20 things to see and do on your first trip to New York City

Our trip to New York City took a fair amount of planning.

Apart from the flights and the accommodation (which in hindsight was the easiest part of the organising) we had to make the most of our fourteen nights in the Big Apple.

Luckily for me, Lloyd loves the organisational part so coming up with an itinerary which suited us both was a breeze.

There’s SO much to do that seeing everything there is to offer is virtually going to be impossible in such a short timeframe; however there are those quintessential hotspots that everyone should visit at least once.

Bryant Park

Especially at Christmas time to visit the Christmas Market and the free ice rink! You can either join in the fun and end up on your bum (yeah, I like a rhyme) or you can sit on the sidelines sipping hot chocolate from one of the many little foodie sheds in the vicinity.

Site link here

Bryant Park

Central Park

Needless to say, Central Park is a must visit at any time of the year! If you happen to see this park in all weathers like we did then you’re even luckier. The park is huge and lush; full of trees and lakes and all that good stuff that we’re missing here in Malta. It’s a well needed breathing space for the residents living in this concrete jungle. There’s normally a musician or two so take a seat nearby and enjoy the grooves…and if you like what you hear then leave a tip!

Site link here

Central Park snowCentral Park no snow

The Museum of Natural History

It’s a bit of a tradition of ours to visit a museum or two when travelling. I have to say that this was by far the most awesome natural history museum that I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting (although the NHM in London is an extremely close second). There’s so much to see and do that you may even feel a little overwhelmed by the amount there is to take in. Be sure to wear comfy shoes because your feet will be killing you by the end of a full day here! Oh, and if it’s a rainy day be prepared for the swarm of likeminded tourists who will all have the same idea of visiting a museum too.

Tip: Instead of heading for the main entrance (the one directly opposite Central Park), go to the entrance on the right which is just in front of the Theodore Roosevelt Park – hardly anyone seems to use this entrance for some unknown reason so get there at opening time and there will be little to no queue 😉

Site link here

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Big Bus Tour

We took the uptown and downtown tours on separate days and really I couldn’t recommend it enough. So far, in my experience, the guides you find in New York are second to none; knowledgable, friendly and funny. It gets a bit nippy at the top of the bus so make sure that you bring a scarf to cover your face!

Oh the places you’ll go!

Downtown Loop: Times Square, the Empire State Building, One World Trade Centre, Wall Street & Battery Park etc.

Uptown Loop: Central Park, Harlem, the Museum Mile and the Upper West and Upper East Side etc.

Site link here

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The Met – 5th Avenue

Firstly, the building is incredible. Exterior and interior included. I only wish that we’d had more time to spend there as we had arrived quite late. If only we had skipped the Guggenheim and its pretentious exhibition at the time (sorry, not sorry).

The building holds art spanning over 5000 years and from all cultures and time periods. One day is definitely not enough, let alone the few hours that we had! Favourite areas that we saw were Egyptian and Asian Art (particularly the medieval Indian sculptures <3).

Site link here

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The High Line

One of the many highlights of our trip was walking the 2.33km newly refurbished railroad track which used to carry goods to and from the industrial district in Manhattan way back in 1934. Getting to experience Manhattan in a more serene setting was really quite a welcome experience. It’s so well maintained, full of plants and quirky pieces of art along the way to keep all visitors engaged. You’re above the city, but close enough to still feel a part of it.

Site link here

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Top of the Rock – Observation Deck

One of the best views of Manhattan can be viewed from the 70th floor of the Rockefeller Center and despite the massive amount of tourists this was an experience not to be missed. The views were simply incredible. We visited on New Years Eve and there are few better ways to spend your last day of the year! You suddenly realise just how vast New York City is (Central Park included!)

Site link here

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The Empire State Building

Like the Top of the Rock, the Empire State Building has a view not to be missed. We were fortunate enough to have an amazing view of the Empire State from our hotel room window but going up to the observation deck standing at 381m tall at night time, staring out at the bright lights of New York City was epic and once in a lifetime. Flashbacks of Sleepless in Seattle came into my head; you know the scene where Jonah forgets his teddy bear at the top of the Empire State and he and Sam come back to retrieve it. Low and behold, Annie has picked up the teddy and turns around and they finally meet each other! (I’m such a sap)

Warning: It gets really busy so be prepared to wait a little while if you want to get your instagram pic because there will be a ton of people wanting to do the same!

Site link here

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One World Memorial

I think it was important to both of us to pay our respects for the ones who lost their lives on 9/11. It was a tough one to visit and the day we visited was probably the most fitting as the weather was dire. Inside the museum there is a large space where you can go and sit and listen to recordings of friends and family talk about their loved ones. It’s an emotional experience and I couldn’t help but feel bad for not sitting to listen to them all. We didn’t really take photos of the memorial as it didn’t feel quite right to do so.

One world memorial

The Circle Line Cruise

I have to admit; I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this tour as much as I did. When I saw it on the New York Pass guidebook I kind of skimmed over it but Lloyd thought it would be good so I thought, meh, why not? It actually turned out to be a really nice day. We sat on the outside of the boat feeling very cold for the most part but it was a really great way of viewing the outskirts of the city. The tour guide was informative and possessed a storytelling voice. I could totally imagine him as a grandad reading a storybook to his grandchildren, d’aww! We chose “The best of NYC” tour and we both equally loved it.

You’ll get to see sights such as The Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, United Nations and plenty more.

Site link here

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Madison Square Garden Tour

Lloyd had really wanted to watch a game here but since we didn’t get the opportunity to, the next best thing was the MSG tour which is included in the New York Pass. The tour groups are pretty small, maybe no more than 20 at a time and last about 60 minutes at a push. The guides do rush you through a bit, I guess because there is so much to get to and they don’t want too many groups loitering at the same time but nonetheless it was an interesting experience seeing the timeline of famous faces and sports stars to have performed and played there.

We got to see what a million dollar season ticket gets you and it’s pretty spectacular! We also got to see the locker rooms for the Knicks and Rangers. There was me thinking that they got ready in “high school type” locker rooms [insert rofl smiley]. These guys are treated like royalty! How little I know about sports…

Site link here

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Watch an NBA and NHL game!

Seriously, if you want to immerse yourself in an all american experience then watching a game is an absolute must. I absolutely loved watching both games; though probably the NHL game more because it felt down to earth and family oriented whereas the NBA game felt more like a performance. Or maybe it was because we watched Lloyd’s favourite team Edmonton Oilers play so I was rooting for them to win – which they did!

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Brooklyn Bridge

Standing tall since 1883 when it first opened to the public, it’s one of the oldest bridges not just in New York but in the United States. A notable event which happened just a few days after it opened was a stampede caused by doubts that the bridge would collapse. To quash any doubts, 21 elephants were walked along the bridge to prove otherwise.

Walking across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge is kind of a must for your first visit to the city. and it’s also a really nice stroll so why not?

Brooklyn Bridge


Not spending more time here is probably one of my biggest regrets and reasons that we must go back again. My first memory of entering Brooklyn is my bag breaking just as we exited the Brooklyn Bridge. Cue me holding my bag to my body as if my life depended on it until we found a new bag to replace it. But walking along the quaint streets was enough to make me want to come back for more. Brooklyn seemed to have a much more laid back feel to it. Maybe next time we’ll get a little Airbnb there or something!

New York Public Library

Millions of books delicately gift wrapped in this magnificent piece of architecture. It’s the quietest space you may find in New York City. It’s a marvel. Enjoy.

Site link here

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Watch the sun set over the Hudson River

On our first full day and after walking almost 20 km, we ended our day with the sun going down over the Hudson. It was perfection.

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Grand Central Station

The station is a beautiful piece of architecture in itself. The ceiling is particularly interesting and almost church-like with its painted ceiling which represents the winter night sky. We were pressed for time so we only had a quick look around. Next time we would definitely take the audio tour to add some more context to our visit.

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Times Square

The epitome of the NYC experience is standing in the middle of Times Square and taking in the bright lights and sounds that surround you.

Time Square 1
Strangely this was one of the only photos I have of Time Square. I think I was just too fascinated by all the shiny lights and screens!

The Statue of Liberty

Get up close and personal with lady Liberty. Although the likes of the Empire State and Rockefeller tower over her, she’s a sight to behold all on her own.

Statue of Liberty close up

Watch a show on Broadway

For our birthday (his 26th and my 30th) we went to see The Lion King and I don’t say this very often but OH EM GEE it was amazeballs! I was practically crying with happiness from the beginning. A definite highlight to our trip.

Minskoff Theatre 1Minskoff TheatreThe Lion King on Broadway

Well that turned out to be a long post and that wasn’t even the half of it!

Do you have any tips for places to visit in NYC? I would love to hear from you!

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