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New York City Attractions: Which ones are worth a visit, which ones should you skip?

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New York City is one of those cities where you can spend days just running from one attraction to the next, and basically never run out of things to do. I must admit that the first couple of times I visited New York I barely got to experience the city beyond its sights because I was trying to tick off as many as possible from my list: the MoMA, the Met, the Statue Of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Guggenheim, the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building, Central Park, Greenwich Village… The list is endless. However, I realized that just focusing on the sights didn’t give me the chance to experience the city itself – I left the city having seen the things New York is famous for but not knowing anything about how the city itself ticks.

brooklyn bridge and manhattan skyline
Free views over the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline

Luckily I have rectified this now that I have spent many months in the Big Apple, and whenever I advise first time visitors on what to do on a visit to New York I make sure to recommend a good balance of attractions and city life / neighborhood exploration.

Of course you will want to visit New York attractions when you come to this amazing city – but you should choose wisely which ones you really have to see. Read on for what I think are the sights worth paying for and which ones I think you should skip in favor for some meandering, people watching and street cafe relaxation:

central park
Central Park – a must-see in New York City!

The Empire State Building vs the Top Of The Rocks

You should definitely do one of the two – seeing New York from above is something truly special and well spent money. Now the question is: which one is better? In my opinion, the Top Of The Rock is the better deal. Not only do you get to see the Empire State Building (and it looks great in photos from above, doesn’t it?) but you also get to see Central Park from up here, and seeing how giant New York’s green lung actually is puts it in a completely new perspective.

Another advantage of Top Of The Rock? It’s the rooftop of the Rockefeller Center of course, home to NBC and 30 Rock! Plus, since every tourist on the planet is obsessed with going on top of the Empire State Building, the lines there are much longer. Admission is the same now for both (Top Of The Rock used to be cheaper!) at $29 per person.

new york city view from top of the rock manhattan
View from the Top Of The Rocks

The museums – Guggenheim vs Met vs MoMA

If you are a fan of modern art, the MoMA is a museum you should definitely NOT miss – it is one of the top ten art museums in the world, if not even one of the top five! You can even visit the MoMA for free on Friday nights after 5pm – but expect to tackle huge crowds. Either you visit another day and pay $25 admission which buys you a much less busy visit, or you deal with the Friday night crowds. You can, however, get a better deal and skip the crowds with the multi-attraction passes I mention further on.

The Metropolitan Museum Of Art is another iconic art gallery in New York, focusing on the old masters and ancient exhibits, ranging from famous American painters to European masters like Vermeer, Monet and Van Gogh. There are some contemporary exhibits here, but in its core, the Met is the place to see the classics. There’s no free admission day/hours here, except for a few museum days every year (check their website to find out when they take place).

met sculpture hall
The Sculpture Hall in the Met

The suggested admission is $25, but you can pay as much as you want. Expect grumpy looks if you only put down five or ten bucks, but if that’s all you’ve got, you can still go in and enjoy the museum. Trust me, you’re not the only one paying that little.

The Guggenheim is the third well-known NYC museum, and houses another outstanding collection of contemporary art. If you are a modern art aficionado, you should visit either the Guggenheim or the MoMa while you’re in New York. Here you can pay what you wish on Saturdays between 5.45 and 7.45pm, normal admission is $22.

moma paris metro station in nyc
Modern Art in the MoMA

The hop-on hop-off tours

If you ask me, you can skip them. Yes, you get to see a lot of the city while riding around in them, but you’ll be stuck in traffic a lot – at least that’s my experience. And taking good photos while moving is nearly impossible. It is much better to walk in the city, especially Manhattan is very walkable. There are some great audio guide apps for self-guided walking tours which I highly recommend! Safe the money for the hop-on hop-off bus and invest in a Broadway show instead. The TKTS ticket booth in Times Square offers discount tickets for all the major plays and musical every day – for as little as $49 (the same price of the hop-on hop-off bus) – and it’s Broadway!

new york broadway taxis
Avoid sitting in traffic!

What you might want to skip: The Statue Of Liberty

The ferry out to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty has some of the longest waiting lines – especially in the summer months. Now, if you’re a total history buff and are dying to visit the Ellis Island Immigration Museum to learn more about the European settlers who arrived in New York in the late 19th century, these lines might be worth the wait for you. If you, however, just want to catch a glimpse of the lady, you might just settle for the Staten Island Ferry, which doesn’t stop at Liberty Island or Ellis Island but passes the Statue Of Liberty and is completely free. If you are planning to visit Liberty Island, note that you have to reserve a ticket in advance to be able to access the crown of the statue ($21 incl ferry). A ticket without crown access is $18.

New York City statue of liberty
The Statue Of Liberty

What to skip for sure:

Any of the ‘attractions’ around Times Square. Did you really come to New York to spend time in a wax museum? If that’s your thing, sure go ahead, but you could do that in plenty of other cities as well. New York has way more awesome stuff to offer than Madame Tussaud’s or Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

times square new york
Times Square: NYC’s biggest tourist trap

The best way to save money on attractions:

Get a multiple attractions pass! Most websites that offer these kind of deals let you choose between a 3-attractions or 5-attractions pass, and depending on how many sights you’re planning to hit up, you can choose what’s best for you. These passes are cheaper than paying each in sight individually, and often also include a hop-on hop-off bus (if you get it for free, you might as well take it – at least for some parts of your day!). If you want to see New York’s iconic museums and one of the rooftops plus Ellis Island, buying a multi-attraction pass is definitely the most economic choice.

highline park nyc
A free not-to-be-missed attraction: The High Line Park

Have you been to New York City? Which iconic tourist attractions do you think should not be missed?

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2 Comments

  1. I love New York City. And it’s one of those places where I actually love doing the touristy stuff. I think the Empire State Building is a must. The views are pretty killer 🙂 I’ve never been to Top of the Rock but it sounds like a great alternative and it’s something I’ll definitely hit up next time I’m in the the Big Apple!

    1. Hi Justine, I think everyone should do at least one rooftop, yes! 🙂 My cousin and her husband were in town last week and I actually convinced them to try the Top Of The Rock because the views OF the Empire State Building and they loved it!

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