First Timer's Complete Guide to New York City

At this time last year we had just finished our 1 year of long-distance engagement and were eagerly preparing for our wedding. It’s hard to believe it is already a year later, but wow what a year it has been as newlyweds! To celebrate, we headed to New York City for the week.

The buildings, new and old, were massive and rich with history. We walked the sites that have been infamously filmed throughout cinema history. The cars and taxis were honking in turns, as if talking to each other in Morse code. The countless fashionistas strutted along in their nearly $1000 Canadian Goose parkas. The business men and women in the financial district walked quickly and determined in and out of buildings. Tourists crowded around the holiday decorations, taking selfies like there was no tomorrow. Street performers played Christmas carols in the subway stations as people bustled around with their shopping bags. We indulged in some of the best foods in the world. And somehow we managed to not get lost while in the big city!

Every morning we grabbed a quick and easy breakfast from a nearby bagel cart on the street on our way to the day’s activities. We completely relied on public transit and the CityMapper app, which we found to be quick and reliable. Even with using the subway, we still managed to walk an average of 9 miles a day, allowing us to warrant ourselves afternoon naps.

Walking the streets of Manhattan was different than any other experience I had had. The buildings are so massive that you can only see what is directly around you, unable to see farther in the distance. For instance, we could not tell that we were nearing the Empire State Building until we were standing directly in front of it. We were unable to see one of the top 3 tallest buildings in New York because all of the buildings around us were obstructing our view.

During our time in NYC we contemplated whether we could ever see ourselves living here. We came to conclusion that we could do it for at most a year, but only if we were near Central Park. After that I think Alex’s dislike for walking and my love for open spaces would draw us out to a new location! Overall our time in New York was both memorable, and a time of much needed one-on-one, uninterrupted time with one another.

Below is a list of some of the places we saw and the delectable foods we ate. 


The Empire Hotel // Our home for the week! The service was professional yet friendly, and the location was perfectly situated near numerous subway entrances, Lincoln Center, and central park was only a couple blocks away.

Juilliard // The famous Juilliard was only a block away from our hotel, so on our first night in the city we attended a voila and piano student recital. Not only was the recital free, but there were also only a handful of people in the auditorium. This was Alex’s favorite thing that we did on our trip, and we highly recommend it! 

Central Park // We spent nearly an entire day walking through Central Park, and all of the nearby attractions. We watched as countless horse-drawn carriages trotted past us as we walked together hand in hand.

Wollman Rink // Situated in the south end of Central Park, this ice skating rink had a stunning backdrop of the city. 

Bethesda Fountain //  During the winter the fountain is drained, but I would love to see it working in the summer time! Next to the fountain in the terrace there were some talented musicians playing Christmas carols. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) // The museum admission is pay what you wish, with suggested prices. If you bring a backpack security will make you go check it. You can easily spend hours here, and there is even a rooftop bar!

Levain Bakery // Stop what you are doing and add this bakery to your bucket list if you haven't already been here. Located in a tiny shop on the Upper West Side, these softball sized cookies are crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. The perfect cookie. We stood in line for about 30 minutes, and it was worth every minute. They offer 4 cookie flavors: chocolate chip walnut, dark chocolate chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and dark chocolate peanut butter chip. We tried both the classic chocolate chip and the chocolate chip peanut butter chip cookies, the latter being my absolute favorite.  

Le Pain Quotidien // Here we enjoyed our last meal in New York before we headed to the airport. The rain poured outside as we were welcomed into a warm environment filled with the heavily smell of freshly baked bread. I highly recommend their Belgium waffle – it was honestly the best waffle that I have ever had.


9/11 Memorial //  Standing at the site of the 9/11 attacks was an experience I will never forget. I can't imagine the hardships that were and still are being endured by all those who were involved, whether directly or indirectly. If we had had more time we would have loved to explore the museum to fully take in more of the experience. 

Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island // The boat departs from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. Tickets can either be purchased prior to arrival or on site for a specified time slot. To save time we purchased our tickets ahead of time for an early morning departure. Upon arriving at State of Liberty island you have the option to rent a free audio tour. It has a lot of interesting information and allowed us to have a new appreciation for the iconic statue. Boats left about every 15 minutes, with the next stop to Ellis Island. Personally I was very excited to walk through Ellis Island, the same building that my great grandmother came through when she arrived from Poland.  

Financial District // A charging bull statue, cobblestone streets, and massive stone buildings on Wall Street. I’ll admit that standing outside the New York Stock Exchange made me feel a bit intimated and uneasy. I can’t imagine all that goes on inside, and the exorbitant amounts of money that comprise the transactions. 

Brooklyn Bridge // From the Manhattan side, the bridge starts near city hall. It is just over a mile in length, with designated walking and biking paths. As we made our way across the bridge we started getting a sense of how large the Manhattan skyline actually was. Up until that point, our vision had been blocked by the towering buildings around us, unable to see farther than what we were directly surrounded by. I highly recommend walking across! If we had had more time I would have loved walking across, starting on the Brooklyn side, as the sun rose, lighting up the Manhattan skyline.

DUMBO // It was wonderful to get out of the city, even if for a short period of time. The frequency of honking decreased, the streets near the water were cobblestone, and the large green spaces in combination with the outlook over the Manhattan skyline made for a charming neighborhood.

Juliana’s Pizza // Located just a block up from the water, this quaint, warm atmosphere restaurant serves some delicious New York styled pizza. It was highly recommended by a dear friend, and I can see why! 


Rockefeller Plaza // I remember watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother, and Ted mentioned that there are a few places in New York that you avoid during certain times of the year - Times Square on New Year's Eve and Rockefeller Center during Christmas time. And now I understand why. As soon as we exited the subway station we were bombarded with massive crowds. It took us a few minutes to find a good spot to “pull over” off the side walk, because if there was any warning advice that we received it was to treat the sidewalks like highways and to NEVER stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk. Everything was crowded and the line to ice skate was roughly an hour long. But, the tree. The towering tree covered in thousands of lights that we’ve all heard about. It was truly magnificent in size and beauty.

Top of the Rock // We opted for the Top of the Rock over the Empire States building because (1) you can see central park, (2) you can’t see the Empire State building if you're standing on it, and (3) there are designated time slots that you can chose from, thus avoiding having to wait in line. You can either purchase your tickets ahead of time or on site. We opted for the earliest tickets we could get (8 am), which allowed us to be the first people up! There are three different levels, which you can go back and forth between at any point. We enjoyed the stunning views of the city as if it was our own private rooftop. 

Times Square // An area so full of lights that it can be seen from space. With countless ads - small, large, wide, tall - surrounding us we didn't know where to look. We went here once and that was good enough for us ;) 

Broadway // Seeing a broadway show was top on our list of things to do. We purchased discounted tickets via the Today Tix app, which is great for anyone who doesn't have time to go stand in line for rush tickets or don't want to chance not winning a lottery ticket. Prior to the show starting, one of the Today Tix employees stands out on the sidewalk in a red shirt and distributes the tickets to those who purchased through them. We saw Fiddler on the Roof in the Broadway Theater. Never having seen the play before, I was extremely surprised to learn that it was in fact not about a fiddler on a roof. I'm sure I haven' been the only person surprised by this.. well at least just pretend with me for a second so I don't feel so bad! Seeing the best performers in the world perform was truly an honor and an unforgettable experience. 

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) // Admission is free on Fridays from 4 pm – 8 pm. Most people try to get there early, resulting in large lines. However, we opted to go near the end at 7 pm and walked right in as there was no line by this point. We went with the sole mission to see Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, but it you want to explore more of the museum you would probably want to go at the earlier time. It was pretty easy to find where that infamous oil painting was located by the large crowd of people, all with their phones out and squeezing into every recently vacated spot to get a closer view. But nonetheless, it was quite impressive to stand in the same room as one of the most well known paintings in history.

New York Public Library // I wish I could have gone back in time and relived all my study days at this library, especially in the Rose Main Reading Room. The library’s architecture and stonework is absolutely beautiful and quite impressive!

Bryant Park // Located just behind the New York Public Library, Bryant Park holds an ice skating rink and a cute Christmas market. The Admission for the rink is free with $20 skate rentals. I would advise going here in the middle of the week at an off time to avoid most of the crowds. 

Grand Central Station // With Christmas decorations all around and crowds of people and families buying train tickets mere days before Christmas, it sure had the holiday spirit. The interior is massive, and I low keyed hoped a flash mob would break out, as they always tend to do in the movies, but no luck. There is a cafeteria located inside as well, which is where I got to finally got to experience the infamous Magnolia Bakery.

Magnolia Bakery // Famous for their banana pudding, we had to go to two different store locations until we found one who wasn’t sold out. It is light and creamy, yet packed with delicious flavor. 

Dominique Ansel Bakery // Located in SoHo, this is the home of the original cronut. We were unable to get a cronut as they were already sold out for the day, but we loved their DKA (dominique’s Kouign Amann), which is a croissant-like dough with a caramelized crust. 

High Line // Once an old elevated railroad line, this repurposed area is now an inviting greenway. There are numerous benches and built-in lounge chairs along the way, creating the perfect space to enjoy a relaxing evening!

Chelsea Market // The cutest indoor market! There are numerous restaurants, shops, and even a little floral shop. The upper levels hold offices and television production studios, such as offices for Google, Youtube, and the set of Iron Chef America. We stopped for a snack at Doughnuttery because it was just too difficult to pass that mouthwatering smell without a sample. With many unique flavors to choose from to coat your mini donuts, our favorite was the purple fig – a combination of maple, purple potatoes, and bacon.