1. Take a stroll around Central Park
5th Avenue, , 10065
The most popular urban park in the county, beautiful Central Park, should be right up there on the top of your to-do list. Not only does the park look gorgeous during any season, but there's a lot to see and do here besides simply meandering through the lovely trees. On any given day, you will see locals and tourists alike jogging, strolling, picnicking, and simply relaxing at America's most iconic park.
The park is at its most gorgeous during the colorful fall season, with this also being the most comfortable time of the year to stroll around with a cozy sweater and a coffee in hand. Notable attractions include Strawberry Fields (tribute to John Lennon), the Wollman Ice skating rink (famous Home Alone 2 filming site), the American Museum of National History, Tavern on the Green (one of the city's most iconic restaurants), and the Central Park Zoo, along with numerous gardens and fountains.
2. Enjoy a marvelous view via the Empire State Building
20 W. 34th Street, , 10001
The best views of the city can be enjoyed via the 86th floor deck of the Empire State Building. An upgraded ticket will give you access to both the 86th and 102nd floor viewing platforms. The best deal of all is the AM/PM package where you will enjoy 360 degree views of the city, both day and night. It's an experience like no other. From the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty by day, to the dazzling city lights at night, this is a bucket list contender for sure.
Also, you can cross a big movie filming location off your list. Many popular movies filmed here including Elf, An Affair to Remember, and most notably, Sleepless in Seattle. Recreate the iconic Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan meetup at the world's most dazzling Art Deco skyscraper.
3. See the iconic tree at Rockfeller Center
45 Rockefeller Plaza, , 10111
Christmas in New York City is like nowhere else in the world. No other city can compete with the grand shopping, festive lights, holiday shows, parades, long running traditions, and giant Christmas tree on display for all to enjoy. It's no wonder so many Christmas movies, like Home Alone 2, Elf, and Miracle on 34th Street all filmed here.
The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Parade kicks the holiday season off on a high note. I highly recommend putting this on your bucket list at least once. It's freezing, insanely crowded, and you have to get up super early - but it's totally worth the inconvenience to be a part of all the energy and excitement!
The most famous site is iconic Rockefeller Center where the annual tree lighting ceremony has been going strong for almost 90 years. It's a grand site to see in person even if you have seen it countless times in the movies - it's just not the same! Be prepared for massive crowds. Also, you may want to lace up your skates for the most memorable ice skating experience at the famous Rockefeller Rink. Sure, it's super overpriced, but worthy of a splurge for an iconic "in the movies" Christmas experience.
4. Tour the New York Public Library
476 5th Avenue, , 10018
Many tourists come and go without bothering to think about touring the gorgeous NY Public Library. There's no reason not to - it's free, it's one of the most incredible buildings in the city, and a popular 80's movie filmed here (Ghostbusters). Take a self guided tour and admire the lovely architecture and history of this incredible building.
The Main Branch (the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building) opened to the public in 1911. The beautiful Beaux-Arts style building is located on Fifth Avenue and 42nd street. You cannot miss the famous lions adorning the entrance. The general aesthetic and murals are simply incredible. The highlight of the building is the beautiful Reading room. You may remember this as the scene of the first ghost encounter in Ghostbusters.
5. Treat yourself to authentic NY pizza
413 8th Avenue, , 10001
The ongoing debate over whether which is better: New York or Chicago style pizza will probably never be settled (in my opinion both are fabulous!). While Chicago is most famous for their deep dish pizza, New York is known for their thin crust which can be folded in your hands. Also, NY Pizza is typically served by the slice and cut into triangles, versus Chicago thin crust which is usually cut into squares.
NY Pizza Suprema is one of your best bets. Their prices are affordable, they offer a ton of options, and they are centrally located to many tourist attractions. This favorite has withstood the test of time, being that they have been serving delicious authentic pizza since 1924. Despite the amazing variety (even several vegan options), plain cheese is always the way to go (in fact, up until 1988, only plain cheese was served).
Other great options include Joe's Pizza, Bleecker Street Pizza, Prince Street Pizza, and Patzeria Pizza.
6. Skate at the famous Wollman Rink
830 5th Avenue, , 10065
The world-class Central Park ice skating rink is definitely the most iconic place to go skating right before Christmas. Who could forget the nostalgic skating scene in Home Alone 2 with Marv stealing scarves and gloves with the beautiful Plaza hotel in the background, or the romantic moment John Cusack and Kate Beckinsdale shared in Serendipity?
The beautiful park scenery, the cityscape in the background, the festive music...there is no better place to get into the Christmas spirit than skating in Central Park. It's quite pricey, but a great splurge around the holidays, especially if you are a movie buff.
7. Visit the museums
Various, , 10065
NYC is home to some of the best museums in the world. It would be a mistake to plan a visit without incorporating at least a few of the best-of-the-best into your trip itinerary.
Be sure to place The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The American Museum of Natural History, The Museum of Modern Art, The Tenement Museum, and the National 9/11 Memorial Museum high on your to-do list. Your best bet is to purchase a City Pass where you will receive admission to multiple attractions, over a period of days, for one low price.
Also, many of the museums offer pay as you wish or free days. Check the link above for more details.
8. See the Statue of Liberty
1 Battery Place, , 10004
"The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World," an important symbol of freedom, was a gift from France to the US. The statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886, and was declared a National Monument in 1924. The ferry (departs at Battery Park) will take you on a scenic ride over to Ellis Island and the statue.
Read the stories of the 14 million immigrants who came to American from 1892 to 1954. Research your own family tree at the American Family Immigration History Center. There are a number of interesting exhibits to browse through.
View the exhibits at the interactive Statue of Liberty museum. The climb to the crown observation deck involves a challenging steep 162 step climb - note there is no elevator. The view makes the effort all worth it in the end.
9. Explore Times Square
Broadway Street, , 10036
It's cheesy, crowdy, and very touristy...however, every first time visitor needs to see all the bright lights and excitement of Times Square, if anything just to say that you have done it once. Times Square, being home to endless entertainment, is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations with over 50 million tourists per year! We have all seen the craziness and the shear amount of people who stand in line for hours to see the iconic NYE ball drop. However, you do not need to freeze your butt off for hours on end to take part in the excitement.
The giant ads are fun to see at least once, despite all the hustle and bustle, pushing and shoving that you will have to work your way through. Most locals avoid the area for this very reason! You will find a lot of cheesy, overpriced attractions here (Ripley's, Madame Tussauds), plenty of big chain restaurants (Hard Rock, Planet Hollywood). See a Broadway show if you have the funds, or opt for cheaper forms of entertainment (Dave and Busters, AMC, Bowlmor).
10. Attend a live TV show taping
Various, , 10112
Experience your 15 minutes of fame by being part of the studio audience of your favorite talk show. Good Morning America and the Today Show are probably the most iconic shows taped in the city. The Today Show is a really fun experience, if you are willing to get up super early and possibly stand around in the freezing cold!
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and Live with Kelly and Ryan, are amongst the best shows currently taping. All tickets are free, although advance requests are required. I was fortunate to see Conan O'Brien several years ago, so take the opportunity to see your favorite while you still can!