My Favorite Things to Do in New York City (2024)

Last updated: February 20, 2024

I will tell you the best things to do in New York City.

My list includes specific tips and tricks for:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Sheep Meadow in Central Park
  • How to get cheap Broadway tickets
  • My favorite casual restaurants, and more.

This is a list of NYC things meant for tourists. They are gems and truths that many locals know.

Hi, my name is Nick Gray. I lived in New York City for 13 years. These are the recommendations that I tell my best friends when they visit. Get more tips when you join my free newsletter.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York City has a few world-class museums. But The Metropolitan Museum of Art, aka the Met, is absolutely the best.

Here’s why it is the best:

This museum has 17 curatorial departments.

Think of each of these curatorial departments like their own mini-museum.

Why is that cool? Because this museum has something for everyone.

If you don’t like boring old paintings, check out the Islamic galleries, Egyptian stuff, Modern & Contemporary art, Indian art, browse dozens of amazing period room re-creations, enjoy the architecture, sculpture, etc.

If you love paintings, great: the Met has several Vermeers, over $1B of Van Goghs, and top art by almost all of the most famous artists.

Met Museum Tips

  • Use my viral tip on Instagram or YouTube to avoid the big lines outside and enter the museum using the 81st Street entrance.
  • Bring your headphones and connect to the Met’s public wifi network. You can do free audio tours from your phone. Start with this highlights tour.
  • Plan for 3 hours but you can also blaze through in an hour sprint.
  • Off the beaten path: Don’t miss the Musical Instruments department in Gallery 684 and Visible Storage in Gallery 774. You can get to both by starting in Gallery 700.
  • Kids might like the Egyptian galleries and the Arms & Armor section.
  • See the Manhattan skyline view from the roof if it is open. The roof closes for the winter and weather.

Food Warning: The Met is a bit of a food desert. Food selections inside the museum are slim, lines can be long, and prices high. Smuggle snacks like an energy bar or nuts. Sometimes I eat the prepared sushi in The American Wing Cafe in Gallery 700. The cafeteria in the basement is overpriced and depressing but can be good for hitting your macros or just a quick slice of average pizza. The easiest, closet grab-and-go nearby is Butterfield Market. They have good sandwiches but you can’t technically bring food or drinks inside the Museum. For a protein-forward fast meal nearby, you could hike to Pastrami Queen or Dos Toros. If you’re riding the 4/5/6 train, there’s a Shake Shack near 86th and 3rd.

Finally, bring your walking shoes: this museum is huge and there’s a lot to explore.

Other Museums

Here are two other museums. I don’t know them as well but they’re world-class.

  • The American Museum of Natural History, aka AMNH. It’s mobbed with kids. The entrance line is long. The layout is even more confusing than The Met. Don’t miss the Halls of Gems and Minerals, the big blue whale, and the new Gilder Center.
  • The Museum of Modern Art, aka MoMA. I don’t go here much. I think the Met is 10x better. But if you like traditional art, and especially modern art, then you must visit. There are some must-see bangers like Starry Night by Van Gogh. Take the elevator to the top floor then walk your way down.

Central Park & Sheep Meadow

Central Park is nice. Walk around, see some nature.

Get a break here from the concrete jungle and skyscraper stress of Manhattan.

But Central Park is huge.

And there are so many things to see inside: the Central Park Zoo, Belvedere Castle, The Great Lawn, the Boathouse, jog around the reservoir, the Conservatory Garden way up north, etc.

I just like walking and exploring.

You can easily enter Central Park from either corner on 59th St.

If I had to pick 1 spot to specifically visit inside Central Park, and if the weather is nice, then Sheep Meadow is the very best.

Sheep Meadow is a huge manicured green grass lawn surrounded by trees and skyscrapers. On the weekends in the spring and summer, it fills with locals lounging, sunbathing, and playing games.

Pro tip for nice weather: The best people-watching in Sheep Meadow is on Saturday and Sunday from 2PM to 7PM.

I like Sheep Meadow so much that I wrote an article about where to have a picnic in Sheep Meadow and which are the best nearby bathrooms.

Afterwards, walk up The Mall in Central Park to Bethesda Terrace. The Met Museum and American Museum of Natural History are also nearby.

Washington Square Park

You should visit a park because it is a public space where locals gather.

But Central Park is too big. And Union Square or Times Square are tourist hubs and transit centers.

For a smaller park downtown with amazing local energy, I highly suggest Washington Square Park.

This is the nicest, coolest, best locals-only park in Manhattan.

I used to live near here and would go almost every day.

You can visit the park almost any time of day. You will see:

  • Early morning walkers with coffees-in-hand.
  • Afternoon loungers on the plentiful wooden benches.
  • Late afternoon weed-sellers, thrift stores, and poetry-on-demand hawkers.
  • Raucous night time crowds, BMX bike kids, and the occasional pop-up dance party.

The park’s energy and attendance changes by the hour. And like any park, it will be most alive, vibrant, and packed with people when the weather is nice.

Safety Note: I generally avoid the north-west corner of Washington Square Park near MacDougal St and Waverly Place. That specific corner tends to attract vagrants and drug dealers. But the south-west corner near MacDougal St and West 4th St is the famous chess hustler spot!

Washington Square Park is so different from Union Square nearby. Union Square is a commuter space and few people truly hang out there besides shopping at the farmer’s market.

You should visit Washington Square Park to see where locals go to chill and meet friends and people watch.

Afterwards, make sure you stroll down MacDougal Street. This is a nice walk down a crowded street filled with dozens of restaurants. The prime stretch to see is the 1 block between West 3rd St and Bleecker St.

Nearby Restaurants to Washington Square Park

There are many great coffee shops and fast-casual restaurants within a stone’s throw of the park. Most of these are all on the same block of MacDougal Street.

  • Stumptown Coffee, on West 8th Street.
  • Mahmoun’s Falafel, get the $3 falafel balls for a fast snack.
  • Pommes Frites, if you want to carbo-load on french fries. Get them crispy.
  • ME CHICKEN RICE, the best Hainanese chicken rice I’ve had in NYC. Always fast and tasty but my friends say it doesn’t look appealing. I order the No. 1 Steamed Chicken Rice every time. The No 2 and No 3 are also good and perhaps more tasty, but you’ll get less protein.
  • Saigon Shack, good Vietnamese food and pho but long lines at night.
  • Berlin Döner, it’s fine, fast, and cheap. Large portions of meat.
Pizza tip: The best and most famous single-slice pizza restaurant a short walk away is Joe’s Pizza. For a good food tour in New York City, I suggest Scott’s Pizza Tours.

Broadway Shows

You might want to see a Broadway show.

New York City is the best in the world at theater, especially musical theater.

But some Broadway shows are awful. And many are expensive.

I’ll tell you how to get cheap tickets.

I’ll also tell you my favorite shows to see.

To be continued! Join my free Friends Newsletter to get the rest of my NYC tips, including how to get cheap Broadway tickets, my favorite shows to see for Broadway beginners and tourists, and more.

To add to my list or ask questions, email me here. I read everything and I usually write back!

Conclusion

I love New York City. It was amazing to live there for 13 years.

If you’re a first-time visitor or feel new to the city, absolutely you should do these 3 things:

  1. Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  2. Walk around Central Park a bit, and if the weather is nice, go to Sheep Meadow
  3. People watch in Washington Square Park and eat some local fast food nearby

One of my Metropolitan Museum of Art tips was also featured in the Redfin Blog for their recent article about 20 Winter Things to Do in NYC.

For more New York City tips, check out these other articles on my blog:

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