In an effort to showcase my adopted city of New York more often, I decided to write an overview of the things to do, places to see and foods to eat in New York City. But, because there are a bajillion and one things to do, places to see and foods to eat, I felt I had to break this up into sections, hence this is only part one! This first overview is for the NYC newbie — it's your first or maybe second time in New York and you're looking to visit some of the tourist spots (no shame in that; I do that as well when I travel) but also have experiences that aren't quite on the beaten path.
As a resident of New York for more than 12 years (Yikes! Feeing old...), and as someone who has lived in multiple neighborhoods and has friends sprinkled around the city, I feel as though I have an ever-growing NYC guidebook in my head, so might as well start to get some of these recommendations out of my brain and onto this blog.
With that settled, let's get down to business:
- Grab a drink at Bar SixtyFive at Rainbow Room: It's becoming increasingly known that, instead of buying tickets to go to the top of the Empire State Building, you should go to Top of the Rock instead, the "Rock" being 30 Rockefeller Center. That way you get the amazing NYC skyline with the Empire State Building in it. But I say ditch the tickets for the Top of the Rock observation deck and instead head to Bar SixtyFive. Same great view (the bar is on the 65th floor), but you get to enjoy it with a drink in hand.
- Have a picnic (or hot chocolate if it's cold) in Central Park: The most popular park in New York is a must-visit for a reason. It's beautiful, huge and an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city. I love Central Park most during the spring and fall seasons. In two words, it's magical. But no matter what time of year you visit, Central Park is always worth it. One of my favorite NYC activities is to grab some food, head to Sheep Meadow or another area in Central Park and have a picnic with friends. If you're not in the mood for a picnic or hot chocolate, you can try boating or walking around the reservoir, or just wandering and seeing where your feet take you.
- Stroll the High Line and Meatpacking District: The High Line is a totally different kind of park that's also worth seeing. Built on an elevated rail line, this park spans almost 1.5 miles along the west side of Manhattan starting in the Meatpacking District, running up through the neighborhood of Chelsea and ending at 34th Street. Whether you begin in the Meatpacking or end there, it's great to walk along the High Line and then check out the neighborhood, or vice versa. The Meatpacking District has a few great places worth seeing, like Chelsea Market and the Whitney Museum.
- Visit a museum: Speaking of museums, NYC has a lot. I feel like there might be a museum for everything, or almost everything, which is great. Whether you're into classic art and want to spend your day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka the Met) or you're looking for a more niche experience, like the Tenement Museum, there are so many great museums to visit. My personal favorites include the Met, the American Museum of Natural History and the Museum of the Moving Image. The third, lesser known museum is in Astoria, Queens and is well worth the subway ride across the East River.
- Window shop (or just regular shop) in one of NYC's shopping areas: I don't think one can come to New York and not do a bit of shopping. If you're not shopping at all in this city, then you're not doing it right. NYC has shopping choices for everyone. From the budget-conscious to the big spender, you will find it. There are a few well-known shopping areas that tend to have big designer names, like SoHo and 5th Avenue. Then you have areas full of boutiques and niche stories, and everything in between. Basically you'll have plenty of options when it comes to shopping.
- Times Square: 99.9% of New Yorkers will tell you how much they dislike Times Square. I may or may not be one of those people, BUT, despite my lack of love for walking through Times Square during rush hour, I still believe everyone should see this NYC staple both during the day and at night. During the day, you notice more details and get a real sense of just how busy this pocket of New York can be. Nighttime, though, is my personal favorite (if one can have a favorite of a place they don't love visiting). Times Square at night is electric. It's like being in the middle of a video game. I admit, when I do like Times Square, it's usually when I'm there at night.
- 9/11 Memorial and Oculus: I have a confession — I did not make it to the 9/11 Memorial for a very long time. Too long of a time. One day, I finally made a point to stop there on a warmish winter night and was thrown off by the experience. Any memorial is sad, but the combination of the memorial, the waterfall and the soft lighting (I was there at dusk)... it was something I regret not doing sooner but am glad I got to see. While down there, it's also worth checking out the new Oculus station, which will serve as the main transportation hub for the World Trade Center area. It's an architectural (and Instagram) dream. Be prepared to see it and take a whole lot of pictures.
- Brooklyn Bridge: This is a combination of something to do and something to see. Brooklyn Bridge is absolutely worth seeing, but the best way to see it is to walk across the actual bridge. Start either on the Brooklyn or Manhattan side (most people tend to do the latter) and make your way across this iconic piece of New York infrastructure while taking as many pictures as your heart desires — just stay clear of any cyclists passing by. It's one of the oldest bridges of its type in the U.S. and gives you prime views of the East River, lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge Park.
- A show: I strongly believe one MUST see a show when visiting New York. I don't necessarily mean a Broadway show, though you can certainly go for that, but New York has plenty of types of shows. There are comedy shows, improv shows, Broadway shows, Off-Broadway shows, Off-Off-Broadway shows, immersive shows, and so on, and so on. There are shows that are super, super cheap and then there are the ones where you have to buy tickets almost a year in advance and spend a pretty penny to see (I'm looking at you, Hamilton). Either way, you'll enjoy yourself. Some fun ideas: improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade, immersive theatre at Sleep No More and one of Broadway's many shows that offer rush and lottery tickets.
- The New York Public Library's Rose Main Reading Room: Generally speaking, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, known to most simply as the New York Public Library, is a beautiful building from both the outside and inside. But the best part of the library, in my opinion, is the Rose Main Reading Room. The historic space feels calming and majestic with its ceiling facade and intricate detailing. Unfortunately (and fortunately, I guess), the room is undergoing renovations but is scheduled to re-open again this fall.
- The NYC staples: This is a bit of a cop out, but I had to fit the NYC staples in somehow! And by staples, I mean a slice of New York City pizza, a bagel, some cheesecake and maybe a hot dog or deli sandwich, though the last one is not a requirement for me. As for the first three, you can ask many, many people where to find the best pizza/bagel/cheesecake and will get some very different answers. For pizza, Grimaldi's often comes up as a typical place to try, though I prefer the more modern take of Roberta's and also think the true NYC pizza experience is at a local joint in the boroughs. For bagels, forget everything you hear and head to Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company in Queens (I know — strange that it's named after Brooklyn but located in Queens). Best bagels ever. As for cheesecake, I like Junior's but I'm open to others' opinions here as I'm not a big cheesecake eater.
- All the food at Smorgasburg: This is not an exaggeration. Eat. All. The. Food. Even if you get full part way through, just keep going. In all seriousness, Smorgasburg is a foodie's heaven. It's a food market that originated in Brooklyn (but has since expanded) and has a slew of vendors selling delicious, delicious, delicious food. Did I mention the food was delicious? You can spot the popular vendors by the length of their lines, but it doesn't mean the other vendors don't deserve some love. Just make sure to arrive hungry and pace yourself.
- Brunch on a weekend: As I have mentioned before, weekend brunch in New York City is an experience in itself. From the bottomless drinks variety to the casual, standard eggs and toast, it's all great to try. Just be prepared to either wait a long time or make reservations way in advance for the most popular brunch places. The great thing about brunch in New York, though, is that the places that may not be as popular are still really great! So give them a try.
- Food from a food truck: I love a good food truck, which is fortunate for me because New York has plenty. I remember when I first brought my parents to a food truck in New York to buy something to eat, they were initially very wary, but then they took their first bite and were hooked. My absolute favorite food truck is Wafels & Dinges. I strongly urge everyone to visit this food truck and get the belgian waffle with spekuloos spread, nutella and whipped cream. Wildly unhealthy but so freakin' good! Other food truck recommendations: Nuchas, Van Leeuwan, King of Falafel and most taco trucks.
- A Michelin-starred meal: This is for the visitor who wants to splurge on a fine dining experience. New York is home to many a Michelin-starred restaurant with some of the most renowned names in the culinary world displaying their talent to the masses. Places like Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin and Per Se offer the opportunity to splurge but on a meal that you know is going to be well worth it. So I say go for it and then eat the rest of your meals from a food truck to balance it all out.
That's it for part one! More to come later with part two.
Have you been to any of these places? Do you have any NYC favorites?