The Complete Guide To Your First Trip To New York City
Everyone has that one place that has been at the top of their bucket list for as long as they can remember. Whether it’s taking in the Northern Lights, going on an African safari or visiting south east Asia. Now don’t get me wrong, all of those are still on my list, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to see New York City.
So, when I reached my mid-20s, I decided that now was the time to bite the bullet. Spontaneously booking flights during a catch up with my friend Megan, we began planning out the ultimate trip.
We wanted to take in all the main sights, while also getting the complete culinary experience and having a few moments where we could just walk down the city’s avenues and yell angrily like a real New Yorker (yes, I said “Hey, I’m walking here”…but it was more of a whisper than a yell if I’m being honest!)
As it was my first time in New York, I was basically a giddy child for the entire trip and I will never apologise for that! The New York playlist for life will continue to blast through my head whenever I get itchy feet and want to book another trip.
While the number one thing you should do in any city is walk around, the concrete jungle is the best place for this. You will get tired, but strap on a good pair of walking shoes, press play on the ultimate Broadway playlist and skip down 5th avenue like you’re in Annie, Newsies or another one of your favourite musicals.
When you aren’t marching to the beat of your own drum in this city where you can be whoever you want, make sure to take in some key sights, which I’ve divided into three sections: The View, The History and The Show.
People are always wondering if they should visit Rockefeller or the Empire State Building. Depending on the kind of view you’re after, this will boil down to pretty much your own personal preference. Thankfully, the City Pass meant we didn’t have to decide.
The Empire State Building is much higher than Rockefeller so you get a seriously good view of Manhattan and the World Trade Centre, as well as the Statue of Liberty if it’s a clear day.
But if you’re only going to choose one of these rooftop views, I would go with Rockefeller as you actually have the iconic Empire State Building in your view, so it’s perfect for all your photos.
In fact, people were imitating the tourists at the leaning tower of Pisa and trying to strategically point at the Empire State Building. I tried, but it didn’t take!
We actually got the VIP experience at Rockefeller, which was amazing because you skipped all of the queues so we were in and out in an hour, perfect for when you have a lot of things you want to see.
No visit to New York is complete without walking in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. Unfortunately, as is the case with much of history, many of those footsteps either came from or ended in tragedy.
As an Irish person, I think it’s so important to visit Ellis Island. We know from our school days that there was a mass exodus of Irish people during the Great Famine in the 1800’s and to follow that journey from Cobh to New York is one that is both tragic and uplifting.
You’ll need to leave a good few hours to thoroughly explore Ellis Island’s part in the world’s history of immigration, but these are hours well spent.
En route to and from Ellis Island, you’ll spot Lady Liberty herself. It’s funny to think that many immigrants would have seen Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty at the end of gruesome journeys. Luckily, Statue Cruises doesn’t leave you stranded on these islands and brings you safely back to shore.
From the past to the present, nobody will ever forget the tragic events of recent history in New York City. I remember it clearly even though I was a child watching it on TV, I wasn’t living through it.
Though it’s an incredibly humbling and at times, very upsetting experience, you need to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum when you are in New York City.
With video clips, digital reconstructions and objects and mementos belonging to survivors and victims, this won’t be and shouldn’t be an easy attraction you simply tick off your list.
There’s raw emotion in the building, evidenced in the sobbing visitors and sombre atmosphere. I overheard a woman telling what I assume were her children about the way the Twin Towers used to be and how tall they were. This was just inside the main entrance and she was already crying. This isn’t a fun place, but the museum is very respectfully done and an absolute must visit.
Outside, the memorial stands tall and I really love the way a flower is placed by the names of those who would be celebrating birthdays. It’s clear that a lot of care went into this.
You can’t visit New York without strolling through Broadway and if you can manage it, securing a ticket to one of the many theatre shows available.
A musical lover at heart, I’ve seen a good selection of musicals in the West End and a few in Dublin. So to actually see a show on Broadway was something I will never forget.
Given where we were, we went for Jersey Boys and happily sang and clapped along with Frankie Valley and The Four Seasons for hours.
Ah, Times Square, the crazy busy, fight your way through hordes of people square. It’s iconic and while it may be a tad crowded, you’re better off embracing it because the buzz going through Times Square in the evening is just infectious. If you don’t feel alive in New York, I don’t know where you would. I just fell in love with the city.
For a bit of quiet time after the hustle and bustle of Times Square, make sure you pencil in a walk in Central Park. Even if you’ve never been there before, you’ll instantly recognise it from the big screen.
My favourite part was reading the inscriptions on the benches, which had happily been vacated due to the rain. If anyone ever wants to propose to me, I’d be okay with an inscribed bench proposal!
Also be sure and pay a quick visit to Grand Central Terminal. A beautiful place, I wouldn’t mind catching a train from here, but that would mean willingly leaving New York, which I’m not sure I would ever do!
The only Michelin-starred vegan and vegetarian restaurant in New York City, this was one place I was really eager to try out.
As we were in New York during restaurant week in August, we got our lunch in Nix at an absolute steal – only $50 for two starters, two mains and two delicious pomegranate cocktails.
My friend Megan is a little bit obsessed with Mexican food, so we really had to eat in a Mexican restaurant one of the nights.
Wandering into Toloache, a spot close to Times Square, we perched ourselves on the bar, right where they make the cocktails.
There were literally no other seats available and the place was absolutely jammers. The atmosphere was infectious and the food was delicious. Mexico has officially jumped up a few spots on my bucket list now.
Brooklyn Pizza Tour
How you doin’? The Brooklyn Pizza Tour was the best way to see Brooklyn in our limited time and it had a focus on pizza, which tasted phenomenal in Brooklyn.
As well as eating our way through the neighbourhood, we also checked out some key filming locations from Goodfellas, Once Upon a Time in America and Saturday Night Fever (I’ll never be able to watch the film’s intro in quite the same way again!).
Our guide Marc was amazing and appealed to the kids on the tour as well as the adults.
We even had a little time to explore the famous Coney Island boardwalk, though with the amount of pizza consumed, we left the rides for the next time.
Classic American Delicacies
I had been itching to try a proper hot dog and a pretzel from the moment I got off the plane. For me, it was the quintessential moment from all of those movies and TV shows over the years. It simply had to be done.
Eating a hot dog in Battery Park after a few hours on Ellis Island and eating a cheese-stuffed (yes, cheese-stuffed) pretzel in Central Park are two food experiences that you don’t have a choice about.
Incredibly satisfying when you’re hitting about 40,000 steps a day, but also, you end up feeling like you’re a character in pretty much every single American film or TV series. I enjoyed it. You might not, but I certainly did!
The Dead Rabbit
As someone who makes it their business to avoid Irish pubs when abroad (sure, it’s just like a pub back home after all right?), I knew I had to make one exception in New York. After hearing so many great things about the Dead Rabbit, I knew that this was one Irish pub I wouldn’t curse myself for entering.
Winner of Best Bar in the World for 2015 and 2016, this highly regarded and immensely unique watering hole served up probably the best cocktail I’ve ever had. One of my favourite parts of the bar was the unique decor, in particular some props and memorabilia from the film Gangs of New York, one of my favourite Scorsese flicks and a film which stars the one and only Liam Neeson as a Dead Rabbit.
We stayed at The Beacon Hotel during our time in New York. Located a short 2 minute walk from the nearest subway station, The Beacon was the perfect base.
It’s also very close to Central Park, which proved useful on our last day as we could go for a walk there and not worry about getting back in enough time to grab our bags.
We were spoiled staying in a suite on the 24th floor. The room had everything you could possibly need and more, with two double beds, a living area, generous storage space and a kitchen area.
We ended up stocking up on NYC bagels and fruit and ate our breakfast in the room most mornings. It was the best possible place to stay my first time in New York.
We flew from Dublin to JFK with Aer Lingus. The US Pre-Clearance really is a dream and it’s so great to get that out of the way in Dublin Airport.
The next time I visit New York I won’t be so spontaneous booking a holiday a month in advance. We paid more than twice as much as you might if you book a clever deal enough in advance. But it was worth it for the best 5 days in the Big Apple, a trip that will be very hard to beat.
For more information about New York City and everything you can do here (because believe me, I just scratched the surface), visit nycgo.com.
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Named Best Break Out Travel Writer at the 2018 Travel Media Awards, Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.
A big people person, especially when it comes to hearing other people’s stories, Sarah loves interviewing chefs, food producers and more.