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First Time Visitor's Guide To New York City

For the first time visitor, New York City is as fascinating as it is confusing. This is especially true for visitors who have never been to a large American city, let alone the largest in the entire country. Still, what may surprise some visiting for the first time is the remarkable ease of getting around from one major attraction to another in a matter of minutes, although many visitors will forego public transportation. This helpful travel guide presents the best of what there is to see and do for first-time visitors traveling to the magnificent and incomparable New York City.
Must-See Attractions

The following are 10 must-see attractions in New York City. Each of these attractions can easily be visited in a matter of days simply by using the New York MTA subway. Any other mode of transportation may cause unnecessary delays or unnecessary expenses.

Brooklyn Bridge

Built in 1883 to connect the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the city's most famous cultural landmarks. Today, the venerable suspension bridge is just one of several bridges that cross the East River in New York City, including the 59th Street Bridge and Roosevelt Island Bridge in Manhattan and the Whitestone Bridge connecting the Bronx to Queens. The Brooklyn Bridge continues to carry approximately 150,000 motor vehicles daily, in addition to thousands of pedestrians and cyclists. At 5,989 feet long, it would only take about 15 minutes to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, depending upon the pace.

Related: How To Save Money On Traveling - Taking Public Transportation

Strawberry Fields (credit: Randy Yagi) Strawberry Fields (credit: Randy Yagi)
Central Park

Covering more than 800 acres, Central Park is quite possibly the most famous urban park in the world. Extending 2.5 miles between 59th Street and 110th Street, Central Park is certainly the most visited park in America and a popular spot for a number of outdoor activities including walking, cycling, picnicking and boating. Surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in the world, there are several well known attractions in the park, such as Bethesda Fountain, the Central Park Carousel, Central Park Zoo and Strawberry Fields, a living memorial to John Lennon. Opened in 1857, Central Park has had a rich history of hosting public events, including Simon and Garfunkel's 1981 concert in Central Park in front of a crowd of more than 500,000, and Garth Brooks' concert in 1997 with an estimated attendance of 750,000.

Empire State Building

At 1,453 feet tall, the Empire State Building is one of the world's most recognized skyscrapers. The world's tallest building for nearly 40 years after it first opened in 1931, this iconic building has 102 floors, 73 elevators and five entrances. The observation deck on the 102nd floor is a major city attraction, drawing millions of visitors annually, who are afforded panoramic views of the city and beyond, with an estimated visibility of 80 miles on a clear day. Tickets may be purchased onsite, but online reservations are strongly recommended. Because the observation deck can be very chilly and windy, especially at night, visitors are urged to bring something warm to wear. Because of the waiting time to board elevators, visitors are encouraged to visit between the hours of 8 to 11 a.m. For visitors who can't wait, an optional VIP Main Deck Express Experience is available.

Fifth Avenue

With its prime location to many other top attractions, Fifth Avenue is a definite must-see for the first time visitor. New York's most famous shopping district extends between 49th Street, near Times Square and Rockefeller Center, to 59th Street at the southern border of Central Park and near the flagship Apple Store. Many of the world's most famous luxury boutiques and department stores can be found on Fifth Avenue, such as Tiffany & Co., Gucci  Prada and Saks Fifth Avenue. Additionally, many of New York's most prestigious hotels can be found on Fifth Avenue, such as the fabulous Peninsula New York, St. Regis, Sherry Netherland and the iconic Plaza Hotel. Other top attractions along Fifth Avenue include the Empire State Building, New York Public Library, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Atlas Statue, MoMA and the extraordinary museums along Museum Mile. Two blocks east of Fifth Avenue is New York's Grand Central Station, one of the nation's largest transportation hubs and well known for its Tiffany stained glass clock.

Monet's Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies (credit: Randy Yagi) Monet's Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies (credit: Randy Yagi)
Metropolitan Museum Of Art

Located along the eastern border of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is America's largest museum and among the world's most visited. Often referred simply as The Met, the museum founded in 1870 features an extensive permanent collection of over two million works of art in addition to a number of temporary exhibitions. Among the most famous pieces in this premier art museum include Monet's "Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies," Emanuel Leutze's "Washington Crossing the Delaware," Vermeer's "Young Woman with a Water Pitcher," Georgia O'Keeffe's "Cow's Skull: Red, White and Blue" and Van Gogh's "Self Portrait with a Straw Hat." Other must-see pieces include the Egyptian Temple of Dendur, the Arms and Armor Gallery and the Medieval Sculpture Hall.

Museum of Modern Art (credit: Randy Yagi) Museum of Modern Art (credit: Randy Yagi)
Museum Of Modern Art

While it could take more than a day to see most everything at The Met, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is also a must-see for art lovers. Located in midtown Manhattan between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, MoMA is widely believed to be the world's most prestigious museum of modern art. Established in 1929, the museum holds nearly 200,000 works of modern and contemporary art from over 10,000 artists. Among the most notable pieces to see include Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Memory," Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans," Henri Rousseau's "The Sleeping Gypsy," Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" and van Gogh's priceless "Starry Night."

National 9/11 Memorial/One World Trade Center

The National 9/11 Memorial is a stirring tribute to the more than 3,000 people who were killed during the attacks on September 11, 2001. Dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, the memorial consists of two enormous reflecting ponds located on the site of the original twin towers of the World Trade Center. Surrounding the pools are bronze panels with the inscribed names of each of the 2,983 victims of the 9/11 attacks. Admission to the 9/11 Memorial is free, although there is a charge to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Also on the 16-acre property is One World Trade Center, the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere and an upscale shopping center.

Statue of Liberty (credit: Randy Yagi) Statue of Liberty (credit: Randy Yagi)
Statue Of Liberty

Standing more than 305 feet tall at the grand entrance to New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty is a must-see attraction for the first-time visitor. A gift of friendship from France, the iconic structure has been a universal symbol of freedom and democracy for more than 125 years. The best way to see one of the world's most famous landmarks is by traveling to Liberty Island via ferry, and advanced tickets are highly recommended. The ticket price for the Statue of Liberty ferry also includes entry to the statue's pedestal and transportation and admission to historic Ellis Island, the site of the former U.S. Immigration Station. An additional fee is required for visitors who want to access the statue's crown, which requires scaling a circular set of stairs. If time is a factor on the trip, first-time visitors can also view the Statue of Liberty from several vantage points in Brooklyn and Manhattan, including Battery Park, Brooklyn Bridge, Ritz-Carlton New YorkMuseum of Jewish Heritage and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. If time permits, one other exceptional option is to take a ride on the admission-free Staten Island Ferry.

Times Square (credit: Randy Yagi) Times Square (credit: Randy Yagi)
Times Square

Drawing an estimated 50 million visitors annually, Times Square is among the world's most visited attractions. An enormous collection of Broadway theaters, trendy stores and restaurants amid a dazzling collection of giant billboards and neon lights, Times Square seems to have something for most everyone. Among the best things to do in the "Crossroads of the World" include a Broadway show such as "The Lion King," "Jersey Boys" or Carole King's "Beautiful," catching a taping of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" at the legendary Ed Sullivan Theater and seeing a live broadcast of "Good Morning America." Each New Year's Eve, Times Square is the site for one of the largest and most spectacular end-of-the-year parties, highlighted by dropping of the famed Waterford Crystal Times Square Ball.

Recommended Dining Experiences

From amazing deli sandwiches to several of the world's finest restaurants, the nation's most populous city has endless choices for dining. While dining at some of the most expensive restaurants in the city typically requires booking reservations far in advance, the first-time visitor might be better served by visiting some of New York's landmark dining establishments with no reservations necessary for the majority of these recommendations. Here are 10 must-see places to visit, including the oldest restaurant in the city (Delmonico's) and the oldest delicatessen (Katz's).

Wall Street (credit: Randy Yagi) Wall Street (credit: Randy Yagi)
Other Top New York Attractions

If time permits, first-time visitors may wish to visit one or more of the following attractions. Based upon their own personal preferences, any of these leading places can also be part of a list of must-see attractions in New York City. Most of these attractions are easily accessible by the using the subway.

Related: Travel Guide To New York City

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on
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