10 things to do on your first trip to NYC

April 28, 2021

10 things to do on your first trip to NYC

Looking for 10 things to do on your first trip to New York City? You’re in the right place – obviously, or this would be a really crappy titled blog post.

In this guide you’ll find a bucket list for things first-timers can do to experience NYC with useful information such as how these attractions are affected by COVID-19 and some extra tips for how to enjoy them in a less touristy way.

I already have a full New York City itinerary and an Instagram guide but I have learnt over the years people don’t love trawling through heaps of writing to find out what to do to plan their most memorable vacations, holidays or travels (fancy that) so I’ve reworked my NYC itinerary to narrow it down to 10 things you should do on your first trip to New York City.

1. Empire State Building

No trip to the Big Apple is complete without a visit to see the world’s first 100+ story building: The Empire State Building. This Art Deco skyscraper is the most iconic building in the city and its magic can be likened to that of seeing the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Taj Mahal in Agra – no matter how many times you see them, every time is like the first time.

Take in 360° views of the city that never sleeps from the highest open air observation deck in New York City.

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Opening times for the Empire State Building

The observation deck of the Empire State Building is open every day, including all holidays, come rain or shine, however, since the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic it is no longer open 8am – 2am. The visiting hours of the Empire State Building’s observation deck for the foreseeable future are now:

1pm – 10pm with the last elevator at 9.15pm

PFH Top Tip: book a ticket for half an hour before sunset (the ticket times online will indicate sunset for the day you are booking) as you will be able to experience the view from the top of the Empire State Building in daylight, sunset and after dark when the city lights up to show exactly how it got its title of the city that never sleeps.

Book your ticket for the Empire State Building here.

Accessibility for the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is ADA-compliant.

  • The main entrance on 34th St is accessible to people with disabilities

  • Ramps are located throughout the building for easier access to people using wheelchairs and motorised wheelchairs

  • Accessible toilets are located on the 86th floor

  • The observatory deck has lower walls and binoculars

  • Service dogs are welcome

COVID-19 safety precautions at the Empire State Building

  • Admission to the observation deck at the Empire State Building is by pre-booked tickets only

  • Face masks must be worn as required by law

  • Guest’s temperatures will be taken before entry, you must have a temperature lower than 100.4°F to enter

  • The capacity has been reduced by 80% for you to keep a 6ft or 2m distance from others

Rooftop bar with a view of Empire State Building

Want to ditch the tourist label and experience the Empire State Building from a rooftop bar? 

Of course you do! Make a reservation at the Monarch hotel’s rooftop bar where you can enjoy an exquisite cocktail whilst gazing directly up at the Empire State Building. You know what makes this penthouse bar in New York City even more enticing? You won’t have to shell out a hefty percentage of your travel budget for a minimum spend unlike most reservations for rooftop bars in the city.

Credit to finding this bar goes to my dear friend and fellow travel blogger, Johanna from This Wanderlust Heart.

2. Rockefeller Center | Top of the Rock

Though I believe every first-time visitor to New York City must experience the Empire State Building, it wouldn’t sit well with me to not recommend taking a trip up to the Top of the Rock Observatory.

The view from Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center’s viewing platform, is debatably better than the view from the top of the Empire State Building because it includes the Empire State Building. However, it’s not just the view from Top of the Rock that is more appealing to me, it’s also a lot more spacious than the Empire State Building’s observation deck.

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Opening times for Top of the Rock

The Top of the Rock observation deck is open 7 days a week.

1pm – 9pm with the last elevator at 8.10pm.

Times may vary on holidays.

Book your ticket for the Rockefeller Center and/or Top of the Rock here.

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Accessibility for the Top of the Rock

  • The main entrance on 50th St is power assisted, all other doors are accessible

  • Rockefeller Center tours can be led through wheelchair accessible routes

  • A wheelchair accessible stall is located in every public restroom

  • Elevators are available on all floors from street level to the open air deck on the 70th floor

  • Printed transcripts are available upon request for all short films played in the Top of the Rock Experience

  • Service dogs are welcome

  • Strollers are allowed but must be collapsible

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COVID-19 safety precautions at the Empire State Building

  • Elevators will only carry a maximum capacity of 4 people or one party

  • Face masks must be worn as required by law

  • Guests’ temperatures will be taken before entry

  • Keep a 6ft or 2m distance from others

3. Statue of Liberty

The 305ft tall green goddess that is the Statue of Liberty is the visual representation of freedom and hope for the United States of America. After taking 4 months to build, Lady Liberty was unveiled on October 28th 1886 and what was a gift from France became an icon for the nation.

Various tours of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island Immigration Museum (which in my opinion is the most fascinating part) are available here.

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Ferry times for the Statue of Liberty National Monument 

First ferry from mainland 8.30am 

Last ferry from mainland 3.30pm

Last ferry from Liberty Island 5pm

Last ferry from Ellis Island 5.15pm

Accessibility for the Statue of Liberty National Monument

  • Service dogs are welcome

  • A limited number of wheelchairs are available to borrow on a first come, first served basis

  • Ferries are accessible

  • The observation pedestal is only accessible by a flight of 24 stairs

  • Elevators are available for the Ft. Wood Promenade area

  • The information centre has an assisted portable induction loop system

  • Complimentary American Sign Language translation tours are available at both Liberty and Ellis Island – enquire for times

  • Accessible toilets are available in the monument and near food vendors

COVID-19 safety precautions at the Statue of Liberty National Monument

  • Food service is limited to outdoor only

  • Access to the Statue of Liberty Crown and Pedestal interior areas will remain closed for the foreseeable future

  • The capacity has been reduced by 25% for you to keep a 6ft or 2m distance from others

I can’t find any information confirming that a face mask needs to be worn but I think it’s safe to assume that they currently do.

4. Hudson Yards

One of Manhattan’s newly developed areas of interest, Hudson Yards looks out to the Hudson River and is where you’ll find restaurants, a shopping centre, the Vessel and the High Line.

The Vessel

You may recognise this shiny beehive from your Instagram feed. Sure, the Vessel has become a popular landmark on the ‘gram but it’s not just an interesting backdrop, it’s also an interactive work of art. Book a free ticket online to explore the 154 interconnecting flights of stairs and 80 landings for various views of New York City.

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Accessibility for the Vessel at Hudson Yards

  • The Vessel has an elevator service to accessible floors on level 5, 7 and 8.

  • Priority tickets for people with a disability that require use of the elevator are available

  • If the elevator priority tickets are sold out online you have the option to be given priority in the queue for on-the-day tickets if they are available

COVID-19 safety precautions at the Vessel at Hudson Yards

The Vessel is currently closed due to COVID-19 but you can still experience the structure from the outside.

The High Line

Whilst at Hudson Yards why not experience the High Line, a 1.45-mile-long elevated greenway that has been repurposed from an old railroad track that runs along the west side of Manhattan.

This public park of sorts grows over 500 species of flora and features artwork by painters and sculptors.

Opening times for the High Line at Hudson Yards

Monday – Friday 7am – 7pm.

Entrance to the High Line Monday – Friday is free.

Saturday & Sunday 10am – 6pm.

Timed entry must be reserved online for weekend visits to the High Line.

COVID-19 safety precautions at the High Line at Hudson Yards

  • There is no entrance fee for the High Line however if you wish to visit on the weekend timed entry must be reserved online in order to allow social distancing

  • Face masks must be worn as required by law

  • Keep a 6ft or 2m distance from others

  • The 34th Street gate and the 11th Avenue stairs are closed

Accessibility for the High Line at Hudson Yards

  • The High Line is fully wheelchair accessible

  • Elevator entrances are on Gansevoort St, 23rd St and the southwest entrance/exit on 30th St

  • The elevator on 14th St is exit only

  • The Hudson Yards entrance/exit on 30th St has ramp access

5. Times Square 

Did you even go to New York City for the first time if you didn’t experience Times Square? 

To avoid crowds whilst the world still collectively recovers from COVID-19, visit on a Sunday morning. Even during peaks times, pre-pandemic, Times Square is quiet on a Sunday morning and means you can experience the 360° lit billboards and adverts whilst maintaining a 6ft/2m distance from others.

PFH Top Tip: want to take in the view of Times Square with a drink but without the high NYC rooftop bar price tag? Of course you do! Head over to Time Square Novotel’s outdoor terrace for unobstructed views of Times Square.
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Souvenir shopping at Times Square

For so many places in the world I would suggest purchasing some kind of handmade/artisan item to bring back as a souvenir or gift but no souvenir represents NYC better than a tacky snow globe (I have said tacky NYC snow globe) or an I <3 NY T-shirt. Times Square is where you’ll find Grand Slam New York, located specifically opposite the TKTS booth, where souvenirs are significantly cheaper than others around the city.

6. Brooklyn Bridge 

Joining the likes of Tower Bridge in London, Rialto Bridge in Venice and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Brooklyn Bridge is an instantly recognisable bridge. Connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan, the bridge can be accessed by motor vehicle or via the pedestrian walkway.

Brooklyn Bridge is free to cross for pedestrians.

To avoid crowds in order to maintain a 6ft/2m distance from others I suggest visiting at sunrise where it will be much quieter, even in the height of summer.

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You can access Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan opposite City Hall Station and on the corner of Washington and Prospect Street in Brooklyn, however this is a staircase access point.

Whilst visiting Brooklyn Bridge take some time to go to DUMBO and Brooklyn Bridge Park. The corner of Washington and Water Street is where you’ll find the most famous view of Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge Park and where you will find sweeping views of both Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge and Manhattan’s skyline.

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Accessibility for Brooklyn Bridge

  • Ramp access to Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn can be found at Adams St & Tillary St

  • Ramp access to Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan can be found opposite City Hall Station

7. The Metropolitan Museum of Art | The Met

Best known for the world’s most famous annual exhibition of fashion worn by everyone whose anyone aka the Met Gala, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, otherwise known as The Met, is the largest art museum in the United States of America. 

The permanent exhibition has over 2 million pieces on display included the work of Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, William Turner, Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe. Click here to see the current and upcoming exhibition schedule.

If art isn’t your jam but history is then head to the American Museum of Natural History.

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Accessibility for the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Wheelchair rental service is currently suspended due to COVID-19

  • Accessible entrances are on Fifth Ave and 81st St.

  • The museum exhibits are accessible by wheelchair

  • Service dogs are welcome (emotional support animals aren’t however)

  • Signs indicate when assistive listening options in exhibitions are available, please use your own headphones and neck loops, if possible

COVID-19 safety precautions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Entrance is by a pre-booked ticket only

  • Face masks must be worn as required by law

  • Guest’s temperatures will be taken before entry, guest’s temperature must be under 100.3°F

  • The coat check service is currently suspended

  • Keep a 6ft or 2m distance from others

  • There is to be no touching of any exhibits

  • Maps and leaflets are currently unavailable

8. Shopping on 5th Avenue

Don’t have the dollar dollar to shop on 5th Avenue or are intentionally reducing your shopping habits? Why not simply embrace your inner Holly Golightly and go window shopping instead. Pick up a coffee (in a reusable cup if possible) and your favourite pastry to take a leisurely stroll down 5th avenue to people watch and admire the window displays at the likes of Tiffany & co and Saks Fifth Avenue. 

9. Central Park

Central Park might only be the fifth biggest park in New York City but it is by far the most famous one in the city. With so much to do year round including making snowmen in winter, sitting under the blossoms in spring, enjoying a leisurely row on Central Park Lake in summer and kicking around the golden leaves in fall/autumn. Some of my highlights include: 

  • Strawberry Fields

  • Bow Bridge

  • Bethesda Terrace

  • Umpire Rock

  • Cherry Hill

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If you’re visiting New York City between April and November then complete the first-timers visit to Central Park by renting a rowboat from Loeb Boathouse.

Boat rentals are paid for in cash only but if you don’t have any on you there is an ATM at the entrance of the boathouse restaurant.

Avoid sunburn by renting your boat either in the morning or late afternoon as there’s no shade on the lake.

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Central Park open hours

Daily from 6am – 1am

There is no entrance fee for Central Park.

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10. See a show on Broadway

How to get discounted Broadway show tickets

Head to the TKTS booth in Times Square for the chance to get same-day discounted last-minute theatre tickets for a Broadway show. As you can imagine the queue gets pretty long here very fast so aim to arrive when the booth opens for your best chance at receiving tickets.

The TKTS Times Square booth is located under their sponsored red stairs in the centre of Times Square.

There you have it, 10 things that everyone who’s visiting New York City for the first time should experience in the city that never sleeps. If you’re looking for further NYC trip inspirations then check out my other New York City related blogs posts including an Instagram guide and NYC themed playlist.

Do more on & for the planet, Gabriella 

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Open hours, ticket costs etc. were correct at the time of publishing in April 2021.

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