A New York Newbie’s First Bite of the Big Apple

Me in Manhattan

Sometimes, you just have to take a deep breath and click “book”.

I’d wanted to visit New York for years, but in the end it was all booked on a whim after one of our should-we shouldn’t-we chats at home. This time, I didn’t hesitate like I had done before, I just clicked book.

There are loads of brilliant blog posts out there from seasoned New York addicts and experts to help you plan a trip and I’m afraid I’m neither.

But if you want to know what the highlights were for a New York newbie with four days to spend in the city that never sleeps, read on. Maybe they’ll help you with your own first trip to New York City.

New York for first timers

Never been? Get it booked!

Here’s some of what we did, and what I recommend that you do, too:

(If you’re looking for brilliant free stuff to do in New York – also check out this post.)

We stayed central in Midtown

Times Square

On your first trip, it’s worth being close to all this.

Despite realising that there was much more of a lovely villagey vibe to be felt elsewhere in Manhattan, if it’s your first trip, I think you need to say central. With Times Square and Broadway on your doorstep – every spectacle is accessible.

We stayed in the Staybridge Suites Times Square where the rooms were surprisingly large and conveniently had a fully equipped kitchenette. Breakfast was also included.

We saw a Hollywood star on a Broadway Stage

Inside the theatre

This is where Orlando Bloom ran right past me and I decided I loved him.

I wasn’t a fan of Orlando Bloom before I saw him play Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, but you can rest assured that I fancy him something rotten now. We bought cheap matinee tickets from TKTS in Times Square and were lucky to be seated five rows from the front, meaning I could almost touch Orlando’s boots.

And as I was on the end, there was also a point at which he whooshed right by me down the aisle. Why I didn’t grab him is a mystery. I’m claiming that I didn’t want to ruin the play, but I actually just think my coordination is not what it used to be…

We got the best view of the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock

Empire State Building

If you go up it, you won’t see it like this.

Family, friends and fellow bloggers all told me to skip the top of the Empire State Building and instead to hot foot it up to the top of the Rockefeller Centre. Once I was up there I could see why. The views of the Empire State Building itself are stunning, but everywhere you look there’s a treat in all honesty.

If you want to see the New York sky line from up high, this is the way to do it.

We stepped into movie scenes with On Location Tours

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Following in Holly Golightly’s footsteps. You can call me Audrey.

Mr Holiday Addict is something of a movie obsessive, so I decided to book a film tour mostly with him in mind, however I ended up loving it loads too. New York feels familiar everywhere you go, but with clips from classic films being shown on screen throughout the tour as well as a movie buff guide to give you commentary, the pennies start dropping as to why you recognise so many city locations.

We did the TCM Classic Movies tour, which was great for seeing how the city has changed and in many cases stayed the same, through the stories of movie scenes over the years. (Thanks to Kooky Traveller Kirsten for this one – I wouldn’t have found this tour if I hadn’t read this post.)

We toured Soho, China Town and Little Italy

Walking Tour Scenes

Scenes from our tour, and our lovely guide, Ellen.

Lucy from On the Luce recently wrote a guide to New York and it was her post that pointed me towards Free Tours By Foot. Their tips only walking tours mean they work for any budget. We took a tour of Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown and our tour guide Ellen was great. She was so knowledgeable and her enthusiasm and love for New York was captivating.

At the end, she never looked once to see how much anyone gave her in tips, it all just went into a pouch. She was too busy shaking hands, smiling and giving her guests directions on how to get to where they wanted to go next. Wonderful.

We got all arty at the Guggenheim

Inside the Guggenheim

Inside the Guggenheim. Worth the fee? I’m not so sure, but you can make up your own mind.

There were parts of the Guggenheim I really liked – the building itself is certainly quite special. But it wasn’t really a gallery I connected with as I have done with others I’ve visited in different cities. It’s hard to actually pinpoint why. That said, you should do a walk by and weigh up whether you think it’s worth the admission fee. If not, you can still admire the building and stroll down Fifth Avenue towards the Met, which, if I’m honest, would have probably been more up my street – on this particular day we just didn’t have the time to really do it justice.

We stuffed our faces to a soundtrack in Ellen’s Stardust Diner

Ellen's Stardust Diner

Lunch and an unexpected show!

Our meal here at Ellen’s Stardust Diner was a happy accident. Being just over the road from where we needed to meet for our film tour, we thought it would be a convenient spot for lunch – but once inside we discovered it’s the next best thing to a Broadway show.

The staff all sing their hearts out as they serve, performing number after number to a bunch of foot-tapping diners. They’re all budding hopefuls here to try and make their way into a musical – and their talent is brilliant. A really entertaining way to spend lunch!

We didn’t take the Subway

Lower East Side

Sights of the Lower East Side, as seen from the top of a tour bus.

It would be so easy to zip about New York on its Subway system, and I’m a big fan of public transport. But if you don’t need to rush around, then I’d give it a miss. Once you descend underground, it’s so easy to lose perspective and your sense of distance. Great if you’re in a hurry, but no so great when you want your eyes to take in as much of a new place as possible.

I’d stick to a good pair of boots (like the ones too many beers inspired me to buy on this trip), or even an open top tour bus multi-day ticket. Use the tour bus as your public transport and don’t sacrifice views of the city. You can always take the subway when you come back for trip number two.

On your first visit I’d say the only train line you need to see is the High Line.

The Useful Info Bit:

All prices correct as of October 2013

Our flights to New York were from Manchester to JFK via Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic. They cost us around £600 each return.

The Staybridge Suites cost approximately £200 per night with breakfast.

Tickets to the Top of the Rock are $27 per person

Our tickets to Romeo and Juliet were half the regular box office price. If you aren’t fussed what show you see, try a play rather than a musical – there are separate queues for both at the TKTS booth in Times Square, and the line for plays was much, much shorter than the line for musicals.

Our On Location tour cost us $40 per person plus booking fee.

Entrance to the Guggenheim costs $22 per person

Three day tour bus tickets for all lines with Grays are $69 (a $10 add on to the 48 hour price)

A main course at Ellen’s Stardust Diner will set you back between $12-20 (a bit more for steak)

What are your New York highlights?


  • Great read Clare and I’m glad you enjoyed the trip with On Location Tours – I definitely fancy the TCM Classics next time I’m in town – I LOVE Breakfast at Tiffany’s! The diner sounds like it was a lot of fun too!

    • Clare says:

      The diner was such a laugh! I was so glad we went there. And the classic film tour was fab. Some good Ghostbusters clips for MJ to enjoy. The next day we went to find the fire station!

  • Julika says:

    Bookmarked! This is such a great resource for my future trip to New York, Clare! 🙂
    Also: OMG you saw Orlando Bloom!!!

  • Agness says:

    Someone said Orlando Bloom? OMG! He’s gonna be single soon so Clare… you know what to do! Great adventure. It really looks like you loved this city. I simply can’t wait to finally visit America.

  • Great highlights of New York! I’m so glad you found Ellen’s Stardust Diner. I went there on one of my first trips to the city in high school and have been going back ever since. I love the performances while you are eating (and who doesn’t love diner food?!).

  • Lucy says:

    Glad you enjoyed the walking tours. And Ellen’s Stardust Diner – I went there with my sister years ago after we randomly came across it and have been back every time I’m in New York, love it there!

    • Clare says:

      The walking tour was excellent. Thanks for the tip! And I’m so glad we found Ellen’s Stardust Diner. I feel like we managed to get in on a wee secret! Brilliant fun.

  • Vlad says:

    Gosh, it all sounds so great. I’ve been throwing ideas back and forth about where to go this year and New York was one of them. Decided it was over the budget I have this year, but doable so I’ll consider it in the future. I’ll definitely come back to this article when the time is right 😉

    • Clare says:

      It’s definitely something you need to do! Glad you thought the article helpful enough that you’ll revisit! That’s what it’s all about for me 🙂

  • liz Eskridge says:

    Great suggestions! It looks like you had a blast! The next time you visit you need to check out Family In New York! They offer private custom New York tours. They can create a custom tour just for you that is sure to be the highlight of your trip! They will make sure you get to see everything you didn’t see on your first trip and make sure you have a great time doing it!

  • martin roger says:

    I love travelling and haven’t gone on a trip for the past 6 years. I’m due one. I have a very long travel bucket list. New York is on it. Thanks for sharing such an amazing post with us…

  • johanna says:

    You had a great trip there. You have some pretty nice pictures to show from your holiday. I went to New York 4 years ago and it was an unforgettable experience. I am glad i found this site – reservationcounter.com as I don’t think I would have been able to find a hotel in my price range elsewhere. I would definitely recommend NYC to anyone who has not signed this amazing city in his/her bucket list.

  • Tourst NY says:

    awesome article:) a lot more to me than you can learn from commercial guides. Plus an amazing photo of “Empire State Building” and “central in Midtown” nothing but start to sell these photos to newspapers:)))

  • Maggie says:

    Great to see that you enjoyed tour to new York.Amazing pictures!! It gives me excellent enjoyment to look at your blog and delight in your excellent content here .

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