When something is dubbed “touristy” or “cliched,” the negative connotation can drown out the majesty that made it popular in the first place. Manhattan has plenty of spots that may be overhyped, but are still too amazing to pass up. Here some of our favorites.
Why it’s Classic: It has universal recognizability and an iconic place on the Manhattan skyline—and in pop culture. And you really can’t beat the view from the top.
What to Avoid: Visits between 11am-10pm. The ESB site says visits between 8am and 11am are better for families. On weekend evenings the Observatory stays open until midnight (1am in the summer), and the crowds thin out.
350 5th Ave. Esbnyc.com
Why It’s Classic: Top of the Rock, NBC Studios, the Christmas tree, Radio City Music Hall—Rockefeller Center might be the most densely cliched and electric area of Manhattan.
What to Avoid: Christmas time. Yikes. We know that these are Rockefeller Center’s golden months, but it’s just so crowded. If you’re staying through New Year’s, you’re in luck: The tree stays up for a week or so into January every year, and you can skate the rink with less commotion.
45 Rockefeller Plaza. Rockefellercenter.com
Why It’s Classic: In addition to having hosted iconic fights between Ali and Frazier and Marilyn Monroe’s timeless birthday ballad to JFK, MSG stays relevant as the proud home of the Knicks and Rangers.
What to Avoid: Summertime—while the venue carries on in the warmer months with concerts, it’s most electric nights come when the NBA and NHL are up and running.
4 Pennsylvania Plaza. Thegarden.com
Why it’s Classic: Central Park is the green, beating heart of Manhattan, and it’s not just a park. World-class playgrounds and running trails, a carousel, an ice-skating rink, free opera and Philharmonic performances, Shakespeare in the Park: There’s not only something for everyone; there’s something new for everyone every day of the week.
What to Avoid: Nighttime. While it’s not as dangerous as it’s made out to be in the movies, locals don’t tend to explore the park after hours.
Why it’s Classic: It’s perhaps the most famous museum in the world. While the suggested ticket price is $25, visitors pay what they wish. It’s one of the great privileges of the city to pay $1 and stroll in for an hour or less. No need to be ambitious and see the entire museum: Head right to the Chinese Garden Court, or the Frank Lloyd Wright rooms, the rooftop garden, or the Egyptian room—underneath the Temple of Dendur and overlooking the park. There’s free WiFi, so you can find a seat and hang out awhile.
What to Avoid: If you want to check out a buzzy exhibit, lines can be excruciatingly long. A secret: Pony up for an annual membership, and you and a guest will skip the line. FYI Mondays are the least busy day of the week.
1000 5th Ave. Metmuseum.org
Why it’s Classic: Located in the landmark train station, this Manhattan classic hasn’t changed much since Mad Men types came for oyster stew and martini lunches. That signature stew is still here, as is the checkered tablecloths and shimmering white tile arches. Just outside the restaurant doors is the “whispering gallery”: Stand in one corner and whisper, and the person standing in the diagonal corner will hear what you said, as if you spoke right in their ear.
What to Avoid: Rush hour, when commuters swarm the station.
89 E 42nd St. Oysterbarny.com
Why it’s Classic: This Lower East Side Jewish deli has been serving heaping pastrami, corned beef and brisket sandwiches since 1888. It’s loud, popular and tasty. And yes, it’s the scene of that famous When Harry Met Sally line: “I’ll have what she’s having.”
What to Avoid: Weekends. You’re likely to find a line at Katz’s any day of the week, but the wait is far more substantial Friday through Sunday.
205 E Houston St. Katzdelicatessen.com
Why It’s Classic: The small restaurant crouched under a skyscraper in Midtown has stubbornly served the same menu (oysters, omelets, burgers) in Manhattan for over 130 years. There’s old-school charm—black-and-white pictures hanging on the wall, and there’s an old phone booth—and the juicy, classic burger remains one of the city’s best.
What to Avoid: Locations not on Third Avenue. While recipes and good service are steady throughout all three PJ Clarke’s in Manhattan, the atmosphere of the original is unparalleled.
915 3rd Ave. Pjclarkes.com
Why it’s Classic: New York City has long claimed to be home of the best pizza in the world, and we are in full support of this argument. Charred, chewy and cheesy (but not TOO cheesy), pizza here is just better.
What to Avoid: Ray’s Pizza. We mean, it’s fine, but this large-scale chain is a last resort. Try Joe’s Pizza in Greenwich Village for one of the city’s most classic slices.
7 Carmine St. Joespizzanyc.com
Why it’s Classic: This might seem like a super-touristy, overpriced activity, but there’s truly no better way to take in the famous skyline—and see the city in a whole new way.
What to Avoid: Walk-ins. There are plenty of online complaints about the service at different tour companies, but they claim that most issues come from people who ignore appointment protocol. Make (and keep) your appointment, and you should be good to go.
Why it’s Classic: Times Square is the most widely visited and recognizable destination in Manhattan, and the number of reasons locals will give you not to visit is too long for this piece. That being said, the bright animated blocks of billboards is an urban spectacle unlike any other. Before a Broadway show, allow some time to take it all in.
What to Avoid: Walking through it; the annoyingly pushy superheroes and Elmo characters; and (for the most part) the food.