New York is such an exciting city and is somewhere that I wouldn’t hesitate going to over and over again. This is mainly because it’s not just a tourist attraction but is a sprawling, busy, lived-in city. Similar to London, there are numerous restaurants on offer, great shopping and generally a non-stop, ‘open 24 hours’ vibe which I love! I’ve now been 3 times and feel like I’m in a good position to do a pretty comprehensive guide on what you should do when visiting, especially if it’s your first time. So here goes!
1) Get yourself somewhere high!
New York is all about the views. It is a city with high rise buildings in all directions and you’re constantly craning your neck to look at the skies. Whether it’s the beautiful Art Deco Chrysler or Empire State Buildings or the modern Freedom Tower, there are so many places where you can get an amazing view of the whole skyline. My favourite has to be Top of the Rock (the Rockerfeller Centre). It is by far the best view you will get of the New York skyline as you get a full-on view of the Empire State Building on one side and stunning views of Central Park on the other. I know that the Empire State Building has the history but honestly Top of the Rock views are so much better!There are also numerous rooftop restaurants and bars in New York where you can get excellent views of the skyline though these tend to only be open during the warmer months.Another great way to get city views is from the Chelsea High Line which used to be a disused railway track now converted into an urban garden. I love this and would highly recommend visiting! Pop in to Chelsea market while you’re there – it has a variety of great food options!
2) Take in the culture
You can’t come to New York and not go to a couple of the many museums. In my opinion, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) is definitely the best and worth seeing if I had to pick one. Be prepared that it will probably take you the whole day (potentially even longer) if you want to see most of the galleries. For visitors from outside of New York State, tickets are $25 for adults, $17 seniors and $12 for students. If you are short on time, go to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) instead which houses Van Gogh’s famous painting, ‘Starry Night’ as well as impressionist art from a number of other famous painters. This will take you 2/3 hours. The Guggenheim has an amazing building but I wasn’t blown away by the art collection so I would skip this unless there is something particular that you want to see.3) Take a stroll in the Park
New York has a few parks but the main one you should definitely see is Central Park. It is so quintessential New York and you’ll probably recognise lots of locations from numerous movies that have been filmed here. Walk to the lake near the Bethesda fountain. You can rent a boat here which is a nice activity on a sunny day. There are lots of street performers in this area too and it’s generally a nice place to hang out. Check our the Belvedere Castle and the Alice in Wonderland statue if you have time.On a longer visit, go to Washington Square Park and Bryant Park which are in the heart of the city. Both are pretty cool spots to hang out.4) Hit the shops!
New York has some excellent shopping. My favourite area has to be SoHo where you can find your standard high street shops but also more upmarket stores. SoHo in general is a very cool area and worth exploring – it is one of the few places in New York that still has some cast-iron buildings and there are lots of places to take cool photos. Check out my Instagram Guide to New York for more info!Fifth Avenue is also a good option for shopping and is where you will find the big department stores like Bergdorf Goodmans, Saks and Henri Bendel.
For outlet bargains, you have to go to Woodbury Commons (similar to Bicester Village)! It is outside of New York but you can get a bus from the centre of town so it seems pretty easy to get to (we drove). You will find some amazing discounts on American brands like Tory Burch, Ralph Lauren etc.
5) Go to a show on Broadway
This is something I still haven’t managed to do but I feel like it’s a must! There are so many to choose from – pick something and try to book in advance. Times Square seems to be the central hub near Broadway. It is extremely busy and hectic but a must-see as a first time visitor. The bright lights are really something.6) Admire the architecture
Once you’ve done all the main sights, it’s always nice to just wander the streets and look at some of the beautiful architecture around town. My favourite buildings have to be Grand Central Station (check out The Campbell Apartment which is a very cool bar slightly hidden in Grand Central!), the Flatiron, the Empire State Building and the New York Public Library. The rooftop bar at the Arlo Hotel has amazing views of the Empire State Building!You should definitely visit the 9/11 memorial near Wallstreet. It is a really beautiful and moving tribute to the people who died.
7) Explore another borough of New York
Most people tend to stick to Manhattan. If you’re short on time, then that’s probably sensible. If however you have more than 3/4 days, I would highly recommend going to Brooklyn. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge (though do this early to avoid the crowds and the heat). Click here for my detailed guide to Brooklyn.8) Learn about the history of New York
Take the ferry to Ellis Island, where you can learn about the history of immigration to America that took place here between 1892 and 1954. I would highly recommend taking a guided tour here otherwise you won’t really understand the history and it will feel like you’re just looking at a building! You can then continue on to the Statue of Liberty, a must-see if you’re a first time visitor.Where to stay
I’ve stayed at the Arlo Nomad and The Dream Midtown. The Dream was nice but is in quite a touristy part of town. I liked the rooms however and it was a comfortable stay. The Arlo was great, especially as a solo traveller. It is a very trendy ‘micro’ hotel which also has a SoHo branch. As you can guess, the rooms are pretty small but the hotel has done well with the space and the Queen and King ‘City View’ rooms are great. Other hotels which came highly recommended are the Public Hotel, Nomo SoHo, Crosby Hotel and One Hotel. There are so many to choose from, just go with your budget and don’t worry about it too much – it’s New York and you’ll barely be in your rooms for most of the time!
Where to eat
New York is the ultimate foodie destination. I would highly recommend Jack’s Wife Frieda and Buvette for brunch. Catch is a cool restaurant for lunch or dinner – the lobster mac and cheese was to die for!For a snack or a sweet treat, head to Cha Cha Matcha or Bar Pa Tea. For ice-cream, try Van Leeuwens!For street food, you have to check out Halal Guys – the mixed chicken and lamb with rice is so good and the secret white sauce is amazing!Other places that come highly recommended but ones I didn’t get to try were: Two Hands (brunch), Beauty & Essex (brunch), While we were young, Maison Kayser (breakfast), Cosme (dinner) and La Esquina (lunch/dinner). Try to make reservations where you can! I really wish I had a chance to go to Katz Delicatessen (the ‘When Harry Met Sally’ restaurant) – the food is meant to be amazing.
Hope you found this post helpful! Let me know if you have any other recommendations! X