My Top 5 Activities for First-Time Tourists in NYC

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Times Square in New York City is a must-see at night but I wouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes there if you want to keep your sanity!

Don’t let that first picture fool you! This post will definitely not be focused around Times Square. Whether you’re in New York City for 24 hours or 24 days, there are a few places not to be missed. Quick disclaimer: I have not been lucky enough to visit every major attraction in the Big Apple (yet!) therefore I’m sure I’m leaving off some wonderful sights. However, these are my personal favorites and I’m confident they’ll charm the socks off of any tourist exploring New York City for the first time.

#1 Top of The Rock

This art deco skyscraper in Rockefeller Center is a wonderful alternative to the iconic Empire State Building. Hear me out on this one! While it is the same price to visit both buildings (slightly more money to visit both viewing decks at the Empire State Building), the lines are shorter at Top of The Rock and the view of Central Park is so, SO much better. Also, while you’re snapping away up there, you can actually get a great shot of the Empire State Building in your photos which is another bonus! Top of the Rock also offers a Sun & Stars ticket which allows you to visit twice in one day. I thoroughly enjoyed returning to see New York City magically lit up in the evening but don’t have any pictures to share because my battery ran out! This was a couple years ago before I had this blog so I can assure you I’ve learned from my mistakes since then.

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Top of the Rock in Midtown Manhattan offers stunning panoramic views of New York City. Their view of Central Park is particuarly stunning and rivals that of the Empire State Building!

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Another benefit of visiting Top of The Rock is the view you can see of the famous Empire State Building!

#2 Lunch in Bryant Park

Less than a 10 minute walk from Times Square, give yourself a breather and enjoy lunch like a local under the shady trees in Bryant Park. Nearby you’ll find several options for lunch but I’d personally go with a wonderful New York City institution known as Shake Shack. The line is always out the door but it goes by fast so don’t let that scare you from buying a burger and shake. If you’re feeling a bit fancier, Dean and Deluca is another great option for a Bryant Park picnic. I still have dreams about a chicken pesto sandwich I bought there. If you happen to be visiting NYC in July and August, Bryant Park hosts Broadway in the Park which is a free concert event open to the public. Casts from several major Broadway musicals perform a few songs from their show which is great for those who don’t have the time or money to see a Broadway play!

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Bryant Park is the perfect place to eat lunch and unwind from city life. It’s also right next to the beautiful New York City Public Library.

#3 World Trade Center Memorial & Museum

This hauntingly beautiful memorial remembers the nearly 3,000 people killed in the September 11th attacks. This is not an enjoyable site to visit but it’s so important to remember and understand the immense loss New York City went through and how they’ve chosen to repair and rebuild as a strong community. When I visited a few years back, the museum was not finished but I was able to see the absolutely stunning fountains. Both memorial pools are located within the footprints of the Twin Towers and the water falling is supposed to drown out the city noise which works quite well. The enormity of these fountains and the names of the deceased engraved around create a powerful image of just how much was lost on that tragic day. The Museum just opened in May and tickets for adults are $24 with discounts for seniors, students, as well as free admission on Tuesday evenings. I’d highly recommend reserving tickets a few weeks in advance.

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The 9/11 Memorial Fountains are an incredible yet somber sight to behold in New York City.

#4 Head on over to Brooklyn!

There’s so much more to New York City than just Manhattan. Take an easy subway ride across the Hudson River over to Brooklyn and enjoy exploring the quirky neighborhoods, cheaper cuisine, and stunning views of that famous concrete jungle across the water. I didn’t get to spend much time in Brooklyn but I definitely remember enjoying a more relaxed atmosphere. If you’re looking for an affordable place to dine, I’d highly recommend SEA Thai in Williamsburg. The interior is stunning with a small pool in the center of the restaurant. Despite the swanky decor, the prices are just right and I enjoyed a hearty lunch for under $10! You really can’t beat that.

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In Brooklyn you can find picturesque views of Manhattan across the Hudson River!

#5 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

There’s no shortage of incredible museums in New York City but if you don’t have the time to visit them all, let me help you narrow it down. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, otherwise known as The Met, should be at the top of every visitor’s museum list. With over 2 million works of art, making it the largest art museum in America, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this stunning museum located on the Upper East Side. The recommended admission price for adults is a whopping $25 but the key word is recommended. This means that you can name your own price. If you plan to spend all day in The Met then the $25 price tag makes sense. However, if you only want to spend a couple hours like I did, don’t feel as if you have to pay the full recommended price. I saw some people only paying $1 which I feel is a bit too cheap but I do understand. It’s hard to wrap my mind around $25 for a museum after living in London where 99% of museums are free. Also, don’t forget to pop on over to Central Park after your museum visit!

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art provides visitors with a variety of beautiful art on display. The Egyptian Temple of Tendur and the works of Vincent Van Gogh are just a few of my favorites!

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This view from Belvedere Castle located in Central Park is a short 15 minute walk from The Met.

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A visit to New York City wouldn’t be complete without a stroll through Central Park.

Have you visited New York City before? I’d love to hear about your favorite attractions! In other news, I’ll be leaving for Europe on the 4th of July where I’ll be spending the next 6 weeks in England, Spain, and Belgium. I’ll be blogging every week and am very excited to share my summer adventures with you!

Happy travels!

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19 comments

  1. Kay M. says:

    Great suggestions. I especially love the Met inside and out. Love the crowd that gathers on the steps. This makes me want to return soon, it’s been awhile!

  2. Kemkem says:

    This brings back memories of college life in Boston and driving to New York to hang out some weekends. I like the great white way..Broadway..seeing all those theaters . I used to love watching plays, and if it didn’t play in Boston, which was rare, it would play there!
    Bon Voyage Lauren! Looking forward to your posts.
    Kemkem recently posted…Berlin is both awesome and beautiful!My Profile

    • Lauren Meshkin says:

      You’re so right, Bryant Park is pretty incredible during the summer! I fell in love with it after watching Broadway performances there a few summers back. Thanks for reading, Jess!

  3. Kelly H. says:

    Awesome recs! It’s been a while since I’ve been to NYC and we’re planning a trip back. Since I’m basically a noob all over again I’ve tucked this away for reference!

  4. Mike says:

    I absolutely love vistas that are high up with a great surrounding view and The Top of the Rock would do the trick! Love that photo! I loved the part on the Trade Center Memorial. I watched one of my fav series ever “Rebuilding Ground Zero” so this gave me goosebumps to see that, Lauren. I have yet to make it to New York City but it’s high on my bucket list and will make it happen! Have a great day :)
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    • Lauren Meshkin says:

      Thanks! I could spent all day at Top of The Rock. That view never gets old. I need to watch Rebuilding Ground Zero, it sounds fascinating. I definitely want to return to see the museum. NYC is always giving me reason to come back. I hope you make it to the Big Apple sometime soon. Thanks so much for reading, Mike!

  5. April says:

    You’ve got a good taste in choosing your activities as a first timer in New York. I think I visited all the places mentioned and they are all just perfectly wonderful. But maybe my top 1 would be the Central Park where all romantic scenes from the movies are taken there and I love how the trees were placed in that park. I feel happy everytime I visit Central Park in New york City. Thanks for sharing!

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