Great Sights for Your First Visit to New York City, part 2 – Midtown East/West and Times Square

Chrysler BuildingOne of my favorite buildings in NYC is the Chrysler Building, shown above in a great image by skeeze on Pixabay

Hello everyone! Today we continue with part 2 of Great Sights for Your First Visit to New York City. Many people spend their first trip solely in Manhattan, so I’ve been listing some of my favorite sights and restaurants for first time visitors! Today’s post covers sights in Midtown East, Midtown West and Times Square. 

If you haven’t been to New York before, you can see the neighborhoods on this map from Obviously, not everyone will be interested in the same things, so I’ve tried to include a variety of sights for all ages. Choose your favorites, just make sure to try and group your sightseeing geographically as much as possible!


Midtown East

Screen Shot 2019-02-28 at 8.03.10 PMThese spots would make a great day out in Midtown East…

This area has fewer attractions than Times Square and Midtown West. However, if you’re looking for  high end shopping or a hotel in a quieter area but still within easy walking distance to Times Square, this is a great place to stay! (For more tips on choosing a hotel in Manhattan, check out this post). With that said, there are some very cool places in Midtown East…

The United Nations (E. 46th and 1st Ave) is on the far east side of Manhattan, along the East River (the Hudson River runs along the west side of Manhattan); if you are interested in touring the UN click here for more info. Did you know they have a special children’s tour for ages 5-10? I remember touring the UN eons ago when I was in middle school, but have it on my list to visit again when I go back to NYC this summer.

The Daily News Building – If you’re a Superman movie fan, you might want to pop in and take a quick peek at the huge globe in the lobby of The Daily News Building (E 42nd St between 2nd and 3rd Avenues). In the 1978 film, it stood in for the lobby of the Daily Planet, the newspaper for which Lois Lane and Clark Kent worked.

Viewing the elegant curves of the Chrysler Building lit up at night sends a shiver through my soul! Visitors are allowed in the lobby of this beautiful Art Deco building, (on Lexington Ave between E. 42nd and E. 43rd St.), which tops my list of favorite NYC buildings; here are the details.

grand central terminalThe Main Concourse at Grand Central Terminal – Image by Pexels on Pixabay

Grand Central Terminal – Another iconic NYC landmark, Grand Central (at the intersection of Park Ave. and E 42nd St) is a great place to visit even if you’re not catching a train. Its immense Main Concourse has been featured in hundreds of movies, and there are shops and restaurants galore within the terminal, as well as a Whispering Gallery, the constellation ceiling painted full of stars, and a Tiffany glass clock. Opened in 1913, it was granted landmark status in 1978, protecting it from partial demolition. Read more here.

**Fun Fact: Many people call it “Grand Central Station”, but the correct name is Grand Central Terminal. A station is a waypoint along a train line, with other stops both before and after it, while a terminal is the end of the line. Grand Central Terminal is the southern end of  Metro-North Railroad’s Harlem, Hudson and New Haven lines.**

St Patrick’s Cathedral, with its entrance on 5th Ave between E. 50th and E. 51st St., is a soaring gothic cathedral built between 1858 and 1879. Archbishop John Hughes chose the site, considered “the wilderness” as it was far outside the bustle of the city, because he believed one day this area would be the heart of Manhattan (the project was often referred to as “Hughes’ Folly” in its early years). St Patrick’s offers guided tours on certain days (click here for the schedule) but most visitors simply wander in and grab a pamphlet or use the cathedral’s app for a self-guided tour.

When you’re hungry for a bite to eat, you can grab a bite at Grand Central Terminal, or if you’re in the mood for pizza and pasta, try the following places…

Serafina (great pasta and super thin crispy crust pizza just like we had in Italy) has several locations throughout Manhattan, including two in Midtown East (E 58th & Madison Ave or E. 61st between Madison and Park Ave). They also have a deep dish pizza, but my personal preference is the thin crust!

Patsy’s Pizzeria is another NYC institution, serving delicious NY style pizza (softer thin’ish crust, fold your slice and take a bite) since 1933. Two locations from which to choose, one very close to The Daily News Building and The United Nations at 801 2nd Ave (between E. 43rd and E. 42nd St); the other is just three blocks south of the Museum of Natural History, on the Upper West Side at the corner of W. 74th St. and Columbus Ave.

Midtown West

Screen Shot 2019-02-28 at 8.05.20 PMSome of my fave Midtown West/Times Square sights…

Moving on to Midtown West, let’s start with the New York Public Library (entrance on 5th Ave. between W. 40th and W. 42nd St), with the famous lion statues Patience and Fortitude, after whom the PBS show “Between the Lions” was named. This 1911 Beaux-Arts building offers a free film about the building, guided tours, exhibits (we saw a great one on the Vietnam War), a Children’s Center with a Winnie the Pooh exhibit and lots of programs and events; click here for the full visitors guide!

Just west of the library is Bryant Park – an outdoor oasis on Sixth Ave between W. 40th and W 42nd St. Bryant Park hosts outdoor movies in the summer, a Christmas market and small skating rink in winter, a carousel, and a myriad of other events year round. It’s a great place to grab a bite and let kids run off some steam!

If visiting the library gives you the urge to shop for books, Bookoff is a well-organized used bookstore on W. 45th St, between 5th and 6th Avenues. It has multiple levels and the books are well-priced, with a bargain shelf is each section. I picked up a couple of current novels here for just a few bucks each on my last visit.

Moving north, we come to the vast Rockefeller Center shopping, entertainment and business complex. Top of the Rock is located here, as is the Radio City Music Hall and NBC Studios. Rockefeller Plaza, home of the Christmas Tree during December and an ice skating rink in the winter (open from October-mid-April this year!), can be accessed via W. 49th and W. 50th Streets, but if you want the iconic approach with the Christmas Tree and skating rink view, enter from 5th Avenue between W. 49th and W. 50th, across from Saks Fifth Avenue. For guided tours of Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, or the NBC Studios, click here, or click here for an exhaustive list of happenings! I loved the tour of Radio City Music Hall – the day we were there, we got to sit in on a rehearsal of the Rockettes’ Christmas Show and my mother-in-law was thrilled to meet a Rockette in person! And those luxurious bathrooms!!!

**Note: Although Rockefeller Center is considered Midtown West and St Patrick’s is considered Midtown East, these two are diagonally across 5th Avenue (the dividing line) from each other, making them a great sightseeing pair!**

giovanni-tancredi-782571-unsplashThis is the view you’ll get from Top of the Rock at sunset…Photo by Giovanni Tancredi on Unsplash

Top of the Rock is my favorite observatory view in NYC. Your timed ticket includes an exhibit about the building of Rockefeller Center during the Depression and access to the 72nd floor for a great view over Manhattan. Their website helpfully indicates which times will get you the coveted sunset view – I like to go up about 30 minutes before sunset and stay to watch the lights of the Empire State Building come on. You’ll get a fabulous view of Central Park, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, and farther away views of One World Tower and the Statue of Liberty. See this post for a more in-depth discussion of the three observatory experiences in Manhattan.

**These tickets are usually pretty easy to get two or three days in advance, so I wait to book until I can see the weather forecast for the days I’ll be in NYC, and choose a sunny day!  Once you’re up there, you can stay for as long as you like.**

The Museum of Modern Art (also known as MOMA), is just two blocks north of Rockefeller Center, on W. 53rd St between 5th and 6th Avenues. I love the collection of Vincent van Gogh and Picasso works, but they also offer a film series and more cutting edge art as well! Click here for tips on visiting, and check out the discounts page here for info on free Fridays (free every Friday from 4-8 PM) and other discounts. Active members of the US Military, along with their families (with dependent cards), always get in free!

**Hot tip: If you are a member of a museum in your hometown, your membership might get you free admission to MOMA, which participates in a reciprocal programs with the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). Click here to see if your museum is a member of the AAM, and remember to pack your membership card and photo ID for two free admissions per card – that’s a savings of $50!!!**

If you’ve worked up an appetite viewing all that art, pop up to La Bonne Soupe on W. 55th St, (also between 5th and 6th Avenues), a cheery french bistro with yummy crepes, salads, steak frites and french onion soup, among other dishes.

If you’re heading towards Times Square, you can hit up Ellen’s Stardust Diner (corner of W. 51st St. and Broadway) for good (not great) food but lively entertainment – every server at the restaurant is trying to make it in Musical Theater and they frequently break into song! Ellen’s doesn’t take reservations, so there can be a long wait, especially at popular meal times – we sometimes go mid-afternoon for shorter lines, a milkshake and a snack.

For a less-touristy spot and much better food, keep going past Ellen’s to Blue Dog Cookhouse and Bar on W. 50th St between 8th and 9th Aves.  We found this tiny place when we were in NYC last January, and everything about our brunch, from the pumpkin stuffed french toast to the croque monsieur and the avocado toast, was divine! Definitely make a reservation if you can.

Times Square/Theatre District

anthony-rosset-1136889-unsplashThe bright lights and billboards of Times Square captured by Anthony Rosset on Unsplash

Times Square is an iconic sight for first time visitors – and you should at least swing through here for a quick look if it’s your first visit to NYC. It’s got the four C’s – it’s crowded, crazy, chaotic and classic New York! It’s also the home of the Theatre District so if you’re going to a show, you’ll be here as well.

Two places you’ll definitely want to visit if you have kids with you are M&M’s World and Hershey’s Chocolate World – these stores are so much fun! M&M’s World (Broadway and W. 48th St) used to be my favorite of the two, for the big M&M character statues scattered throughout the store, the walls of M&M’s in all flavors and colors where you can make your own mix (the colors of a favorite school or sports team make a great souvenir for those at home), and the booth that tells you what color of an M&M you would be, if you were an M&M. But Hershey’s Chocolate World has opened in a new location (7th Ave between W. 47th and W. 48th St) since I was in NYC last, and it looks like they’re stepping up their game to compete with M&M’s World – they now have a wall of candy also (lots of different varieties, which is nice) as well as an in-store s’mores experience and a Hershey’s bakery onsite. I’m adding this one to my list for my visit coming up in June – the research will be tough, but anything for my readers!

Seeing a show on Broadway is a quintessential NYC experience…if you haven’t bought tickets ahead of time, swing by the TKTS Booth in Times Square (Smack dab in the middle of the open pedestrian area between 7th Ave and Broadway at W. 47th St) to see if you can get some last minute tickets at a discount! The booth is run by the Theatre Development Fund, a nonprofit focused on sustaining the arts, so you can feel good knowing that a portion of your ticket price goes to a good cause. This link gives you details about the how it works (and a full list of locations in the city) and you can click here for a live view of that day’s availability.

**There’s no guarantee that a specific show will be available the day you go – if you have your heart set on seeing a specific show, you might want to book ahead. But if you’re flexible and will be happy seeing a variety of shows, you can always find something good! Weekdays tend to have the best selection, in my experience. Also, most shows are “dark” on Monday, (meaning they don’t have a show that day), so try to choose a different night for your theatre outing!**

“Dinner and a show” is a NYC tradition, and you’ll find that many restaurants have a pre-theatre menu for you to enjoy. But if you want to experience a “Southern Italian family feast”, go to Carmine’s!  Huge portions of all your Italian favorites are served family-style and the food is oh so good! The restaurant is tons of fun, but gets super busy, so definitely make a reservation if at all possible. It’s a big casual space, so it’s ideal for a large group and the spaghetti is always a hit with kids. You’ll want to save some room for after the show, however, because….

Another NYC tradition is to hit up Junior’s for some cheesecake after the show! Of course, they have way more than cheesecake, so if it’s a nice night, you could certainly eat dinner here on their patio before the show, but we like to head over as soon as the show is done and have a late night dessert and coffee. They don’t take reservations, but you can join the waitlist from a link on their website and it will give you an approximate wait time.

**For navigational help, Streets run East/West and numbers rise as you move north; Avenues run North/South and numbers rise as you move west. Fifth Avenue is the dividing line between West and East addresses (ex. W 58th St vs. E 58th St), and runs north along the east side of Central Park. Extra “named” Avenues (Park, Madison, Lexington, etc) are thrown in between the numbered ones, just to make it a little bit trickier haha!**

If you’ve read this far, thanks so much for sticking with me! I hope you found some of this info useful and let me know if I missed any of your faves…I’m making a list for my upcoming trip in June and would love to have some recommendations to check out 🙂

1 thought on “Great Sights for Your First Visit to New York City, part 2 – Midtown East/West and Times Square

  1. I’m sure you know this but you can download the TKTS app to get an idea of the shows that are often for sale. Also, there is a less known and less busy TKTS ticket office at Lincoln Center. It’s actually across the street from Lincoln Center.
    Not sure if you mentioned this in one of your earlier posts, but one of my favorite things to do is walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
    Also, you can schedule free walking tours to many of the neighborhoods in NYC. I loved the Harlem tour. The company is called Free Tours by Foot. I’ve actually used the company in 4 or 5 cities and found them to be very good. They are generally about 2 hours long which is about my attention time span!!!
    I really enjoy your blog and enjoy the tips very much!!


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