I still remember the first time I arrived in New York. Seeing the city skyline in the distance while we were on approach for JFK. Grabbed our bags, ordered an Uber and we were on our way to the city. After passing through the Queens Midtown Tunnel I started feeling the city vibes. People hustling their way back to the office, yellow cabs filling up the streets and the skyscrapers casting a shadow over the sunny streets.
After my first visit to New York I immediately fell in love with this city. Needless to say I went back many times. This also means I regularly get asked for tips by people visiting New York. Whether you are visiting for the first time or you are just looking for some new things to do, this post is for you.
In this post I’ll try not to give you all the obvious information you’ll find in every guide. I will do my best to help you decide which places are best to visit and telling you about the less obvious places. This is a list of the top things to do in New York City for first time visitors.
Let’s get started with the one place probably everyone goes at least once when in New York. The rooftop vantage points. The month I visited New York for the first time, the city had just gained its 3rd and newest one. One World Observatory at the top of the One World Trade building.
TL;DR: If you only vist one, follow these guidelines. If it’s nice outside visit Top of The Rock, if it’s cold or rainy visit One World Observatory.
One World Observatory
The One World Observatory is Manhattan’s newest rooftop vantage point, and it shows. Besides the magnificent views, technology is at the center point of this experience. From taking the elevator to the top until the experience looking over the city from the highest point in Manhattan. If you decide you’re only visiting one of the rooftops, it will be hard to decide between One World Observatory and Top of The Rock. Where the first wins on experience, the latter is interesting because it’s outdoor with nice views over Central Park and the city.
Top of The Rock
The Top of The Rock observation deck is located at tho top of Rockefeller Center and providing you with the most beautiful views over the city. You’ve probably seen one of those photos looking south over Manhattan looking at the Empire State Building and One World Trade. Well, those are taken at Top of The Rock. If you’re thinking about recreating those pictures you’ll better have steady hands, because unfortunately tripods are not allowed.
Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is probably one of the most beautiful and most iconic buildings of New York. With its Art Deco style it really is a nice building. But taking into consideration you probably want to do other things than visiting rooftops all day, you’ll have to choose. And if you ask me to pick only one, it will be a tie between One World Observatory and Top of The Rock. And I think my decision would mainly depend on the weather. If it’s nice and clear I would recommend visiting Top of The Rock, if it’s cold or rainy I would prefer One World Observatory.
Now if for some reason you really want to visit the Empire State Building I can give you a couple of tips. First of all, it’s crowded. Very crowded. If you don’t want to lose 3+ hours waiting in line, you may want to plan your visit after the sun has set. Second, don’t buy tickets on the sidewalk before entering the building.
Chocolate chip cookies. The best in the world. (Disclaimer: As far as I know)
All the way up, at 74th street there is a really small bakery. I think there’s place for up to 10 people inside, that small. But believe me when I say they have the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. It’s well worth the subway ride.
If you’re a foodie this place feels like heaven on earth. From German currywurst to a farm to table restaurant. You’ll find everything here. Even better if you want to escape the bad weather.
Greenwich Village Food Tour
One of the best and most tasteful tours in New York by Free Tours by Foot. Artichoke pizza, Italian rice balls and Molly’s cupcakes. You’ll discover some of the finest food of New York. Definitely worth it.
I discovered this place while looking for a great hamburger. First I went to Black Tap, but white lines around the corner that place was way to crowded for me. Then I discovered Walker’s, a nice authentic bar in Tribeca. They serve great hamburgers and you most definitely won’t come across any tourists there.
This is the place were I discovered bagels. This also is the only place on earth were I’ve had a decent bagel ever since. There are a lot of great bagel shops in New York, I’ll mention two.
First you have Pick a Bagel. I love this place because it’s just two blocks from my hotel and their bagels are just delicious.
Second, La Bagel Delight. This place serves great bagels and is in close proximity to the pebble beach in DUMBO. I love getting a bagel here in the morning and eating it on the pebble beach with a nice view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Like Mc’Donalds, but with curly fries and delicious hamburgers. When you’re in New York, you can’t skip this place.
Washington Square Park
In the direct vicinity of Washington Square Park you’ll find some of the nicest places to eat in New York. Just wander around and you’ll discover a whole lot of interesting places. Especially going south.
This is a place I discovered just wandering around Tribeca on a Sunday morning. But damn this place serves nice breakfast. Just walk in and get a table or sit yourself at the bar. You won’t regret it.
When talking about food in New York I’ve gotta talk about foods carts as well. One of the better food carts I’ve come along is ‘ The Halal Guys ‘. Chicken, gyro or a combo as a platter or a sandwich. Very simple menu, but damn is this delicious! My favourite is the one on 53rd Street and 6th Avenue.
The Standard Biergarten
Bavarian brews and German snacks, the Biergarten at The Standard is a year-round beer hotspot. Located under the High Line this is definitely a nice place to visit with a very nice atmosphere. Also beers and other drinks here tend to be more ‘reasonably priced’ compared to the rest of Meatpacking District.
Things To Do
New York City has a lot to offer! I couldn’t possibly fit al the things to do in New York in one blog post, but I’ll give it my best to talk about the definitely must do items.
Let’s start of with one of the most obvious ones, Central Park. Wether it’s a sunny summer day or a snowy winter day, Central Park always has some nice relaxed vibes to offer to get away from the busy city life. People picnicking at Sheep Meadow, runners going for their daily workout, creatives taking notes on one of the many benches, people sailing on the lake, youth playing baseball and many more familiar sights.
For me Central Park is one of my favourite places to go for a run in New York. I also like to just stroll around here from time to time, maybe after getting a Chocolate Chip Cookie at Levain Bakery first.
Subway as a thing to do, you may think? Yes! Traveling on the New York subway is an experience on it’s own and a good one. Buy yourself a ticket for the entire duration of your stay and don’t even think about taking a cab within Manhattan. At many of the larger subway stations you are greeted by nice music the moment you get of the train or enter the station. “Stand clear of the closing doors please” is probably one of the most well known sentences for New Yorkers.
One of the subway stations that are definitely worth “visiting” is Union Square.
Talking about Union Square, not only it’s subway station is worth visiting. Union Square also has a nice little park to offer. Especially during summer this is a very nice place to eat your lunch or watch one of the many chess players. There’s also a nice daily green market on union square with many local farmers offering their goods.
Notes on this post
This post is based on my own experience in New York City and will be updated over time. Latest update dates from May 3, 2023.