I decided I wanted to move to New York City years before ever visiting it. I was enamored with the idea of kissing my small cowboy town goodbye, playing the part of the modern Carrie Bradshaw, living in a place that could swallow me up in a blink of an eye, but also make all of my wildest dreams come true. I visited NYC for the first time the summer after my freshman year of college (READ HERE), I had just started the blog and I luckily had my roommate as a tour guide.
I remember the first time I hailed a cab, getting caught in downpour rain in Times Square and walking so much that my feet practically cried. I fell in love with my future home during that trip. So now, whenever I have friends, or family visit NYC for the first time, I’m always determined to give them that same experience (minus the torrential downpour of course). During my college internship in the city, my family all visited for a couple days. I still felt very new to the city, didn’t really know what to do and I was just about as lost on the subway as them. A couple weeks ago, my parents made their second trip to NYC and this time I was overly prepared. I had our entire week scheduled out (to the minute and travel plan) and we managed to fit in all the main tourist attractions, plus a handful of NYC local hidden gems.
In today’s post I’m sharing my ultimate NYC Beginners Travel Guide! I have two categories: The traditional tourist must-sees and the local favorites. Make sure to come back to the blog on Saturday because I’ll be sharing some of my favorite NYC Hidden Gems! Let me know what your favorite touristy thing to do in the city, or if you’re visiting NYC for the first time! xo
The Traditional Tourist Must-Sees
Metropolitan Museum of Art (The MET): One of the most surreal moments when I moved to NYC was that I lived walking distance from The MET. It’s just a few avenues away from my first NYC apartment and probably one of my favorite tourist must-sees. I could easily spend the entire day in the museum, so make sure you set aside a good amount of time to walk through the exhibits. My favorite exhibits are always the yearly fashion exhibit (there’s a new one every May after The MET Ball), the Egyptian exhibit and the European Sculptures.
*Local Tip: Did you know that some of the museums in NYC are donation based? The price at the front desk are normally suggestions, so if you’re balling on a budget, just ask if it’s a firm ticket price or a donation.
National Museum of American History: Cross the park from The MET to the Upper West Side and go to the National Museum of American History. This is the museum that was showcased in “Night at the Museum” and my favorite exhibit is definitely the dinosaurs! This museum is great for families, or the tourist that is a little more interactive.
Central Park: Central Park is hands down one of my favorite spots in New York! Central Park stretches all the way from 59th Street to 110th Street – that is 2.5 miles! My favorite things to do in the park is hang out at the model boating pond (74th st) and then walk up to the The Loeb Boathouse, rent a boat for the pond, and then head over to the Bethesda Fountain – an iconic area in the park. You can also rent bikes through the park, visit the various meadow/ public areas and enjoy a picnic with friends.
The Empire State Building: The Empire State Building is one of those traditional tourist spots that is too hard to pass up! There is nothing better than standing on the 86th floor looking out across the city on a summer day; the view of the city is spectacular!
Top of the Rock: The Top of Rockefeller Center is another observation deck in the city. I’ve been to both places and they each have incredible views. I love going to Empire State during the day and Top of the Rock at night. If you can do both, I highly suggest it since they’re both completely different experiences.
Times Square: I normally suggest that Times Square is the first thing you do during your trip or on your first night. It’s packed, overwhelming and it’s best to be ready and excited for the area versus on your last night when you’re mentally and physically exhausted. Times Square is always cooler to see at night when the lights are brighter and you can hop into any of the restaurants for dinner. Carmine’s is one of my favorite Italian restaurants in the city and it’s in the heart of Times Square.
Broadway: Now this is an easy one! Broadway shows are a one-of-a-kind experience and I love going to shows with guests. Over the past couple of years I’ve seen: Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Wicked, Book of Mormon, and most recently Aladdin. I don’t think I can even pick a favorite!
911 Memorial & Museum: This is an absolute must-see. The outside memorial pools attract masses of tourists every day and it’s a really special thing to see. If you have time, you should also check out the museum. I went to the indoor museum for the first time with my parents and no words can really explain the experience.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island: If you’re going to go to The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, I highly suggest trying to catch the first ferry out in the morning, otherwise, you’ll be stuck in crowds and it’ll take up a huge chunk of your day. When my parents visited, we were on the first ferry and were able to take pictures before any crowds arrived to the island, and were able to enjoy a fairly empty Ellis Island Museum as well. You can look up to see if you had any relatives came through Ellis Island, listen to personal story recordings of immigrants and learn about the entire immigration process.
*Local Tip: If you’re crunched for time and/or money, Take the free Staten Island Ferry and you go past the Statue of Liberty! I’ve done this before and it saves a ton of time, you still get pictures of the statue without the crowds of ticket fees.
Grand Central Station: Grand Central is more than a train or subway station – you can explore the different levels, grab food and it’s definitely a picture worthy background!
The Brooklyn Bridge: There’s nothing better than walking across the bridge on a warm summer day while eating an ice cream cone with a cool breeze washing over you. The bridge can get packed during the weekends or summer breaks, but I promise it is worthwhile. Plus, the view of NYC from across the bridge is amazing! The entire walk takes about 30 minutes and once you get across the bridge, check out Smorgasburg (on the weekends).
The Local’s Choice
The High Line: One of my favorite hidden gems in the city is The High Line! It’s a 1.5 mile park that is built on top of an old train track and in the heart of Chelsea. The area is amazing and filled with different flowers, trees, places to sit, and even an outdoor market and bar during the warmer season. You can still see parts of the train track while walking around, and just below The Highline is another one of my favorite places in the city – Chelsea Market.
*Local Tip, Artichoke Pizza (my fav pizza place) is directly underneath The Highline!
Chelsea Market: Where do I even begin? Ok. Food. Yes, Chelsea Market is a huge indoor food market area with restaurants, shopping, and wine classes. It’s a must-see for any foodie or chef, and you can’t really go wrong with any places you decide to eat at the market.
Smorgasburg: If you’re looking for something to do on the weekend, check out Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea Market! On Saturdays, it’s located in Williamsburg and Sundays in Prospect Park. You can try some of the coolest local favorites or newest ‘instagram-worthy’ foods. You’ll want to spend the entire afternoon there trying everything!
Brooklyn Flea Market: After stuffing my face with the delicious food at Smorgasburg, I love checking out the Brooklyn Flea Market. It’s filled with unique vintage items, clothing and one-of-a-kind odd gems.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA): When it comes to museums, I can’t pick a favorite, but the MoMA is definitely one of my top 3! This museum houses some of the finest contemporary and modern art; did you know it holds Van Gough’s Starry Night?!
The Guggenheim: Considered an architecture landmark because of its unique design, the Guggenheim is a must-see! It is full of 19th Century art work from Picasso, Monet, and so many more! Also, you’ll feel like a complete local while wandering through the museum.
Brooklyn Bridge Park: If you end up in DUMBO, definitely check out Brooklyn Bridge Park! There is a huge waterfront park with an incredible view of Manhattan!
Hudson River Park: It’s no Central Park, but the Hudson River Park is a cool local spot! You are able to look across the Hudson River and enjoy activities like bowling, a skate park, mini golf, and many more!
Bryant Park Summer Film Festival: During the summer, spend your Monday night at Bryant Park and enjoy the film festival! They have a huge movie screen and locals sit on the grass and enjoy their favorite films. See the movie schedule HERE.
Comedy Cellar: I highly recommend going to the Comedy Celler – a well-known comedy spot in the city! You are able to sit back, relax and listen to some of the best comedians in the city! You might even catch a celebrity comedian during your visit!
Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a must-see! Spread over 52 acres, the garden has a notable cherry blossom area, activities and educational programs for kids and families.
NYC Public Library: While you might stop by the NY Public Library for pictures during your visit, actually take the time to go inside, sit down and find a book. The library holds almost 53 million items and a great way to act like a local for the day.
*Local Tip: There are multiple NY Public Libraries in the city, so you’re bound to find the perfect book or reading spot.
Coney Island: If you want a day filled with adventure, check out Coney Island – it’s only a subway ride away! You can spend the day enjoying the amusement park, taking pictures or heading to a nearby beach.