Top things to do in New York

Top things to do in New York, USA

New York is surrounded by skyscrapers, big beautiful parks, memorials, shopping and more, what is not to love about New York. We loved it so much, we visited for a second time, and here are the top things to do in New York a second time around.

Facts

New York City was the capital of the United States of America for a short period of time between 1785 – 1790, before it was moved to Washington DC. The city is broken into five boroughs, these are Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, The Bronx, and Staten Island. Prior to the English, the Dutch East India Company settled here and called their new town New Amsterdam. It wasn’t long before the English claimed the land from the Dutch without a fight, and named it New York, after the Duke of York from England. New York Cities port was the place for the exchanging of goods and slaves .

Top things to do in New York

We first visited New York in 2009, and how some places have changed 10 years later on our second visit, namely ground zero, or now it’s referred to as September 11th Memorial. Whilst there is so much to do in New York, we have narrowed this down to the following top things to do.

Central Park

Cost: Free

Central Park is located in Manhattan, and is the most popular park in New York, but it is only the fifth largest park in the city. There is so much to do here, from ice skating in the winter, to sun bathing on the large green in the summer. If you like a bit of exercise whilst on holiday, join many of the other locals and tourists by playing a sport on one of the sports courts, or going for a run. There are many statues and monuments dotted around the park, which are a real surprise. This is perfect to keep the family entertained for the entire day, with a number of play areas, to allow the children to run off some steam. As you walk around the park, did you spot the many movie scenes such as Home Alone 2?

Central Park, New York, USA

Grand Central Station

Cost: Free

Grand Central is located in midtown Manhattan, and opened as recent as 1913, to service trains to towns and villages outside of New York, but also subway lines for travel around the city. Grand Central is a famous landmark, with its main attraction of the clock that’s located in the center of the station, but you must also look at the ceiling and take in its glory. The food hall, is very popular with many travelers looking for something to eat and drink.

This was our second visit here, and noticed that not much had changed, but we could not resist admiring the architecture of the exterior and design of the interior. Whilst we were stunned by the centre piece clock, we couldn’t help but notice the amazing ceiling. The detail and colour reminded us of a master piece.

Catching a train from here is very simple, and exactly the same way we would catch a train from a large train station in London. We purchased our tickets from the ticket office at Grand Central, before locating our platform, and heading straight for our train. The food from the food hall, has a different range of restaurants, and all reasonably priced.

Brooklyn Bridge

Cost: Free

German Born Engineer John Augustus Roebling created Brooklyn Bridge in about 1883, to connect Manhattan with Brooklyn. It’s about 6016 feet long, and bridges the gap across the water.

The best way to explore Brooklyn Bridge, is by walking its length. As you walk towards Brooklyn, its appearance is vastly different to Manhattan, but there are some lovely views of Manhattan from Brooklyn.

September 11th Museum

Cost: $26 per person

After the awful attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, a museum was open on 21st May 2014 in memory of the 2977 people who died as a result, and 6 people who were killed in the 1993 bomb. As you wander the museum, you will learn about the events leading up to the attacks, the eventful day, and following days, weeks and months after. This is told by the 4000 images, artifacts and 500 hours of video footage inside the museum and on display. One of these artifacts include the last piece of steel that left ground zero.

On the side of the Fire Station, near the World Trade Centre’s once stood, in New York, USA

This was our second visit to the World Trade Centre, the first visit was after the terrible events 10 years prior, and it is clear to see how vastly different it looks today. The museum was so informative, there are guides inside the museum to explain any part of the artifacts, or to tell you anything you need to know. What was fascinating to learn, was the dedication of a few members who were working on the antenna on that frightful day, and sadly lost their lives. Just prior to the attacks, there was a work force on the roof doing some Maintenance work on the antenna, when one of the planes struck the tower, they continued to ensure that the antenna was functioning, to keep the live news feeds being sent across the world, as the tower collapsed, sadly these men did not survive, but it just goes to show what people are prepared to sacrifice. That piece of antenna is within the museum today, along with a damaged fire engine that was in attendance, and the stairwell that saved many people’s lives.

Wall inside the September 11th Museum

Whilst this is an education, it was also a very emotional place. There are many videos of the events from that day, but we think the bit that really brought tears to the eyes, were the loved ones talking about the family members they had lost as a result. The main one that springs to mind, is the grandmother talking about her 5-6-year-old grandchild, on one of the planes that hit the towers. It really brings it home that it wasn’t just adults that were killed, but young children also lost their life as well.

Oculus

Cost: Free

The Oculus is a station that was opened in 2016, and it forms part of the World Trade Centre Transportation Hub. The terminus connects travelers with 11 subway lines, the PATH, and has many retail shops, and restaurants.

Its is bright and airy inside the Oculus, New York, USA

This wasn’t here on our first visit, and has been designed to fit the area and location well. On our first visit, we would catch the PATH train from New Jersey, to the World Trade Centre, and the terrible attacks could be seen immediately inside the station, just as much as on the exterior. There was rubble, and steel from the collapse, visible just beside the tracks of the train. It was a complete surprise when we exited the PATH station at the World Trade Centre, and took the escalators to the ground level of the Oculus. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t this bright opened space of retail shops and dining. This is a very well-designed building and really brightens up the area.

The exterior of the Oculus, New York, USA

American Museum of Natural History

Cost: $23 per person, for additional exhibitions, there is a further fee

The American Museum of Natural History cannot be compared to any others in the world, especially when it is the largest. There are 45 exhibition halls but only a small proportion are on display at a given time, such as plants, animals, fossils, rocks, meteors, and human remains.Many of the exhibitions are life like with real bones or dinosaurs, and some exhibitions are interactive, especially the meteor and the space section. We touched a real meteor, and you can weigh yourself, only it’s your weight on the moon. We even saw a life size skeletal dinosaur, and learnt so much more about American native animals. This is perfect for a family day out, and a great way to learn so much about the world around us.

National September 11th Memorial

Cost: Free

This is the memorial to the people who lost their lives on the sad day of September 11 2001, and the 6 people who lost their lives during the bomb attack of 1993. Where the twin towers once stood, are now the two reflecting pools, etched around the side of the reflecting pools on panels, are the names of the people who lost their lives. These names include the people on the ground/Twin Towers, the flights of United Airlines 77 and United Airlines 93.

September 11th Memorial in New York, USA

This is a real somber place, but designed so beautifully, when following your fingers over the names that’s etched into the panels at the side of the reflecting pools, really brings home that realisation of the death caused on that frightful day. Many loved ones, will often return here, to lay a flower in the name of that person they have lost.

The globe that once stood between the Twin Towers, and was found after the collapse

At the rear of the south tower reflecting pool, cross the road, and you will see a golden sphere. It’s damaged, but before the terror attacks, this sphere, was positioned in the middle of the north and south tower. When they were clearing the rubble away after the attacks, this survived, and has been positioned nicely overlooking the south tower reflecting pool.

The view from Battery Park, New York, USA

St Paul’s Chapel

Cost: Donations

St Paul’s Chapel was built in about 1766, and is the oldest building in Manhattan, and was once the tallest building in New York. The Chapel has seen a lot over the years, from fire, to withstanding the September the 11th attacks.

After the September 11th, St Paul’s Chapel opened its doors to the hundreds of refuge and recovery workers at the twin tower site. For 8 months, volunteers worked 12 hour shifts around the clock serving meals, making beds and counselling.

This is a lovely little Chapel to explore, the architectural design on the outside is beautiful and dated, the interior on the other hand appears to be more up to date. The interior is very peaceful, and quiet. A great place to relax and say some prayers before heading back into the streets of New York. There are some rooms, with memorabilia about September 11th.

Tips

  • Getting lost – It is so easy to get lost in this city, on a couple of occasions we had ended up in the wrong place, and thought we were somewhere else. Whilst we had planned out what our itinerary would be for the day, we utilised maps, and used google maps to aid us getting around, but the inevitable was still to happen. We think the main reason for this, are the roads and streets run parallel, and many are numbered, such as 6th Avenue with 7th Street. But this could be mistaken with 7th avenue and 6th street, whilst this is only a few blocks away, we are not familiar with this format back home. Remain calm, and if needed ask people around you, use maps and Google maps to aid you.
  • Understanding the direction of travel on the subway – When taking the subway, it is a good idea to have an understanding of the direction you need to travel in, for example if you are heading up town or down town, or to Brooklyn. Unfortunately, the subway isn’t like the tube back in London or many other countries where the stops are listed on the platform. This it isn’t so on the Subway. The choices you get are, Upper Manhattan, or Lower Manhattan, Up Town or Down Town or even mid town. If you don’t know where you are going, it will be a struggle to understand which train is required. Get a subway map, the lines and stops are marked on the map, it will help you with navigating around New York.  This comes in turn with the point above, make sure you plan the trip, be prepared, and get your bearings on where you are and what direction you will need to take. On some occasions you may need to change from one subway line to another.
  • Security – It will be evident that many places in New York and throughout the USA, will have some form of security checks. Be prepared to queue, and have your bags searched, and in some places a body search. We didn’t encounter this too often but the main places, for the bag searches was the September 11th Museum, and St Paul’s Chapel.
New Jersey Skyline at dusk

Places to eat

There are so many places to eat and drink in New York, we found some really good little cafes and restaurants. Whilst traveling, we are always conscious of eating as healthy as possible, which can be difficult in the USA, who are more commonly known for their fast food restaurants. Here are a variety of places to eat in New York:

Wendy’s

Unfortunately, this is a fast food restaurant serving burgers and fries. Whilst the food tastes good, and would recommend this, but only to eat on occasions. It certainly is convenient, but not the healthiest way to eat. We would have this on the occasion, as a budget meal.

Dunkin doughnuts

Dunkin Doughnuts are all over New York, and often a case of walking a few blocks before the next one. We all have to indulge ourselves now and again, especially when we are on holiday, however we would recommend this more so for the cups of tea. Neither of us drink coffee, but Coffee is a big thing in America, and certainly in New York. Dunkin Doughnuts was our safe haven for our cups of tea. The tea in New Nork, is not the best, but Dunkin Doughnuts did us well. The sweet treats are tempting, but we resisted the temptation and ate healthily. The best way to prevent the temptation, is by taking your own healthy snacks, just as we do.

New York, USA

Kothu House

Kothu is a Sri Lankan street food, and not one that’s found out of Sri Lanka very often. If you want to try something completely different, then try Kothu House. Kothu is made from chopped roti, with a meat curry e.g. chicken curry, or lamb curry, cooked and then mixed together to make this delicious dish.

Shake Shack

There is a theme developing here with the fast food restaurants, we must admit we didn’t visit these places on a regular basis, but this didn’t stop us from ordering one meal. Shake Shack serves burgers and fries, this is much better than Wendy’s, but again you don’t want to be eating here regularly.  

Street Art in New York, USA

Applebee

Applebee is an American bar and grill, serving a variety of different dishes, from pizza and burgers, to steak with fries and vegetables. What was a real surprise here, is the option for at least one vegetable side such as runner beans, or corn on the cob. This is a little bit more expensive, than other such places, and the food is good, the portion sizes are very big, and one meal was enough for the both of us to share.

Eataly

This is an Italian marketplace and food hall, located in the Oculus, and other selected spots in New York. There are different selections of dishes to order, either from their sit-down restaurant, or from their take away counter. The food is good, but the price is a little more expensive!

Are you looking for inspiration on other locations in USA to visit? You could always visit some of the best places during autumn, and just watch the beautiful colours change.


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