New York City North America

New York City in 5 days: An Itinerary For First Time Visitors

By on November 8, 2014

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!

Day 1

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!

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9/11 Memorial

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.

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Battery Park

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.

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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!

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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.

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Brooklyn Bridge

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!

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Central Park

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.

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5th Avenue

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!

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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.

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Day 2

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.

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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!

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Disney Store

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!

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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!

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M&M Store

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!).

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Hersheys

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!

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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.

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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

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Day 3

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.

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Rockefeller Center

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!

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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.

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Chrysler Building

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.

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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!).

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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!

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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!

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Day 4

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!

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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!

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Day 5

Central Park

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!

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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.

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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

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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!

For more travel updates, adventures, stories and tips…

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26 Comments
  1. Jessica

    May 23, 2015

    Hi there, I found you on Facebook from one of the travel groups. Perfect timing since I am heading back to NYC next week and browsing for things to do. Thanks for the tip about the Top of the Rock day and night ticket. I might not get to do it this time, but it’s good to know for the future. 🙂

    • Bec

      May 24, 2015

      That’s so exciting! I am dying to go back to NYC for a second time! Glad you found the tips helpful! 🙂

  2. Zita

    May 23, 2015

    I am so glad you posted this!!! I have 5 days in NYC next month and I may just steal your itinerary!!! Did you get a New York City Pass?

    • Bec

      May 24, 2015

      I am so glad you found it helpful! Feel free to steal it! I hope you have an amazing time in New York City! No, I actually didn’t buy a New York City Pass! I didn’t really look into it, if it has a lot of the things you want to see, it may be well worth it to purchase!

  3. Thiago Odorizzi

    October 31, 2015

    Hi, I’m from Brazil and I’d like to know how did you get by this places? By taxi or by subway? Thanks

    • Bec

      October 31, 2015

      Hi! Thanks for your comment! Most of these places I would either walk or I would take the subway 🙂

  4. Thiago Odorizzi

    November 2, 2015

    Hello, it’s me again. Did you buy the New York pass? Your page is wonderful. It helped me a lot!

    • Bec

      November 2, 2015

      Hi! I actually didn’t buy the New York Pass, but it does cover a lot of attractions in New York. It really depends on what you want to see as to whether it would be good value for you. I suggest looking at the pass and work out how much it is to purchase, and look at what it offers and add up the costs and see if it matches or is more than the purchase price, because then you’ll know whether you’re saving some money! I’m glad you found my page helpful, and this post in particular! Thanks for the feedback! Any other questions please ask!

  5. Rad

    November 28, 2015

    Great photos! It would be great to have integrated food suggestions 🙂

    • Bec

      November 29, 2015

      Thanks! Yeah, the reason for that is I decided to save some money on some food! Next time I’m in New York would love to sample the local eats! (and write a post about it :P)

  6. angie

    November 29, 2015

    funny how your itinerary can be so different from one person to the next,,,,4 days for me and my daughter- City pass is the way to go!!! it pays for itself!! empire state building, top of the rock,(beautiful) city cruise at night-awesome- MOMA, grand Central, an NHL game at Madison Square Garden, the museum of natural history, times square, China Town(2x) and the highline park….went in early March- the weather was not the best but NO LINES ANYWHERE!!!! Oh, and the subway is a total Must!!! Stay in Manhattan, and you can se a ton of stuff in a short time….liked your post-fun to compare.

    • Bec

      November 29, 2015

      Yeah, it is so cool to see everyone’s different itineraries from different cities around the world! You guys had a great itinerary, you saw a lot of New York! The city cruise at night would have been so beautiful! I loved the MOMA, my favourite museum and next time I’m in New York I am dying to do the museum of Natural History and the highline 🙂 I was in New York mid-May and the weather was perfect! Thanks for taking the time to read my post!

  7. Tammi

    February 12, 2016

    I visited NYC in October 2014 and I have a trip planned this April. I would recommend Chinatown, Little Italy, ground zero and the historic churches. Also The Today Show was lots of fun. Shows like that are FREE and the hosts are really nice! There are sooooo many things to do you could never see it all. Top of the Rock was my FAVORITE part of the trip.

    • Bec

      February 12, 2016

      I loved top of the rock too 😛 Definitely a highlight of my trip to New York! Thanks so much for your recommendations! I would love to visit all of those parts of NYC on my second trip back, also including the New York High Line and the Flatiron building! I definitely need to spend longer in NYC on my second trip, 5 days just wasn’t enough the first time around! 🙂

  8. Crystal

    April 12, 2016

    Greatly informative post! I visited NYC for the first time in August 2015, and I’m already planning the next trip back. One of the (surprisingly) beneficial parts of our trip was a Big Bus Tours hop on/hop off pass. We did the 2 day pass which is literal 48 hour pass, so it can actually cover 3 days depending on what time you do your first activity. I was afraid it would be too “touristy” but I found that I loved getting to see places as I moved around and learning little random facts (like there was actually a wooden wall on Wall Street and you can still see the timber foundations in places). Loved your day and night photos from the ESB and Top of the Rock!

    • Bec

      April 19, 2016

      Thanks so much Crystal! I am glad you found my post informative! I absolutely loved my first time in NYC and I have already booked my trip back there with new husband (we are getting married in August) and we will be there for Christmas! So excited to see what NYC will look like in Winter time 🙂 It’s going to be amazing! Glad you liked my photos! I got around NYC by just walking A LOT, and often taking the subway, was a great way to take in the city!

  9. Roxanne Lucero

    June 10, 2016

    Great tips! I love reading travel blogs. As a first timer in NYC last year, I was able to come up with my itinerary by following the tips and suggestions from several travel blogs. They were very useful specially for travelers who are on a budget. I visited some museums, Rockefeller Center and the High Line. I also watched free concert at Central Park after checking out the NYC Parks website. By the way, I found a website listing free events in New York which is great because I didn’t have much of a budget. I think FreeEventFinder.com might be useful to people also visiting New York who are looking for free things to do.

    • Bec

      June 12, 2016

      Thanks so much! I am so glad you have gone through other travel blogs to get tips and advice! It is seriously one of the best ways to arrange your travel itinerary and plans! I read other travel blogs too for advice, and writing my own travel blog I have been lucky enough to get connected with other bloggers who offer awesome tips and advice! Your tips are great too! I am making a second trip back to New York in December for Christmas so I am very excited to plan a Winter itinerary!! 🙂

  10. Fritzy Jane

    July 13, 2016

    Hello! Found your blog just in time for my travel to New York. It’s going to be my first time and I have your itinerary on my list. Can’t wait to enjoy the city as much as you did! Thanks for sharing! ^_^

    • Bec

      July 13, 2016

      That’s so great you’ve found my itinerary useful! I hope you have the best trip to New York City! I am sure you will enjoy every moment that you are there! I am heading back there myself at the end of the year and I can’t wait to explore New York in the Winter 🙂

  11. Subhajit Dey

    September 3, 2016

    Really loved your website. Appreciate the efforts you’ve put in. It clearly shows your passion. Can you tell me which camera did you use to capture these amazing photographs? Is it the same one you used for both NYC and Australia? Did you use a professional photographer? I only have one minor issue with your website. I am a Google Chrome user and sometimes while scrolling up or down the page if I click anywhere (not necessarily on a link), it would open all sorts of pages.

    • Bec

      September 23, 2016

      Hi Subhajit, Thank you so much for your comment. It’s really cool to know that people are seeing my passion for travelling through my writing! With regards to cameras, I used to use a point and shoot type camera for my photos in NYC (my earlier travels), and as of last year I purchased a Canon 6D, and have been photo taking overseas and around Australia; so you’ll see a mixture of both throughout my photographs. Im heading to NYC for christmas so hopefully I can capture some more high quality photos to add to my blog. Thanks for letting me know about google chrome (I’m a safari user myself) as I wasn’t aware! That will be one of the things I add to my list of fixes for my blog. I will try my best to get that fixed for you and for other readers using Google chrome web browser.

  12. KPC

    November 3, 2016

    Have you completed your NYC winter itinerary yet; if so, is it available online? I’m going for the first time Dec. 8-13 and would love to know what you consider “musts”! Thanks for all the great info.

    • Bec

      November 7, 2016

      I haven’t yet completed my NYC Winter itinerary yet! I am visiting New York for Christmas this year from 24th December to 29th December, so I am still researching on the stuff we want to see during this time! Some of the things I consider a must for NYC Winter (from what I have been researching recently) is attend the Radio City Music Spectacular (the Rockettes), go ice skating in Bryant park (a park much less crowded than the rockefeller ice skating rink), go to broadway and see a few shows, see the rockefeller christmas tree, walk through a wintery central park, go to Saks 5th Avenue christmas light show, see all the christmas decorations in 5th avenue store including macys. We are also thinking of going to the one world observatory for amazing views over the city as last time I was in NYC it was just being built. So many things to see and do; my husband will be interested in finding cool food places; want to find the best hot chocolate, best fondue and go to a place and get pizza by the slice. Hope some of these suggestions are helpful! Happy planning and have a wonderful trip to NYC 🙂

  13. Helen

    November 16, 2016

    Hi Bec, I am taking my son to NY for Christmas & New Year as his 21st birthday present. It is his first trip OS and my first to USA. We are both so excited. For me the most challenging thing is to know which attractions to group together on any particular day. Mainly as I am unsure of how much time I should allow for each place. Any advice as to how to plan our time would be gratefully received. We are in NY for 14 nights, but have a day trip planned for Niagara Falls.
    Love your blog.
    Kind regards
    Helen
    Ps. Also a passionate primary school teacher ( in Adelaide)

    • Bec

      November 18, 2016

      Hi Helen, so great to meet another school teacher! I have just finished reports for the end of school term with four weeks to go until holidays! I am actually heading to NYC myself with my husband for Christmas and we are very excited also!

      Usually my way around what attractions/sights to see and when to see them on which day is I look on Google maps and plot all the things I want to see before going on the trip (when you type in the Empire state building into Google maps for example, you can just tap on the information and tap “save”, and it saves as a yellow star on the map) so you can get an idea of where everything is approximately.

      Alternatively, if you look at my Summer itinerary, all the things I did on each day are actually really close to each other (walking distance and/or you can ride the subway) and I planned that out through plotting the points on the google maps and then writing a list on paper in order of which I wanted to see them. I would allow at least 1 hour+ for things like the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock (by the time you get your ticket, line up, go through security and see the view). Christmas and new years in NYC is going to be pretty busy so other attractions such as Rockefeller centre, 5th avenue you’ll need more time than you would in Summer as there is the christmas tree and christmas decorations everyone is looking at.

      With December being Winter in NYC, keep in mind you have daylight until about 5-5:30pm in which to see things. One thing you could do is try to go up the empire state building around that time, so you get a glimpse of daylight hours and then also you can get the sunset and night time views without paying for two tickets. With the Top of the Rock on the other hand, you need to time it well; I would go and purchase your ticket at the beginning of the day so you can get a good time to go up during the day, and also if you want to go up during the day and at night get a sun and stars ticket early in the day so you have more times to choose from (tickets are timed).

      After the sun goes down, you can see things like Times Square all lit up, and go to a broadway show etc, things like that. Be aware there won’t be any broadway shows on Christmas day at all. 14 nights it a great first way to explore a new city, especially New York, so you will have plenty of time to explore and get around! My itinerary I wrote on my blog was for 5 days and I managed to cram quite a lot in! My husband and I will be exploring NYC for around 5 days around christmas time and we plan to cram in as much as we can (including christmas related sights/activities). After returning to Sydney, I’ll be putting together an itinerary for 5 days in New York for the Winter edition!

      I hope I have helped you with your planning and timing; depending on what you want to see you may not be able to see absolutely everything, but you have 14 nights which is a great amount of time to explore. Please let me know or email me at bec@theworldasbecseesit.com if you have any other questions/queries about your trip that you would like any assistance with. Have a wonderful trip to NYC this Christmas and happy birthday to your son!

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Bec
Sydney, AUS

Welcome to The World As Bec Sees It, a travel blog about a Sydney school teacher who believes you can have the best of both worlds; a career that you love AND the time to travel the world!

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