Known for it’s iconic skyline, bright neon lights and bustling atmosphere, New York City had been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. It was my dream destination.
If you’re visiting for the first time, and want to see New York’s top sights, this itinerary has you covered!
New York City was the last place in the states I’d be visiting after ending my Disney Program and I wanted to go out on a high. Here’s how my first trip to the Big Apple went…
Arriving By Greyhound
On arriving in New York, we were met by lots of traffic. From the window of my greyhound bus I could see the skyline in the distance. My excitement grew as the city very slowly came into view.
Eventually we arrived at the Port Authority, located a convenient 5 minutes away from our hotel. But I had two suitcases that I’d packed my whole life into and weighed a ton. So continuing the trend from Philadelphia, we got a taxi to the hotel. In fact, our taxi ride took longer than walking. But it was worth the price simply because I didn’t have to push my way through the August crowds with my luggage.
Note to self: Don’t buy all the stuff next time!
Where Did I Stay?
My stay during my time in New York was at the Paramount Hotel. This hotel was a 2-minute walk to Times Square. I prefer to walk whenever I am in a big city and Times Square seemed like a good place to base ourselves. I did love that I could walk to Duane Reed late at night if I needed something, and get late night pizza to take back to my hotel. But remember staying in Times Square will also mean the price of everything is much higher.The room was very small – as was expected for New York. While my stay wasn’t necessarily bad, it’s not somewhere I would rush back to.
Once we’d settled into our room, I was very eager to get back into the hustle and bustle of the city.
I had no plans for my first day here in New York – I’d written a very loose itinerary because of it being a travel day I wanted to be flexible. Which is a good thing really because my greyhound was indeed delayed by an hour (no surprise there)
Times Square is THE place everyone wants to see when visiting the Big Apple. As touristy as it may be, it’s a pretty amazing place. It’s just nice to spend some time soaking in the atmosphere and people watching. You’ll also see some, shall we say, unique people.
Being in Times Square, I decided I was going to join the other hoards of tourists and visit the M&M store. I’m not a fan of these stores and I personally don’t get the appeal, but wandering through here made me feel like I really was in New York.
A visit to the Disney Store in any city is always a must. I’d just had the most Disney year – how could I not? Amazingly I didn’t actually make a purchase here. Not even the “I <3 NY” mickey ears could sway me. That’s when you know you already have too much luggage. In fact I didn’t do any real shopping in New York, which was very hard for me!
I did love Times Square and we spent a lot of time there. We’d venture through when leaving and returning to our hotel, just to soak in the energy. We left early one morning and walked out onto a nearly empty Times Square. It was lovely with no people here.
We stopped at the LOVE sign. I’d found the one in Philadelphia and knew there was another here in New York so had to seek it out.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
Lunch was at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, a great way to start your New York trip. Ellen’s is a diner where the servers are also the entertainers. Aspiring Broadway stars, each server will take it in turns to belt out one of the many show stopping Broadway tunes.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral wasn’t on my itinerary but we stumbled upon this beautiful church on our first day and I was thankful we had. It’s free to visit and is a nice way to take a break from the city.
New York Public Library
We stumbled upon the New York Public Library, which is just a few minutes walk from St Patrick’s Cathedral. For anyone who loved the Ghostbuster movies growing up, this is the location of the first ghost encounter. It is the second largest Public Library in the United States and the third largest in the world.
Grand Central Terminal
Located at East 42nd Street and Park Avenue, Grand Central Terminal is one of the busiest train stations in the world. There are many places to dine and shop at Grand Central station, but we only spent about 30 minutes here taking in the atmosphere.
On the lower level of the station is the whispering gallery. An archway that, when two people stand at diagonal arches, can whisper and hear each others voices. We gave it a go and it definitely works! Something so simple amazed me.
If you’d like to see the Chrysler building during your visit, there are some good views from Grand Central.
The Rum House
We were tired from a long travel day so decided to check out the area close to our hotel. We ended our first night in New York by grabbing cocktails at a nearby bar called the Rum House, and listened to some live jazz.
There are many sights to see in Central Park’s 843 acres. I made a list of things I really wanted to see in the park. Most of the top sights here are within walking distance of each other. We entered Central Park on the Upper East side around East 72nd street.
Alice in Wonderland Statue
Hans Christian Anderson Statue
Strawberry Fields is a section inside Central Park featuring a memorial to John Lennon. The Imagine memorial is located at West 72nd street, across from the Dakota apartments where Lennon lived.
There is so much more to see in Central Park. After two hours of wandering through, we’d only skimmed the surface.
American Museum Of Natural History
Not going to lie, one of my main reasons for visiting the American Museum of Natural History is thanks to the Night at the museum. I’m sure that’s the reason a lot of tourists visit here, but if it gets more people into museums I say that’s a good thing!
The American Museum of Natural History houses over 33 million specimens and has 45 permanent exhibition halls. My favourite part of the museum were the Mammal Halls, featuring dioramas of different species around the world.
Admission to the Museum is a suggested $25. There are self-serve kiosks available, or if you’d like to pay a different donation, you’ll have to wait in line at the information desk. I thought $25 was a little steep so we paid $12.50 each.
Top Of The Rock
New York City has one of the most impressive and iconic skylines of any major city. A visit to New York wouldn’t be complete without a stop at one of the many observation decks. Top Of The Rock is one of the most recommended things to do in New York, and rightly so. When researching for my trip, everyone suggested this viewing deck over others. One of the main reasons for this is that the view allows you to see the Empire State Building, one of New York’s biggest icons. Not only this, but there is an open view on the top floor, and glass windows in the lower floors. Meaning your view is mostly unobstructed.
I chose a time of 7:30pm to enter by, this way we could see the sunset and view the city in both day light and at night time. The sun had already started to set by the time we got there, and the place was crowded. There is no time limit for your visit however, so you can take your time up here and get all those insta-shots.
I hadn’t quite braved the subway at this point, so we took an Uber down to Lower Manhattan to the financial district. The iconic Charging Bull statue sits on Bowling Green and is the icon for Wall Street. In 2017, the Fearless Girl statue was placed standing opposite the bull.
The Charging Bull is a popular tourist spot, and there wasn’t one second where it didn’t have at least 15 people touching it. Trying to get a photo with it was difficult. There were several Chinese tour groups here and they were not letting anyone else near the bull. After taking my photo I let a family with two kids have my spot, they’d been waiting a long time. It’s kind of a free for all.
Federal Hall & New York Stock Exchange
Having just left D.C. and Philadelphia, I was excited to see Federal Hall. We learned about the importance of this building while visiting Independence Hall. This is the location where the first president of the United States, George Washington, was inaugurated. Did you know that New York was previously a capital city? It became the capital city of the United States in 1785.
Just across from Federal Hall sits the New York Stock Exchange. While not a big item on my to-do list, this was cool to see.
Statue Of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty was something I’d wanted to see since I was a child. When my mum visited New York in 2002, the one thing I asked her to bring me back was a small replica of the Statue of Liberty – I still have it at home! I’ve wanted to see her up close for so long, that during my visit to Paris I got excited when I spotted a smaller version. I knew one day I would see the real thing.
The Statue of Liberty was gifted to the United States from France to commemorate their alliance during the American Revolution.
From Liberty Island are the most captivating views of Lower Manhattan’s cityscape.
There is only one official company to visit the Statue of Liberty, which is Statue Cruises. The boats to the Island leave from Battery Park. I would highly recommend buying your tickets in advance. On the day I visited the lines were incredibly long. It looked like a few hours wait at least. If you’d like to purchase tickets to visit the crown of Statue of Liberty, you’d need to purchase them 5/6 months in advance. There are limited tickets and they sell out fast. When I purchased my tickets, it was 4 months in advance and the crown was already sold out.
Ellis Island Immigrant Museum
After your visit to Statue of Liberty, the boat departs Liberty Island for Ellis Island. The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration documents the period between 1892 and 1954, when over 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. There is a great informative audio tour available upon entering the museum, telling the stories of the people who were processed here. Ellis Island Immigrant Museum is free to visit and is open from 8:30am to 5:30pm.
The museum is rather big, I think we spent about 3 hours here in order to get through the audio tour and see everything. The museum was near closing time when we left. A total of 4 hours is a good enough time to visit, this will give you time to get through crowds and security and take your time through both Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
I started my last full-day in New York with a visit to the Brooklyn Bridge, which connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
We only walked halfway across to get photos as we had a timed visit to ONE World Trade Center. There are two sides on the bridge, one for foot passengers and one for bikes. The bike lane is very popular so if you want photos standing in the middle of the bridge, you’d need to be fast because these bikes aren’t stopping (be careful or you’ll get knocked down).
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to check out the DUMBO neighbourhood, but there is always next time!
One World Observatory & 9/11 Memorial
The ONE World Trade Center or Freedom Tower, is the tallest building in the United States and the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center. The Freedom Tower stands at 1776 ft tall. Recognise that number? It is of course the year of American independence.
I bought timed tickets for the ONE World observatory for 1pm, hoping that we’d have blue skies to see the city below. We were very lucky on this whole trip to have great weather, despite the humidity.
The elevators climb 102 stories in 47 seconds – crazy! The ride up to the 102nd floor is rather smooth and gives you an interactive look at how New York has transformed over the years.
Once again buying tickets in advance for the summer is recommended, as the line to buy tickets gets long. Once inside you join a separate line to pick up reserved tickets.
There are several viewing decks in New York City, I chose the ONE World observatory as it’s located in Lower Manhattan and gives you a different perspective of the city.
The 9/11 memorial pays tribute to the 2,977 people who lost their lives in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.
The museum next door documents the events that happened here. The lines for the museum were huge and the recommended time to spend here was around 2-3 hours I believe. I hadn’t purchased tickets in advance this time so we skipped it. If you’d like to purchase tickets they are available online and cost $26 for basic admission.
If you grew up in the 90’s and early 2000’s you’re probably a huge fan of the TV show friends. And if you aren’t, the series is on Netflix, go watch it!
A short subway ride from Lower Manhattan, we arrived at Greenwich Village. Greenwich Village was amazing, a quaint and quiet (compared to Midtown) area to just wander. This neighbourhood is filled with charming little cafes and restaurants. Unfortunately I made a big mistake and didn’t eat at any of them – instead we ate at, what I can only describe as, the worst restaurant ever. It pays to do some research beforehand.
The Friends building is located at the corner of Bedford Street and Grove Street, a short walk from Christopher Street Subway Station.
Chelsea market hosts a myriad of places to eat and sample different foods. Having just eaten at aforementioned terrible restaurant, I was now too-full to eat anything here other than gelato. Rookie mistake on my part. If you are in the area, save your appetite for Chelsea Market!
The High line
Just behind the Chelsea Market you’ll find the High line, a old elevated railway track that was saved from demolition, and in 2009 transformed into a public urban park. The entire park is 1.45 miles long, and features unique views of the city along with various pieces of art work.
Although we only walked about halfway, I loved the idea behind this park and it goes to show that parts of the city can be utilised for a different purpose.
Our last night in the city was dinner at Junior’s. I realise that this is a very well known tourist restaurant, but I was in New York, which in itself is a tourist city. It had been recommended to me on so many occasions, for the cheesecake alone. And being my first visit to this city I was more than prepared to put on my tourist shoes. The cheesecake was in fact, very very good! The food here was good too but it’s totally fine to come just for cheesecake or dessert.
On our last morning in New York I had some last minute things planned as our flights weren’t until 5pm, but having spent most of the morning packing and taking into account the New York traffic, we ended up cutting time short.
Here’s a list of other things you may want to do in New York City that I missed out on:
- Flat Iron Building
- Dylan’s Candy Bar
- The Guggenheim
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Kat’z Deli
- See a Broadway show
- China Town
My visit was during the height of summer, so as you can imagine it was very busy. I think that’s kind of how I wanted to experience New York. I can’t imagine New York ever being a quiet place, but the crowds in August were definitely something else.
As a first timer to New York City I wanted to go all out and be a massive tourist. While I love to explore more local areas of a city, 5 days in New York for a first visit just wasn’t going to give me enough time. I’m sure I’ll be back in this amazing city in the future and will have more opportunity to do so. The only thing I regret about my trip was not using the subway more. Get accustomed to the subway system and you can get so much more done in a day.
Have you ever been to New York? What were your highlights?