The City That Never Sleeps lives up to its name, with subway trains running at all hours and locals eating, drinking, and cavorting at all times. During the day, you have myriad world-class museums from which to choose; come evening, your restaurant and nightlife options are endless. New York can be overwhelming for first-time visitors, but with a little curation, it’s easy to see how it’s become one of the most-beloved destinations on the planet.
We’ve pared New York down to the essentials—the top places to see, eat, and explore—so that you arrive equipped with a primer of the city and never at a loss for what to do next.
New York's Must-See Sights
Museum Of Modern Art
MoMA is the undisputed mecca for lovers of modern art. All the big names from the last hundred years are here: Picasso, Matisse, Warhol, Pollock, and Rothko are just a few. Before or after your visit, grab a plate of chicken over rice at the original Halal Guys cart at the corner of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue; you’ll be able to recognize it from the long line of regulars patiently queuing up.
New Yorkers’ favorite park is a destination for all seasons: you’ll love it whether the lawns are flush with green or draped in snow. Take a leisurely stroll around the large reservoir at its center, or paddle around the lake in a boat rented from the Loeb Boathouse. Be sure to check out the views at Belvedere Castle, a miniature fortress built in 1869 that stands at the highest point in the park. If you’re based in Brooklyn, Prospect Park is the park of choice.
Metropolitan Museum Of Art
Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the size of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: you could spend a week poring over the museum’s collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative pieces and still have entire wings left undiscovered. Be sure to check out the Anna Wintour Costume Center to admire the pieces from the annual Met Gala, the most exclusive event in fashion.
World Trade Center
Few sites hold as much cultural significance as the World Trade Center, and the breathtaking skyscrapers and monuments built on the grounds surrounding the former Twin Towers are testament to its legacy. The 9/11 Memorial is a beautiful tribute to the victims of September 11; meanwhile, One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western hemisphere, is proof of the city’s willingness to rebuild from the ashes of tragedy. For more architectural inspiration, check out the neighboring Oculus: the stark white ribs that form the ceiling resemble a bird in flight.
Apart from the Broadway fans who view Times Square as the portal to many a play or musical, most New Yorkers see it as a breeding grounds for tourists, though that shouldn’t stop you from visiting at least once. Times Square is always swarming with people, so don’t time your visit to try to escape the crowds. Instead, swing by at night, when it’s prettiest: the flashing billboards and illuminated red stairs encapsulate the energy that makes the city so mesmerizing.
New York’s Must-Eat Food And Drink
Eleven Madison Park
Daniel Humm’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant was already a gastronomic destination when it won the coveted award of World’s Best Restaurant in 2017; now tables book out over a month in advance. The eight- to ten-course tasting menu changes every season but may feature dishes like celery root cooked in pig’s bladder or honey and lavender roasted duck. Dining here has become the ultimate status symbol.
You can’t leave New York without trying one of the city’s famous delis, and there’s no place better than Katz’s. This classic Lower East Side joint has been in operation since 1888, serving up pastrami and rye, potato latkes, matzo ball soup, and other Jewish classics. On weekends, it’s open 24 hours—perfect for all your late-night cravings.
In the world of food, Danny Meyer is royalty: the restaurateur runs a veritable empire, and Gramercy Tavern is the crown jewel. The one-Michelin-starred restaurant serves prix fixe set menus that showcase unpretentious but beautifully prepared New American cuisine. Want to taste Danny Meyer’s genius without the price tag? Try Union Square Cafe, his first venture, or go for the true value option: delicious burgers at Shake Shack for less than $10.
Spend a warm Sunday morning walking around the neighborhood and you’ll see dozens of cafés brimming with eggs Benedict-eating, mimosa-quaffing New Yorkers. The city’s brunch scene is legendary, and Buvette is among the best, offering French classics like croque-madame and coq au vin.
The Nomad Bar doesn’t need to rely on hidden doors or other gimmicks to keep the Instagrammers coming back; it’s styled as a “classic tavern,” but because it’s run by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, it’s loaded with way more opulence than your standard gastropub. Cocktails run the gamut from classics to large-format drinks meant for sharing to exquisitely crafted (and exquisitely priced) tipples made from rare liquors. Food here is definitely worth a nibble as well: try the ultra-luxe chicken pot pie, which includes truffles and foie gras.
New York’s Must-Visit Neighborhoods
The fashionable set, gay bars, and cutting-edge art commingle in this posh neighborhood. Start at the Whitney Museum of American Art and make your way up to David Zwirner, Gagosian, and the other prestigious art galleries that crowd the neighborhood’s western edge. For lunch, stop in any of the excellent eateries in Chelsea Market or take something to go to enjoy while strolling along the High Line, a former railroad converted into a park.
You’ll want to secure a booking in advance for Sleep No More, a modern-day adaptation of Macbeth that’s one of the most compelling examples of immersive theater in the city. After your show, enjoy a cocktail at Gallow Green on the rooftop of the building.
Upper East Side
Fifth Avenue may still be the most recognizable address in the United States, and for good reason: its stately, imposing buildings, guarded by primly dressed doormen, continue to impress. You may not have access to the exclusive apartments that run along Fifth and Park Avenues but you’ll still get the luxury experience at any of the high-fashion boutiques along Madison Avenue—or, at the least, satisfy some serious window-shopping cravings. The Upper East Side also places you within striking distance of two of the city’s most important museums: the Guggenheim and the Met.
Lower East Side
Once an enclave of working-class immigrants, the Lower East Side has morphed into one of the buzziest centers of New York nightlife. Pop-up galleries and trendy restaurants may be what draws New Yorkers now, but the neighborhood still shows its roots in longstanding institutions like Russ & Daughters and Katz’s Deli. Check out the Tenement Museum for an exploration of the area’s history, then continue your education by venturing into neighboring Chinatown and Little Italy. LES’s oft-raucous bars have developed a questionable reputation, so for a classier option, check out the stellar cocktails at Attaboy.
Manhattan is home to New York’s most iconic sites, but Brooklyn is where all the young and trendy New Yorkers want to live. If you’ve only got time to visit one neighborhood in the city’s hippest borough, make it Dumbo: nestled just across the East River between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, it’s both easily accessible and highly representative of the creative vibes that make Brooklyn so chic.
An ideal Sunday might entail dropping into Brooklyn Roasting Company for coffee before thrifting at the Brooklyn Flea Market or browsing the wares at café-gallery Usagi NY. Get pizza at Grimaldi’s for a casual dinner, then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at night to witness Manhattan’s skyline.