12 things you have to do | First time in NYC
Where to eat? What to do? What's worth seeing? Where should I not go? And so on and so forth. The first time always comes with challenges, especially when we're talking about New York City. We have written down the list of essential places that we know for sure are the right way to go!
#12 Eat a slice of pizza
If there's one thing New York City does better than anywhere in the world, it's pizza. And you can only say you've been to NYC if you've had at least one slice. But hopefully, more. Not only does New York have the best pizza in the world, but it also has the best variety. If you want classic Neapolitan - no problem. Get one of the three $5 pies from Keste. You want cheap? Go to one of the more than 50 slice joints for a dollar in the city - Percy's. Of course, you cannot go wrong with any famous places, but we still stand by our favorite slice in New York - the Nonna Maria from Bleecker Street Pizza.
#11 Go to a rooftop
Skyscrapers are a fundamental part of the New York City experience. And it's something that you need to get a closer look at. One can only appreciate how built up the Big Apple is from above. There are so many ways you can get this view. If you want the absolute best view in the city, we recommend Top of the Rock. Yes, it is touristy, and tickets start at $40 (although you can find discount codes on the internet sometimes), but the views there are breathtaking. If you don't mind spending the money, it's undoubtedly well worth it. A runner-up…One World Trades Observatory at $35. This is the highest view in the US. You will feel like you own a city. However, it's fully enclosed, which is why we're putting this as a runner-up to Top of the Rock.
If money is the issue, you've got a few other options. You can go to a rooftop bar and order a beer or a cocktail. 230 Fifth has the best rooftop views for sure. Plus, they allow children for Sunday brunch. Dear Irvings on Hudson is not too shabby either. If you're on a budget and want to get up there, a cheap option is to take the tram to Roosevelt Island from Manhattan.
#10 Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
You're going to do a lot of walking in NYC. But this is one iconic walk that everybody's gotta try at least once. It's already checked and known that it is a perfect time to come to Brooklyn Bridge early in the day. Unless you like huge crowds, then anytime during the day is fine. But there's something special about walking slightly over 1 mile from Manhattan to Brooklyn. First, the views are fantastic. Second, the photo opportunities are endless. And when you get to the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn on the other side, there's plenty to do. This is definitely something to take advantage of on your first trip to NYC.
#9 Visit Times Square AT NIGHT
When you think of New York City, Times Square literally may be the first image that comes to mind. While most locals shudder at the thought of Times Square, there's something surreal about the bright lights and craziness of arguably New York City's most famous destination. You've got to knock this out at least once. If you're a night owl, we recommend going right before midnight (11:57 to 12:00 am) to see the world's largest digital art display, which most have never even heard of.
#8 Explore Central Park
It's the most famous park in the world for a reason. Probably you've seen it in movies thousands of times, and now it's time to experience it in the flesh. There are a few fun things to do. Fishing in Harlem Meer for free or renting model sailboats. Don't skip out on the Conservatory Garden, from Strawberry Fields to having a picnic at Sheep's Meadow.
#7 Walk the Highline
It's crowded, it's touristy, but on your first trip to NYC, you've got to visit. You have probably heard of it by now, a 1.5-mile elevated park almost hidden from the rest of Manhattan. While it's crowded, the views are stunning. You could combine this with hopping around Chelsea Art Galleries on a Thursday night or visiting Chelsea Market nearby and eating some delicious tacos at Los Tacos Number 1.
#6 Wander Greenwich & West Village
This part of Manhattan doesn't give off that big city vibe at all. Instead, you'll feel more like a local, and there are so many cute shops to pop into. Try some coffee at Porto Rico Importers, relax in Washington Square Park, and enjoy tons of live music. This area also has some of the world's highest concentrations of pizza places. Three Lives & Co gives off a cozy vibe if you like bookstores. But if you ask, just wandering the West Village is about as relaxing as it gets in Manhattan. Because there's more than hectic enough to go around.
#5 See the Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty might be the most famous icon of New York City, and there are a few ways that you can see it. We honestly recommend NOT spending your money to go on a crowded boat just to see the statue a bit closer. Instead, take the free Staten Island Ferry, sit on the right side, and get a decent view from afar. However, if the Statue of Liberty is on your bucket list, you need to do it right, meaning climbing the statue and reaching the crown. So, the ticket costs $21.50, and you can only get it from the National Parks Service website. Fair warning: this sells out months in advance as they limit it to just 500 tickets per day. This is definitely one of the more unique things you could do in NYC.
#4 Roam Grand Central terminal
It's not very common to suggest visiting a transit hub, but Grand Central Terminal is an exception. It's more than a place to just catch a train. While nearly 1 million people walk through daily on their way to work, it's also a popular attraction because of its architecture and history. We can start by admiring the world's largest Tiffany Clock on the exterior or looking at the zodiac mural up above - one of the city's finest pieces of public art. Here's a fun one - have a cocktail at the Speakeasy-Esque Campbell Bar, which is straight out of the Gilded Age. If you're coming with someone, talk to your friend on the other side at the Whispering Gallery (spooky? yeah).
BONUS TIP: the basement food court has some really great options like Shake Shack and Magnolia Bakery.
#3 Visit a museum
Not only does New York City has some of the best-known museums worldwide but also some of the most diverse options of them. You could dedicate the entire day just to visiting museums in the Big Apple. There are the really famous ones, and you should hit up at least one: Moma (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) or the Natural History Museum. Of course, suppose you want to go off the beaten path. In that case, there's every type of museum imaginable, from City Reliquary, which houses all sorts of oddities in Brooklyn, to our favorite, the Transit Museum, where you can sit in old subway cars. But whatever your taste is, there's a museum for you.
#2 Go to a Broadway Show
We know tickets can be expensive, but we encourage you to experience the show at least once. If you want to save the most money, either visit one of the TKTS booths or use the app on your phone to see what shows have the biggest discounts. You could also buy directly from the app Today Tix. Believe us - the performers are absolutely world-class, and going to a Broadway Show is definitely one of the highlights of many people's trips.
#1 Visit the 9/11 Memorial
To honor the history of New York City, this is one Memorial we recommend you pay your respects to. It may seem like a sombering experience but honoring the many men, women, firefighters, first responders, and police officers that gave their lives that day is a requirement for visiting New York City. The Memorial Houses Twin reflects pools and is absolutely stunning. As an optional addition, you can see the Memorial Museum right next to the pools ($26 admission fee) to learn more about the tragic history of that day. Or visit the Tribute Museum located a few blocks away and take a guided tour with someone who actually lived through the experience ($25 admission fee).
No trip to NYC is fully completed without experiencing at least one of these places listed. And before you go, just one more thing.
PRO TIP: while NYC seems expensive, there are ways to save on hotels. Ratepunk is a free tool to help you compare hotel prices across major online booking websites to ensure you're paying the right amount.