New York is one of my favourite places in the whole world. I dreamt about visiting for years and when I finally made it there, with some very high expectations, NYC didn’t disappoint. If anything, it exceeded all my expectations and made me want to move there.
When people ask me why I love NYC, I say it’s because it has something for everyone. Whatever you want, at any time of the day, you can do it. You can also probably get it delivered.
It’s impossible to write an exhaustive list for New York so please leave a comment with your NYC hot tips.
Our first-timer’s guide to New York City:
They say New York is an inch wide and a mile deep.
It’s a perfect description for Manhattan. Each part of the city is like a separate village and has its own personality. Have fun exploring all over the island.
Some village names refer to where they are eg SoHo (south of Houston St), NoHo (north of Houston), Tribeca (triangle below Canal St), Nolita (north of Little Italy), so it’s even easier to work out where you are – providing you know the locals’ code!
Navigation tips – looking at a map:
- Avenues run vertically. Count from 1st Ave, on the right of Manhattan, through to 12th on the left.
- Streets run horizontally. Numbering starts Downtown in the southern end (Lower Manhattan) and counts up as you go Uptown.
- East/West streets are labelled depending on which side of 5th Avenue they are.
- Broadway runs diagonally across the avenues and at each intersection is a square (Union Sq, Madison Sq, Washington Sq, Lincoln Sq etc).
- Once you get into the pointy end at the south, things cross in funny ways, eg 4th St crosses with 11th St and there are more street names.
Nb. Houston St is pronounced ‘Howston’ not ‘Hewston’, which confused me as I thought it was said the same as Houston, Texas.
The clear street system makes it so easy to know where things are.
Taxis are cheap and easy to use. They all take card now as well. Cab fare from JFK Airport is a fixed rate and there’s a cab queue as you exit baggage claim. When you get in a cab, even if you know the street number, you have to give a cross street so they know where to go (and all cabbies know where to go, which is awesome) eg. 7th & West 11th or 56th & 8th.
When you give taxis directions like this, you always give the avenue name then the street name – so 7th & West 11th means 7th Avenue and West 11th Street.
If you’re in town for a week, buy a weekly pass. It also includes buses. When using a non-US credit card at the machine, put 99999 as your zip code.
So you don’t look like a tourist, have your ticket in hand when you go down into the station so you can swipe and go straight through the turnstiles. You don’t need your ticket to exit. Download the NYC subway app, which is really useful.
Things to do in NYC
- Empire State vs Top of the Rock – I love both and think they are very different views of the city. We’ve included links to both buildings’ websites below.
Our tip: if you’re on a tight schedule (and hate queues), splurge and buy the Empire State Express tickets. They’re not even really that expensive and you get to queue jump everyone. Sunset is the best, and most popular time to go.
- Walk the High Line – an abandoned rail line is now a thriving urban park. It runs from the Meatpacking district to Midtown. It runs under the Standard Hotel, where there are food carts. Buy a popsicle and enjoy the beautiful space and great views of the city.
- Get some culture – MoMA is not to be missed. it’s free from 4-8pm on Friday nights but the crowds are bigger then. You must also go to the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). If you’re not into culture, you should still go to the Met just for the rooftop views over Central Park. They usually have a special exhibition up there and there’s a small bar too.
Your Met ticket also gives you access to the Cloisters, which is way uptown but feels like you’re not in NYC anymore. It’s really worth a visit if you have time.
- Central Park – Stop by Wholefoods at Columbus Circle and take a picnic lunch to the park. You can spend days exploring this huge park, and just relax and enjoy the green space in the middle of the city. Hire a bike to get around if you want to explore further.
- 9/11 Memorial – Explore downtown and pay your respects at the memorial. You must book online before you go.
- Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge – get great views as you walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Take the first exit off and walk back under the bridge back to the shore and go to Grimaldi’s for pizza. There’s always a queue but it’s worth the wait. It’s popular with locals and tourists alike.
Then head down to DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Brooklyn Overpass) and take the East River Ferry back to Manhattan.
- Explore Brooklyn – The ferry is a great way to visit Brooklyn. It goes from the bottom tip of Manhattan via Brooklyn & Williamsburg to Midtown (34th St). Brooklyn Flea is an amazing market on weekends. Smorgasburg is a food market on Saturdays at the Williamsburg ferry stop. SO GOOD. This is a must-do. On Sundays the market is a mix of vintage/craft and food. On Saturdays there’s also a bigger flea market at Fort Greene. Awesome shopping.
- Statue of Liberty – we didn’t visit Liberty Island as you need to book tickets in advance. Book them now before you go. I’ve heard you can give this a miss.
- Staten Island Ferry – a free way to see the Statue of Liberty and which is quite fun. It’s a commuter ferry so don’t go at peak hour.
- Broadway shows – you can buy cheap tickets on the day from the booths on the street. The top shows are only slightly discounted (if available) but other shows are up to 50% off. You can also buy online at Broadwaybox.com. Tuesday nights are best, it’s when locals go out.
- Jazz – there are lots of great jazz bars in the city. It’s not Mr Romance’s thing but on my first trip I went to Dizzy’s at Columbus Circle. Press the button for jazz and go up to level 5. Best to book ahead – but you can just turn up on the night. It’s a smallish venue and it looks over Central Park.
- Sail the Hudson at sunset – One of the most romantic things to do on a summer’s day – book here. Stop by Chelsea Market on the way to the yacht and pick up some lobster rolls for supper. Here’s a bit more about our cruise with more pics too: Romance in New York City – sailing the Hudson River.
Other places to go/things to do
Check out the squares:
- Columbus Circle and Trump Tower – Broadway & Central Park W
- Times Square (for a second) – Broadway & W42nd St (better at night)
- General Worth Square (aka Madison Square Gardens) – Broadway & 23rd St
- Union Square Park – Broadway & 14th St
Check out the parks:
- Bryant Park – Behind NY Public Library between Avenue of the Americas and 5th Avenue (W 40th St) – lots of summer events including an outdoor cinema
- Battery Park – southern tip of Manhattan
- Washington Square Park – Southern end of 5th Avenue, Noho
Check out the buildings:
- Rockefeller Center – 45 Rockefeller Plaza, Midtown
- Empire State Building – 350 5th Ave (cnr W 34th St), Midtown – and here are our tips for how to beat the queues to the top of the Empire State Building.
- Flatiron Building – 175 5th Ave, at 23rd St
- Grand Central Station – 89 E 42nd Street, Park Ave & 42nd St, Midtown
- Chrysler Building – 405 Lexington Ave, 42nd/43rd Street, Midtown
- New York Public Library – E 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, Midtown
- The Plaza (& the Plaza food hall) – Fifth Avenue at Central Park South
On Location Vacations tells you where TV shows and movies are filming in the city but you can spot them from the huge trailers parked in the side streets.
Celebs are everywhere, and you can spot them by looking for the people who are trying to look inconspicuous! Just keep your eyes open and you’ll see familiar faces in the most normal locations. Soho, Chelsea and the West Village are top spots. Also the Meatpacking district and East Village.
Australians go crazy in American shops. Not only is the exchange rate in our favour at the moment, but the prices are lower and the choices are huge. So many places now offer shipping to Australia, but these are my picks if you fancy filling up an extra suitcase for your return trip (we bought an extra one at Century 21 and filled it, by the way!)
Great shops we don’t have in Australia
- Kate Spade
- J Crew
- Uniqlo – best value cashmere jumpers and basics – it’s like a Japanese Zara
- Zara is way better in the US too
- Forever 21 (fast cheap young fashion but bargains you can’t ignore)
- Sephora – my beauty superstore
- MAC – makeup is so much cheaper
- Fishy eddys for cute and cheap homewares
- ABC Kitchen – 7 levels of homewares
Gorgeous department stores:
- Bergdorf Goodman
- Henri Bendel
Century 21 – discount department store and I mean serious discounts. But be prepared for crowds, elbows and stock everywhere.
Woodbury Commons Outlet Mall – If you really want to shop, get a bus out to the outlet mall in New Jersey. You can do this in half a day but most even those who hate to shop can spend a day here.
Also explore the Manhattan neighbourhoods like the West Village and Soho and head to Brooklyn and Williamsburg to shop at smaller boutiques.
Where to Eat in NYC
Eating is New York is so good! This is just a taste of some of the places we went to.
For most NYC restaurants you can make reservations through Open Table, except for La Esquina, which is by phone or on its own website.
- La Esquina – 114 Kenmare Street, Nolita – don’t be fooled by the café and taqueria, there’s a secret subterranean restaurant underneath.
- Momofuku Ssam Bar – 207 2nd avenue, cnr East 13th – no bookings, just have a cocktail next door while you wait. Itls worth going to all of the Momofuku restaurants.
- The Spotted Pig – 314 W. 11th Street (cnr Greenwich St), West Village –they do an awesome burger and brunch – Jay Z is one of the owners just so you know.
- Extra Virgin – W. 4th St (near Perry St), West Village – amazing food and cosy atmosphere.
- Street vendors – get a Philly cheese steak (careful, the hot sauce is just that!)
- Whitman’s burgers – 406 E. 9th Street, East Village – try their Juicy Lucy.
- The Shake Shack – Madison Square Park, Theatre District, Upper West Side, Battery Park, Upper East Side – Always a queue but it’s worth it.
- Whole Foods – Everywhere, but the Columbus Circle store is incredible. Best supermarket ever.
- Jack’s Wife Freda – 224 Lafayette St, Nolita – Fab breakfast and brunch.
- Bouchon Bakery – Few locations around the city. Their salted caramel macarons are the best outside of Paris.
- Balthazar – 80 Spring Street, Soho (between Broadway and Crosby) – Divine French bistro open from breakfast to late.
- Union Square Coffee Shop – 29 Union Square West – Open 23 hours! Most of the wait staff are models too.
- ABC Kitchen – 888 Broadway (between 18th and 19th Sts) – Gorgeous store and café, great for lunch.
- Eataly – 200 5th Avenue (between 23rd and 24th Sts) – Shop and eat at the same time in this Italian food hall. Also check out the Birreria on the roof.
- Cafe Cluny – Corner of W4th and W12th great brunch and cocktails
- The Waverly Inn -? 16 Bank street (at Greenwich Avenue) cozy bar and restaurant
- Tremont – 51 Bank St (at West 4th) great brunch and dinner
- Joe Coffee – scattered all over the city, these places do good coffee! Thanks to our friend Declan from jettjacobs.com for the recommendation.
For more restaurant tips check out A Taste of Travel.
Where to drink in NYC
- The Bar Room – 117 E. 60th Street, Upper East Side
- Waldorf Astoria – Peacock Alley – 301 Park Avenue
- Le Bain on top of The Standard – 848 Washington at 13th Street, Meatpacking District
- Dive bars in Nolita and Little Italy.
- Gallow Green, McKittrick Hotel – 524 W. 27th Street, Chelsea (closed during autumn & winter)
- Birreria above Eataly – 200 5th Avenue, Flatiron District
- Beauty & Essex – 146 Essex St – Looks like a pawn shop but is really a very cool bar inside. The ladies’ bathroom even has its own champagne bar. We also ate here but you must book ahead
- Employees Only – 510 Hudson St (between Christopher and W 10th St) – Look for the psychic and go through to find this very cool, hidden speakeasy
- The Mermaid Oyster Bar -? 79 MacDougal St (at Houston) – Fab happy hour from 5-7pm
- Ofrenda – 113 7th Avenue (at Christopher street) – Outdoor seating in summer for Happy Hour
- Lure Fishbar in SoHo – 142 Mercer Street at Prince – Another good happy hour from 5-7pm
Where to stay in NYC
- Ace Hotel – 20 W 29th St, (at Broadway)
- Soho House – 29–35 Ninth Ave, (at 13th St)
- The Standard – 848 Washington St, (at W 13th St)
- Wythe Hotel – 80 Wythe Ave, (at North 11th St)
- The Plaza – 768 Fifth Ave, (at Central Park South)
- Algonquin Hotel – 59 W 44th St , (between Fifth and Sixth Aves) ?
- Hotel Americano – 518 W 27th St, (between Tenth and Eleventh Aves)
- There are some great deals to be had here via TripAdvisor and here via Travelocity.
- Rent an apartment – Accommodation in New York is notoriously expensive so if staying for longer, consider renting an apartment. We love booking through Airbnb (last time we stayed in this apartment)
Just look for a Starbucks to find free Wi-Fi. Yelp.com is a great app to help you find places on the go.
Ask a local
Our final tip is to talk to New Yorkers. They love to share their favourite parts of the city and will always have great advice for where to go.
Thanks to The Blog Stylist, A Taste of Travel and Ms Critique for their invaluable travel advice. We wouldn’t have been able to write this list or have such an incredible time in the Big Apple without their travel tips.
PS. wear comfy shoes – you walk a lot in NYC x
What else would you add to our NYC list?