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4 Day NYC Guide For Your First Visit

Hi friends! 

I can’t even express to you guys how much I miss traveling. I was able to do a few small trips during this pandemic, but nothing compared to how I was traveling prior. I scanned through my old photos from this time last year, reminiscing and thinking about how much I wanted to plan for another trip once all of this pandemic chaos is over. So, I decided to write a few travel guides for you on some of my favorite places I have visited within the past year! 

First on the list is the one and only. The city of dreams, the city that never sleeps, The Big Apple – New York City. You can ask anyone who is close to me, growing up, New York City was my dream. I quite literally had dreams about it. I had the idea that I would be an editor and chief at a magazine company in NYC one day. I don’t know what drew me so much to it, maybe it was because New York wasn’t just a large city, it was the largest in the U.S. It was always talked up as the city of dreams, of love, of memories and success. As I got older though, I noticed I had a love for both the city and nature. I love city life, especially since living in Milwaukee, but also love nature, land, the lake. I’m mixed. My dream of one day being a magazine editor in NYC has always been in the back of my head, but new thoughts came popping up. Was it all it was talked up to be? Would I really love it if I went there? 

Well, I found out. 

My boyfriend, Tim, took me on a trip there for my 21st birthday (bless his freakin heart). I genuinely cried when he showed me that the tickets were booked. We had about 4 days in the city, if you include travel time. Now, it was time to plan. This is always the exciting part for me with a new trip, I love researching and planning. For this trip, I probably read every blog post you could read on New York City. Every food spot. Every historical site to see. Every popular place to take a photo at. I researched it all. 

After making an extensive plan, we headed on our trip to the big city. And, well, let’s just say not everything pans out the way you planned, especially in the busiest city in the U.S. To give you an idea, it unexpectedly rained for a day on our trip. We still made it a great time though! You definitely can see all of NYC in the rain.

After my trip, I decided to look at what we had done, where we went, and create a better plan for someone visiting NYC for their first time for a long weekend. If you keep reading below, I’ll share everything I did, share what I felt could be skipped and what was a must see.

Reference to this post when you’re planning your next NYC trip – when it’s safe to go – of course! 

*Take into consideration that my hotel was located near Time Square and I recommend that area for anyone visiting for their first time.

Day by Day Tentative Plan:

Day 1:

  • 1. Get settled in the hotel.

  • 2. Go for a walk!
    • Walk through Times Square, Broadway, Radio City, etc. Get familiar with what’s around your hotel.
  • 3. Try Joe’s Pizza on Broadway (more on this below)

  • 4. Visit Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building.
    • We visited Top of the Rock because we heard that it’s far less busy than the Empire State Building and that it also has a great view of the Empire State Building. Both of those were true! We got through the line fairly quickly and saw some beautiful views. In less than a minute you will be moving 850 feet in the air, 70 floors up. The main floor has a little souvenir shop, seating inside, as well as an area you can walk outside to that is surrounded by protective glass. If you go up to the top floor there is an open air rooftop, enclosed only by railing. So, if you’re not a fan of heights then I suggest you stay inside the building. 
  • 5. Grab dinner
    • I highly recommend El Camion for the best Mexican food ever. See more on this and my food recommendations from my trip listed below.
  • 6. Walk through Time Square at night on your way home.
    • I will never forget this moment. Suddenly, in the darkness of the night, you step out onto the paved street of Time Square and this massive ray of light and energy hits you. The lights filled up the entire street and surrounding blocks. I truly felt like I was in New York at this time. Such a cool and memorable feeling when you see this for the first time.

Day 2:

  • 1. Breakfast

  • 2. Statue of Liberty
    • Keep in mind that they charge you at Ellis Island if you want to search your ancestry. 
Ellis Island
  • 3. 911 Memorial
    • A must do on this trip. By walking around the foundation of the two buildings, you will be able to fathom the loss and span of this event. Pay your respects, be quiet as you look around, and take it all in. 
  • 4. Todd Gray Studio murals
    • Directly next to the 911 Memorial 
    • Great spot for pictures!
  • 5. Quick stop at the Brookfield Place shopping center across the street
    • This is packed with very high end stores such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc. If you can’t purchase anything it is still fun to window shop and grab a snack in their extremely nice food court. Even if you’re just walking through, you have to take a seat on the marble steps of the Winter Garden atrium. This is a very pretty spot to look out through the glass windows and people watch.
  • 6. China Town for dinner
    • I am obsessed with China Towns in cities! It is so incredible to see the change from an Americanized city street, to one filled with the Chinese culture. It is truly incredible to see all of the shops and restaurants. Enjoy being engulfed in this culture and new environment. Walk around and explore, and then grab a bite to eat.
      • Ask your driver for food recommendations when you’re here. Our driver suggested, Nom Wah Tea Parlor, and it was amazing. We order some yummy soup dumplings, egg rolls and fried rice. 
I love everything about China Towns. The slight grungyness they have to them, the colorful advertisements, all of it.

Day 3:

  • 1. Morning bagels at Hudson Bagels (more on this below)

  • 2. Drive through the upper east side and enjoy the sites as you head to the Met
  • 3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    • One of my favorite stops during the trip. The museum was everything it’s talked up to be and more. Absolutely breathtaking. 
  • 4. Central Park
    • Located directly across from the Met. We didn’t have much of a plan while walking through here because it’s just such a big park. So, we decided to just walk around, grab some food, sit by The Pond and watch the model sailboats for a bit. 
    • Central park has a different kind of energy to it. NYC as a whole has an energy to it. But, in Central Park it was like the eye of the hurricane. The hustle and bustle of the city watched around us, fully cocooning the park, and inside it was relaxing and calm. People sat and read, played instruments, went for a run, played some baseball, or chatted with friends.
  • 5. American Museum of Natural History
    • This is definitely an optional choice. If you have kids, this would be a great stop for them. But, for my boyfriend and I, we personally weren’t big fans of this museum, especially since so many of the “cool” exhibits were closed or you had to pay to get in. 
    • This is a 15-20 minute walk directly across the opposite side of Central Park. You will run into it if you were to walk straight across the park from the MET, going east to west.
  • 6. Home to change and get ready

  • 7. Dinner 

  • 8. Broadway show!
    • This is another one of my favorite things to do in NYC. I will never forget this play because it was so beautifully created. My boyfriend and I saw King Kong, and I swear, our jaws hit the floor as we watched these incredible performers. They managed to act flawlessly while pulling around a giant gorilla across the stage. It was crazy. The lights, the effects, the acting – everything was incredible. I was nervous that Tim wouldn’t be into plays in general, but he absolutely loved it. It was like you were watching a movie, but live. 
    • Grab rush tickets! This is how you get the cheapest tickets. Rush tickets are bought the day of. We went in the morning right when they opened. 
    • Drinks will be pricey at the theater. I suggest having a few drinks at dinner beforehand instead. 
  • 9. Grab a slice at, Made in New York Pizza, for a late night bite on your walk home.

Day 4:

  • 1. Brunch in the city! (Maybe some bottomless mimosas too?)
    • We got brunch at a little spot in Chelsea (West Village), which was such a cute area to walk around and check out some of the stores and shops afterwards.
  • 2. Brooklyn Bridge
    • Tim and I completely messed this up! We wanted to see Dumbo and then walk across the Brooklyn bridge. Well, once we went to Brooklyn, we somehow had a really difficult time figuring out where the entrance to the bridge was. Eventually, we thought we found it and started walking across a massive bridge. Well, we realized half way through that we were walking on the wrong bridge! Turns out, we had walked all the way across the Manhattan Bridge. Sadly, we looked out to see the Brooklyn Bridge across the water. Shaking my head just thinking about this. 
  • 3. Dumbo
    • This would have been a stop on our list if we hadn’t walked across the wrong bridge. This is a bucket list stop of mine and recommended by many people. DUMBO is a neighborhood in Brooklyn. You get amazing views of the Manhattan skyline, trendy shops and restaurants, as well as a beautiful view of the Manhattan Bridge hugged between two buildings.
  • 4. Museum of Sex
    • This is definitely optional and I actually don’t recommend it to everyone because it was a bit boring. But, I did want to share it since we did stop there briefly. We had about an hour to spare before heading to the airport so we killed some time here. It wasn’t too exciting honestly.
  • 5. Hop on your flight and head out

My Favorite Food Stops:

  • Made in New York Pizza
    • By far our favorite pizza in NYC (and we tried a lot)! This was thicker, rectangular cut slices of pizza, with tons of different types to choose from. Our favorite was the White Pie with Ricotta. This pizza place was located right on our walk home every night and such a treat for us at the end of a long day. This is a must try for someone looking for pizza that’s not overly popularized. 
    • Location: They just recently closed the location near our hotel at: 645 9th Ave New York, NY 10036. The only location available now is in the upper west side at: 421 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10024
  • Joe’s Pizza
    • This is a very popular pizza spot off of Times Square! Joe’s Pizza has been visited by tons of celebrities in the past. The walls of the pizza shop are covered with celebrities trying their first slice by Joe. This style of pizza is a large, thin slice, and extremely good. You get a pretty big slice for your money. This is a must try!
    • Location: 1435 Broadway, New York, NY 10018
  • El Camion Cantina
    • By far, the BEST Mexican food Tim and I have ever had. Not even kidding. We have tried a lot of incredible Mexican food in San Diego and Los Cabos but we always think back to this restaurant. This stop was actually unplanned and a last minute decision on our trip. We were trying to go to Raclette, a restaurant where they pour cheese all over your food (I know, sounds amazing). But, they had over an hour and a half wait, so we walked across the street to El Camion! It was the best decision and shows that not everything needs to be planned on a trip (I need to remember this lol). I strongly suggest you get the fajitas; shrimp or steak. It was a very small portion but somehow incredibly filling and so flavorful. 
    • Location: 194 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009
  • Hudson Bagels 
    • This was a great stop for a fast breakfast before heading out to adventure for the day. This place had over 10 different kinds of cream cheeses and different sandwich concoctions, all on a massively thick bagel.  
    • Location: 82 Christopher St, New York, NY 10014

Where to Stay + Booking Tips:

  1. We stayed at the Yotel. The location was perfect, being just a 15 minute walk from Time Square. We were able to walk to so many places and see a bunch of shops and restaurants on our walk until we eventually hit Broadway.
    • The Yotel was a super interesting hotel. Like, VERY different. We walked in and there wasn’t a front desk on the main floor. We were surrounded by little kiosks where you check in, as well as a “Yobot” – a robotic luggage concierge. This machine basically stores your luggage for you if you’re early to check in or need to check out but staying in the area for the day. We used this on our last day after checking out. Very interesting concept. Then, you head up the elevator to a front desk/lounge area where you get your hotel key and are shown to your room. The entire hotel was decorated very colorfully. We were expecting an average Hilton or Best Western and here we are with a super futuristic styled hotel, with neon purple light bulbs in every vicinity. As for our room, it was super tiny, but had a very comfortable bed and nice view. I’ll share some pictures below so you can see the vibe I’m explaining. 
    • Location: 570 10th Ave, New York, NY 10036
Image provided by Yotel.com
  1. Location: I highly recommend getting a hotel/Airbnb in the Time Square area, or at least within walking distance to Broadway and Time Square. I only recommend this if it’s your first trip to NYC. A lot of the more touristy things you will be doing during your trip are near this area. Everything else is also a quick Uber away. 

Booking:

  • Hotwire
    • Searching for a hotel was tough because everything is very expensive in NYC, as well as just odd. There were hostels and hotels that looked like they should NOT be housing people in. But I soon learned that that’s just New York City. So, after some failed research, we decided to book through Hotwire. I had heard of this app before but wasn’t sure if I trusted it. But now, with booking through it three times and getting insanely cheap prices for great hotels, I can say it’s the only thing I will book through from now on. Hotwire basically gets you discounted prices on airfare, hotel reservations, car rentals, vacation packages and cruises. So, when a brand-name hotel has rooms that would otherwise go unsold and are unoccupied, they use Hotwire to fill them, in which they will give you a discount on them. They call this, “Hotwire Hot Rates” which are explained as prices lower than any other travel site, guaranteed.
    • The key to booking through Hotwire is to book as close to your stay as possible, that way you get the lowest price. Trust me, this gave me a little anxiety too but every time we booked through them we booked the night before our flight departed and got the cheapest prices for 4+ star hotels!
    • I didn’t go the Airbnb route for this trip because I didn’t know all of the safest areas in NYC and they were also VERY expensive. 

Be Aware Of:

Obviously in a big city, or any city, it all has its areas of crime and times to be cautious. I am naturally a very paranoid person, but I can honestly say I felt pretty safe in NYC. Even when we walked home at night through some dimly lit streets, I felt relatively safe. Probably because every street has restaurants and shops with lights on and people always out. It really is the city that never sleeps. With that being said though, just always be cautious and be aware of your surroundings.  

  1. CD scam in Time Square:
    • Time square is full of tourists. And with that, comes people trying to pickpocket, scam and get even a single penny from them. One of these scams is the “CD scam.” I personally had this happen to my boyfriend and I. You will see a group of guys walking around and bombarding people by trying to give them one of their CDs. They told us they were “giving away” their hip hop CDs. As the man gestured to me to take the CD, seemingly for free since he had said “giving away,” I said “Ok” and took it from him. Once it was in my hand the men started saying I had to pay for it and that there was a cost. Tim and I tried to hand it back and say no thank you and they started getting upset and trying to negotiate with us. Once we started walking away they started swearing and talking negatively about us. Let me just say, these men were far from polite. I was called a few inappropriate things by them. Overall, don’t go by them and do not let them try to speak to you about their CDs.
  1. Photographers in Time Square:
    • This one really wasn’t a negative situation at all but it is important to be aware of. There are photographers around NYC that will take photos of you randomly and then ask for money. I had a teen come up to Tim and I and say he needed just a few photos for a school project. Trying to be nice, we agreed. He had us pose in front of Time Square and take some really cute, couple-like pictures. Basically, this guy knew what he was doing. Of course, afterwards I wanted to see the pictures and I loved them. I asked if he could send them to me and he said he would, but for $20. Not a hostile or harsh situation at all, and I 100% paid the $20 for a few cute photos of Tim and I. So honestly, I don’t regret it. But just keep this in mind that these random spur of the moment photos come at a cost. 
  1. Time Square Characters:
    • You will see a group of people dressed up as cartoon characters in Time Square. I never had an interaction with them because I made sure to stay clear. Apparently though, these people are notorious for getting tourists to come talk to them and then taking photos with them and demanding money. Apparently, there are a lot of issues with them in NYC. Some have said vulgar things to tourists, and apparently one grabbed a 14 year old’s rear. Overall, just avoid them. 
  1. Central Park runners and bikers
    • This is not crime related at all but definitely something to be aware of. The runners and bikers in NYC are on a “go, go, go” mindset. Well, basically everyone in NYC is. But, when you’re walking through Central Park and across crosswalks, be very aware of bikers and runners. A lot of accidents happen and I myself got rammed into by a runner who was in full-on speed mode. The runners are not apologetic at all and will keep going, so just be aware of the people around you and look both ways. Honestly, I can’t blame them too much since the place they live is always packed with thousands of tourists, so they don’t have time or patience to move around everyone. Overall though, just be safe to avoid any injuries. In my case though, I only received the embarrassment.

Other:

  • Ubers/Lyft/Taxis
    • Shared Ubers are a thing! I never knew about this before until going to NYC and it’s actually a great idea. Big cities have this such as San Fran, Boston, etc. You basically get a cheaper fare when you choose to do a shared Uber, which is where your drive picks up another person along the way during your ride.
    • The difficulty of finding your driver in NYC is REAL. Seriously, Tim and I had so many issues with this. The city is packed and people are moving fast. Then, your driver is on a different street or on the opposite corner and getting to them is tough. Drivers will also not wait for you. We had to get multiple refunds from Ubers/Lyft just because we couldn’t find our driver and they left. 
    • Get ready for some crazy driving. The non stop honking and yelling out the window that you see in NYC based movies is exactly how it is in real life. These drivers drive bumper to bumper and are not messing around. Buckle up.
  • Buy a CityPASS
    • I highly recommend buying a CityPASS! This saved us a lot of money during our trip, especially since we wanted to see some of the more touristy spots during our first visit to NYC. The CityPASS is a one time pass that gets you into the top attractions on the CityPASS list. You purchase the pass and get to go to all of the places listed as an option. It’s very easy and simple. You just walk up to the front desk of the attraction you are at and they scan your email where the pass is displayed on. The pass is about $140 and honestly worth every penny because once you total up the cost of going to the MET, Statue of Liberty, Top of the Rock, 911 Memorial & Museum, etc. it will easily pass up $140. You get all of these attractions included into your CityPASS.  
  • Crosswalks
    • Following the traffic lights on crosswalk are NOT a thing in NYC. Tim and I learned very quickly that you either had to GO when no cars were coming or people would make you go. Be aware of this and as dangerous as it sounds, just follow the crowd.

My Must Do’s & Not Worth It List:

Must Do/See:

  • Broadway Show
  • Get brunch 
  • Metropolitan Museum of the Arts
  • Time Square
  • China Town 
  • Central Park 
  • Food! (See my list of food spots I enjoyed above)
  • Brooklyn Bridge/Dumbo
  • Top of the Rock Observation Deck 
  • 911 Memorial (One and done)
  • Statue of Liberty (One and done)

Not Worth The Money:

  • American Museum of Natural History
  • Any food or drinks in Time Square (Over priced!!)
  • Empire State Building (Unless you have the CityPass. Very pricey if you don’t)
  • Museum of Sex

My Bucket List For NYC For Trip #2:

  • After going to NYC I did all the typical tourist things, which everyone should do for the first time! But now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to see more of NYC. Do what the locals do, eat where they eat, and see other beautiful spots that I didn’t have time for before. If you already had your first trip and are ready for your next, checkout some of my ideas below! Here’s my bucket list for my 2nd trip:
  1. Soho
  2. Another Broadway show
  3. Brooklyn Bridge
  4. Dumbo 
  5. Grand Central Terminal 
  6. Flatiron Building
  7. Chelsea Market
  8. Rockefeller Christmas Tree
  9. Washington Square Park 
  10. Black Tap Singles & Doubles Pop Up (Ice cream!)
  11. Checkout the nightlife and rooftop bars
  12. New food spots!

Overall, NYC was incredible. It was amazing to see the way people live and go about their days there. It was exactly what you hear about, the hustle and bustle, the city that never sleeps, the non stop “go-go-go” mindset. It’s also true that a lot of New Yorkers can be a bit rude. Tim and I got our fair share of that, especially while crossing the streets lol. But overall, that’s what makes NYC, NYC. All of it. The amount of people, the fast paced lifestyle, the no time for anyone else, that’s what makes it the Big Apple.

My dream as a child to one day live in New York City was still there, but softened a bit. I think I really got a dose of reality when I was there and finally saw how BIG the city is. It’s massive. You feel like a tiny speck inside a huge vicinity. I didn’t really like that feeling, but some do, and that’s what makes them, “New Yorkers.” My love for NYC is still there, but as I travel to other cities and states, I realize what I love more. What feeling I get in each place and where I think I could see myself one day. It’s crazy to think that there is SO much out there, and not many of us have scratched the surface of it. That’s why I urge everyone to get out of their bubble (lets admit is, we are all in one) and travel! Experience, feel, meet people, make memories.

If you used this guide for a future trip, please let me know! If you have any NYC recommendations or places to add to my personal bucket list, comment below or message me on Instagram. I love hearing suggestions and hope to visit again once COVID has passed. 

– Kat 

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Katerina Haros - Mindful Living Company - Professional Photography

ABOUT KAT

You can call me Kat! I'm a Milwaukee native, always looking for something new to check out, whether that be in MKE or across the world. Follow my blog and social for all things travel, inspiration, lifestyle and living mindfully.

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