New York City Holiday Planning Guide
Writer Pearl Buck once called New York City "a place apart," and this expansive urban center remains unlike any other. An agglomeration of vastly different cultures from around the world, the city is a prime holiday destination perhaps best explored through its many small diners and world-famous restaurants. With a population of over 8 million, the city is one of the world's major centers for media, fashion, food, culture, art, research, trade, and finance. Its famous skyline includes some of the most recognizable buildings on the planet, and its countless tourist attractions draw millions of visitors from every corner of the globe. To fully experience its atmosphere, tour the city on foot or using the subway system.
Best Neighborhoods to Visit in New York CityTimes Square
: Portrayed in numerous films and television shows and characterized by bright video screens and flashing advertisements, this New York City attraction--often called the crossroads of the world--features some of the world's best-known theaters, restaurants, and shops.Chinatown
: Home to one of the largest Chinese communities in America, this downtown neighborhood with a distinct atmosphere draws visitors to its busy streets packed with shops and restaurants, offering inexpensive souvenirs and traditional Chinese specialties. Little Italy
: Famed for its restaurant scene, this little taste of Italy tops many New York City itineraries, attracting thousands to its eateries and annual cultural events.SoHo
: A dream come true for fashion, architecture, and art enthusiasts, this cobblestoned New York district stretches over 26 blocks and includes more than 500 buildings housing museums, galleries, boutiques, and restaurants.Wall Street
: The Big Apple's powerful financial district, this street is synonymous with world business; consider visiting the city's stock exchange for a look at the inner workings of international trade.Greenwich Village
: The birthplace of the Beat generation and 1960s counterculture, the Village--as the locals call it--boasts a strong sense of community and treats visitors with its famous performing arts scene, which is carried out in the area’s renowned theaters.Union Square
: Once a gathering place for wealthy residents of the area's elegant mansions, this square is now a major New York City tourist attraction filled with numerous notable landmarks, including the famous statue of George Washington--one of the city's first public artworks.Harlem
: Full of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this neighborhood provided the setting for the famous "Harlem Renaissance" in the 1920s and 1930s--a major African-American cultural and artistic movement.Meatpacking District
: Once home to New York's meat distribution companies, this area now contains some of the city's hippest bars, trendiest restaurants, and most exclusive fashion boutiques.Upper West Side
: Ideal for visitors looking for a relaxing New York City sightseeing experience, this neighborhood features elegant architecture and charming residential streets, as well as the city's biggest and best-known park.Chelsea
: Although it remains a primarily residential neighborhood, Chelsea features a thriving bar scene and contains over 200 art galleries.
Things to Do in New York City
Popular New York City Tourist AttractionsCentral Park
: A breath of fresh air in the middle of one of the world's biggest cities, this park contains plenty of greenery and shady places made for relaxation and recreation.Top of the Rock Observation Deck
: Start your New York City tour at this observation deck, offering a bird's-eye view of some of the city's biggest landmarks from protected outdoor terraces located on the 67th and 69th floors.The Metropolitan Museum of Art
: America's biggest museum, this renowned institution holds a collection of more than 2 million works, including Roman statues, music instruments, ancient weapons, Egyptian artifacts, modern photographs, and masterpieces by Whistler, Rembrandt, and Vermeer.The High Line
: Situated on a section of an abandoned railway that once serviced the lower west side of Manhattan, this linear park features birdhouses, benches, gardens, and cafes, great places for relaxing and taking in the views of the Hudson River.Empire State Building
: A major New York City tourist attraction for more than eight decades, this 103-story building remains one of America's architectural icons, featuring an observatory and an observation deck providing panoramic views of the entire city.9/11 Memorial
: Situated on the spot once occupied by the twin tower buildings destroyed during the 2001 terrorist attacks, this memorial provides visitors with a deeper understanding of those events and offers guided tours of the so-called "Ground Zero."Manhattan Skyline
: Recognizable from countless photographs and films, Manhattan's skyline features numerous landmark buildings and conveys the grandeur of the Big Apple that is best appreciated by taking a helicopter tour or sightseeing cruise on the city's rivers.Times Square
: Few visitors on holiday in New York City miss a stop at this giant intersection of several major roads, which features an informative visitors center providing free maps, restaurant and hotel recommendations, and tickets for most major tourist attractions.Statue of Liberty National Monument
: The first glimpse of the promised land for thousands of immigrants arriving across the Atlantic, this eye-catching statue represents the Roman goddess of freedom and features a large pedestal that houses an interior exhibit about liberty and democracy.American Museum of Natural History
: Among the world's biggest venues of its kind, this renowned museum complex features nearly 50 permanent exhibits occupying 27 interconnected buildings that house life-size displays of elephants and fossilized dinosaur skeletons.
Planning a New York City Vacation with Kids
Things to do in New York City with Kids
One of the world's top holiday destinations for decades, New York draws over 50 million annual visitors of all ages. Although it contains some of the busiest streets on the planet, the Big Apple is so much more than just a city of concrete, cars, and high-rise buildings. You'll find countless family-oriented activities at the city's playgrounds and parks, where your little ones can run, jump, skate, and cycle while you read a book or have cup of coffee under the shade of a tree. Practically every New York City itinerary includes Central Park
, but you can also choose from dozens of smaller urban parks as well. Consider Prospect Park
, featuring a kid-friendly zoo and ice skating rink--which conveniently becomes a water park during the warmer months. The largest urban zoo in the world, Bronx Zoo
houses about 6,000 animals from 650 different species. The zoo's themed sections teach young animal lovers about the planet's diverse ecosystems and the importance of conservation. A landmark most kids know from their school textbooks, Statue of Liberty National Monument
allows your family to see New York from the perspective of thousands of immigrants that once crossed the Atlantic Ocean by boat. To add a bit of unbridled amusement-park fun to your New York City vacation, visit Coney Island USA
, where you can treat the family to hot dogs, ice cream, arcade games, and rides.
Tips for a Family Vacation in New York City
Though many visitors find it easy to spend their entire time in New York exploring only Manhattan, the city's most densely populated area, the outer boroughs also boast numerous attraction and activities tailor-made for family vacations. Remember that you can appreciate Manhattan's famed skyline from Queens, Brooklyn, or New Jersey. The outer boroughs also provide budget-friendly accommodations suitable for travelers with kids. The New Jersey shore features major chain hotels, offering comfortable rooms at considerably lower prices than their Manhattan counterparts. Wherever you end up basing your New York City vacation, look for activities that promise to keep both you and your little tourists entertained. Many of the city's museums house interactive exhibits designed for children, while street and flea markets serve as ideal snacking spots and great places for souvenirs hunting. Involve the kids in your planning, find out what they want to see and do, and try planning your trip around family-friendly events like the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting or the Easter parade.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in New York City
Cuisine of New York City
One of the world's favorite vacation spots, for most of its history New York has also been a major destination for immigrants from around the world. The city has provided a home for Bangladeshis, Koreans, Thais, Kenyans, Arabs, Dominicans, Brazilians, Italians, Jews, Albanians, Greeks, and many others. Each of these groups brought their own way of cooking with them, transporting to the New World the tastes, smells, and textures of their distant homelands. You'll find falafel, bagels, gyros, hot dogs, pizza, and spaghetti in any of the five boroughs, which are served by thousands of delis, grocery stores, food carts, casual bistros, and Michelin-starred restaurants. Explore Meatpacking District
on your New York City trip to discover a trendy neighborhood filled with restaurants serving everything from New American cuisine and Asian street fare, to homemade Belgian waffles and traditional Italian specialties. Within this same area you can visit Chelsea Market
, housed inside a former biscuit factory and luring foodies with its selection of gourmet soups, outstanding wines, and award-winning cheeses. As you walk around the Big Apple, look for push carts selling hot dogs--called "dirty water dogs" by the locals--and smoothies. Delis offer another inexpensive-yet-authentic eating option, serving simple and heartwarming delicacies like corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, cheesecakes, and chocolate egg cream.
Shopping in New York City
Popular with both domestic and international shoppers, New York offers a range of buying options suitable for any type of budget. The city boasts some of the finest department stores in the world, many situated along Fifth Avenue
, an upscale shopping street that cuts straight through midtown Manhattan. If you're a true shopaholic at heart, consider booking your hotel in or near this busy downtown area to have easy foot access to places like Madison Avenue
boasts a big selection of upscale fashion boutiques and jewelry stores. If shopping for clothes on your New York City holiday doesn't seem like time well spent, visit Greenwich Village
, home to record stores, bookstores, and boutique food shops. And if you don't want to spend a fortune on an "I heart NYC" T-shirt in Times Square, head to Chinatown
, where you can find great deals on knock-off clothing and accessories. To purchase paintings, prints, photographs, and sculptures created by some of the city's "starving artists," check out the streets of SoHo
Know Before You Go on a Trip to New York City
History of New York City
Originally inhabited by various Native American tribes, the area now known as New York attracted Florentine, Portuguese, and English explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Dutch established the first permanent European presence in 1624 when they founded a fur trading settlement called New Amsterdam. In 1664, the English took over the growing settlement and promptly changed its name to New York. Learn more about this period at Museum of the City of New York
Under English rule, New York became a thriving 17th-century trading port. The city was also a major center of slavery, with nearly half of its households holding slaves by the middle of the century. Slavery bolstered the city's economy and tied its industries to the slaveholding Southern states. Add African Burial Ground National Monument
to your New York City itinerary to find out more about slavery's role in the city's early development.
The area now contained within the borough of Brooklyn provided the setting for one of the major battles of the American Revolutionary War. The Battle of Long Island, fought in August of 1776, turned the city into a base of British political and military activity. A safe haven for Americans loyal to the British crown, New York also attracted slaves who joined the royal troops in order to escape slavery. After the war, British forces relocated thousands of these fighters to Nova Scotia and England.
By the 1820s, the city had abolished slavery, had served as the national capital for a while, and had begun to receive a growing number of immigrants from abroad. In 1860, Irish and German newcomers made up nearly half of New York's population. Visit Ellis Island
to discover the stories of nearly 12 million immigrants who arrived in the city in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The modern city of New York was born in 1898, the year in which Brooklyn and parts of Bronx and Queens consolidated into a growing urban center. The subway opened in 1904, helping bind the expanding boroughs. The next few decades saw the growth of New York's industries, commerce, and communications systems. The city continued to draw new arrivals from other parts of America and abroad. By the early 1920s, this population boom made New York the world's most densely populated urban area.
New York emerged from World War II as the world's undisputed center of trade, finance, education, art, research, and culture. The city solidified its political and economic power in 1952, when the structure housing United Nations Headquarters
Despite the devastating terrorist attacks of 2001 and subsequent economic difficulties, New York remains a globally powerful city and one of the world's premier holiday destinations. Enhance your New York City sightseeing experience by exploring places like American Museum of Natural History
and St. Patrick's Cathedral
Holidays & Festivals in New York City
If you're looking for entertaining things to do in New York City, consider planning your trip around a special event or festival. Though you can enjoy a memorable Big Apple holiday any time of year, visiting in the fall or early winter allows you to attend some of the city's best-known events. For over four decades Greenwich Village
has hosted a popular Halloween parade, which attracts nearly 2 million spectators and more than 50,000 costumed participants. Started in 1924, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade features balloons, floats, marching bands, live performances by the Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall
, and the appearance of Santa Claus. The holiday season reaches a peak with the dazzling Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting ceremony, a favorite with kids and parents. For something more grown-up, visit TriBeCa
in May, when the neighborhood hosts one of the world's prestigious film festivals.
New York City Travel Tips
Climate of New York City
New York's humid continental climate brings scorching hot summers and very cold winters with lots of precipitation and occasional blizzards. Despite low temperatures and frequent snowfall, many visitors choose December for their New York City holiday. If you don't mind big crowds and sky-high prices, time your trip for this bitterly cold month. You can take advantage of lower prices in January and February, traditionally the city's quieter and less-expensive season. If you can wait until spring or autumn, you'll experience warm and sunny weather ideal for sightseeing and other outdoor activities.
Transportation in New York City
New York features three major airports, two main train stations, and a big bus terminal, all of which make it one of the easiest American urban centers to reach from almost anywhere in the country or abroad. If you're planning to arrive from another U.S. destination, consider taking the train, a good way to avoid the hassle of airport security checks. Once you commence your tour of New York City, you can get around by any modern mode of transport. Traveling by subway offers an affordable way to explore and sightsee without having to deal with the stresses of driving and parking. Similarly economical, public buses work well for visitors interested in covering many locations relatively quickly. For tours along the East and Hudson Rivers, check out New York Water Taxi
, offering tourists a chance to see Manhattan's famous skyline from a different perspective.