Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of visiting NYC. In my eyes, New York always seemed like the American Dream; a melting pot full of unique people, wonderful sights, sounds, and things to do. Last week, I completed one of the top items on my bucket list and traveled to the Big Apple. NYC did not disappoint! I was in awe with everything that the city had to offer and instantly fell in love with its charm and fast-paced lifestyle.
I wrote this guide specifically for anyone who has never visited NYC before, in hopes that it will help you narrow down your options. Whether you are visiting memorials, museums, Central Park, or simply just walking down the streets, NYC has something to offer for everyone. In addition, don’t be afraid to play up the “tourist” role! Don’t feel stupid or embarrassed for participating in guided tours or for having your camera around your neck the whole time. Trust me, New Yorkers are used to the tourists and chances are—they can spot you even if you are trying to hide it. Embrace every opportunity in front of you. Get out there, explore, take pictures, and most importantly, have fun!
I’m going to share with you today my favorite things to do and places we visited on our trip last week, as well as give you helpful hints and pointers to navigating the city. Enjoy!
Even if you hate crowds, you HAVE TO at some point visit Times Square—both at day AND night. The spectacle of lights and the over-populated streets will astound you. It offers a variety of tourist attractions, restaurants, and other fun things to do within the plaza. There is always something going on in Times Square; whether it’s a flash-mob, vendors selling goods, or painted naked ladies running around (we’ve seen it!), you will always be entertained. Even if you are uneasy with crowds, make it a point to check it out. There is simply just nothing like it.
Central Park is a nice place to get away from the crowds of the city. Nestled in the middle of Manhattan, it is unique because it is literally a block of nature sounded by the Concrete Jungle. It offers some of the most gorgeous views of the city. We walked around Central Park, but I would highly recommend renting bikes to explore. Because it covers 843 acres, you will wish that you took my advice. (My feet were soooo sore the following day!!) As you walk through the park, you again find vendors selling yummy foods, as well as see people play live music. It truly adds to the “New York” experience—I swear, it was just like the movies! (Anyone seen You’ve Got Mail?)
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum
No words. There is just simply nothing like it. Although it took over 10 years to construct, New York City did a beautiful job commemorating the 3,000 + who lost their lives on September 11th and in the World Trade Center bombing of 1993. It includes the newly built Freedom tower, a memorial fountain, and a museum. The Freedom Tower stands 1,776 feet tall and is now the tallest building in America. I was astounded at the beauty of the memorial, where each name of those who lost their life is etched in the marble. I just could not grasp how many names were present and that each of those names left behind family and friends. The museum included many historical artifacts from the day, a historical timeline, individual’s stories, and more. There were even parts of the World Trade Center included in the museum that withheld the collapse. Paying my respects to those lost in the 9/11 tragedy was an absolutely incredible, life-changing experience; thus making it my favorite part of my trip. I wish every single American had the opportunity to pay their respects to those whose lives were lost on that fateful day.
Double-Decker city bus tours
I know, I know. It’s such a touristy thing. But hey, as long as you’re in NYC, you might as well play the part, right? Yes, the locals will judge you, but you’ll never see any of these people again in your life. Get tickets to ride a double-decker bus to get a guided tour of the city. NYC is so vast that you can’t possibly see it all within walking distance (don’t even THINK about driving). We did the daytime tour and the night tour- both of which I highly recommend. Our tour guide was funny and very knowledgeable. Overall, a fantastic experience! P.S. You won’t have any trouble finding or getting tickets for these tours- the workers stand on the streets in Times Square and will constantly approach you to purchase them. (Pretty sure we were approached
a few a hundred times.)
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
You can’t go to New York without seeing the Statue of Liberty, obvs. If you want the true American experience, take a ferry to Liberty Island to see the statue and to Ellis Island. The nation’s chief gateway during the years 1892 to 1924, over 12 million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island. In fact, over 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who crossed this island! Following restoration in the 1980s, this building reopened as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. I also enjoyed the ferry ride; as our tour guide was again very knowledgeable, and we were able to take some amazing pictures of the Statue of Liberty with Manhattan in the background. ‘Merica!
Take the subway
The subway is how most New Yorkers get around, since traffic is God-awful and cabs are expensive. Although they have a reputation for being sketchy, I didn’t think it was that bad. I actually thought it was a great learning experience. I would highly recommend you to learn the system by buying a ticket ($2.75 a piece) and taking the subway somewhere. Just be sure that you are traveling with someone and you have a plan of where you are going. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Rockefeller Center tour
We had most of our trip planned out, and we didn’t originally plan on touring the Rockefeller Center. It was a last-minute thing. I’m soooo glad we did! I HIGHLY recommend doing the actual tour because there is just so much interesting history that our tour guide taught us about the Rockefeller family. Little did I know that the Rockefeller Center takes up 19 buildings and covers 22 acres, and was declared a National Historic Landmark. The art and architecture within the Plaza is absolutely fascinating. Plus, at the end of the tour, they bring you up to the Top of the Rock! (see below).
Top of the Rock Observation Deck
At some point, you need to see New York from a bird’s eye. At the Top of the Rock, we were 70 floors up. I personally preferred going to the Top of the Rock over the Empire State Building, just so I could view the beautiful Empire State building lit up at night. If you have the opportunity, I recommend staying to watch the sun set to catch the city lights glimmer. You’ll get the best of both worlds. NYC at night is breathtaking! However, get a spot early- once the sun sets, it gets very populated up there!
Taping of the Today Show or Good Morning America
Looking for something free to do? You can’t leave NYC without going to a taping of a morning show! I dragged my boyfriend to the Today Show at 6:30am. He originally was not exactly keen on the idea, but ended up having a blast! I was thoroughly impressed with how they had it set up. It wasn’t too populated, there were security guards standing on duty, and there was a station where you could make signs! Needless to say, I was excited about my five seconds of fame on TV. Plus, Matt Lauer and Al Roker were 5 steps away from us at one point. Winning.
See a Broadway show
Although it’s pricey, Broadway will NOT disappoint. We had tickets to see the Lion King and I CAN’T EVEN DESCRIBE TO YOU HOW AMAZING IT WAS!!!!!!!! (Do you see those exclamation points?!) I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. The costumes, the acting, the singing, the stages and props…it is well worth your ticket price! (Our tickets were approximately $150 apiece). I would be happy to see any Broadway show, but I feel like the Lion King has to be one of the best.
Visit Grand Central Station
Grand Central Terminal is another historic part of NYC. It is where NYC subway trains originate and terminate. Based on the number of platforms it features, Grand Central Terminal is the largest train station in the world. I was amazed at the architecture of the inside of the station and how many people were bustling around! I felt like I was lost in a sea of little ants! It was amazing to see the station in action and to think of how many people use the subway every single day.
National Museum of American History
I know that not all people are, but I’m a huge history buff. That being said, I’m a stickler for museums. We had the pleasure to visit the American Museum of Natural History and it was great! The best part about the museum was that there were….are you ready for this…..REAL DINOSAUR BONES!!!! (Childhood fantasy= complete.) This is only one example of a museum in NYC; there are loads more! Find something that interests you and go on a rainy day.
Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is a unique part of New York history and symbolizes how industrious our country became in the late 19th century. Built in 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge at the time. Just to think that manual labor that went into creating such a stable and safe bridge blew me away! It has since been designated a National Historic Landmark. But don’t just look at the Brooklyn Bridge; you need to actually WALK over it. It’s all part of the experience!
If you’re the type who loves to take pictures, have fun and just goof off, this is the perfect place for you! Madam Tussauds was such a blast! In the heart of Times Square, it is a museum that contains life-size wax replicas of famous Americans & historic icons in themed galleries. I took pictures with Carrie Underwood, Julia Roberts, the Kennedy’s, Brad & Angelina, the Beatles, and more! According to the museum, each wax figures costs approximately $125,000 to make, and more than 250 precise measurements and photographs of a subject are taken to accurately create a wax figure. Get this: each strand of hair is inserted individually, taking approximately five weeks to complete each head. You will be amazed by how life-like each figure looks!
Last but definitely not least…all of this was made possible through our trusty
New York Pass
We would not have been able to do many of these amazing attractions without our New York Pass! At a reasonable price of approximately $130 a person, this pass gets you into over 80 attractions, including many of which I mentioned above! After our vacation, we figured out that with the pass we saved ourselves $130 a piece than if we were to visit each of these places separately without our pass. You HAVE TO take advantage of this!
Although I could literally write a book, these are my top recommendations for a beginner traveling to NYC. There are endless options for things to do; there truly is something for everyone! If you have visited NYC, what other places or things would you recommend for a beginner? I would love to hear in the comments below.
Until next time ,
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