Best Things to Do in NYC for First Time Visitors

It’s no secret why New York is called “The City That Never Sleeps.” With countless stores, restaurants, museums, galleries and more, there is no shortage of things to do in New York City.

Whether you’re visiting with friends, a significant other, your family members or kids, you’re sure to find plenty of fun things to do.

To get you started, here are our list of some of the best things to do NYC that you really shouldn’t miss during your trip.

All of the following are must-see attractions in New York, broken down into a few general categories.

Save on Admission to Top Attractions

Many of these must see attractions are available on the New York City Explorer Pass®.

Choose as you go from dozens of the best New York attractions and save up to 45% off combined admission vs paying at the gate. Or, build your own pass and save up to 25% off.

See all available passes, attractions & prices – Learn more.

Enjoying the View

Some of the most popular tourist destinations in New York are just places where you can enjoy a fabulous view of the skyline.

The city offers breathtaking views if you can get yourself up to a good vantage point, so try not to miss these attractions:

The Empire State Building

Empire-State-Building-Observatory-1This New York City attraction has been made famous time and again with cameo appearances in films like An Affair to Remember, Sleepless in Seattle, King Kong, and more.

Be sure to head to the Empire State Building’s 86th floor observation deck  to check out amazing 360 degree views of the city.

Take a self-guided multimedia tour to learn more about the incredible sights you’ll see from the top of the city.

The Empire State Building even accommodates late night visitors thanks to its late night opening hours that extend until 2 a.m.

Did you know that the ESB was the tallest building in the world for almost four decades, and was designed by renowned architecture firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon in the early 20th century.

One of New York’s most iconic landmarks, the Empire State Building is truly one of the best places to visit in New York.

For more info, check out our guide to visiting the Empire State Building.

The Top of the Rock Observatory

Top-of-the-Rock-Observation-Deck-4The Top of the Rock Observatory is located at one of the hub’s of The Big Apple, Rockefeller Plaza.

This observation center is located at the top of Rockefeller Center, which is an extensive complex of 19 different buildings located between 48th and 51st Streets in Midtown.

The Rockefeller Center itself is an important sight to see in the city, but those who arrange a trip to the top of the observatory enjoy a panoramic view that includes noteworthy NYC skyscrapers like the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, the Chrysler Building and more.

The observation deck has interestingly been constructed to resemble the appearance of an ocean liner deck.

For more info, check out our guide to visiting the Top of the Rock Observatory.

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Statue-of-Liberty-and-Ellis-Island-Immigration-Museu-1New York City was a prominent welcoming port for immigrants to the United States throughout a significant portion of its history.

Ellis Island served as one of the most highly frequented immigration inspection stations in the entire country between 1892 and 1954. Throughout this entire period, the Statue of Liberty was within view to welcome in newcomers to the country and to represent the freedom and opportunity the country offered in the minds of generations of immigrants.

This irreplaceable symbol of the United States is located on Liberty Island.

Today the Statue of Liberty is not just a symbol of America’s history as a welcoming land of opportunity and freedom for immigrants, but also a great vantage point from which to view the sprawling metropolis.

There is a Statue of Liberty ferry available, as well as boat tours that circle the island, and other tours offered right on the premises that can be reserved in advance. These tours allow visitors to travel up the stairs to the crown of the statue, which is truly an experience unlike any other.

Please note: Access to the Pedestal and Crown of the Statue of Liberty is not included with the New York City Explorer Pass. If you wish add access to those parts of the statue, you will need book Crown Reserve and/or Pedestal Reserve tickets separately and make reservations as soon as possible as space is limited and tours often sell out months in advance.

Bus Tours Through NYC

There’s not much more fascinating for newcomers to New York than simply perusing the city’s streets. You can visit many interesting spots in a short period of time by taking a bus tour.

The following bus tours are two of our favorite options for exploring the city.

Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours

citysights-all-around-town-bus-tour-nycWith one of the popular Double Decker Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours, you’ll get a chance to see many of the top buildings, tourist attractions, and locations that the city has to offer.

A few of the options available include tours of Downtown, Uptown, Brooklyn, and more.

And best yet, since these tours are Hop-On Hop-Off, feel free to get off and on the bus at any time during the duration of your ticket to visit particular points of interest.

THE RIDE

Image Credit: THE RIDE

Image Credit: THE RIDE

This is one of my personal favorites and think’ its one of the most interesting and best ways to see New York.

THE RIDE is a unique, interactive experience that turns the streets of New York into an entertaining stage for talented street performers.

This custom-built tour bus, which acts basically as a traveling theater, takes riders on a 75-minute experience through Times Square and Midtown Manhattan.

Guiding you along the way will be professional comedic hosts, that provide fun and interesting context to the sights you’ll see with history, fun facts, trivia, and even karaoke.

Definitely add this one to your itinerary, and check out our guide to THE RIDE for more tips.

Check out the Top New York’s Museums

Those who visit the city should make time for the Big Apple’s cerebral side. In fact, the top museums in New York are arguably some of the city’s finest attractions for young and old.

Wherever your interests lie, you can find a New York City museum with extensive exhibits that will be both informing and intriguing.

American Museum of Natural History

american-museum-of-natural-history-new-york-city-museumsAs one of New York’s most beloved and best museums, the American Museum of Natural History is equal parts fun and educational.

Attracting millions of visitors every year, the American Museum of Natural History, located on the west side of Central Park, is one of the largest museums in the world.

It includes more than 40 different permanent exhibition halls, and explores extensive subjects in the planetary, geological, biological, and anthropological sciences.

Check out our guide for visiting the American Museum of Natural History.

The Museum of Modern Art

Museum-of-Modern-Art-2The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is located in the Midtown area and features collections that focus on more recent artistic productions and more diverse artistic media.

MoMA exhibits include not only works of painting, drawing, sculpture, prints, and architecture, but also photography, illustrated books, and electronic media.

MoMA was established in 1929 and now exhibits over 150,000 works of art.

Check out our guide for visiting MoMA during your NYC vacation.

9/11 Tribute Center & walking Tour

911-tribute-center-tourIt goes without saying that 9/11 is and will remain one of the most significant events in New York’s already remarkable history.

The 9/11 Tribute Center, located at 120 Liberty Street, details the attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 though the experience of individual New Yorkers, including survivors, family members, first-responders, and civilian volunteers.

The Met

The-Metropolitan-Museum-of-Art-2The Metropolitan Museum of Art is located on 5th Avenue on the East Side of Central Park. This stretch of 5th Avenue is commonly known as “Museum Mile”.

The Met is one of the best places to go in New York for visitors interested in exploring art history and gaining a deeper understanding of the studio arts.

The Met includes more than 15 different curatorial departments and offers exhibits on art from all around the world.

Among the museum’s offerings are not only artworks of the Western World dating from the Renaissance period, but also products of Asian, African, Oceanic, Byzantine, Indian, and Islamic art.

The Met was founded in 1870 and has since become one of the most prominent art museums in the world, ranking among world renowned institutions such as the Louvre in Paris and El Prado in Spain for its notoriety.

Check out our guide for visiting The Met during your trip.

The Guggenheim Museum

guggenheim-museum-new-york-city-museums

The current Guggenheim building is a Frank Lloyd Wright building constructed in 1959. The building is one of the 20th century’s most significant architectural structures.

Located near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guggenheim is found on Museum Mile along the East Side of Central Park.

The Guggenheim features mainly modern and contemporary art, and it consists of numerous private collections that are shared with sister museums around the world including in Bilbao, Spain and in Venice, Italy.

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

Intrepid-Sea-Air-and-Space-Museum-3Those interested in maritime history should head to the banks of Hudson around Midtown to visit the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum – which features an aircraft carrier turned museum.

The Intrepid was established as a museum in 1982, but previously the structure served as an aircraft carrier both in the Pacific Theater of World War II and in the Vietnam War.

Exhibits at the museum explore the vessel’s service history as well as general exhibits on naval history of the 20th century.

Experiencing NYC from the Water

Visitors to New York shouldn’t forget that Manhattan is technically an island. It is surrounded by water on all sides, and this makes it a great place to explore by boat.

Whether you’re touring from the Upper Bay area below Manhattan, the Hudson on the West side, or the East River to the East, exploring the city by boat is a great way to experience both beautiful views and unforgettable memories.

The following are two boat of the top boat tour options to consider:

The Landmark Cruise: Circle Line Sightseeing

2-Hour-Semi-Circle-Cruise-1Those looking to make the most out of their limited time should consider the Landmark Cruise by Circle Line Sightseeing.

This tour includes landmarks located around Manhattan’s shores south of Hell’s Kitchen on the Hudson and around Lower Manhattan up to around the 20th Street Level on the East River.

The Lady Liberty Cruise: Circle Line Sightseeing

75-Minute-Liberty-Cruise-1Also offered by Circle Line Sightseeing, the Lady Liberty Cruise is another great option, and extends from the Hell’s Kitchen area on the West Side of Manhattan along the Hudson down the the Statue of Liberty National Monument to the South.

The cruise reaches within 100 feet of the Statue of Liberty and offers informative narration by professional guides.

Other Important Places to Visit

Some destinations in NYC are so iconic that they are renowned all over the world.

They’re deeply ingrained in the city’s culture, and most people you meet who you discuss your New York trip with afterwards will be asking you about them.

Don’t miss these three:

The Yankee Stadium Tour

NY-Yankees-Classic-Stadium-Tour-1To tour Yankee Stadium, you’ll have to head to the Bronx, and for sports fans, it’s often a highlight of their trip.

Knowledgeable tour guides take visitors through Yankee Stadium featuring highlights that go beyond the sights you’ve seen on TV.

The Yankees remain a significant force in NYC culture, and an in-depth tour of the stadium shows visitors the team spirit of New Yorkers from all five boroughs.

Madison Square Garden®: The All-Access Tour

madison-square-garden-tourDid you know that the current location of Madison Square Garden has only been in use since the late 1960’s?

Though currently located at Pennsylvania Plaza near Penn Station, previous Madison Square Garden locations can be traced back to the time of James Madison.

Even so, Madison Square Garden has had a prominent place in New York City culture and nightlife for well over a century.

Get an insider’s look at The World’s Most Famous Arena® with the Madison Square Garden All Access Tour.

The Radio City Stage Door Tour

radio-city-music-hallRadio City Music Hall is a great place to go to enjoy performances of the iconic Rockettes.

On the Radio City Stage Door Tour®, you will have the opportunity to meet and have your photo taken with a world-famous Rockette®.

During the tour you will also get to view the auditorium, the celebrity guestbook, and discover the secrets and history of the Great Stage, where some the biggest and best names in entertainment have performed.

Central Park

Seeing Central Park is an absolute necessity and ‘must do’ while you’re in New York, even if you’ll only be staying for a very limited period of time.

This beautiful green space offers a haven to the insanity of big city living, and it never fails to impress visitors from all parts of the world.

Central Park

Central-Park-Sightseeing-1Past visitors to New York City typically lament that they could have spent several days enjoying Central Park.

However, you can get to many of the park’s top locations during a full day bike rental, and you’ll get some great exercise at the same time.

Some of the things you’ll definitely want to do during your day at the park include a visit to the Central Park Zoo, a paddle boat ride on the Lake, a relaxing nap at Sheep Meadow, and a tour of the Central Park Mall with its stately Elm trees.

If you have time, enjoy the view of the Great Lawn from the Belvedere Castle and stroll through the Literary Walk to see statues of some of the most widely renowned writers in the English language, including Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Fitz-Greene Halleck.

Times Square

times-square-at-night-small

By Francisco Diez from New Jersey, USA (Times Square, NYC) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most iconic locations in the world, Times Square is a constant hub of excitement. From some of the best shops to the restaurants to the brilliant lights and sounds, Times Square is certainly not to be missed.

Stop in at the NHL Store, the Hershey’s Store, Forever 21, Quiksilver or The Sanrio Store.

Grab some delicious Italian food at Becco or tasty Asian cuisine at the funky Ruby Foos. Catch a glimpse of the famous MTV Studios and see where the New Year’s Eve ball drops.

There’s so much to see and do in Times Square that there will never be a dull moment!

Let’s Recap

So there you have it. Our picks for the best things to do in NYC for first time visitors during their vacation.

Plan to visit some of these top attractions during your trip. Whether you are traveling with young kids, teens, or just adults, we’re sure you and your family will have a great time.

Pick up a New York City Explorer Pass and save up to 45% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.

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