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The Ultimate Guide To New York City for First Timers 2024

Complete New York Guide

The Ultimate Guide To New York City for First Timers

A guide on mastering the city that never sleeps – with this guide to New York City you won’t fall into these trips and save yourself time and money.

The city that never sleeps has many attractions that are world known, that attract visitors from the whole world, while also still having some hidden gems that aren’t overrun by tourists and even the locals.

As the city is so big, it’s important to know what you should spend your time and money on – as most of us don’t have that.

Tip: Have your phone on battery saving as soon as you leave the house – with all the pictures and direction check, it’ll drain quickly.

If you don’t have a good portable battery to charge your phone on the go, check out the one I use and my other go-to must-haves!

Let’s get to the actual juicy stuff. 

How to Get Around NYC

I’m a big fan of things that will save my time and maximize it – so here are my biggest tips for NYC. There were numerous attractions that I wanted to see for bucket list purposes, such as the Statue of Liberty or the Rockefeller building, but did I really want to spend a lot of time there? Not really. So, what if I told you there’s a way to see the biggest must-dos within a few hours and then decide based on that, what to spend more money on?

Here are some tips that will save you time and money while you’re exploring NYC.

Public Transportation NYC

Get a subway/bus ticket, either the weekend or weekly pass that will allow you to take all public transportations. The unlimited week pass costs $34 and will save you a lot of time and money as taxis and Uber can get expensive with all the traffic. Use apple maps to navigate the system, google maps has shown some issues finding the right trains/buses/stops.

Unlimited Rides Weekly Tickets

The subway system is very reliable in NYC and will get you semi-quickly into all the different parts of NYC. To get your ticket, walk up to one of the subway ticket machines and select the option to either get a single ticket – at that point, you could also just use ApplePay at the entrance if you have an iPhone – or select the weekly option. 

The weekly, especially the unlimited weekly ticket, will give you access to the trains, buses, and the subway of course.

NYC skyline Manhattan NYC Empire State building sunset NYC

Best Hotels in Manhattan, NYC

  • Budget ($) — Pod 51 Hotel (compact and efficient! Perfect for budget travelers)
  • Best Value ($$) — Arlo NoMad (balance of style, comfort, and affordability)
  • Luxe ($$$) — The Plaza Hotel (oversees the central park)
  • Unique ($-$$$) — The High Line Hotel (set in a converted 1800s seminary!)

Hop On-Hop Off Buses in NYC

What would be a guide to New York City without covering Times Square in the heart of NYC? As you’re strolling through Times Square, you will likely come across multiple people dressed in bright red jackets wanting to sell you tickets for a hop on/off bus. Personally, I’m a huge lover of hop on/hop off buses as it will save you not only time to see the best attractions, but also time as you can use it as a way to get around the city – so, this is a great place to start.

When I went, I bought the two-day pass, which costs about $89/person, and this was included:

  • Downtown tour (buses come every few minutes at the time square stop)
  • Uptown tour (frequent tour, but the last one goes at 4 pm)
  • Night tour (non-stop tour across downtown and a longer stop to see the Brooklyn bridge)
  • 2h bicycle ride at central park
  • Fairy tour to see the statue of liberty up close

You can either get a ticket right there or you can buy it online here on tripadvisor. 

How to Maximize Hop On-Hop Off Buses

Whether you take the one-day ticket and knock out all tours within a day or you get the two-day one and use the hop on/off option on the second day, that’s up to you. However, I’d recommend taking all tours within a day and knocking it out at once.

If you need a little caffeine pick me up, have a look at my top 5 coffee shops you have to visit while in NYC.

Tip: If you go in the evening on the last uptown tour, make sure to bring a good wind & rain jacket and hat if you sit upstairs. It’ll get windy and cold! Especially if you go in the winter like I went – the rain definitely got me. 

This will give you the advantage of having seen all “must-sees” at once without even having to worry to find it. If you start out early in the day, you could hop off at one of the stops and just hop back on when you’re done, you just must pay attention to the time and check on their app how often the buses come at that specific stop.

Another Tip: If you go to the night tour, make sure to go to the bathroom prior. The tour doesn’t stop for 1.5-2h and the bus doesn’t have any bathrooms.

NYC Bus Night-Tour

After you’ve seen all the must-sees and listened to their tour through headphones (learned a lot of cool things), you can take the rest of the time in NYC to go to things that you actually want to spend a longer time at. This is where your subway/bus ticket comes into play.

If you get out at a place but haven’t checked when the next bus comes in that area, and end up missing it, the subway that comes every few minutes for sure, will take you back where you need to go.

Tip: If you have extra time and money, consider taking an evening on a 1980’s styled ferry going around downtown and the Statue of Liberty on the Hudson River. It’s a 2ish hour boat tour with live music, breathtaking picture opportunities, and a staff that’s more helpful than many of your friends – get your ticket here!

Unsure about what to do or where else to go? Check out my New York City bucket list and why you should steal it!

Getting The Most Out Of Your Money – The NYC pass

Example of day iterinary for NYC To do

This was directly taken from their website.

This pass is a godsend if you want to visit a few tourist-traps such as:

  • Empire State Building Observatory ($45.73)
  • Top Of The Rock Observation Deck ($43.55)
  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum ($28.00)
  • Edge ($41.37)
  • Big Bus Hop on Hop off: 1-Day Classic Ticket ($59.00)
  • Statue of Liberty Ferry and Ellis Island Immigration Museum ($24.00)
  • Madame Tussauds in NYC ($40.27)
  • Best of NYC Cruise by Circle Line ($44)
  • American Museum of Natural History ($23) – one of the best Natural History museums in the world!
  • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) ($25)
  • Central Park Bike Rental by Unlimited Biking ($54.44)
  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum ($33)
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum ($25)
  • THE RIDE ($79) – NYC pass exclusive!
  • Rockefeller Center Tour ($27.22)
  • Liberty Super Express Cruise ($24)
  • St. Patrick’s Cathedral Tour ($25)
  • Landmark Cruise by Circle Line ($37)
  • Brooklyn Bridge Bike Rental by Unlimited Biking ($54.44)
  • Harbor Lights Cruise by Circle Line ($41)

For more examples, check out their website where you can book the tickets directly.

There are three different forms of this pass, which allows your visit them at a much cheaper rate.

Here is the price for the day passes, making this one of the best guides to New York City you can find.

  • 1 Day $129
  • 2 Days $174
  • 3 Days $199
  • 4 Days $229
  • 5 Days $259
  • 7 Days $299
  • 10 Days $339

Also, within those days, you get to see as many attractions as you can fit in – just make sure to make a reservation for the ones you want to see, as soon as you download the app.

Are you a digital nomad or an entrepreneur that still works when on the road? Download my WorkTravel Planner for free here to make it easier for you.

If you want to read how to go about it, read my article explaining it more in detail here – make the most out of your time.

NYC Must-Do’s

The big apple has lots to do, but where do you even start? Here’s where you can find the best things to do for the NYC itinerary. This article will be more so tips on how to save time and money!

Night at The Museum NYC – American Museum of Natural History

Have you ever seen the movie with Ben Stiller and wished you could see it in person? Go visit Amun Rah’s tablet or Rex in person in the hopes of him waking up and waving his tail like a dog, or perhaps you want some advice from the knowledgeable former president Theodor Roosevelt?

Yep. I wished to do the same…but was greatly disappointed.

What would be a guide to New York City without a museum? While the museum of natural sciences in New York City is seen from the exterior in the video, the film was really shot in a museum in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

You can read more about the museum here. 

Nonetheless, there is so much to see at the museum that you could easily spend an entire day there.

Here’s what you will see:

  • The Easter Island statue that called Larry “Dumb Dumb”
  • The capuchin monkey that kept terrorizing Larry
  • Rex the T-Rex
  • The museums rich collection on Asian, south American, African collection
  • A rich collection of fossils

Not to mention, did you know that the American Museum of Natural History is one of the largest natural history museums in the world? Located on the upper west side, it offers everything from dinosaurs to outer space, with famous extensive fossil collections of the Tyrannosaurus rex and a massive blue whale model.

However, if you don’t want to spend the whole day there, I have a tip for you, on how you can get access to the museum for free for a few hours in the evening.

Go to the museum entry around 4.30 and pick up a slip that you will present at the entrance and get a free ticket. You will only have about 1-1.5hours before it’ll close, however, you can still choose to see what you need.

This museum has a staggering collection of relics from long-forgotten civilizations such as the Incas, Aztecs, and other indigenous cultures. One of my particular favorites and highlights was an identical copy of a ceremonial burial that was discovered in the past, complete with authentic items.

Similarly, their collection of dinosaur fossils is astounding — did you know that when you see a whole skeleton, it’s usually a copy and not the actual thing? The bones are far too massive to be assembled in this manner.

However, at this museum, you may view authentic dinosaur fossils from the archives that have been shown for the first time to the public.

Suggested Hotels in Brooklyn, NYC

  • Budget ($) — Pointe Plaza Hotel (heart of the Hasidic Jewish Community in Williamsburg)
  • Best Value ($$) — Hotel Le Jolie (in Williamsburg and known for its great location)
  • Luxe ($$$) — The William Vale (Offers best views of the Manhattan skyline with a rooftop bar and pool)
  • Unique ($-$$$) — 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge (Eco-friendly hotel with spectacular views of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge)

Must-See World-Class Museums in NYC

Here are some other museums worth seeing – even for seasoned New Yorkers!

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

The Museum of Modern Art, commonly referred to as MoMA, is a pioneer in the collection and exhibition of modern art – this includes architecture, design, drawing, paintings, sculpture, and more – even masterpieces of Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Salvado Dalis the persistence of Memory.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)

Known as the largest and most comprehensive art museum in the world spanning over 5000 years of world culture starting from Egyptian artifacts to European masterpieces (i.e. Van Gogh) to American and modern art – so, you definitely want to make some time for it if you enjoy art. It’s located on the edge of the central park, so you can pair both of these NYC must-dos easily.

Other museums worth checking out are:

  • Solomon R. Guggenheim museum
  • Whitney Museum of American Art

Central Park NYC

The central park is one of the absolute NYC must-dos as it’s just too beautiful not to go. Imagine a place in New York City where the sounds of honking taxis and bustling crowds give way to the soothing rustle of leaves and distant melodies of street performers. 

Originally designed by the visionary duo Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, you can find beautiful landmarks that are perfect for those instagram-worthy spots, such as:

  • The whimsical Bethesda Terrace, the enchanting Central Park Zoo 
  • The vintage Carousel 
  • Countless sculptures, bridges, and archways have their own unique history, waiting to be discovered.
  • Beautiful flora and wildlife

That’s Central Park for you – a sprawling oasis of tranquility right in the heart of Manhattan, which is why this should be one of your NYC must-dos!

As you meander through its lush pathways, every step takes you further away from the city’s frenzy and closer to a serene, natural world.

But Central Park isn’t just about quiet contemplation; it’s a pulsating hub of cultural and recreational activities, such as: 

  • Open-air concerts sending jazzy tunes across the summer breeze
  • Shakespearean plays unfolding under the stars at the Delacorte Theater
  • It’s also perfect for jogging, cycling, or even a leisurely horseback ride. 

It’s this eclectic mix of activities that makes Central Park a microcosm of New York City’s vibrant spirit.

Bryant Park NYC

Located in the heart of Manhattan and surrounded by skyscrapers, it’s an oasis in the middle of everything. It’s adjacent to the New York Public Library, so you could visit both easily in your itinerary. While smaller than some of the city’s other famous green spaces, it’s known for its lively atmosphere and wide range of activities throughout the year – it’s also close to the Times Square, Empire State Building, and other landmarks.

In the warmer months, it’s full of lush green lawns, beautiful gardens, and outdoor events such as movie nights, yoga classes, and live music. 

During the winter months, it becomes a winter wonderland with the Bank of America Winter Village (so worth visiting!). The best part, it has a FREE admission ice-skating rink that’s surrounded by a holiday market showcasing many shops and food kiosks.

Chelsea Market

Often oversen, this market is located in the heart of New York City’s Meatpacking District. It’s a bustling market, housed in a renovated historic factory building and is a culinary and cultural hotspot offering a unique blend of food, shopping, and history. It has several food vendors, ranging from artisanal bakeries, gourmet cheese shops, and international cuisines to local seafood markets – if you’re a food lover, this will be paradise for you!

Additionally, Chelsea Market is strategically located near the High Line, a renowned elevated park offering spectacular views of the city and the Hudson River – a win-win situation!

New York Public Library (NYPL)

Immortalized in various movies and books, this is an absolutely must-see if you’re in NYC. 

Where: Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, NYC

Of course, you may think: Why should I go to a library? Well! This isn’t just a collection of several books, but it’s also a landmark of architecture and culture, right in downtown manhattan. 

NYC Manhattan New York Public LibraryArchitectural Marvel and Historical Significance

The main branch, officially known as The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, is renowned for its majestic Beaux-Arts design. The building’s impressive façade, featuring the famous lion statues “Patience” and “Fortitude,” is a sight to behold. Inside, the Rose Main Reading Room is a highlight, with its grand space, ornate ceilings, and rows of open desks under elegant chandeliers, offering a serene environment for reading and research – this is one of those historic buildings that you shouldn’t miss. 

Cultural and Educational Hub

Hosting numerous events, lectures, workshops, and even educational programs for all ages and with removed authors, artists, and public figures it’s an absolute must while you’ve visiting. You get to soak in the culture and maybe even make some amazing one-of-a-kind experiences while there – not to mention those insta-worthy pictures in the New York Public Library.

New York Botanical Garden

The New York Botanical Garden is located in the Bronx and an enchanting must-see designation. Spread across 250 acres, this living museum offers: 

  • a stunning display of flora
  • Beautiful greenhouses
  • a series of beautifully themed gardens
  • Large-scale exhibitions 
  • Victorian-era glasshouses that house tropical rainforests and deserts
  • Extensive outdoor collection includes native forest, rose garden, and a rock garden

It’s a great spot to fully immerse yourself in nature without leaving the city.

Best Hotels on Upper East Side Manhattan (Central Park area)

  • Budget ($) — The Franklin Hotel (charming, boutique option, close to everything)
  • Best Value ($$) — Courtyard by Marriott New York Manhattan/Upper East Side (Reliable, affordable, and perfect location in a prestigious neighborhood without the luxury price tag)
  • Luxe ($$$) — The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (Exuding elegance and sophistication and famous for its world-class spa, classic decor, and upscale clientele)
  • Unique ($-$$$) — The Mark Hotel (Known for its black-and-white striped floors and avant-garde design)

Food Food Food in NYC 

I was very surprised by how cheap the food is compared to Miami, since I paid half of what I would normally pay at a restaurant there. I suppose it must compensate for the high living costs in the downtown region – of course, cheap is relative, but compared to Miami where you’d easily Pay $150-200 per couple, compared to $80-100 per couple, it makes a big difference.

Since I grew up in Europe and had visited most of the nations, including Italy, I was longing to explore Little Italy and Chinatown, which everyone raved about. I hadn’t been to Italy in many years, so I was eager to try some true Italian food — presumably imported from Italy.

NYC Little Italy

Going to little Italy was not disappointing, it was even more than I could’ve expected. 

I traveled to New York for New Year’s, and the enchantment I observed in Little Italy and Chinatown was wonderful.Little Italy New York City

It was almost better than the busy times square.

I went to a few different other Italian places in Little Italy, and they all had delicious cuisine that left me speechless and makes my mouth water just thinking about it now.

Tip: Bring cash and grab some actual homemade cannoli from a seller on the street near the eateries – you won’t regret it!

Here are some good restaurants to check out:

Lombardi’s Pizza

Where: 32 Spring St, New York, NY 10012, USA

Why Visit: Lombardi’s holds the title of America’s first pizzeria since it opened its doors in 1905! This restaurant is especially famous for its coal-oven baked pizzas as it gives you this smoky flavor with a perfectly charred crust.

Ferrara Bakery & Cafe

Where: 195 Grand St, New York, NY 10013, USA

Why Visit: Around since 1892, this is an iconic bakery and café that’s especially known for its traditional Italian pastries and desserts, including:

  • Cannoli
  • Tiramisu
  • Gelato

Il Cortile

Where: 125 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013, USA

Why Visit: Celebrated for its traditional and exquisite Italian food, especially the homemade pasta and seafood, it’s been a staple since 1975 for all New Yorkers. Besides the food, you can enjoy a beautiful indoor garden that invites a romantic atmosphere.

Angelo’s of Mulberry Street

Where: 146 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013, USA

Why Visit: Dating back to 1902, this is one of the oldest restaurants in Little Italy. Angelo’s serves classic Italian-American dishes with fresh, high-quality ingredients that will make you want to keep coming back. 

NYC ChinaTown

Chinatown shocked me with its size and open fresh markets – that were open even until late night! It was fascinating to wander through the alleyways and feel as if you were in China.

Here are some delicious restaurants in ChinaTown to give you the best chinese food experience!

Joe’s Shanghai

Where: 46 Bowery, New York, NY 10013, USA

Why Visit: Famous for its soup dumplings that are also known as xiao long bao, consisting of savory broth and tender meat filling the dough – a must-taste!

Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Where: 13 Doyers St, New York, NY 10013, USA

Why Visit: Around since 1920, this restaurant is one of the oldest dim sum restaurants in NYC and offers a classic experience with traditional, retro-style dining rooms – try their turnip cakes and shrimp dumplings!

Peking Duck House

Where: 28 Mott St, New York, NY 10013, USA

Why Visit: This restaurant specializes in peking duck as the name suggests, which is just absolutely delicious. The perfectly roasted ducks have a crispy skin and tender meat, served with pancakes, scallions, and hoisin sauce – literally, THE go-to spot for duck lovers.

Tip: Because few people are aware of Little Korea, be sure to visit it as well as a hidden gem.

3 Must-Don’ts

You always hear about the must-do’s, but what about the must-don’ts? Here are some quick ones!

1. Wasting Your Time

Going to a destination or site you haven’t researched beforehand is one of the biggest time wasters you can do. Many of these attractions enable you to book a place at a specified time; take advantage of this, as it will save you both money and time – besides this guide to New York City I mean.

I know that sounds self-explanatory, but what they frequently don’t tell you is that the admission fee to anything is $x, but after you get there, the same amount is for if you wait approximately 2 hours in line. If you want to go in right now, the price will virtually quadruplea major letdown.

Another option is to not plan your day ahead of time. NYC is massive, and I mean massive. If you don’t prepare ahead of time what you want to see and when you want to see it, you’ll rapidly find yourself racing from subway to subway, wasting crucial time as you move between different regions of NYC.

NYC tourist traps2. Tourist Traps & Hidden Gems

Several people believe that the well-known NYC tourist attractions are the way to go; nevertheless, when I visited, I was disappointed by many of them. Also, I noticed that they were considerably smaller than they were in movies – I’m not sure if this was just me lol. Houses and apartments are really small there, so I’m not surprised.

One thing I’ve always wanted to do is ride in one of those bicycle carts where someone is cycling while you’re nestled up in the back – all cuddled up with someone and super romantic. It may look like a great way to have a romantic time; unfortunately, it is costly and paid by the minute. If you encounter traffic or a slow rider, you will rapidly find yourself spending a hundred bugs for something that might have cost you as little as $10-15 with uber.

Instead – consider opting into a sleigh ride with a horse through Central Park. An hour is about $100-250 depending on the deal.

Check here for great deals on Tripadvisor!

Also, if you have the Chase Sapphire credit card (either one), you get access to the Chase site, where you can book not just flights and hotels, but also activities using your miles

Consider spending a couple miles on such things if you want to maximize your miles and save money and time in NYC.

Another thing I thought was overpriced were the various overlook spots that charged $40+ per person to stand above the skyline for a few minutes. This is only worthwhile if you buy the NYC city pass and schedule your time in advance; otherwise, you will have to wait 1-2 hours before being allowed to go up.

There are several hidden gems such as the sex museum, museum of illusions, or the Fort in Queens that are far more captivating than the Empire Building – if you don’t want to lose out on seeing this as well, I recommend the city bus tours and the NYC city pass.

3. Restricting Yourself to Manhattan Downtown

When individuals talk about visiting New York City, they frequently refer to Manhattan rather than the entire city. Manhattan has a lot of charm and things to do, but the worst mistake you could make is not looking up things to visit in other sections of NYC.

The Fort in Queens, a military relic from the past, is one of Queens’ must-see attractions. It’s like going back in time, and it’s well worth a visit. While in Manhattan, have you heard of the Catacombs of the St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral? A Must.

It’s a candlelight tour – where you will walk with a candle through the dark. You even get to keep the candle as a memory – the best thing about this.

This tour of the medieval Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Lower Manhattan is ideal for history enthusiasts, since it takes you into the catacombs, where you can witness the pipe organ and explore portions of the structure that are generally restricted to visitors. Beat the crowds on this tour and get up and personal with this New York icon.

Last Thoughts

I’ve fallen in love with New York City, but I believe there’s a lot more to it than the tourist attractions that draw visitors from all over the world. I fell in love with the infrastructure, and it transported me back to a period when I lived in Europe and utterly underestimated the luxury of not having to rely on my car all of the time.

Getting a car in NYC is definitely one of the worst decisions you could make because parking is nearly difficult to come by. It is not necessary unless you live in a remote area and require a car on a regular basis.

Take a vacation to New York City, but like with any trip, plan ahead of time what you want to do. This contains all of the hidden gems that New York Metropolis has to offer, as it was the first city in America and has the greatest history.[/vc_column_text]

Craving for more? Don’t miss out on my article on the hidden gems of Manhattan in NYC – coming soon, a guide to New York City’s Hidden Gems!

P.S. This little list was recommended to me by locals that swore on it, have a look and see if there’s a gem you might like:

– Little Italy

– China town

– Broad way

– Empire State

– Radio city music quality

– Fort in queens

– Hell’s kitchen

– High line used to be elevated sublime – west city over river

– Greenwich Village 4th street

– World Trade Center – memorial

– Take the ferry

– National history museum

– German town: Train to 71st continental, by Austin Street

– For Food: New Park 14th street west side

– 27/28/29/30 street – for restaurant, the best ones in NYC

– St Patrick’s cathedral – catacombs

Have you visited any of these or know of any other must-see or must dos? Let me know either by commenting here, DMing me on IG, or sending me an email.

I may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay, it helps me keep the blog up :) Listed prices are accurate as of time of publication.

Anna is a traveler, blogger, and entrepreneur who can’t keep herself still. She’s always on the move, whether working hard on a new passion project or exploring a new city as a part-time digital nomad. Dare to keep up? Check out The Tatted Nomad for everything digital nomad, social media marketing, mental health, and travel (and to see her latest addition, Novah, her service dog and travel companion). As a psychotherapist (to be) she also offers insights about your mental health related questions – anything you see that isn’t covered but you have questions about? Let her know!

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