These are the best things to do in New York State, from Times Square to Niagara Falls, so that you can explore the state fully.
New York, home to NYC, the city that never sleeps is the financial epicenter of the world. It is not just a melting pot of cultures, but a state renowned for its iconic attractions, stunning landscapes, and exciting annual events and festivals.
It’s one of the nation’s leading destinations for foreign travelers, with over 290 million visits recorded last year alone.
Why visit NY?
There are a handful of places in the world where you can find such a rich diversity of races, creeds, and activities in a single location, which is no wonder why so many people add this state to their USA bucketlist of must-see destinations.
There’s something for every taste and budget in New York, as it encompasses almost the same breadth of cultural and geographical variance as France.
There’s Hudson Valley, enriched with historic sites, vineyards, and the scenic Hudson River that traverses a network of charming small towns and villages.
On the western side, you’ll find Buffalo and Rochester, each with its unique settlements and landmarks, all of which barely scratch the surface of what you’ll find when you visit the state of New York.
We share some of the best things to do in New York State so that you can explore and enjoy the best the state has to offer.
Best Things to Do in New York State
Take a Helicopter Tour of the Manhattan Skyline in New York City
Manhattan is one of NYC’s five boroughs, the rest being Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. A helicopter ride across this borough will offer you some of the most iconic sites you only see on TV, including:
· The Empire State Building in Midtown Manhattan (another one of the best things to do in New York State).
· The One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower), located at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan.
· The Flatiron building (not to be confused with the 1 Wall Street Court), is one of the city’s oldest surviving skyscrapers and an architectural wonder featured in blockbuster movies like Spiderman, Godzilla, and Armageddon.
· 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which houses the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, offering stunning views of the city, Central Park, and beyond.
The aerial tour, which starts at $239 per adult and takes 12 to 15 minutes, includes a flyover of the iconic Statue of Liberty, the over 150-year-old Brooklyn Bridge, the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum, New York Harbor, and Ellis Island, America’s one-time largest and most active immigration station.
Whilst in NYC, make sure to do the many things to do in New York City and you can save money on these sights with the CityPass, which we personally feel is worth it, even if you have just 2 days in New York.
See the Saratoga Race Course
One of the next best things to do in New York State, is the Saratoga Race Court.
Nestled on the Southeastern outskirts of Saratoga Springs is one of the world’s most legendary racecourses—the Saratoga Race Course.
This hallowed course, which traces its roots to the 1860s, has hosted countless prestigious thoroughbred horse races. This includes the Travers Stakes (nicknamed the Mid-Summer Derby), the Whitney’s Stake (a Grade 1 race named in honor of William C. Whitney), and Diana Stakes (a Grade 1 turf race for fillies and mares aged three years and older).
Attend one of Saratoga’s races and tour the racetrack’s grandstand, jockey quarters, and harness track to get a peek into the history and heritage of American horseracing.
While you soak in this experience, don’t forget to visit the beautiful remarkable Congress Park in the center of Saratoga Springs, which is open year-round.
Visit the Spellbinding Archipelago of the Thousand Islands
The Thousand Islands, an archipelago encompassing 1,864 islands, is a magical place you’ll likely fall in love with when you visit New York and one of the best things to do in New York State.
Formed by the Canadian Shield (Frontenac Axis), the Saint Lawrence River, and the Great Lakes, this natural, scenic archipelago offers a soothing and refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Most of the islands that make up the archipelago are uninhabited and unspoiled, making them perfect for a weekend camping, hiking, or paddling trip.
Occasionally, you’ll spot lavish mansions, such as the Boldt Castle, tucked away behind towering trees on larger islands as you sail across the glistening waters—a relic of America’s gilded age, when wealthy businessmen commissioned stately homes and used them as summer retreats.
A number of these islands are privately owned. Still, you can explore the ones open to the public, most of which contain small communities (from hamlets to towns) dotted across several municipalities in the region.
You can’t also miss Wolfe Island, a mesmerizing, quiet but adventurous island that sits on Canadian soil. So, you want to take your passport along.
Explore Times Square
Few destinations can match the spectacle of Times Square. Situated at the meeting point of Broadway, this tourist attraction is so much more than just a place to admire the famous Naked Cowboy—Robert John Burck.
With dozens of hotels, theaters, and glitzy billboards strategically positioned to catch the attention of first-time visitors, it’s a place to put your five senses into overdrive. This is one of our favourite best things to do in New York State.
While here, you’ll want to see the glamorous TKTS booth at 47th Street, where you can get half-price tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Need a picture-perfect backdrop for a personal or family photo?
You won’t miss that either, as Times Square is one of the most photogenic places in New York and even the world. It’s no surprise that it attracts 50 million visitors each year.
Check out Niagara Falls
Your exploration of New York will be incomplete without visiting Niagara Falls, one of the top 10 most visited waterfalls in the world. Located on the border between Ontario, Canada, and New York, this waterfall comprises three magnificent falls: the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls, which all produce a frightening roaring sound that can be heard several miles away.
To get a closer view of these massive, thundering falls and take a splashing cruise, it’s best to pay a visit to the Maid of the Mist or the Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls State Park (an attraction that dates back to 1897).
Whilst is Niagara Falls, one of the best things to do in New York State, make sure to visit the nearby attractions. Check out Old Fort Niagara, a historical site overlooking Lake Ontario, and the Whirlpool Aero Car, which provides an aerial view of Niagara Gorge.
Keep in mind that there will be touristy spots everywhere, so expect an elevated entrance fee and a long queue to get in. But this is all worth the experience, especially if you are looking to immerse yourself in nature and the history of the place.
Staying Safe in NY
New York is one of the safest places in the US, thanks to strict gun control laws and proactive local police forces. Although there are many of the best things to do in New York State, you do need to keep yourself safe during your trip.
- Be Street Smart
Like in any state, especially those with thriving metropolises, you should be mindful of your surroundings. When visiting top spots, have a reliable tourist guide with you, and don’t forget to hide your belongings in crowded places.
- Hide Your Passport and Other Documents
It’s ideal to keep all your essential travel documents, including your passport, in a hotel safe whenever possible. If you have an urgent need for these documents, get them out of the safe. But whatever you do, never keep them in your rental car or luggage.
- Rent a Car From an Insured Provider
Car theft is rare, but it does happen. You should only rent a car from a reputable dealer who can provide the car with insurance and has a track record of excellent customer service.
Before leaving the parking lot, conduct a thorough check of your rental to ensure it doesn’t have dents or other damages that you’d be charged for.
- Avoid Tourist Scams
While rare, some people might try to scam you in tourist spots. The best way to avoid this is to stick with an organized tour group or tour guides licensed by the New York State Police (NYSP).
Whenever someone tries to sell you a product, ask you a favor, or do anything else, perform a background check on this person on Nuwber. You never know what someone is up to, and the more information you have, the better.
- Stay in Safe Neighborhoods
Don’t forget that you’re a tourist, which can make you a target for pickpocketing or purse snatching. As such, you should only visit places deemed safe for travelers. If you don’t feel safe in a particular area, find something better and leave immediately.
New York is an astounding destination that will delight you and your family with plenty of attractions and activities—from the bubbling vibes of New York City to the breathtaking Thousand Islands archipelago.
Whether you’re on a solo backpacking trip or a family vacation, you’re spoiled for choice here. Keep in mind the safety tips discussed in this guide and you’ll have an exciting, memorable experience.