Are you heading to New York for the first time? Here are 12 must-see attractions for your first time in New York City.

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New York City is one of the most popular cities in the United States. There is so much to see and do in the city, it can be overwhelming to decide what you’re doing to do for the first time. My advice is to pick one major attraction in the morning and afternoon or evening. You won’t get to everything, especially if you’re spending a 3-day weekend in the city. However, you’ll still be able to experience New York and get a sense of what makes this city so special.

If you aren’t sure where to start, here are 12 must-see attractions for your first time in New York City:

1. Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center 

Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112

Top of the Rock - Must see attractions for your first time in New York City - couple things to do in nyc -

If it’s your first time in New York, chances are you will want to see the New York City skyline from a view. One of my favorite spots to see the New York City skyline is the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center

From the Top of the Rock, you can see Central Park and Manhattan’s downtown and mid-town neighborhoods. Top of the Rock Tickets starts at $40 for adults, $38 for seniors, and $34 for kids. Like any attraction in New York, I recommend getting to the Top of the Rock early to beat the crowds. 

If you purchase the New York CityPASS, the Top of the Rock is included in the admission. The CityPASS is $125 for adults and $105 for kids. 

2. SUMMIT One Vanderbilt 

Address: 45 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017

Another place to experience the New York City skyline is the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt. The experience differs from viewing the city at the Top of the Rock. What makes SUMMIT One Vanderbilt unique is the three levels the multi-sensory experiences.

The first viewing deck of the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is called Air, and it’s mirrored from floor to ceiling. Kenzo Digital designed AIR. There is also the Affinity deck where you can interact with the silver balloons. 

The SUMMIT One Vanderbilt can be found on the ground floor of Grand Central Station.

3. Grand Central Station (Grand Central Terminal)

Address: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017

Grand Central Station is one of the most popular New York attractions. With over 750,000 visitors daily, Grand Central Station is a major transportation hub in Manhattan. 

Grand Central Station originally opened in February 1913. Grand Central Terminal has over 60 shops and 35 places to eat. 

4. Brooklyn Bridge

Address: Brooklyn Bridge, New York, NY 10038

Brooklyn Bridge - things to do in nyc for teens - fun things to do in nyc -

Initially opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn across the East River. The Brooklyn Bridge became a National Historic Landmark in 1964. 

If you have some morning or afternoon free time in New York, I recommend walking the Brooklyn Bridge. 

5. Flatiron Building

Address: 175 5th Ave, New York, NY 10010

Flatiron Building - Emmas Edition

Originally named the Fuller Building, the Flatiron Building is one of the city’s oldest surviving skyscrapers. The Flatiron Building was completed in 1902 and designed by Daniel Burnham, a New York-born architect. It’s called the Flatiron because it looked like clothing irons used in the 20th century.   

If you’re in the area and want to see other attractions nearby, I recommend also seeing:

6. The Vessel at Hudson Yards 

Address:20 Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001

The Vessel at Hudson Yards - Free things to do in New York City for your first time -

If you’re looking for a free attraction for your first time in New York, I recommend stopping by the Vessel at Hudson Yards. The attraction is temporarily closed, but you can still visit the Vessel at the base for free. 

The Vessel at Hudson Yards is open to the public from Monday-Saturday from 10 am-8 pm and Sundays from 11 am-7 pm. No tickets or reservations are required.

After taking a photo with the Vessel, you can also shop or grab a bite to eat at Hudson Yards.

7. Washington Square Park

Address: Washington Square, New York, NY 10012

Washington Square Park - things to do in New York City - places to go in NYC -

If you’re wandering around Greenwich Village or New York University, I recommend walking through Washington Square Park. The arch is named after George Washington and was designed by Stanford White. 

8. The World Trade Center Oculus

Address: 185 Greenwich St LL3110, New York, NY 10006

The Oculus World Trade Center - places to explore in New York City - first time in New York City -

The Oculus is a main transportation hub in Manhattan and an architectural gem. The Oculus also houses retailers and restaurants with 12 subway lines and the World Trade Center PATH station. 

While you’re in the area, I also recommend the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum honors those killed in the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993. The Memorial is also dedicated to all those who risked their lives to save others. 

9. Radio City Hall 

Address: 1260 6th Ave, New York, NY 10020

Radio City Music Hall - Holidays in New York City -

Suppose you’re heading to New York for the first time during the holiday season. In that case, I recommend watching a show at Radio City Music Hall. I watched the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular last year and their holiday show was exceptional!

10. Time Square 

Address: Time Square Manhattan, NY 10036

Time Square New York City

You must see Time Square for your first time in New York. It’s arguable the most famous and busiest landmark in New York City. You’ll see neon lights, billboards, restaurants, and theaters in Time Square. 

11. Central Park 

Address: Central Park, New York, NY

Central Park during Fall - Fall things to do in NYC - free things to do in New York City -

New York City’s most famous Park is probably Central Park. Founded in 1858, the Park was created to provide recreational needs of New York City. One hundred fifty years later, the Park is 843 acres with sweeping lawns, streams, trails, and lakes. 

If you’re heading to New York City for the first time during fall, you must see Central Park. The Park is magical during peak foliage. 

If you’re wandering through Central Park for the first time, here are a few sights I recommend seeing inside the Park:

  • The Pond – this is just a few steps away from 5th Avenue. 
  • The Lake – This is a 20-acre body of water. You can rent rowboats at Loeb Boathouse to explore the lake. 
  • Bethesda Terrace – This is one of the most iconic features of Central Park. You can find the Bethesda Fountain and plenty of people relaxing at the Terrace.

12. The Museum of Modern Art

Address: 1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028

New York has several excellent museums to wander through if you love museums. The Met is probably one of the most famous New York Museums. At over two million square feet, The Met is one of the largest and finest art museums in the world. The collection at the met spans 5,000 years of world culture. 

Admission tickets to visit the Met are $30 for adults, $17 for students, and $22 for seniors. Children who are 12 are free.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about how to see everything in the city, you aren’t alone! Even with the list narrowed down to 12, you might not get to see everything on your list. If you’re looking for recommendations or a guide, here’s how to breakdown your 3-day weekend in the city:

  • Day 1: Visit the Top of the Rock in the morning, explore Grand Central Station in the afternoon, and end the evening with a show at Radio City Music Hall
  • Day 2: Visit the Oculus in the morning and then walk the Brooklyn Bridge the second half of the day
  • Day 3: Visit the Flatiron Building in the morning, then wander through Central Park in the afternoon. If you have time, I would also wander through the Met.

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For more New York city guides, I recommend checking out:

My 3-Day Itinerary in New York City

10 Best Photo Spots in New York City

10 Tips for Going to New York for Your First Time

Thank you for reading!

Photos: @madcrayy and @karyaschanilec