Tips for First-Time Travel to New York City

My friends and EIT readers, Cesar and Brenda, have decided to take a trip to the Big Apple. Neither have ever been to New York City, and they are overwhelmed by the number of things to see and do. I thought I’d help them out by putting together some tips for their first trip to NYC.

Tips for Travel to New York City

Here are some things to see and do that I suggest for first-time visitors to NYC. Please help us out by sharing your own tips in the comments!

Stay Somewhere Central and Walkable

Where to stay in Manhattan

On your first visit to a big city, I think it’s important to stay somewhere centrally located and in easy walking distance of the city’s sights. For your first trip to NYC, you should probably stay in Manhattan. The last time we visited New York, we stayed at the Hilton New York Fashion District, which I thought was a great 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.

>>> Looking for a hotel? Ever In Transit Readers recommend their favorite hotels in our Best Hotels in NYC Yonderbox.


Explore Central Park during the day…

Central Park New York City

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. Photo: Flickr/FrancescaGallina

AND at night

Central Park New York City

After dark, Central Park is particularly scenic as the lights of the city reflect off of the lakes, ponds, and streams. Photo: Flickr/smoovey

Walk the length of the High Line Park:

High Line Park, New York City

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. Photo: Flickr/Asterix611

Visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Statue of Liberty, New York City

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, made-for-tourists 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. Photo: Flickr/Nietnagel

Visit Times Square:

As an icon of American consumerism 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.

Yoga in Times Square, New York City

Ride the subway

NYC 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. Photo: Flickr/e_monk


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 next time I go.

The Starry Night, Van Gogh, MOMA

Two 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 built and changed throughout the years, including this replica of a historic subway station.)

New York Transit Museum

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, New York City

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!

Pizza in New York City

Grimaldi’s or otherwise, I’m no expert. Just eat as much pizza as possible.

Take the Staten Island Ferry for a free view of the NYC skyline

The Staten Island Ferry New York City

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 next time, too. Photo: Flickr/dvpfagan

Watch for film crews and celebrities

Celebrities in New York City

I lived in Los Angeles for six years before moving to Northern California. When my friends came to visit, they always aksed, “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 tucked away in the expansive homes and in their cars. In New York, on the other hand, I seen celebrities every time I visit, which I think is due to the city being more dense and people walking more. 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 like to do in NYC:

Visit farmer’s markets (Note: In New York they are called “green markets”)

Green Markets New York City

Take a stroll through Chinatown — where, among many other interesting things, you can buy live frogs.

Live frogs in Chinatown, New York City

Eat dill pickles at delis across the city.

Guss Pickles New York 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.

Fire escapes New York City

Want to save this list for your next trip? Click below to pin this post on Pinterest:

Looking for more things to do in NYC? –> Bring a NYC Guidebook

NYC Guidebook


What are your tips for first-time visitors to New York City?

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  1. If you go to the Met Museum, remember that it is owned by the city, therefore the twenty+ dollar admission price is just a suggestion. You can pay 25 cents if you want and they’ll let you in.

  2. Many of NYC’s major museums have free admission hours or days where you can “pay what you wish”. See here for more info –> http://freemuseumday.org/nyc.html

    Check out the markets and Union Square too. When I worked in NYC, I would always go there to get fruit, dessert, or something small for lunch.

    You can also get a nice view of the NYC skyline from Hoboken, NJ. I believe it’s $6 round trip from the MBTA station.

    Ahh so much to do and eat in NYC. Have the best time. Can’t wait to hear your impressions of the city.
    Kimi Sugiyama recently posted…Interview with Gina from Live for TravelMy Profile

    • Cassie Kifer says:

      This is a great link, Kimi! Thanks for the reference. Any idea when the farmer’s markets close for the year? (I’ll look that up right now)

  3. Eating cheap dumplings in Chinatown is also a thing! 😛
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    • Cassie Kifer says:

      Yum! We’re going to be there during the Moon Festival, so I’m going to see if there is anything special going on.

  4. Stephanie says:

    OMG! That show you were observing was for White Collar (on USA!). In the picture there, are two of the stars: Willie Garson and Marsha Thomason (on possibly Matt Bomer!) I so hope I see something like this when I got to NYC in a month :)

    • Kevin Adams says:

      My tip to maximize your chances would be to just walk around and explore the streets. Don’t only take the subway from point to point. Good luck and have a great time on your trip!

  5. Samantha says:

    One of the reasons the metro is “expensive” is the upkeep. More than a million riders daily if you count Queesn, Brooklyn and the Bronx – all part of political NY City boundaries, if not on Manhatten Island itself. And one may ride from the upper Bronx to Queens – a trip that is over an hour for one fare if you’re on the right train. Think about that: it’s a ride through 3 or perhaps 4 NY counties, depending on the subway line chosen. That $2.50 is a bargain compared to the PIA of driving in NY City traffic and the outrageous amount one pays daily or even weekly or monthly for parking in NY. NEVER think you can park on the street! Space is extremely limited or non-existent, meters must be fed and tickets for expired meters are pricey. Not to mention possible vandalism to cars or unintentional scrapings and scratchings from the traffic all around. As the song says “Take the A Train” – safer, faster and cheap by comparison.

    • Cassie Kifer says:

      You’re totally right and I’m sure the money they bring in through fares does not completely recover the cost of system maintenance. I’m always in favor of supporting public transit!

  6. Samantha says:

    Suggestion if you are traveling in NY with kids: The Hayden Planetarium in the Museum of Natural History (great for grown-ups too. We never get tired of it!) is an ESSENTIAL see. Go up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building – you can see the mainland of NJ and NY, Long Island and all the bridges. And speaking of bridges, the kids will love the “Little Red Lighthouse” of famed story under the “Great Grey (George Washington) Bridge”. And above the region of the bridge at 192nd street, reachable by subway, are the Cloisters – beautiful Medieval art and gorgeous gardens with some of the best espalier you will ever see. It’s lovely in the spring and summer, and the Museum of the Cloisters is beautiful at Christmas. The Metropolitan Museaum of Art is a MUST SEE at Christmas with “THE tree” and all the 17th and 18th century Neopolitan angels on it and the creche figures below. JFK thought it was so lovely he borrowed it for the White House on year. And in Brooklyn, the Aquarium is excellent. So is the absolutely fabulour Bronx Botanical Gardens and the Bronk Zoo. and they can all be reached for the “expensive” and “pricey” subway ride. Do enjoy NY when you come again, and have lots of fun. And if you are brave enough to rent a car, come on out to Long Island and see Teddy Roosevelt’s birth place and home, and then drive out to “The End” of Long Island (just ocean beyond that until you hit Portugal) at Montauk and see/climb to the top of the lighthouse commissioned by George Washington during the Revolution, and visit the Long Island wineries onthe way back. Gotta love NY!

  7. $2.50 for a subway ride is much less expensive than hopping in ANY cab, considering that is also the starting fare for a cab ride. The subway is the best way to get around the city, hands-down.

  8. Thanks for sharing these great tips. I want to suggest some other free things to do in New York as-

    Empire State Building: See the city skyline from the highest point – the Empire State Building. You will be forever changed by the breathtaking and awe inspiring view.

    Coney Island: An ongoing circus adventure spot where you will find a fire-breathing man and woman with tattooed face, Coney Island has all the fun and games of any world class fairground. Again not a spot to miss the next time you visit New York.

    Madison Square Gardens: The city’s major performance venue. You can catch your favourite sports games here or watch your favourite artists perform to sold out shows.You can plan your New York trip itinerary according to the performance venue adn timing details.

    For shopping everything from the Brooklyn Flea Market to Tiffany & Co. is available in the city. Cheap thrift stores and designer boutiques abound throughout New York.

    There are many more things to do in New York city it can be shopping, eating, adventure and nightlife also.

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