North America, Travel Tips

35 Things to See and Do in New York City (A Local’s Bucket List Before She Leaves for Good)

September 26, 2015 • By

Last week, Condé Nast Traveler published 25 Things You Absolutely, Positively Have to Do in New York CityIt’s a comprehensive list worth reviewing, whether it’s your first trip to New York City… or your 100th. However, the writers targeted the upscale tourist who can splurge on a spa visit to the Mandarin Oriental and dinner at Momofuku.

Perhaps I can offer a more customized version of things to see and do–from the perspective of a local who often delights sightseeing in my own city.

After living in New York City for most of the past 11 years, I wrestled with the idea of packing my bags and departing New York City for greener pastures and colder shorelines: Chicago. I assembled my personal New York City Do-Do agenda and invited friends to join me as I checked off some boxes and relived favorite moments. One friend suggested labeling my list something other than a “bucket list,” which she considered a bit morbid.  I insisted the allure of New York City is deep, and leaving it when I am not necessarily ready is sort of like dying, so I kept the name with the mission to leave New York–with no regrets.

Here is my New York City bucket list, created on a dreary and stressful day in November 2013 and completed with little time to spare on October 31, 2015

(If visiting from out of town, I recommend creating a home-base for yourself by staying at an AirBnb. Be a “temporary local” for your stay.)

1.) Take a horse carriage ride through Central Park and dine at the recently renovated Tavern on the Green for lunch or dinner

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Central Park Carriage Ride with friends, Must do in NYC

2.) Tour the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island with my parents. (This item also topped my dad’s must see and do in New York City.) Tip: Reserve with as much advance notice as possible to visit the statue’s Crown.

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Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island

3.) Stop counting calories and order a chocolate malt or an ice cream sundae at Serendipity.

4.) Bike the entire Island of Manhattan at sunrise, cross the George Washington Bridge and admire the views of the city and the Hudson River.

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Biking the Island of Manhattan

5.) Eat at New Leaf Restaurant after strolling along the Hudson River. (Tag on a visit to the Cloisters as well.)

6.) Satisfy your sweet tooth for years to come at Magnolia Bakery. (Since 1 cupcake is never enough, I ate 4.) And why not stroll around the corner and check out the “home” of Carrie Bradshaw from HBO’s Sex and the City at 64 Perry Street in Greenwich Village?

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Times Square, NYC, Bright Lights Big City

7.) Walk through Times Square and appreciate the bright lights and the immensity of the buildings. It’s a fantastic place to people watch, catch a Broadway show and shop–if you can manage the crowds.

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Under the Brooklyn Bridge

8.) Walk the Brooklyn Bridge and dine at the River Cafe, which is usually reserved for special occasions but worth the splurge for the views and ambiance. For the budget-conscious, hit the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory or Grimaldi’s Pizzeria to save money and time.


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9/11 Memorial Ground Zero

9.) Spend a day at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I lived in NYC when it happened, and the memories are still fresh today. The museum is incredibly thoughtful and meaningful and should not be missed.  Do not rush through the exhibits. Spend time walking the grounds, reflecting on that tragic day.

10.) Rent a boat at the Central Park Boathouse and paddle your way into the middle of the pond, from where you can enjoy views of the skyline and drink in the beauty and tranquility of the park.

11.) Take in a sporting event, whether it’s baseball (Mets, Yankees), basketball (Knicks, Brooklyn Nets), hockey (Islanders, Rangers) or a match at the U.S. Open. Hit golf balls at the city’s only driving range at Chelsea Pier. As fortune would have it, when I lived in New York, I attended both the Women’s and Men’s Final of the U.S. Open, a special treat as a tennis player.

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USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center

12.) Devour a deli sandwich at Katz’s Deli. You won’t need to eat for days.

13.) Take the tram roundtrip from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island.

14.) Catch the Ferry to Governor’s Island and spend a day admiring the city’s views from the middle of the East River.

15.) Forget about the diet for one day and eat until yourself silly at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg every weekend April – November.

16.) Feast on fried green tomatoes and BBQ chicken at Harlem’s own Dinosaur BBQ.

17.) Visit the Intrepid (maritime museum) and tour the submarine. *I won’t be joining the Navy!

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The Plaza Hotel afternoon tea and champagne

18.) Feel like Royalty and enjoy afternoon tea and champagne at the opulent Plaza Hotel.

19.) Visit the High Line on a weekday (try catching sunset from here) and then grab a beer at the Standard Hotel Biergarten.

20) Dine at Campagnola for old school Italian food with piles of Parmesan cheese and meats to start.  It’s so good, I ate there more than three times!

21.) Rent a car and the visit the site of the Woodstock Festival (in White Lake near Bethel, New York). *Note: Do not go to Woodstock, New York–a different location altogether, which I later discovered after inadequate planning.

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Site of the famous Woodstock Music Festival, Bethel Woods Music Center

22.) Road trip to Cooperstown and visit the Baseball Hall of Fame.

23.) Participate in the Village Halloween parade. (A bit tired from a night out with friends, I watched from the sidelines. Still an experience, to be sure.)

24.) Go back in time and imagine life in the days of Michelangelo or Rembrandt by wandering the galleries filled with the work of artisans who created some of the most famous paintings and sculptures in the world at the MET Museum.  Afterward, when it’s time to relax, enjoy a drink or coffee at the Roof Garden Cafe and Martini Bar and admire the views of Central Park.

25.) Stroll through Chelsea Market and enjoy homemade cheese, ice cream, bread or buy fresh seafood and cook at your AirBnb location.

26.) Plan a trip around your favorite New York City Parade. I was honored to participate in the St. Patrick’s Parade.

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The Rockefeller Tree Lighting

27.) Join the masses in celebrating the magical Rockefeller Tree lighting. It’s my favorite New York experience. The tree towers between the buildings, inspiring hope with its stature and vibrant colors.

28.) Indulge on cocktails at 230 Fifth Avenue or sample the best of Italy at Eataly in the Flatiron District.  Both venues provide great views of Manhattan and a lovely experience to share with friends or if flying solo.

29.) Sneak in a last minute show (or plan months in advance) to see your favorite performance on Broadway.

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Late Show with David Letterman and Paul Shaffer

30.) See Letterman Live. A quintessential NY moment I loved.  Now that Dave is gone, why not try to see Jimmy Fallon, the View or LIVE with Kelly and Michael.


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The View from Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Plaza, NYC

31.) Location, location, location! The best views are always at the TOP! Take in the Empire State Building by night and Top of the Rock by day.

32.) Walk or bike Park Avenue without cars on summer weekends in August.

33.) Two words: Coney Island. Ride the Cyclone and eat a Coney Dog at Nathan’s Famous hotdog stand.  I missed the Cyclone, but hitting the beach, strolling the boardwalk and eating a Coney dog was worth the 40 minute train ride from Manhattan.

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Central Park features Shakespeare in the Park and the Public Theater

34.) Cheat to see Shakespeare in the Park by joining the Public Theater and getting a ticket for free.

35.) And lastly… eat a bagel; get blisters, strolling the streets; take the subway; jump on a tourist bus; roam a museum; shop until you drop… and come back for more.

What are you waiting for? New York awaits…

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