For First-Timers: Top 20 Must-Do’s In New York City

Just a few “touristic” things to experience while mixing in the local stuff that gives you the real New York City.

featured NYC must-do

And by that, we mean Manhattan, with occasional outings in Brooklyn (as in, today’s Mission district in San Francisco.) Everyone has a favorite thing to do in the Big Apple. For a first-timer, however, you’ve got quite a few “touristic” things to experience while you also want to mix in the local stuff that gives you the real New York City.

My first New York experience was back when I was very young, just like many people. Since then, I’ve been going back constantly, either for work or for leisure. Let’s not include food (because that’s another list on its own that my team and I have been fearful to put together, who do we include? There are too many to mention!) so this one is strictly culture, art, and all that European wanderlust stuff we love being able to say: I did in New York!

So don’t judge this list, just go with it. As in, anything always goes in this sexy, dirty, grungey, romantic, hard but glorious city. Most of all, have the time of your life.

1. Have you met The Met

Neighborhood: East side of Central Park, 1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028, United States (map, website)

Gotta do it, one of the biggest museums in the world not only holds the biggest fashion party in the world every year, it is also home to art from classical antiquity and Ancient Egypt, paintings and sculptures from almost every European master, and an extensive collection of American modern art, African, Asia, Oceanic, Byzantine, and Islamic art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art welcomes more than 5 million visitors a year and you should definitely be one of them.

The Metropolitan Museum NYC

2. Ferry over to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

=Liberty Island, New York, NY 10004, United States (map, website)

Your first trip to New York is incomplete without these two historical landmarks. The good thing is, the ferry that takes you to see the Statue of Liberty also makes a stop at Ellis Island first. To get on the ferry, head over to Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. Once you’re on Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty is, you can visit the base of the statue with a complimentary ticket. But to reach to the top by climbing the stairs, you’ll need to buy an additional special tickets. Get full details here.

statue of liberty
UNSPLASH Brandon Mowinkel

3. Grab brunch at Balthazar in Soho

Neighborhood: Soho, 80 Spring St, New York, NY 10012, United States (map, website)

Restauranteur Keith McNally has opened many restaurants in Manhattan but there’s none more classically Soho than the most renowned under his belt: Balthazar. A personal favorite of mine as well, start with a fresh plate of oysters, then move on to Eggs Bella Donna (poached eggs, polenta, pancetta, and tomato) with a glass of chilled champagne (Taittinger Champagne “Cuvée Prestige” Brut, by the glass.)

Best part about this delectable French bistrot is that it’s opened from 7:30am to midnight (1am on Fridays and Saturdays.)

Balthazar NY

4. Then head to Jimmy’s rooftop bar with more champagne by the pool

Neighborhood: Soho, 15 Thompson St, New York, NY 10013, United States (map, website)

After Balthazar’s, if you’re not down for an afternoon of shopping, then head over to Jimmy located at The James Hotel on Thompson street also in Soho. During summertime, Jimmy’s rooftop pool is the place to be. Order a glass of cocktail, enjoy the DJ spinning and just chill out. When the weather gets cold, the rooftop bar is still open, the indoor lounge is chic with designer boutique flair.

* Jimmy was conceived and developed by hospitality veterans Larry Poston, Johnny Swet, and David Rabin, with a design by three-time James Beard Award winner Thomas Schlesser.

Jimmy's at The James NYC pool rooftop

5. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge then walk back on Manhattan Bridge

Neighborhood in Manhattan side: Lower East Side

It might take about 3 hours to do both if you’re walking in a relaxed pace, which is recommended since you want to be able to take photos and take in the experience. The two bridges are quite close together so you’re able to do both.

If mobility is an issue and you’re only interested in gazing at the gorgeous view of the Brooklyn Bridge, then try out these spots: Brooklyn Bridge Park/Fulton Empire State Park, Brooklyn Heights Promenade or The Fulton Ferry.

Brooklyn Bridge
UNSPLASH Max Sandelin

6. Guggenheim Museum

Neighborhood: Upper East Side, 1071 5th Ave, New York, NY 10128, United States (map, website)

If you’ve been to its sister museum in Bilbao, Spain, then you’ve gotta check out the Guggenheim in New York City. The architecture itself is awe-inspiring on 5th Avenue – a “temple of the spirit” designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The museum has grown massively in the last eight decades, and is home to “non-objective art” so you can discover the works of early modernists such as: Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Rudolf Bauer, Rebay, Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Amedeo Modigliani, Marc Chagall, and Robert Delaunay. Today, you can still find works from German expressionists and from artists including: Mondrian and Kurt Schwitters, Kandinsky, Klee, Alexander Calder…and many more.

Guggenheim Museum NY

7. Get some urban food court action at the Chelsea Market

Neighborhood: Chelsea, 75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011, United States (map, website)

This is the building where Oreo cookies were invented! Budapest has its Central Market Hall, and NYC has the Chelsea Market where you can eat delicious food and shop at fantastic boutiques. Never mind that it also has office spaces that belong to: Google, YouTube, Oxygen Network, Food Network,, and EMI Music Publishing. This is a good place to rest your feet with some great foods, then get ready for the High Line.

Some of our favorites include: Morimoto, The Green Table, Friedman’s Lunch, Lucy’s Whey, One Lucky Duck, People’s Pop.

Chelsea Market NYC

8. Stroll through The High Line

Neighborhood: from Meatpacking District to Chelsea, runs from Gansevoort Street, three blocks below West 14th Street to 30th Street (map, website)

The city has repurposed an old railway into an urban park. Today, it’s a nice stroll through New York City without the hustle and bustle on its regular roads.

You can read more about it in “Repurposing Spaces: The New York Way” by Jetset Times contributor, Marina Kaneko.

High Line NYC 1

9. Book a room at the Soho House because that’s where you’ll party ’til dawn.

Neighborhood: Meatpacking district, 29-35 9th Ave, New York, NY 10014, United States (map, website)

One of my favorite things to do is to chill by the Soho House pool with a drink in hand. If you’re not staying here, it helps having a local friend who’s a member or you can apply yourself. The club scene in NYC can be overwhelming at times, the Soho House definitely brings a more exclusive crowd but all the right ones that you want to mingle with: entrepreneurs, artists, celebs and yes, the inevitable socialites.

If you love Petit Ermitage Hotel in Los Angeles (another personal favorite of mine), then you’re vibe with Soho House. Stick to your friends and you’re bound to have an amazing time!

Soho House NYC

10. Wanderlust in Central Park

Central Park West & 67th Street, New York, NY 10023, United States (map, website)

Run, bike, roller blade, pet a zoo animal, read a book, go on a date, have a picnic, have a photoshoot…anything goes in Central Park! There’s not one excuse in the world why you shouldn’t spend a few hours of your trip to unwind in this 843-acres of loveliness. I would highly recommend getting a light snack or brunch at the restaurant inside the park: Tavern on the Green. There’s a lot of deliciousness going on.

Central Park NYC

11. Keep it classy at Bergdorf Goodman

Neighborhood: Midtown, 754 5th Ave, New York, NY 10019, United States (map, website)

Head to the mecca, if you’re a fashionista. Who are we kidding? Who isn’t these days? Even if your credit is running its course this month, you’ve got to, and I emphasize “got to” go beyond the window display at Bergdorf Goodman. Yes, I know the window display is enough to stop you at your heels, but spin through those elegant glass doors and you’ll find yourself in a land of fantasy, in midst of the ultimate couture dream.

Manhattan’s most sought-after luxury goods department store has been around since 1028 and has launched the career of some of your favorite designers. If you’re looking for a place to splurge on the latest pair of Choos or Manolos, there’s not other place more fitting than at Bergdorf’s.

Bergdorf Goodman NYC

12. Dance your butts off at Meatpacking District

Ready for a fun night out? Locals may give you hidden spots in the city that are more underground and easier to grab a cab. But Meatpacking district is a conglomerate of today’s trendiest clubs in the city. Try Provocateur (sexy crowd some of the best deep house / tech house DJs), 1Oak (best late night parties but only allows bottle service), Avenue (boutique with an elite crowd, spinning hip hop, EDM, Top 40 tracks), The Raven (best Wednesday night parties with deep house music), Le Bain (largest night club with a large indoor hot tub, a rooftop crepe stand. Young professionals love this place).

Avenue NYC club

13. If Meatpacking is too “trendy” then head to the Lower East Side

LES is much more low key and still happening. Better yet, the crowd is less elitist and downright chill. Some of my favorite night outs are at: Le Baron (there’s one in Paris too and just as fun! Careful of their VERY strong dirty martinis), 2nd Floor (you’ll love EVERY cocktail, mixology at its best), Chloe81 (white tiled restaurant/bar/club with an awesome crowd), Arlene’s Grocery (rock and roll karaoke, anyone? Love this punky but super cool vibe!)

Chloe81 club nyc

14. Have you MoMA-ed?

Neighborhood: Midtown, 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019, United States (map, website)

The most influential modern art museum in the world is worth a morning of inspiration. Similar to the Pompidou in Paris; at MoMa, you’ll see works of: architecture and design, photography, prints, drawing, painting, illustrated books, sculpture, and artist’s books, film and electric media.


15. Have your Sleepless in Seattle moment at the Empire State Building!

Neighborhood: Midtown, 350 5th Ave, New York, NY 10118, United States (map, website)

You’ve seen it from afar, even in books. Now check it out up close and personal. Empire State Building is such an American cultural icon that regardless of how many things there are to do in NYC, this still a top must-see on every traveler’s list. Completed since 1931, the art deco building has survived through shootings, plane crashes and even witness suicide attempts. But it remains the symbol of New York City. Definitely go to the observatory deck, take in the panoramic view of the city to have your “Empire State of Mind”.

Empire State Building
UNSPLASH Tobias Zils

16. Devour a late night snack at Gray’s Papaya

America’s iconic snack is best devoured in Manhattan at Gray’s Papaya. It’s a must-stop for me every time, especially for a quick bite before a night out or after a night of drinking. There are locations all over the city, they’re open 24 hours a day all year-round. These high-quality hot dogs cost a little more than a dollar each, pair it with fresh papaya juice since that’s what the famous eatery is named after. If not, there are coconut champagne, banana daiquiris too.

Gray's Papaya
INSTAGRAM jamesandkarla

17. Two words: Times Square

Neighborhood: Midtown, Times Square, Manhattan, NY 10036, United States (map, website)

Just thirty minutes, that’s all you need to walk through and experience it. Anything more than that, you’re going to start hating all the tourists that take over and realize why are you wasting your time at stores that you can find anywhere else in the world. But it’s Times Square after all, and if you’ve never been, you’ve got to see it for yourself, at least once. If masses of tourists begin to bother you, try Row NYC, which is a newly opened hotel in the area that will give you sophisticated room to breathe a little. Or the W Hotel in Time Square also has a nice bar where you can chill.

times square
PHOTO Anastasia Vazquez

18. Shop at one-of-a-kind stylish boutiques on Elizabeth Street in Nolita

If Soho is getting too mainstream or “touristy” for you, you might find the perfect stores on Elizabeth Street in Nolita where stylish and one-of-a-kind boutiques reside. Try: Girl Cat By Anya Ponorovskaya for high end women’s line (167 Elizabeth St), Craig Van Den Brulle for unique selections of home furnishings (192 Elizabeth St), Barker Black for your best pair of English loafers (198 Elizabeth St),  Elizabeth Street Gallery for rare antiques (209 Elizabeth St), Le Labo for irresistible perfumes (233 Elizabeth St), Me & Ro for made in NYC jewelry (241 Elizabeth St), Thomas Sires for fashionable souvenirs and mementos (243 Elizabeth Street), and Tory Burch flagship for your favorite pair of flats (257 Elizabeth St).

Nolita NY
INSTAGRAM nolita.newyork

19. If you don’t hate the Yankees, go to a Yankees game

Neighborhood: Bronx, 1 E 161st St, Bronx, NY 10451, United States (map, website)

You love ’em or you hate ’em. As one of the most polarizing teams in MLB, they also play on one of the most expensive stadiums ever built. To get there is super easy, all you have to do is take subway line 4 (20 minutes) and it’ll take you right in front of the stadium. Go check out a game for yourself, not only to rub shoulder with Jay-Z, JLo, Adam Sandler or Billy Crystal, but to do something totally New York.

yankee stadium nyc

20. Pay your respect at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum

Neighborhood: Lower Manhattan, Liberty St, New York City, NY 10006, United States (map, website)

We all remember that day, where we were and what we were doing. It’s still difficult to remember 2,996 lives that were lost, and the demise of our country’s innocence. Many have gone to Ground Zero since and wept, I for one, have not been able to go. It’s hard to face the cruel reality of humanity, especially in a city that I love so much. I’ve put this memorial on the list though, because it’s a must-see for anyone who shed a tear on that day. On my next trip to New York City, I will scour the courage to pay my long over due respect.

911 museum memorial nyc
FACEBOOK 911 museum memorial





Wendy Hung


As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and St. Bart's because they were all so different!

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