Top 10+ Things to Do in NYC for First Time Visitors – Must See & Do Attractions

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 top 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 popular New York attractions and save up to 50% off combined admission vs paying at the gate.

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

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.

Big Bus New York Sightseeing Tours

With one of the popular Hop On Hop Off Big Bus New York 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:

  • Empire State Building
  • SOHO/ Little Italy
  • Brooklyn Bridge/ City Hall
  • Wall Street/ Charging Bull
  • High Line
  • Madison Square Garden
  • and many more!

And best yet, feel free to get off and on the bus at any time during the duration of your ticket to visit particular points of interest.

Getting In: Big Bus New York tickets are available as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

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 unique 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.

Getting In: THE RIDE tickets are available as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

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

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This 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.

Fun fact: 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.

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

Getting In: Empire State Building tickets are available as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

The Top of the Rock Observatory

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The 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.

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

Don’t have time to see both, but can’t decide which to focus on? Our post comparing the Top of the Rock vs the Empire State Building could be helpful.

Getting In: Top of the Rock tickets are available as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

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New York City was a prominent welcoming port for immigrants to the United States throughout a significant portion of its history.

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.

Getting In: Statue of Liberty Ferry tickets and Lady Liberty Cruise tickets are available as options with the New York City Explorer Pass.

9/11 Memorial and Museum

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One of the most important places in all of NYC is the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, located on the site of the former World Trade Center.

This moving attraction recounts the tragic history of one of the darkest days in recent US history in informative and moving exhibits.

The Museum has three separate sections, detailing the lead-up to, day of, and aftermath of the attacks, as well as the stories of the lives lost and the relics that remain from the rubble.

The outside Memorial is also popular for photographs and is well-known for its signature water feature and lighting.

Getting In: 9/11 Memorial and Museum tickets are available as the New York City Explorer Pass.

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 to suit your tastes. With a wide spectrum of available exhibits, special events, unique programming, and more, there’s never a dull moment on the NYC museum scene.

American Museum of Natural History

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As one of New York’s most beloved and top 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 is one of the largest museums in the world. It’s located on the west side of Central Park, so it’s easy to build into a larger itinerary, too.

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.

Getting In: American Museum of Natural History tickets are available as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

The Museum of Modern Art

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The 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.

Some of their most famous holdings include works by Jackson Pollock, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, and many, many more.

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

Getting In: Museum of Modern Art tickets are available as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

The Met

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

The Met is one of the most popular places to go in NYC 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 and across time, with holdings as old as Ancient Egyptian artifacts and as recent as modern-day paintings. (If you’re looking for more modern and contemporary, the Met Breuer is another smart choice).

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.

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

Getting In: Metropolitan Museum of Art tickets are available as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

The Guggenheim Museum

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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 unique thing about the Guggenheim is its philosophy of displaying art. Rather than grouping items together by genre (a sculpture gallery, a painting gallery, etc.), the Guggenheim arranges objects in thematic ways that encourage visitors to ponder connections between them.

Featured artists include Cézanne, Juan Gris, Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Klee, and many others.

Getting In: Guggenheim Museum tickets are available as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

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Those 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.

Getting In: Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum tickets are available as option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

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

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If you’ve only got a short time in NYC, then you’ll probably want to consider a sightseeing cruise. This landmarks cruise from Circle Line Sightseeing is a fun, comprehensive option.

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.

So, some of the places you’ll see include the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, the High Line, One World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, DUMBO, the Brooklyn Bridge, and many more.

Getting In: Landmark Cruise tickets are available as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

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

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To 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.

Getting In: Yankee Stadium Tour tickets are available as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

Madison Square Garden®: The All-Access Tour

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Another can’t miss destination in New York is The World’s Most Famous Arena®, Madison Square Garden. Take a 75-minute guided tour of this historic destination to get a behind the scenes look at this iconic venue.

Some of the most famous concerts and events have happened here, many of which you can see highlighted in the MSG’s Defining Moments exhibits.

The Garden is also home to the New York Rangers NHL team and the New York Knicks NBA team. Sports fans will be interested in knowing how the floor transforms from a basketball court to an ice rink.

It’s a can’t-miss for culture buffs!

Getting In: Madison Square Garden tickets are available as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

The Radio City Stage Door Tour

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Radio 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.

Getting In: Radio City Stage Door Tour tickets are available as a option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

Iconic Destinations

Seeing Central Park is a 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 Bike Rentals

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Past 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.

Getting In: Central Park Bike Rentals are available as an option with the New York City Explorer Pass.

Times Square

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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 most popular and top 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 50% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.

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The information contained in this post, to the best of the author's knowledge, was accurate at time of publishing. We do our best to ensure and maintain the accuracy of this information.

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