7 Must-Do’s in NYC for First Timers

We’ve heard lots about New York City before going. The amazing food, the bright lights, and the majestic skyscrapers- we were so stoked until our friends told us not to get too excited. Friends who have gone had mostly negative things to say, like how dirty and smelly the streets and subways are, how unfriendly the people are, and how overpriced everything is. With this in mind, we prepared ourselves for the absolute worst.

After a delayed flight from Vancouver and a hectic connection in Toronto (ugh, I hate flying Air Canada), we finally landed in the Big Apple and made our way to our airbnb in Times Square. Food prices are steep, yes, but that’s standard in big metropolitan cities. We expected to be shoved around and yelled at but none of that happened. We were actually pleasantly surprised at how friendly people are! (Well, the ones we interacted with, anyway, hah)

Our friends were right about one thing- what they said about the filthy streets and subway is an absolute fact. We walked by heaps of leaking, overflowing garbage bags on different occasions and it staaaaank. But other than that, we loved everything else about New York!

Maybe it’s because we had such low expectations that we enjoyed NYC so much. Here are seven things we think all NYC first-timers should check off their list!

1. People-watch in Times Square

Times Square is a no brainer. You can’t really say you’ve been to New York City without seeing one of the most iconic crossroads of the world, right?

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2. Attend a show

This is the main reason why we were in New York: The Lord of the Rings in Concert. I’m a huuuuuuuuge fan of LOTR (nerd alert- our wedding was Middle Earth themed haha), so how could I miss the epic trilogy live in concert?! Experiencing the marriage of motion picture on a giant screen and film score performed by 250 musicians on stage was life-changing.

Because we spent a total of close to 10hrs at Lincoln Center (no joke lol), we didn’t have time for other shows. We’ve heard people rave about The Phantom of the Opera so we’ll be going to that next time. Whatever it is- a musical, concert, or Broadway show- do yourself a favour and get tickets to a show.

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3. Take a stroll in Central Park

We had some time to kill in between the second and third LOTR shows. There was no better way to spend this time than to visit Central Park since Lincoln Center is close by. I love skyscrapers and all but I was also relieved to escape the concrete jungle for a little while, especially with a hot cocoa in my hand on a cold day!

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4. Stuff your face at Smorgasburg

Located on the Williamsburg waterfront on Saturdays and Prospect Park on Sundays, Smorgasburg is an outdoor foodie paradise. With over 80+ vendors to try, you’ll need to go on an empty stomach! Our personal favourite? These bomb garlic fries from Home Frite. They were sooooo damn good.

5. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

Get yourself on the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade and make your way across the bridge. Allow yourself at least an hour to walk from one end to another, while soaking in the beautiful Manhattan skyline. Oh, and watch out for cyclists!

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6. Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant

We usually travel on a tight budget but on the rare occasion we do like to treat ourselves to a fancy smancy meal. The only other times we’ve eaten at a Mchelin starred restaurant were in Paris and Las Vegas. Because we were blown away both times, how could we leave one of the world’s culinary capitals without splurging a little? After studying all the menus and reviews, we made lunch reservations at Bouley.

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The lunch tasting menu includes five courses at 59USD. That ain’t bad at all! Everything was cooked to perfection and service was impeccable. And ohh man, the porcini flan was out of this world!

7. Catch the sunset at the Top of the Rock

Okay, paying 32USD just to go up an elevator sounds pretty silly, right? That’s what we thought, too, but that 360 degree view of New York is breathtaking! We were on the observatory deck during golden hour- we can only imagine how mesmerizing the view would be at sunset.

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35 thoughts on “7 Must-Do’s in NYC for First Timers

  1. It isgreat that you were pleasantly surprised about how much you enjoyed New York, after negative comments from friends before you went. I always take other people’s views with a pinch of salt, as it is all so subjective. Your seven suggestions all really appeal to me. What a great idea to check out both Smorgasburg and a Michelin-starred restaurant. I LOVE checking out the local street food but sometimes it’s nice to check out the other end of the scale too (budget permitting). The food at both looks pretty damn good!

    • I think our favourite street food was from Halal Guys! Portions are so big though we couldn’t finish everything- and we were sharing, too!

  2. I worked in New York for four years, and Andy grew up there. We were both completely shocked the last time we visited the city because there were soooooooo many people there. Still, it’s always an interesting place to explore. I think your suggestions are great, and I very much want to try Smorgasburg now!

    • What’s it like actually LIVING in NYC? I’d imagine it to be pretty hectic with so many people around. To be honest I’d probably get annoyed at all the tourists stopping in the middle of the sidewalk taking pictures if I’m trying to get home/to work!

  3. Well I did five of those things the first time I went. Great list. Definitely good for first timers since there’s just so much to see, participate in and do while you’re in NYC!

  4. I agree Top of the Rock is the best place to view the city and the park! I think it has a way better view than the Empire State. I could spend a whole day just strolling and relaxing in Central Park too. I dream of going back someday!

  5. What I love about travel is that it doesn’t matter how many times you go somewhere, you will learn/find something new. Having been to NYC many times, I had no idea about Smorgasburg! Now I need to go back to check this out. All of your other tips are spot on and I too love dining in special restaurants too.

  6. Wow — what a great post. I love people watching in Times Square personally hah! I’m headed back to NYC for the third time next month — for the Thanksgiving day parade actually 🙂 I can’t wait! Thanks for getting me even more excited.

  7. We visited NYC a month ago and I loved it. I absolutely agree that you need to see a show. We went to the Lion King and it was everything that was advertised. Incredible costumes, music, and production. We also did the Rock and Central Park, but it was rather crowded. I really much prefer going downtown to see the statue of liberty and relaxing at one of the restaurants looking out at the brooklyn bridge.

    • Yes!! I watched it in Vancouver when they were on tour and it was AMAZING. We’ll be sure to check out one of those restaurants overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge next time!

  8. It’s always nice when people undersell a location so you go in expecting crap and instead having an absolutely incredible experience! I did a few of these things on my first time in NYC, but not all. I think I would add visit the MoMA on my top list, but I’m glad you chose Top of the Rock over Empire State Building. I’ve don’t both and thought Top of the Rock was such a spectacular view because you get to see the Empire State Building! I’m going back to NYC in February, just for a night on a long layover and I’m trying to figure out what’s next. I think I’ll have to pick one of the things from your list I didn’t do – go to a show! Great tips!

    • We were debating between Top of the Rock Vs Empire State Building but it sounds like we made the right choice! Next time we’ll check out MoMA for sure 🙂

  9. Great list for first timers in New York! We did almost all of them on our first (and for now only) time in the Big Apple. I would add Grand Central Station (I felt like I was in a movie) and Ellen’s Stardust Diner (Glee fan alert!). We’ve been on Top of the Rock as well (Central Park is huuuuuge!), but watched the sunset from One World Observatory. Smorgasburg was awesome, but did you try the Halal Guys too? Sooooo good!

    • Grand Central Station – noted for next time! And oh my god yes we did try the Halal Guys. SOOO good… and the portions were huge too. Salivating as I type haha

  10. There is nothing more fun than people watching at Times Square, but Lincoln Center does come in a close second.
    Do you think it would take more than an hour to walk the Brooklyn Bridge with kids? W

    • Haha people watching at Times Square is definitely an eye opener. And yes I think it’s better to allocate more than an hour to walk to the Brooklyn Bridge with kids, just in case! Gotta account for all the picture-taking too 🙂

  11. Seeing a show is absolutely a must in New York. I think the fact that you highlighted Lord of the Rings in concert proves that it doesn’t matter what you’re interested in – you can find a performance you’ll enjoy!

  12. I didn’t know about the rubbish! But New York is still on my travel wish-list 🙂 Love the Times Square photo. It looks as exciting as I imagined!

  13. Love this list! I was just there and did almost the exact same things. I didn’t make it to a show as we were only there for 24 hours due to a layover but that view from the Top of the Rock is incredible, isn’t it? I wasn’t too sold on it in the beginning but when I got up there I was pretty taken aback.

  14. I have done most of the things on your list. I stayed in times square on my first visit to NYC and also went to see a show. 2 birthdays ago, I spent the day walking around the lake in central park and chilling and reading my book there. I haven´t heard of Smorgasburg but I will be going next time I am in NYC. A nice restaurant is a bit out of my price range but maybe one day!!

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