Many consider Midtown to be the heart of New York City. The neighborhood's signature attractions, including Times Square, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, are world renowned and frequently featured in films and television programs.
For a glimpse of the grandeur of the cityscape, take an express elevator up to the observation decks of the Empire State Building. NYC's second-tallest structure (behind One World Trade Center) offers breathtaking views from the highest open-air observatory in the City.
Midtown also features some of the world's best shopping. Wander up Fifth Avenue to visit mainstays like jewelry emporium Tiffany & Co., the flagship location of Saks Fifth Avenue and toy store FAO Schwarz. Later, atone for your worldly interests at St. Patrick's Cathedral. This stunning edifice is the largest Gothic cathedral in the United States, with seating capacity for 2,500 and a giant organ equipped with 7,300 pipes.
Across the street from St. Patrick's is Rockefeller Center, home to NBC Studios, an ice-skating rink and a plaza that's home to the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. For a different perspective on the City and Central Park, visit Top of the Rock, the observation deck located atop the famous “30 Rock” skyscraper. Underneath that building, you can explore a 2-mile-long concourse that houses a variety of shops and restaurants.
The vast collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) hold many of the art world's most cherished works, including Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night and Salvador Dalí's The Persistence of Memory. MoMA's cafeteria and its restaurant, The Modern, are both excellent eateries, but there are plenty of inexpensive, casual options in the neighborhood as well. Although they don't offer much by way of atmosphere—you'll have to find a place to sit—the award-winning food cart Halal Guys, a favorite of the office crowd, serves up spicy proteins (chicken or lamb) over rice at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 53rd Street.
Culture vultures should continue up Fifth Avenue to visit the renowned institutions along the Upper East Side's Museum Mile, including the recently reopened Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, with its prints, textiles and new design library; the Museum of the City of New York, which provides an in-depth look into NYC's past; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, home to one of the most extensive collections of art, history and culture anywhere on earth. (Note: each of these is worth spending a full day in on their own.)
For those who'd rather spend time outdoors, Central Park is the place to go. The 843-acre park is an oasis of trees, gardens, water features and rolling meadows. Don't miss attractions like the Central Park Zoo, Bethesda Fountain and Strawberry Fields, named after The Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever” (John Lennon lived nearby, at the Dakota). Meanwhile, across the park on the Upper West Side, children and adults will love a visit to the American Museum of Natural History, packed with exhibitions showcasing all manners of creatures living and extinct, including those toothy giant dinosaurs.
Perhaps Midtown's most famous attraction—and, statistically speaking, the NYC's most visited—is Times Square, site of the famous annual New Year's Eve celebration along with a host of other year-round entertainments. Among them: the Theatre District, where you can see new and classic Broadway musicals, comedies and dramas. Long-running shows like Chicago, Wicked and The Phantom of the Opera have delighted millions. (To peruse current shows, and buy tickets, visit our Broadway section.) The area also contains a diverse selection of eateries. Nearby institutions like Barbetta, serving Italian food in a chateau setting, and B. Smith's Restaurant, offering Southern cuisine, are two good choices along Restaurant Row. For post-theater dining, Carmine's is a favorite for Italian food served family-style.
Next: Day 2—Lower Manhattan and Staten Island