Must-See Places on a First Trip to New York

We are André and Mariana, a couple of part-time travelers. Our first adventure was in 2016 and we haven’t stopped since. Find out more

Visiting New York City for the first time? Trying to make a shortlist of the best things to do and the places you have to visit in the Big Apple can be a challenging task. We’ve been there! Of course, if it’s your first time in NYC, you need to catch the most breathtaking views and check out the best museums, but that’s not all. 

New York is a massive city with five boroughs to discover, so it’s best to have a plan — you won’t see it all when visiting for the first time. Reserve a few days (or even a week) to absorb life in Manhattan, check off the must-sees, and you’ll have enough time to explore some of Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and the Bronx too. 

Need a hand with that list? Put these 10 must-see attractions at the top, and your first trip to NYC will be an unforgettable experience from the start.

The top 10 places to visit on your first trip to New York City

Central Park

Lake in Central Park on a sunny day - NYC
Lake in Central Park on a sunny day - NYC

What: The largest park in Manhattan, and the most famous park in the world
Where: Between Fifth and Eighth Avenues, 59th and 110th Streets
What not to miss: Bethesda Fountain, Strawberry Fields, and Umpire Rock
Price: Free 

Bang in the center of Manhattan, Central Park is unmissable. Which is good —  it’s an essential stop when visiting NY for the first time, or any time. The huge 843-acre park is a great place to step away from the crowds for a minute and recharge your batteries, but there’s a lot going on in it too. 

Check out the famous Umpire Rock for a photo framed with skyscrapers on the park’s edge. Head to the stunning Bethesda Terrace and its two-story plaza and arcade. Another favorite spot in Central Park is the Bow Bridge, from where you have one of the most beautiful views of the lake. There’s also a boating lake, a zoo, and Strawberry Fields, which honors the late Beatles frontman, John Lennon. Exploring the park and watching New Yorkers run, walk, and skate through it is a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon. We always go to see the park’s cutest residents: the squirrels.

Scared you’ll miss something? Take a tour of Central Park to see the highlight and learn its history. 

American Museum of Natural History

Entrance area of the American Museum of Natural History, NYC
Entrance area of the American Museum of Natural History, NYC

What: The world’s largest natural history museum where “A Night at the Museum” was set
Where: 200 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
What not to miss: African mammal exhibit, Blue Whale, T-Rex, and the Harriet and Robert Heilbrunn Cosmic Pathway
Price: $28

The largest natural history museum in the world, the American Museum of Natural History is renowned for its exhibitions covering 45 permanent halls across 26 interconnected buildings. From the tiniest plant specimens to the huge dinosaur skeletons that dominate the entrance hall, every one of the 34 million objects in its collection is fascinating. 

Purchase your tickets online in advance to skip the ticket line, or get discounted entry with a Go City Explorer Pass.

Fifth Avenue

Entrance area of the American Museum of Natural History, NYC
St Patrick's Cathedral on the Fifth Avenue, NYC

What: NYC’s most famous shopping street, lined with landmarks and luxury department stores
Where: Between the Flatiron Building and Central Park
What not to miss: Rockefeller Center, St Patrick’s Cathedral, the New York Public Library, and legendary stores like Tiffany & Co, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman
Price: Free — but the shopping might quickly change that

The most famous street in the city and one of the most important in terms of commerce, it’s about six miles long and lined with the flagship stores of some of the world’s biggest brands. In addition, as you walk along Fifth Avenue, you’ll find some of the most iconic landmarks in the city, including Central Park, the Guggenheim Museum, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building, and the Flatiron Building. It’ss worth starting near the latter or at Washington Square Park, then getting lost in the shop windows and monuments that appear as you make your way north.

Viewing platforms

The Edge Observatory - Helicopter View, NYC
The Edge Observatory - Helicopter View, NYC

What: The observation decks at the top of skyscrapers like the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center
Where: Various locations across Manhattan
What not to miss: Timing your visit for sunset can be pretty spectacular
Price: From $43

Getting the best views of NYC is high on every visitor’s agenda, and rightly so. With the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory, Edge, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt on offer, New York has an observatory-topped skyscraper for all tastes, so it’s a must to include at least one in your itinerary. 

On our first trip, we chose two of the most famous: the Empire State  Building, which we consider the most iconic in the city and the stage we chose to watch the sunset, and the One World Observatory, for the elevator show experience and the 360-degree views of New York City from the 100th floor. But many say Top of the Rock offers the best views, while Edge is perfect for thrill seekers and SUMMIT One Vanderbilt combines mesmerizing art installations with epic views.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

The Museum of Modern Art - Inside View, NYC
The Museum of Modern Art - Inside View, NYC

What: The largest park in Manhattan, and the most famous park in the world
Where: 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019
What not to miss: Monet’s “Waterlilies” and Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans”
Price: $25

MoMA is probably the world’s most famous modern art museum. Home to works by artists such as Van Gogh, Warhol, Picasso, Magritte, Dalí, Mondrian, and Kandinsky, it houses some of the most famous artworks every created. We love modern art, so this museum was a must on our first trip to New York and it didn’t disappoint.

The ever-changing collection is always popular, with more than 200,000 pieces in the archive and on display, so booking your MoMA entry ticket in advance saves a lot of time at the door. 

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal view inside
Grand Central Terminal view inside

What: New York’s most iconic train station
Where: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017
What not to miss: The Whispering Gallery and the magnificent celestial ceiling on the main concourse
Price: Free

Visiting Grand Central Terminal comes with an instant feeling of both awe and déjà vu, due to its prominence in film, TV, and photography. In addition to the iconic train station’s fabulous architecture and unique constellation ceiling, it has numerous shops and restaurants. Downstairs, next to the Oyster Bar, you will find one of Grand Central’s most amazing secrets: the Whispering Gallery. For this experience, two people are needed: stand in opposite corners of the arched entrance and speak facing the wall — you will be able to hear each other as if you were speaking face-to-face, not meters across a crowded NYC station. You really have to try it to believe it. 

If you want to discover more of the station’s surprises, the Secrets of Grand Central Terminal tour will help you do just that. Hidden tennis court, anyone?

Times Square

The Times Square at night - New York City
The Times Square at night - New York City

What: The part of the city so bright it can be seen from space
Where: 7th Avenue, between 42nd and 47th Streets
What not to miss: The Midnight Moment
Price: Free

For us, Times Square the heart of New York City, and the hallmark of this destination. Home to the Theater District and the city’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, Times Square is better known for the advertising billboards that shine bright day and night. During the day you can already have a good perception of the space, but at night it takes on a whole new life: hundreds of people gather to see street artists and admire the vibrant light show of the square. The typical sounds of music, people, horns, and sirens add to the chaotic soundtrack. Go late to catch the Midnight Moment, a three-minute art show that takes over more than 200 billboards every night at 11:57 PM.

9/11 Memorial and Museum

The 9/11 Memorial, New York City
The 9/11 Memorial, New York City

What: The largest man-made waterfalls in the US, in the footprint of the Twin Towers, and a museum dedicated to the 9/11 attacks
Where: 180 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10007
What not to miss: The Museum’s Foundation Hall
Price: $17 (Memorial is free)

On the site where the Twin Towers once stood, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum pays tribute to the victims and survivors of the 9/11 attacks. Through poignant memorials and exhibitions, with various artifacts and unpublished images, the event that changed America in 2001 is carefully and respectfully retold. The 9/11 Memorial, two giant reflecting pools in the footprint of each tower surrounded by the names of each victim, is free of charge and is open to the public daily from 10 AM to 5 PM. Book an entry ticket for the adjacent 9/11 museum before your visit, as you can choose your desired time slot, or you can do like us and choose it as one of the attractions included in one of the city passes. It’s a hard-hitting but very enriching experience, which is why we believe it can’t be left out of any NY itinerary.

Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, New York City
The Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, New York City

What: The iconic bridge connecting Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn
Where: Brooklyn Bridge Blvd, New York, NY 10038
What not to miss: Bethesda Fountain, Strawberry Fields, and Umpire Rock
Price: Free

A first-time visit to NY isn’t complete without the experience of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. You can walk or cycle across, or join a Brooklyn Bridge tour if you want to learn all about its history and important role in the city. When you arrive in Brooklyn, start by looking for the famously Instagrammable spot in Dumbo (an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), on Washington Street, where the Manhattan Bridge is framed between the buildings. This spot is usually crowded with tourists, so visiting early is worth the effort for the perfect snap. A little further on, you can also find the Empire Fulton Ferry, a riverside park with the most incredible views of the Manhattan skyline — sit back and take it all in.

Statue of Liberty and Staten Island Ferry

Lady Liberty and city view from the ferry, NYC
Lady Liberty and city view from the ferry, NYC

What: Maybe the most famous statue in the world, and the city’s free ferry connecting Manhattan and Staten Island
Where: New York Harbor
What not to miss:
Price: Free (or from $30 to visit Liberty Island)

The Statue of Liberty is incredible to see in person. If seeing it up close is a must for you, book the ferry ride to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, where you’ll find Lady Liberty and the National Museum of Immigration. If getting a great view is enough, either book a cruise around the islands or take the Staten Island Ferry from the Whitehall Terminal (also known as the South Ferry) in Manhattan. We took the Staten Island Ferry and loved it — you get a river cruise and a great view of the Statue of Liberty and the Lower Manhattan skyline, all for free! 

The ferry operates 24/7 and leaves around every 30 minutes during the day, passing very close to the Statue of Liberty. Once you arrive at Staten Island, one of New York City’s five boroughs, either hop back aboard the ferry for the return trip, or spend the day on Staten Island checking out the relatively quiet borough’s highlights. You’ll find some of the oldest parts of New York here, like Historic Richmond Town. 

There’s much more you can do, but this guide to your first trip to New York is a good place to start.

We are André and Mariana, a couple of part-time travelers. Our first adventure was in 2016 and we haven’t stopped since. We’ve always wanted to see as much of the world as possible and our purpose is to show, especially to people our age, that it is possible to travel the world without being rich! Although we are a couple, we have different tastes and that’s why we keep our Instagram accounts separate (Andre and Mariana). Stop by to see where we’ve been and where we’re going!

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