16 of The Best Things to Do in New York City During Your First Visit

There’s no question that New York City is one of the most exciting and diverse places on earth. From world-class museums to iconic landmarks, world-class shopping, some of the best restaurants and bars in the world, from every cuisine you can think of to entertainment and nightlife, there’s something for everyone and a neighborhood for you in the Big Apple.

Here are some of the best things to do in New York City you absolutely can’t miss if you’ve never visited Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs before. 

Best Things to Do in New York City You Can’t-Miss

1. Take a stroll around Central Park

One of the most popular tourist destinations in New York City is Central Park. This world-famous park is a great place to relax, people watch, or take a scenic walk. With over 843 acres of green space, Central Park is one of the largest parks in the world!

Some things you shouldn’t miss inside the park include Bethesda Terrace, Bow Bridge, and Belvedere Castle. Also, if you’re up for an adventure, you can even rent a rowboat to enjoy the scenery from Central Park Lake. Otherwise, you can pack a little picnic and just enjoy the park’s tranquility.

2. Visit the Top of the Empire State Building

For breathtaking views of New York City, you have to visit the top of the Empire State Building. This Art Deco masterpiece is one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in the world and towers 1,454 feet tall! Then, you can take a ride up to the 86th-floor Observation Deck for some of the best views in the city.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even purchase a ticket to go to the 102nd Floor Observatory. On a clear day, you can see for miles! The Empire State Building is one of the most popular observatories in New York City, so be sure to get there early to avoid long lines.

3. Pay your respects at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum

One of the most moving things to do in New York City is to pay your respects at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. This somber memorial commemorates the lives lost during the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

The museum features artifacts, exhibits, and audio/visual presentations that tell the story of that fateful day. It’s a powerful and moving experience that everyone should see. Visiting the museum costs $26 per person. However, you can visit the memorial for free.

4. Cycle over Brooklyn Bridge

If you’re looking for a unique way to see New York City, then you have to go for a bike ride over the Brooklyn Bridge! This iconic bridge spans 1.1 miles and is one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC. It’s also one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States, so it’s truly an unmissable sight when visiting the city that never sleeps.

Several different bike rental companies are located near the bridge, so you can easily rent a bike for an hour or two. In addition, riding over the Brooklyn Bridge is a great way to see some of New York City’s most famous landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

5. See the vibrant billboards at Times Square

Times Square is one of the most iconic places in New York City. This world-famous square is home to some of the biggest and brightest billboards in the world. It’s also a great place to people-watch or go shopping.

Although locals truly despise the square, it’s a great place to see at least once in your life. Just make sure to hold onto your belongings tight and don’t fall into any tourist traps. Avoid people dressed up in costumes and selling CDs or bracelets!

6. Catch a Broadway show

A trip to New York City wouldn’t be complete without seeing a Broadway show. There’s a show for everyone on the Great White Way, from musicals to comedies. Some of the most popular shows include Hamilton, The Lion King, and Wicked.

If you’re looking for something more unique, you can also check out some of the Off-Broadway shows. These are usually more experimental and quirky but can be a lot of fun.

No matter what you’re interested in, there’s definitely a Broadway show for you! Just make sure to get your tickets in advance because they do tend to sell out quickly.

7. Enjoy a Boat Cruise Around Manhattan

One of the best ways to see the city is from the water, so it’s worth going for a boat tour, even if you have only one day in New York City.

Several different boat cruises depart from various locations around Manhattan. You can choose a cruise that suits your interests, whether it’s a skyline tour, history, or even a sunset cruise.

You’re guaranteed to get some great photos and memories no matter which cruise you choose. Cruises typically last for 1-2 hours and cost around $40 per person.

8. Explore the High Line

The High Line is a public park that was built on an abandoned elevated train track. It stretches for 1.45 miles and runs through the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen.

The park is home to plenty of greenery, art installations, and stunning views of the city. It’s the perfect place to go for a stroll or have a picnic on a nice day.

You can also visit the adjacent Whitney Museum of American Art, which is one of the best museums in New York City. If you’re a fan of contemporary art, then this is definitely the place for you.

9. Grab a bite to eat at Chelsea Market

If you’re looking for a foodie paradise, look no further than Chelsea Market. It’s an indoor food court with over 35 different vendors selling everything from gourmet cheese to fresh seafood and seriously cool NYC souvenirs. Perfect for a too-hot summer day or rainy weather when you really need to be indoors.  

There’s also a bakery, a florist, and a wine shop, so you can definitely spend a few hours here browsing and sampling all the different food. It’s the perfect place to go if you’re looking for a quick bite or if you want to stock up on groceries for your hotel room.

It’s also close to the start of the High Line, so it’s perfect for fueling up before or after your stroll.

10. Visit Lady Liberty and Ellis Island

The Statue of Liberty is one of the most famous landmarks in New York City, and it’s worth a visit. You can take a ferry to Liberty Island from Battery Park, where you can marvel at Lady Liberty from up close and visit the small museum explaining the statue’s history.

Many people don’t know this, but actually, your ferry ticket already includes access to Ellis Island, so it’s definitely worth stopping there on your way back to Manhattan.

A museum on the island tells the story of the immigrants who passed through there when arriving in the New World in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s a very moving experience and definitely worth your time if you’re interested in American history.

11. Fly on a helicopter and be stunned by the view of NYC

If you want to make your vacation even more memorable and see New York City from a different angle, make sure to book a helicopter tour! These tours typically last for around 30 minutes and give you stunning views of the cityscape, including the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Of course, this experience doesn’t come cheap, but it’s definitely one of those bucket-list things to do in New York City if you have the budget for it. A helicopter tour typically costs around $200-300 per person, but if you want to go for a sunset ride, you can budget even more. Needless to say, it’s an unforgettable experience, so if you’re looking to splurge, you will have the time of your life.

12. Visit Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Williamsburg is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the city and one of the best areas to stay in New York City for a different experience than the more touristy areas of Manhattan.  It’s known for its hipster vibes, vintage stores, and art galleries, and it’s one of the things to do in New York City your tween, teen, or young adult children won’t want to miss. 

There are also a lot of great restaurants and cafes in Williamsburg. So if you’re looking for something different from the usual New York City fare, then this is the place to go.

Make sure to walk around and explore the neighborhood. There are some cool street art murals, and you might even stumble upon a pop-up market or concert.

Williamsburg is easily accessible from Manhattan by subway, so it’s definitely worth visiting if you have the time.

13. Spend Christmas in New York City

If you’re lucky enough to be in New York City during the holidays, you’re in for a treat. The city is magical during Christmas time with all the lights and decorations.

There are also several holiday markets set up around the city where you can find unique gifts and souvenirs. And, of course, no trip to New York City would be complete without seeing the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree!

You can also go ice skating in Central Park or in front of the Rockefeller Center, see the famous Radio City Christmas Spectacular, marvel at the gorgeous holiday displays on 5th Avenue, or stroll around the Winter Village in Bryant Park. It’s a fun experience, and there are so many holiday-related things to do in New York City. 

14. Take a tour of the New York Public Library

The New York Public Library is one of the most famous buildings in the city, and believe it or not, it’s entirely free to enter, making it one of the best free things to do in New York City.

Even if you’re not a bookworm, it’s still worth a visit to see the stunning architecture and interior of the library. You can also take a free tour which lasts for about an hour.

The New York Public Library is located in Midtown Manhattan, so it’s easy to combine with other nearby attractions such as Grand Central Terminal or Bryant Park.

15. Stop by Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal is one of the most iconic landmarks in New York City, and it’s worth a visit. It’s awe-inspiring to see the grandeur of the building, and it’s also a great place to people watch.

It has been made famous by movies and TV series like Gossip Girl, so you’ll be in for a treat if you’re into filming locations. But, even if you’re not into trains, it’s still worth a visit to see the beautiful architecture and maybe even grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in the food court.

16. Take an NYC Food Tour

If you love food, then a food tour would be one of the must things to do in New York City.  There are several different food tours available depending on what area of the city you’re interested in.

For example, the Greenwich Village Food Tour takes you to some of the best cafes and restaurants in the area. Or, if you’re interested in trying some of the best pizza in the city, then you can take the Pizza Tour of New York.

There are also food tours available in Chinatown, Little Italy, and Brooklyn. So no matter what area of the city you’re staying in, there’s sure to be a food tour that’s perfect for you.

Which One of These Things to do in New York City Will You Do?

things to do in new york city

Making a list of all the things to do in New York City is practically an impossible task as there are so many things to keep you busy in the Big Apple. Whether you’re interested in culture, art, food, or just want to sightsee, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant city.

Hopefully, this article gave you an idea about the unmissable things to do in New York City, and now you have a clear idea of the city’s must-visit places.

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