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first timers guide

North America Travel Planning

A First Timer’s Guide To New York City

NYC is my forever home, and I’m so proud of my city. The hustle, the diversity, the beauty… I love it all so much. Every day I seem to discover a new side to New York, and I’ve been here for years! First timer’s in the city might feel overwhelmed by all there is to see and do in dear ol’ NYC – but today, I’ve gathered up my top recommendations. (After hosting many friends and family members, it’s always nice to have a go-to itinerary suggestions!) Without further ado, here is my first timer’s guide to NYC! Filled with must-do activities, some hidden treasures, my absolute favorite eateries, rooftop bars and photo stops as well.

To Do

Use The City Sightseeing Pass

If it’s your first time in NYC and you’re not keen on taking the subway just yet and not interested in wasting tons of money on expensive cabs and Lyfts all day, hopping on the Hop On / Hop Off bus on The Sighseeing Pass is one of the best ways to get around. ​​​​​​​

We know, we know… it sounds touristy, but it’s an efficient way to see majority of the city in a short time frame (especially if it’s your first time in the city). It also helps you get a the lay of the land. Just leave your bags with an NYC luggage storage company and start riding! This is super helpful, because you can mental notes of where you’d like to go back to visit and spend more time. The stops are in the most convenient locations and the buses run frequently too!

Head Downtown

Consider spending time in Downtown as the area has grown quite a bit over the years since 9/11. There are tons of things to do! Be sure to stroll along Stone Street and stop at the many bars and restaurants. Don’t miss out on check out the beautiful architecture at the Oculus (which also serves as a mall and a train station). Shopping at Brookfield Place is a treat… and afterward, I’d recommend heading to Pier 17 to catch stunning views of Dumbo and the water.

Rooftop Cinema

A movie night on the rooftop? Rooftop Cinema has a mission to transform nights at the movies to cinematic events like no other. Starlit evenings, cocktails, snacks, and a great movie selection… what’s not to love?

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Best Observation Deck – Top Of The Rock ​​​​​​​

Getting an iconic shot of the New York City skyline is a must for first timers, if you ask me! Because you want a view of the city with the iconic Empire State Building in it, Top Of The Rock is my top recommendation of observation decks. Plus, it’s the only deck with epic views of Central Park.

Insider Tip: reserve tickets in advance because they sell out! I personally love coming to Top Of The Rock at 8am because it’s the only time you can get photos without crowds in them!

Runner Up For Best Observation Deck – The Empire State Building 

Just as beautiful as Top Of The Rock’s perspective, and you’ll get a chance to see the well-established and world famous Empire State Building from the inside out. Every inch of the building is filled with such history!

One World Trade Center 

No modern trip to NYC for a first timer is complete without paying homage to the One World Trade Center. It’s such an emotional experience learning about the history here… and the architecture is simply stunning. It’s a fantastic place to people watch and have a moment of reflection. I also adore the viewpoint from One World Trade Center because you can see both downtown and uptown views, Brooklyn, New Jersey and the Statue of Liberty.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

P.S. I’d highly recommend coming to these places later in the evening. Observation decks are best to visit and photograph during golden hour/sunset!

Brooklyn Bridge

Sitting at 6,000 feet long, the Brooklyn Bridge has become just as recognized as the Manhattan skyline… and it’s simply not to be missed. No first timer’s guide to NYC would be complete without a recommendation to see the Brooklyn Bridge for yourself. Seeing the bridge early in the morning is an incredible experience. Minimal crowds, cool air and a stunning sunrise – it’s a photographer’s delight.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Little Italy

Little Italy is perhaps the most charming of the Manhattan neighborhoods This Italian immigrant haven has transformed over the years in Lower Manhattan, but it’s retained its traditional flair and commitment to the families, restaurants and businesses who brought it to life.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Williamsburg

Take a trip to the other side! If you have the time in your itinerary, I’d highly recommend exploring Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. P.S. a trip to Williamsburg’s William Vale is the perfect vantage point to get a look at the Manhattan skyscrapers from the riverfront.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

The Vessel

New to the NYC skyline is the modernist structure you’ve probably seen scattered around Instagram… the Vessel! Created as part of the Hudson Yard’s Redevelopment Project, this climbable landmark is the perfect place to people watch. The sculptural, honeycomb-esque design is truly unique against Manhattan’s skyscrapers and it’s the perfect backdrop for some photos too!

Dumbo

Once home to the ferry landing, Dumbo has become such a trendy part of NYC! I have a soft spot for it’s cobblestone streets, chic converted Brooklyn warehouses and up and coming cafes and restaurants. You’ll find people from all walks of life here, including many photographers soaking in the beauty.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Where To Eat & Drink

Au Za’atar

Au Za’atar has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants in the city! Their Lebanese/Middle Eastern menu is so special. Fresh ingredients, homemade recipes, an inviting space and a great vibe – I couldn’t recommend it more and their table side shawarma makes it such a fun experience!

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Supermoon Bakehouse

Famous for its cruffins (a delicious mix of croissant and muffins) – Supermoon Bakehouse puts a twist on traditional pastries and then some!

Mexicue

What once began as a Mexican BBQ food truck is now a full fledged staple in the city! Tacos, tequila, lots of interesting combinations of Americana/Mexican staple foods… it’s simply a great spot to meet up with friends.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Eggloo

Hong Kong’s famous egg waffles right in the heart of NYC! Their ice cream concoctions are so much more than just photogenic, they’re incredibly delicious.

The Loeb Boathouse

The Loeb Boathouse is one of my all-time favorite spots in New York City. The restaurant is set on the most peaceful pond where you can watch the row boats go by while having a drink outside on their patio or lunch/dinner inside of the restaurant. It’s my go-to destination to take New York first timers to get away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

Queensyard

Queensyard has one of the best views of The Vessel – and its British inspired menu is top notch! It’s the perfect mash up of English classics with an American twist. It’s an excellent brunch spot!

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

Mister Dips

An airstream trailer serving burgers, fries and soft serve ice cream? Yep! You read that right. Only in New York! Mister Dips is parked at the William Vale hotel, a 15,000 square foot public outdoor park overlooking the Williamsburg waterfront. It’s the perfect little spot to enjoy the weather, catch a view of the water and catch up!

Sadelle’s

Come here for one of the best bagel experiences in the city! Sadelle’s is a New York establishment with lots of history. A first timer’s trip in New York without a delicious bagel would be a sin.

Van Leeuwen

Vegan ice cream that actually tastes even better than the real thing (trust me). Van Leeuwen must do some kind of magic to create such delicious flavors!

Brooklyn Bagel

Another exceptional spot for a New York bagel! This time with a dash of more color and pizzazz. Brooklyn Bagel’s doughy goodness is hand rolled, kettle boiled and the perfect combination of chewy and crunchy. It’s a great breakfast spot!

Black Tap

The best burgers and milkshakes place! Black Tap has such a cool vibe. Their Soho menu is top notch and in a great location too! Be sure to order one of their infamous Crazy Shakes.

A First Timer's Guide to NYC

I hope you enjoyed this first timer’s guide to NYC! There’s no place quite like New York, that’s for sure. Be sure to check out more of our NYC posts!

Insider Tips Middle East Travel Planning

A First Timer’s Guide To Morocco

A First Timer's Guide To Morocco

Full of chaos, bewilderment and mystery, the country of Morocco is sure to challenge, entice and excite all your senses.

From the labyrinth of the Old Fes Medina to the chaotic souks of Marrakech, discovering the wonders of Morocco is an experience like no other. Full of colour, rich smells and exotic flavours, traditional Moroccan experiences are something to be seen, smelt, touched and heard by every adventure–craved traveller…

Fes – The Imperial City of Education

Fes is a geographically divided city between the New City and the Old Medina. The New City is westernised and home to many universities. There is a stark contrast between socio-economic classes in Fes, made evident by the residential architecture where you will see huge modern mansions recently constructed just opposite abandoned, rusted old apartment blocks.

Fes used to be the Capital City of Morocco, however the current Capital City is Rabat since 1912. Fes is now one of 4 Imperial Cities and is referred to by the locals as the Capital City of Education due to its many universities and educational facilities.

A First Timer's Guide To Morocco

Where To Stay In Fes

If you want the full Moroccan experience, (and if you’ve come all the way to Morocco it would be a real shame not to) I suggest you research a beautiful riad to call home for the next few days. A Riad is a Moroccan term for “house”, and is beautifully decorated with mosaic tiles and marble pillars, boasting colour and character from every corner.

I stayed at the Riad El Amine, which was closely located just on the outskirts of the Old Fes Medina. Similar to what was described above, staying in a riad such as this made you feel as though you were experiencing traditional Morocco in every moment. Its always such a unique experience to stay somewhere that encapsulates so much of the country’s heritage and culture, and this riad was nothing short of that.

A First Timer's Guide To Morocco

Even the bathrooms had glittering golden sinks with brightly colourd velvet bedspreads, providing you with the rich Moroccan culture in every touch.

There were plenty of other riads located around this one but make sure to find one with a pool as it does get very hot during the warmer months!

What To Do In Fes

The main activity to do when in Fes is to experience first hand the traditional city’s way of life by taking a tour through the Medina.

The Old Medina of Fes is a labyrinth of Moroccan markets, stall owners, wholesalers, merchants, cafes and bars only to be discovered by foot through the narrow alleys. There are beautiful treasures to be found around every corner, as well as some stunning old architecture that once upon a time were schools, universities and even mosques. The cobblestone alleys are so crowded and narrow that it is utterly claustrophobic at times, so make sure to keep a firm hand on your belongings. You can get easily lost within this walls within 10 minutes as there are so many similar shops and stalls, its hard to differentiate which path you’ve taken depending on surroundings. Forget Google Maps, not even a satellite dish will find you in these chaotic and exciting alleys. The only way to do it as a first (and second, third, fourth etc) time traveller in Morocco is to have a Nationally Accredited Tour Guide to show you the way.

We booked ours at the riad in which we stayed but there are also plenty of tour guide websites available for you to book online.

Confronting? Yes. Scary? Maybe at first. Enjoyable? Absolutely. It will take you straight out of your comfort level, exposing you to a whole new way of life. Which is exactly the point of travel, really. If you want to be educated, entertained and excited by a new place then Fes is the perfect city to challenge your comfort zone. The stalls and

Make sure you book a tour guide – I can’t stress enough that if you go alone, its quite likely you will be completely lost within 10 minutes who knows how long it’ll be until you find your way out again.

A First Timer's Guide To Morocco

A tour guide will take you through the mysterious alleys, pull you aside when to avoid being run over by a donkey and take you to see how certain manufacturers make their goods. They’ll take you to see how an Agave plant can be turned into a silk scarf and the ways in which goats assist in creating Argan Oil. Its exceptionally overwhelming yet captivating and wildly exciting all at the same time.

The tour usually takes around 4 hours but it will go by very quickly.

It is highly likely you may be quite physically and mentally exhausted after this activity so one thing I loved to do in Morocco was to soak up that warm sunlight on the rooftop of the medina and relax the next day. It is truly beautiful just to sit and absorb the environment around you, enjoying the peace and tranquillity after a busy day exploring the Medina.

Where & What to Eat In Fes

Morocco has some of the most extravagant flavours and spices in the world, and entices even the fussiest tastebuds.

For breakfast, Moroccan homemade pastries, sweetbreads and brioche is popular served with jam, honey and a big pot of home brewed coffee. Eggs are also a common option and bread is served with almost every meal. I noticed that Moroccans love to serve carbohydrates in the morning mainly, and then have a large vegetable based meal in the evening. Fruits are not as commonly found here as other countries but seasonal fruits will usually be served after supper.

As a vegan / vegetarian (vegan is not common terminology in Morocco so vegetarian is the term they usually associate with) I was very conscious that it may have been asking too much considering Morocco is known for cooking some amazing meat based dishes.

However I was more than compensated for with exotic Moroccan vegetarian dishes such as Moroccan salads and Vegetable Tajines.

A First Timer's Guide To Morocco

A Moroccan salad is not a traditional salad – it is a combination of seasonal vegetables some cooked and some raw that are mixed with chillis, spices and other delectable flavours. The main vegetables served were eggplant, carrot, zucchini, capsicum, olives, tomato and chilli.

Cous cous is also a popular ingredient to cook with, and really delicious with Vegetable Tajine which is like an assortment of cooked vegetables in a broth, toppled with caramelised onions and toppled with chickpeas and olives. The dishes are very creative and very tasty, so don’t be afraid to order the vegetarian dishes as they are incredibly filling too!

One of the best restaurants we went to in Fes was the Riad Fes Maya, which in my opinion, holds the best rooftop views of the Medina. Serving typical Moroccan cuisine with a panoramic view of the city, it is the perfect spot to watch the sun go down after a long day exploring the souks.

A First Timer's Guide To Morocco

What Are The Locals Like?

 The locals of Morocco are seriously accommodating and friendly people, especially to tourists. Although at times they can be quite intimidating as Caucasian skin toned people such as myself are rare to come by there, the locals are welcoming and generous. You will not go unnoticed throughout the Medina however it will usually just be a greeting or a stall owner inviting you into their shop.

The hospitality service they provide is excellent as they are very respectful and accommodating people. I loved listening to their stories about their families, where they grew up and where they studied. Majority of the locals are bi-lingual and speak fluent French, Arabic and Spanish so I would recommend learning a few phrases here and there to get by. Most of the locals however do speak English so don’t worry if languages was never your thing during school.

 

Marrakech – The Capital Economic Centre of Morocco

Upon arrival from an 8hr train ride from Fes, Marrakech is like a big pink oasis amidst the dry palmerie of Morocco. Immediately you notice the mosques scattered across the city that is mostly made up of beautiful sunset-pink buildings. The city could remind you of a Miami vice feel, with all the palm trees and pink buildings however the culture is completely different. The local religion is Muslim and most of the locals are wearing traditional attire, embroided with gold lace and colour.

The buildings of Marrakech are painted peachy pink tones resembling colours of the sunset rather than cream or white. This is to reduce glare of the sun during the hotter months. The city is a lot more modern than Fes, and much more open spaced.

Not unlike Fes, the city is geographically divided between the New City and the Old Medina. The New City is more westernised and home to many locals with large gardens and high walled fences.

Marrakech is also one of 4 Imperial cities of Morocco and known as the Capital of Economy in Morocco.

Where To Stay In Marrakech

The hospitality and hotel industry in Marrakech is sublime – there are so many beautiful hotels to choose from and all are so uniquely designed!

I had stayed in a riad in Fes so I felt I had properly experienced the traditional Moroccan accommodation, so I decided to book a hotel in Marrakesh instead. Riads are beautiful and have a little more personal hospitality than hotels, however if you are looking for big spacious areas and privacy I would recommend booking a hotel..

The hotel I stayed in was possibly one of the best hotels I’ve stayed – Tigmiza Suites and Pavillions, located 10km outside of the city centre.

Tranquil, luxurious and utterly peaceful are a few words to describe the atmosphere and vibe of the hotel. Although this hotel is priced higher than an average hotel, it is worth every cent. The service, staff, food and facilities were all impeccable and we were even lucky enough to be upgraded to one of the suites!

With all the hustle and bustle going on in the city centre of Marrakech, it is truly essential to find a hotel that you can find some peace and quiet in to counteract the intensity of the Medina Souks.

During our stay in Morocco we also took the time out to visit some other beautiful hotels and riads that have high ratings and positive reviews. These include:

  • La Mamounia Marrakech: located in the city centre
  • Le Riad Yasmine – also located in the city centre of Marrakech
  • La Sultana Marrakech
  • La Maison Arabe Marrakech

A First Timer's Guide To Morocco

What To Do In Marrakech

Visit the Marrakech Souks

Overwhelming, eye opening and at times a total shock the senses, the Marrakech souks are something special. The souks are unlike anything else I’ve seen before, and the magic and creativity found in these markets are extraordinary.

As you enter the Djemaa – El –Fnaa (The Central Square), you will begin to experience the amazement of the Moroccan marketplace culture. From handcrafted silver and gold jewellery to handmade carpets, golden lanterns to exotic spices as well as an abundance of leather goods, there is something on every corner to marvel at. You will however come across some stalls that may be selling somewhat confronting goods such as food/meat stalls selling camel and goat heads. Keep in mind it is all part of the experience, and just keep calm and carry on!

The Central Square is an open marketplace, which allows a preview of what’s in store as you enter deeper into the souk labyrinth. Take your time here to absorp the routine of persuasive and pushy stallkeepers, keeping in mind that you should be bargaining to at around half their initial price point.

A First Timer's Guide To Morocco

I would suggest hiring a guide to take you through to the specific parts of the souk that you would want to go to, such as the olive souks where you can try every type of marinated olive seemingly known to mankind, or the jewelery souks where you can find beautifully handcrafted pieces. Having a guide will also be a way of protection from all the gypsies and snake charmers that disrupt your path. My brother actually had a monkey placed on his head by a gypsy who wouldn’t take it off until he was paid!

Beware of the kindest of locals. A lot of the locals will spot foreigners and act as a guide through the chaos of the souk, but they expect to be paid from this – they certainly won’t mention it at the beginning though!

Book A Camel Tour / Quad Bike Through The Marrakech Palmerie

If you have a few days free in Marrakech, or in any of the 4 main cities of Morocco, it is highly recommended to book a tour out into the Sahara Desert.

Depending on the tour company, these expeditions usually go between two to four days, where you could be ‘glamping’ under the stars and waking up in admist one of the great wonders of the world.

For those who don’t have time to go to the Sahara desert for two days out of their schedule, Camel Tours in the Marrakech Palmerie is a perfect alternative to still get your cultural dose of camel riding and take those insta-worthy shots.

A First Timer's Guide To Morocco

The palmerie is about 10 minutes outside of the Medina and there are a few different companies that offer organised tours, for just 2 hours including transport as well as a yummy Moroccan mint tea after your ride. 2 hours was a perfect amount of time for you to get accustom to your camel and watch the sunset from a camel’s back!

The tour guide I had was so lovely, and despite not knowing much English he was still very friendly and always offering to take photos for us and check that we were having fun!

You can find the exact same tour I did through this link… but there were also options to go quad biking in amongst the Oasis Palmerie which I would have loved to do but ran out of time! Definitely will be on my list for when I return someday hopefully soon.

A First Timer's Guide To Morocco

Day Trip To Essouira

Despite the harsh desert landscape that usually comes to mind when thinking of Morocco, the country has some stunning beaches that are worth taking a day trip to. One of the best beach towns would be Essouira, a 2hr train ride out from Marrakech.

Unfortunately I was unable to go there myself however the town is said to be beautiful and perfect for surfers. If the hotel’s pool isn’t quite quenching the heat enough for you, then definitely consider getting out of the hustle of Marrakech for an ocean swim.

Where & What to Eat In Marrakech

The availability of delicious, traditional food is endless in Marrakech and most hotels welcome tourists for lunch or dinner, so don’t feel as though you aren’t allowed to check out some of the neighbouring accommodation.

We stayed at Tigmiza Suites and Pavillions and usually ate breakfast there, offering an assortment of French influenced food such as croissants, pastries and crepes as well as fresh fruit and omelettes. One evening we journeyed out to La Sultana Marrakech to have dinner up on their stunning rooftop.

Mojitos and olives were ordered to start the evening, followed by some delicious Vegetable Cous Cous and more assortments of Moroccan salads. The menu options are relatively similar between hotels however each restaurant will use various ingredients.

Watch out for cocktails though – we ordered two cocktails at this hotel and it turned out to be $60 AUD! Cocktails are very expensive in Marrakech hotels, as they tend to use more expensive ingredients and spirits. Make sure to read the pricing of their menu carefully!

A First Timer's Guide To Morocco

A few other restaurants that are highly recommended by multiple articles and websites are;

  • La Maison Arabe (Derb Assehbi, Marrakesh 40000)
  • Le Salama Marrakech (40 Rue Des Banques, Djema El Fna, Marrakesh 40000, Marrakech)
  • Al Fassia (55 Boulevard Mohamed Zerktouni, Gueliz, Marrakech)
  • Café Glacier – (Overlooking Djemaa el Fna (the main square)

What Are The Locals Like & What Do Women Wear?

The locals of Marrakech are similar to those in Fes in terms of being accommodation and friendly. Their eyes lit up when I told them I was Australian, as they seem to be flattered I had travelled so far to come and see their country.

If you are unable to communicate in Arabic or their traditional language Berber, do not fear: as one of the main capital cities, most locals speak English and are fluent in French or Spanish.

In choosing what to wear, try to keep in mind that it is a Muslim culture and respecting their dresscode is important. No you will not be spat on if you decide to wear a short dress, just try to make sure that you have a shawl or something to maybe cover your shoulders.

A First Timer's Guide To Morocco

I wore long flowy pants with a cropped singlet and I was perfectly fine when walking through the Medina. Within the major cities of Morocco, they are exposed to tourists everyday and understand that our dress code is different in some parts of the world. However, I wouldn’t walk around in tiny shorts and a little crop top as you may at home – you will NOT go unnoticed and may attract a lot of unwanted attention and comments. Just be sensible and remember that maxi skirts and dresses are also in fashion and widely accepted in Morocco.

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