The Very Best Things to See in New York for First-Timers

It’s your first time in NYC, and I am so excited for you. New York is just the best, but there is a lot to choose from to do on your trip. Which can be both good and bad. New York City covers over 300 square miles. Even if you stick to just Manhattan you still have nearly 23 square miles of land, literally crammed full of stuff to see and things to do. Of course, you can’t possibly do it all. Here are my top things to do in New York for first-timers, my best tips for visiting New York City for the first time.

Related Post → Planning a Travel Itinerary: The Complete Guide

This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. See disclaimer. 

First time in New York: Where to Stay

When visiting NYC for the first time it’s important to choose a great place to stay. Consider booking a hotel convenient to the majority of the sites you want to see, whether within walking distance or near a subway stop.

Accommodation Recommendation: I enjoy staying at the Hyatt Place New York/Midtown-South (52 West 36th Street). The location is OUTSTANDING (in my opinion the best area in New York for a first time visit), the rooms are comfortable, the staff is great, and they have an above average breakfast.
Read Reviews Here | Book Now

My family also recommends Archer Hotel New York (45 West 38th Street)
Read Reviews Here | Book Now

mockup image of a free printable travel planner

What to see in New York for first-timers

Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island

The Statue of Liberty is absolutely my favorite of all the places to see in New York City. It’s a must-do when visiting New York for the first time. Buy your tickets ahead of time, especially if you want to climb up to the crown. Those tickets can sell out weeks or even months in advance.

Even if you don’t want to go up into the pedestal or the crown of the Statue of Liberty, you can purchase a ticket to enjoy the cruise over to Liberty Island (with great views of both Lady Liberty and lower Manhattan) and just walk around the monument exterior. I would still recommend purchasing this ticket online in advance, as these can also sell out especially during peak tourist times.

View of the lower manhattan skyline from Liberty Island
Check out this view of Manhattan from the Statue of Liberty pedestal! Highly recommended for your first time in NYC. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go.

Ellis Island admission is included in your ticket, so go ahead and take advantage if you have time.

Cruises from New York depart from Battery Park, which is a nice place for a picnic lunch before or after your trip to Liberty Island.

Times Square

You’ve seen it in movies and TV shows. Of all the places to visit in New York City, it’s hard to think of anything else that says “New York!” as loudly as Times Square. Soak it in, take a few photos, wander through so you can say you’ve been there. Maybe even buy a cheap souvenir T-shirt, but do not—I repeat, do not—eat at a major chain restaurant in Times Square. That will just hurt me on so many levels.

Read More → The Perfect One Day in New York Itinerary

Rockefeller Center

A fairly easy walk from Times Square will take you to Rockefeller Center, a New York City landmark that includes 30 Rockefeller Plaza (NBC Studios), Radio City Music Hall and more. In addition to some great shopping and dining, you can take a guided tour of Rockefeller Center, go to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, skate at the Rink (reopening in October 2019), and more.

If you’re feeling snackish, I recommend stopping at Magnolia Bakery for something yummy.

The 9/11 memorial is a great site to see in New York for first timers. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go.

9/11 Memorial

In my opinion, the 9/11 Memorial is absolutely a must-do on your trip and one of my favorite free things to do in New York City. The terrorist attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the city forever. It’s one of the most moving and beautiful memorials that I have ever had the privilege of seeing.

The Memorial is open to the public every day from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

9/11 Memorial
180 Greenwich Street

Pin this post!

What to see in New York for first-timers.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

It’s one of the most important museums in the world. Even if you’re not a fan of art or museums, consider making the Met a part of your trip. The permanent collection includes works by great artists from the ancient to the modern, and they frequently mount major special exhibitions in a space so stunning it’s worth the price of admission just to explore the building.

Though you used to be able to get in with whatever size donation you could manage, admission to the Met is now $25 for all who are not residents of the state of New York or a student in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. Regular student admission is $12.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028

Central Park

Central Park is another of those places that is just so quintessentially New York, you absolutely need to make time in your itinerary to see it. Now, keep in mind that this park is huge. I mean it. Central Park covers 1.3 square miles (840 acres) of Manhattan. You could easily spend an entire day just exploring this place. To start I’d suggest looking at a map of the park and choosing a few things there you want to see such as the Zoo, the Alice in Wonderland Statue, Belvedere Castle or the Conservatory Water (where you can rent a model boat to sail on the pond).

Google map of top sites in New York for first-timers
Click on the image for an interactive map of the best things to see your first time in NYC. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go.

Ride the Subway

If you go to New York City and don’t ride the subway does your trip even count? I don’t think so. You really need to do it, and honestly it is an easy and cheap way to get around the city while you’re there.

If you’re going to be there for a week-long visit, I’d recommend getting a 7-day unlimited ride MetroCard. It’s $33 (plus a $1 charge for the refillable card) and you can ride as much as you want for seven days. Individual subway rides cost $2.75 each, so check your itinerary to see if the unlimited ride card could save you money.

You can find subway maps on the MTA website. There are also numerous apps that can help you get around New York with public transportation.

Get a slice of 99 cent pizza

No, I’m not joking about this one. They’re all over Manhattan and have clever names like “Fresh Pizza 99 Cents” and ”One Dollar Pizza.” If you need cheap eats in New York City, just grab a slice of pizza for 99 cents…or pay a little more for a second slice and a can of soda.

Whatever you choose to do during your time in New York City, I know you’ll have a wonderful time. It’s truly a great city.

What do think a first-timer in NYC should add to their itinerary?

Pin this post!


  1. michelle brown says:

    Thanks so much for your suggestions! I plan on looking into some of these places while I’m living in NYC for a few months. The free activities will really help since I’m not working right now.

    Michelle |

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      Wonderful! Thanks for reading.

  2. I’ve only been to New York once and loved it. I went to the Empire State Building as well as most of the places you mentioned. Sorry I didn’t ride the subway though, next time, I promise.

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      I considered adding the Empire State Building to this post, but as someone who struggles with heights I’ve never been to the top myself and so I can’t really say if it’s must-do or not. What do you think? Would you tell someone else visiting NYC for the first time that they definitely need to do the Empire State building?

  3. A great guide! I’ve never been to New York but when I do, I know where to look for info on the best places to give me a real insight into the city! 🙌

  4. I love NYC. I’ve been many times but I always love to see it again with people who haven’t been before. You have a great list here!

  5. This is perfect! I’ve never been to NYC and it feels overwhelming. Thanks for breaking it down. And love the $.99 pizza recommendation!

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      Thank you so much! Yes, the cheap pizza was a lifesaver on a few occasions. Sometimes you just need a REALLY cheap meal fast.

  6. I would add walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to this list! It’s a great activity to do at the end of the day if you’re already downtown (maybe after seeing Ellis Island and the 9/11 Memorial) and once you’re on the Brooklyn side, you can walk around Brooklyn Heights/DUMBO and have dinner at one of the many cute restaurants along the waterfront.

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      Brooklyn Bridge is definitely a good option. And one of my favorite free things in NYC.

  7. I’ve been to NYC a few times, but I still haven’t made it to the Statue of Liberty! There’s so much to see in NYC that I feel like I need to go for a whole month!

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      I totally agree. I’m hoping on my next trip there that I can get a little more off the beaten path. But my last two trips there I was showing around people who had never been before so I keep going back to the same places. LOL!

  8. What an awesome itinerary! Would love to visit New York City someday. Love the sound of a 99 cents pizza – what a dream haha. And of course, can’t miss out on visiting Central Park

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      Thanks, Hayley! I hope you get to see NYC soon. It’s one of my favorite cities on the planet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.