New York itinerary for first timers

Table of Contents

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One of my bucket list holidays was a city break in New York and I got to tick this off a couple of years ago. I spent four days exploring the city.

Four days in New York is the perfect time to enjoy all the major tourist attractions on your first visit.

I visited in winter time, for New Year’s Eve and it was great as all of the Christmas decorations were still up but it’s not as expensive as visiting before Christmas.

Here’s my four day New York City itinerary for first timers.

How to get to New York

Flights are available to New York City from most major UK airports with flights taking just over eight hours. I flew from Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic.

There are three international airports in New York City – John F Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, and LaGuardia Airport. I flew into JFK when I visited New York for the first time.

JFK airport is the largest and busiest of the three and is located in Queens. It’s the best airport to fly into if you’re staying in Brooklyn south of Williamsburg or eastern Queens.

Once you’ve landed at the airport, you can grab a cab or an Uber. You can also book transfers for peace of mind, especially if you’re arriving very late or very early.

Taking a cab between JFK and your accommodation in Manhattan costs a flat rate of $70 plus taxes, tolls, and tips, plus an additional surcharge during peak times. Driving time is between 30 minutes and an hour and a half, depending on traffic.

Travelling by public transport is a lot cheaper. You can get the Long Island Rail Road from JFK or the subway.

Things to do in New York

Rockefeller Centre

The Rockefeller Center

Head to the Top of the Rock to start off your city break. This attraction is at the top of the Rockefeller Center and has amazing views over the city.

I went at night time and it was incredible to see everything lit up.

Here you can also go ice skating, one of the most iconic activities in New York. I didn’t have a go this time but would love to do it next time I’m in the city.

There’s also a Christmas lights show here which is amazing.

Book the Top of the Rock
Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Head Downtown on the subway to South Ferry to visit the Statue of Liberty, one of the most popular attractions in New York. The statue looked smaller than I expected but I think that’s because so many of the buildings in New York are huge.

I went up to the top of the crown which was 400 steps up a really tight spiral staircase. At the top there are great views over Liberty Island and the city further afield.

Tickets to go up to the crown are limited each day so book early to avoid disappointment. I would definitely recommend doing this though.

How many people can say they’ve been inside the Statue of Liberty?

If not, you can buy tickets to explore both Liberty Island and Ellis Island.

Book Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Tour

Central Park

Central Park is huge so you can spend hours wandering around here and discovering all the different places you’ve seen in the movies. There’s the ice rink, the zoo, the lake and much more.

I hopped on a horse and carriage and had a guided tour through the park. It’s a really romantic experience, perfect if you’re on a break with your significant other.

My tour guide was brilliant and she gave me a great history of the park and the surrounding buildings.

Book a horse drawn carriage ride through Central Park

Helicopter tour of New York

I’d never been on a helicopter before so I was super excited for my helicopter tour of New York. The views from here were absolutely incredible.

The contrast between the huge buildings of New York and the smaller ones across the river in New Jersey was really something. This is a once in a lifetime experience which I loved every second of.

Book a helicopter tour of New York
9/11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

The 9/11 Memorial is a poignant sight to visit. It pays tribute to the people who lost their lives during the 9/11 terrorist attack in the city.

The two pools give some perspective of the size of the twin towers and how many people died on that day. There were flowers on some of the names around the edges of the pool too.

You can also head to the museum to learn more.

Book 9/11 Museum & Memorial tickets
Wall Street

Wall Street

On your way back from the Statue of Liberty you can head to Wall Street. Here you’ll find the New York Stock Exchange which is a really impressive building.

Soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the stockbrokers heading to work.
Empire State Building

Empire State Building

For more epic views, head to the top of the Empire State Building. I think this was my favourite thing that I did during my trip.

The building has such a great feel to it as soon as you step inside and during your tour you’ll learn lots about its history.

I bought queue jump tickets for this and I would really recommend this, especially if your time in the city is limited, as it can take some time to get to the top. You can also have dinner at the restaurant here.

Book the Empire State Building


You can’t come to New York and not do a bit of shopping! Head to Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s as well as Tiffany’s and treat yourself to a souvenir of your trip.

Free walking tour

Taking a free walking tour is my favourite thing to do on my first day in any city. It’s a great way to get to know your way around a city and learn more about its culture and history.

You simply pay the guide what you feel the tour is worth at the end.

Book a free walking tour


If you don’t fancy a free walking tour, you can simply design your own. All you need is a guidebook, a map and a list of things you’d like to see.

I did this on my last day in New York and I saw the Flat Iron Building, the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station.

Where to eat in New York

Empire State Building

Did you know that you can actually have dinner at the Empire State Building? There’s a restaurant on the ground floor and you can buy tickets for the view and dinner combined.

The food was great but you really come for the experience.

$1 pizza slices

Probably one of my favourite things about New York City is the $1 pizza slices that are available everywhere! Everyone has their favourites but mine was a place near Wall Street which had some seating inside.

You would never think to go here by looking at it but the pizza was to die for!

Where to stay in New York

I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on West 39th Street in Manhattan. It’s near to Times Square and in a great location for exploring all the main tourist hotspots.

New York is really easy to navigate so there are plenty of accommodation options available to you. Check out more places to stay in New York here.

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  1. Pingback: The perfect date nights around the world* – Coco Travels

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