Top New York theatres to visit

Beyond Broadway, there are numerous venues with equally storied histories — here are some that should be on your list of must-see landmarks in the city.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

If you're visiting New York City, you're probably looking to check out some must-see landmarks. You may know about Ellis Island, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Empire State Building, but there are so many other places in Manhattan with rich histories. One example: theatres.

Checking out a landmark theatre means you get to experience New York's history and enjoy some entertainment while you're at it. And while Broadway theatres are collectively the most well-known, there are numerous Off-Broadway venues that are just as famous, should be just as famous, or are on their way thanks to their popular lineups of theatre, music, comedy, opera, dance, poetry, or any combination of these.

Historic theatres are also great destinations for locals looking to discover entertainment that's more under the radar, and to dive deeper into their city beyond the touristy spots.

Here are just a few top New York venues to add to your bucket list. Check out the shows playing now and soon at each venue, and get tickets on New York Theatre Guide. You might just find your next favorite spot, show, or neighborhood.

The Public Theater

The nonprofit theatre company The Public Theater and the building it occupies each have rich, long histories. The Public was founded in 1954 as the Shakespeare Workshop, which put on free Shakespeare productions. That initiative continues today under the name Shakespeare in the Park, with shows each summer at Central Park's Delacorte Theater.

Also worth a visit is the Public's main building downtown. Before it was the birthplace of shows like Hair and Hamilton, it was the Astor Library, and it was facing demolition until the Public bought and renovated it. Within the building are six performance spaces: five traditional theatres and Joe's Pub, a cabaret lounge that serves food and drinks. There's also an upscale restaurant called The Library, a nod to the building's history.

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New York City Center

Did you know the New York City Center building began its life as a church? Built in the 1920s by the Shriners, it was originally called The Mecca Temple. When they moved out, it was converted into the city's first municipal performing arts center.

The main theatre boasts stunning, opulent decor to rival any Broadway house. It's a can't-miss hub for dance shows and the home of Encores!, NYCC's beloved annual series of rare musical revivals that each run for a limited time. Also located in the building's underground are two smaller theatres operated by the award-winning nonprofit Manhattan Theatre Club.

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Apollo Theater

Another venue known far beyond New York City limits, the Apollo Theater is synonymous with the Harlem neighborhood and Black arts and culture. In the early 20th century, it was one of few venues where Black actors, dancers, and musicians were allowed to perform — and it gave rise to people like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., and James Brown.

More recently, people like H.E.R. and Lauryn Hill launched their careers at Apollo's Amateur Night, a weekly series that's still running today. The Apollo also hosts concerts, play festivals, educational programs, and more.

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The Metropolitan Opera

Proudly featured on postcards and in movies like Moonstruck, The Metropolitan Opera is perhaps one of the most famous venues in New York City. Located in Lincoln Center since 1966, the grand building is home to both classical operas as well as new ones based on contemporary movies, plays, and more.

You don't have to dress formally to go to the opera, but it's more than welcome. A trip to the opera is the ultimate New York City bucket-list item — or even just a unique option for a date night or family outing. It's more accessible than you might think, as tickets start at just $40 and multiple operas are performed in English. And they all have subtitles no matter what!

Learn more about The Metropolitan Opera and operas playing now.

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Lincoln Center Theater

The Metropolitan Opera isn't the only historic venue in Lincoln Center. There's also the David H. Koch Theater for ballet, David Geffen Hall for the New York Philharmonic and other concerts, and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center for movies. But for theatre, you'll want to go to the Lincoln Center Theater building. LCT operates a Broadway theatre, the Vivian Beaumont, and two Off-Broadway theatres, the Mitzi E. Newhouse and Claire Tow, there.

If you time your schedule right, you could make a whole day — or even a whole weekend — of entertainment just within Lincoln Center, experiencing Broadway, Off-Broadway, opera, dance, music, and film within steps of each other. There's even a restaurant on-site for your pre-show food and drinks!

Get tickets to Lincoln Center Theater shows at the links to each venue above.

New York Theatre Workshop

New York Theatre Workshop has been an East Village staple since 1979. It's a launchpad for new plays and musicals by writers new and established, some of which go on to become Broadway blockbusters, like Hadestown and the 2023 Broadway revival of Merrily We Roll Along.

The 200-seat venue is the perfect place to see a hit show in an intimate setting before it's a hit. Plus, the surrounding neighborhood is stuffed with charming independent shops and restaurants.

Learn more about New York Theatre Workshop.

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Park Avenue Armory

Once an actual armory used during the Civil War, the Park Avenue Armory is now a hub for various kinds of arts and cultural events. Just seeing the grand building is an event in itself, as memorabilia from its time as an armory is still on display.

Art exhibits, talks, and performances take place in the Wade Thompson Drill Hall, a massive room that adapts to all kinds of layouts — it might be set up like a museum one time and a theatre the next, or sometimes both at once. Park Avenue Armory often presents acclaimed shows from London or elsewhere in the U.S., and some even go on to Broadway, like The Lehman Trilogy and Illinoise.

Learn more about Park Avenue Armory.

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The McKittrick Hotel

Legend has it that the McKittrick was designed in the 1930s as the ultimate luxury hotel, but it suddenly shuttered just before opening and lay empty for 70 years — until it was renovated and finally opened as the home of the long-running immersive show Sleep No More.

That mysterious story, sadly, is false. The McKittrick was just a warehouse before it was redesigned to resemble a hotel for the show. Nonetheless, thousands of people flock to the venue for Sleep No More as well as food, drinks, and other entertainment in the building's Manderley Bar, Gallow Green restaurant, and Club Car cabaret lounge. With Sleep No More's closure in May 2024, it will be interesting to see what the McKittrick Hotel's future holds.

Get tickets to McKittrick Hotel shows now.

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New World Stages

Located next to a public park between 49th and 50th Streets, New World Stages is an Off-Broadway theatre with prime Broadway real estate. The massive complex has five theatres. Alongside long-running shows like The Play That Goes Wrong and Gazillion Bubble Show is a rotating lineup of new musicals and plays, most of which are family-friendly.

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The Shed

A newer addition to New York's Off-Broadway scene, The Shed has quickly proven itself one of the city's most versatile spaces. It's best known for high-profile plays and musicals at its Griffin Theater with big names attached, like the play Straight Line Crazy starring Ralph Fiennes and Here We Are, the last musical award-winning composer Stephen Sondheim wrote before his death.

On the flip side, The Shed also commissions new work by local artists and presents much of it for free at the venue's two other multipurpose spaces. In fall 2022, when the U.S. Open and New York Fashion Week were happening at the same time, The Shed hosted a free pop-up with tennis-inspired fashion displayed on one side of the space and a fully functional, public tennis court on the other.

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PAC NYC (Perelman Performing Arts Center)

The Perelman Performing Arts Center, nicknamed PAC NYC, opened to the public in 2023 with a bang. A reimagined revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, a solo show written and performed by Laurence Fishburne, and dozens more theatre, music, and dance performances made up the venue's inaugural season.

Like many venues on this list, it's a place to go for all kinds of art and entertainment, not just traditional theatre. Plus, PAC NYC is located in the Financial District downtown, so a trip there offers you the opportunity to explore an area of Manhattan beyond Midtown's Theatre District.

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Second City New York

Founded in 1959, Chicago institution The Second City is one of America’s premier launchpads for comedians. Dozens of stars including Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Eugene Levy, and Bill Murray got their start there. The company brought Chicago out of NYC’s shadow as a comedy hub, so there were never plans to open an NYC location — until there were.

Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood is now home to The Second City New York, which hosts various improv and variety comedy shows. Who knows — you might see the next Saturday Night Live star there before they get big.

Get tickets to Second City New York shows now.

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Photo credit: The Metropolitan Opera, Public Theater, and Apollo Theater.

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