25 ideas for your New York City bucket list
New York City is one of the most visited cities in the world, and for good reason. There is no shortage of attention-worthy landmarks, buildings, and activities to spend time exploring. Ahead, find 25 fun ideas deserving a spot on your NYC bucket list, from secret waterfalls and iconic roller coasters to sky-high observation decks and covert speakeasies. This list is by no means comprehensive but should be a good starting point.
Ride the Cyclone
This famous Brooklyn roller coaster should belong on any thrill-seekers bucket list. Since 1927, the Coney Island Cyclone has taken riders on an adrenaline-filled ride up to speeds of 60 miles per hour over a track length of 2,640 feet. The ride features an 85-foot plunge at an angle of almost 60 degrees. The Cyclone was registered as a New York City landmark in 1988 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
Visit every borough in a day
Thanks to public transportation, this seemingly daunting task is absolutely possible. The path of your journey depends on the borough you start your trek in. To make it easy, start on Staten Island and make your way to Manhattan on the Staten Island Ferry. Depending on where you are in Manhattan, you can then take the 1, 2, 4, 5, B, or D trains up to the Bronx. After spending some time exploring the Bronx, you can then hop back on a southbound subway train and transfer to a Queens-bound train in Manhattan. From Queens, you can take the G train from Long Island City into Brooklyn.
Photo © 6sqft
Look down on the city from any of Manhattan’s observation deck
Standing high above New York and beyond is one of the most iconic New York City bucket list activities, and luckily easy to check off with several observation decks open in Manhattan. While arguably the most famous and iconic viewing experience is from the top of the Empire State Building, other iconic sky-high spots to see the skyline include the Top of the Rock at 30 Rockefeller Center, One World Observatory at the Freedom Tower, Edge, the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere at 30 Hudson Yards, and Summit, located at the top of the One Vanderbilt.
Take the Staten Island Ferry
Providing transportation for over 22 million people every year and nearly 70,000 passengers per day, the Staten Island Ferry is an iconic mode of public transportation synonymous with New York City, and almost as recognizable as the subway system. In addition to getting people to and from Staten Island, the Ferry provides beautiful views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York Harbor for free. The ferry runs 24/7 and takes about 25 minutes to travel between the boroughs.
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
As one of the city’s most iconic landmarks since it was constructed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge lives up to the hype. Enjoyed by tourists and natives alike, walking across this iconic structure offers breathtaking views of the evolving Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines from over the East River. The length of the bridge itself is about 1.1 miles, but depending on what point you enter it could be a 1.4 to 1.6-mile stroll. If you prefer biking, a long-awaited two-way protected bike lane opened on the bridge last year.
The William Vale rooftop in 2019; Photo credit: Noah Fecks, Dan Kocsis, Thais Aquino & Andrew Boyle
Visit a rooftop bar
There’s nothing like enjoying a cold beverage while taking in views of the city. Luckily, New York City boasts plenty of rooftop bars offering scenic panoramas. A perfect activity for the warmer weather, lounging on a rooftop bar is deserving of anybody’s NYC bucket list. Take a look at some of the city’s best rooftop bars in this list 6sqft put together, including the William Vale in Williamsburg, pictured above.
Image courtesy of The Green-Wood Cemetery
See the cherry blossoms
Springtime in New York is special, thanks mostly to the pretty cherry blossom trees that bloom across the city. Once March rolls around, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Brooklyn’s collection of Japanese Kanzan cherry trees begins to bloom, which usually lasts through the first week of May. Other great viewing locations include Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, Central Park’s Cherry Hill, Riverside Park, and Roosevelt Island, among others.
Photo courtesy of Citi Bike
Rent a Citi Bike
Affordable and better-for-the-environment, Citi Bike makes it easy to trek around the city. With full coverage of Manhattan, riders can easily get around to any corner of the island. Coverage also extends into the adjacent portions of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Jersey City, for those looking to explore outside of Manhattan. Of course, be cautious of traffic and ride carefully. In New York City, memberships start at $185 annually. Find a docking station near you with this map.
Soak up sun and seafood on City Island
Located at the northeastern corner of the Bronx in the Long Island Sound, City Island is a respite from the hustle of the city just a 40-minute bus ride away from Manhattan. Measuring a mile and a half wide, City Island is known for its waterfront seafood restaurants, its nautical museum, and architectural landmarks like the many old Victorian mansions which are primarily located on the island’s side facing the sound. City Island is best enjoyed during the warmer months when yachts can be found in the Sound.
Feel festive at a street fair
While street fairs aren’t exclusively a New York phenomenon, there is something special about browsing through vendors and food carts in the middle of an avenue usually bustling with cars and buses. During the spring and summer seasons, New York City is filled with street fairs scattered through streets and avenues across the five boroughs. One of the city’s most famous fairs is the Feast of San Gennaro, an 11-day festival held throughout a large stretch of blocks in Manhattan’s Little Italy every September.
2018 Smorgasburg; Photo by Scott Lynch
Feast on cuisines from around the world
Open-air food markets showcase both the diversity of New York City and its incredible food. Two of our favorites include Smorgasburg, which operates out of Prospect Park, Williamsburg, and in FiDi, and the Queens Night Market, open every Saturday night in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Free and open to the public, the market focuses on curating traditional foods and cuisines from around the world.
See a comedy show
One of the many things New York City is known for is its comedy scene. Many of the most famous comedians made their way up in the ranks by gracing the city’s comedy joints. Some of the better-known comedy clubs are the Comedy Cellar, the Comic Strip Live, the Gotham Comedy Club, and the New York Comedy Club. The Comic Strip Live helped launch the careers of many famous comedians, such as Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, and Chris Rock, among others. It’s also the longest-running comedy club in NYC, having been open since 1975.
Photo of Bryant Park’s Picnic Performances by Ryan Muir
Listen to live music
Whether it’s at a festival or a small club, there are plenty of opportunities to listen to live music in New York City, even more so during the warmer months. The summer season is full of larger events like festivals and concerts, including Governors Ball, SummerStage, and the Rooftop at Pier 17. However, smaller clubs and bars offer live music all around the city, like the Blue Note Jazz Club in Greenwich Village, which hosts world-class musicians almost every day of the week. Find free outdoor performances happening this year here.
Photo of Keys and Heels courtesy of Melissa Hom
Drink discretely in a speakeasy
Speakeasies are once again trending, with more locations popping up around the city. Inspired by the era of Prohibition, modern speakeasies are bars tucked away out of sight, whether it be hidden underground or behind a secret door. While the majority of speakeasies are new, there are few still around that actually operated during Prohibition. One is The Back Room, which is located at 102 Norfolk Street on the Lower East Side and offers a unique selection of cocktails and beers. The latest to open in the city is Keys & Heels on the Upper East Side, a cocktail bar hidden behind a locksmith and shoe repair storefront.
“Black Atlantic” is now on view at Brooklyn Bridge Park; Kiyan Williams, “Ruins of Empire,” 2022. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Nicholas Knight, Courtesy of Public Art Fund, NY
Enjoy some of the city’s public art installations
Out of all the things New York City is revered for, one of the most prominent aspects of the city has been its art scene, so it’s no surprise that the five boroughs have an abundance of public art installations. While installations regularly pop up in locations throughout the city, there are many permanent artworks on view all year round, including Jean Dubuffet’s Group of Four Trees and Red Cube by Isamu Noguchi in the Financial District. Many public art pieces mean to convey some sort of important social or political message, while others mean to simply dazzle the viewer with their beauty and intricacy.
Relax in one of the city’s many public parks
One of the many things New York City is known for is its green spaces, which can be found all around the five boroughs. Providing New Yorkers a place of respite from the hectic city life, green spaces are an integral part of the urban experience. While there are more and more parks and green spaces popping up, we love Washington Square Park, Prospect Park, and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
Photo © 6sqft
Run the New York City Marathon (or cheer runners on)
Bringing in tens of thousands of participants every year, the New York City Marathon is an iconic event in the city and around the world. The marathon spans 26.219 miles and begins in Staten Island, taking participants up through Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx before finally finishing in Central Park. If you’re not particularly interested in running (or walking!) the marathon, you can play the equally important role of cheering on participants as they travel past you. It is typically held on the first Sunday of November every year.
Spend some time on the city’s waterfront
With over 520 miles of waterfront, New York City has plenty of space for you to relax beside the water’s edge and take in breathtaking views of the surrounding metropolis, from the scenic views of Brooklyn Bridge Park in Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights to the wildlife spotting and bird watching at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
Eat at a Jewish deli
It’s not a visit to New York without grabbing a bite to eat at one of the city’s many Jewish delicatessens. Although there are hundreds scattered throughout the city, there are a few delis that have become NYC institutions, like the 2nd Ave. Deli, Barney Greengrass, and Katz’s Delicatessen, the latter which has been serving customers cured meats and sandwiches since 1888.
See the city’s “secret” waterfalls
While it may sound surprising, there are a number of waterfalls spread throughout New York City, providing city dwellers with a tranquil retreat. Central Park has five man-made waterfalls, the tallest of which is 14-feet and located in the Loch, an area in the northern portion of the park. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden also has a waterfall, which is a fundamental part of a traditional Japanese garden.
Drink at some of the city’s oldest bars
While New York City’s restaurant and bar scenes are constantly evolving, there are several watering holes that have stuck around through it all. New York City’s oldest bar is Fraunces Tavern, located at 54 Pearl Street in the Financial District, and was first opened in 1762. Throughout its history, the bar has served notable guests like George Washington, hosted important historical events like peace negotiations with the British, and acted as a speakeasy during Prohibition. Explore NYC history while downing a pint or two at historic haunts like McSorely’s Old Ale House, Ear Inn, Old Town Bar, White Horse Tavern, and Neir’s Tavern.
Photo courtesy of James and Karla Murray
See the abandoned City Hall subway station
Designed as a showpiece for the first-ever subway station, the City Hall station stopped its service in 1945 when subway trains became bigger and could no longer fit on its tracks. While trains no longer stop at City Hall, subway riders can catch a glimpse of the abandoned station if they stay on the downtown 6 train as it finishes its last stop and heads back uptown, and passes through.
Image © Diane Pham for 6sqft
Visit the decoy brownstone in Brooklyn Heights
Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights is a quaint city street lined with historic brownstone homes and looks nothing out of the ordinary. However, if you take a minute to look at the house standing at 58 Joralemon Street, you’ll realize something is off. Once used as a private residence in 1847, the house is actually a decoy that is used to hide ventilation and provide an emergency exit from the subway below.
While you may not be able to catch a wave in Manhattan, you can find good surfing spots just a short drive away from the city. In Queens, head to Rockaway Beac, the only beach within New York City open to surfers and the easiest to access using public transportation.
Visit New York City’s different Chinatowns
While two of the most well-known may be on the Lower East Side in Manhattan and in Flushing, Queens, New York City actually has nine Chinatowns. Find authentic and diverse Chinese food in Elmhurst, Little Neck, and Forest Hills in Queens, as well as in Bensonhurst, Sunset Park, and Homecrest in Brooklyn.