So you’re going to New York City for the first time but what to see and do. The chances are you are visiting on a city break and only have a few days, so don’t try and do everything. You will fall in love with the place and we’re sure this will be your first of many trips.
I know the hipsters will say, ‘forget the tourist attractions, you must visit the fruitarian cafe in Brooklyn or some other dull coffee shop’. Ignore those comments, you can do those on your fifth trip. When you do visit a city for the first time you do want to see the iconic sights, after all, that is why the city is famous in the first place. Here is a very interesting article from the Telegraph relating to this.
For the first trip, we will look at the most famous of New York’s five boroughs, Manhattan. Its sky scrappers, avenues of yellow taxis and the bright lights of Broadway are the images that probably come to mind and yes, it is like that. From the moment you step out, these sights and the frantic soundtrack of the traffic all seem strangely familiar.
In no particular order here are our highlights and some useful tips for the first time visitor to NYC.
1. The Rockefeller Center
Situated between 48th and 51st streets, just off Fifth Avenue is the Art Deco Rockefeller Center. Take a trip to the Top of the Rock observation deck on the 70th floor to get that perfect view of the city. We prefer this view than the nearby Empire State Building because it is often not as busy, the 360-degree views are stunning and as you are not on top of the Empire State Building you get great views of it.
Although not quite as busy as the Empire State Building it does get very busy at certain times of the year so make sure you book your tickets online. As there are pre-show videos, an obligatory photograph and a limited number of lifts it can still take quite a long time to get to the top. However, once you’re there you can spend as long as you like and it is quite spacious.
2. Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street, as seen in so many films including The Fisher King, North by Northwest and Men in Black. We love the scene in The Fisher King when the commuters and the concourse transform into a ballroom dance. It is far better than most stations with its unmistakable clock and over 90 shops & restaurants. It was nearly lost to the developers in the 60’s, luckily it avoided the fate of Penn Station, they made a right ugly mess of that.
As I was corrected on, it is a terminal and not a station as it is the final stop. Obviously, avoid the morning and evening rush hours so you can meander without getting in the way of tired, short-tempered New Yorkers.
3. One World Trade Center And The National September 11 Memorial
In the shadow of the gleaming new tower of One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) is the 911 Memorial, two reflecting pools sit in the footprints of the Twin Towers. If you feel up to it, visit the 911 Memorial. It poignantly displays artefacts, personal items and recordings from the events of 2001. We used a New York CityPASS to bypass the queues and save money on admission, and it’s well worth considering if you are taking in a few of New York’s main attractions.
4. Walk The Brooklyn Bridge
Only 15 minutes walk from the One World Trade Center is the magnificent 19th century Brooklyn Bridge looking just like it does in all those Ikea posters. The central walkway sits above the roadway and can be narrow in parts as you have to share it with cyclists. Like so many city cyclists they are sometimes not the most pleasant of individuals especially if you step out of the pedestrian zone by a few millimetres.
If the weather is fine then try to walk the complete length of the bridge to Brooklyn, you get some great views of Lower Manhattan.
5. Central Park
No longer the rubbish strewn, graffiti-tagged park of the 70’s and 80’s, Central Park is now a beautiful sanctuary of peace away from the stress of the city. Busking violinists have replaced the drug dealers.
6. The American Museum of Natural History
The impressively large American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It’s a perfect place to spend the day especially if the weather isn’t so good. What is unusual are the number of dioramas showing landscapes and animals from around the year and classic scenes from history. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay until closing time to see if it all came to life as in ‘Night at the Museum’. We did download their app which does have a ‘Night at the Museum’ tour which takes you around all the characters featured in the film including Rexy the T-Rex, Dexter the monkey and of course “Dum Dum’ the Easter Island head.
7. The High Line
The High Line is a one and a half mile walkway and park on an old converted elevated railroad stretching from the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, they still have sections of the old track alongside the walkway. Walking the High Line is a perfect thing to do on a sunny afternoon, relax and watch the pandemonium of the New York rush hour streets unfold below you.
Times Square: You must visit at night to get the full experience of Times Square, very touristy and full of aggressive Elmos but definitely a ‘must visit’, well at least for 20 minutes.
Statue of Liberty: Not quite as big as you probably imagine but it is THE symbol of NYC and America. One of the best ways to see it is from the free Staten Island Ferry which runs every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day from the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan.
Metropolitan Museum of Art: With over 2 million works of art we’re sure you’ll find something you like. It houses the ancient Egyptian papyrus, Imhotep’s Book of the Dead, it’s worth visiting just for this.
Broadway Shows: Although we’re not big fans of musicals, usually too much overacting and shouty songs, there are some we are partial to. Even if you are not a big fan you must try a night out on Broadway, the home of musicals.
Do you have any tips for the first time visitor to New York or if you ware visiting soon, what are you most looking forward to? Let us know below.
Read more: Should you visit New York in the winter?