Things to do in New York

Top things to do in New York City – CITYPASS

  • Jens headshot 2:6:23
  • The Travel Mum

New York City is jam packed with iconic landmarks, whether you want to climb the Empire State Building, admire the Manhattan skyline from a river cruise or Explore the world famous Natural History Museum – entry to these attractions is going to cost you! With admission prices in New York being shockingly high ($66 for the Empire State Building observation deck?!) we started exploring different attraction passes to see if we could save some money. 

Choosing our pass

We wanted a pass that would be flexible to use over the week that we were in New York. We obviously wanted it to include attractions that we were interested in but most importantly we wanted it to be affordable. After investigating a lot of different passes, we decided the CityPass (not an affiliate link) would be the best option for us. It gives you admission to five main attractions for £120 for adults (18+) and £102 for children (age 6-17). Children under six are free. 
There are other passes for a similar price which offer more attractions but are only valid for a single day. GoCity is a great option if you want to have a crazy day visiting as much as possible. Travelling with a Toddler left our trip very unpredictable. We didn’t want to pack too much into one day incase he was tired or grumpy. The CityPass gives you nine consecutive days to use the pass. This meant we were able to book one attraction per day, then fill the rest of the day with more spontaneous and free activities. This way if our son became tired, it didn’t matter too much that we had to go back to the hotel for a rest. Happy that this was the pass for us, we contacted the company who kindly gifted us two passes (and we bought two additional passes for my parents).


Key facts about the CityPass NYC

  • Refundable if you aren’t able to travel

  • Visit five iconic attractions (see below)

  • £120 per adult £102 per child – under six free

  • Can be used over nine consecutive days

Purchasing the pass

When you buy the pass they advise you to book your reservations as soon as possible. Due to us being eternally unorganised, we only got our passes a few days before travelling. Reserving tickets this last minute meant some of the more popular times were already fully booked (for example we couldn’t get an Empire State Building reservation for sunset). So I would advise booking as far ahead as possible (this also goes for popular restaurants which you may want to visit).

Attractions included in our CityPass were:
  • Empire State Building

  • American Museum of Natural History

Then a choice between:
  • Top of the Rock observation tower

  • Guggenheim Museum.

  • Ferry access to statue of Liberty and Ellis island

  • Circle line sight seeing cruise

  • 9/11 Memorial and Museum

  • intrepid sea, air and space museum.

(We visited the attractions in bold.)

With hindsight, we probably didn’t need to visit two observation towers, we booked the two as we are big fans of great views and wanted to compare these iconic landmarks. We were able to get a sunset reservation at Top of the Rock which was amazing.

 

The Attractions

Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is in a very central location on 34th street. We made our reservation for 11am on our first day. We were blown away by every little detail of the city – I haven’t felt so star struck by a city in a long time. We got an amazing Bagel breakfast (‘Best bagel and coffee’ on 35th street – highly recommend) then walked to Times Square. You could walk around all day and not get bored. After Times Square we spent some time by the Rockefeller tree, you can ice skate there for around £15. We then went to Bryant Park and finally on to the Empire State Building. We didn’t have to queue and got straight in at our reserved time. There’s a nice build-up to the observation tower where you get to learn a lot about the history of the building. There’s a few lifts you need to take to get up to the top but the view is well worth it. There are outdoor heaters on the observation deck so it was lovely and warm. We spent a long time walking around and taking in the 360 views. Our Son Leo was in a great mood and enjoyed running up and down the ramps and climbing on the binoculars! We did a bit of shopping in the gift shop and were back out on the street by 12:30. You can get a free ticket to return the night of your visit, but we didn’t bother because of our little one.

The American Museum of Natural History

The next day we had booked The Natural History Museum for 10:30am. NYC is 5 hours behind U.K. time, so we were waking up really early for the first few days. The Natural History Museum is right by Central Park. We decided to walk there from our hotel and see some of the park on the way. It was a 50 minute walk from our hotel but we didn’t mind as we were still enjoying mooching around and experiencing every bit of the city. We had tons of time given we left the hotel at 07:30!

If you choose to take the subway, you will need to get off at 81st street. The main museum entrance had a huge queue, luckily someone told us to walk around and try the entrance on 81st street, the queue there was a lot shorter and we got straight in. There are four floors of exhibits and you could honestly stay there all day if you didn’t have an impatient toddler with you. Leo was excited to see the animal exhibits, he loved the dinosaurs, he sort of enjoyed the space show, but after that he enjoyed running off into crowds and giving us a few scares! A slightly older child would absolutely love it.

We had lunch in the canteen which is on the bottom floor, super expensive but a fair amount of choice. We had three slices of pepperoni pizza, a plate of salad to share, one plate of meat with rice and three cans of pop. Leo had a banana and some Mac and Cheese … I almost died there and then when she said “That will be $80 please!”. Definitely aim to have your lunch before or after your visit! After lunch my mum took Leo for a walk in his pram to try to get him to nap, whilst we spent an hour properly checking out the exhibits. Once we had finished in the Museum we went across to Central Park and briefly checked out the south western part. We found a couple of play grounds and let Leo live his best life while we sat on a bench with a coffee.


Top of the Rock Observation deck

On our third day we had Top of the Rock booked for 14:00 (the sun set was due around 16:00 but the sky starts to get pretty during the golden hour before). Again we woke up extremely early and had no plans until our 14:00 slot, so we decided to get a subway to Brooklyn and walk back to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge. This cost us £2 each on the subway and was one of the highlights of the trip. Highly recommend. Once in Manhattan we walked towards Wall Street, saw the famous charging bull statue (people were actually queueing to take pictures with its balls) and then headed towards Battery park to see the Statue of Liberty. When I saw “Statue of Liberty view point” on google maps I had high expectations. The park is lovely, there’s a nice water side walk – but the statue is so far away you can barely tell what it is! We got great views a few days later on our Circle Line landmarks cruise, skip this view point unless you just happen to be in the neighbourhood!

Once again we didn’t have to queue when we arrived at “Top of the Rock” – there is much less of a build up than there was at the Empire State Building. You have your picture taken sat on an iron cross beam – copying the famous “lunch atop a skyscraper” photograph. It was $26 for three digital pictures so we didn’t bother buying them. After this you can stand and listen to some short films on the construction of the Rockefeller building and its cultural importance. Then thats pretty much it, you’re heading up to the first of the observation decks. There are three different levels, the top being my favourite and shown in the photograph below. The first and second levels have glass separating you from the view, but right at the top its open air.


9/11 Memorial Museum

We spent our fourth day at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. By this point in the trip our feet were sore from all of the walking, we had been doing almost 30,000 steps a day prior to this, so we decided to take the subway. We got the Number 1 service from our nearest station ‘Penn Street’ heading towards ‘Downtown and Brooklyn’. We got off at ‘WTC Cortlandt’ and then followed signs to the ‘memorial pools’. We walked passed one of New Yorks newest icons ‘The Oculus’ where there was an entire production filming an episode of ‘Law and Order’! I’ve never seen the show and so had no idea who the actors were, but the crowd seemed very excited by it. The memorial pools were right next door.
The memorial is a beautiful tribute to the thousands of people who lost their lives in the world trade centre attacks. There are two pools in place of the original twin towers, each surrounded by the names of every individual who lost their lives. It is heartbreaking to walk around reading the many names, some plus their unborn children. Single white roses are placed in the names of people who have a birthday that day. There is at least one birthday for every single day of the year, obviously with some days having more. I have never felt such a sombre atmosphere. The grief and tragedy of that day is still palpable in the air. The museum has been put together extremely well. You leave there with a great understanding of the sacrifice and heroism that was shown on that day. Sometimes the true strength of humanity isn’t evident until something terrible happens.


Circle Line Cruise

We chose the ‘landmarks cruise’ and were really excited to see the famous skyline from a different perspective. The cruise departs at 12:00 and they ask you arrive half an hour early. We walked the short walk to Pier 83 from our hotel, stopping off at Hudson Yards and seeing ‘The Vessel’. We ended up arriving 45 minutes early, this worked in our favour as even then there was a small queue developing. We joined the queue and ended up having a good choice of seats once we boarded. We sat on the top deck, right at the back. This was ideal as we had space for our pram and had great views of both sides throughout the tour. People who joined late had to sit below deck where the view isn’t as good. There are toilets on board and a place to buy food and drink at reasonable prices. The tour guide was very informative and taught us a lot about the city during the 90 minute cruise.


The Metropolitan Art Museum

The largest art museum in the western hemisphere, colloquially known as ‘The Met’ – it has over two million works spread across seventeen departments. It’s based by Central Park, at the opposite side to the Natural History Museum. We spent the morning exploring the park and visited Central Park Zoo. The Met website says you don’t need to reserve tickets here, you can just turn up and be admitted. During the whole trip we had planned to visit here on our last day, so we were winging it a bit. This proved to be a school boy error when we got to the doors and found out it doesn’t open on a Wednesday (take note!) Given it was our last day we weren’t able to return on another day either. So you will have to tell us what it was like if you have been!


Overall

Having the CityPass meant we had the reassurance that we would (at the very least) see five amazing attractions. It was great to have a bit of structure to the trip, while still having the flexibility to change things around if Leo wasn’t in the mood for exploring. Knowing once we paid for the passes we wouldn’t have to spend any more money on attractions made budgeting for the trip easier too. I would highly recommend looking into different tourist passes when visiting New York City.

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