Culture

9 Things All First-Timers Should Do In New York

If you haven't been to Katz's Deli, have you really been to New York?

You’ve watched the movies, read the guide books, gathered recommendations from all your mates and watched even more movies – now you’re finally ready for your first time to New York City. You know about the park and the bus tours and the Broadway lotteries, but what are the spots that’ll take this trip from great to unforgettable?

Here’s a handful of places you should find time for on your first time to New York

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Head to the Observation Deck

Sure, the top of the Empire State Building is iconic and essential for acting out your Sleepless in Seattle/An Affair to Remember dreams, but if you want to snap a view of the city for Insta, head to Top of the Rock instead. Located 70 floors above Rockefeller Plaza (don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone if you sing the 30 Rock theme tune to yourself as you take in the Art Deco facade) it gives you a sweeping view of the city that includes the Empire State Building.

That’s not the only view-hack I’ve got for you! Save the $25 ticket to visit the Statue of Liberty and just wave “hi” to her from the deck of the free Staten Island Ferry as it passes by. Take the 1 train to South Ferry station, jump on the ferry, then make the easy return trip from the port in Staten Island. The view of the island from the water is just as special as the view from the sky.

Image: Top of the Rock

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Venture outside the island

Of the five boroughs (that’s Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan), Manhattan and Brooklyn undeniably get the most love, but there’s plenty to explore at the end of a subway trip to any of the others.

Make Astoria your first stop. This neighbourhood in Queens boasts the famed Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society, an outdoor beer garden where you can sip a cold stein and snack on a hot grilled bratwurst loaded with kraut; take in a movie and browse the cinema memorabilia at the Museum of the Moving Image. Then pay a visit to the award-winning food cart, King of Falafel & Shawarma, on the corner of 31st and Ditmars.

Before you leave Queens, make sure you schedule some time in the neighbouring suburb of Long Island City to visit MoMA PS1, grab a drink at the wood-panelled speakeasy bar Dutch Kills, and snap a selfie outside the iconic Silvercup Studios sign – it’s where TV shows like Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, Mad Men, The Sopranos and 30 Rock were shot.

Image: Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden / Facebook

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Have what she’s having

Let’s be real: no matter how long you spend in New York, you’ll never eat all the things you want to eat. Let’s start with the uber iconic ones: grab a ticket on your way in to Katz’s Deli on Houston St, the location of When Harry Met Sally’s “I’ll have what she’s having” scene, and load up on pastrami sandwiches, matzoh ball soup and extra pickles. While you’re in the area, stop in at Russ & Daughters deli for some lox and bagels, or sit down with coffee and challah bread pudding at the adjacent cafe.

A lot of people might dismiss it for being a victim of the Sex and the City hype, but I’m not going to tourist-shame you for joining the long queue at Magnolia Bakery (that banana pudding is incredible!). Instead, I’ll recommend you try the carrot cake.

If you’ve got a bit of cash to splash (and tit’s worth it in NYC) slice through Peter Luger’s famous dry-aged beef or make a booking at the fancy French bistro, Balthazar, and inhale the cheesiest, richest French onion soup imaginable. Try the artichoke dip at Freeman’s, slurp down some freshly shucked oysters at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, or climb down to the sprawling dining hall beneath the Plaza Hotel.

Get lost among the food malls and street stalls in Flushing, Queens, and don’t leave before ordering a serving of hot fresh soy milk, fried crullers and soup dumplings at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao.

Every Saturday from 11am to 6pm, all the best artisanal snack-makers in the city descend on East River State Park for Smorgasburg. Don’t be tempted to fill your belly before arriving – you’re going to need the room.

Having trouble deciding which pizza place to visit? Between the famed Roberta’s in Bushwick, Lucali’s in Carroll Gardens, Di Fara in Midwood and Lombardi’s in Little Italy, the choice can be overwhelming. Take a chance on the new kid who grew up eating and learning from the history in every slice – Frank Pinello, who runs Williamsburg’s Best Pizza. Make your first time to New York a foodie one.

Image: Katz’s Deli

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Chelsea girls

You can’t tackle the West Side in just a few hours, especially if it’s only your first time to New York. Dedicate a day to exploring the High Line – a mile-long public park and promenade built along expired railway tracks – and the sights alongside it. Pick up fresh food, flowers and fashion in Chelsea Market; window shop at renowned boutique Jeffrey and the maze-like Comme des Garcons flagship store; take in the sprawling collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art; and take in the glittering view from the Top of the Standard at the Standard Hotel.

It’s not hyperbolic to say the most unique theatre experience in New York is at Sleep No More, a participatory retelling of Macbeth that sees audience members in masks interacting with players throughout the five-story McKittrick Hotel. Wash down your night with a drink at the Gansevoort Hotel Bar – you’ll need it!

Image: The High Line, Brendan Church / Unsplash

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Wrapped up in books

Exploring The Strand’s famed “18 miles of books” is not for the faint of heart, but if you don’t have your walking shoes on, there are plenty of smaller spots to pick up bestsellers or small-press publications all over the city.

Find feminist zines and books at Bluestockings, learn about new comic book artists at Desert Island Books in Williamsburg, or fill your tote with art books and one-off finds at Printed Matter. Check the upcoming events at Powerhouse in DUMBO or WORD in Greenpoint – local authors often do readings or launches here.

If you’d rather browse than shop, do it beneath the Bill Blass mural that spans the ceiling of the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library – just keep your voice below a whisper.

Image: The Strand, Sharon Hahn Darlin / Flickr

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Catch a set from the next Chris Rock

… or the current Chris Rock, who sometimes pops up at the Comedy Cellar and brings his mates like Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, Aziz Ansari and Dave Chappelle. For $5 (or less), you can buy a ticket to see improv, one-person shows and sketches from rising comedy stars at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), which was started by Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Matt Besser and Ian Roberts, and has outposts in Chelsea and the East Village.

Basement comedy clubs not your vibe? The Apollo Theatre in Harlem is a landmark building that’s played host to the biggest performers in its 83-year history, or you could stay up all night and brave the lines outside Rockefeller Plaza for the chance to score tickets to a Saturday Night Live recording.

Image: Wanda Skyes performing at The Comedy Cellar

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Channel your inner kid

Tom Hanks danced across the giant, light-up piano at FAO Schwarz in the movie BIG, and Kim and Kanye did the same thing on their first date in New York. Despite the toy megastore closing in 2015, the iconic piano lives on at Macy’s department store on 34th Street (yes, the place where the Miracle occurred) where you can take your turn tapping out a tune on its massive keys.

That’s just a pitstop, though, on your way to a bigger playground for kids of all ages. Swipe your Metrocard and jump aboard a south-bound D, F, N or Q train to Stillwell Avenue station. Beyond the station lies the Wonder Wheel, Coney Island’s iconic ferris wheel surrounded by rides, fortune tellers, the rickety Cyclone rollercoaster, a carousel, and stacks more. Wait ’til your stomach settles after all that spinning and sliding to collect ice creams, funnel cake and Nathan’s Famous hot dogs along the boardwalk.

Image: Coney Island

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Night at the museum(s)

I’ve mentioned a few galleries and museums already, but if you’re keen to take in even more, it’s best to know how to do it for cheap. On the edge of Brooklyn’s beloved Prospect Park is the Brooklyn Museum, which has free entry the first Saturday of every month from 5pm to 11pm. You can view the collection of great masters’ works at The Frick Collection for free from 6pm to 9pm the first Friday of every month. Or you can join the massive hordes that descend on the MoMA for its free Friday nights every week from 4pm to 8pm.

Not exactly free, but still affordable are “pay what you wish” entry times at places like the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (5.45 pm to 7.45pm every Saturday), the New Museum (7pm to 9pm every Thursday), the Whitney (7pm to 9.30pm every Friday). The biggest deal, though, is at the Met, where it’s “pay what you wish” day every day. Just be sure to buy your ticket from a human teller – the “express” machines default to the $25 “suggested” ticket price.

Same goes for the American Museum of Natural History, which neighbours the Met on the perimeter of Central Park. Take a cue from the local kids who head straight for the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life and plonk themselves on the floor beneath the gravity-defying, 94-foot long model of a Giant Blue Whale, suspended from the ceiling and bathed in cool, blue light.

Image: MoMA, Wikimedia Creative Commons

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Take to the bridge

Now that you’ve poked around the city’s nooks and crannies, seen her from the sky and the sea, and explored all the boroughs and neighbourhoods on your to-do list, it’s time to put on your sneakers, leave your Metrocard at home and take to the bridge. The best view from the Brooklyn Bridge is the one you get when you’re walking towards Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights.

Take in the bridge’s Neo-Gothic architecture and keep an eye out for the plaque dedicated to Emily Roebling, who saw the construction of the bridge to its completion after her father-in-law, its chief engineer, died, and his son – her husband – fell sick. What a boss.

At 1.6 kilometres long, the bridge is an easy walk for people of all fitness levels, and takes about an hour to meander across. Just make sure you stick to the right-hand side – but if you’ve spent even a minute on a New York sidewalk or subway escalator, you know that by now. You’re basically a local.

If you’re all set for what to do on your first time to New York, make sure you also know where to drink when you need a break from all that walking.

(Lead image: Nirzar Pangarkar / Unsplash. Facebook image: Paulius / Flickr)