Big news: In two weeks, Kevin and I are going to New York City! His dear San Francisco Giants are playing the New York Mets and the Yankees that weekend, so he wanted to take the opportunity to see both games. As you might recall, Kevin is a sports fanatic and we often travel to see his favorite teams.
But the more exciting part of this story is that two friends and EIT readers, Cesar and Brenda, have decided to come with us. Neither have ever been to New York and they are overwhelmed by the number of things to see and do. I thought I’d help them out by compiling some tips for your first trip to New York City.
Here are some things I suggest a first-time visitor to NYC see and do. Please help us out by sharing your own tips in the comments!
Explore Central Park during the day…
This giant park dates all the way back to 1857 where it was designed to be a respite from the fast-growing, industrial city. At 778 acres, It’s huge and easy to get lost in the winding paths, bridges, gardens, and hills built into this urban oasis.
AND at night
After dark, Central Park is particularly scenic as the lights of the city reflect off of the lakes, ponds, and streams. I took lots of photos of these reflections last time I were there but none were as good as the one above — thanks, Flickr user “smoovey“.
Walk the length of the High Line Park:
While Central Park is historic and grand, this park on Manhattan’s Lower West Side is slim, modern — and 25 feet above the city. Built on an out-of-use elevated rail line, it’s an innovative way to turn a blighted manmade space into a scenic and peaceful place. It is only one mile long so it’s worth walking the path from start to finish.
Stay Somewhere Central and Walkable
On your first visit to a big city, I think it’s really important to stay somewhere centrally located and in easy walking distance of lots of things to do. For your first visit to NYC, you probably should stay in Manhattan. The last time we visited Manhattan, we stayed at the Hilton New York Fashion District, which I thought was an excellent location–a close walk from the High Line Park, Chelsea Market, a great seasonal greenmarket (see below). It was a great base for visiting Manhattan, and the neighborhood felt safe at night.
Visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
I visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island immigration museum the first time I visited New York on a school trip in 6th grade. I remember how exciting it was to stand at the foot of this beautiful statue and think about what her image means to people seeking liberty and justice around the world. I also remember really enjoying the immigration museum with the chance to getting a feel for what emigrating to this country was like across the ages. I’m very curious to find out how the museum addresses more recent waves of immigration to the U.S. I would hope it handles the challenges honestly and respectfully.
We did a lot of overpriced, touristy junk on that trip that I can’t recommend (dinner at Hard Rock, etc.) but some things are visited for a reason. The Statue of Liberty is one of those.
Visit Times Square:
As an icon of frenetic American commercialism and the place where people around the world grew up “watching the ball drop” on television every New Year’s Eve, it’s worth walking by for the photograph. If you’re lucky, there will be something strange like a yoga festival in Times Square, like when I last visited the city back in 2010.
Ride the subway
At $2.50 per ride on the subway and buses, the NYC Metro system is not cheap, but it is fast, goes everywhere, and the subway map and typography makes design nerds go wild. Buy all kinds of NYC Metro map souvenirs (t-shirts, umbrellas, boxer shorts…) at the New York Transit Museum’s gift shop, noted below.
If you’re buying more than 13 individual Metro fares on your trip, buy a 7 day unlimited pass for $30.
Visit a museum or two:
As a global center of art and culture and home to scores of world-class museums, I can’t attempt to recommend must-see museums to visit. I’m not much of an art museum person, so I actually haven’t been to that many. I have visited the Museum of Modern Art and enjoyed it. I’ve never been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art nor the American Museum of Natural History but I plan to visit one of them this coming trip.
Two of my lesser known but personal favorites are the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side (if you are interested in the city’s immigration and social history) and the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn (to learn about how the transit system was build and changed throughout the years, including this replica of a historic subway station.)
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
It’s one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States, the detail is beautiful up close, and offers great views of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Plus, Grimaldi’s coal-fired pizza is right at the end.
(On that note) Eat lots of pizza!
Grimaldi’s or otherwise, I’m no expert. Just eat as much pizza as possible. This looks like a good guide to pizza in NYC.
Take the Staten Island Ferry fora free view of the NYC skyline
So, I haven’t done this. But it was recommended by several people on Facebook and Twitter when I raised the question, more than any other single thing. Unlike the rest of the pricy, NYC metro system (as above), the Staten Island commuter ferry is apparently free and offers a great view of Manhattan. I’ll be doing this on our upcoming trip.
Watch for film crews and celebrities
I lived in Los Angeles for six years before moving to Northern California, and when I was there the question asked by everyone who came to visit was, “have you seen any celebrities?” The answer was always an emphatic “no”. Unless you hang out in fancy areas of the West Side (which I didn’t) or work in the movie or music industries (which I didn’t), you rarely see celebrities in Los Angeles because they are always in their hidden enclaves, expansive homes, and in their cars.
In New York on the other hand, I’ve seen reasonably recognizable celebrities more often which I think is due to the city being much more dense, and you rarely traveling by car.
On our last trip in 2010, we saw the above shoot for a TV show starring Willie Garson (who played Carrie’s friend, Stanford Blatch, on “Sex and the City”). Later that evening we noticed we were seated right next to Garson (with a friend and his family) at the wood-fired pizza place we visited with a friend. Same guy, twice in one day. That would never happen in L.A.
Here are a few other things I enjoy in NYC:
Visiting farmer’s markets (Note: In New York they are called “green markets”)
Taking a stroll through Chinatown — where, among many other interesting things, you can buy live frogs.
Eating dill pickles at various delis across the city.
Wander around, looking up and down to admire the landscape of this big and diverse city. I think NYC’s fire escapes are particularly attractive.
Want to save this list for your next trip? Click below to pin this post on Pinterest:
Looking for more things to do? Pick up a NYC guidebook, like this one by Lonely Planet