8 Sights In New York City That Live Up To The Hype (+ Packing Tips)

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , , ,

Guys, I (seriously) love New York. 

I knew that I loved it before I had even set foot in it. 

And it wasn't just because of all the gorgeous photos on Instagram or my addiction to Sex and The City. No, it just seemed to contain all of the things that I love in a city: food, cafes, museums, art galleries, shopping, parks, libraries, history, fashion, culture, quirkiness… what more could you ask for?! 

I will admit though, when I finally did make the trip I was slightly nervous that this place that I had built up in my head wouldn't live up to the hype. But, my worry was for naught, because as soon as I stepped out of my yellow cab and almost got hit by a bike messenger while distracted by a black and white cookie in a bakery window, I knew that I belonged there. 

I then spent a dream-like week wandering by all of the places I'd seen in movies and TV shows, taking in iconic sights, and trying to eat as much amazing food as possible (plus drinking allllll the coffee).

Whether you are embarking on your first trip to this epic city, or heading back for the fifth time, here are some popular spots that are definitely worth visiting. Even if you have to wait in line or fight the crowd, they're worth it — trust me.  

1. Top of The Rock

  • 30 Rockefeller Plaza
  • Open daily, 8 am – midnight
  • Admission: $34/adult, $28/child (tickets available to pre-purchase online)

You'll notice that the Empire State Building is not on this list, but the Top of The Rock, the top of 30 Rock(efeller Plaza), is.

Why, you ask? 

Because if you ride up the 70 floors to the top of this iconic art-deco tower, you get an incredible unobstructed view of the Manhattan skyline that includes the Empire State Building — it's seriously breathtaking. And then, look the other direction, and you have an incredible view over Central Park (best Instagram photos ever).

The view is spread over three different levels, both indoors and outdoors, with the top level being completely open with no glass to obstruct it (pretty darn cool). The platforms are wide and have lots of space to pose for photos or just hang out. 

Added bonuses include that the admission is cheaper than the Empire State Building, it tends to be a lot less crowded, there is a Starbucks on the main floor to chill out in if you have to wait for your turn to ride the elevator up, and there are lots of shops in the surrounding buildings. Also, in the winter there is a skating rink out front, and the Radio City Music Hall is located just across the street! 

2. Grand Central Station

  • 89 E. 42nd Street (at Park Avenue)
  • Open daily, 5:30 am – 2 am
  • Admission: Free

There's just something about train stations.

People are either just starting an adventure, or arriving home from one — I use the term "adventure" loosely here, I realize that for many, this is just the way they get to and from work. Anyway, I just really loved this iconic building. 

Grand Central is one of those places that seems extra magical because of it's starring role in countless movies and TV shows. That iconic clock, the teal coloured ceiling (that has the constellations painted on it), the cocktail lounge — it's exactly the way you remember it. 

You'll also find a great information counter with maps and tourist publications here, as well as a marketplace with more than 60 shops, and tons of restaurants and eateries in the concourse. 

3. NY Public Library (Stephen A. Schwarzman Building)

  • 476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)
  • Open, Sun 1 pm – 5 pm; Mon, Thu – Sat 10 am – 6 pm; Tue & Wed 10 am – 8 pm
  • Admission: Free

Book lovers, be prepared to completely lose your shit. This library is EPIC. 

(Also, Sex and The City fans, this is the location of Carrie and Big's first attempt at a wedding where he stood her up and the bird headpiece thingy happened, as did the flower hitting on the street out front — you know what I mean.)

The building it is housed in is huge, historic, and made of marble with giant columns, elaborate staircases, and two fierce lions guarding the front door.

Highlights include the breathtaking Rose Main Reading Room and the Map Division that contains more than 431,000 maps! If you are looking for a souvenir to take home, I would swing by the gift shop which is filled with (you guessed it) unique books and stationary. 

4. Bryant Park

  • 42nd St. between Fifth and Sixth Aves. 
  • Open daily, 7 am – 10 pm (January – April & October – December); 7 am – 11 pm (May); Mon – Fri 7 am – midnight; Sat & Sun 7 am – 11 pm (June to September)
  • Admission: Free

Located behind the public library (above), this park is everything that you want in a city park — a perfect escape from the chaos.

It has a large green lawn in the middle that is used for picnics and outdoor film screenings in the summer, manicured flower beds lining wide pathways, tables and chairs for relaxing under the trees, mini cafes, restaurants, and bars so you can dine al fresco, a carousel, a giant fountain, and the lovely Bryant Park Cafe. This cafe is where my travel buddy and I spent a delightful few hours people watching and enjoying a few pints in the sunshine. 

The park also hosts regular events like workout classes, street performers, and dance parties. 

5. 9/11 Memorial

  • 180 Greenwich Street
  • Open daily, 7:30 am – 9 pm
  • Admission: Free

I wasn't really sure what to expect when visiting this memorial, but what I wasn't prepared for was how emotional I would be. 

There was a lot of construction in the area when I arrived at the station, and so had to take a bit of a detour when I got out of the subway. But the minute I walked into the square, and up to the massive footprints of the former twin towers, I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. 

The names of those that lost their lives are carved into the edge of the memorials, and it seems never-ending. It is one of the most moving memorials I have ever visited, and whether you are American or not, it is worth visiting to really understand the scope of the loss that the city, and it's people, suffered. 

There is also a museum on site, which I chose not to visit because I felt like it would be too overwhelming for me (I was pretty overwhelmed by the memorial itself). The line to enter tends to be pretty long, so if you are planning on visiting, you can pre-buy tickets on the website here.  

6. The Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

  • 1000 Fifth Ave at 82nd St
  • Open daily, Sun – Thu 10 am – 5:30 pm; Fri & Sat 10 am – 9 pm
  • Admission: Free (but admission donations are appreciated)

If you’ve never been to New York before, The Met might seem like it’s just another museum in the long list of museums and art galleries that are on must-see lists for the city.

But it is not just like the others, ohhhhhhh no my friend, it is not. (Read 10 Reasons Why You'll Love The Met).

First of all, it is absolutely giant, covering more than two million square feet! The space is filled with treasures spanning from the beginning of time all the way to the present day, all organized in light, airy spaces that perfectly suit the artifacts that are being presented. 

It is delightfully overwhelming, and you could spend an entire day in the museum (I did) and not even come close to seeing the entire collection. It is seriously up there in the top three museums I have ever been to in the world. 

7. Times Square

  • Broadway at 7th Ave.
  • Always open!
  • Admission: Free

There is no photo that I have ever seen that actually gives any sense of the size, feeling, and chaos that is Times Square. The traffic, the street performers, the buzz of the crowd, the giant neon signs — it's better than what you could imagine. 

And the difference between this place from day to night is like night and day (see what I did there…). It's still fun to wander around at either time, but there is a magical transformation that happens once the sun goes down and the famous neon signs light up the massive space. 

There are lots of shops and street vendors if you are in the mood to spend some dollars, and Broadway is nearby if you want to catch a show, or wander past famous theatres like the New Amsterdam or the Lyceum. 

8. The High Line

  • Runs from Gansevoort St (Meatpacking District) to West 34th St, between 10th and 12th Aves
  • Open daily, 7 am – 7 am (Dec – Mar); 7 am – 10 pm (April – May); 7 am – 11 pm (June – Sept); 7 am – 10 pm (Oct – Nov)
  • Admission: Free

This completely unique public park built is built on a historic freight rail line that is elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It was built in the 1930s, and ran through the (then unsavoury) Meat Packing District and Chelsea. These areas of Manhattan were industrial in the early 1900s, and the historic stone buildings, now full of lofts and cafes, were once home to slaughterhouses and warehouses. 

It is now covered in flowers, trees, shrubs, benches, tables, playgrounds for kids, viewing areas and pathways. It lifts you up off of the busy streets and places you in a quiet oasis surrounded by interesting historic buildings, beautiful greenery, and fantastic artwork.

There are permanent large-scale works and smaller temporary displays all along the attraction, and you will also find food stalls and coffee bars, and some incredible views of the city streets. 

It is definitely worth visiting, and a great alternative to taking the subway when moving between areas of the city (the Chelsea Market is located only a few minutes walk away from the park's south end!)

Packing Tips

  • Bring comfortable shoes! You are going to be walking A LOT, and this is not the time to break in a brand new pair or show off your high heel collection.
  • Layer. The temperature of the city seems to change depending on if you are on a narrow street surrounded by high rises or laying in the sun in Central Park. Plus, you will inevitably be as far away from your hotel as possible when there is a shift in the weather. 
  • Bring a bag that helps you keep your hands free. You never know when you might want to jump on a bicycle, have to get on a crowded subway car, or take photos from the Top of The Rock! You want to make sure you can have all your belongings in a safe place so you can focus on the experience rather than losing something. 
  • No, not everyone looks like they stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. My favourite part about people watching in NYC was realizing that everyone seems to have their own individual style. While I am sure there are pockets of the city where people all dress similarly, the only consistent thing that I noticed was people who looked comfortable in what they had on. So, don't worry about having the most fashionable wardrobe, just do you!

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