From Wall Street’s skyscrapers to the neon of Times Square to Central Park’s leafy paths, New York City pulses with an irrepressible energy. History meets hipness in this global center of entertainment, fashion, media, and finance. World-class museums like MoMA and unforgettable icons like the Statue of Liberty beckon, but discovering the subtler strains of New York’s vast ambition is equally rewarding: ethnic enclaves and shops, historic streets of dignified brownstones, and trendy bars and eateries all add to the urban buzz. But all of the tantalizing options can also make it hard to plan a trip, so instead of trying to see, eat, drink, and do it all, take cheap flights to New York City and put these 20 musts—from iconic landmarks to local favorites—at the top of your list.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
It would be possible to roam the labyrinthine corridors of the colossal Metropolitan Museum of Art for days. The Met has more than 2 million works of art representing 5,000 years of history, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead; looking at everything here could take a week.
Hands down, Times Square is the most frenetic part of New York City, a cacophony of flashing lights and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds that many New Yorkers studiously avoid. If you like sensory overload, the chaotic mix of huge underwear billboards, flashing digital displays, on-location television broadcasts, naked cowboys, and Elmo clones will give you your fix.
Empire State Building
With a pencil-slim silhouette, recognizable virtually worldwide, the Empire State Building is an Art Deco monument to progress, a symbol for New York City, and a star in some great romantic scenes, on- and off-screen. The views of the city from the 86th-floor deck are spectacular, but the views from 16 stories up on the 102nd-floor observatory are even more so—and yet, fewer visitors make it this far.
Museum of Modern Art
Art enthusiasts and novices alike are often awestruck by the masterpieces they find at the MoMA, including Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. In addition to the artwork, one of the main draws of the museum is the building itself. A maze of glass walkways permits art viewing from many angles.
One of New York’s noblest and most recognized landmarks, the Brooklyn Bridge stretches over the East River, connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn. A walk across its promenade—a boardwalk elevated above the roadway, shared by pedestrians, in-line skaters, and cyclists—takes about 40 minutes and delivers exhilarating views.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
For millions of immigrants, the first glimpse of America was the Statue of Liberty, growing from a vaguely defined figure on the horizon into a towering, stately colossus. Visitors approaching Liberty Island on the ferry from Battery Park may experience a similar sense of wonder. The neighboring Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration tells the story not just of Ellis Island but of immigration from the colonial era to the present day, though numerous galleries containing artifacts, photographs, and taped oral histories.