Must-see places on a first trip to New York

We are André and Mariana, a couple of part-time travelers. Our first adventure was in 2016 and we haven’t stopped since. Find out more

“New York is such a big city, how am I going to decide what to visit for my first time in the Big  Apple?” It’s a question on almost everyone’s mind when planning their first trip to New York City. It can be quite exciting, but at the same time a little challenging — we know, we’ve been there too. Don’t worry, we’ll help you get started with this guide. 

Start by taking into account that it is a large city and there are many emblematic points to visit, so reserve a few days (5 to 7) to get to know and absorb life in Manhattan and New York City’s other boroughs.

Take a note of these 10 must-see atractions that have to feature in your first trip and will make your visit to NY an unforgettable experience.

Table of Contents

Central Park – free

Lake in Central Park on a sunny day - NYC
Lake in Central Park on a sunny day - NYC

If you’re looking for a quiet place that allows you to relax and feel like you’ve left the chaos of New York for a minute, the city’s “lungs” is a great option to recharge your batteries. The park is quite extensive and has several points of interest that deserve a visit. Start by going up to the famous Umpire Rock for a photo framed with the towering buildings on the park’s edge.

Head to the famous Bethesda Terrace and its well-known two-story plaza and arcade, where you can sit and contemplate your surroundings.  Another favorite spot in Central Park is the Bow Bridge, from where you have one of the most beautiful views of the lake. The best thing is to reserve a sunny afternoon to  explore the rest of the area and observe the daily life of New Yorkers as well as of the park’s cutest residents: the squirrels.

American Museum of Natural History

Entrance area of the American Museum of Natural History, NYC
Entrance area of the American Museum of Natural History, NYC

World renowned for its exhibitions and cinematic representation (who doesn’t remember the movie Night At The  Museum?), the museum has several permanent exhibitions related to biodiversity, the  environment, the Universe and, of course, the famous collection of fossils that takes us  back to the time of the dinosaurs. It is a great attraction to entertain both kids and adults. If you have a rainy day, you already know the perfect plan. Purchase your tickets online in advance to skip the ticket line, or through a combined attractions pass.

5th Avenue – free

Entrance area of the American Museum of Natural History, NYC
St Patrick's Cathedral on the Fifth Avenue, NYC

The most famous street in the city and one of the most important in terms of commerce, it is about 10 km long and has numerous prestigious and luxury stores. In addition, as you walk along 5th Avenue you will find some of the most iconic points of interest in the city, including Central Park, the Guggenheim Museum, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building, and the Flatiron Building. It is worth starting  the route near the latter or at Washington Square Park, then getting lost in the shop windows and monuments that appear as you make your way north.

Observatory decks

The Edge Observatory - Helicopter View, NYC
The Edge Observatory - Helicopter View, NYC

Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory, Edge, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt — in New York there is an observatory-topped skyscraper for all tastes, so it’s a must to include at least one in your itinerary. On our first trip, we chose two of the most famous: the Empire State  Building, which we consider the most iconic in the city and the stage we chose to watch the sunset, and the One World Observatory, for the experience from the elevator show and the 360-degree views of New York City from the 100th floor.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

The Museum of Modern Art - Inside View, NYC
The Museum of Modern Art - Inside View, NYC

Home to works by artists such as Van Gogh, Warhol, Picasso, Magritte, Dalí, Mondrian, and Kandinsky, this famous museum houses some of the most famous artworks in th world. Due to the excellence of the art represented in the museum, we decided that this would have to be one of the must see places on our first trip to New York and we recommend that you do the same. Adult tickets are $25, with concessions for students, or you can buy tickets as part of one of the city’s attractions passes.

Grand Central Terminal – free

Grand Central Terminal view inside
Grand Central Terminal view inside

Visiting Grand Central Terminal comes with an instant feeling of both awe and déjà vu, due to its prominence in film, TV, and photography. In addition to the fabulous architecture and unique constellation ceiling, it has numerous shops and restaurants. Downstairs, next to the Oyster Bar, you will find one of Grand Central’s most amazing secrets: the Whispering Gallery. For this experience, two people are needed: stand in opposite corners of the arched entrance and speak facing the wall — you will be able to hear each other normally, as if you were speaking facing each other and not meters away across a crowded NYC station. You really have to try it to believe it!

Times Square – free

The Times Square at night - New York City
The Times Square at night - New York City

For us, the heart of New York City, and the hallmark of this destination. Home to several shops, theaters, and restaurants, Times Square is known for its bright billboards and endless advertisements. During the day you can already have a good perception of the space, but it is at night that it takes on a whole new life: hundreds of people gather to see street artists and admire the vibrant light show of the square. The typical sounds of music, people, horns, and sirens add to the chaotic soundtrack.

9/11 Memorial and Museum

The 9/11 Memorial, New York City
The 9/11 Memorial, New York City

On the site where the Twin Towers once stood, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum aims to commemorate the victims and survivors of the 9/11 attacks through poignant memorials and exhibitions with various artifacts and unpublished images of the event that changed America. The 9/11 Memorial, two giant reflecting pools in the footprint of each tower surrounded by the names of each victim, is free of charge and is open to the public daily from 10 AM  to 5 PM. Entry tickets to the adjacent museum can be purchased online or in person, or you can do like us and choose it as one of the attractions included in one of the city passes. It’s a hard-hitting but very enriching experience and that is why we believe that it cannot be left out of any NY itinerary.

Brooklyn Bridge – free

The Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, New York City
The Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, New York City

A visit to NY cannot be complete without the experience of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and seeing the skyscrapers of Manhattan behind us. In addition, it’s in this famous tourist spot that souvenirs are sold at very affordable prices  – you can find several magnets and keyrings for $1. After the crossing and as soon as  you arrive at the Brooklyn side, start by looking for the famously Instagrammable spot in DUMBO, on Washington Street, with the Manhattan Bridge framed between the buildings. This spot is usually crowded with tourists, so visiting early is worth the effort for the perfect snap.  A little further on, you can also find the Empire Fulton Ferry, a riverside park with one of the best and most beautiful views of the Manhattan skyline — sit back and enjoy the scenery.

See the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry – free

Lady Liberty and city view from the ferry, NYC
Lady Liberty and city view from the ferry, NYC

If you decide to take the Staten Island Ferry from the Whitehall Ferry Terminal (also known as the South Ferry) in Manhattan, you get a river cruise, a great view of the city’s most famous monument, and the Lower Manhattan skyline, all for free! The ferry operates 24/7 and leaves around every 30 minutes during the day, passing very close to the Statue of Liberty. Once you arrive at Staten Island, one of New York City’s five boroughs, either hop back aboard the ferry for the return trip, or, if you have room in your luggage, check out the Empire Outlet Mall right next to the terminal for cut-price brands like Levi’s, Guess, Columbia, and Gap.

We hope that this guide will help you decide what to do in New York City so that you can enjoy visiting one of the most famous cities in the world to the fullest. See you at the next destination!

We are André and Mariana, a couple of part-time travelers. Our first adventure was in 2016 and we haven’t stopped since. We’ve always wanted to see as much of the world as possible and our purpose is to show, especially to people our age, that it is possible to travel the world without being rich! Although we are a couple, we have different tastes and that’s why we keep our Instagram accounts separate (Andre and Mariana). Stop by to see where we’ve been and where we’re going!

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