The Perfect New York Itinerary For Your First Visit

Coming to New York for the first time can be a daunting experience. There’s so many things to see and do that deciding how to structure your trip can be confusing. I’ve been fortunate to visit New York several times over the years, and I love it. I love the manic energy of the city, the diversity of the people you meet and the dynamic artistic culture that thrives in this environment. So I decided to make my version of the perfect New York itinerary for people visiting for the first time. This will give you the classic overview of the city’s main attractions and some unique experiences you definitely should try in the Big Apple.

Day 1: Classic Tour Of The City

For the day one, I’ll focus on some of the classic attractions most people want to see when they come to New York. So we’ll be spending most of our time around Midtown and Upper Manhattan areas.

Morning

The first thing I recommend to all first time visitors is to get a bird’s eye view of the city. New York’s skyline is simply awe inspiring, and the best views can be found at the following observation decks:

  • Rockefeller Center: In my mind, this observation deck gives you the best views of New York city. If you go there first thing in the morning, the lines should be short and the light conditions perfect for taking great pictures. The Rockefeller Center offers lots of other attractions including: impressive artwork and sculptures (the most famous being the statue of Atlas on 5th Ave), the ice skating rink in the lower plaza and you can try your luck and see if you can get on NBC’s “Today Show”, by standing outside their window when they’re taping.
    • Location: 50th street between 6th and 5th Ave.
    • Cost: Tickets are $32 per adult.
  • Empire State Building: This is probably the most iconic building in the city and has come to represent New York as much as the Statue of Liberty. The Empire’s observation deck has been the center of countless proposals and romantic rendezvous, like the one depicted in the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”.  Perched high in the sky, you’ll get stunning views of the surrounding city landscape.
    • Location: 5th Ave between 33rd and 34th street.
    • Cost: Tickets are $32 per adult.

Right next to Rockefeller Center is St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  The architecture of the cathedral is neo-gothic and it’s an amazing structure to behold. The cathedral has recently underwent restorations and now has a freshly cleaned exterior, but the inside remains largely untouched.

  • Location: Corner of 5th Avenue and 50th St
  • Cost: Free

Three blocks from Rockefeller Center is my favorite museum in the city, the Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA). It holds some of the world’s finest collections of contemporary art, ranging from paintings and sculptures to film and live performance. The last time I went there, they had a Audio / Visual installation that showed the paths immigrants took trying to escape war and destruction in their home country. A very moving piece.

  • Location: Between 53rd and 54th street and 6th and 5th Avenues
  • Cost: $25 per adult.

Afternoon

Just like Ginza in Japan, New York’s Fifth Avenue has a reputation for hosting flagship stores for many of the high end designers. This street attracts well heeled shoppers from around the world looking to splurge in Cartier, Tiffany, Bergdof-Goodman and more. Even if you have a modest budget, this is a fun street to explore and just window shop and marvel at the beautiful goods on sale.

Time to escape the concrete jungle and head to New York’s garden paradise, Central Park. This is simply a massive park that has several attractions including:  Strawberry Fields, Central Park Zoo, the Conservatory Gardens and the Lake, which is used for skating in Winter and paddling in Summer. You need to decide what part of the park you want to explore. I strongly recommend that you rent bikes to get around the park, it’s huge and getting from one side to the other will take time walking. I also recommend that you grab a quick bite to eat from one of the food carts in the park.

  • Location: If you’re coming from MoMA,  Central park starts from 59th Street (cutting across 5th all the way to 8th Avenues).
  • Cost: Free

Evening

Times Square and Broadway are two of the biggest tourist magnets in the city. Walking down Times Square is an attack on the senses. The frenetic traffic, tall billboards and megatron screens (which are splashed with colorful advertisements) will overload your senses. A visit to Times Square is a must at night, when the visuals of this area are most vibrant.

Next to Times Square you’ll find Broadway’s biggest theaters. “The Great White Way” offers the absolute pinnacle of the theatrical arts. There are lots of long running shows you can choose from like the Lion King and Wicked or (if you have the money) you can go to Hamilton, one the newest and hottest shows to debut in the city.

Day 2: A Little History And Shopping

After exploring Manhattan, the second day will be a mix of some history and retail therapy.

Morning

Today we’ll start with New York’s most famous attraction, the Statue of Liberty. She is a powerful symbol of all the aspirations immigrants carried with them when they came to America. The hope for freedom and a better future. Inscribed on the statue is the famous quote that captures the spirit of this new land:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!.

After the Statue Of Liberty continue onto Ellis Island’s “National Museum of Immigration”. You’ll learn the stories of these immigrants, from the colonial era all the way to present day, through numerous galleries containing artifacts, photographs, and taped oral histories.

Most tours leave from Battery Park and will take up most of your morning, so plan on getting there early.

The 9/11 attacks, which brought down the World Trade Center, was a devastating event. The city was faced with a daunting task of deciding how to rebuild the towers while memorializing those who perished that day. Somehow the architects who took on this seemingly impossible challenge succeeded. The moving 9/11 memorial fountains (which lists the names of all the victims) is a testament to the death and destruction that happened that day. While the Freedom Tower proudly stands as a symbol of the city’s rebirth after the attacks.

  • Location: Located in lower Manhattan at the intersection of Liberty Street and Greenwich Street.
  • Cost: The Memorial is free. The museum entrance fee is $24 per adult.

Afternoon

Chelsea is a great area with different options for how to spend a couple of hours. Depending on your mood you can pick from one of the following:

  • Whitney Museum: The newly opened Whitney Museum (located in the Meatpacking district) hosts an amazing collection of artwork. The Whitney’s architecture is a work of art itself.  Its exterior facade is glass, which allows natural light to pour into the museum’s galleries.
  • Chelsea Art Galleries: Between the 20’s streets and 10th & 11th Ave lies New York’s most concentrated area for art galleries. For a complete listing of galleries check out westchelseaarts.com or gallery guide
  • Upscale or Boutique Shopping: There’s plenty of shopping to be had in Chelsea and the Meatpacking district.
    • There’s high end shops like: Diane Von Furstenburg, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Yigal Azrouël.
    • If boutique shopping is your preference then head over to Washington Street between Gansevoort and Horatio Streets, there you’ll find up and coming designers. There’s Jay Godfrey, Owen, By Kilian, Lilla P and Rapha Cycle Club to name a few.
  • Chelsea Market: If you’re hungry then head over to Chelsea Market. Covering one block (9th & 10th Avenue and 15th & 16th Street) this enclosed market has a great selection of restaurants, cafes and retail shops. Be warned though, it can get pretty loud in that enclosed space. So if you’re looking for a space to decompress while you enjoy a bite to eat, then this might not be the best option.

The Highline, which used to be an elevated railway track that’s been repurposed as a walkway, has become one of New York’s newer popular attractions. The path gets very congested during the day, but it’s a unique experience to walk next to buildings (and peer in) and you get nice views of the Hudson River.

  • Location:  It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues.
  • Cost: Free

Evening

The perfect way to end the day is to enjoy a comedy show at the “Comedy Cellar”. It’s a legendary venue with some of the hardest working comics in the game. Once the show is over, and if you still have energy, there’s plenty of bars nearby where you can continue the party.

  • Location: The room is at 130 W 3rd Street off 6th Avenue / Directly across the Blue Note.
  • Cost: $14 during the weekdays. $20 on weekends. You must purchase your tickets ahead of time and there’s a two item minimum purchase rule.

Day 3: Exploring Brooklyn And New York’s Other Neighborhoods

The last day in New York will be lower key and more relaxed than earlier two days. It’s will be focused on exploring Brooklyn and some other popular neighborhoods.

Morning

Starting from lower Manhattan, head towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Walking this bridge has always been a highlight of my trips to New York. The walk across the bridge will generally take 30 to 40 minutes (shorter if you’re doing it by bike). For me though, this is a walk you should do at a leisurely pace, so you can take in the stunning Manhattan views. If have time left over at the end of the day, I recommend you repeat the bridge walk at night. The views are equally stunning with the dark night lit up by the city lights.

  • Location: From Manhattan, you enter the bridge near City Hall, right along Centre Street. Nearby trains include the 4, 5, 6, J, Z and R lines.
  • Cost: Free

Once you cross over the Bridge, you’ve arrived into Brooklyn’s doorstep. The first stop will be to explore DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan and Brooklyn Overpass). This is a pretty little neighborhood that has plenty of galleries, restaurants and cafes. Also make sure to visit Jane’s Carousel. It’s very popular with the kids and has stunning views of the River, Brooklyn Bridge and city skyline.

If you happen to be visiting on Sunday then make sure to pass by the Brooklyn Flea Market which is held at Manhattan Bridge Archway Plaza.  This is a popular Flea Market (which hosts 75 vendors) and it’s a great place to do some vintage shopping.

Afternoon

Prospect Park is a very popular attraction, and it more than holds its own when compared to Central Park. This is great park to spend some time enjoying the beautifully cultivated gardens and lakes. During the summertime (on the weekends only) a food festival called Smorgasborg is held in the park. Visiting this event is great way to get a pulse on New York’s food culture.

If you’re not in the mood to visit a park then just up Eastern Parkway is the Botanic Garden as well as the Brooklyn Museum.

Check out my article on top foods to try at Smorgasborg.

Williamsburg has been marked as Brooklyn’s hottest neighborhood for quite sometime now. Its gentrification process is 100% complete. Depending on your mood you can enjoy the following:

  • Foodie Heaven: This is foodie central. Seriously, you can’t walk down a block without coming across a restaurant or cafe. To find the best meal option check out the following link.
  • Theater, Music and Art: This is a very artsy neighborhood and you’ll find plenty options to enjoy poetry readings, music performances and theater.
  • Vintage Shopping: If you like shopping for vintage things then you’ve hit the jackpot here. Williamsburg has lots of artisnal and  vintage shops to peruse.
  • Checkout Brooklyn Brewery: This brewery offers free tours and has great beer tasting options.

Evening

I’m going to wrap up the tour at Emily’s. This is one of the hottest restaurants in Brooklyn and long waits are pretty common, but trust me its worth it. They’re known for their brick oven pizzas (which are amazing) but the reason I’m putting in this itinerary is for their burger. This is simply the best burger I have ever tasted. They only make 25 burgers a night, so if you want to taste it you need to come early and make sure you order it as soon as you sit down.

The burger is served on a pretzel bun and has the most incredible sauce, but the true star is the meat. It’s dry aged and is simply divine. I can go one forever about their burgers. It’s seriously good. A great meal at Emily’s is the perfect way to end a trip to New York.

  • Location: 919 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Ready To Book Your Trip To New York?

Use Skyscanner to search thousands of flights for the best deals.

Agoda is a great site to find discounted rooms around the world.

Viator has biggest selection of excursions from group tours to day activities.

Travel Videos

Recommended Travel Gear



Related Posts

Croatia Stole My Heart (And I Want It Back)

There's a risk when traveling that your heart may be stolen by one of the cities or countries you visit. Just like love, you don't see it…


New Life, New Start in Berlin

Sitting on the U-BAHN, on my way to Prenzlauer Berg, I look at Berlin's city skyline and I can feel the history of this city. Its communist…


Temple Runs, Crazy Tuk Tuk Drivers And The Spy That Wasn’t In Siem Reap

I met up my friend Haki at Bangkok's airport, to catch a flight to Siem Reap. I'd just arrived from Tokyo, while Haki arrived a couple of…


Paragliding Adventure In The Bavaria

All my life I've suffered from a fear of heights and it bugs the hell out of me. It has reared its ugly head when I'm on balconies, scuba…


My Popup Experience In Amman, Jordan

On September 13th, 2015 "The Local Table" hosted its second popup restaurant event at "Carakale Brewery" in Fuhais, Jordan. The Local Table…


Why You Must Visit St. Kilda

St. Kilda isn't an area that's necessarily on people's must visit list when in Melbourne, which is a shame. This is a beautiful…


Island Hopping, Binge Drinking And Playing With Fire In Ko Phi Phi

The ferry finally arrived into Ko Phi Phi. As we neared the main island we pass smaller islets that are stunningly beautiful. Their tall…


Yarra Valley Wine Tasting Tour

Australia is one of the world's top wine producers and (while in Melbourne) you must make time to visit Yarra Valley. There's over 80…


JungFrau A Hiker’s Wonderland

The Berner Oberland is one of the most visited areas in Switzerland and with good reason. It's home to the famous mountains of Jungfrau,…


Lost In Marrakech (Part 1)

I knew Morocco wasn't a rich country, but I wasn't prepared for the city's grittiness. The streets are chaotic, the city landscape had a…


Zurich On A Budget

Zurich (along with Geneva) tops the list of the world's most expensive cities according to a UBS study in 2015. It's more expensive than…


When I Knew I Had To Quit My Life

I'm 40 years old (turning 41 in two weeks) and eight months ago I quit my life. In all respects I had a great life. I lived in Kuwait and…