Top 15 Things to do in NYC on your First Visit

View of NYC from Brooklyn Bridge with a taxi driving by.

Adventurous backpackers, starving artists, and dreamers of all sorts make the solo trek to New York City every year, and who could blame them? With over 8 million people in one city and a million attractions there is something in this city for every type of solo traveler, and are you ever really ‘alone’ in the first place.

If you are thinking of moving to NYC, or this is just a pit stop on your adventures around the world, the Big Apple has some interesting and entertaining activities that will never leave you feeling bored. Whether you are traveling on a budget or with lux taste, this is a comprehensive list of the things you should check off your bucket list in New York City.

I have been countless times to New York City and every time I see something different and have unique experiences. Furthermore, there is so much to do in NYC, I swear you could spend a lifetime here and see/do something different each day.

If this is your first trip to NYC I highly recommend visiting the touristic sites, such as Time Square, Statue of Liberty, and Rockefeller Center. I feel like these are bucket list items and sites that are a must. So if it is your first time check out this major money saving tip below. If not don’t worry I will throw in some hidden gems that will make your friends scream where is that, I want to go!

MONEY SAVING TIPS IN NYC

Grand Central and Chrysler building in the background as people pass by and a nut seller sells nuts.
Grand Central and Chrysler Building in the background

First and foremost, some money saving tips to get your trip off to the right start.

If you plan to see the “Classic Spots” during your trip ( such as the Statue of Liberty, Top of the Rock, and Empire State Building) get the NYC Pass. It will save you a ton of money! http://www.tkqlhce.com/click-7973346-10758697

The NYC Pass includes

  1. 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
  2. Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR Guggenheim Museum
  3. Empire State Building
  4. American Museum of Natural History
  5. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  6. Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises

Why you should get the NYC CityPass?

The total cost without the past is $215, but with the New York CityPASS it will cost you $126. That’s a savings of 42%!

That is almost $100 dollars towards food or shopping.

However, if you think you only want to see a few of these tourist attractions because of time limitations or you want to see other things New York has to offer in its’ 5 boroughs then I suggest the New York C3 Pass that gets you into 3 attractions for $82, about a 25% savings.

 So what are you waiting for and Book your New York CityPASS and get planning!

TOP SITES IN NEW YORK CITY FOR FIRST TIMERS

Statue of Liberty on a beautiful sunny day.
Statue of Liberty

If you are visiting NYC for your first time I find it unimaginable to not see certain iconic sites of the Big Apple. From the spots you will recognize from movies, to the classic NYC attractions that everyone knows, you got to make sure these are on your itinerary.

  1. Statue of Liberty – Touristy of course, but so if the Eiffel tower, Big Ben, and countless other things in the world. But you just have to go. The history is pretty amazing too so that is why I throw in Ellis Island if you are interested in the history of immigration to the United States.

There are two ways to see it Quick and Cheap or pay for it

Get up close and personal with Lady Liberty

If you want to actually go on the island, take a tour, and learn about the history of immigration to America and what it was like for early immigrants then I would pay for it. I am a history buff, and loved my experience. If you definitely want to do this then get the City Pass because it is your best option.

Budget Minded Siteseer – Take the Staten Island Ferry if you are short on time and on a budget. The ferry brings you super close to Statue of Liberty and there are no tickets because it is FREE!!! The ferry leaves every 30 minutes and takes about 25 minutes.

2. Museum Hopping

If you don’t already know, now you know. I love Museums. Especially as a solotraveler, I love the ability to spend as much or as little time at a Museum and not have to worry about anything else in the world.

I think museums are personal preference and based on your interests. Maybe you want something edgy like the Museum of Sex, or maybe something classic like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

While there are a limited amount of museums included in the City Pass, NYC has over 100 museums and many offer free museum hours that allow you to ‘pay what you wish’.

So check out some of the museums on offer and what days work for your itinerary here.  https://www.nyc-arts.org/collections/35/free-museum-days-or-pay-what-you-wish

Cost:

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET): $25 per person or FREE with NYC CityPASS
  • American Museum of Natural History: $28 per person or FREE with NYC CityPASS

3. 9/11 Memorial and Museum – I believe the world changed on 9/11 forever. This is an important part of New York’s past and it affected every New Yorker I know and also many people in Massachusetts where the planes originated from. In order for people visiting from abroad or other parts of the United States I think it is immensely important to visit the site where so many people lost their lives. Get their early the museum is super popular.

Also, head to the train station the Oculus, it resembles a dove taking flight and also is a mall!

Cost: $24 for adults ($20 for 13-17 year-old and $15 for 7-12 year-old) or FREE with NYC CityPASS

4. View from the Top

Did you even go to New York if you did not see it from the top? There are many roof top bars that you can check out great views of NYC, but there are two iconic places that I recommend for the first time traveler in NYC.

  1. Top of the Rock- is awesome because you get the classic NYC skyline with the Empire State Building included and also the Insta famous window view of NYC.
  2. Empire State Building is famous and historic since it was the tallest building in NYC for many years and is an iconic landmark in American Culture.

If these two are on your list or even one I would get the pass because they are quite expensive individually.

Cost: 

  • Top of the Rock Cost: $36 per adult ($30 per child) or FREE with NYC CityPASS
  • Top of Empire State Building Cost: $36 per adult ($31 per child) or FREE with NYC CityPASS
Top of the Rock view of Empire State building with binoculars.
Top of the Rock View of Empire State Building

Inexpensive and Free things to do in NYC!

5. Central Park – Is an oasis from the human zoo that is NYC. It is so huge you can get lost in it (which I have done) and there are things to do no matter the season. Want to go to a zoo? Want to ice skate? Or maybe check out the places of some famous movie and TV show scenes. Whatever, you fancy, whether that be nature, jogging, or taking some killer pics for Instagram this is the place for you.

6. Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO – If you want to get a cool view of Manhattan from the water, I recommend taking the East River Ferry that takes your from East 34th Street Manhattan to Brooklyn Bridge Park. This will give you amazing views of NYC from the river and only costs $2.75. After walking around the waterfront and taking as many photos as your heart desires head to Washington Street in DUMBO Neighborhood to get that iconic Instagram Shot.

Do you know what DUMBO stands for? Down Under the Manhattan Bridge. I thought it was a funny name, but it makes total sense. The DUMBO neighborhood is cute and quaint it makes me feel like I am away from the busy dirty streets of Manhattan. There were many shops, coffeeshops, and restaurants to explore. If you are a coffee connoisseur be sure to check out FEED or if you like some Tea and Cookies head over to One Girl Cookies. It is a much needed cup of warmth on a frigid winter day and will satisfy your sweet tooth.  

7. Highline and Chelsea Market – The Highline any season can be a great walk and place to take a moment away from the hustle and bustle of NYC streets. It is 1.5 mile walk that can be enjoyed and accessed near Chelsea Market. Chelsea Market is a huge marketplace that is both a shoppers and foodie paradise. Situated in the Meatpacking District and not far from the Hudson River, it receives 6 million eager foodies and shopaholics alike that come to one of the most talked about indoor food halls in the world. With over 35 food vendors, artisanal shops, and coffee and bake shops galore your stomach will leave satisfied since there is something for everyone.

8. Greenwich Village – While its’ days as a haven for artists and counter culture are behind the Village, it is still rich with culture and character more than ever. If you head there during the day play a game of chess in Washington Park and grab a bit at my favorite Falafel shop Mamoun’s. It is open almost 24/7 so you can pop by anytime you are hungry. Also, be sure to grab a slice at Joe’s pizza if where you can stand where celebrities once stood while you enjoy your slice of pizza. The nightlife here won’t break your bank account and is less pretentious then the higher end clubs in the Meatpacking district.

9. Grand Central Station – is regal and makes one feel nostalgia of times past. It is one of the busiest train stations in the world and one of the most photographed. If you didn’t come to Central Station to explore, did you even go to New York? If you can find it, head to The Campbell NYC for a bite or drink. It is a classy, well hidden gem in Grand Central Station that makes the wait for your train fly by.

10. Time Square – I mean it is super touristy, but how could you not go here if it is your first time to NYC. There is so much going on it is the prime spot for people watching and getting that epic picture to send home to momma.

11. Today Show – Are you an early riser? Then you should head over to Rockefeller Center to catch a live broadcast of the Today Show (my favorite morning show in the USA). The Today Show is a weekday entertainment/news show where you can sometimes catch a free concert or glimpse a celebrity. Above all, I like to be in the front row, so I get there at 6:15 am. However, you can still get a view of the show if you get there at 6:45 am. Al Roker the main anchor outside will often take a selfie and ask a few questions to the audience. In addition to possibly getting on TV, you may meet a celebrity. This may be your New York minute of fame!

12. Wander Wall Street/ Battery Park – I like to go here and wander purely for people watching and check out how busy New York is during business hours. It is nuts seeing droves of people in suits about to run you over if you get in their way. This is also where you can check out the Wall Street Bull and Fearless Girl Statues can be found for a picture. Fan of the Broadway Show Hamilton, well then check out where the actual man was buried at Trinity Church. Along with Alexander Hamilton, you can find many famous Americans throughout History buried here.

Below I tried to emulate the Fearless Girl power pose in Central Park.

13. Coney Island – In the winter a ghost town, in the summer good luck finding a spot on the beach. Coney Island is a NYC institution and has been featured in countless films and TV shows. It is refreshing to go there for a walk on the boardwalk and beach no matter the season. But in the summer Coney Island, which is actually not an island, but a peninsula plays hosts to concerts, events, and an amusement park!

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Why is the face of Coney Island so scary?

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14. Bushwick and Williamsburg – Bushwick is weird, but oh so worth the visit. It is another neighborhood of Brooklyn and seems to be where all artists and creatives live now that Williamsburg has become gentrified. What makes it so uncanny? Well while walking around you never know if a warehouse is functional or not. Walking around you find art galleries that double as yoga studios, bars, or coffeeshops hidden under a slew of street art. Definitely grittier then it’s trendy neighbor Williamsburg, it has a charm that will hopefully not be replaced by luxury condos.

Williamsburg now gentrified and a hipster’s haven is where all the artists used to come to drawn in by cheap rent. However today it is packed with rooftop bars, artisan coffee, breweries, and luxury high rises overlooking Manhattan. Don’t get me wrong I still love the place, but it is not cheap and it is extremely trendy so be warned when

Bushwick in Brooklyn

15. Harlem – Harlem is where many tourists usually expect less from, since many do not go. However, if you want to explore an area rich with cultural history this is the place for you. Moreover, Harlem was the heart and soul of Jazz and Soul music in the 1920s, head over to the historic Apollo theater where musicians such as Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, and Billie Holiday performed. The energy is still alive in Harlem. Then head over to the Malcom Shabbazz Harlem Market, where the controversial character and Civil Rights leader Malcom X delivered many speeches. After that, if you love Southern Food or Soul Food head to Harlem! Hands down the best Southern/Soul Food in the Northeast can be found here. Skip the trendy spots and head to Sylvia’s for Soul Food (eat where Presidents eat) or Amy Ruth’s for some good old southern comfort Chicken and Waffles.

Enjoy NYC Now!

Whether it is your first or second time in New York City, there is always something new to explore whether it is journeying to a new borough, checking out a unique cultural spot, or heading to a lesser known museum you will never be bored. I hope this short guide for first timers is helpful to you in order to narrow down the many things New York City has to offer. Leave a comment if you have any questions or need help planning your trip to New York City!

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