The Ultimate Guide To NYC
New York, New York...The city so good they named it twice - and for good reason! The bustling metropolis is like none other and caters for every taste, lifestyle and budget. I can't get enough of this stunning city and fully support the idea that everyone should visit at least once.
Every time I go, I fall in love with something new all over again. The sight of yellow cabs weaving their way through Times Square traffic and the impatient blasts of their horns forming the soundtrack to my sightseeing; The smell of roasted nuts and hot dogs from street vendors that sets my mouth watering and my stomach growling; The chill of the wind blowing through my hair as I walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, stopping regularly to stare at the expansive Manhattan skyline behind me; even after nearly a dozen trips to the Big Apple, I still feel I have barely scratched the surface of the city that never sleeps.
The energy that New York runs on is felt the moment you set foot in this vibrant, culture-filled, romantic whirlwind of a city. Comprised of 5 boroughs, each with it's own distinct personality, New York is like nowhere else in the world.
The Bronx is the most northern of the NYC boroughs and has something of a reputation as the roughest and toughest borough of New York. Whether you agree with this or not is up to you. Personally, I find The Bronx, the only mainland borough of the city, to be no worse off than the rest of NYC in terms of crime and violence. Not only is The Bronx home to some stunning Art Deco houses along the Grand Concourse (albeit severely run down for the most part) but they are also home to 27 time World Series Winners - The New York Yankees - one of the most famous sporting teams of all time! Be sure to take a trip to Yankee Stadium if you get the chance.
TRIVIA: Did you know that the New York Yankees started in 1901 and were called the Baltimore Orioles (nothing to do with the current Baltimore Orioles team!) before being bought to New York under the name New York Highlanders in 1903. They were finally renamed as the Yankees in 1913.
Brooklyn is considered to be Manhattan's younger brother. Life in Brooklyn is significantly more chilled and relaxed than in it's commercialised counterpart and as a result, Brooklyn finds itself home to college students, young families and those who want to be a part of the hubbub without being swallowed whole by it. The quiet coffee shops and calm neighbourhood streets may soon be a thing of the past however as the up and coming borough has been scouted for success with more and more New Yorkers moving to Brooklyn to take advantage of it's current cheaper rent and semi-peaceful lifestyle.
Queens may be thought of as the least attractive of the 5 NY boroughs. This area is best known for it's multi-cultural communities. After World War Two, Queens became very popular with immigrants as it was one of very few places where it was possible for immigrants to buy their own houses and start their own communities. Astoria in Queens is currently home to the largest Greek community outside of Greece in the world! If food, drink and art are what you are looking for then it may be worth paying a visit to Long Island City. If you are more interested in sports then be sure to head to Flushing to check out the Yankee's rival team: The New York Mets.
Staten Island is the most commonly forgotten of the five boroughs. Connected to Manhattan via ferry, the island doesn't have a lot to offer for tourists but is home to a large number of New Yorkers that work in the inner city. The southern-most tip of New York State is best known for the free Staten Island Ferry. These large orange boats are extremely popular with tourists who want to catch a glimpse of Lady Liberty herself without having to pay out for specific Statue of Liberty tours.
Last but most certainly not least, we are left with Manhattan. This borough is the most popular and well-known of the five and is what most people think of when they think of New York. Divided into 3 sections (Downtown, Midtown and Uptown) and then again split down the middle to create the East Side and the West Side, Manhattan is made up of countless neighbourhoods, again with their own personalities.
Downtown (which is essentially everything south of 14th Street) is vibrant, exciting and up and coming. When I visited with SO this month he made a comment about how you could feel the difference between neighbourhoods just by crossing the street and it is so true. Downtown Manhattan offers The Financial District, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Little Italy and the ever expanding Chinatown. While Little Italy and Chinatown remain a good spot for bargain-hunting tourists, they are just a stone's throw away from the upmarket shopping districts of Tribeca and Soho. As well as shopping galore, many a celebrity are fond of the lifestyle in the area and have bought expensive property here so keep your eyes peeled for a sneaky selfie opportunity! The same goes for the former Bohemian paradises of Greenwich Village (also known as the West Village) and the East Village. While still desperately clinging to their free-spirited roots that made these areas so popular in the first place, the East and West Villages are rapidly finding themselves up there as one of the most desirable places to live in the city.
As you work your way further north into Midtown you will find yourself approaching the busy bee-hive that is central Manhattan. There is no escaping it so you may as well go with it. If you can't beat them, join them!
Midtown you have the Flatiron District (and of course it's architectural stunner - the Flatiron Building), Gramercy Park and Madison Square Park - the first hint at the man-made green spaces around the city. Union Square and Herald Square are great opportunities to get your people-watching fixes and Herald Square is also home to the world's largest Macy's store so indulge your inner shopper for an hour (or five!). If you are looking for good food and a way to while away the morning be sure to check out what is on offer at Chelsea Market before burning off those calories with a stroll on the Highline - a man-made park above the city using disused railway tracks (it really is incredible and offers great views of the city). Chelsea is popular with art lovers, thanks to it's numerous galleries, and is also home to one of the largest gay communities in the city. Don't forget to check out the Radio City Music Hall, home of the Rockettes, on your journey uptown. Heading further north towards 42nd Street you will come across Broadway and New York's internationally known Theatre District. Tickets for these are often available for discounted rates if you know where to look. You can't go to Broadway and not see a show, can you?! Meanwhile, you will probably have noticed that the pace around you is picking up. There are more people, more tourists, more rushing around and impatience. That, my friends, is because you are descending upon none other than the bright lights of Times Square. One of the most famous tourist attractions in the world, Times Square is home to big names and bigger billboards. It is every tourist's rite of passage to have a photo taken in Times Square. TOP TIP: Go late at night, after midnight if you can. There will be less tourists and people in general around so you will get a much better picture. Most locals will tell you to avoid Times Square if you can. That's virtually impossible but aside from the pretty, shiny lights, there isn't that much to see and do around Times Square so get in, get your photo, and get out.
Now you have survived the craziness that is Times Square and you continue further north towards 59th Street, you can't miss the green haven that is Central Park and the entrance to Uptown Manhattan. Compared to the excitement and commotion of the rest of the city, Central Park is like a breath of fresh air. You can lose yourself for an entire day just strolling amongst the fields and ponds and fountains. It is so easy to forget where you are as you escape the crowds and enjoy some well-deserved peace and quiet. All you need to do though is look up and see the skyscrapers towering over you to be jolted back to reality. Once you have caught your breath, you can check out the big names on Fifth Avenue before heading further uptown to the distinguished Upper East Side and it's western counterpart - the Upper West Side. As the most affluent neighbourhood in Manhattan, the Upper East Side is home to many a wealthy celebrity as well as the Museum Mile which runs all the way up to 104th Street. On the West Side you also have popular music performance venues such as Lincoln Centre and Carnegie Hall.
If you want to head even further north, you will encounter Harlem, the neighbourhood once named the cultural capital of black America and Cloisters - the medieval art collection belonging to the famous Metropolitan Museum of Art (or The Met).
Plan Your Trip
$ = Pocket Protector (ideal for those on a tighter budget)
$$ = Sporadic Spender (ideal for those looking for a bargain but has some flexibility with their budget)
$$$ = Cash Splasher (ideal for those who want to experience luxury)
Where To Stay:
$ - HI NYC (891 Amsterdam Avenue) - Located on the Upper West Side, this hostel is close to Central Park and makes a great base for travellers who are just looking for a place to sleep and store their stuff. Located close to Harlem and just minutes from a Subway station, HI NYC is a clean, modern hostel with comfortable beds, fast wifi and even has it's own beer garden! They offer a cafe for snacks and a kitchen if you would prefer to prepare your own food. Additionally, HI NYC run a number of tours every day so you can get the most out of your trip to the city and get to know the people you are staying with better. It's a win-win! Reservations start from $47 a night.
$$ - The Wellington (871 7th Avenue) - Located just steps away from Central Park, a short stroll from Times Square and with a Subway station right outside the door, The Wellington Hotel couldn't be in a better location. This hotel, although a little dated in decor, is extremely popular with travellers who want something a little more luxurious yet don't want to break the budget. With a Greek restaurant and a diner attached to the hotel and a Dunkin Donuts down the street, sustenance is never far away. Prices start at $89 a night with additional charges for wifi.
$$$ - Element New York Times Square West (311 West 39th Street) - Minutes from the hubbub that is Times Square and subway connections to take you anywhere in the city, Element is perfect for those looking for a more luxurious stay. Even better, this hotel is extremely eco-friendly and offers bikes for travellers to borrow as they make their own way around the city. Throw into the mix that each room has a kitchenette and the hotel has a rooftop garden and you are all set for your perfect escape. Rooms are available from $142 per night.
Where To Eat:
$ - Dunkin Donuts - Dunkin is the perfect pit-stop for a caffeine hit or a breakfast bite. You can find one on practically every street corner and with options ranging from breakfast sandwiches to their classic donut varieties, you are sure to find something that suits everyone. My go to is a medium iced caramel coffee (yes, even in winter) with cream and sugar accompanied with a Boston creme. I also recommend the hash browns, they're perfect for filling the hole when you need something savoury. Side note: if Dunkin would be interested in expanding to the UK, that would be great. Just saying.
$ - Chipotle - My ultimate go-to for lunch on the move. For those of you that haven't been (and seriously, why not?) it is basically like Subway but with Mexican food. What more could you want? Also, order the guac. Yes, it costs extra. Yes, it's worth it.
$ - Panera Bread - Yes. Yes. Yes. I LOVE Panera. Nothing beats chicken noodle soup in a sourdough bread bowl. Except perhaps mac'n'cheese in a sourdough bread bowl...either way, Panera has you covered. Serving fresh food quickly, Panera Bread makes for a great lunch or dinner pit-stop. There is so much choice and the smell of freshly-baked bread is just SO enticing. I'm not usually a salad person, but their salads are also incredible. Whatever you're in the mood for, you will likely find it on the menu.
$$ - Patsys - Ever since a great friend of mine introduced me to Patsy's in Brooklyn, I make a point of going whenever I can. I am a sucker for Italian food and I just can't get enough carbs so this is my kind of place. With great food, warm service and a super laid-back atmosphere, it is easy to lose track of time in this restaurant. Whatever you order, be sure to order a side of their delicious meatballs. Trust me, you won't regret it (although I recommend sharing if you can, they are pretty giant!)
$$ - La Pulperia - Great food, great cocktails, great service. The last time I went to La Pulperia the bartender asked what I wanted to drink and I didn't know. He asked what I usually drank and I said vodka and he said 'nope! I'm not making you something with vodka, I'm going to make you a proper drink!' Now, I'm quite fussy but he insisted that he would make me a surprise cocktail and if I didn't like it, he promised to make me something else with vodka. I still don't know what he gave me but it was delicious! It involved pineapple juice, some jalapenos and some black salt around the rim of the glass. Anyone got any ideas? Either way, it was a fun experience and the tacquitos are just phenomenal. Check this place out, there are two locations - one in Midtown and one on the Upper East Side.
$$$ - The Smith (Midtown) - The Smith is probably one of my all-time favourite brunch spots in the City and if it wasn't so expensive, I would make a point of going every time I'm in NYC. Unfortunately, New York is often the last port of call on my North American travels and by this point I'm often too broke to afford to eat here. But I will say this: order the Mac'n'Cheese! I promise, it is TOTALLY worth it's $16 price-tag (Tip: order it as a main rather than a starter - it's huge!)
What To Do:
$ - Staten Island Ferry - The Staten Island Ferry is known for having a great view of the Statue of Liberty. Many of the tour companies do get closer to Lady Liberty herself than the SI Ferry but the SI Ferry is FREE! Why would you pay for a super tourist trap when you can get just as good a view with the locals by going to Staten Island and back for free! Unfortunately, the last time I went on the Staten Island Ferry, it snowed. A lot. So my view was somewhat obstructed. But hey, at least I didn't have to pay for it!
$ - Brooklyn Bridge - Another free activity that offers a great view and gets your step count up is a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge! Not only is Brooklyn an awesome place in itself to explore, but you get incredible views on Manhattan on the way back. My advice would be to get the subway into Brooklyn and walk back as you get the best views this way. And there are often vendors along the way selling snacks and drinks if you need them. Don't forget to get the class Brooklyn Bridge photos!
$ - Central Park - I could honestly lose myself in Central Park for hours. Actually, the very first time I set foot in Central Park alone, that's exactly what I did. I entered the park somewhere around W81st street and thought I could cut across the park quickly to get somewhere else but accidentally got lost and ended up criss-crossing my way back and forth across the park before finally emerging down at E59th street, exhausted and confused. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day and I saw some lovely sights. There is nothing better on a sunny day than grabbing a picnic lunch and sitting on the grass, watching fathers and sons play catch or a group of friends playing football. There is pretty much always a ball game going on on one of the diamonds if you want to watch. There are running tracks around the perimeter of the park (needless to say I didn't use those!) as well as cycle paths and you can rent pedalos on some of the beautiful lakes! Central Park is one of my favourite places in NYC, it feels like a little piece of paradise right within the concrete jungle and is the perfect place for a moment of calm and relaxation before heading back to the city's hustle and bustle.
$ - Highline - The Highline is another great example of man-made greenery in New York City. Using dis-used railroad tracks, the highline offers another chance at peace and tranquility above the busy city below. Perfect for walking off those calories from Chelsea Market, the Highline is one walk not to be missed. You can also get some great photos from up there!
$$ - Top of the Rock - It's not really a trip to New York City if you don't go to the top of somewhere high and take a look at the view. There is a lot of debate over whether you should do Empire State or Top of the Rock. Personally, having done both, I prefer Top of the Rock. It's a little cheaper and less crowded as most tourists tend to flock to the Empire State. The view is essentially the same except with the added bonus of having the Empire State building in it too. I have a great photo of 17-year-old me pretending to hold up the Empire State Building with my hand thanks to some funny perspective photos from Top of the Rock. If you have time, do both and see which you prefer but if you can only do one, I recommend the Rockefeller Center.
$$ - Skating in Bryant Park - If you are visiting this magical city in winter, there is nothing more festive than outdoor skating. There are several places to choose from with Rockefeller Centre and Central Park being the most popular. However, the smaller Bryant Park offers it's own rink alongside festive food and drink stalls for a lower prices and fewer crowds! So if you want to get your ice skating fix, Bryant Park is the place to go. Fingers crossed I can convince SO to skate with me next time - it's definitely less fun on your own!
$$ - 9/11 Museum - It feels wrong to call the 9/11 Memorial Museum a highlight. However, the memorial has been done extremely tastefully and is the museum itself is a very moving experience. There is a lot to take in and the atmosphere is certainly not a cheerful one by any means. People are encouraged to take their time through the exhibits and pay their respects to the victims of one of the greatest tragedies of our lifetime. The one exhibit that gets me every time is the photo room. It is essentially a room where all the walls are covered with photos of victims from the twin towers collapse. This room really hits home to me how many people were killed in that awful terrorist attack and puts a face to all the names on the memorial fountains outside. It makes it very real and it makes me emotional every time I visit. The fountains outside are also incredible. With one in the footprint of the North Tower and one where the South Tower stood, both fountains are engraved with the names of those who died in the attack. Every morning, workers at the memorial place a rose in each of the names that should have been celebrating a birthday that day. It really is exceptionally moving and that small detail makes a big difference.
$$ - Intrepid Air, Space and Science Museum - Out to the west of the city, on the Hudson River, is the USS Intrepid; an aircraft carrier that was decommissioned in 1974 and is now home to New Yorks's Air, Space and Science Museum. The history of the ship itself is impressive, as is the range of exhibits that call it home. Did you also know that on certain Friday's you can visit for free between 5-9pm? Definitely worth keeping in mind if you're planning a visit.
$$$ - Broadway Show - If you can afford it and you have the time, no trip to the Big Apple is truly complete without a Broadway Show. As a huge Broadway nerd, all of my trips to the City involve shows and I am yet to not enjoy one. Over the past few years I have seen Mean Girls, Summer, Chicago, Avenue Q and more yet my list seems to be getting longer rather than shorter! What musical would you most like to see in New York?
$$$ - Yankees Game - If musicals and plays aren't quite your thing then why not head over to The Bronx and catch a Yankees game? A word of warning from personal experience, if you are heading to Yankee Stadium but will be supporting the away team, try not to wear your team's colour on the subway unless you want to cause trouble. Kind of feared for my life on that one (Go Red Sox!)