New York City is a crazy popular tourist destination. Want the numbers? In 2016 a whopping 61 million tourists visited The Big Apple, including us. Even though it’s known to be an expensive city, we actually did way more free things than paid things during our 8 day visit, so make sure to check out that post as well.
Here are 7 things to do in New York City that we deem worth paying for.
Catch a Broadway Show
Catching a Broadway Show is one of the top things to do in New York City. However, it can be a pretty expensive item to cross off of your bucket list. We’re talking about $100 to $200 per person here. Don’t pull it out of your New York City bucket list due to a lack of funds just yet though. We have a golden tip! Buy your tickets with TKTS and enjoy a 20 to 50% discount off regular prices. We had a chance to see Matilda, the Musical at Shubert Theatre for only $80 per person.
Admire the view from one of the observation decks
New York City has 3 observation decks. They each grant a stunning view over the city, albeit from different angles. The entrance fee is the same for all 3 though, costing $34 per person.
We only visited 2 of them (for now), and already have a hard time choosing the best one. We climbed up to the One World Observatory for an awesome view of New York City by night, but my favourite photo was taken from the Top of the Rock. In December 2017 we’ll visit the oldest observation deck in New York City as well, on top of the Empire State Building.
Dine at Ellen’s Stardust Diner
Are you a Glee fan? Then dinner at Ellen's Stardust Diner is a must do in New York City. It’s a 50’s themed diner where your food is served by singing waiters. Wouldn’t want to have missed this for the world! To give you an idea of the cost: a Philly Cheesesteak costs $19.95 and every 45 minutes to an hour a tip bucket passes through the diner.
Note: being a Glee fan is not a requirement to be allowed in, every music lover is welcome.
Visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum
It might not be the most fun thing to do in New York City, but a visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum has to be part of the NYC experience. 9/11 was a horrible, but significant day in the history of the city. Truly knowing a person or place is knowing the good and the bad.
9/11 Memorial Pools
The 9/11 Memorial Pools fill the footprints of the Twin Towers, representing the void that was left after 9/11. The sight of all those names inscribed on the edges around the reflecting pools makes you realise the vastness of the destruction that took place here. We fell silent, only hearing the water from the largest manmade waterfalls in the world flowing away into an abyss.
The trees surrounding the reflecting pools represent life and rebirth. Together they make the Memorial Plaza a place of past and future, remembrance and hopefulness at the same time. Notice the one tree standing out from the crowd, the Survivor Tree. It’s been there since before 9/11, a reminder of resilience, survival and rebirth.
Did you know an international design competition was held in 2003 to determine the design of this national memorial? The design that won is what you see know, called Reflecting Absence. A beautiful and powerful design, letting absence speak for itself.
Entrance to the Memorial Plaza, with the reflecting pools and surrounding trees is free.
9/11 Memorial Museum
Beneath the Memorial Plaza is the 9/11 Memorial Museum. It tells the story of the devastating attacks on September 11, 2001 through a clear timeline. Photographs, quotes and audio fragments help bringing that horrible day to life for the museum visitors. A model of the World Trade Center surrounded with people and cars gives you an idea of the hugeness of the Twin Towers, shedding light on the panic, chaos and destruction the plane crashes must have caused.
It was all very confronting. After seeing the photos of the victims and hearing their voices, the 9/11 attacks felt more real to us than ever. We got a lump in our throats and tears in our eyes when hearing some of the audio fragments. It’s impossible to imagine what it must have been like to be in one of those planes or buildings, have your family there, or even be a New Yorker or American, when knowing how this 3 hour museum visit made us feel.
A ticket for the 9/11 Memorial Museum costs $24 per person.
Take the Roosevelt Island Tramway
Taking the Roosevelt Island Tramway is probably the cheapest thing to do in New York City that’s worth paying for. It’s included in the 7-day unlimited metro card we bought for $32 per card or person.
What’s so special about it, you ask? It’s an aerial tramway, or cable car, to Roosevelt Island over the East River, granting gorgeous views. We recommend sitting (or probably standing) on the Manhattan side for the best views.
Honestly, we only took the Roosevelt Island Tramway for the views, but Roosevelt Island itself deserves a visit as well. It feels like another world, coming from Manhattan. It’s a lot less crowded, more quiet, and has less high buildings. The atmosphere is more relaxed. We walked along the water for a while, searching some geocaches, before heading back to Manhattan.
Explore the American Museum of Natural History
You might think that museums are boring, but we can guarantee you the American Museum of Natural History isn’t. It’s one of the biggest museums in the world, founded in 1869, and a very popular (touristy) thing to do in New York City. Impressive permanent exhibitions range from dinosaur skeletons to meteorites, while temporary exhibitions take turns entertaining visitors with new and present-day topics.
We actually touched dinosaur bones and a meteorite (the 15.5 tons Williamette meteorite), were fascinated by the blade-like crystals of a mineral called stibnite, and joined a free highlight tour of the museum. The large Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall is the starting point of the different free tours and you can pick up a floor plan here as well.
The most impressive part of our afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History were the dinosaur skeletons. Most dinosaur bones in the museum are real, and the Brontosaurus was even standing on a real trackway from Texas, with real dinosaur footprints. The model of a giant blue whale hanging from the ceiling in The Milstein Hall of Ocean Life was interesting as well.
Another highlight, which you’ll possibly recognize from the movie Night at the Museum, are the different life-like dioramas depicting people and animals. When walking through the Hall of North-American Mammals, our tour guide mentioned that things like the furs, hooves and antlers from the animals are all real. Fascinating!
The American Museum of Natural History – Practical information
We entered the American Museum of Natural History through the entrance on 81st Street, where there wasn’t a line like at the front of the building. At the time, in May 2016, we paid an entrance fee of $22 per person, whereas now it’s gone up to $23 per person for an adult. Should you be bored, I mean want to look up more information about what you’re seeing, there’s free WiFi throughout the museum.
Go see a Baseball Game at Yankee Stadium
If you’re a sports fan, a cool thing you can do in New York City is watching a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. During our visit in May 2016 we watched the New York Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays. It was a little less interesting than expected, but then again, watching a baseball game is more about drinking a beer with friends than watching the game. Right? This mindset did make me miss the only home run of the game, hit by Beltran.
The stadium wasn’t sold out, but still 35,174 people came to see the game live that day. We had (one of) the cheapest seats: benches without a backrest, across from the batter. During warm up, a guy sitting near us already caught a ball, so be alert for bats and/or balls coming your way! You can bring food for your own consumption, but there are plenty of food options in the stadium as well.
When you are in Yankee Stadium, don’t skip Monument Park. It’s a small open-air museum honoring former Yankee stars. Bonus: you’ll be standing right next to centre field. Do note that Monument Park closes 45 minutes before the game is scheduled to begin.
Depending on your interests, you might not find all of these activities worth paying for. However, many of them are considered a must do in New York City, like the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, catching a Broadway Show and attending a baseball game in Yankee Stadium. Our favourite? Admiring the view from the Top of the Rock. Truly a memorable sight!
Visiting multiple paid NYC attractions?
If you’re planning on visiting multiple paid tourist attractions in New York City, you might want to check out the New York City Explorer Pass. You can save up to 50% by choosing 3, 4, 5, 7, or 10 attractions and tours from over 60 options and buying this multi-attraction pass to enjoy them all. Head over to their website for more information.
Have you visited New York City yet or is it still on your bucket list? Is there something we should definitely do in New York City during our next visit? We’d love to read about it in the comments!
Like it? Pin it!
Did you find this post helpful? Help us spread the word by sharing this post or pinning the following image.