New York Vacations
No other place does big-city charm quite like Gotham. Dive into its diverse dining scene, swig cocktails all night, enjoy mind-blowing performances in Broadway theaters and back-alley comedy joints, and shop 'til you drop among the veritable UN of international brands and unique boutiques.
New York is a densely packed mass of humanity and all this living on top of one another makes the New Yorker a special kind of person. It's hard to put a finger on what makes the place buzz so hard, but the city's hyperactive rush keeps drawing more and more people to it.
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What To Do
Considering how limited the green spaces are in New York, it's surprising for some visitors how active locals are: everywhere you go you see locals jogging, riding bikes, playing pick-up hoops or soccer, or cheering on Little Leaguers on baseball diamonds that freckle the metropolis.
What To See
Look around (looking up makes you look like a tourist).
From the top of the Empire State Building to the bottom of a glass in a Manhattan nightclub, New York has it all. For a closer look at the city, wander through Times Square and the streets of Greenwich Village and Soho, check out the Wall Street super traders, or hop on a ferry to Staten Island.
Statue of Liberty
In a city full of American icons, the Statue of Liberty is perhaps the most famous. Conceived as early as 1865 by French intellectual Edouard Laboulaye as a monument to the republican principals shared by France and the USA, it's still generally recognized as a symbol for at least the ideals of opportunity and freedom to many. French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi traveled to New York in 1871 to select the site, then spent more than 10 years in Paris designing and making the 151ft-tall figure Liberty Enlightening the World. It was then shipped to New York, erected on a small island in the harbor and unveiled in 1886. Structurally, it consists of an iron skeleton (designed by Gustave Eiffel) with a copper skin attached to it by stiff but flexible metal bars. The crown is again open to the public - numbers are limited, however, so reservations are required, as far in advance as possible. For those without crown reservations, a visit to Statue of Liberty National Monument means you can wander the grounds and enjoy the view from the 16-story observation deck; a specially designed glass ceiling lets you look up into the statue's striking interior. The trip to its island, via ferry, is usually visited in conjunction with nearby Ellis Island. Ferries leave from Battery Park. South Ferry and Bowling Green are the closest subway stations. Ferry tickets (additional $3 for crown admission) include admission to both sights and reservations can be made in advance.
Empire State Building
Featured prominently in almost a hundred Hollywood films over the years, the Empire State Building - actually a very glorified office building - is the most famous member of the New York skyline. It’s a limestone classic built in just 410 days (using seven million hours of labor) during the Great Depression, at the astounding cost of $41 million. Located on the site of the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the 102-story, 1472ft-high (to the top of the antenna) Empire State Building opened in 1931 after the laying of 10 million bricks, installation of 6400 windows and setting of 328,000 sq ft of marble. The famous antenna was originally meant to be a mooring mast for zeppelins, but the Hindenberg disaster slammed the brakes on that plan. Later an aircraft did (accidentally) meet up with the building: a B-25 bomber crashed into the 79th floor on a foggy day in 1945, killing 14 people. The view of the vast city from the Empire State Building is just exquisite, but be prepared - the lines to get to the observation decks, found on the 86th and 102nd floors, are notorious. And the basement area where you must buy tickets and queue up for the elevator ride is a shabby, poorly ventilated waiting pen, especially in summer. Getting here very early or very late will help you avoid delays - as will buying your tickets ahead of time, online, where an extra $2 purchase charge is well worth the hassle it will save you. Sunset is one of the most magical times to be up here because you can see the city don its nighttime cloak in dusk’s afterglow. Once up here, you can stay as long as you like. Coin-operated telescopes offer an up-close glimpse of the city, and diagrams map out the major sights. You can even smoke up top, to the great dismay of many non- Europeans. Since 1976, the building’s top 30 floors have been floodlit in seasonal and holiday colors: green for St Patrick’s Day in March, black for World AIDS Day on December 1, red and green for Christmas, lavender for Gay Pride weekend in June, etc - visit the website for each day’s lighting scheme and meaning. This tradition has now been copied by many other skyscrapers, notably the Metropolitan Life Tower at Madison Square Park and the Con Edison Tower near Union Sq, lending elegance to the night sky.
Like the city’s subway system, the vast and majestic Central Park, an 843-acre rectangle of open space in the middle of Manhattan, is a great class leveler - which is exactly what it was envisioned to be. Created in the 1860s and ’70s by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux on the marshy northern fringe of the city, the immense park was designed as a leisure space for all New Yorkers, regardless of color, class or creed. And it’s an oasis from the insanity: the lush lawns, cool forests, flowering gardens, glassy bodies of water and meandering, wooded paths providing the dose of serene nature that New Yorkers crave. Olmsted and Vaux (who also created Prospect Park in Brooklyn) were determined to keep foot and road traffic separate and cleverly designed the crosstown transverses under elevated roads to do so. That such a large expanse of prime real estate has survived intact for so long again proves that nothing eclipses the heart, soul and pride that forms the foundation of New York City’s greatness. Today, this ‘people’s park’ is still one of the city’s most popular attractions, beckoning throngs of New Yorkers with free outdoor concerts at the Great Lawn, precious animals at the Central Park Wildlife Center and top-notch drama at the annual Shakespeare in the Park productions, held each summer at the open-air Delacorte Theater. Some other recommended stops include the ornate Bethesda Fountain, which edges the Lake and its Loeb Boathouse, where you can rent rowboats or enjoy lunch at an outdoor cafe; the Shakespeare Garden (west side btwn 79th & 80th Sts), which has lush plantings and excellent skyline views; and the Ramble (mid-park from 73rd to 79th Sts), a wooded thicket that’s popular with bird-watchers. While parts of the park swarm with joggers, in-line skaters, musicians and tourists on warm weekends, it’s quieter on weekday afternoons - but especially in less well-trodden spots above 72nd St such as the Harlem Meer and the North Meadow (north of 97th St). Folks flock to the park even in winter, when snowstorms can inspire cross-country skiing and sledding or a simple stroll through the white wonderland, and crowds turn out every New Year’s Eve for a midnight run. The Central Park Conservancy offers ever-changing guided tours of the park, including those that focus on public art, wildlife and places of interest to kids.
Museum of Modern Art
Founded in 1929, MoMA is one of NYC’s most popular museums, home to more than 100,000 pieces of modern artwork, most by A-listers - Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rothko, Pollock, Bourgeois and many others. It’s dedicated to showcasing artwork based on the emerging creative ideas of the late 19th century through to those that dominate today. It’s easy to get lost in the vast collection for an entire day; if you want to maximize your time and create a plan of attack ahead of time, download the museum’s floor plan and visitor guide from the website beforehand. MoMA's permanent collection spans four levels, with prints, illustrated books and the unmissable Contemporary Galleries on level two; architecture, design, drawings and photography on level three; and painting and sculpture on levels four and five. Many of the big hitters are on these last two levels, so tackle the museum from the top down before the fatigue sets in. Must-sees include Van Gogh's The Starry Night, Cézanne's The Bather, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, and Henri Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy, not to mention iconic American works like Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans and Gold Marilyn Monroe, Lichtenstein's equally poptastic Girl With Ball, and Hopper's haunting House by the Railroad.
World Trade Center Site
Plagued by design controversies, budget blowouts and construction delays, the first part of the World Trade Center (WTC) redevelopment - the National September 11 Memorial, known more simply as the 9/11 Memorial - opened to the public on September 12, 2011. The wait was worth it. Titled Reflecting Absence, its two massive reflecting pools are as much a symbol of hope and renewal as they are a tribute to the thousands who lost their lives to terrorism.
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
This museum puts the neighborhood’s heartbreaking but inspiring heritage on full display in three recreations of turn-of-the-20th-century tenements, including the late-19th-century home and garment shop of the Levine family from Poland, and two immigrant dwellings from the Great Depressions of 1873 and 1929. The visitor center shows a video detailing the difficult life endured by the people who once lived in the surrounding buildings, which more often than not had no running water or electricity. Museum visits are available only as part of scheduled tours (the price of which is included in the admission), which typically operate daily. But call ahead or check the website for the schedules, as they change frequently. The museum also leads various other tours, from one that explores various Lower East Side sites and their role in the neighborhood’s immigration history to another that visits the restored home of Irish immigrants who dealt with the death of a child in the 1800s.
Top of the Rock
This open-air observation deck at the top of Rockefeller Center first wowed New Yorkers back in 1933. Designed in homage to ocean liners popular in the day, it was an incredible place - 70 stories above Midtown - from which to view the city. But it became off-limits for almost two decades starting in 1986, when renovation of the stunning Rainbow Room restaurant five floors below cut off access to the roof. The observation deck was reopened with much fanfare in 2005, and since then it’s been proving to be an even better bet than the Empire State Building: it’s much less crowded and has wider observation decks that span several levels - some are indoors, some are outside with Plexiglass walls and those at the very top are completely alfresco. Though the Chrysler Building is partially obscured, you do get an excellent view of the Empire State Building, as well as Central Park’s perfect patch of green. The very cool, multimedia-enhanced elevator ride to the top is an exciting bonus.
Love it or hate it, the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Ave (better known as Times Square) is New York City's hyperactive heart; a restless, hypnotic torrent of glittering lights, bombastic billboards and raw urban energy. It's not hip, fashionable or in-the-know, and it couldn't care less. It's too busy pumping out iconic, mass-marketed NYC - yellow cabs, golden arches, soaring skyscrapers and razzle-dazzle Broadway marquees. This is the New York of collective fantasies - the place where Al Jolson 'makes it' in the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, where photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt famously captured a lip-locked sailor and nurse on V-J Day in 1945, and where Alicia Keys and Jay-Z waxed lyrically about this 'concrete jungle where dreams are made.' For several decades, the dream here was a sordid, wet one. The economic crash of the early 1970s led to a mass exodus of corporations from Times Square. Billboard niches went dark, stores shut and once grand hotels were converted into SROs (single-room occupancy) dives, attracting the poor and the destitute. What was once an area bathed in light and showbiz glitz became a dirty den of drug dealers and crime. While the adjoining Theater District survived, its respectable playhouses shared the streets with porn cinemas, strip clubs and adult bookstores. That all changed with tough-talking mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who, in the 1990s, forced out the skin flicks, boosted police numbers and lured a wave of 'respectable' retail chains, restaurants and attractions. By the new millennium, Times Square had gone from 'X-rated' to 'G-rated,' drawing almost 40 million annual visitors and raking in more than $1.8 billion annually from its 17,000 hotel rooms. For a panoramic overview over the square, order a drink at the Renaissance Hotel's R Lounge, which offers floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the neon-lit spectacle. It might not be the best-priced sip in town, but with a view like this, who's counting?
Serious fashionistas shop at Barneys, well known for its spot-on collections of in-the-know labels like Holmes & Yang, Kitsuné, Miu Miu and Derek Lam. For less expensive deals (geared to a younger market), check out Barneys Co-op on the 7th and 8th floors, or on the Upper West Side, in Chelsea, SoHo or Brooklyn.
This outpost of the Boston-based chain is not actually in a basement, but three flights up, with a tremendous view of Union Sq. The best stuff to see is inside, though, where you will find labels for up to 70% less than the prices at regular retail outlets. Like similar discount department stores, it's got clothing, shoes, jewelry, accessories, cosmetics and some housewares (like bedding). Fashionistas willing to go on painstaking searches could unearth treasures, including apparel from Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, Versace and more. Also in the same building is DSW, which sells footwear by well-known designers at heavily reduced prices.
Across from Tompkins Square Park, this ecofriendly shop offers all sorts of home and office gear for living green. Organic T-shirts, shoes made out of recycled auto tires, compost bins, biodegradable beauty products, recycled stationery, and books on going green are all on hand. The store itself sets a fine example: the interior is built from 300-year-old reclaimed lumber and fixtures are recycled (and for sale).
Caroline’s on Broadway
You may recognize this big, bright, mainstream classic from comedy specials filmed here on location. It's a top spot to catch US comedy big guns and sitcom stars, but for something a little more subversive, don't miss the late-late Friday night show The Degenerates.
Surprisingly stylish for the Lower East Side, the Delancey hosts some popular indie bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah for doting indie-rock crowds. A good early-evening spot to drink too, particularly from the airy 2nd-floor patio deck.
Savvy Sino fusion is this cottage-style restaurant’s signature on its flavorful dishes. A recent chart-topper on the best lists of many foodies, RedFarm earns our devotion for preparing mouthwatering mains (rib steak!) without a hint of pretension. Besides the heavily touted mixed-bag recipes, RedFarm also sports some of the best drinks in town - the Suntory Old-Fashioned is one of the finest scotch cocktails out there.
Tap the top of your French onion soup as you dream of that Pollyanna ingénue Amélie cracking open her crème brulée; Le Grainne transports the senses from the busy blocks of Chelsea to the backstreets of Paris. The tin-topped eatery really excels at lunch time, when baguette sandwiches and savory crepes are scarfed down amid cramped quarters; come for dinner to breath in the wafting garlic as heartier pastas are tossed in the kitchen.
Vin Sur Vingt
A cozy spot just off Seventh Ave’s bustle, Vin Sur Vingt is a thin wine bar with a strip of bar seating and a quaint row of two-seat tables, perfect for a first date. Warning: if you come for a pre-dinner drink, you’ll inevitably be charmed into staying through dinner as you munch on the excellent selection of bar bites. Reasonably priced vino keeps the locals coming back for seconds.
Hardly a week goes by without a special event taking place in New York. In fact, there are some 50 officially recognised parades each year, along with more than 400 street fairs. Times Square's New Year's Eve festivities are probably the most famous in the world; less popular is the 5 mile (8km) midnight run in Central Park. On 5 January, thousands of children wander up Fifth Ave, in a cavalcade of sheep, camels and donkeys, for the Three Kings Parade. The St Patrick's Day Parade down Fifth Ave on 17 March has been held every year for 200 years.
In May the Tribeca Film Festival, co-organised by Robert DeNiro, kicks off, while in mid-June head for Fifth Ave between 44th and 86th Sts for the salsa sounds of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. The Mermaid Parade, for which some of the city's most glamorous residents transform the Coney Island boardwalk into a sea of sequins on the last weekend of June.
On 4 July, Macy's sponsors an Independence Day fireworks spectacle on the East River. The city's premier black neighbourhood celebrates Harlem Week in August, and on Labor Day over one million people take part in the West Indian American Day Carnival Parade in Brooklyn, the biggest single event for the year. The New York Film Festival also takes place in September. Don't miss the Halloween Parade on October 31, when the kooks take over Sixth Ave in the West Village. Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in November is always popular, and for more festive cheer don't miss the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting on the following Tuesday.
New Year's Day - 1 Jan
Martin Luther King Jr Day - third Monday in January
Presidents' Day - third Monday in February
Easter - Mar/Apr
Memorial Day - last Monday in May
Independence Day - 4 Jul
Labor Day - first Monday in September
Columbus Day - second Monday in October
Veterans' Day - 11 Nov
Thanksgiving Day - fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day - 25 Dec
New Year's Eve - 31 Dec
Three Kings Parade - 5 Jan
St Patrick's Day Parade - 17 Mar
Tribeca Film Festival - first week in May
Puerto Rican Day Parade - second weekend in Jun
New Yorker Festival - Oct
Mermaid Parade - last Sat in June
Harlem Week - Aug
West Indian American Day Carnival Parade - first Monday in September
New York Film Festival - Sep
Halloween Parade - Oct 31
Thanksgiving Parade - fourth Thursday in November
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting - Dec
Food and Drink
Party like it’s 1928! This sublime, deliciously snooty gem in Grand Central was once the home of a ’20s railroad magnate fond of Euro-chic details: think Florentine-style carpets, decorative wooden ceiling beams and a soaring leaded glass window. Suitably tucked away from the hordes, reach it from the lift beside the Oyster Bar or the stairs to the West Balcony.
The moneyed, yoga set piles into this attractive vegan cafe serving a long list of sandwiches, salads, comfort food and market-driven specials. The specialty here is the house-made seitan. (Try it crusted with porcini and served with mashed potatoes and gravy - the perfect cold-day dish.) There is a juice bar and a gluten-free menu.
Amy Ruth’s Restaurant
This perennially crowded restaurant is the place to go for classic soul food, serving up delicious fried catfish, mac 'n' cheese and fluffy biscuits. But it’s the waffles (served at all hours) that are most famous - dished up 13 different ways, including with shrimp. Our favorite is the ‘Al Sharpton,’ waffles topped with succulent fried chicken.
The interiors may have been slightly sexed-up for a 'younger clientele' (the stunning storm-themed triptych is by Brooklyn artist Ran Ortner), but triple Michelin-starred Le Bernardin remains a luxe, fine-dining holy grail. At the helm is celebrity chef Eric Ripert, whose deceptively simple-looking seafood often borders on the transcendental.