Visiting New York City for the first time....part 2

Visiting New York City - essential guide for your first time

Welcome to part two of the essential guide to visiting New York City for first timers. This week is about getting the most out of those iconic sights that you just have to see in NYC...what to book, how to plan your trip and how to save a little cash too. You can find travel, food and other money saving tips in part one here.

For our first (and possibly only!) trip to New York our focus was definitely on sightseeing. We listed all the things we really wanted to do, and anything else that would be a bonus if we could do it too. Obvious items included the Empire State Building, less obvious went down to having a slice of a New York cheesecake! We didn't get through everything on our list but were pretty pleased with what we did do!

Top tips for getting the most out of your visit:

  • Know your geography - the city map can be your best friend. There are lots of attractions that are within walking distance of each other. Once you know where everything is you can group them together and save time.
  • Block time - some of the bigger things are half days, but there are also attractions that you can visit when you have an hour in between visits. Identify which ones you can pop into if you have some spare time.
  • Prioritise - give each day one key thing that you want to do. Then do this first if you can!
  • Pre-book - book some activities in advance so there is some structure to your itinerary but leave freedom to go where the city takes you. You'll be discovering a lot as you go!

Visiting New York City for the first time - Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

If you want to go right to the top of the Statue of Liberty you need to book this 4-6 months in advance. We booked Crown Access tickets and selected the first ferry over. As we left the island it was getting a lot busier, so I would definitely recommend going early. Included in the ticket is the ferry, a self guided audio tour and a visit to Ellis Island Immigration Museum too. If you are heading up the pedestal or crown you will need to leave all your belongings in a locker; it's not free so make sure you have a couple of dollar bills. You can take up a camera and's quite a climb up that Statue so water isn't a bad idea! The climb into the crown is a tight spiral staircase with some 'landing' points that have a tiny bit more space. It does queue on the staircase because once you get to the crown everybody want to take time to appreciate the view and get some photos.

Visiting New York City for the first time - what to see

Yankees Game

We booked tickets for a Yankees game ahead of our trip too. This was one of our most enjoyable days and a real NYC experience. Our (cheap) tickets were up in the nosebleeds, and the view was fine. We had e-tickets that were scanned from our mobile phones and entrance security was fairly easy to move through. One thing we didn't know before was that you can take in unopened bottles of this! It's a long afternoon and you can easily spend $20 on just a hot dog and a beer (yes, we did go for the foot long!). Food and drink is not cheap in New York, but there is so much on offer at the Yankee Stadium you have to try it. The game we watched was about 4 hours long; there was a great family atmosphere and a lot of fun feeling. I would recommend catching a Yankees game to anyone visiting New York City. We caught the subway up to the Bronx which was an experience in itself!

Visiting New York City for the first time - Times Square

Times Square 

This whole area is an experience in itself, full of entertainment. Just up from Times Square is restaurant row, and area famous for its eateries. Times Square itself is packed with bars, diners, shops and, of course, theatres where you can catch a show. You can pick up tickets from the booth in the middle of Times Square, or book ahead if there's something that you really want to see.


We booked a lot of our other sightseeing attractions ahead through the New York Pass. This cost us about $200 each for a 3 day pass. We picked up our passes at the Big Bus office in Times Square and they were activated on their first swipe. We calculated that the attractions we saw would have equalled over $350, so this was a good investment for us. There is a list of over 80 attractions that you can gain entrance to with the pass; some of these also have fast pass lines too. Basically you hand over your New York Pass instead of a credit card at the ticket booths. Included in this was the Hop on Hop off Big Bus for 2 days, which we used as our main transportation method. You also get discounts at restaurants and shops with the card - generally this equates to not having to pay tax. Downloading the app was incredibly helpful too - it had addresses, opening times and key information for each of the attractions. Some of the top attractions included in this pass are........

Visiting New York City for the first time - the Empire State Building

Empire State Building -  We went very early in the morning to beat the crowds, got our tickets then were told it wasn't worth going up. The tickets are only valid for one day so we went back later (after having a good view from the Top of the Rock), but it hadn't improved. Ask before you get the ticket - if they say no visibility they mean it!

Visiting New York City for the first time - where to visit

Top of the Rock - when we went up we were told there was no visibility. We thought the views were fine! It's also the only way you get a view with the Empire State Building too.

Visiting New York City for the first time - view from the Top of the Rock

The Rockerfeller Centre is an interesting building in its own right with plenty to do there. If you are visiting at Christmas this is a must visit location...that Christmas tree!!

Guide to visiting New York City for the first time - sightseeing cruises

City Cruises - with the New York Pass you can choose one of the cruise tours. We chose the landmark tour and had a great view of everything from the river. There are also night excursions if you want to see those city lights.

Visiting New York City for the first time - 9/11

9/11 Memorial and visitor centres - You can access the tribute centre and the museum with the pass. I can't quite describe what it is like to visit a place like this, but would recommend that you do. Anyone can visit the pools and peaceful park up top. Below is the museum with guided tours and artefacts from the event.

Other places to visit nearby include Century 21 for shopping, Wall Street, Trinity Church and the One World Observatory.

Guide to visiting New York City for the first time - Cycling over the Brooklyn Bridge

Cycle rental and tours - we used our pass to hire bikes to cycle over the Brooklyn Bridge and around Central Park. I am not an avid cyclist and the Brooklyn Bridge was a little unnerving at first! Central Park was a great bike ride....but beware of the hills! It isn't all flat and there are motor vehicles around too. We particularly enjoyed a pitstop at the boathouse where you can watch rowers in the lake and enjoy a bite to eat or drink.

Guide to Visiting New York City for the first time - cycle hire in Central Park

There's so much more! This is just the basics and the things that we thought were really unmissable. You can visit museums and many other famous spots like Madison Square Gardens or Grand Central Station. Lots of places have audio or guided tours to give you information as you visit. The Big Bus is incredibly informative with guides telling you all about the city as you drive through it. This Pinterest board has lots more links and articles that you can use to create your own itinerary.

All that's left is to enjoy your trip! If you want more details or have your own tips to add, leave a comment!


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