recently expanded its grub offerings by opening a Thai restaurant inside the venue: Don Muang Airport. Now, instead of bar snacks, you can munch on coconut-topped lettuce cups with smoked pork or tofu to give you energy for events like the Holy Trinity—a Beyoncé/Rhianna/Nicki Minaj dance party—or the always fun and ever-reoccurring Drake Night.
Situated beneath a subway overpass in Bushwick, this club caters to those craving a house or industrial techno fix on Sunday and Monday nights. You can trust that you’re in good hands: it’s owned by nightlife veteran John Barclay of Let’s Play House, Mister Saturday Night and Trip House parties in a four-story, 20-room mansion. He continues this tradition at Bossa Nova, where folks in the mood for a tropical vibe and big sound in a small space will feel right at home.
While this park is worth visiting year-round for its state of the art wireless network (yay, working outdoors!), the real draw in the summer is the Summer Film Festival, held Monday nights from 5-11pm. While this year’s lineup of classic films isn’t announced until mid-May, past showings have included classics like The Shining and E.T.
The Bushwick Starr is what every city needs: a no-frills, black-box theater where young playwrights, actors, dancers, musicians and poets can afford to stage a show. Seating just 60 people, it’s a fantastically intimate space for experiencing up-and-coming talent.
Think of geocaching as a high-tech treasure hunt—an app gives you coordinates and clues to locate hidden, marked boxes holding logbooks for finders to sign. The Geocaching app ($9.99) has plenty of games that take you around the park, including Bridges & Arches of Central Park. It’s the best way to make a stroll in the park feel like an Indiana Jones adventure (minus punching).
Even though it opened a second location at the Village Underground, the original Comedy Cellar is still the place to go if you want to see stand-up by legendary performers who often appear unannounced (Jon Stewart and Chris Rock recently dropped by). For those who like to plan ahead, check the calendar and make a reservation. Warning: If you sit up front, you might be part of the show.
When the city began construction on the FDR Drive back in the 1930s, there was no green space on the Lower East Side’s industrial waterfront to speak of—but city planner Robert Moses added a 10-ft wide extension to the Island’s shorefront, thus giving the neighborhood the much-needed East River Park. The park’s promenade offers great views of the Williamsburg Bridge and a spot to take in the sights and sounds of the river.
At the pointy southern tip of Roosevelt Island stands a three-acre memorial to the namesake President and his famous 1941 Four Freedoms speech. The park is surrounded by the East River with Manhattan to the west and Queens to the east. The lack of tall buildings surrounding the green space makes it particularly windy, so from September 20 through 24, in honor of International Peace Day, visitors can make their own kite with the supplies provided by the park and let it fly.
When it opened in 1970, this nonprofit cinema had folding chairs for seats. Today, it’s open every day year round, so you can catch foreign and indie cinema favorites whenever you want. Visit their site to watch trailers for upcoming releases, or give a gift membership to your favorite movie-loving friend, which offers everything from discounted tickets, merch and limited-edition art.
If you were alive in the 19th century, one of your goals in life was to reserve a place to rest here. Today, this cemetery boasts over 560,000 residents—including Civil War generals. But that’s not the only reason to visit—bring your blanket and enjoy a free Memorial Day concert from the ISO Symphonic Band, or reduce your own anxiety about death at Common Shade: Death, Dying and Buddhist Insights, which features a guided meditation in Green Wood’s chapel.