Skyscrapers, Broadway, Pizza slices, Mafia movies, the Statue of Liberty, the Knicks, the Jets, the Yankees, Cheesecakes, Bagels, Corned beef, Pastrami, Friends, Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, and World Trade Center are just some of the things that spring to mind when thinking about New York City.
We generally prefer raw nature compared to concrete jungles, but there are exceptions to this. Tokyo is one of them, but, for sure, so is NYC! We celebrated Nick’s birthday here in the springtime, and we completely fell in love with the city. There’s so much to see and do, and each day felt like a proper adventure. In our minds, New York is really the capital of the world!
We had such an amazing city break. We got to spend plenty of time outside on the busy streets, took long strolls in the parks, and had refreshing drinks on the sidewalk cafes just watching life go by. New York City did not disappoint in any way.
We had a bunch of amazing experiences in New York City. We could very well make an enormous list of things to do, places to see, restaurants to try, or good places to go for a drink. There really are millions of possibilities there. However, what we really want to share is our absolute favorite city adventures that will ensure your trip becomes truly extraordinary.
Let’s get right to it then. What follows is a list of our 13 favorite things to see and do in New York City. The first two items on the list are the absolute highlights, probably because they were the most adventurous. Those are the two things we remember the clearest today, and we highly recommend them. They gave the trip a little extra oomph. However, make sure to read on to the remaining 11 as well. Those are not ordered, so you can simply pick and choose from them as you put together your own itinerary for NYC. One thing is for sure: You won’t regret going!
Just before we get going, though, check out this short video put together with photos from our personal trip. Remember to turn on the sound!
2 ADVENTUROUS HIGHLIGHTS OF NEW YORK CITY
1. Open-Door Heli Ride Above Manhattan
To celebrate Nick’s birthday, we had booked an open-door helicopter ride. We wanted to see those impressive skyscrapers from above and were hoping for good weather. As you can see in the picture, Nick had been a good boy that year, and we got exactly what we wanted. A combination of blue skies and no obstructing doors on the helicopter meant we got to take some epic pictures. In fact, the photos we took on this day have been our most popular on Pinterest ever since!
Needless to say, this amazing experience turned out to be the highlight of our time in New York City. Therefore we have dedicated a full adventure post detailing the whole experience. Read this if you would consider a flight yourself. It’s not as simple as just booking any of the 15-minute heli trips taking off from the New York harbor. Most flights without doors, and those going really close to the skyscrapers, have been banned, but if you venture out to White Plains, it is still possible to find one! And don’t worry, they are completely safe. Read the full post to get all the details, including which company to book with.
If you have heard stories about helicopters crashing, and would like to know more about your odds, read through our Adventure Travel page as well and see if we can’t ease your mind a little!
It was an ultimate bucket list experience and something we had been looking forward to for a very long time. Luckily, it turned out that our excitement was completely worthwhile. This is, without a doubt, the best adventure we went on while visiting the Big Apple. In fact, it’s one of the greatest adventures of our entire lives. It was truly mesmerizing to experience the city from above, so put any fear aside, and book this flight right away. You won’t regret it!
2. New York Media Boat Sightseeing Around Manhattan & Ellis Island
As we had already gotten the bird’s eye view from an open-door helicopter, we decided to see the skyline from the water as well. We had heard great things about the New York Media Boat company and chose them based on the reviews. Using sleek, military-style RIB boats, they are also much faster than the typical tourist boats and can thus cover greater distances. It’s definitely more adventurous to sightsee this way as well!
It was a bit cloudy on the day, but that actually wasn’t a problem for us. It made the skyline have a completely different look than what we saw from the helicopter, and we had an absolutely amazing experience. The city, and its towering skyscrapers, looked so impressive from the water.
We passed by most of NYC, going from Upper to Lower Manhattan and back, and, of course, we circled around Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty as well. For us, it felt so convenient seeing Lady Liberty from the water instead of having to queue up for the ferry and again at the island. Later, we even had time to sail under Brooklyn Bridge before completing the tour.
11 GREAT THINGS TO DO IN MANHATTAN
We realize that a trip to New York City can’t be filled with adventures and adventures only. So after booking the two adrenaline-inducing experiences mentioned above, you can change gears a bit and take a look at the next 11 ideas. We have tried them all, and although they aren’t as exciting as flying helicopters and sailing RIB boats, they still helped make our trip to New York City utterly amazing.
3. Take a stroll through Central Park
Whenever we head to a big city, at one point or another, we always have to check out their signature public park. It’s just so refreshing to see some green scenery, get some fresh air, and take a break from the big city life. We did this with Regent’s Park in London and with Shinjuku Chuo Park in Tokyo, and Central Park definitely did the trick for us as well.
You should make sure to set aside some time to go explore this oasis in the middle of the grand city. You can take a long walk, rent a bike or go for a run. The opportunities are vast, so just get out there and enjoy some fresh air. It’s bigger than you might expect so you can easily spend half a day there.
4. Explore the Village
The thing we missed the most while living in the UAE for two years was to take some long walks and just go wherever we wanted on our own two legs. So when we finally had the opportunity to do just that in New York, we took full advantage. Aside from Central Park, our favorite place to stretch our legs was Greenwich Village – also known as the Village. Here we stumbled upon the apartment from the TV show Friends, found Carrie Bradshaws famous steps, and joined into a street party with a fantastic atmosphere.
Although you may not be just as lucky on your stroll around the Village, there is still a lot of stuff to experience and do around there. You should, first and foremost, stop by a sidewalk café to enjoy a glass of rosé, eat fresh and delicious donuts, have a famous pizza slice the size of your head, and you most definitely need to try those famous New York bagels for breakfast. Generally, the streets of the Village are just a lovely place to take a walk and soak in the New York atmosphere.
5. Walk the (High) Line
Another worthwhile walk to take in NYC is the so-called High Line. As the name suggests, it’s a route that goes above ground level, allowing you to put some distance between yourself and the busy streets. It’s a sort of green escape in the middle of the city, built on old railroad tracks. If the weather is good, you definitely shouldn’t miss this! It’s an awesome way to spend a sunny day out and about, and it will give you a great feel for how big this city actually is.
6. Eat at the best restaurant in the world
As we were celebrating Nick’s birthday during our visit to the Big Apple, we decided to try out the very best restaurant in the world. The unofficial expert on that would be the organization known as “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants”. That year the top spot had been awarded to Eleven Madison Park, which, luckily for us, is centrally located in New York. It was an item we were happy to tick off our ultimate bucket list, but it also happened to be our first dinner date on a three-starred Michelin restaurant.
Needless to say, it was an amazing experience with some of the most delicious food we’ve ever tasted. The whole experience from start to end was fantastic. Of course, considering the price tag, it also should be. This is definitely not a way we indulge on every trip, or even every year, but it actually felt like the price was worth paying. It is an experience we will always remember, and as such, we are very happy we did it. Even though it cost us a pretty penny.
Fun fact: We always heard how important it is to tip in the States, so we tried to do that there as well. The waiter came running after us, crossing a busy street to bring back our cash and tell us that the restaurant doesn’t accept tips. Well, okay then!
7. Dine at our favorite restaurant in NYC
You can’t eat at the best restaurant in the world in New York anymore, because Eleven Madison Park no longer holds the top spot. The good news is you don’t have to. In fact, you don’t even have to eat at a Michelin restaurant to enjoy a good meal in New York. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing eateries in the city, so you are completely spoilt for choice.
If you can’t see the forest for the trees, don’t worry, we got you covered. What follows is our single favorite restaurant in NYC – which was so good that we had to come back the next night for seconds.
Our favorite restaurant in New York is called Olio e Piú, which can be found right next to the famous Bleeker Street. As you might be able to see from the name, it is an Italian restaurant, and the homemade pasta they make there is completely comparable to the original you get when visiting Italy itself. It is absolutely mouthwatering, and we are definitely going back again the next time we are in town. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a cozy restaurant in a great location.
Don’t believe us? Try it for yourself!
8. Sip pre-dinner cocktails at a rooftop bar
How about a “Manhattan” cocktail before dinner? There are plenty of great bars in New York, but if you are not used to the beautiful skyscrapers from back home, then we suggest you choose one located on a rooftop. The added wow-effect makes whatever the drink costs that much more worth it. Just remember to bring your wallet, rooftop bars in Midtown knows exactly the kind of premium they can charge for the view.
For a more affordable choice, try to find one down in the Lower East Side. It won’t be cheap, but it might be a little more friendly on the wallet. There is great nightlife to be found down there as well, so you’ll have a more lively atmosphere. This is where the locals go, and that’s always a good sign.
The buildings in LES aren’t as tall as in Midtown, but they don’t have to be. As seen in the photo, you’ll be able to admire the pretty skyline views of both Lower and Upper Manhattan just fine. We stayed for a few nights at Hotel Indigo, and they had a lovely rooftop bar on the 26th floor. Located right by the pool, it was just perfect for a few pre-dinner drinks and watching the sunset over the city.
9. Marvel at the Upper Manhattan skyline
Our favorite way to see the impressive Upper Manhattan skyline, was, in fact, from our hotel window. Before moving our bags to the Lower East Side, we stayed for a few days in Midtown. We specifically booked a high floor room at Lotte New York Palace, and from here, we could enjoy great views each morning. It was a beautiful way to wake up, as you can probably tell from the photo above.
We also went to the top of the Rockerfeller building, and, of course, it was amazing to experience the skyline from 260 meters (870 feet) up. We had already been on the helicopter by then, but the view is drastically different after dark. New York really is a beautiful city, especially when you gain some altitude and the lights sparkle.
As an alternative, you could also go to the top of the legendary Empire State Building. If you aren’t going to fly in the helicopter, perhaps the budget will allow for one building during daylight hours and the other after dark? There’s also the extraordinarily beautiful One World Trade Center to consider if you find yourself in the area around Wall Street. Either way, a good tip is always to remember to look up, while you are wandering around Manhattan. Those buildings are really impressive, and admiring them from the ground makes you feel incredibly small.
10. Catch a show on Broadway
We had a busy itinerary during our week in New York City, and so we had planned to catch a Broadway show the very evening we arrived. For some reason, we had forgotten how jetlagged you get when you travel 14 hours westward around the globe, so we were a little tired, to say the least… Well, we still learn. Let this be a word of caution: Think twice before you book anything on the night you arrive. If you have traveled far, trust us, you will have a much better experience if you wait until the next day!
But, as we had long since booked our tickets, the show had to go on. We went in to see “The Phantom of the Opera,” which is probably the most famous musical in the whole world. We really enjoyed it and was quite surprised by how many of the songs we already knew. Nick only fell asleep a couple of times, but it wasn’t the shows fault that’s for sure!
Of course, when on Broadway, there are several shows to choose from. One more impressive and famous than the other. However, we had already seen many of them while living in London, so the choice was a little more straightforward for us.
Even if you think you aren’t into theatre and musicals, these shows are of really, really high quality, and we dare say you are guaranteed to have a great night out. Make sure to book well ahead, though, as many shows sell out weeks in advance.
11. Laugh out loud at a comedy club
If you really don’t want to go to a musical, perhaps you can be tempted by another type of live performance? We like to laugh ourselves, and you probably do too. So why not head to a comedy club? Most of the best ones are located in the Village, and the prices aren’t too bad compared with Broadway musicals. We definitely thought our show was worth every penny.
We went to the Comedy Cellar at the Village Underground on a random weekday and had a hilarious evening. There were a few unknown performers, some who were only known to comedy geeks, and finally, a famous guest star known to most people. In fact, the latter wasn’t even on the list. It turns out, most nights famous people looking to improve their comedy skills turn up for free to practice. This is exactly what Golden Globe winner Aziz Ansari (known from Parks and Recreation as well as Netflix show Master of None) did during our show. A great surprise that made our evening that much more special.
12. Explore Brooklyn
If you are heading towards New York City, you have already seen the legendary Brooklyn Bridge. It plays a big role in many movies, and the look of the old bridge with the Lower Manhattan skyline in the background is iconic, to say the least. Crossing that is an experience in itself. When you get to the other side, you can spend a few hours exploring the “hip” Brooklyn. Tourists particularly flock to the area called Dumbo, with its cobblestone streets and old factory-like buildings, to take Insta-worthy photos. There are also some great bars and eateries over there, which offer better justification for undertaking the journey.
13. Catch a game
While we were in New York, we actually really wanted to catch a Basketball game. Unfortunately, there weren’t any on. Instead, we ended up heading all the way to Queens to experience a Baseball game with the New York Mets (yeah, The Yankees weren’t playing either during our visit).
It was actually surprisingly fun, and we really got a feel for how passionate the Americans are when it comes to sports. We enjoyed our hot dogs, and the game, and received some cool cultural insights as well.
We ordered an Uber to Queens and back again, and everything went smoothly. Definitely worth the price and effort. Be warned, though, for the uninitiated, the game of Baseball itself is really boring! As a first-timer, we recommend you check if there’s a basketball, football, or hockey match you can attend instead.