Weekend in NYC: A First-Timer’s Itinerary

New York City, baby! I love this city, you guys. I’m all about the hustle and bustle, the skyscrapers, the nightlife, the mix of cultures, and even the endearingly rude New Yorkers themselves. Of course, it has its downsides–high prices being one of them–but overall the Big Apple is well worth a visit.

Now, if you’re coming in for a weekend or a day trip, you’re going to have to pick and choose which attractions you want to see. It’d take weeks to see it all! So I’ve put together a weekend perfect for a first-time visitor, with a mix of tourist hot spots and low-key local activities.

Let’s get started with our perfect weekend in NYC!

Day 1: All Around Manhattan

manhattan new york

Let’s get exploring! To start off day one, nose around Chelsea Market for local delicacies, art installations, and everything you may need to pick up a lovely picnic lunch before heading over to Central Park.

Of course, Central Park is huge, and unless you want to spend half of your day here, you won’t be able to explore all of it. (This’ll be an ongoing theme in this itinerary!) So all you Type-A travelers can check the map in advance to make sure to get to visit your favorite parts, or Type-B tourists can just pop in any old way and walk until you see something cool!

Lay down that blanket and enjoy your late-morning picnic. You’ll need all the fuel you can get before spending your afternoon at the Met!

Don’t forget to reserve your ticket online before making your way over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to cut down on some of the wait time. Still, expect a line! There’s plenty of those all around NYC–to the extent that you can even hire somebody to stand in line for you.

Thankfully, the Met offers an interactive online map to help you plan out your method of attack, so you don’t get lost in the shuffle. In the mood for a different kind of art than medieval sculptures or Egyptian artifacts? Head a couple of blocks south and pop into the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) instead!

Odds are that your feet will be getting sore after the hours you spend visiting the museum of your choice, so when you’ve had your fill, take a break for coffee or a cocktail in one of the many bars and cafés here in Midtown. Give those feet a rest, have a drink and get excited for your evening!

Now, I’d like to give you a couple of options here: either you roll out the red carpet for yourself and go the luxurious route, or you keep it thrifty and save some money for future trips.

Here’s the big spender option: reserve a spot (a month in advance!) at famous French restaurant Le Bernardin, then take your fancy self to a Broadway show to finish the evening. This option will take some pre-planning in order to snag that restaurant reservation in time and pick out your favorite show, but it’s a great way toward a stylish evening!

For the thrifty folks like myself: stroll through Times Square when the sun goes down in order to enjoy the full flashiness of this gaudy spot. It’s touristy, of course, but all those crowds mean it’ll be full of street performers and spontaneous acts for you to enjoy for free. You can even head around the corner and snap a couple pictures of Rockefeller Center! When you start getting hungry, peep the closest all-night diner and chow down on some late-night fare.

Day 2: Brunch and Brooklyn

brooklyn new york

Good morning! In case you need some recovery time after a late Saturday evening, let’s start Day 2 with a leisurely Sunday Brunch. Here are a few recommendations that you can choose from, depending on where you decide to stay: Sweet Chick in Williamsburg, Tanner Smith’s in Midtown, Jack’s Wife Freda in SoHo, Dimes in Chinatown, Viand Café in the Upper West Side, or plenty others! 

Our next stop will be the Brooklyn Bridge, followed by a Brooklyn flea market so choose accordingly!

Once you’ve had your boozy brunchy fill, I’d recommend a leisurely walk along the Brooklyn Bridge to help your digestion. Take your time, enjoy the skyline, and of course, don’t forget to take plenty of pictures!

That done, take your pick of a whole range of Brooklyn flea markets and snag some one-of-a-kind vintage jewelry, thrift clothes, handmade crafts, vinyl, and more. My personal favorites are Artists & Fleas and Brooklyn Flea DUMBO. Just make sure you plan for enough space in your bags to bring home your new treasures!

Now, depending on when you’ve got to head back home, you can either make your way to Grand Central Station, the airport, or your car and get on the road. On the other hand, if you’ve got some time to spare, then explore Brooklyn!

Try out a street art walking tour, like this one around Bushwick, or this longer experience (although its early start may get in the way of your brunch plans). 

Honorable Mentions

I said it before and I’ll say it again: you can’t see everything in New York City in two days! So if you’d like to mix and match some of my recommendations, here are a few other attractions to consider:

Although I personally find the Statue of Liberty to take a bit too long for a quick weekend trip, plenty of people don’t feel like they’ve been to NYC unless they’ve visited Lady Liberty herself. If that’s you, then swap out the Saturday afternoon museum visit for a boat ride to Liberty Island!

Foodie tourists should absolutely take a bit of extra time to eat their way around such culinary hot spots as Little Italy and Chinatown. Swap out pricy Le Bernardin for one of these restaurants, and come back on Sunday afternoon if you’re not in the mood for a street art tour.

If a walk along the Brooklyn Bridge doesn’t match your brunch plans, check out The High Line for a Sunday walk. It’s about a mile and a half of a reworked railway, which snakes through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea. You’ll get unique views of the city, the Hudson River, art installations, and even a few vendors.

I hope this article gave you some great ideas for your first time exploring New York City! 

Looking for some other American tourist destinations? Check out my tips for Miami or Boston!

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