My friends and EIT readers, C. & B, have decided to take a trip to the Big Apple. Neither have ever been to New York City, and they are overwhelmed by the number of things to see and do. I thought I’d help them out by putting together some tips for their first trip to NYC.
Here are some things to see and do that I suggest for first-time visitors to NYC. Please help us out by sharing your own tips in the comments!
Stay Somewhere Central and Walkable
On your first visit to a big city, I think it’s important to stay somewhere centrally located and in easy walking distance of the city’s sights. For your first trip to NYC, you should probably stay in Manhattan. The last time we visited New York, we stayed at the Hilton New York Fashion District, which I thought was a great location–a close walk from the High Line Park, Chelsea Market, a great seasonal greenmarket (see below). It was a convenient base for visiting Manhattan and the neighborhood felt safe to walk alone at night.
Explore Central Park during the day…
This giant park dates all the way back to 1857 where it was designed to be a respite from the fast-growing, industrial city. At 778 acres, It’s huge and easy to get lost in the winding paths, bridges, gardens, and hills built into this urban oasis. Photo: Flickr/FrancescaGallina
AND at night
After dark, Central Park is particularly scenic as the lights of the city reflect off of the lakes, ponds, and streams. Photo: Flickr/smoovey
Walk the length of the High Line Park:
While Central Park is historic and grand, this park on Manhattan’s Lower West Side is slim, modern — and 25 feet above the city. Built on an out-of-use elevated rail line, it’s an innovative way to turn a blighted manmade space into a scenic and peaceful place. It is only one mile long so it’s worth walking the path from start to finish. Photo: Flickr/Asterix611
Visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
I visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island immigration museum the first time I visited New York on a school trip in 6th grade. I remember how exciting it was to stand at the foot of this beautiful statue and think about what her image means to people seeking liberty and justice around the world. I also remember really enjoying the immigration museum with the chance to getting a feel for what emigrating to this country was like across the ages. I’m very curious to find out how the museum addresses more recent waves of immigration to the U.S. I would hope it handles the challenges honestly and respectfully. We did a lot of overpriced, made-for-tourists junk on that trip that I can’t recommend (dinner at Hard Rock, etc.) but some things are visited for a reason. The Statue of Liberty is one of those. Save on your Ellis Island admission by picking up the NYC CityPass. Photo: Flickr/Nietnagel
Visit Times Square:
As an icon of American consumerism and the place where people around the world grew up “watching the ball drop” on television every New Year’s Eve, it’s worth walking by for the photograph. If you’re lucky, there will be something strange like a yoga festival in Times Square, like when I last visited the city back in 2010.
Ride the subway
At $2.50 per ride on the subway and buses, the NYC Metro system is not cheap, but it is fast, goes everywhere, and the subway map and typography make design nerds go wild. Buy all kinds of NYC Metro map souvenirs (t-shirts, umbrellas, boxer shorts…) at the New York Transit Museum’s gift shop, noted below. If you’re buying more than 13 individual Metro fares on your trip, buy a 7-day unlimited transit pass for $30. Photo: Flickr/e_monk
Visit a museum or two:
As a global center of art and culture and home to scores of world-class museums, I can’t attempt to recommend must-see museums to visit. I’m not much of an art museum person, so I actually haven’t been to that many. I have visited the top three: the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History.
Planning to go to a lot of museums on your visit? Consider buying the NYC CityPass to save you money on the city’s top attractions.
Two lesser known but personal favorites are the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side (if you are interested in the city’s immigration and social history) and the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn (to learn about how the transit system was built and changed throughout the years, including this replica of a historic subway station.)
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
It’s one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States, the detail is beautiful up close, and offers great views of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Plus, Grimaldi’s coal-fired pizza is right at the end.
(On that note) Eat lots of pizza!
Grimaldi’s or otherwise, I’m no expert. Just eat as much pizza as possible.
Take the Staten Island Ferry for a free view of the NYC skyline
So, I haven’t done this. But it was recommended by several people on Facebook and Twitter when I raised the question, more than any other single thing. Unlike the rest of the pricey, NYC metro system (as above), the Staten Island commuter ferry is apparently free and offers a great view of Manhattan. I’ll be doing this next time, too. Photo: Flickr/dvpfagan
Watch for film crews and celebrities
I lived in Los Angeles for six years before moving to Northern California. When my friends came to visit, they always asked, “have you seen any celebrities?” The answer was always an emphatic “no”. Unless you hang out in fancy areas of the West Side (which I didn’t) or work in the movie or music industries (which I didn’t), you rarely see celebrities in Los Angeles because they are always tucked away in the expansive homes and in their cars. In New York, on the other hand, I have seen celebrities every time I visit, which I think is due to the city being more dense and people walking more. On our last trip in 2010, we saw the above shoot for a TV show starring Willie Garson (who played Carrie’s friend, Stanford Blatch, on “Sex and the City”). Later that evening we noticed we were seated right next to Garson (with a friend and his family) at the wood-fired pizza place we visited with a friend. Same guy, twice in one day. That would never happen in L.A.
Here are a few other things I like to do in NYC:
Visit farmer’s markets (Note: In New York they are called “green markets”)
Take a stroll through Chinatown — where, among many other interesting things, you can buy live frogs.
Eat dill pickles at delis across the city.
Wander around, looking up and down to admire the details of this big and diverse city. I think NYC’s fire escapes are quite pretty.
New York City Travel Resources
- Looking for a hotel? On our last trip to NYC we stayed at and can recommend the Hilton New York Fashion District. Or, search other NYC hotels using Booking.com which often features great deals on New York hotels.
- Heading to Brooklyn? Check out this Williamsburg walking tour that I did and loved! Looking for a hotel in Brooklyn? Check out my review of Hotel BPM in Brooklyn.
- NYC has so much to do! Be sure to pack a good travel guidebook for destination guides, maps, and travel tips, and insight into the country’s rich history and culture. I like this one by Lonely Planet.
Want to save this list for your next trip? Click here to pin this post on Pinterest!
If you go to the Met Museum, remember that it is owned by the city, therefore the twenty+ dollar admission price is just a suggestion. You can pay 25 cents if you want and they’ll let you in.
Cassie Kifer says
Interesting, I didn’t realize that. Thanks, Gerry!
Kimi Sugiyama says
Many of NYC’s major museums have free admission hours or days where you can “pay what you wish”. See here for more info –> http://freemuseumday.org/nyc.html
Check out the markets and Union Square too. When I worked in NYC, I would always go there to get fruit, dessert, or something small for lunch.
You can also get a nice view of the NYC skyline from Hoboken, NJ. I believe it’s $6 round trip from the MBTA station.
Ahh so much to do and eat in NYC. Have the best time. Can’t wait to hear your impressions of the city.
Cassie Kifer says
This is a great link, Kimi! Thanks for the reference. Any idea when the farmer’s markets close for the year? (I’ll look that up right now)
Eating cheap dumplings in Chinatown is also a thing! 😛
Cassie Kifer says
Yum! We’re going to be there during the Moon Festival, so I’m going to see if there is anything special going on.
OMG! That show you were observing was for White Collar (on USA!). In the picture there, are two of the stars: Willie Garson and Marsha Thomason (on possibly Matt Bomer!) I so hope I see something like this when I got to NYC in a month 🙂
Kevin Adams says
My tip to maximize your chances would be to just walk around and explore the streets. Don’t only take the subway from point to point. Good luck and have a great time on your trip!
One of the reasons the metro is “expensive” is the upkeep. More than a million riders daily if you count Queesn, Brooklyn and the Bronx – all part of political NY City boundaries, if not on Manhatten Island itself. And one may ride from the upper Bronx to Queens – a trip that is over an hour for one fare if you’re on the right train. Think about that: it’s a ride through 3 or perhaps 4 NY counties, depending on the subway line chosen. That $2.50 is a bargain compared to the PIA of driving in NY City traffic and the outrageous amount one pays daily or even weekly or monthly for parking in NY. NEVER think you can park on the street! Space is extremely limited or non-existent, meters must be fed and tickets for expired meters are pricey. Not to mention possible vandalism to cars or unintentional scrapings and scratchings from the traffic all around. As the song says “Take the A Train” – safer, faster and cheap by comparison.
Cassie Kifer says
You’re totally right and I’m sure the money they bring in through fares does not completely recover the cost of system maintenance. I’m always in favor of supporting public transit!
Suggestion if you are traveling in NY with kids: The Hayden Planetarium in the Museum of Natural History (great for grown-ups too. We never get tired of it!) is an ESSENTIAL see. Go up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building – you can see the mainland of NJ and NY, Long Island and all the bridges. And speaking of bridges, the kids will love the “Little Red Lighthouse” of famed story under the “Great Grey (George Washington) Bridge”. And above the region of the bridge at 192nd street, reachable by subway, are the Cloisters – beautiful Medieval art and gorgeous gardens with some of the best espalier you will ever see. It’s lovely in the spring and summer, and the Museum of the Cloisters is beautiful at Christmas. The Metropolitan Museaum of Art is a MUST SEE at Christmas with “THE tree” and all the 17th and 18th century Neopolitan angels on it and the creche figures below. JFK thought it was so lovely he borrowed it for the White House on year. And in Brooklyn, the Aquarium is excellent. So is the absolutely fabulour Bronx Botanical Gardens and the Bronk Zoo. and they can all be reached for the “expensive” and “pricey” subway ride. Do enjoy NY when you come again, and have lots of fun. And if you are brave enough to rent a car, come on out to Long Island and see Teddy Roosevelt’s birth place and home, and then drive out to “The End” of Long Island (just ocean beyond that until you hit Portugal) at Montauk and see/climb to the top of the lighthouse commissioned by George Washington during the Revolution, and visit the Long Island wineries onthe way back. Gotta love NY!
Cassie Kifer says
Wonderful tips, Samantha! Thanks for sharing your local insight! 🙂
$2.50 for a subway ride is much less expensive than hopping in ANY cab, considering that is also the starting fare for a cab ride. The subway is the best way to get around the city, hands-down.
Cassie Kifer says
Thanks for sharing these great tips. I want to suggest some other free things to do in New York as-
Empire State Building: See the city skyline from the highest point – the Empire State Building. You will be forever changed by the breathtaking and awe inspiring view.
Coney Island: An ongoing circus adventure spot where you will find a fire-breathing man and woman with tattooed face, Coney Island has all the fun and games of any world class fairground. Again not a spot to miss the next time you visit New York.
Madison Square Gardens: The city’s major performance venue. You can catch your favourite sports games here or watch your favourite artists perform to sold out shows.You can plan your New York trip itinerary according to the performance venue adn timing details.
For shopping everything from the Brooklyn Flea Market to Tiffany & Co. is available in the city. Cheap thrift stores and designer boutiques abound throughout New York.
There are many more things to do in New York city it can be shopping, eating, adventure and nightlife also.
Cassie Kifer says
Wonderful tips, thanks for sharing, Armida! I’ve never been up to the top of the Empire State Building, nor to Coney Island when the stalls are open (I was there once when it was closed, which was beautiful in it’s own way: https://everintransit.com/desolate-coney-island-brooklyn-new-york/)
My friend and I went to NYC this past November. We wanted to go to the top of the ESB, but they charged $50 per person
Cassie Kifer says
Wow, is it that much? I’ll do a lot for a good photo, but, yikes. I think I’d pass
See a Broadway musical! See an Off- Broadway play! Piano bars and jazz clubs are all over the city! Get tix to Jimmy Fallon, SNL Steven Colbert, The Today Show! There’s also Lincoln Center, Rockefeller Plaza, The UN (requires special tickets now) The Intrepid Ship/Museum, Bryant Park and all sorts of tours of Greenwich Village, Harlem, Little Italy, Chinatown, Wall Street, The Garment District, Hell’s Kitchen, Sex And The City and of writers and artists! You can find ways to do most of this on the cheap! About Central Park? Pack lunch and make a picnic out of it!
I took my first trip to NYC last August and your article was really informative. I was amazed at how many articles said to skip the Statue of Liberty and Time Square, but for a first visit, I’m so happy we made time for both!