The best things to do in NYC

Brooklyn Bridge

“Stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge—it’s so romantic that is has the power to turn platonic relationships into something more.”—Javier, Little Italy

Fourteen years and 600 workers (including the original designer, who died during construction)—that’s how long it took to build the Brooklyn Bridge, which has been an iconic landmark of the city since 1883. Thankfully, the NYC Department of Transportation removed the hundreds of “love locks” that were attached to the bridge last year, protecting its status as a historic landmark.

Shakespeare in the Park

“Watch amazing actors at Shakespeare in the Park. They somehow always manage to make the plays accessible, even to those of us who didn’t understand them in high school.”—Beth, Glendale

While experiencing Shakespeare outdoors is one of summer’s greatest traditions, this year is extra-special, since the theater will be honoring 400 years of The Bard’s legacy. We recommend visiting in May for Taming of the Shrew, a comedy that anyone dealing with a crazy of relationship while balancing male/female dynamics will appreciate

Cherry Blossom Festival

“Celebrate the Sakura Matsuri [Cherry Blossom Festival] at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. It doesn’t feel like spring until I’m surrounded by cherry blossoms, and I love the elements of Japanese culture.” —Liz, Windsor Terrace

When the winter finally begins to thaw in early April, the pink buds on the cherry blossom trees greet the rising temperatures, and it’s a sight to see. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden pays homage to the Japanese spring festival Sakura Matsuri with Kabuki dance, tea ceremonies, anime/manga cosplay and cherry blossom as far as the eye can see.

Brooklyn Heights

“Walk the fruit streets of Brooklyn Heights. They have that Brooklyn-from-the-movies feel.”—Dana, Crown Heights

In the mid-1800s, prominent Brooklyn Heights resident Lady Middagh saw the “pretentious” street names in her ’hood—those named after Brooklyn’s wealthy families—and decided to take matters into her own hands by changing the street signs by cover of darkness to Cranberry, Orange and Pineapple. The names stuck and to this day add even more charm to the historic 19th-century brownstones and tree-lined streets where several movies, like Moonstruck, were filmed.

American Museum of Natural History

“Taking out-of-towners to the Museum of Natural History—looking at the big blue whale from their eyes reminds you just how amazing it really is.”—Alise, Upper East Side

While the most beloved and well-known exhibit is the blue whale—suspended from the ceiling in the oceans room to remind tourists and locals of the magnificence of the sea—it’s only one of the many reasons to visit. Two awesome new reasons to go, even if you’ve think you’ve seen it all: Dinosaurs Among Us (did you know some had feathers, similar to birds of today?) and Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World (opening the end of May), which features four live species, including a forest-dwelling crocodile.

Strand Book Store

“Peruse the $1 shelves at Strand Book Store. it’s a great way to kill time.”—Rachel, Washington Heights

Founded in 1927, Strand is perhaps the most beloved indie bookseller in the city, with more than 2.5 million new, used and rare tomes—or as the sign outside says, 18 MILES OF BOOKS—cramming the shelves. Not only are there plenty of $1 used options out front, but many new titles are sold well below list price. Bibliophiles can spend hours checking the staff picks, classic novels, poetry, novels and nonfiction. We suggest walking up to the third floor, where early editions and rare signed copies are available for purchase.

Bronx Zoo Wildlife Conservation Society

“See animals at the Bronx Zoo—for free!”—Danny, Flushing

If you’ve got a hankering to reconnect with wildlife, play hooky on Wednesday and visit the biggest metropolitan zoo in North America—for free! With over 265-acres of animals and wildlife, you won’t be able to see everything in one day, but you can take a two-hour tour of the Congo Gorilla Forest, World of Reptiles or the Himalayan Highlands exhibit. Be sure to pay a special visit to the American Bison, which was just declared America’s national mammal.

Astoria Park Pool

“Swim in the Astoria Pool. It’s massive and has a stunning view of the Robert F. Kennedy and Hell Gate bridges.”—Ali, Astoria

Not your typical NYC public swimming hole, the Astoria Pool is one of the largest in the country, with a 330-foot main pool, an Olympic-standard diving pool and an additional wading pool. City planner Robert Moses reportedly designed it in 1936 with somewhat narcissistic intent: Swimmers looking up from the water could see one of his greatest accomplishments: the Triborough (now RFK) Bridge, also completed in 1936.

Bryant Park

“Catch an outdoor movie at Bryant Park. There’s nothing like seeing a flick on the big screen with the city as your backdrop.”—Joe, Williamsburg

While this park is worth visiting year-round for its state of the art wireless network (yay, working outdoors!), the real draw in the summer is the Summer Film Festival, held Monday nights from 5-11pm. While this year’s lineup of classic films isn’t announced until mid-May, past showings have included classics like The Shining and E.T.

Forbidden Planet

“Buy comic books at Forbidden Planet—it’s an independent bookstore with a great selection and the people who work there are really nice.”—Joey, Murray Hill

We’ll let the door handle at this Union Square shop do the talking: It’s a replica of Captain America’s shield. Comic book fans visiting this geek paradise can snag graphic novels, toys, movie memorabilia, Magic: The Gathering cards and more.

Katonah Pizza & Pasta

“Grab a pizza from Katona Pizza & Pasta in the Bronx—it’s my absolute favorite and it happens to be in my neighborhood.”—John, Woodlawn

While few outside of Woodlawn may be all that familiar with Katona Pizza & Pasta, the place has tons of local charm—the owner regularly works behind the counter and family photos hang from the walls. They have plenty of funky specialty ‘za to choose from including Chicken Marsala, Lasagna, and Taco pizzas, or you can chow down on their pasta options (usual suspects: Eggplant Parmigiana, spaghetti with meatballs).

Madison Square Park

“Listening to free music at Madison Square Park—in the summer, blues, jazz and Hill Billy Blue Grass music fills the park and makes going to work near there pleasant.”—Suri, Chelsea

Great free concerts virtually all summer long certainly make visiting Madison Square Park a pleasurable and affordable way to pass the time. Also, don’t miss the annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party, the only event that makes the lines at the original Shake Shack there seem trifling by comparison.

Manhattanhenge

“Witness Manhattanhenge. The way the sun sets perfectly in the middle of those mammoth buildings really makes you appreciate the architecture.”—Dan, Crown Heights

For two nights every year (once at the end of May and again in mid-July), the setting sun aligns precisely with Manhattan’s street grid, which is actually set a few degrees north of true east-west, dousing the skyline and streets below in a magnificent orange glow. The popular term for this phenomenon was coined by Hayden Planetarium’s director, none other than national treasure Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The Moth StorySLAM

“See the Moth. Even though anyone can put their name in the hat, it’s rare to encounter a bad storyteller.”—Dana, Crown Heights

Held monthly in various locations across the city, each StorySLAM sees 10 storytellers competing to see who spins the best tale on a specific theme, without using written notes. With so many writers, comedians and actors living in New York, it makes sense that the tales told at the slams are better performed and more engaging than in other cities. Unsurprisingly, this hugely popular event is always packed, so line up early to snag your spot.

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