NYC For First Timers - 10 Experiences You Need To Have


Sofiya •  Apr 04, 2016

Travelling to New York City is exciting for so many reasons. From modern skyscrapers and historical attractions to bustling streets and diverse cultures, there are many sights and sounds that Muslim travellers can discover. Otherwise known as 'The Big Apple', it comes to no surprise why New York is one of the most popular cities in the world.

Credit: Giphy

While there are many interesting things to discover in New York, it can feel overwhelming for first-time travellers. When is the best time to visit? Where can you find halal food in New York? If you're visiting the Big Apple for the first time, read our ultimate first-timer's guide to New York before you book your flight ticket!

#HHWT Tip: If you really want to visit all of the different tourist attractions, it’s best that you get the New York pass because you get to save a lot of time and money, instead of paying for individual tickets. Also, the lines to get into the more famous buildings tend to be longer during major holidays like New Years Eve. NYC is a very expensive city, so make sure you plan ahead the places you want to visit.

Best time to visit


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Summer (June – August): In the summer, the heat in the city can be pretty brutal. If you’re unlucky, you might experience the occasional heat wave. But not to worry, travelling during this period shouldn’t be a problem, but there are several things that you should have with you at all times: hat, a bottle of water and sun-screen.

Autumn/fall (September – November): The fall is a very nice weather transition. The weather is very cool and not too cold. By this time, you will need a light jacket and covered shoes (like sneakers and boots). But sometimes, the fall can be a little tricky. Depending on the year, winter and snow can come early so make sure you always check the weather report!


Winter (December – February): Make sure you have the proper clothes to keep you warm because it can get very cold! Be sure to bring an additional scarf or a winter hat to keep yourself warm from the chilly wind.

Spring (March – May): Like fall, spring can be a little tricky too. We often think that spring means the blossoming of flowers and cooling weather like in the fall. Although that is true but sometimes it can be a little cold (and even snowing) in the spring. Be sure to check the weather report! Don’t forget to bring a light jacket, umbrella and a couple of shoes just in case you get caught in the rain and need a new pair for the next day.

Must-see experiences

1. Say hello to Lady Liberty


If you’re into culture and history, then visiting the Statue of Liberty is a must! With only $18, you get to be on a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty which includes an audio tour at Ellis Island (but if you buy the NY pass, both of these tours is already included). Ellis Island used to be an immigration stop, so going for the audio tour will give visitors a chance to understand and explore how America became a “melting pot”.

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I highly recommend the audio tour because it really gives you a detailed explanation on how immigrants came to the United States and how they eventually assimilated. It’s normally colder at New York Harbour so please make sure to bring proper clothing for this tour!

Opening Hours:8.30am to 4pm, daily

Admission Fee: Prices start from USD18 for adults

Nearest train station (for ferry): Whitehall Station/South Ferry Station - alight and walk to Battery Park

2. Take a stroll in Central Park



Central Park is a big, beautiful park nestled in the middle of the city. After hours of exploring the hustle and bustle of the city, walking around or taking a bike tour in Central Park is the perfect way to end the day. If you feel adventurous, you could rent a bike for $15. If you’re too tired and just want to relax, you could always have a picnic at the park (who knows, if you’re lucky you may be able to spot a celebrity strolling in the park).

[Check Out: Top 18 Places You Need to Visit in 2016]

Belvedere Castle in Central Park

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There are so many things to see in Central Park- the Great Lawn, Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Fountain and Central Park Zoo and Wildlife Center, to name a few. If you visit the park in the winter, you can always skate at the Wollman Ice Skating Rink. I enjoyed just strolling along the park and watching other tourists and New Yorkers spend their time in the park. I had an amazing time enjoying the scenery during sunset which was really breath taking.

Opening Hours: 6am to 1am, daily

Admission Fee: Free

Nearest Train Station:There are a number of entry points into the park. You can alight at Columbus Circle or Natural History Museum.

3. Get a special tour at the Rockefeller Centre

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Credit: Thousand Wanders

The Rockefeller Center is one of the many great landmarks of NYC. It was built by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller in 1939 (I know, it was built way back in the day). The Rockefeller Center is an attraction for many tourists for its famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and is home to many NY events and popular shows like Saturday Night Live (this was the one I enjoyed the most!) The tour guide explained all of the mechanics of the show when it runs live, so it was interesting to get see where all the magic happens. If you get the New York pass, they may give you a behind the scenes tour!

Opening Hours: Tours are scheduled every half hour beginning at 10am each morning (excluding 6pm and 6.30pm), daily. The plaza opens from 8.00 a.m. to midnight.

Admission Fee: USD20

Nearest Train Station:Rockefeller Ctr

Contact: +1 212 332 6868 | Website

4. Take a 'peak' of NYC from the top


Credit: PerryPlanet [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Rockefeller Center also has an observation deck, where you get to see a bird’s view of New York City. You definitely wouldn’t want to miss getting a glimpse of such a breath taking view of New York. (Tip: if you’re going in the winter, I highly recommend that you bring a scarf AND a hat to cover your face from the harsh cold wind). It’s best to come up in the summer as you’ll get to take your time enjoy the view. The last time I went there, I came in the winter so can you imagine! My face was practically frozen after 5 minutes of standing outside.

Opening Hours: 8am to midnight, last ticket at 11pm, daily.

Admission Fee: Ticket prices start at USD32 for adults

Nearest Train Station:Rockefeller Ctr

Contact: +1 212 332 6868 | Website

5. Get swept away by the magic of Broadway


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Apart from the historic landmarks, NYC is also known for their arts and humanities. If you’re a musical junkie, then you would definitely want to experience Broadway shows such as Wicked, Les Miserables and the School of Rock. If you think being in a concert is fun, wait until you experience a Broadway musical!


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Tickets are priced differently, depending on the show and the seating. It usually ranges above from $50 to $100 but if you’re lucky, you can get some tickets at a great discounted price. Broadway tickets are not included in the New York pass. (Tip: The safest way is to buy the tickets at the counter but alternatively, you can get them online on different websites such as Theatre Mania) If you’d ask me, Wicked was the best show in terms of its theatrical effects. Even though I was in the audience, I felt like I was in a totally different world!

P.S. Visiting London? Find out how to get cheap musical tickets

6. Shopping in Times Square

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When you hear Times Square, the first thing that comes to your mind is the huge disco ball on New Years. Yes, Times Square is definitely the place many people like to be that night but bear in mind, during winter, the weather at night can be extremely chilly. Most stores and restaurants will be closed which means that people will have to walk around in the cold AND not have much access to public restrooms. On top of that, people can get very rowdy.


Credit: Hotel Mela

But don’t worry! You can have fun at Times Square on any other day. You can find the biggest and the most popular retail stores and restaurants there (like Gap, Forever 21- which by the way, is almost as big as a mansion). Trust me, the girls will get so excited that they tend to spend hours just in one store. If you have a shopping problem like me, you might want to bring a friend who can put some restraint on you- and I am NOT kidding.

#HHWT Tip: Stores open till late!

Nearest Train Station:Times Square

7. Explore the wonders of Natural History

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The American Museum of Natural History is one of the biggest exhibitions on scientific specimens and discoveries. You don’t have to be a scientist or an environmentalist to appreciate what the museum has to offer. The exhibitions do not display merely pictures of wildlife, but replicas of fossils to create a real-life atmosphere of how great nature really is. Another museum that you might want to check out is the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum. If you have the NY pass, the admission fee is also included.

If you're a museum fanatic, don't forget to check out these 5 museums in London that are absolutely free!

Opening Hours: 10am to 5.45pm

Admission Fee: USD22 - adults

Nearest Train Station:Museum of Natural History

Contact: +1 212-769-5100 | Website

8. Snap selfies with your dream wax-celebrities at Madame Tussauds


Credit: Forbes

One reason you should see the wax figures at Madame Tussauds is because it’s just plain fun! We all wish that we could just MAYBE bump into a celebrity at NYC and snap a selfie. But why waste time dreaming of that to happen and instead, take selfies with the celebrities at Madame Tussauds? You can pose anyway you want and retake as many pictures as you like! Plus, whether you’re visiting the Big Apple in the summer or the winter, being indoors would be a great break from the weather.

P.S. If you're visiting Hong Kong for just 72 hours, check out the sights you have to hit - including Madame Tussauds in HK!

Opening Hours: 10am to 8pm, daily

Admission Fee: Prices start form USD24.75 for adults

Nearest Train Station:Times Square

Contact: +1 866-841-3505 | Website

9. Be a kid again in Coney Island

Credit: Giovanni Cerrieri

By now you might be tired from running from one building to the next, so spending a few hours at a theme park would be fun, especially if you have kids! But if you’re not into rides, you can just relax and take a stroll along the beach or on the boardwalk. It’s a nice change from the hustle and bustle of the city. Coney Island can also get very windy so be mindful of what you wear that day. Also, there will not be any rides in the winter so the best time to visit Coney Island is in the summer.

Admission Fee: Check here for prices

Nearest Train Station:Stillwell Avenue, will take around 45 to 60 minutes from midtown Mahanttan


Where to eat

1. Pizza and Pita


Credit: American Food Roots

New York is famous for its thin crust New York pizza and when you’re in NYC, it’s compulsory to try to eat like a local. Thankfully, there is a restaurant that serves halal pizza! Pizza and Pita serve not only pizzas but other delicious authentic halal food like gyro and garlic knots.

Opening Hours:

Mon to Wed - 10 am to 1.30am

Thu - 10am to 2am

Fri - 10am to 4.30am

Sat - 11am to 4.30am

Sun - 11am to 11.30pm

Prices: Around USD10 - 15 for a pizza

Nearest Train Station:33 St. It's around a 16min walk from Empire State Building.


2. The Halal Guys


Credit: The Halal Guys

The Halal Guys is probably the most famous food cart that you can find in the heart of NYC, plus they're halal (as the name suggests)! They have been operating for twenty-five years and they make the best Mediterranean food. The best part is that it’s affordable! You can get your kebab and gyros under $10! Trust me, after walking around in NYC, you will need A LOT OF FOOD to refuel and this is totally worth it :D If you get hungry easily just like me, you’d want to grab this in between your tours.


Credit: The Halal Guys IG

#HHWT Tip: One serving is probably enough for two (unless you have a huge appetite, then go for it). Get loads of white sauce and avoid the hot sauce if you can't take spice, they're not kidding about the spiciness.

Opening Hours: 10am to 5am

Price: USD5 to 7

Nearest Train Station:Main store at E 14th Street (Train station - 3 Ave), but they do have food carts around the streets. Look out for the one on 53rd street, right smack in the middle of the CBD! (Train station - 7th Av)

Contact: +1 212-533-7707 | Website

Where to pray

When travelling to America, bear in mind that there are not as many mosques as compared to Muslim countries. However, there are several Islamic Centers where they also provide space for congregational prayer. The major Islamic Centers are: The Islamic Center at NYU, Assafa Islamic Center and Islamic Council of America.


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#HHWT Tip: If you eat at a Muslim restaurant, there is a high chance that you can pray there as well. Worse comes to worse, if you really can’t find an Islamic Center, you can just pray at a park, or any clean area where there aren’t too many people. Many American Muslims do this every day, as there aren’t enough spaces of worship.

Travelling to New York City is very exciting and we can go on and on about the many experiences that you should have! No matter where you go, always remember to stay safe and ask around for questions (especially if you’re lost). There will be many people willing to help you :)