New York City, the Big Apple, my favorite city in the world. It’s a city I’ve visited multiple times (6 to be exact) and in total I’ve stayed there for almost two months. I first visited the city when I was 19 years old. It was my first trip I ever took by myself. It was January 2004, one of the coldest winters ever in North East America and I visited NYC at -14 C. I loved every single minute of it and went back every time I was in the USA since then. I know plenty of good places to go to: where to shop, where to eat or what places to visit. Of course I am not a New Yorker, but I have definitely had a bird’s eye view on the city that never sleeps.
Empire State Building as seen from Top of the Rock (August 2008)
The first thing to keep in mind when going to see any city is how long you’ve got to explore. In my experience 5 days is a good amount to really come to terms with a city, so that is what I would recommend for any first time visit. Especially when you’re coming in from The Netherlands, like I did several times, you need some time adjusting due to jetlag and then 3 days is incredibly short. However, New York knows no dull moments. The longest I’ve stayed in one go is 2.5 weeks, so go figure. The place is littered with hotels and hostels. Just know that space in NYC is a valuable thing so rooms tend to be on the small side. Most standard tourist hotels are located in mid town, but I personally loved staying at all places I’ve been to. From the Upper West Side (great restaurants), to just off of Times Square (so central, it’s easy to go anywhere), and W. 14th Street (close to the largest Barnes and Nobles and Penn Station), I find that as long as you’re staying within a few blocks of a subway station you’re good to go.
If you’re planning a short stay (3 – 5 days), I think you’d be best off to pick things you absolutely want to/ have to see and plan a route per day so you see what you want to see. New York is a big city and even if you stick to just Manhattan you’ll have your work cut out for you to see everything. The best time to visit in my experience is April/ May. Fall is apparently best, but I have not been able to test that myself. Try to avoid the summer months (especially July) as the city gets really hot and stuffy and with smog in the mix that is never a good combo. Apparently walking around NYC for a day equals smoking two packs of cigarettes on a good day, when there’s smog it’s twice as bad.
My first real tip is to walk as much as possible, because that’s when you’ll get to experience the city at its best. However, you can get a 7 day subway pass for around 25 – 30 dollars from any Metro subway station so you can still go places if your feet are sore. During my trips I’ve walked many blocks and I usually set a plan for the day as to where to go. Sometimes my route is done more quickly than I had expected, sometimes my route takes up much more of my time. I prefer to eat on the go and have never really planned to go eat at a certain place. I just pick whatever restaurant looks good when I get hungry. Luckily, New York has an on the go culture and you can find delis, corner shops and drugstores at almost any street corner. So if you’re in a rut and need something to eat or drink pronto, you can.
Statue of Liberty (December 2006)
These things I think you should ALWAYS feature into a New York City trip, no matter how short:
- Empire State Building & Chrysler Building: these two building function as your compass while strolling around. Please learn how to tell them apart (the Chrysler is often deemed the prettier one of the two) so you know where you’re going.
- Statue of Liberty: either take the ferry that also goes to Ellis Island and pay a major fee for skyline, Statue views and entry to Liberty and Ellis Island. If you don’t care for taking your picture with Lady Liberty or if you simply deem it too expensive you can take the Staten Island Ferry free of charge for the same view.
- Times Square: no explanation needed I guess…
- Brooklyn Bridge: walking the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan, preferably at sunset
- Go on top of either Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center: you don’t have to do both on the same trip. Obviously you get to see the Empire State Building from Top of the Rock, but from TotR you get a constricted view of the Chrysler Building.
- Freedom tower/ WTC: apparently this comes with long waiting lines now, but I remember this being no more than a gate with names on some slates. I even once took a subway from New Jersey into the city. That line used to run underneath the WTC and was restored fairly quickly after 9/11. To sit in a subway train running through nothing but a big, exposed hole, knowing there once was a tower on top of that was an awe-inspiring experience.
Sunset over Brooklyn Bridge (May 2005)
When you have more time:
- Ellis Island: island where (3rd class) immigrants would have to register before entering the USA.
- Grand Central Station
- Metropolitan Museum: if you’re interested in art ranging from the 17th century to ancient Egypt, impressionists and everything in between.
- Guggenheim: if you’re into early to mid 20th century art. I discovered my love for all things Kandinsky here as it houses a nice collection.
- MOMA: if you’re into Modern art, then visit this one. I once saw an amazing special exhibition on Dali and film. They do amazing things here. Beware of long waiting lines though.
- Museum of Natural History: if you care to see dinosaur bones and animals that have gone extinct, culture exhibitions and the like. They have an amazing gem collection. Or if you’ve seen Night at the Museum with Ben Stiller.
- Battery Park: for a bit of Dutch history right in the middle of New York. There is a flagpole in the middle with 3 flags on it. One of those flags is the flag of New York City which happens to be orange white and blue. Those are the original colors of the Dutch flag.
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral: on fifth avenue. Especially nice around Christmas time.
- Chelsea market: if you’re a foodie.
- Flatiron building: a triangular shaped building, or how to make awesome use of awkward spaces. Used to have a MAC store inside. May still be there.
- Union Square: with a nice park for relaxing but also some major stores are right on this square which are usually not as busy as the equivalents on Times Square.
- City Hall
Manhattan skyline from train (August 2012)
Sunset over New Jersey as seen from Empire State Building (May 2005)
Times Square at night (April/May 2009)
New York knows no dull moments. Apart from walking around, gaping at buildings and visiting landmarks, there is plenty of stuff to do as well.
- Go to the top of Empire State Building (for view of Chrysler Building)
- Go to the top of Rockefeller Center (for view of Empire State Building)
- Tour Rockefeller Center: see the stunning early 20th century decor of the indoors, go backstage and meet a Rockette (showgirl)
- See the Christmas show at Rockefeller Center (if you’re there at Christmas time): for some cheesy true American entertainment.
- See a musical: get discount tickets from the booth on Times Square, sale starts at 3 PM and all tickets are for same night showings. Not all shows sell tickets through the ticket booth, so check beforehand if you’re set on a very specific one. Most shows don’t play on Tuesdays.
- Tour NBC studios: if you’ve never been inside a TV studio, here’s your chance. NBC is host to some famous US shows, SNL for one.
- Walk the Highline: starting at Gansevoort Street, this old elevated train track has been turned into a snazzy little park. The park ended around 34th Street (around Macy’s) in 2012 but was set for expansion in the future.
- Attend a sport’s game: see what’s in season and book tickets via US ticketmaster. If you’re truly into having an all American experience. I saw NY Yankees play the Boston Red Socks during my last visit. The energy that runs through a stadium as the home team hits a homerun is amazing.
- Take a walk through different Manhattan neighborhoods (Lower Eastside/ The Village/ Soho)
- Take a walk through Central Park.
Central Park (April/ May 2009)
Egyptian Temple @ Metropolitan Museum (December 2006)
The High Line (August 2012)
If this isn’t your first visit to the City that Never Sleeps, you can still see plenty of other things.
- Visit Coney Island (on a nice day): a bit run down by now as it is way past its heyday, but it does have a gigantic Nathan’s in case you care to try hotdogs and chilli cheese fries.
- Visit United Nations (take out an entire day, because it takes a while): The United Nations Building is located along 1st Avenue. It was built there because Mr. Rockefeller donated a ton of money. That’s the only reason why it’s been built on that spot. When you enter the building, you enter a piece of no man’s land and thus you should bring an ID and go through a security check. Once in, you cannot go back out until your tour starts, which could take as much as several hours. So beware. If not taken up by a meeting, you do get to see all the major rooms where the UN gathers.
- Visit the Tenement House Museum and tour an immigrant’s lodgings from the turn of the 20th century (book tickets in advance): this is definitely a good experience if you’re into history and living history in particular. The Tenement House museum is located on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. It has restored a building that used to house newly arrived immigrants at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. Some of the rooms have been restored to what they would have looked like back in the day. Others have been kept as they were found after the buildings were deemed unsafe for living in the 1930s and not opened up again until the 1970s.
- Take dance classes at Broadway Dance Center: if you’re a dancer you must have heard of this place. It is in itself an experience to take a dance class in the US. And yes, it is just like in those Youtube videos.
New York is an excellent place to get your shop on. Many shops are scattered all around, but there is a shopping mall in Jersey City just across the river which you can get to by subway or PATH train. Major chain stores such as Target, Walmart, K-Mart, Ulta and the like are not located in or near Manhattan. If you’re interested in going there, you’ll have to rent a car.
- 5th Avenue: the closer to Central Park the more expensive the shops, but has most major chain stores apart from high end department stores such as Saks and Bergdorf & Goodman. Also has FAO Schwartz (the most over the top toy store ever) and the Apple store.
- Victoria’s Secret (near Macy’s = the biggest one), but I personally like the smaller ones better. Soho has a nice one.
- Soho/ the Village: for Topshop and more designer boutiques as well as a sprinkle of major chains.
- 3rd avenue: for Bloomingdales and major chain stores.
- Macy’s & Bloomingdales (get a visitor’s discount from their customer service center when you show your passport)
- Forever 21 (on Times Square and Union Square)
- Daffy’s (for cheap steals)
- For make up you go to Sephora (I personally liked the one just off Times Square the best, it’s in one of the side streets leading away from TS. There is also one ON Times Square but that one I found messy and more crowded). There are MAC counters all over the city. Inglot is on Times Square (if it’s still there), Drugstores are scattered across town. You’ll mostly find Duane Reade and CVS, but there is a Walgreens on Times Square and a few Rite Aids. Each drugstore has different discounts. I personally liked a drugstore (can’t remember which one exactly, but I think it was Duane Reade) near Herald Square best.
Park Avenue (April/ May 2009)
Of course you also need to put some food into your stomach. I personally recommend you try ALL the NY cuisine out there. NYC is a melting pot so there is a lot to come by. Of course plenty of fast food to be had, but most places also serve delicious salads (just ask for dressings on the side). Most hotels do not serve breakfast or it costs a fortune. So do what all the New Yorkers do: grab a bagel and a coffee/ tea from your nearest deli, add a muffin and a water for on the go and you’re all set for you morning out on the town. Some of my personal favorites:
- Artie’s Delicatessen on 83rd and Broadway: if you’re looking for a good burger and want to eat in a 50s style diner this is the place for you. They also serve Jewish (?! If I remember correctly) cuisine.
- Ruby Tuesday on Times Square: for all American grub but at a slightly more upscale level. I prefer this place over TGI Fridays and Applebees which are similar places.
- Any corner deli for a bagel and a muffin and something to drink
- Pretzels and hotdogs from street corner shops
- Italian food in Little Italy!: stay away from the places that have guys trying to lure you in. The places where the good food is to be had, don’t need to sent people out in the streets to get customers.
- Ihop (International House of Pancakes): if you want to go for American breakastfood at any time of the day. I have yet to find a Denny’s in Manhattan, as it’s a bit better, but I have good memories of IHOP visits from my US exchange student days, so I don’t mind sitting in the freezing cold air conditioning while ordering my favorites from the menu. (just bring a sweater when you do)
- Jamba Juice: if you need a bit of a healthy kick. They do a great warm soy milk porridge type breakfast and all juices are made fresh.
- Then of course you should try New York pizza and any other American standard if you haven’t tried them before.
Have I missed anything? Leave a comment below!
And to those who’ve never been, considering going, or about to go: I hope this post was useful to you.