7 Touristy Things To Do in NYC That Are Actually Worth It

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As someone who’s lived in New York City for most of my life, I’ve covered a lot of ground. With the city spanning over 300-square miles, I’m constantly discovering new places to check out. And while there are certainly no shortage of tourist traps, there are also a lot of places that are touristy for a reason. If you’re planning a trip to the city (or are even looking to be a tourist in your home town), these are the seven destinations that live up to their icon status.

Landmarks

The Brooklyn Bridge

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My favorite bridge in the city is also the oldest. Completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was actually the first steel-wire suspension bridge ever constructed. While it was once a roadway for horse drawn carriages, today it carries vehicles, bikers and hoards of pedestrians. And while this is easily one of the most popular landmarks in the city, it’s with good reason. The views of the city and of the bridge itself are some of the most beautiful the city has to offer. It also connects Manhattan to my favorite (and hometown) neighborhood of DUMBO. Anytime a friend visits New York, I recommend them taking the subway down to City Hall and walking across the bridge. Once in Brooklyn, the DUMBO waterfront is one of the prettiest green spaces in the city. It’s best to avoid the bridge during morning and afternoon rush hours as you will constantly be dodging bikes. I recommend a stroll across the bridge at lunch time or around sunset, though it will be a little more crowded during the later. 

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Governors Island

Just south of Manhattan lies a small island, once home to an army post dating back to the American Revolutionary War. The military and coast guard continued to operate on the island until 2001 when the government sold the island to the people of New York, where it slowly turned into one of its best tourist destinations. Though still very much in development, today Governors Island is home to rolling hills, preserved barracks, food trucks and sustainable urban gardens.

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It seems every time I return, there are more and more attractions. Open seasonally from May 1-October 31st, this really is a place best enjoyed in sunny weather as nearly everything is outdoors. I recommend either catching the free ferry from South Ferry or the NYC Ferry ($2.75) from Pier 6 in Brooklyn. Once on the island, my favorite thing to do is rent a bike or surrey (depending on how many people are in your group) from Blazing Saddles and exploring the island. Make a stop at the urban garden to meet some chickens, Slide Hill for some fun and thrilling slide action, and finally at Island Oyster, an outdoor seafood restaurant for a happy hour drink. There is also extensive programing throughout the year with art exhibitions, lawn parties and music festivals so be sure to check out their website before planning a trip. 

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Food

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria

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After crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and walking along Brooklyn Bridge Park, you’ll have worked up an appetite for the most iconic of New York fare — pizza! As someone who’s lived in the city since I was ten, I have strong opinions on what makes a good New York pizza, and my personal favorite is also one of the most popular. Patsy Grimaldi, the founder of Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, opened his first restaurant in 1941, and today, has a handful of outposts operating across the city. The most iconic of location is the One Front Street restaurant. Housed in an old bank, the cash-only establishment exudes old Italian-American, shabby-chic charm. The walls are littered with photos of Italian celebrities and a giant pizza oven sits in the center where you can watch the chefs assemble your perfect pie. All of this is great, but what really locks Grimaldi’s in as a staple is the pizza itself. The crust is both chewy and crispy, and the mozzarella is so fresh that it tastes like it just rolled off of the farm truck. There’s a big emphasis on getting you in and out as quickly as possible, and with good reason — there is ALWAYS a line to get in. A good time is to plan a visit would be on a weekday or during the late afternoon before the dinner rush. Also, the restaurant next door, Juliana’s, is run by Patsy Grimaldi’s daughter and a good option if the line at One Front Street is too insane. 

Nom Wah Tea Parlor

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I’m actually sort of embarrassed to admit that I only recently discovered Nom Wah Tea Parlor. Located on the adorable and winding Doyers Street, the restaurant was actually the first of its kind in New York City. Operating since 1920, Nom Wah feels frozen in time, serving the best, greasiest, mouthwatering Dim Sum in the city. Dim Sum, for those unfamiliar, is a Chinese culinary art meaning literally “a touch of heart” in reference to its small portions. Upon arrival, you’re given a paper menu and asked to check off any of the many items you want to order including dumplings, shumai, pork buns and a wide array of other bite-sized treats. My favorite menu item is “The O.G.” egg roll. It’s a take on a traditional egg roll but wrapped in an omelet, tempura battered and deep fried. It’s a little smaller than a Chipotle burrito and is best enjoyed when slathered in plum sauce. Weekends, especially Sunday brunch, can be a little crowded. Expect to wait up to an hour and a half outside. I’ve had the best luck scoring a table around 6PM on a weekday, but honestly, even on weekends, it’s worth the wait.

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Entertainment

Rowboating in Central Park

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If you’ve seen a rom-com set in New York, chances are a scene has taken place on a rowboat in Central Park Lake. And while I used to roll my eyes at the idea of something so schmaltzy and touristy, it wasn’t until I went on a date at the Loeb Boathouse, that I really appreciated how romantic it actually is. For $15 an hour (cash only), you can hire a rowboat and paddle around the lake with up to four people. And while sometimes the line can be long, the second you push off from the dock, all the stress of city life melts away. There really is something magical about rowing in one of the prettiest and most iconic parks in the country. The lake is large enough that you’re never competing for an intimate moment and as you paddle around the lake, you’re almost guaranteed to see a wedding proposal on the shore. To avoid having to wait in line, reservations can be made by calling (212) 517-2233, but even if you decide to wing it, the line is never too bad. 

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Coney Island

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My husband Scott has made me promise that if he dies before me, that I have strict orders to scatter his ashes at his favorite odd-ball destination in New York — Coney Island. An hour subway ride from midtown Manhattan will put you in one of the most bizarre and culturally fascinating areas of NYC. While Coney Island is also the name of the Brooklyn neighborhood, you probably know it as the famed amusement park. Dating back to 1879, Coney Island is home to three competing parks — Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase. Today, these parks still operate somewhat rickety, but thrilling rides including the famous Cyclone, a wooden roller coaster built in 1927. In an era where much larger, steel roller coasters dominate the theme park market, this dinky coaster is surprisingly one of the most terrifying. The combination of its belly-flipping drops and the overwhelming feeling that you could die at any second (in it’s almost 100-year history, three deaths have been recorded…not terrible odds, to be honest), this is truly my favorite roller coaster in the world. 

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Coney Island is also home to curiosities like the Freak Show (which I’ve never been able to decide if it’s offensive or empowering), the Coney Island museum (which is basically just an exhibit about how awful the Trump family is) and a large, but jam packed beach.

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Despite the lines, a stop at Nathan’s Famous is a must, as is a ride on the iconic Wonder Wheel (the only ferris wheel of its kind). If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also carry around an obnoxious tall glass of an unidentifiable cocktail. In a city that is often pretentious, I always find it refreshing and fun to spend a day in a place that unabashedly embraces the tacky.

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Sightseeing

Boat Tours

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For the best views of the city, skip the Empire State Building and instead hop on a boat. It truly is the best way to appreciate New York’s iconic skyline. I have never regretted spending time on the water and whenever the bustling streets and crowded subways start to get overwhelming, the perfect way to unwind is by barge. There are dozens of vessels willing to take your money, and while all provide enjoyment, there a few that you’re better off checking out. For low-budget trips, hop on the newly implemented NYC Ferry. You can hop on for the price of a subway ride and see much of the city and southern parts of Brooklyn. For a true guided cruise, the Circle Line sightseeing cruise is probably your best best. If you’re looking to pair your trip with food, I recommend the North River Lobster Company, which is actually somewhat affordable considering how upmarket the food is.

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For a more elegant option, the Classic Harbor Line offers sailing. A typical trip takes you along the Hudson River and circles the Statue of Liberty. Champagne and beer are complementary and only a handful of other people are on board. Even as a jaded New Yorker, my breath is always taken away the second I see my incredible city from afar.

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It’s easy to roll your eyes at the selfie stick-wielding tourists of New York. And often times the most populated areas should be avoided like the plague. But sometimes a destination is beloved for a reason. So if you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple, consider adding these 7 hotspots to your itinerary.