For most of my life I had dreamt of the day I would finally visit New York City. I imagined looking up at the Statue of Liberty, spending a day shopping up a storm in Soho and I wanted to stand in absolute awe, in the middle of Times Square. I wanted one of those I love NYC t-shirts and every other cliche tourist souvenir you can imagine. Yes, I was (and still am) that person. But that’s okay. It’s okay to dream. In fact, I encourage it! Especially when it comes to seeing the world. After all, having a dream took me to my favourite city in the world!
I’m sure you’re wondering why I spent most of my life dreaming of visiting New York City. Well, to be honest, I don’t have one answer to that question. Like most kids, I grew up watching movies and TV shows that were filmed or set in New York. Eventually, New York City had made it’s way to the top of my bucket list and I knew that one day, I would visit for myself. It wasn’t until June 2015 that I finally ticked New York off my bucket list. I took the plunge and booked my first solo trip with Contiki.
So what were my favourite things about New York City? What is there to see and do? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I’ve come up with a guide to NYC, including what to see and do, where to stay and more!
Table of Contents
- Visit New York: A Guide to New York City’s Must-See Attractions
- Airport to Manhattan Transfer
- New York City Accomodation
- New York City Public Transport
- New York City Things to See & Do
- 1. Explore the City on foot
- 2. World Trade Centre Museum
- 3. Times Square at Night
- 4. The Statue of Liberty
- 6. Central Park
- 7. Times Square during the day
- 8. Top of the Rock
- 9. The High Line
- 10. Shopping in Soho
- 11. Visit the Friends Building
- 12. Helicopter Flight over New York City
- 13. Catch a filming of the American Today Show
- Pin it for later!
Visit New York: A Guide to New York City’s Must-See Attractions
Airport to Manhattan Transfer
If you’re staying in Manhattan, transport from either of the three major New York City hotels is quite simple. Despite what it may look like, the New York public transport system is super easy to navigate. There are signs everywhere, and if all else fails, Google Maps will be your best friend.
If the thought of catching the Subway after being stuck on a plane for multiple hours, makes you nauseous, there are other options available. An Uber or Taxi is one of the most convenient ways of getting from the airport to your hotel. With being a convenient option, it can also be quite expensive. Keep that in mind if you choose to take this mode of transport.
Note: I arrived in New York City with an organised tour, I didn’t have to catch public transport or a Taxi to my accomodation. That being said, the above information was found online, and may not be 100% accurate.
New York City Accomodation
Unfortunately, the rumours you’ve heard are true: New York City can be an insanely expensive place to stay. But you can also do it on a budget. Like anywhere in the world, New York has cheap hostel and hotel options. It all depends on your style, and what type of accomodation you prefer! You can get a last minute budget hotel (or hostel) for around $100 per night – you’ll obviously pay less if you book ahead. If you prefer to live it up, the most expensive last minute hotel will cost you anywhere up to $1,200 per night. Again, it all depends on your preference.
I recommend Hotel Beacon on Broadway, for decently priced close-to-the-action accomodation. The rooms are excellent, staff are fabulous and the location is perfect! This is where my Contiki group stayed, and I was very happy with their choice. You can search for hotels in your desired New York neighbourhood by clicking here. Hotels Combined will, well, combine hotels for you! That way, you know you’re always getting the best deal. Which is especially important in an expensive city like New York.
New York City Public Transport
New York City is fairly easy to travel around using public transport. Their Subway system is fantastic, with a huge amount of stations and different train lines. On average, trains run every 10 minutes (every 2 minutes during peak hours throughout the day). If you’re traveling to Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn, the Subway is definitely your best option!
If you’re planning to travel quite a bit using the Subway, I suggest purchasing a MetroCard. Load some money onto it, and not only is your fare cheaper, but it’s also a lot easier! The lines may seem confusing at first, but it’s pretty simple: you’ve got uptown and downtown. It took me a few shots to get it right, but I was a natural in no time! Grab a city map and it’ll be a piece of cake.
New York City Things to See & Do
When I knew I was finally going to visit New York City, I started writing a list of everything that I wanted to see and do. Obviously, this list was very, very long. I knew there was no way I could fit everything into five days, so I had to pick and choose. One of the major upsides to traveling with Contiki, is all of the planning is done for you. So I was able to cross a lot off my New York City bucket list, without having to do any of the organising or planning. Here are some of the best things to see and do in New York City!
1. Explore the City on foot
One of the best things about New York City, is that you can see a lot by spending a little. Head out and explore on foot! Depending on where your accomodation is located, you can quite a bit of the city just by walking around. So choose a direction, and start exploring. There’s so much to see in New York City, and you’re definitely bound to come across some hidden gems. The best way to explore New York on foot, is to be spontaneous. Don’t make too much of a plan, just explore as far and as wide as you can.
2. World Trade Centre Museum
One of the must-see places when you visit New York, is the World Trade Centre Memorial and Museum. The memorial is pretty easy to find, and most Subway lines can take you there. If you’re unsure, just ask at a Subway station or use Google Maps.
The World Trade Centre Museum has a few different sections. In the Historical Exhibition, there are three parts: The Day of 9/11, Before 9/11 and After 9/11. Take your time wandering through the exhibits, as you aren’t constricted to a time limit once you’re inside the museum. The memorial exhibit remembers the people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. You can reserve your tickets to the museum here. Tickets are $24 for adults and $15 for kids aged 7 to 17.
3. Times Square at Night
The first thing my friends and I did upon arriving in New York City, was head straight to Times Square. It was eleven o’clock at night, we had spent over six hours traveling from California, and had never used the Subway before. But that wasn’t going to stop me from living my dream of standing in the middle of Times Square. The bright lights and thousands of people will leave you in awe, making you realise just how overwhelming New York City is.
There are a ridiculous amount of shops to spend way too much money in. Restaurants, diners and cafes to suit every taste. Load up on souvenirs from one of the dozens of stores within walking distance of the Subway station. Don’t worry about seeing every inch of Times Square in one night. I guarantee you’ll be back. Probably more than once.
4. The Statue of Liberty
You can’t leave New York City without visiting the Statue of Liberty. Literally. They actually stop you at the airport and ask if you’ve seen it, then kick you out if you say you haven’t. Nah, I’m only joking (obviously). But you should stop by Lady Liberty while you visit New York. It’s simply one of those things that you just have to do, regardless of whether you enjoy the super touristy, kind of annoying big city attractions.
You can purchase tickets from State Cruises, but make sure you do so before arriving in New York City. There are three different types of tickets available: Reserve Ticket, Pedestal Reserve Ticket and Crown Reserve Ticket. Since I visited New York with Contiki, and the Statue of Liberty was included in the tour cost, we only had the Reserve Ticket. One day, when I finally visit New York again, I will definitely be splurging on the Crown Reserve Ticket!
Please Note: Given that the Statue of Liberty is the most popular attraction in New York City, it’s always going to be busy and surrounded with people and their selfie sticks. For photos free of other tourists, head to one of the sides of Lady Liberty. There are hardly any people (everyone wants that front on shot) and you’ll get a much better photo. You’re welcome.
Here are the three Statue of Liberty ticket options available:
Cost: Adult $18.50, Child $9 (Children under 3 are free)
Ticket Includes: Access to the grounds of Liberty Island and Ellis Island, audio tour
PEDESTAL RESERVE TICKET
Cost: Adult $18.50, Child $9 (Children under 3 are free)
Ticket Includes: Fort Wood Pedestal access, grounds of Liberty Island and Ellis Island access, audio tour
CROWN RESERVE TICKET
Cost: Adult $21.50, Child $12
Ticket Includes: Crown and Pedestal access, grounds of Liberty Island and Ellis Island access, audio tour
6. Central Park
Central Park is probably the most well-known park in the world. Although it’s essentially just a park, there are a ton of awesome things to do and see. For example, my Contiki group did an organised bike tour around Central Park. It was an awesome way to see a large portion of the park, without having to explore on foot. Don’t forget your camera, because Central Park is one of the most beautiful places in New York City. Bring along a book if you’ve got some spare time, it’s an extremely relaxing place to sit, read and do some people watching too.
7. Times Square during the day
Before leaving New York City, make sure you have experienced Times Square both during the day and at night. They are two totally different experiences, and it’s the only way to ensure you see as much as possible. Although you won’t see the city all lit up and beautiful, it’s still an unforgettable experience. Yes, it’s busy. There are hundreds of cars driving past, horns beeping and sirens going off in every direction. You’ll have people yelling all around you and selfie sticks hitting you in the head. But I loved every minute of it. Standing amongst the craziness is something I’ll never forget.
8. Top of the Rock
There are a lot of people who believe the Empire State Building has the best views of New York City, and yeah, they are pretty good. But in my opinion, the Top of the Rock Observatory in Rockefeller Plaza is the absolute best for incredible, panoramic, unobstructed views of New York. I’m sure you’ve seen this photo all over the internet:
Well that’s taken from the Top of the Rock! For the $35 entrance fee, you’ll be rewarded with absolutely amazing views of Central Park, Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. You’ll also have a pretty epic view of the Empire State Building. Why climb to the top of it, when you can admire its beauty from afar?
The Top of the Rock Observatory was one of the highlights from my time in New York City. I wanted to experience the views that I had seen all over the internet for myself, and although I had to wait until my very last day in New York to do so, it was worth the wait.
TOP OF THE ROCK OBSERVATORY
Cost: Adult $34, Child $28
Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York
Operating Hours: 8am until Midnight (last elevator up at 11:15pm)
Note: Open 365 days a year
9. The High Line
Another must-see on your visit to New York City, is the High Line. The High Line is a public park that was built on an old train line, located above the streets of the West Side of Manhattan. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District, to West 34th Street. There are multiple places to sit and relax along the High Line, as well as restrooms and even a High Line Store. Take your time to explore as much of the High Line as possible, and watch the world go by on the ground!
THE HIGH LINE
Address: Runs from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street and 12th Avenue
Opening Hours: From 7am until 7pm (times vary throughout the year)
10. Shopping in Soho
There are a lot of places in New York City for shopping. You could literally spend hours in the Forever 21 in Times Square. Trust me, because I certainly did! But Soho is on a whole other level. It’s extremely confusing to navigate if you’ve never been before, and I definitely gave Google Maps a workout that day, but it’s 100% worth it. I spent a couple of hours, and close to $300, exploring Soho on my second to last day in New York City. My suitcase was pretty damn heavy after that unexpected shopping spree!
There are a ton of awesome stores and definitely something for everyone. Just make sure you either bring lots of cash or a credit card, because it’s very hard to not buy absolutely everything! Unless of course, you don’t enjoy shopping. In which case, disregard everything I have just said about Soho.
11. Visit the Friends Building
If you’re a fan of the classic sitcom Friends, you need to add this to your itinerary. The exterior building used as Monica’s apartment, is actually in Greenwich Village! It’s super easy to find, just put this address into Google Maps: 90 Bedford Street, and it’s located at the corner of Bedford and Grove Street. Even if you’ve only seen five minutes of Friends, you’ll know the building when you see it. There will probably be a crap ton of tourists snapping photos waving their selfie sticks in the air, trying to get the best Instagram photo. Just like I did!
I grew up watching Friends, and it’s been my favourite show for most of my life. So I was more than ecstatic to finally see this famous building in person!
12. Helicopter Flight over New York City
There are thousands of things to do in New York City, but since I only had a few days and limited free time, I wasn’t able to see everything that I wanted to. One of the most memorable moments during my time in New York, was the helicopter flight over the city. This is an incredible way to get a bird’s eye view of Central Park and Manhattan, seeing things you wouldn’t from the ground.
There is a pretty hefty price tag of just over $200 for a 12 to 15 minute flight, so depending on the time you have in New York and the budget you have set for your trip, it may not be a realistic option. But if possible, try to save a bit of extra money to have this once in a lifetime experience. It was quite foggy on the day of my flight, but it was still an experience I will never forget.
13. Catch a filming of the American Today Show
This one was a fluke, but I feel it necessary to include in this post. While exploring near Rockefeller Plaza, a few friends and I noticed a group of people crowding around a window across the road. So, being nosy, we went to see what all the fuss was about. Turns out, they were filming the day’s live episode of the NBC Today Morning Show! My grandma has watched the American Today Show for as long as I can remember, so I was quite familiar with the show and news presenters. It was a cool experience being able to watch a live filming.
Next door is the NBC Experience Store where you can buy a whole bunch of cool souvenirs and TV show merchandise. I left with a Friends mug, which is actually the size of a small bowl, rather than a mug. There’s a ton of different merchandise available, definitely something to interest most people!
There you have it. My guide for some of the best things to do in New York City for first time visitors. When you visit New York, be sure to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. New York City is one of those places that are simply unforgettable, whether you love or hate the bright lights and millions of people. Having dreamt about stepping foot in Times Square and gazing up at the Statue of Liberty for most of my life, being able to live that dream is a moment I’ll never forget.
Have you had the chance to visit New York City before? What’s your favourite part about it? What was your favourite attraction/restaurant/shop/experience? Tell me down below!
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