20 Best Things to Do in Manhattan, New York City's Iconic Borough

20 Best Things to Do in Manhattan — NYC’s Most Popular Borough

Expect a vibrant atmosphere and numerous attractions that will leave you speechless!

New York City has long been famous for its iconic attractions and vibrant culture. Nicknamed the City That Never Sleeps, this destination consistently ranks as one of the top cities to visit in the world. With a slew of iconic structures and activities to do, experiencing the Big Apple in its entirety can take months!

Among its five boroughs, Manhattan is hands down the most popular. This borough is the historical and cultural centre of the city, making it the ideal place to start your tour of NYC. That said, this guide offers the best things to do in Manhattan to make the most of your time.

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Best places to visit in Manhattan for incredible views

1. Admire the Statue of Liberty

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The most famous borough in NYC, it comes as no surprise that numerous city icons can be found within Manhattan. Funnily enough, our Manhattan travel guide begins with Liberty Island, which geographically lies closer to Jersey City. Synonymous with the United States, this historical landmark on the outskirts of Manhattan was gifted by France and embodies hope and freedom. The Statue of Liberty is a neoclassical copper structure intentionally placed at the entrance of New York Harbor to welcome ships to the “gateway to America”. 

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The view from Liberty Island offers a panoramic view of the renowned city skyline and the easily identifiable Manhattan attractions such as The Battery and Brooklyn Bridge. The ferry to Liberty Island is free so be wary of peddlers trying to sell ferry tickets. The short 15-minute ride from Whitehall Ferry Terminal to Liberty Island Ferry Terminal is sufficient to snap some pictures of Manhattan and its surroundings.

Pro tip: The ferry queues can get quite long during peak hours, so pre-book your tickets to save time.

2. Gaze at NYC atop the Empire State Building

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The Empire State Building towers above the Manhattan skyline and is one of the most prominent skyscrapers in the world. Standing at a staggering 443 metres, this superstructure was built in the early 1930s and was recognised as the world’s tallest building until the construction of the World Trade Center in 1970. 

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The 102-story building offers a bird’s-eye view of the island and a snapshot of the best Manhattan attractions. It is a testament to the Art Deco style and is an architectural masterpiece. With a multitude of restaurants, shops, and exhibits, some of the best things to do in Manhattan can be found in this titanic building.

3. Walk above the crowds at The High Line

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The High Line is one of most iconic things to do in Manhattan in recent years. This elevated park was built over a decommissioned rail track and takes visitors on a 30-minute scenic walk to snap the best Instagram shots while strolling above the concrete jungle.

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The park hosts dozens of art installations by distinguished artists and a lush green oasis in an otherwise metallic environment. The spacious boardwalks, scattered deck chairs, and ample food options to tickle your taste buds all provide the perfect spot to bask in Manhattan throughout the day.

4. Catch the sunset from Rockefeller Center

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This complex of skyscrapers was built during the Great Depression by John D. Rockefeller with the original purpose of restoring and modernising Manhattan. Today, skating on the iconic plaza ice rink is quintessential for any winter itinerary in NYC. Rockefeller Center is the perfect place to share laughs with some friends or even to bring your significant other!

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Apart from the sprawling expanse beneath, the towering skyscraper hosts three observation decks to admire the beauty of Manhattan. The best of these decks named Top of the Rock is completely outdoors and offers a full 360° view of the busy streets below.

5. People-watch at Union Square

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Union Square is a vibrant plaza that is busy all year round. Though it is not up there with the larger Manhattan attractions, the square holds immense cultural and political significance to New Yorkers. The plaza lies at the intersection of two notable streets, namely Broadway and 4th Avenue.

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The square represents a microcosm of the best things to do in Manhattan. From historical statues to modern buskers, gardens to demonstrations, unique shopping experiences to al fresco chess, the square does not disappoint. We recommend checking out the Union Square Holiday Market, which hosts over a hundred outdoor booths selling interesting holiday trinkets and accessories unique to NYC.

6. Slow down and recharge at The Battery

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The Battery lies on the southern tip of Manhattan and offers splendid views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Liberty State Park. This park is a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of NYC and is perfect for a picnic with the family. With an abundant variety of restaurants lining the Hudson River, it could also be an ideal spot for an evening stroll after a dinner date.

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Visitors will be greeted with spacious grassy fields dotted with monuments and peculiar public art. The monuments are a testament to the beginning of NYC and are a must-see for the history buffs out there. There are also street artists peddling their works, so if you fancy bringing home a piece of art, you could take your chances here. 

Manhattan attractions to soak up the culture

7. Visit Times Square

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Little needs to be said about Times Square. From the gigantic billboards that flash neon lights to the assortment of costumed characters, this place screams energy and entertainment. Once known as a hotspot for crime and drugs, Times Square today harbours a completely different vibe. 

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Watching the famous New Year’s Eve Ball Drop is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Often touted as one of the biggest New Year parties in the world, this celebration brings together an estimated one million people in the streets to revel in the festivities. While the party is portrayed as a magical moment to share with a loved one, the atmosphere will leave solo travellers celebrating with strangers in no time.

Pro tip: Even though it is no longer known for its crime, it is best to keep an eye on your belongings as pickpockets still roam Times Square.

8. Feast your eyes on the Graffiti Hall of Fame

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The Graffiti Hall of Fame is a far cry from the skyscrapers and iconic landmarks that have been previously mentioned. This semi-illicit gallery was initially created by locals to establish a space for aspiring graffiti artists to hone their skills. What started out as expressing creativity on concrete walls within a school complex has now evolved into something much larger.

The murals showcase the culture and vibrance of NYC and are definitely worth checking out! With eye-popping, expressive, and colourful images, the walls retain Manhattan’s history amidst the surrounding contemporary landscape. While most murals are within school grounds and therefore off-limits to the public, these walls are still one of the best places to visit in Manhattan.

9. Dive into history at the American Museum of Natural History

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NYC is a treasure trove of museums that satisfies even the most ardent history and art lovers. Amongst them, the American Museum of Natural History can claim to be the best of the best. With a total collection of over 34 million specimens and artefacts, it is the largest natural history museum in the world to date. 

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The museum features over 40 galleries for its permanent exhibitions and frequently hosts special exhibitions to display its immense collection. With some fossils dating over 100 million years old and a tremendous collection of history, one should set aside at least three hours to take a step into the past.

Fun fact: Contrary to popular belief, the comedy film Night at the Museum was not filmed in this museum (that would have been a difficult mess to clean up!).

10. Understand the tragedy of 9/11 at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum

9/11 memorial

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One of the darkest days in the 2000s, the tragic terrorist attack on the World Trade Center is a painful memory for many Americans. Despite all the attractions, museums, and skyscrapers dotting the city skyline, visiting the National September 11 Memorial & Museum is among the most important things to do in Manhattan. 

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The memorial is situated on the original site of the World Trade Center and honours the thousands killed in the attack. Visiting this place is a reflective experience as the names of the fallen are engraved on the fountain. The sombre atmosphere might be atypical of a trip to NYC, but it is important to understand this defining moment in American history.

11. Indulge in a bibliophile’s paradise at the New York Public Library

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This extraordinary public library serves over 16 million patrons each year and holds a collection of over 50 million physical books, e-books, and other media. The library itself features a Beaux-Arts facade and is flanked by two marble lions. 

The impressive exterior is only surpassed by the interior, where grand and ornate designs mesmerise visitors and readers. The large Rose Reading Room covers an area equivalent to a football field and uses dark wood to accentuate the luxurious feeling of this grand library.

Fun fact: The public library system actually has over 90 branches. But when asking locals for directions, they will likely direct you to the iconic main branch.

12. Prepare for a sensory overload at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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One of the best things to do in Manhattan is to take a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This Manhattan attraction is the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere and holds exquisite works from all over the world. 

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If you are short on time and cannot visit the dozens of museums in Manhattan, we highly recommend not passing up on this opportunity to view 5,000 years’ worth of art. The collection has surpassed two million pieces and one could spend days trying to browse the entire collection.

Pro tip: Avoid the large crowds by going on Wednesday and Thursday mornings and leaving before 2pm.

Best things to do in Manhattan to take in the sights and sounds

13. Dress classy and watch a musical on Broadway


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Broadway and 42nd Street is the go-to place to catch a musical or theatre performance in NYC. The entire boulevard houses prominent theatres and has become synonymous with American theatre. 

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With long-running, world-renowned musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and The Lion King, it comes as no surprise that millions of visitors flock to the iconic Theater District to catch a live performance.

Pro tip: Ticket prices can get quite expensive, so be sure to arrive early to book same-day tickets or book online tickets way in advance.

14. Take a breather in Central Park

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The expansive meadows, intricate fountains, unique installations, and picturesque beauty, make this one of the most famous parks in the world. Described as the “lungs” of New York, this 843-acre park acts as a carbon sink and helps to keep NYC cool in the summer.

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Central Park is an oasis of calm amidst the metallic structures surrounding it. The park is beloved by locals and often used for sunbathing, exercise, picnics, and simply to de-stress. 

Fun fact: The iconic park has appeared in over 200 feature films and is the most filmed public park in the world.

15. Commute to Grand Central Terminal

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Now, how could the question of the best things to do in Manhattan be answered without a visit to the most recognisable railway station? Grand Central Terminal is a transit hub and a tourist attraction all rolled up into one. The active terminal serves over one million passengers each week and is the largest in the world with over 40 platforms. 

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The Main Concourse, often referred to as the Grand Concourse, has spacious transit areas, constellations adorning its ceilings, and the famous four-faced opal clock that sits in the centre of the stunning concourse.

Fun fact: All the clocks in the terminal are deliberately fast by one minute, which gives rushing commuters extra time to get to their train.

16. Catch a show at Radio City Music Hall

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With a seating capacity of 6,015, Radio City Music Hall holds the title of the largest indoor theatre in the world. Another complex built by Rockefeller during the Great Depression, this music hall has become so prominent that it hosted over 300 million audience members since its inception. For many aspiring talents, it is a dream to be able to perform at this historic venue.

Other places to visit in Manhattan to immerse in an NYC experience

17. Take your taste buds on a gastronomic journey at Chelsea Market

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Once a biscuit factory, Chelsea Market has become a delightful experience to satisfy one’s food and shopping cravings. Popular with locals and visitors alike, this food market offers a wide variety of food in a chill setting. The selection of food and drinks is sure to tantalise your taste buds. Meanwhile, the casual environment is perfect to hang out with some friends and grab a bite.

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With a host of global and luxury boutiques to local artisans, it’s a shopping treasure trove waiting to be explored. To make life easier, one could explore this market and grab some food before walking The High Line. Hitting two birds with one stone is certainly the New Yorker way of doing things, after all!

Also read: 14 Food Destinations Around the World for a Gastronomic Tour

18. Do as the New Yorkers do and visit Madison Square Garden

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The destination to catch a popular performance, a game, or even just to ice skate, Madison Square Garden has to be on your list of places to visit in Manhattan. Charmingly called The Garden by locals, this multi-functional venue hosts sports teams from the NBA and the NHL. 

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For boxing fans, The Garden was the site for “The Fight of the Century” between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. It has also hosted concerts by iconic artists such as Madonna, Elvis Presley, Billy Joel, and John Lennon.

19. Walk on the Brooklyn Bridge

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The Brooklyn Bridge spans across the East River and connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. While technically not part of Manhattan, this bridge is still one of the best places to visit in Manhattan. Here, you can snap pictures of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty!

20. Shop til you drop on 5th Avenue

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5th Avenue is hands down the most famous street in the Big Apple and even edges out Broadway and Wall Street. Known to the locals as Millionaire’s Row, it cuts across most of Manhattan and is a shopper’s paradise. 

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It is by far the most luxurious and dazzling street that hosts several flagship stores of renowned international brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Giorgio Armani. That said, shopping here on a budget is nearly impossible, but it is still a cool place to get a taste of opulence. 

Also read: 12 Shopping Destinations Around the World You Have to Visit in Your Lifetime!

Manhattan is truly a must-visit if you are ever in NYC as it oozes culture, entertainment, and attractions for just about everyone. This guide might be just the tip of the iceberg, but rest assured you will be in for a treat if you manage to visit all these Manhattan attractions!

About Author

Sarvaesh Mohan

Sarvaesh is always on the lookout for the next adventure and loves to get his adrenaline pumping. When he's taking a break from travel, he loves to play video games and watch historical documentaries.