Visiting Manhattan

WHAT TO DO IN MANHATTAN FOR A FIRST VISIT?

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When visiting Manhattan, you will discover one of the most cosmopolitan places in the world. In the heart of New York, between the bustle of the very modern neighbourhoods, the world-famous museums, the immense skyscrapers and the quietness of Central Park, you will certainly not be bored in Manhattan!

I'll now take you on a quick tour of Manhattan, to discover the must-see places of interest. Are you ready?

Manhattan neighbourhoods

From north to south, the island of Manhattan is divided into a large number of neighbourhoods, which are mostly grouped into five main areas:

  • Washington Heights, often referred to simply as « The Heights », is the northernmost neighbourhood in the borough. It takes its name from Fort Washington, which was used during the Revolutionary War and seized by British troops in 1776. This largely residential neighbourhood is not very touristy, and its main site of interest is The Cloisters – a museum whose buildings are centred around 4 antique cloisters from different European countries, and in which large collections of mediaeval objects are displayed.

  • Harlem, located between 96th Street and Washington Heights. This neighbourhood, which played a major role in the history of New York City, was for a time a true ghetto. But in recent years, it has become a vibrant and popular place with a rich heritage both historically and culturally. During your stay, I highly recommend attending a gospel service in Harlem. – it's an incredible experience!

  • Upper Manhattan stretches from Harlem to the southern edge of Central Park. It is made up of the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, on either side of the park, and Morningside Heights to the northwest, which is home to Columbia University.

  • Midtown Manhattan  is the central part of the Borough, and is truly the heart of New York City – home to the tallest buildings, Times Square et beaucoup de sites d’intérêt.

  • Lower Manhattan is located at the very south of the island, where the business district and many official buildings are located. It is also home to many shops, museums and historical monuments.

MANHATTAN must-see sites

In Manhattan, you can experience an indescribable atmosphere, where time seems to fly by faster than anywhere else. You'll have the opportunity to see some of the world's most impressive buildings, visit world-renowned museums, and stroll through neighbourhoods with a unique atmosphere.

The EMPIRE STATE BUILDING

visiting manhattan

One of the most important visits, and perhaps the first thing to do during your stay in Manhattan, will be to climb to the top of one of the most famous buildings on the planet – the Empire State Building.
This skyscraper in Midtown is one of the city’s symbols. It has two observatories (on the 86th and 102nd floors), from which you can enjoy one of the best views of New York. On the 80th floor, you can also visit Dare to Dream, an exhibition about the history of the Empire State Building.

This being one of New York City's top attractions, if you have the opportunity to purchase tickets in advance of your visit, I urge you to do so. As with most of the monuments, there are always a lot of visitors, which creates a long queue. Sometimes, the maximum quota is reached (especially during this COVID period), which will prevent you from going up at the time you wanted. 

By taking your ticket in advance, you will secure your arrival and your access for the day and you will reduce your waiting time thanks to the queue-cutting access included in the reserved ticket 🙂

BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING BY CLICKING HERE

Rockefeller Center

rockefeller center

If you wish to enjoy another unique view of Manhattan, you can go to Rockefeller Center – more specifically to the Top of the Rock Observatory. This is where you can get the best view of Central Park, which is even more impressive at night. And on top of that, you will have the impressive Empire State Building in your field of vision, just on the other side! 🙂

Apart from this observatory, Rockefeller Center is also a huge shopping complex consisting of about 20 buildings, in which you will find a lot of shops in the shopping arcades, and where you will also have the opportunity to see some very famous works of art – such as the statue of Prometheus, and the Atlas carrying the world.

The central plaza of Rockefeller Center is also the site of the city's largest Christmas tree and of one of New York's most popular ice rinks.

Like at the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock platform is very busy all year round, so I recommend you get your tickets as soon as possible. The view from the platform is really worth it no matter what time of the year or time of day: day or night, summer or winter with snow everywhere… You won't regret going there! 🙂

TO GET YOUR TICKETS FOR THE TOP OF THE ROCK PLATFORM, CLICK HERE

The One World Trade Center

one world observatory deck

Since its completion in 2014, the One World Trade Center has become the tallest building in New York, standing at 541 metres high. Not including its antenna, the building measures 417 metres, exactly the size of the former WTC North Tower.
The 108-storey tower is mainly occupied by offices. Between the 100th and 102nd floors, you can access the One World Observatory for an impressive panoramic view of the city and the New York Bay. 

VIEW NEW YORK CITY FROM THE ONE WORLD OBSERVATORY BY CLICKING HERE

On the site of the twin towers, there is now a memorial dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. It consists of two very large pools, which occupy the exact locations of the former towers.

In the basement, you can visit the 9/11 museum, where many of the personal items that were found in the rubble are now on display. A very large wall covered with photos pays tribute to the 2,983 victims of the attacks.

Tourist passes to discover New York 🎫

During your stay in New York, you will surely want to discover as many places and sites as possible. If you take each entrance separately, the process and price may be consequent. But did you know that there are different tourist passes available to discover New York City?

They will allow you to have access to a large number of activities (often the most popular and well-known of them), while determining a controlled budget before your departure.

If I take the example of the New York Citypass, one of the most well-known, it will give you access to 6 key attractions in the city: 3 imposed + 3 activities that you can select according to a list. All these activities will be for a fee of about 125 pounds. 

By purchasing a tourist pass, you will simplify the booking process, save money and sometimes have access to additional benefits. And since there are different passes, one of them will definitely be able to meet your various expectations and desires. What more could you want? 🙂

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE PASS BY CLICKING HERE

Times Square and Broadway

red steps times square

Here is another symbol of the Big Apple. Located on 7th Avenue, between 42nd and 47th Streets, Times Square is truly the heart of New York. More than 25 million tourists come every year to discover this small mythical district, where the large buildings’ facades are almost entirely covered with giant screens. Times Square becomes even more impressive after dark: with its illuminated signs and noisy crowds, you will understand why New York is nicknamed "the city that never sleeps".

A visit to Times Square will also be the perfect opportunity to see a Broadway show. From Cirque du Soleil shows to the many Broadway musicals, you'll have an unforgettable evening.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PROGRAMME OF SHOWS DURING YOUR STAY

THE MET – MANHATTAN'S LARGEST MUSEUM

metropolitan museum of art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the largest museums in the world. Located on Fifth Avenue on the edge of Central Park, it houses an extraordinary collection of more than 2 million paintings, sculptures and art objects dating from antiquity to modern times, of which nearly 250,000 are on permanent display.

It is one of the largest museums in New York! A whole day will clearly not be too much to visit this huge museum, which covers about 180,000 square metres and has 270 rooms. Some of the masterpieces you will see in the MET's galleries are Vincent Van Gogh's Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat and Raphaël's Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints.
TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS TO THE MET, CLICK HERE

THE MOMA – A MUST-SEE IF YOU COME TO VISIT MANHATTAN

what to do in manhattan

The Museum of Modern Art is a modern art museum located between Times Square and Central Park. Along with the MET, it is probably the most popular museum in Manhattan. If you like contemporary art, go there to discover thousands of paintings, sculptures, prints, photos and drawings from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

Cézanne, Picasso, Andy Warhol, Matisse... works by the greatest artists of the modern era are on display. I advise you to arrive early enough in the morning (doors open at 9:30 a.m.), if you want to avoid the crowd and make the most of your visit.

BOOK YOUR TICKETS TO THE MOMA BY CLICKING HERE

Central Park, the lungs of manhattan

central park bike ride

As you probably already know, Central Park is the largest green space in Manhattan. Located in the heart of the island, it is often referred to as the "green lung of New York". With an area of almost 3.5 square kilometres, Central Park is where New Yorkers go to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the city, get some exercise or just relax in nature.

Whatever the season, you will always find a good reason to go for a walk in Central Park. For example, you can go for a nice bike ride and picnic in spring and summer, enjoy nature in autumn, and enjoy the snow and ice rink in winter.

I recommend renting a bike in Central Park to discover the park at your own pace and fully enjoy the peace and nature. And it will also allow you to see more of the park, what with it being so vast! 🙂


GREENWICH VILLAGE, AN AUTHENTIC NEIGHBOURHOOD IN MANHATTAN

greenwich village district

Apart from Central Park, if you feel like getting away from the more hectic parts of Manhattan, I recommend you visit Greenwich Village. This historic neighbourhood is a quiet and chic place where you can discover another side of New York. ‘The Village’ is a residential, charming and bohemian place, where many painters, musicians and writers have settled since the second half of the 20th century.

Although there are many reminders that you are still in the middle of one of the world's largest megacities, Greenwich Village retains a more relaxed and free-spirited atmosphere, which makes it a great place to visit during a stay in Manhattan.

Cupcake being a speciality of this neighbourhood and of New York in general, you can discover Greenwich Village in an unusual way: take a guided walking tour of the neighbourhood, stopping at bakeries to taste various and delicious cupcakes. It will make your taste buds’ happiness, I can guarantee it – and why not take some home for yourself and your loved ones? 😋

The memories of this particular trip will be quite original!

FOR MORE DETAILS ON THE TASTING TOUR, CLICK HERE

Chinatown and Little Italy

manhattan major sites

Around 1870, Chinese workers who found themselves out of work once railway constructions were completed began to settle en masse in this New York City neighbourhood. A century and a half later, more than 200,000 people of Chinese origin live here, forming one of the largest Asian communities in the United States. Chinatown is truly a city within New York. If you want to visit one of the most exotic places in Manhattan, and taste delicious Asian food, you won't regret your visit to Chinatown.

Just north of Chinatown you will find Little Italy. This area, which gets smaller as Chinatown grows, is now mainly cafes, restaurants and bakeries, where you can enjoy typical Italian food.

There is a guided tour that will allow you to discover, in the span of 2 hours, several of New York’s authentic districts such as SoHo, Little Italy or Chinatown. 

The main advantage of this guided tour is that you will be accompanied by a local guide, who will share with you his knowledge of the various neighbourhoods. You will be able to quickly realise the different atmospheres that prevail in each neighbourhood and link it to the background and the history that the guide will have transmitted to you 🙂

The programme is quite complete and the tour does not take too long, so you can enjoy it to the fullest! After the visit, the guide will share with you his last tips & tricks for the remaining days of your stay. Always good to taken especially when it comes from a local 🙂

Once the visit is finished, you can also further explore a neighbourhood on your own if you’ve fallen in love with one, or you can simply spend more time there if you feel like it.

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE 3 NEIGHBOURHOODS TOUR HERE

Grand Central Station

grand central terminal

Grand Central Station (or Grand Central Terminal) is both one of the busiest stations in the city and a popular tourist spot.
Even if you don't have any train to take, I really recommend taking the time to enter Main Concourse, the great hall of this mythical Midtown station, to discover its ceiling. This large vault, located more than 35 metres above the ground, is decorated with more than 2,500 paintings by Paul César Helleu, which join together to form a starry sky. You can also admire the famous four-sided clock estimated at around twenty million dollars.

In the basement, you will find many small shops and restaurants that are perfect for a quick meal, as well as the Grand Central Market, one of the best places to find fresh produce in Manhattan.

This mythical station is full of secrets, which you can only discover with the help of a guide. Rumour has it that there is a tennis court hidden inside Grand Central... I won't tell you more 🙂 For more details on the guided tour, you can follow this link.

That's it, that's the end of this article about discovering the Manhattan neighbourhood. I hope the information has helped you set your agenda for your stay 🙂 If you have any questions or recommendations/good tips for other readers, feel free to share them in comments 🙂

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Amélie
A first trip to New York, and a new favorite city! 30 years old, city dweller and good-plan finder, I share my New York discoveries on this blog to help you visit this magnificent city with me. With each new trip, there are more activities to discover!

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