New York City is one with dozens of nicknames, whether you prefer the “city that never sleeps” or the “Big Apple.” But one thing is for certain: the five boroughs have more than their fair share of personality squeezed into each neighborhood. Sometimes you forget you’re in a thriving metropolis and feel more like a number of towns. You can visit dozens of times and still not see everything, but this is a good place to start.
On Manhattan alone, there are dozens of neighborhoods worth visiting and that doesn’t even include those in Brooklyn and Queens. While each has their own parts worth visiting, namely Williamsburg, Bushwick and Astoria, I’m going to focus on those on the island of Manhattan.
Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea are where I’ve spent the most time, mostly due to their location near the Javits Center. Hell’s Kitchen was once a rough neighborhood but today is full of good restaurants, Gotham West Market and filming locations for television and movies. Nearby Chelsea is home to landmarks like The High Line and Chelsea Market, the city’s most popular food hall. You’ll also find art galleries, rooftop bars and even a driving range at the piers.
Greenwich Village is typically divided into East and West, separated by Broadway and the NYU campus. In the West Village, check out the Whitney Museum (on the border with the Meatpacking District) and Washington Square Park for a quiet afternoon. Also worth checking out are The Spotted Pig, a beloved gastropub by Chef April Bloomfield, and the Stonewall Inn, home of the modern LGBT movement. Over on the East side, stop by staples like David Chang’s Momofuku Milk Bar, Xi’an Famous Foods and McSorley’s Old Ale House, one of the oldest bars in the city.
Tribeca has a reputation for being upscale, but there are plenty of reasonably priced dishes to be had. The neighborhood below Canal Street is mostly known for the Tribeca Film Festival, started by actor Robert De Niro and held annually. And while not overly budget-friendly, Tribeca has many independent boutiques and shops. One memorable landmark is the Ghostbusters Building, the firehouse used in the movie.
Restaurants and Cafes
One of the best things about visiting New York is dining out. It can be overwhelming trying to decide where to go and getting reservations, but the good far outweigh the bad. Sometimes the best meals can be random neighborhood joints you happen upon. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but here are a few of my favorites from my frequent trips to New York. Most are under $20 per meal and you can also check out the best bites on one of many food tours.
Café Grumpy– This Brooklyn-based cafe has opened dozens of new locations around town and was featured on Girls. The baristas are anything but grumpy and the coffee and pastries are delightful. The Grand Central location is great for people watching.
Pick A Bagel– When looking for bagel sandwiches, salads, and soups, head to this westside eatery. I was impressed to see they even have tofu cream cheese for the vegans and non-dairy eaters.
Sullivan Street Bakery– This small bakery has a cult-like following amongst those in the know, particularly for their pastries, particularly the bomboloni, and the breakfast sandwiches.
Tacombi at Fonda Nolita– I visited this pop-up style restaurant with a friend that felt more like a street in Mexico than a building in New York City. They serve up tacos and cocktails at metal tables and chairs while the kitchen is located in an old VW bus.
Cafe Mogador– This Village cafe was recommended to me by a coworker for its Mediterranean fare and brunches. The decor makes you feel like you could be in Paris, especially the patio. Be sure to try the spicy eggs and a cappuccino.
GENUINE– Located in Gotham West Market, Genuine is modeled after a roadside eatery. Here you’ll find American favorites like fried chicken, breakfast burritos, and fish tacos. Admire the vintage-inspired decor and play a board game while you wait for your food.
Zutto Japanese American Pub– After reading about it in a magazine, my sister and I met a friend at Zutto, which soon became our favorite spot. There may not be many seats, which means you should make a reservation if you can, but the sushi and spicy ramen are worth it.
Pure Thai Cookhouse– The small, authentic Thai restaurant always has a wait, but once you get inside it’s worth it. They serve up stir frys, noodles and bites like egg rolls and buns.
Bars and Nightlife
Nightlife is at the center of the city’s heartbeat, as you can find historic pubs that have remained unchanged since the early days of the city to the swanky cocktail lounges where celebrities mix and mingle.
McSorley’s Old Ale House– Named the oldest bar in the city, the bar was established in the late 1800s and men’s only until the 1970s. Nothing has been removed from the walls since 1910 and they only serve their own house beer.
Jeremy’s Ale House– This South Street Seaport dive is memorable for the dozens of bras hanging from the ceiling. The drinks are cheap but beware the bathrooms.
The Press Lounge– Located atop the Ink48 Hotel, here you’ll find sweeping views of the Hudson as well as the westside. The drink prices can be steep and the lines can be long on weekends, but you can’t put a price on the atmosphere.
Onieal’s– I went to this bar on the Sex and the City Tour, as it’s where Steve and Aiden opened Scout, but it was also a Prohibition-era bar with a tunnel to the police station.
Professor Thom’s– The college crowd and beyond loves the cheap drinks and events like television viewing parties. The bar is named after the country’s first celebrity bartender Jerry Thomas.
Brooklyn Brewery– And, of course, visit the city’s original craft brewery, located in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. They’re open for tours daily but get there early.
Things to Do
New York City has hundreds of things to do for both first time visitors and locals. Once you’ve done the big ticket items, like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Times Square, look for the more cultural experiences and check out the city’s many public parks.
The Morgan Library & Museum– What started as a private library for robber baron J.P. Morgan is now a museum devoted to art and the printed word. See the historic library, with its original volumes. It’s a worthy break in the standard museum mile.
High Line Park– Perhaps the most popular green space to be created in the last fifty years, the High Line is made of a converted elevated rail line that now hosts concerts, art shows, and food vendors.
Ground Zero– It’s important to visit the September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero even if you decide not to go to the Museum, which opened last year. Visiting both require purchasing tickets.
Brooklyn Bridge – The famous bridge is free to walk across and has great views of the city. Just be sure to watch out for bicyclists who won’t hesitate to veer around you and yell if you’re walking slowly or in the wrong lane.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum– There are many art museums worth visiting in New York, including the Met and MOMA, but the Guggenheim is recommended for its famous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed architecture and exhibits on modern art.
Circle Line Cruises– There’s no better way to see New York City than by water. I took the Harbor Lights cruise, which left from the Westside down to Battery Park and the Freedom Tower, past Hoboken, looping around Brooklyn, and returning past Lady Liberty at night.
I also recommend checking out some of the On Location Tours NYC TV & Movie Tour that visit your favorite locations from Sex and the City, The Sopranos and many more. For local experiences of New York City neighborhoods, check out Urban Adventures tours.
It’s easy to go crazy when shopping in New York City, particularly when it comes to the major flagship stores here. There are also bargain lover’s dreams to be had at places like Century 21. Apart from clothing, here are a few of my favorite stores to check out when in town.
ABC Carpet & Home– Design lovers will fall head over heels for this store that sells so much more than carpet. Their displays are like Anthropologie but better, featuring home furnishings and other gift items. They also have an in-house restaurant.
The Strand– Dubbing itself “18 miles of books,” you could spend hours roaming through the shelves of this New York City landmark. They carry all genres and regularly host author readings and relevant events.
Eataly– The restaurant/beer garden/classroom/Italian food hall sells everything a foodie and Italophile could want, from fresh pasta to small-batch olive oil to espresso.
Where to Stay
Finding a deal on a place to stay in New York City depends heavily on what neighborhood, time of year and price range. The further away you are from areas like Times Square and Central Park, the less expensive it’s bound to be.
Ink48– My go-to hotel in New York is usually this Kimpton property, which was chosen by my bosses, but it’s a great hotel that provides daily tea and coffee, bike rentals, an in-house restaurant and bar and plush bathrobes. There’s also a spa and they provide C.O. Bigelow toiletries.
Ace Hotel New York– For a hip and more pricey stay, the Ace is where you want to be. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of staying here, but I have visited their bar. They have all sorts of rooms, including bunk beds in smaller rooms to full suites.
The Row NYC– Similar to the Ace, The Row is a new property in the heart of Times Square and just as busy. You choose what size room you want and can take advantage of amenities like the free Wifi, computers for use, bar and restaurant and 24-hour shop.
The Jane Hotel– Another small but quirky property, The Jane has bunk bed rooms and larger rooms for a higher rate. All are reminiscent of sleeping on board a ship as it was originally a home for sailors.
Don’t forget about AirBnB as an option either, but expect to find more options in the outer boroughs like Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and across the river in New Jersey.
New York City is easy to get around if you know where to find the subway stops. MetroCards can be reloaded and are good for a number of years. You can use them on buses and trains, which can take you from the airport. Get yourself a map or an app on your first day to figure out where you’re going. Also keep in mind that the entrance to the direction you want to travel might be across the street or down the block. Be mindful of how late your chosen train runs and make sure you don’t accidentally end up on an express train that skips your stop, as I did once. Follow the MTA website for rail delays and updates.