A beginner's guide to New York City

Ellie Seymour

Ellie Seymour

New York City is the ultimate lifetime must-see destination, with even the shortest of visits promising rich rewards. If it's your first time, these classic New York experiences will help you get your bearings.

The bright lights of Times Square, New York City
The bright lights of Times Square, New York City © Luciano Mortula-LGM - Adobe Stock Image

New York City is officially made up of five boroughs: Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island, The Bronx and Manhattan. The latter, Manhattan, is the most densely populated, arguably the most famous, and buzziest of all. It's where you'll find all those iconic screen sights and sounds, from the Empire State Building and undulating Central Park to neon-charged Times Square.

Throw in the 24-hour, non-stop buzz, splurgy restaurants, world-class museums and Broadway shows, gleaming skyscrapers, luxury shops and cultural heritage, and you have a top-tier bucket list city break.

Getting to New York: check out the latest deals on flights* as well as sale offers on city breaks to NYC with British Airways*.

Walk around

Wandering around the city's streets and neighbourhoods that look like movie sets is a fun part of a trip to the Big Apple. The historic West Village with its leafy streets of elegant brownstones and exciting restaurant culture is a great place to start.

From here, you can venture up onto The Highline, an elevated urban park on an abandoned railway planted with wildflowers and scattered with benches.

A summer's day in Washington Square, New York City
A summer's day in Washington Square, New York City © Marcorubino - Adobe Stock Image

Art lovers will enjoy a browse around the nearby Whitney Museum of American Art, before a meander south towards bohemian Greenwich Village and onto historic Washington Square.

Other areas to leave time for are shopping-heaven SoHo, sensory-overloading Times Square, and the cool Lower East Side.

Central Park

A visit to New York City's biggest and most famous green space, Central Park, is a must. You can amble around it slowly on foot or hire a bike to cover more ground.

You'll notice its curving paths, outcrops of round boulders and curvaceous lakes. These features were incorporated intentionally, in contrast to New York's angular grid design, to help New Yorkers relax and unwind in nature.

Romantics will love pootling on the lake in a rowing boat or clip-clopping around the park's periphery in a horse and carriage. You'll pass sights like the famous Wollman Ice-Skating Rink and Strawberry Fields, the bronze floor-plaque tribute to Beatles' legend, John Lennon.

Hit the heights

New York City's skyline is the stuff of movie scenes and NYC dreams. A fun way to appreciate its vibrancy is from above and the Empire State Building's viewing deck on the 102nd floor is an essential stop. You get to wander through its beautiful Art Deco lobby, before riding the lift up to its 360-degree outside viewing area.

Midtown Manhattan from the Top of the Rock
Midtown Manhattan from the Top of the Rock © Nido Huebl - Adobe Stock Image

Another option is The Top of the Rock in the Rockefeller Center with three observation decks, including one in the open on the 70th floor.

While you're here, it's worth taking a tour of NBC studios where the likes of where TV shows like Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock and The Office are filmed.

World-class culture

Many of the world's best museums and art galleries are found in New York City, clustered along a sophisticated stretch of Fifth Avenue known as Museum Mile.

One of the biggest and oldest and most spectacular is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or The Met for short, where potentially you could lose yourself for days.

Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art © Itza - Adobe Stock Image

The Museum of the City of New York a couple of blocks from The Met is total escapism. Its permanent exhibits tell the story of the city's immigrant history. It's worth veering off Museum Mile, into the Museum of Contemporary Art, or MoMa to most.

Catching a show, such as the Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running musical on Broadway, or multi-award-winning Hamilton is another unforgettable NYC experience.

Take to the water

So densely built up is Manhattan that when you're wandering around admiring the brownstones, sipping coffee and shopping, it's easy to forget you're on a small island.

It's also easy to overlook that each of the other boroughs is also set on the water. Taking a boat ride is a great way to get a sense of the city's dramatic scale and skyscraper-filled landscape.

Take to the water for an alternative view of the city
Take to the water for an alternative view of the city © Sergii Figurnyi - Adobe Stock Image

Depending on your budget there are lots of options. The easiest, and arguably the greatest, is to take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. It's worth it for the view of the Statue of Liberty alone and because it's one of the free iconic activities to enjoy in New York.

Architectural highlights

New York skyscrapers are world-famous architecture, and you can learn all about them on a trip to the Skyscraper Museum. The Art Deco Chrysler Building is one of the earliest and most famous.

Visitors are welcome to wander into its lobby to see the beautifully painted ceiling mural and elaborate elevator doors.

Another must-see New York architectural highlights include Grand Central Station. Its main concourse building is a great spot for stopping for a while and people-watching. It's also home to a celestial-themed ceiling, which features the 12 zodiac constellations.

Weather in New York City

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Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

The above guide shows the weather in New York City. Find out more about the weather in New York state and across the country in our complete guide to the weather in the USA.

Ready to dive into NYC? Don't miss the latest online sale offers from British Airways, which operates direct flights from London Heathrow to JFK and Newark as well as from London Gatwick to JFK, all in around seven-and-a-half hours.

British Airways: Latest offers on flights & holidays worldwide

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Ellie Seymour

Ellie Seymour

Ellie Seymour is a Brighton-based freelance travel writer, author and blogger. A lover of New York City, she specialises in destinations across the USA and southern Europe. She writes for The Independent, The Guardian and LoveExploring among others. She is also the author of two bestselling guidebooks, Secret Brighton and Secret Sussex.

Posted on Monday 12th December 2022 in: City Culture North America

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