Stepping onto the streets of New York City for the first time can be a mind-boggling experience. With so much to see and do, how do you know where to start? With a smart itinerary you can make the most of your visit to America’s cultural capital, from its towering skyscrapers to Times Square and beyond.

A great way to kick off your first visit is to begin with the New York City “Hop-On, Hop-Off” bus tour in order to get your bearings and see many of the city’s most popular neighborhoods and attractions before heading out on your own. A pass is valid for 48 hours, and the bus makes 50 stops while cruising throughout Manhattan.

On a nice day, be sure to take a stroll through Central Park and do a little people-watching for a sense of what it’s really like to live in the Big Apple. With 843 acres filled with trees, lakes, waterfalls, a wide variety of attractions and bike paths that encircle the entire park, you may even want to rent a bike and explore the city on two wheels. Ride or walk past brilliant gardens, sculptures and statues, while taking time to stop at sights like Strawberry Fields, a living memorial to John Lennon and his campaign for the world to “live as one.” Kids of all ages will love visiting Central Park Zoo with more than 150 different types of animals, including everything from the red panda to snow monkeys and the gentoo penguin.

The “Met,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, is another must-see. This art museum is known as one of the most unique, distinguished museums in the world. Its collections include a large variety of works you’ve probably read about in school, but it’s a lot more fascinating to view them in person.

It takes at least a day just to see the Met’s major highlights like the Egyptian collection, which covers 4,000 years of history and includes mummies and sarcophagi as well as displays of hieroglyphics. This is often a favorite of kids and Indiana Jones fans. The Temple of Dendur is one of the most popular exhibits and also makes for a fabulous photo op. The European Paintings collection is another must, featuring Old Master paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and many others.

Visiting Times Square after the sun goes down provides the opportunity to take in the quintessential New York scene filled with thousands of people, flashing neon lights and music. The energy at night here is indescribable and something everyone should experience at least once.

Of course, visiting the Empire State Building should be at the the top of your sightseeing list. This is also best accomplished after dark, ideally just after midnight to avoid the incessantly long lines. The 86th floor observation deck is open until 2 a.m. and provides the opportunity for breathtaking panoramic views of the city at its most brightly-lit.

Many visitors come to New York City to take part in some of the best shopping opportunities across the globe. So if you like to shop, you’ve definitely come to the right place. It would take months, if not years, to actually make a dent in the list of retailers here. From designer shops to luxury specialty stores, independent boutiques and even flea markets, there is something for every type of shopper here. Serious shoppers may even want to take the NYC Garment Center Insider Shopping tour to visit private designer showrooms and get a chance to shop hot sample sales.

Greenwich Village is a fun place to shop and hang out with writer/artist types as well as watch street performers and a variety of musicians. Unique boutiques offer everything from bohemian clothes to artwork, jewelry, antiques and everything in between. Take a stroll down Madison Avenue for some great window shopping, or for those who have plenty of cash to spare, Barney’s Madison Avenue is known as the “final word in edgy designer fashion,” with Prada suits, Alexander Wang dresses and more. The Brooklyn Flea and the GreenFlea are the two best flea markets in the city – a great place for bargains on unique, artistic items as well as the occasional rare find and even the chance for celeb spotting.

The Grand Central Terminal (note: it is not Grand Central Station) is considered a living, bustling temple to the city’s illustrious past. This is a great place to mingle with the locals, enjoy even more shopping and outstanding eateries as well as explore “secret” elevated passageways to take in an amazing view of the concourse.

Riding the ferry through the history pages of immigration to the U.S. should also have a spot on your list of things to do. Touring Ellis Island is a gripping journey that will immerse you in the immigration experience and teach you more than you could ever learn by reading a textbook alone. While the museum is a highlight, telling the moving tales of the 12 million immigrants who stepped into America through the golden door of Ellis Island, you will definitely want to get a close-up look at the Statue of Liberty.

For a fabulous grand finale evening, consider splurging on an indulgent dining experience in one of the city’s top eateries like Eric Ripert’s famed Midtown seafood spot, Le Bernardin, or Per Se with its renowned menu created by the brilliant Thomas Keller. Taking in a classic Broadway show, like Chicago, Phantom of the Opera or The Lion King, is another perfect way to cap off any New York City vacation.

Don’t worry too much about seeing it all in New York City. It’s simply impossible to do. New Yorkers who were born and raised in the city still discover something new and exciting every day. On your first trip to the Big Apple, pick out your must-sees and then be on the lookout for things to do and see on your next trip to NYC.


Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.

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