New York City is so diverse, there is literally something for everyone. Undoubtedly it’s a huge city with many different districts and neighborhoods to explore. I have been twice now, once as a teen and another as an adult for a solo trip and I can tell you that I still haven’t seen everything I want to. Without a doubt planning your trip for the first time can be a little daunting since there is a wide variety of attractions. I put together an in depth guide that would be perfect if you only have a short time in the city.
To make your days go smoothly I split the city up in two so you are spending less time on the subway travelling and more time being immersed in all that NYC has to offer.
Accommodation – Budget
A great budget option in the city is The Local hostel, it’s in Long Island city, a 2 min walk to the subways, right across the river from Manhattan and a great place to meet fellow solo travelers. I would stay here again, it has a cool vibe with a bar and great common area plus a kitchen.
Stop 1: Central Park
Central Park is a must no matter how many times you have been to NYC, it’s so special every season. There are always performances going on and buskers to watch and enjoy. Most of the popular places to visit are at the bottom half of the park and you’ll need between 2-3 hours to see everything.
Places to see:
- The Pond and Gapstow bridge
- The Mall – perfect for people watching
- Bethesda Terrace
- The Loeb Boathouse – rent a boat for $20 USD/hour on the Lake
- Bow bridge
- The Lake viewing area – a beautiful stop for photos
- Strawberry fields – beautiful memorial of the Beatles and if you’re lucky there might even be a performance here
Stop 2: Museums
Keep walking north in Central Park and you will come across the MET and a little further down is the Guggenheim Museum. These are great museums to visit if you are interested in art history or if the weather isn’t the best.
The MET holds more than 2 million works of art from across the globe, from the ancient world to the present day. If you buy a ticket here you have 3 days to use it at the other 2 Met locations around the city, the MET Cloisters and The Met Breuer. The cloisters are north of the city in the Fort George neighborhood but worth the trip if you have a few extra days to spare or are looking for something off the beaten path.
The Guggenheim museum was created by Frank Lloyd Wright and showcases modern and contemporary art from around the world.
Stop 3: Hudson Yards and The Vessel
One of the newest additions to the city is Hudson Yards and the Vessel. It’s a great place for photos and to capture sunset. There are shops and restaurants in the mall beside the Vessel and I would spend about an hour here. Also you can then walk across the high line for a unique experience of the city. Finally you’ll end up at the Chelsea market for dinner and some shopping from local and international vendors.
Tip: Check out my guide on how to get free tickets to the Vessel and I have included lots of photos!
Stop 4: Flat Iron Building
One of the most iconic buildings in NYC is the Flatiron, which houses the Fuller construction company. Even though you can’t explore inside the building it’s a great photo memory.
Stop 5: Rockefeller Center
The Rockefeller center is a historic landmark and has a beautiful observation deck over the city and the Empire State building. It would be a beautiful spot for sunset, be sure to get there a little early to get a good view! In the winter months the Rockefeller center has the famous Christmas tree, ice skating rink and in the summer months the area turns into a café. If you are travelling with kids definitely check out the LEGO store and FAO Schwarz.
Stop 6: Times Square
To end the night, hop on the subway and make your way over to Times Square or have a look at this list of another 101 things to do if you are looking for something unique. This is a classic NYC experience and not to be missed if this is your first time. The vibe of the square is electric, with bright neon lights, huge billboards, performances and crazy crowds.
Stop 1: West Village
The West Village is a trendy district with chic stores, quaint streets, federal style townhouses and little parks scattered among the neighborhoods. In this area you will find Washington Square park and NYU. In the university area you will find lots of hole in the wall eateries that offer cheap eats.
Stop 2: SOHO
This neighborhood is probably what you imagine when picturing the streets of NYC, elegant store fronts, high end restaurants, cool art galleries and of course the cast iron staircases on the buildings. As well, it has a lot of cool and colourful art murals that are hard to miss! Stop for breakfast at a one of the many bagels shops in the area and grab a cup of coffee at one of the aesthetically pleasing coffee shops.
Stop 3: Financial District
The financial district is one of the busiest districts in NYC since many of the corporations are near by. This is where you’ll find the 9/11 memorial and the world trade center. I suggest going here by subway and get off at the World Trade Center station and you will end up in the Oculus, a large transport hub designed by Santiago Calatrava. It is one of the coolest structures in the city, inside they have a lot of high end shopping. Once you exit the Oculus you will find cool art work on the shipping containers across the street. Also you won’t be able to miss the 9/11 memorial, it’s a beautiful tribute to those who lost their lives.
Stop 4: Brooklyn
The Brooklyn bridge is an iconic landmark in the city and not to be missed if visiting the city for the first time, there’s something so magically about witnessing sunrise here. If you are wanting to get photos and enjoy a peaceful morning then definitely get here for sunrise, however if it doesn’t matter to you then come around sunset and the views over the city will be amazing! You can walk over from the Manhattan side to the Brooklyn side and then grab some dinner. To end your day a popular spot for sunset and blue hour photography is Brooklyn Bridge park!
Hidden Gems to Explore
If you have a little extra time or just want to visit some less touristy places than I suggest escaping the city and visiting the MET Cloisters, Fort Tyron park and the George Washington bridge. The area is really pretty and a great place for sunset with little crowds.
Another spot where locals go is Domino park, this area in Williamsburg used to be a sugar refinery and it was transformed into a beautiful green space along the pier.
One of my favourite places that was a short walk from my hostel is the LIC boardwalk. It’s a great place to see sunrise and relax by the water on one of the many benches!
I hope you found this guide helpful to plan your first visit, it’s always a blast exploring this wonderful city.