Disclaimer: This blog post was originally written in January 2020 and was updated in winter 2022 for relevancy.
Hello from NYC! I’ve spent quite a bit of time in New York City because of my college’s proximity to the city and a job I had last winter break guiding international students on excursions around the city. This job made me feel like a NYC local because of all the sights I saw! Today’s post covers a New York City bucket list for first-timers. Whether you’ve visited New York 100 times or once, I hope you discover something new to try from this post!
Disclaimer: This blog post is sponsored by YOTEL. YOTEL is a savvy global hotel chain perfect for the modern traveler. I worked with the YOTEL during a recent weekend trip to New York City and am thrilled to be partnering with them on today’s post. As always, all opinions written here are my own.
#1: Central Park
A stroll through Central Park is one of the best things to do on a New York City bucket list for first timers! The southern portion of the park (located near E 59th St) is home to the famous Plaza Hotel and the holiday horse-drawn carriage pick-up spot. The Central Park Zoo and outdoor ice skating rink are also located near here.
As you make your way further into the park, I recommend checking out the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace. Not only is this place beautiful (especially during the summer), it’s where Chuck & Blair get married in Gossip Girl! It’s definitely one of the most unique Instagrammable places in NYC!
Next, walk across Bow Bridge, which is featured in many movies such as Night at the Museum, and head to Belvedere Castle for stunning views overlooking the park.
#2: Hudson Yards & The Vessel
Hudson Yards is an up-and-coming area in New York with modern apartment buildings, high-rises, and attractions such as the Vessel! This area is located on the west side of NYC along the Hudson River near lower Manhattan. Hudson Yards has a stunning new luxury mall and the Vessel, an interactive art sculpture that can be climbed for $10.
Pro-tip: You can climb the Vessel for free if you book tickets ahead of time!
Also be sure to check out the Edge, the tallest observation deck in the western hemisphere!
#3: Times Square & Broadway
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. I’ve visited Times Square more times than I can count, but if you’re a first-timer, it really is one of the best things to do on a New York City bucket list! Times Square has many shops, restaurants, and attractions, such as Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and M&M’s World.
Broadway runs through Times Square and is where most of the theaters are located. I’ve been lucky enough to see several shows at a discounted rate through my school. I highly recommend seeing Waitress, Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, and Mean Girls. Watching a Broadway show is definitely one of the best things to do on a New York City bucket list!
#4: Rockefeller Center & Top of the Rock
Rockefeller Center is a can’t miss sight during the holiday season. Each year, a giant Christmas tree arrives from Canada and becomes a festive backdrop to the ice rink. Although the tree is only up for a few weeks, you can ice-skate at Rockefeller anytime from October until April.
Top of the Rock is located directly behind Rockefeller Center and is the perfect place to get 360° views of the city! An express elevator takes you to the top in just a few seconds where there is an observation deck to enjoy.
#5: The High Line & Chelsea Market
The High Line is an elevated walkway/park that runs 1.5 miles through the west side of Manhattan. It was built on an old New York Central Railway and is fun to explore! I recommend walking along the portion near the Chelsea Market on 10th Ave & 16th St.
The Chelsea Market is a charming (but busy) food hall located in Chelsea, Manhattan. There are several shops inside ranging from Anthropology to local vendors selling handmade goods. Also, the food sold here is to die for! I recommend Hale & Hearty for delicious homemade soup!
Adjacent to the Chelsea Market is a Starbucks Reserve, one of the largest Starbucks in the world. I’ve also been to the one in Seattle! Check it out!
#6: SoHo & Washington Square Park
SoHo is my favorite part of New York City because of its pastel-colored buildings, cast-iron-facades, cobblestone streets, cafes, and SHOPPING! The shopping in SoHo is unbeatable. This is definitely one of the best things to do in New York City for first-timers.
Pro-tip: Public bathrooms in SoHo are limited, but there are several in Bloomingdales!
If it’s a nice day in the city, make your way over to Washington Square Park to see the arch, fountain, and people watch! This park is one of my favorites in the city!
#7: Brooklyn Bridge & Dumbo
I highly recommend exploring more boroughs in NYC than just Manhattan! If it’s your first time here, exploring Brooklyn should definitely be on your New York City bucket list. Head over to City Hall Park on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge and begin the mile-long walk to Brooklyn. Not only will you see stunning views of the skyline from the bridge, there’s a ton to do in Brooklyn!
My favorite part of Brooklyn is the neighborhood right near the bridge. DUMBO, or Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, is famous for its cobblestone streets, high-end restaurants, and trendy cafes. This is also where you’ll find Brooklyn Bridge Park and Washington Street – an Instagram hot-spot crowded with people posing in front of the Manhattan Bridge!
#8: The MET
I LOVE the MET! The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the United States. It’s located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on 5th Ave. The entrance fee is pay-as-you-wish for all NY residents and for students in NY, NJ, and CT, meaning you can donate however much you’d like to enter the museum. The museum has three floors of artwork from around the world and is one of the best things to do in New York City on a cold, rainy day!
#9: Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
If you’re looking to get out of the hustle & bustle of Manhattan, hop on a ferry and head over to Liberty Island for the day! You can no longer climb the Statue of Liberty, but it’s still fun to explore.
From Liberty Island, Ellis Island is only a short ferry ride away. Here you’ll find historical immigration documents and even a book with the names of immigrants who entered the US from Ellis Island! Is your family’s name in there? Mine is!
Pro-tip: Statue Cruises is the boat you’ll take to the islands. An adult ticket from Battery Park in Manhattan to both islands is only $19! Children cost $9.
#10: Empire State Building
Probably NY’s most iconic skyscraper! You can take an elevator to observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors. There are several tickets available, ranging from about $40 per person to $200 depending on the experience.
#11: 9/11 Memorial & Museum
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum located in lower Manhattan commemorates the September 11, 2001 attacks. The 9/11 Memorial is outdoors and free of charge, and the museum located underground costs $26 to enter. I recently visited the museum and was astounded by the amount of artifacts and recorded information they had on display about 9/11 and the events leading up to it. The museum is very intense to walk through, but is well done.
My thoughts and prayers go out to anyone affected by the attacks.
Nearby is the Oculus, or the World Trade Center Station. It’s a newly-constructed, modern shopping mall with an array of restaurants and subway stations located inside.
#12: Chinatown & Little Italy
Feeling hungry? Make your way to Canal Street in Lower Manhattan for the best Asian and Italian food in the city! Canal Street runs right through this part of the city, separating Chinatown from Little Italy, and is home to many restaurants, markets, and food stands!
#13: Grand Central Terminal
I’m sure you’ll find yourself here one way or another during your time in NYC. Not only is Grand Central Station a transportation hub for the city, it’s also an iconic filming location for several movies and TV shows! A quick walk through here is one of the best things to do in New York City.
Pro-tip: It’s located at 42 Street and Park Ave in Midtown Manhattan.
#14: Wall Street & The Charging Bull
Wall Street is located in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan in NYC and is known for its importance in the international finance system. Located on Wall Street is a sculpture of a charging bull, symbolizing the “courage and can-do spirit of Americans”.
#15: Radio City Music Hall
The final spot I recommend checking out in NYC is Radio City Music Hall! Radio City is an entertainment venue located in Midtown Manhattan, near Rockefeller Center. The Rockettes perform here each year, and are a hit during the holiday season in the Christmas Spectacular!
The YOTEL New York
And now for the sponsor of today’s post, the YOTEL! YOTEL is a savvy, global hotel chain perfect for the modern traveler. They have locations in major metropolitan cities such as Miami, Dubai, Amsterdam, and more! The hotel’s branding is quite unique as it refers to its rooms as “pods” and check-in area as “mission control”. Each room comes with LED lights, a flatscreen TV, and a modern, comfortable bed. The YOTEL has a wonderful location in NYC in Midtown, about a 10 minute walk from the Hudson Yards area to the south and Times Square to the east. If you’re looking for a modern place to stay with a prime city location, definitely consider the YOTEL next time you’re traveling to New York!
If you’re interested in learning more about what to do in New York City in December, check out my guide! I hope this guide inspires you to check out some (or all) of the 15 best things to do on a New York City bucket list next time you visit!
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