15 Reasons Why You Should Visit New York City at Least Once in Your Lifetime

Visitors who think New York is Manhattan alone miss out on the sights and activities offered by the city's four other boroughs
Visitors who think New York is Manhattan alone miss out on the sights and activities offered by the city's four other boroughs | © Roman Tiraspolsky / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Graham Fuller
Film Editor28 June 2019

As one of the world’s leading metropolises for art, fashion, food and theater, New York is a city every traveler should visit. Whether you come for a day trip or for an extended stay, choosing what to see and do is the toughest part – the possibilities are endless. Here are 15 reasons why visiting New York will be an unforgettable experience.

1. Explore the richness of all five boroughs

Visitors who think New York is Manhattan alone miss out on the sights and activities offered by the city’s four other boroughs. Head out to the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo in the Bronx. Take your pick from the array of amazing ethnic restaurants in Queens. Explore the burgeoning Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Red Hook. And bear in mind that no trip to New York is complete without a ride on the Staten Island Ferry; you can also take the opportunity to visit the Staten Island Museum in Snug Harbor.

New York Botanical Garden, New York | © Sandra Foyt / Alamy Stock Photo

2. See some of the world’s best museums and art galleries

NYC’s art scene is unparalleled. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and other museums present great art from around the world, while galleries in the Lower East Side and Chelsea promote new talent. There’s much more to savor than art, however. See the famous blue whale and animal dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History; learn about America’s most famous jazzman at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, and about the history of Lower East Side immigrants at the Tenement Museum; walk along the deck of a World War II aircraft carrier at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum; and ask everything you ever wanted to know about lovemaking at the Museum of Sex.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, presents great art from around the world | © MB_Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

3. Give your regards to Broadway

The world’s most famous street cuts a 13-mile (21-kilometer) diagonal path from Bowling Green on Manhattan’s southern tip to Inwood, where it crosses into the Bronx. There’s no better way to pick up on NYC’s variable vibe and changing scenery than by walking 50 blocks on a fine day. Broadway is also shorthand for Manhattan’s 41 mainstream theaters that are clustered around Times Square. Take in a show while you’re here.

Broadway is shorthand for the 41 mainstream theaters that are clustered around Times Square | © Mark Waugh / Alamy Stock Photo

4. Stand in awe of the skyscrapers

Few experiences are as humbling as walking down a Manhattan street with skyscrapers towering over you. From 1930s monuments like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building to the One World Trade Center (aka the Freedom Tower), completed in 2013, these gigantic beauties have to be seen to be believed. The views from the Empire State Building are not only awe-inspiring, by day and by night; they also communicate a sense of the city’s vastness within the context of the surrounding land; on a clear day, five states are visible from the observation deck.

Empire State Building | © Sergiy Tryapitsyn / Alamy Stock Photo

5. Get your fill of international and experimental food

New York is a foodie’s heaven. An estimated 60 international cuisines are served in the city’s 23,000 restaurants. And the chefs are always innovating, whether combining old-school recipes with new ideas for main courses, or creating new desserts that people will line up for hours to try. Stop in for a Cronut at Dominique Ansel in SoHo; try Frankel’s Delicatessen in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, which is making Jewish food cool with its takes on pastrami, egg and cheese sandwiches; or visit the world-famous Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side if you want something more traditional.

New York is a foodie’s heaven | © Littleny / Alamy Stock Photo

6. Discover different neighborhoods

No two neighborhoods in New York City are the same. Brooklyn’s Park Slope, with its rows of expensive brownstones, is adjacent to Gowanus, an area of light industry that has become home to a new art scene. Once dangerous, Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan’s midtown west has been taken over by restaurants and gay bars, but it’s still markedly different from the ritzy Theater District nearby. Walking from SoHo into Chinatown, you find yourself in a new world. That’s the beauty of New York.

Historic apartment buildings line Gay Street in Greenwich Village | © Ryan Deberardinis / Alamy Stock Photo

7. Walk along the High Line

Manhattan’s dense concrete jungle has several oases – but only one shaped more like an unfurled whip than a pond. Opened in three stages between 2009 and 2014, the High Line is a narrow public park, 1.45 miles (two kilometers) long, that sits on the old rail bed of the elevated West Side freight line of the New York Central Railroad. Running from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 34th Street, it is a garden, an arts space, a destination for dates and a place to sit and dream. Pick a quiet moment to contemplate the wild flowers, the rusted rails in the northern section and the views of the Hudson River, perhaps as the sun goes down.

The High Line is a park built on a section of the former New York Central Railroad | © Jan Sandvik Editorial / Alamy Stock Photo

8. Listen to live music every night of the week

There are music gigs in New York every day of the year, many of them performed by some of the most famous artists from around the world. Sellout acts play the stadiums Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, though venues like Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theater, Irving Plaza, the Hammerstein Ballroom, Webster Hall, Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Steel and Kings Theater in Flatbush also attract big names. Cool acts sometimes play smaller venues like the Bowery Ballroom or Williamsburg’s Baby’s All Right, while dozens of bars host up-and-comers (and has-beens). Birdland, Blue Note, Village Vanguard, Iridium and Cornelia Street Café are among the city’s top jazz clubs.

There are music gigs in New York every day of the year. Here, Ana Popovic performs at the Highline Ballroom | © Rahul Bardvaj / Alamy Stock Photo

9. Bask in the glow of Times Square

Though most locals abhor Times Square, nobody will ever forget their first time walking through the hectic plaza. The unbridled energy, the costumed characters and the incessant flashing of neon lights make for an out-of-body experience a bit like that of being a sardine in a tin can.

The energy of Times Square makes for an unforgettable experience | © lucky-photographer / Alamy Stock Photo

10. Go green in Central Park and Prospect Park

Central Park, smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, is one of the city’s most photogenic places. Wander through its vast space to discover a favorite spot – whether Strawberry Fields, where John Lennon is commemorated; the bronze sculpture of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland; or the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace at the heart of the park. Opened in 1858, the park was designed by Frederick Law Omstead and Calvert Vaux, who followed it with Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in 1867. Both parks have zoos, lakes, tens of thousands of trees and glorious meadows. You can skate and play hockey at Central Park’s Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink (a swimming pool in summer) and at Prospect Park’s LeFrak Center.

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, has graced the city since 1867 | © Washington Imaging / Alamy Stock Photo

11. Revel in the city after dark

For those who wake up when the sun goes down, NYC provides an eclectic array of nightclubs and both conventional and alternative cabarets. Dance floor devotees in Manhattan gravitate to Chelsea (1 Oak, Marquee) and the Meatpacking District (Le Bain). Brooklyn is also rife with clubs such as Williamsburg’s Schimanski and Black Flamingo, Bushwick’s House of Yes and Bed-Stuy’s C’mon Everybody. Top comedy clubs include Carolines on Broadway, Comedy Cellar and UCB Theatre.

12. Cross the Brooklyn Bridge

Of NYC’s 789 bridges, the most iconic is the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883. Spanning the East River between Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan, it is a cable-stayed suspension bridge most recognizable by its high limestone and granite Gothic towers. Give yourself 30 minutes to walk its 1.13 miles (1.82 kilometers) in the Brooklyn to Manhattan direction, which will give you spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, especially at sunrise and sunset.

Brooklyn Bridge spans the East River between Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan | © MB_Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

13. Experience history firsthand

NYC played its part in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and was the birthplace of the Wall Street Crash. The 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center elicited the extraordinary bravery of first responders and the resilience, generosity and unity of New York’s citizens. But it’s not just big events that make up a city’s history. Sit on a bench in Washington Square Park, where Mark Twain once chatted with Robert Louis Stevenson, or take a peek at Twain’s old townhouse at 14 West 10th Street. Drop by 17 West 16th Street, where feminist activist Margaret Sanger’s clinic pioneered birth control in the 1930s. Visit President Ulysses S Grant’s massive tomb at Riverside Park, or walk along the Bowery and remember the time when it was Manhattan’s skid row.

Washington Square Park is just one place where you can remember NYC’s long and varied history | © Littleny / Alamy Stock Photo

14. Mingle with New Yorkers

You can’t generalize about the people of a city that is made up of so many different nationalities, ethnicities, religions and classes. Still, an image remains of New Yorkers as abrasive, fast-talking, sharp-minded and always in a hurry. It’s not rudeness – it’s the pace of NYC life. On the whole, you’ll find that New Yorkers welcome you to their town and will happily give you directions or help you if you’re in trouble. It’s true – they’re the salt of the earth.

15. Feel the city’s unmatched energy

Brash and electrifying, NYC marches to its own propulsive beat. Yellow and green cabs stream down Fifth Avenue, showtime performers pull off astonishing acrobatics on subway car poles, steam pours from gratings in the street, horse-drawn carriages clatter round Central Park and sirens wail every few minutes. Once you’ve experienced NYC’s energy, everywhere else seems slow – a ‘New York minute’ really does fly by. Are you ready to wake up in a city that never sleeps?

NYC marches to its own beat | © Kathy Hancock / Alamy Stock Photo

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