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  • Carrie Cochran

15 Must-See Attractions for a Weekend in New York City

NYC skyline by Daniel Rodriguez
NYC by Daniel Rodriguez

For many people, New York City is near the top of the list of places in the US that they want to visit. It may not be a relaxing, getaway-type destination, but nowhere else in the world can you find such a collection of style, world-famous sights, and American culture as in New York City.

Some college friends of mine recently started planning a “guys trip” to NYC and made a point to convince me that I needed to come (though I didn’t really need much convincing). One of the downsides about a trip to NYC is that everyone has an opinion on what you should do and see while you’re there, and hardly any two people’s views are the same. So if you want an expert’s or local’s opinion, there’s plenty out there. If you want the recommendations of an average guy after his first time there, keep reading.

Famous Landmarks

One of the most remarkable things about NYC is the landmarks. These are the photos you see when you search for NYC or the quick shots in movies, so you know quickly where the characters are. With only a short weekend there, I didn’t get a chance to see all New York has to offer, but we did our best to see the most famous ones.

1. Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty at sunset by Daniel Rodriguez
Statue of Liberty

Probably the most iconic sight in NYC, the Statue of Liberty stands in the harbor. Originally a gift from the French to symbolize freedom and democracy, she became known as the first sight that immigrants would see coming to a new life in America. Multitudes of Americans can trace their ancestry back to someone who would’ve passed this statue and the nearby Ellis Island. Even if the icon doesn’t hold that kind of significance to you personally, everyone can appreciate the workmanship and magnitude of the piece, and what it symbolizes for Americans.

Traveler’s tip: There’s one place to get tickets for a ferry that actually goes to the island, and those tickets cost $20-$30; don’t let the overly friendly salesmen outside convince you to go on another cruise that won’t get you to the statue. Also, if you want to go inside the statue, you’ll need to buy those tickets months in advance for a few dollars extra; they’ll be sold out on the day of, even in December.

2. 9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center

9-11 Memorial by Philip Burtt
One World Trade Center by Philip Burtt

Another spot that carries quite a bit of history, the 9/11 memorial stands in stark contrast to the businesses and tall buildings that surround it. After an international competition for the design of the monument, it is clear to see why the design by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker, Reflecting Absence, was selected. Two giant pools of nearly an acre each now sit in the footprint of the old North and South Towers. A 30-foot waterfall around the perimeter drops into the earth, where the water flows toward the center and falls into a smaller void. Around the edge, inscribed in bronze, are the names of all those lost in the attacks. It truly brings one to reflect on what was lost that day.

Turning around from this memorial though, you’re met by the new One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the western hemisphere, and a testament to the fact that Americans can come together and prosper no matter what.

3. Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station

This famous train depot has evolved into so much more than just a station. Boasting 60 shops, 35 restaurants, events year-round, and some exquisite architecture, it’s worth a stop, whether it’s on your route or not.

4. Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge by Daniel Rodriguez
Brooklyn Bridge by Daniel Rodriguez

New York has several iconic bridges, but perhaps the most famous and beautiful is the Brooklyn Bridge. Opened in 1883, it is one of the oldest roadway bridges in the US, and the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge. Probably the most enjoyable bridge walk I’ve ever experienced, it offers a pleasant pedestrian/cyclist path elevated above the car lanes, with some beautiful views of the city, harbor, and river.

5. Wall Street’s Charging Bull

Wall Street Charging Bull by Philip Burtt

A change of pace from all the famous buildings is the Charging Bull on Wall Street. It was intended by its creator to represent everyone’s ability to “charge through” obstacles in their path in the wake of the 1987 Black Friday stock market crash. It’s since taken its place as another NYC landmark; there was even a short line to get your photo with the front (and the semi-famous rear) of the statue.

6. Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center

While it’s a building worth seeing all year round, the Rockefeller Center has most of its charm during the winter. Perhaps its most famous attraction is its giant (up to 100 feet tall some years) Christmas tree. The center also boasts the famous ice rink in front of the Prometheus statue, surrounded by the light and city bustle of New York.

At the other end of the square, the side of Saks Fifth Avenue showcases a spectacular Christmas lights show. And if you’re willing to pay $38 per adult for the view, the “Top of the Rock” offers one of the most breathtaking views of NYC over 70 stories in the air.

History and Culture

Another thing NYC is famous for is the American metropolitan setting. So many people together in one place bring extensive backgrounds, lifestyles, and ideas to the area. Thanks to this, some of America’s most famous historical and cultural sites are found in New York City.

1. Times Square

Times Square by Daniel Rodriguez

Probably the most famous place in New York, Times Square is the ultimate big-city experience. Endless crowds of people (about 380,000 people pass through daily) and giant neon billboards create an iconic New York vibe. Multiple shopping and eating destinations line the square while buildings tower above, but the most notable features are the giant electronic advertisements that flood the square with light. Entrance to the Square and enjoyment of the atmosphere is free, but the shops and restaurants in the area can be extra pricey.

2. Broadway Productions

Majestic Theater by Daniel Rodriguez

Near the top of every list of what to do in New York City are the Broadway plays and musicals. From some of the famous ones like Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, and Hamlet, to the multitude of up-and-coming “Off-Broadway” plays, the NYC Broadway is one of the best ways to feel like a higher member of society. Tickets usually run $50-$100 for the cheapest seats, but no seat in a Broadway play is a bad seat.

3. Natural History Museum

The National History Museum
National History Museum Dinosaur by Philip Burtt

The largest natural history museum in the world with over 33 million specimens of fossils, plants, rocks, and artifacts, the Natural History Museum is a must-see for anyone with an appreciation for history, nature, and science. Even with over two million square feet, the museum can only display a part of its extensive collection at any time, so there’s always a reason to go back and spend days taking in all the wonder. Tickets are $23 if you buy in advance, or you can wait in line on the day of and take advantage of the museum’s “pay-what-you-want” admission.

4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met by Philip Burtt
The Met's exterior by Daniel Rodriguez

The cultural counterpart to the Natural History Museum, and the largest art museum in the US, is another place to experience culture at its peak. With every art style you can imagine, there’s something here for everyone to enjoy, ranging in age from Egyptian artifacts to modern art, and varying in style from ancient African tribal ensembles to an entire room dedicated to medieval armor and weapons. Make sure you grab a map because there were several times I made a turn and found myself lost in another style, period, or culture. Tickets are $25 per adult and are valid for three days, but residents of NYC can choose their own admission price.

5. Federal Hall

Federal Hall

The place of America’s first capital, this site on Wall Street is where Washington swore his first oath of office and where the first Congress, Supreme Court, and executive branches met. Today, it serves as a museum of the first President and the earliest history of the United States. Best of all, admission is free!

6. Rooftop Bars

Rooftop Bar view by Daniel Rodriguez
Nighttime Skyline of NYC by Daniel Rodriguez

If you’re looking for a cheaper way to see the skyline of NYC, several bars and lounges around the city will offer rooftop views at no cost, hoping to entice you to buy the food and drinks there. They definitely provide enjoyable atmospheres as well as beautiful views, even if they don’t quite reach the heights of the paid views like Rockefeller or the Empire State Building.

Only in New York City

My last section of recommended sights are things that may not necessarily make other travel destination lists, but to me were as much a part of the New York City experience as anything else. The little moments and events in the city really helped me to feel wrapped up in the life of the city.

1. Starbucks Roastery of New York

Starbucks Roastery

Before my visit here, I had no idea that Starbucks offered public roasteries. Offered only in big cities such as Seattle, Chicago, and NYC, this giant coffee shop is so much more than just that. It is packed full of coffee brewing stations, bean roasters, and mixers. In addition to all the coffee and small cafe-style treats of any other Starbucks, this one offers a full bakery, an expensive souvenir and coffee making equipment selection for purchasing, and an extensive range of finely crafted coffees.

Starbucks Roastery

They also offer an array of “coffee flights,” experiences to fully enjoy coffee like never before by pairing your coffee with the right truffle, testing the same coffee brewed two different ways, or a tour of the different brewing methods the roastery offers. Everyone may have their own favorite coffee shop, but the roastery is a coffee experience like no other.

2. The Chelsea Market

The Chelsea Market in NYC
The Chelsea Market in NYC

If Starbucks Roastery is the ultimate coffee experience, then the Chelsea Market is the ultimate food experience. Packed to the absolute brim with local shops, including everything from Japanese-Mexican fusion restaurants and expansive chocolatier fronts to a shop that sells all sorts of olive oils and vinegars (and offers samples) and a shop that sells nothing but flavors of edible cookie dough, this is the one place to go if you want to experience literally every taste that New York has to offer.

3. New York City Highline

New York Highline view by Daniel Rodriguez

Created from the old New York Central Railroad in Manhattan, the Highline offers a fantastic walk-around view of the city through some of the beautiful buildings. Not only an excellent way to appreciate some of New York City’s unique architecture but also a stunning display of beautifully landscaped plantlife in the middle of the metropolis, the 1.5-mile walkway makes for a great stroll and a way to take in so much of the city’s beauty without the hassle of fighting against most of the people or any of the cars.

A big thank you to Daniel Cochran for putting this post together, and to his trip-mates for providing plenty of amazing photos to help bring it to life!

I hope you all enjoyed reading about these 15 incredible places and attractions in New York City and that it inspires you to plan your own amazing adventure there soon!

Don't forget to give this post a heart and subscribe to the Mandala Traveler so you never miss an adventure or vital travel tip again!

Happy travels!

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