Everything You Must Do When You’re Visiting New York For The First Time If You Only Have the Weekend

New York City with its ever growing neighborhoods, impressive museums, historical sites and limitless restaurants, can never really be seen in one trip. When you’ve visiting New York for the first time, planning your trip may seem overwhelming. Especially if you just have a few days to see the city.

It’s amazing though, how much you can actually squeeze in to one weekend in New York if you’re willing to not waste any time and hit the pillow exhausted every night.

After living in New York for five years and hosting many friends who are visiting the city for the first time, I have had a lot of opportunities to practice the best first trip to New York. I love to show my friends around the local spots and get away from the tourists areas but some of the touristy stuff is just necessary for first time visitors.

The following is my first time tourist guide. Here’s the perfect itinerary for anyone visiting the city who has just a few nights to spend.

More tips on exploring New York City:
  • Find out how to have the best day in Astoria, Queens here.
  • Considering moving to New York City? Read how I did it here.
  • Read about my favorite bar in the city here.
  • Get my complete list of best bars near Times Square here.
city street in new york city
When the weather is nice, Manhattan is the best city to walk around in.

Arrive on Friday Afternoon

Arriving in the afternoon or early evening will ensure your first night isn’t wasted. Even after a travel day, New York is magnetic enough to pull anyone out of exhaustion. Once you show up, you won’t be able to sit still in a hotel room.

My first tip for anyone traveling to New York for the first time is to find accommodations in Midtown. I cannot stress this enough. It’s the only way to really make the most out of your weekend. This way you can avoid getting lost and taking long train commutes from the outer boroughs. I promise it’s worth the money for the convenience.

I remember visiting New York for the first time almost fifteen years ago, all I could think about was seeing Times Square. Of course I have now come to avoid it at all costs, but I can still remember the thrill of seeing it for the first time. All those movies and TV shows I watched lit up with billboards and huge advertisement screens, I was finally coming face to face with.

After you arrive in the city and check into your hotel, get out on foot and explore midtown Manhattan. This will give you a good idea of how manageable the streets of New York really are. You should be able to get to everything important without taking a car or public transportation anywhere.

exterior of iconic New York public library
Ghostbusters library or Sex and the City library?
Grand Central station exterior
Seeing the outside of Grand Central Terminal is important…
interior of grand central station
…But seeing the inside is a must!

I recommend an observation deck on your first night and honestly prefer the Top of The Rock. It’s always a good idea to buy tickets in advance to save time. Try to get a reservation for about 10:00pm and give yourself a couple hours to stroll down Fifth Avenue, walk passed Radio City Music Hall and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the New York Public Library and see the inside of Grand Central Terminal.

All of this can be done in less than two hours by foot, depending on your pace.

Points of interest:

In order of convenience: Plaza Hotel, Tiffany & Co, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Plaza, St, Patrick’s Cathedral, Bryant Park, New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal, Chrysler Building.

This is a good night to eat a mandatory New York hot dog or $1 slice of pizza (when you get hungry) and cross Time’s Square off your list. Walk everywhere from Park Avenue to Broadway and 57th street down to 42nd. There’s plenty to see in this part of town and you’ll be energized by the atmosphere of the city.

Pro Tip:

If you’re a night owl, have some drinks at a local bar in Midtown after you’re finished with the Top of The Rock. Then wait to go to Times Square until about one or two o’clock in the morning (the later the better). It is almost completely deserted around this time and makes for a much better experience. TRUST ME ON THIS.

42nd street times square in New York
Times Square is always buzzing with people
times square new york city
I have a love-mostlly hate relationship with Times Square because it’s so exciting but it’s always insanely crowded.

Saturday Morning: Take the Subway to Lower Manhattan

The next morning is a great time to get one of New York City’s world famous bagels (best bagels post coming soon) and head downtown to Wall Street. Jump on a downtown train to get there. You’ll be doing plenty of walking once you’re down there and you can’t really NOT take the subway at least once, right? Get your mandatory photo of the Charging Bull and Fearless Girl, and walk towards City Hall.

Pro Tip:

If you have the time to come back at night for photos near Wall Street, I recommend it. Crowds can get pretty large during the day and a little feisty. I went at about 11:00 pm on a Tuesday and it was pretty quiet.

quite street in financial district new york
The narrow streets of the financial district still have the perfect old New York feel
fearless girl and wall street bull in financial district
Finding the perfect time to visit the Wall Street Bull and Fearless Girl can be a challenge
freedom tower new york city
The perfect shade of blue

The narrow streets of the Financial District are fun to wander through and offer for plenty of photo opportunities. While you’re down here you can catch glimpses of the Freedom Tower, take a look inside the Oculus and see the 9/11 memorial.

Once you make it down to City Hall, it leads right to the Brooklyn Bridge. Walk across the bridge for one of the most iconic New York experiences. If you can stand it walk all the way across and back but at least make it half way. This will give you some of the best views of lower Manhattan.

Then head over to Stone Street for a drink at one of the many bars lining the historic street. This is a great spot to decompress after all the walking and site seeing you just did!

Saturday night is the perfect time to squeeze in a Broadway show. It’s always a good idea to buy tickets in advance. If you aren’t married to a specific show though and are okay winging it, my favorite app for tickets is TodayTix. You can get great last minute deals and never have to worry about standing in line for tickets.

woman on brooklyn bridge new york
Look, no hands!
stone street in new york city
My favorite and probably the most photogenic street in New York City
cocktail on stone street
Aperol Spritz, cause it’s the drink of the summer

Sunday Morning: Central Park, Museums, and The High Line

Get up as early as you possibly can on Sunday morning to roam Central Park for a few hours. Make sure to see Bethesda Fountain and Loeb’s Boathouse Cafe. If the weather’s nice, rent a boat for an hour (it’s actually pretty cheap). Whatever your particular taste is, there is plenty of ways to kill time in Central Park.

After you have had your fill of the park, pick a museum to explore. There’s so many museums to choose from in New York that it may seem impossible to pick just one. But you only have a few days so I’d stress just choosing one. I personally think the best for a first time visitor is The Metropolitan Museum.  It’s synonymous with New York City culture and centrally located near the park.

beautiful day in central park
Beautiful day in Central Park
the iconic bethesda fountain in central park
My favorite place in Central Park is definitely Bethesda Fountain

After Central Park and the Met, head over to the High Line. This former abandoned railway track happens to be my favorite park in New York. It has some amazing lookout points of the Hudson River.  If time permits, stop into Chelsea Market for a snack or coffee, or some great boutique shopping.

A great way to end the night from here is to have a drink at the Frying Pan. This is one of my favorite places if the weather is nice!  It’s a bar and restaurant permanently docked on the Hudson River with great views all around.

You’ll be exhausted after your full weekend and this place will be a great way to unwind. After a few drinks you can head back to your hotel to prepare for a Monday morning flight home. Once you’ve had your first taste of New York, you’ll be back. Not just because of the magnetic pull it has but because you’ll realize how much more you want  to explore it.

woman drinking beer at frying pan new york city
One of my favorite day drinking spots – The Frying Pan
the high line new york lookout point
The most popular lookout point at the High Line
exterior of chelsea market in new york
Eat and shop at Chelsea Market, but mostly eat!
frying pan bar in new york city
The Frying Pan is an extremely popular local spot to hang out when the weather’s nice
visiting new york for the first time go to the frying pan
Don’t ya want a sip?

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