New York city, also commonly known as the Big Apple is definitely one of the most anticipated travel destinations on anyone’s bucket list!
So the question is, how long should you spend in New York City on your first visit?
The key to this answer is to do your research! I researched and compiled a list of 10-15 top attractions that appealed to me the most/things I had always dreamt of doing in NYC. I then preferenced my top attractions, looked at prices and locations, and then drafted a 5 day NYC itinerary.
This is how I made the most of New York City in just five days as a first time visitor and travelling solo!
World Trade Center
This is the new World Trade Center and it is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere! For me it was enough to see it from the outside and take a picture, and to do that is absolutely free!
This memorial honours and remembers the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, as well as six people who died in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing. Each day, roses are placed on the names of those who celebrate a birthday. While I was visiting the memorial, the 9/11 museum had just opened and although very busy, it would be worth a look as well.
This park is worth a visit if you are walking on your way to see the Statue of Liberty and it is free! The picture below is of an American World War II memorial.
Staten Island Ferry
If you would like to save some money, and not pay around $30 USD, take the Staten Island Ferry for FREE! The ferry will stop at Ellis Island, and you can choose to stay on Ellis Island to explore or to get back on the ferry for a round trip back to New York!
From the ferry you can capture shots of Lady Liberty herself and also the famous New York City skyline. I was quite happy with the free views from aboard the ferry!
Wall St and the American Stock Exchange
If you are into your finance then this is for you! If you have recently watched the film ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey then it just may be worth your while to take a stroll down Wall Street.
Opened in 1883, the Brooklyn bridge is the oldest cable-stayed/suspension bridges in the United States. The steel-wire suspension bridge was the first of its kind to be constructed and spans across the East River connecting Brooklyn to the boroughs of Manhattan. I walked from the Staten Island Ferry/Battery Park to the Brooklyn Bridge and it took about 20 minutes. The Brooklyn bridge is an exquisite piece of architecture, and an absolute highlight in New York!
Opened in 1873, Central Park is one of the most visited urban parks in the United States, constructed by two landscapers and architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
It is also one of the first public landscaped parks in all of the United States. Central Park is a renowned National Historical landmark and one of my most favourite sights in New York City.
If you are a shopaholic or a fashionista, 5th Avenue is the perfect place for you! With limited time at my disposal (and not much of a shopper), I took a quick trip around 5th avenue taking in the exterior of the buildings and the various department stores! Shopaholics and fashionistas – you need at least 2 days here or more!
Empire State Building by Twilight
Yes, the line was long and yes, I should have pre-booked my ticket, but waiting in line was SO WORTH IT! Just feast your eyes on the spectacular views! This is something not to be missed if you are visiting New York City for the very first time.
Empire State Building by Daylight
There is merit in seeing a spectacular view both at Twilight and in Daylight, and these are the results!
Insider tip 1: You will need to buy two separate tickets for the Empire State Building if you plan on visiting both during the day and at night. There will also be people on the street trying to sell you tickets for the Empire State Building; I would advise that you book your tickets online and in advance instead! The ticket I bought was up to the 86th floor observation deck which costs $30 USD. If you are limited with time you may need to get an express ticket, and you can also get tickets right up to the top on the 102nd floor, but they will cost you more.
Insider tip 2: Get there early before it opens! This avoids the long lines, and once you get to the top hopefully there will be less tourists around so you may get some better photos without people in them!
Insider tip 3: You will go through security so make sure there is nothing sharp in your handbag/backpack.
Times Square by Daylight
Times Square speaks for itself! I loved it because I am a huge fan of Broadway but it is also just as exciting for the shops and restaurants that are around! The fact that the whole place is lit up like a Christmas tree is out of this world!
Insider tip: Take an amazing panoramic photo of all of Times Square from the top of the famous red stairs! It is also fun to get a photo taken of yourself on the stairs as well! Just be aware that the stairs are full of tourists all the time so it’s very busy!
Being a huge Disney fan I loved walking into the Disney Store! It is full of Disney merchandise (they have the most awesome t-shirts there so make sure you buy one) and there is also a Disney castle inside and other Disney related products and decor! It is definitely worth it if you are a Disney fan!
Toys ‘R’ Us
Visit the Toys r us store! There is the ferris wheel you can ride on (pictured below), plus merchandise galore! There are products for children of all ages including Stars Wars, Hot Wheels, Barbie and Lego!
If you are a chocolate lover and you love all things sweet (just like me!) then make a visit here! Make sure you grab a bag and fill it up with all the various types of mnms! There are mint, peanut, normal chocolate, dark chocolate mnms and hundreds more!
Depending on the weight of your bag is how much it will cost, so I just took a bit of everything! This picture (left) shows just one area of the mnm store! There is an upstairs part as well with more mnms! You may be lucky enough to get your picture taken with the red mnm himself (which is also free I might add!).
Also a must visit for you chocaholics out there! Additionally they sell Reeses’ chocolate products as well. An American favourite that I would highly recommend to try is Reeses’ peanut butter cups. They taste amazing!
Times Square by Twilight
After being amazed by Times Square during daylight, I couldn’t help myself and went back for more so I could get some twilight shots! A must do if you’re an avid photographer! These photos were taken at the top of the famous red stairs.
Chicago the musical
I went to the red TKTs box and bought my first discounted broadway show ticket to Chicago the musical! Check out my post on 3 Ways To Book Broadway
Radio City Music Hall
I didn’t go inside Radio City Hall, but seeing the outside was enough for me to capture a great photo!
Insider tip: Radio City Hall is a very short walking distance (around 2mins) to the Rockefeller Centre where you can go to the Top of the Rock.
This was my lunch pit stop while roaming New York! The Rockefeller centre is a beautiful place; the building inside is fancy and worth a look, while outside is just as beautiful with gardens of bright flowers and water fountains, plus the site of the famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree (which is featured in the movie Home Alone 2: Lost in New York).
If you visit the Rockefeller centre during Autumn (fall) and Winter they have Ice-skating at The Rockefeller Centre Ice rink which attracts thousands of visitors each year!
Grand Central Station
The main transport hub of New York City. It is the largest one in the world by number of platforms (a grand total of 67 platforms with 100+ rail tracks). Grand Central Terminal has been featured in many blockbuster movies including the highly acclaimed Alfred Hitchcock film ‘North by North West’, and more recently, ‘Friends with Benefits’ starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis.
The Chrysler Building was originally the world’s tallest building, until the Empire State Building opened in 1931. However, the Chrysler Building remains as the tallest brick building in the world and a classic example of Art Deco architecture.
Insider tip 1: You can get amazing views (like this picture below) from where you are standing outside Grand Central Station, so you can check these two off the list in one day!
Insider tip 2: You cannot go inside the Chrysler building, only in the lobby unless you are part of a business in the building.
New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is the second largest library in the United States with nearly 53 million items! The library building in itself is a sight to see! Going inside is free and if you are lucky like I was, you may stumble across an exhibition. There was an exhibition about the making and development of children’s books when I was there (being a primary school teacher anything related to children’s books is exciting!).
The Phantom of the Opera
This picture below is the stage setting for the musical The Phantom of the Opera! The Phantom of the Opera is one of the longest running musicals on broadway, running for just over 25 years. This was my second discounted musical and it was an incredible show! The stage setup, the music, the costumes, the voices and so much more were amazing! I highly recommend you see it!
Top of the Rock by Twilight
This is the attraction where you get views of the famous Empire State Building! The Top of the Rock is the top of the Rockefeller centre and it is absolutely stunning! It is definitely worth going up for twlight and also during daylight hours.
Insider tip 1: At this attraction you can buy a “Sun and Stars” ticket which entitles you to two visits up to the Top of the Rock, one during the day and one at night.
Insider tip 2: Make sure if going during the day first, get there early before it opens! Be aware that the tickets for the Top of the Rock are timed! I purchased my Sun and Stars ticket (costs $42 USD) at the end of my sightseeing day (around 5pm), but nearly all the night sessions were taken until about 10:30pm at night (which is when I ended up going to the top) and the times for the next day were also filling up as well. This is a very popular attraction and it is guaranteed to be busy so the times will so super quick, so book in online and in advance if you can and be organised!
Top of the Rock by Daylight
The Top of the Rock for a lot of tourists is favoured more than the Empire State Building for these reasons:
1. You can see central park from the top
2. You can get great views of the Empire State Building
3. Ticket options: As I mentioned above, the ‘Sun and Stars’ ticket is a great option if wanting to see both.
I loved both the Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building, so it is up to you to decide which one (or maybe both) appeals to you!
Museum of Modern Art
Art fans this is a must see! The Museum of Modern Art was definitely my favourite art museum for these reasons:
1. It is smaller than other museums so you could probably take in at least 80% of the museum within a couple of hours.
2. It houses some of my favourite artists and famous paintings by Andy Warhol, Monet (a great collection) and Vincent Van Gogh.
3. The museum displays both modern and contemporary art featuring a variety of art mediums such as painting, drawing, photography, electronic media, film, sculpture and prints.
If you are not quite an art or museum fan I highly recommend you visit the Museum of Modern Art and give it a go as it has something for everyone; whether you are interested in paintings from famous artists or more contemporary art concepts communicated through film or photography, this museum is not to be missed! If you do have limited time in New York City and you do want to see at least one art museum, this is the one!
Yes, I went back for a second trip to Central Park!
Some random facts about Central Park:
1. The park takes up roughly 843 acres of land, which is roughly 16 billion New York apartments.
Insider tip: As you can see above, never underestimate the size of Central Park! It is huge! I walked around Central Park for 3 hours (the first time) and as you can see I needed a second trip! (I still did not get to see the whole park).
2. The park is larger than the principality of Monaco.
3. The park has over 9,000 wooden benches.
Central Park also houses many key attractions, special places and movie locations that caught my interest! So stay tuned for my post on hidden gems in Central Park!
Check out my post ’10 Hidden Gems in Central Park’ for a list of attractions and sights to see in the park!
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan museum of Art (know as MET for short) is the largest art museum in the United States and one of ten largest in the world! Containing more than two million permanent works over seventeen departments, the MET is a very popular attraction in New York. I took a short visit of a few hours to see the MET and time was of the essence! I prioritised the departments based on what I wanted to see and went for it! Below are a few of my favourites!
Insider tip: The general admission price to visit the MET is $25 USD, you do not have to pay that admission price. In a lot of museums this price is “recommended admission”. I asked if I could make a donation to the museum and donated $1 USD.
Matilda the musical
My final discounted musical that I attended! The story of Matilda first published in 1988 by the highly acclaimed author Roald Dahl was made into a feature film in 1996 and as of 2011, a phenomenal stage production! If you have young children and you are travelling in New York together I highly recommend you see this musical! The children in this musical practically run it, they remember all their lines, staging and cues, and it is fabulously written. Go see it!
Check out my post: 4 Broadway Shows You Need To See in NYC
When was your very first trip to New York City? and, What were some of the sights and attractions that you visited (and would recommend) which I missed the first time?
Leave a comment below!
I hope this post has given you some practical, insightful and informative tips on your first visit to New York City!
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