New Yorkers may loathe having to constantly move around slow-walking tourists on the streets, but in the end, we love many of the same city spots that sightseers do (admit it). We compiled our favorite iconic tourist attractions below, and the good news is there are so many great things to do in New York today that there’s enough to go around. And don’t worry, we can still keep the best art shows and NYC exhibits to ourselves…maybe.
The massive institution is home to more than 5,000 creatures in myriad exhibits, including an outdoor baboon reserve, a sea-lion pool and an exhibit dedicated entirely to Madagascar. Visitors can ride the Wild Asia Monorail, which tours 38 acres of exhibits that house elephants, Indo-Chinese tigers, deer, antelope and Mongolian wild horses, or wander over to see two gargantuan Nile crocodiles. Amphibian fans can also read about the Wildlife Conservation Society's efforts to save the Kihansi spray toad, a species now extinct in the wild.
One of the thrills of living in New York City is staring at the iconic skyline—obviously the world’s best—every once in a while. You’ll find no better vantage point than the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge (enter at Park Row and Centre Street; nyc.gov). Stroll across the legendary structure and take in the view; if you look to the south, you’ll see Governors Island and the Statue of Liberty. Once you’ve hit Brooklyn, head into Brooklyn Heights and stroll along the Promenade, overlooking lower Manhattan.
Divide-and-conquer might be the best strategy when exploring Central Park—its sprawling 840 acres are too great to take in during one visit. Instead, hit some of the highlights: Go for a stroll around the tranquil Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir (circle the 1.58-mile track a few times for an actual workout), or join the semiclothed hordes who lay out in Sheep Meadow during the summer. Or find the details in some of the park’s most famous attractions, such as lines from Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky” inscribed along the base of the Alice in Wonderland statue.
No visit to Coney Island is complete without a ride on the Coney Island Cyclone, a fixture since 1927 that has spawned seven clones around the world. Heck, it was even declared a city landmark in 1988 and a National Historic Landmark in 1991. The twister takes just under two minutes to whiz you through a dozen drops (one at a heart-stopping 60-degree angle), achieving a top speed of 60mph. That may not sound very fast, but you’ll surely be humbled (which is to say petrified) by the ancient wooden tracks that look like they belong underneath a steam locomotive
We won’t argue if you want to call this glimmering pinnacle of Art Deco architecture NYC’s most eye-popping skyscraper. Triangle-shaped windows in its crown are lined with lights, creating a beautiful effect come nighttime. Oozing a moneyed sophistication oft identified with old New York, the structure pays homage to its namesake with giant eagles (replicas of ones added to Chrysler automobiles in the 1920s) in lieu of traditional gargoyles and a brickwork relief sculpture of racing cars, complete with chrome hubcaps.
Trace the history of U.S. immigration with a visit to the three floors of objects, photographs and interactive displays housed on the famous island next door to Lady Liberty herself. The exhibitions are an evocative, moving tribute to the people from so many countries, who made the journey to America filled with dreams for a better life. The audio tour is highly informative and is available in nine languages. A new children’s audio tour is narrated by animal characters and is available in five languages.
It’s worth braving the long lines, steep ticket prices and dizzying heights to see the city from atop this storied building. Built in 1931, the skyscraper is the second-tallest building in New York and is one of the most immediate symbols of Gotham, so much so that it’s played a role in films such as King Kong, An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle.
This massive green space still features remnants of the 1964–1965 World’s Fair, including the 140-foot-high Unisphere, a mammoth steel globe that was the fair’s symbol (and site of the apocalyptic battle scene between humans and aliens in the first Men in Black movie). Also visible are the remains of the New York State Pavilion, erected by Philip Johnson for the fair. Measuring 350 feet by 250 feet, this now-eerie plaza is bordered by 16,100-foot steel columns. While you’re there, pop into the Queens Museum of Art.
The MTA spent 12 years removing decades of cigarette smoke and train exhaust from the ceiling of the train station in order to recapture its sea-green splendor. You can get an idea of how much elbow grease was needed for the project—the cleaners left an untouched, almost-black tile over Michael Jordan’s steakhouse. Visit at midday, when you can stare up at the zodiac signs painted in gold leaf on the ceiling without being trampled by commuters.