I still remember the first time I visited New York City like it was yesterday.
The orientation days of my au pair organization took place in Long Island, so one afternoon we had the chance to take a tour into Manhattan. It was an organized bus tour and we were lucky enough to see most of the important sights, like Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty – and my favorite, the view from the top of Rockefeller Center! It’s so hard to describe your feelings and the thoughts going through your head when you stand in Times Square for the first time, in the middle of thousands of people – you feel so tiny, but at the same time you feel like you are in the center of the world. This city is so busy, but seeing it from “Top of the Rock”, the Empire State Building or the One World Trade Center calms it all down and you’re just amazed by the gigantic view over this epic and spectacular concrete jungle.
Now that I’ve lived in New Jersey for almost two years, I have spent lots of weekends in the City. Here’s my first time visitors weekend guide to Manhattan, which covers all of New York’s famous sights. It also gives you some insights on where to eat and some alternatives if you don’t want to follow into the average tourists’ footsteps.
The ultimate first time Visitors Weekend Guide to Manhattan
When you plan your first weekend in Manhattan, I recommend you to divide your days by area. This gives you the advantage that most distances will be walk-able and you save a lot of time traveling between the different parts of Manhattan. A weekend is definitely not enough time to see everything in the City, but you’ll get a nice overview and a first impression.
Let’s say you arrive in the late afternoon on a Friday. Of course the first thing you’ll want to see is the incredible:
1. Times Square
Dusk is the perfect time for a visit, as it will not be completely dark yet, so you’ll still see the streets in a little bit of natural light, but the bright lights of the commercials and screens all around you will already be illuminated. If you’re hungry, have dinner in one of the many restaurants in or around Times Square. On the way back to your hotel or your next destination, depending on how tired you are, check out Times Square one more time, this time at night, when it’s completely dark – In this part of the city you’ll still feel like it is bright daytime.
You’re probably super excited to finally be in New York and want to see something else after your visit to Times Square, like going to a bar or a club, but I’d suggest you to get some rest. Tomorrow will be a long day of sightseeing – workout included! If you’d like to let your first New York impressions sink in a little bit, walk over to nearby Bryant Park on 6th Ave, between 40th and 42nd Street. What a beautiful place to hang out and let your first evening in the city end, before you head back to your hotel.
Saturday will be your first full day in Manhattan. Put your most comfortable sneakers on and get ready for a lot of walking!
2. Top of the Rock – Rockefeller Center
Hopefully you’re an early riser, because this morning is perfect to visit “Top of the Rock”! Enjoy the breathtaking view from 70 stories up above the city! Between the three most famous observation decks of the city (the others are on top of the Empire State Building and the One World Trade Center), this is my absolute favorite! The view over Central Park is just amazing – this contrast of the green trees and landscaping, nestled in the middle of the skyscrapers, is unbelievably beautiful.
The observation deck opens at 8am and if you want to take full advantage of your little time in Manhattan, you should get there right when they open. Don’t end up waiting in a long line when you enter the Rockefeller Center – get your tickets well in advance online!
Our next stop will be Central Park for lunch.
There are many photo worthy sights around Rockefeller Center, that you can either quickly walk by on your way to Central Park, or take a little more time to fully absorb and visit.
- Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Ave and W 50th Street
- Radio City Music Hall on 6th Ave and W 50th Street
- The famous Magnolia Bakery on 6th Ave and W 49th Street (Try their Red Velvet Cupcake!)
- Hope sculpture on 7th Ave and W 53rd Street
- Love sculpture on 6th Ave and W 55th Street
When you’re done sightseeing in this area, grab some lunch for a picnic in Central Park from one of the many restaurants and delis in this area.
3. Central Park
Now you’re all set up for a nice picnic and some down time in Central Park! Find yourself a cozy spot in the grass or a bench to sit and enjoy your lunch. If you have some extra time, I recommend looking at Strawberry Fields, an area of the park designed to the memory of former Beatle John Lennon.
On your way out of Central Park, make sure to walk by and take a photo of the famous Globe Sculpture at Columbus Circle.
We’ve already done lots of walking today, so let’s grab the subway at 59th Street – Columbus Circle station and take the 1 or 2 train two stops downtown to Penn Station. Have a quick look at Penn Station and Madison Square Garden and then walk over to:
4. Empire State Building
The Empire State Building! If you’d like to go up to the observation deck, make sure to purchase your ticket in advance to avoid waiting in line to buy a ticket on site. The Empire State Building observation deck is open 365 days a year, from 8 am to 2 am. You can go up to the 86th floor, the Main Deck, or the 102nd floor, which is the Top Deck. Either way, you’ll get a beautiful view right from the heart of the city. If you don’t want to go up to the top, you can still go inside and have a look at the impressing architecture and stroll through the stores and restaurants. If you’re getting tired from all the walking, grab a coffee at the Empire State Building’s own Starbucks!
Once you’ve taken all your photos and are ready to move on with your sightseeing tour, let’s keep going to:
5. The Flatiron Building
The Flatiron building is located at 5th Ave and E 23rd Street. It’s definitely one of the most iconic buildings in New York and one of my favorites – you can’t skip this! When you’re there on a nice and sunny day, hang out in the little seating area right across the street to get some rest and relax your feet before we move on.
To get to our next and last activity for this day, let’s catch the subway again! Walk over to 6th Ave and 23rd Street and get on the “F” train to downtown and Brooklyn. Get off at Jay Street – MetroTech Station. You’re in Brooklyn!
Let’s walk right to the:
6. Brooklyn Bridge
Before you actually enter the Brooklyn Bridge, check out the East River waterfront right next to the Bridge with lots of Restaurants, an amazing view of the bridge and the Manhattan Skyline and lots of photo opportunities. If you’re hungry (probably starving by now…), I recommend you try Shake Shack. They serve different kinds of burgers with their famous Shack Sauce, hot dogs, fries, beer and wine, which is perfect to relax from this exciting sightseeing day.
And now, with a full belly, let’s do it – let’s walk back to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge! What an incredible feeling to walk towards Manhattan’s beautiful skyline, especially in the dark when you see the shimmering lights all across town!
Pay attention and you can see the One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building and the brightest spot to your right – yes, that’s Times Square!
Today you really deserve to get some good sleep. This was a long day with a lot of walking. You’ve already seen a big part of Manhattan, some of the most famous sights of the city and even got a little impression of Brooklyn!
Sunday – your last day in Manhattan. Time to start another adventure and make memories!
Today is dedicated to discover Lower Manhattan. We start our sightseeing tour on Fulton Street to visit the
7. One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial
The impressive and emotional 9/11 Memorial consists of 2 pools that are located in the footprints of the Twin Towers, surrounded by many trees and beautiful greenery. The names of all 2,983 victims of the September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993 attacks are inscribed into bronze parapets surrounding the memorial pools. Right next to the memorials, just across Fulton Street, you can see the proudly standing One World Trade Center, which is now the highest building in Manhattan.
Didn’t get enough of a bird’s eye view of the Big Apple? Check out the One World Observatory! You can get up all the way to the 102nd floor and enjoy the breathtaking view over New York and New Jersey once again. The observation deck is open daily from 9 am to 9 pm.
If you want to learn further details about what happened on 9/11, you also have the opportunity to visit the Memorial Museum which is located by the 9/11 Memorial Pools.
If you would like to see the Charging Bull of Wall Street, now is the perfect moment to walk by, as we’re walking south to eventually get to the Staten Island Ferry.
You can find the bronze sculpture close to the corner of Broadway and Morris Street. The bull is the symbol of New York’s financial industry.
Are you getting tired of the crowds, busy streets and gray buildings?
Go down to Battery Park to enjoy some greenery and get a little rest from the city noise! From here you’ll have a beautiful view of the Brooklyn Skyline. In the park you can find the SeaGlass Carousel, the Bosque Fountain and several beautifully landscaped gardens. Go for a little stroll or find a bench to relax before we head right over to:
8. The Staten Island Ferry
You can’t miss out on this one! From the boat you’ll have a stunning view of the Statue of Liberty, the Lower Manhattan Skyline, Brooklyn and New Jersey. And the best part is that it’s completely free!
The first steam ferry started its service between Manhattan and Staten Island in 1817. Nowadays the ferry runs 24/7, most frequently during rush hour. On Saturdays they run every 30 minutes from 6 am to 7 pm and on Sundays from 9am to 9 pm.
Once your ferry arrives at the Staten Island dock, make sure to get out quickly and catch the next ferry back to Manhattan, which is probably already waiting. Hurry! – if you miss it you’ll have to wait for the next one.
I hope you enjoyed our little weekend tour around Manhattan!
You might not be interested in visiting all of the above mentioned sights. To give you more options, here’s a little list of things that I personally love to do and see in New York:
I love most parks in Manhattan, but this one is my number one favorite! It comes with this amazing view of the city! The park was created on a former New York Central Railroad spur on the West Side and is 1.45 miles long. Along the walking trail you can find snacks, ice cream and lots of opportunities to sit down and relax. Right across the street at the corner of Little W 12th Street and Washington Street is the Sugar Factory – the name says it all! Try one of their famous candy themed drinks – they are delicious!
Shopping in SoHo
Have you ever wondered what the famous “SoHo” stands for? South of Houston (Street) – you’re welcome! In SoHo, on Broadway and the surrounding area, you’ll find lots of opportunities to shop for New York style outfits and fill up your suitcase.
Hanging out in East Village
If you’d like to see a different part of town, visit trendy East Village. You’ll find tons of little bakeries, ice cream stores, bars and restaurants here. Pay attention to the beautiful street art!
Get authentic Chinese food in China Town
If you enjoy Chinese food, go to China Town for a meal! I love this area, as you suddenly feel like you’re in a completely different culture.
Were you able to cross all the important sights off your to do list?
I won’t lie, it will be really hard to squeeze all the important sights of Manhattan into one weekend. Hopefully I could help you with your planning! Make sure you do your research and decide well in advance which parts of the city you would like to see and which sights you think you can skip this time.
Remember: This city never sleeps, you can always come back!
Are you wondering what life in New Jersey is like? Check it out here!