America / travel

7 Top Things you must do on your first trip to New York

top of the rock

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Let me just start by saying that New York City is special, it glitters and captivates you then fully consumes you. It can be busy, it can be dirty and sometimes it can even be harsh, but it still holds a magic that keeps you coming back for more, it is a charm that I have not felt be replicated by another city I have visited yet.

I am fortunate enough to have visited the big apple three times now and I still feel like I have only brushed the surface of everything this place has to offer. For your first time visiting the city, I recommend fully immersing yourself into tourist mode taking in the top attractions ( I love NY t-shirt is optional).

Read Also:
How to visit New York on a tight budget
4 days in New York – How much does it cost?

Visiting New York on a Budget - New York street Yellow Taxi

Times Square

Times Square is iconic and is actually pretty hard to avoid, it is also a different experience during the day than to at night, so go at various times on your trip. Ensure you visit the massive Toys’R’us complete with an indoor Ferris wheel, eat at Bubba Gump’s and buy reduced Broadway show tickets.

Purchase a New York Pass

New York is a big city and there are lots of fun things to do and see. It can be challenging to plan an itinerary and determine which attractions to spend your money on.

Getting the best value for money is my #1 factor when planning a trip and the New York Pass was rated the number 1 New York tourist pass by Trip Advisor. They’re also recommended by Expedia and the New York Pass currently has a TrustScore of 4.4/5 on Trust Pilot.

With the New York Pass, you can save time, money, and enjoy stress-free sightseeing to New Yorks’ top attractions.

The New York All-inclusive pass is a pre-paid sightseeing card which gives you FREE entry to the city’s top tourist attractions (over 100), including entrance to the Top of the Rock, Empire State Building, 9/11 Memorial & Museum and a Marvel & DC Superheroes Walking Tour.

The pass also features skip-the-line access – which is fantastic during the busier periods and for those short on time in New York City. 

How To Get A New York Pass And Save Money:

Choose which pass duration you want to buy (1 – 10 day). Click here to purchase your New York Pass in advance and access further discounts. Redeem your voucher and go sightseeing!

Statue of Liberty

Situated on Liberty Island is the beautiful Lady Liberty, a symbol of freedom and democracy. There are various tours available on Liberty and Ellis island all of the varying costs, an option is available to climb to the top and look out of her crown (booking in advance recommended for this). However every time I have always ridden the free Staten Island ferry, which gives you amazing views of the Statue of Liberty and great for photo opportunities (you will not get to go on to Liberty Island on this ferry).

Here are some more New York Tours from Get Your Guide which all have great reviews and prices.  Generally, I book all my tours in advance when I have limited time in a city this helps to ensure I get a place on the tour I want as well as paying the best price: 

Ground Zero

Over my different trips to New York, I have seen ground zero at various stages, but each time has brought an overwhelming feeling of sadness.

Despite this I still feel everyone should visit, it is an important piece of American and world history which has gone on to shape our current world situation, it just evokes so many emotions and seeing the names of all lives lost that day really puts everything into perspective.

You will also see so many people posing happily by the memorial fountain for family photos, which personally I cannot understand but each to their own.

Empire State or The Top of the Rock?

I personally prefer the Top of the Rock for the views and experience as a whole but the Empire State Building is iconic and makes you feel like you are in the film Elf.

If you have the money available, I would say experience the Top of the Rock during the day and then visit the Empire State Building at night-time, but this can get expensive ($32 each).

I would also recommend booking in advance or you might end up queuing a very long time, these are two of the busiest attractions in New York.

You can book your tickets in advance here:

Pro Tip: If you are considering booking a swamp tour as well as some of the other attractions mentioned here then you will most likely save money by purchasing a New York Pass instead.

must first trip new york empire state

The Museum of Natural History

It took me until my third trip to do this but I wish I had gone sooner.  Also known as the set for the ‘Night at the Museum’ films, this incredibly beautiful building is fascinating for ecology and history buffs alike.

Suggested entry price is $22 (+ extra for special exhibitions) and that is what we paid, which is a bit pricey seeing as the majority of London’s museums are free but you can spend an entire afternoon there.

 grand central station in New York city

Grand Central Station

Located at: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017.

Despite it being a very busy central hub for transportation in New York City, due to its many appearances in films such as a Friends with benefits and Just my Luck ( I never said I had good taste in films!), Grand Central has also become a must-visit tourist attraction.

Although this station is very rarely quiet, avoid rush hour commuting times to get the best experience.

new york on a budget street

Central Park

Central Park is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, although vast in size the skyscraper borders make for the perfect contrast to this green escape.

Spend an afternoon relaxing and people watching, one thing I would not recommend is visiting the Central Park Zoo, no wonder the Penguins in Madagascar were always planning their escape.

 If you are lucky enough to visit Central Park when there is snow, it is essential to recreate the Elf snowball fight scene.

Where to Stay in New York:

Every time I have visited New York I have stayed in the Hotel Penn, with less than a ten-minute walk to Times Square but still incredibly affordable!

Use my link to receive £15 off of your hotel choice on
or if you prefer Air B’n’B use this link to receive £30 free credit: 

Despite my poor choice of films to make reference to, I hope you now got some inspiration for your first trip to New York. As much as I always mention finding the unique and off-track things to do on your trip, sometimes being a complete-guide-book-in-hand tourist is incredibly fun and New York City is the place to do this.

I can also guarantee the wonderful undesirable charm of this city will have you coming back for more and each time will be a different experience.

Planning on shopping while in New York?

Invest in some packing cubes to ensure you can fit as much as possible in your suitcase. I also recommend heading just out of the central city to the Queens Center Mall for the best shops.


Read Next: How to visit New York on a budget


  • Louise
    May 29, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    I’m going to New York next year. I loved reading your suggestions 🙂

    • Chris
      October 31, 2017 at 11:35 pm

      I did the 9 hour tour with the first day in the city. You hit all the big things and in a reasonable size group, there was 28 of us. I didn’t do the Empire State Building part of your, it’s the last stop. Because I did the 102 floor observation you get both 86 and 102 for one price. There was hundreds of people on 86 floor and maybe 10 at 102. Well worth it for a few bucks more.
      Then you have the rest of your trip to see the smaller sites.
      I also recommend get a subway pass. Makes it easy to get around for cheap.

  • Milanka
    February 15, 2018 at 12:26 am

    Also Broadway show and Bryant Park

  • Deanne
    February 25, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    Where in New York is the best area to stay if you are wanting to see all those sights?

    • Sam
      March 16, 2018 at 10:43 am

      I really love the the Hotel Penn which is linked in the post, it is about 15 minute walk from Times Square!

  • stephanie
    March 3, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    I am planning my first trip to NYC!
    Read some stuff about a new york city pass.
    Do you have any idea if that is good for skipping lines?

    • Sam
      March 16, 2018 at 10:42 am

      Hi! Sorry for the the late reply, yes I believe the city pass has a queue jump up on all their attractions – especially good for the Top of the Rock where the queues can get really long at times!


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