I’ve had multiple versions of an NYC guide in the works for a while, so to celebrate hitting my 9 year mark of living in the city I decided to finish this project and post it!
Here’s my guide to some of my favorite places in New York City. It’s decidedly heavy on things like books and tacos and art and pizza. It’s just a list of things I love and would recommend – it’s not meant to replace any guidebook or to attempt to list every great thing in the city. If you have specific questions about visiting New York, please leave a comment or reach out to me on social media and I’ll do my best to help!
If you have a limited amount of time in the city, here are five things I’d recommend making sure you don’t miss. (More info about each of these can be found below, in their respective sections.)
- The Brooklyn Bridge
- The Met
- Central Park
- Strand Bookstore
- The New York Public Library
- Wear comfortable shoes. (And definitely no heels!) You’ll walk way more than you expect to, and you won’t want to be hobbling around with blisters. There’s too much to see!
- Try to avoid coming in July and August. It’s hot, sticky, smelly, and crowded. Spring and Fall are the best times of year to visit, followed closely by December. The holidays in New York City are magical. (Here’s a post from the archives about Christmas in New York.)
- Bring an external battery pack (this one is my favorite). You’ll use your phone a lot for maps & info (and photos), and it’s impossible to keep your battery charged all day. Alternatively, you can carry your charger with you while you’re out during the day – there are plenty of coffee shops with outlets, but that means waiting around while it charges. A battery pack is much easier.
- Download an offline subway map. My favorite is Exit Strategy – it has all lines, stations, and transfers, as well as a platform map of each station that shows you what streets every exit will let out onto. It also includes offline local area maps.
- Don’t take anything from anyone. There will be people on the streets and subways that want to hand you things – fliers, hats, CDs, flowers, selections of candy bars, small cards with American Sign Language translations. Most all of them want something in return: most often money or time. The best option is a polite smile and a firm decline.
- However, New Yorkers are friendly and helpful. If you’re confused, lost, or in need of aid – ask someone who looks like a local. (Someone walking alone is always a good bet: tourists often travel in packs.)
- The Morgan Library & Museum: My favorite art museum in the city. It’s housed in Pierpont Morgan’s personal library that he used in the early 20th century. It’s not large and most of its space is dedicated to special exhibitions, so it’s worth looking at their site and making sure the current exhibitions interest you before visiting. They often feature exhibitions of literary history, such as Jane Austen’s letters and the life of Charles Dickens. Also make sure you tour the wing that houses his study and library. It’s stunning, and book lovers will drool all over the floor. (Don’t worry, I suspect they’re used to it.)
- The Brooklyn Museum: Wonderful permanent collection, and great exhibitions. It’s well worth a trip out to Brooklyn to visit, and as a bonus you’ll find yourself right near Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and the beautiful main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.
- The Met: A classic, and a must visit. It’s pay what you wish, so feel free to pay less than the suggested donation. I rarely pay more than $5. It’s best to have a battle plan of what you want to see – it’s enormous. Popular exhibitions can be very crowded, but the permanent collections are rarely too busy – it can be surprisingly peaceful. I recommend making sure you see: Madame X, Washington Crossing the Delaware, the Statue Gallery, the rooftop cafe and installation (wonderful view from there), and the Temple of Dendur. (The Cloisters are also part of the Met, and a visit is usually a very lovely treat. However, it takes a long time to travel all the way up there and back, so I’d recommend it to people who have at least a week in the city, or who are particularly interested in their collection.)
- The American Museum of Natural History: My favorite museum in New York. It’s a ton of fun, and not just for kids. (Although yes, it’s perfect for kids too.) I love the beautifully created taxidermy exhibits – and I find that being in the dark room wandering from display to display is serene and calming. (And the whale! Oh that wonderful whale.) This museum is also “pay what you wish” but general admission does not include any of the special exhibitions, which are usually great. So if you have enough time to see everything: go for the full ticket and see a few special attractions as well.
The Temple of Dendur, The Met
- Brooklyn Bridge: My favorite bridge in the world. It’s also my favorite place in the city. (I have a tattoo of it.) It’s so lovely to walk across the bridge, and you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the city along the way. The best bet: take the A or the C train to High Street, have pizza at Grimaldi’s, and then walk across from Brooklyn to Manhattan, so that the skyline is ahead of you.
- Brooklyn Botanical Garden: Most wonderful during the Cherry Blossom festival, but always a lovely place to visit in good weather.
- Central Park: A must visit at any time of the year. Pack a picnic, go for a jog or bike ride, rent a row boat, people watch, ice skate, wander, explore.
- The Highline: An old elevated train track converted into a 1.5 mile city park. I recommend starting at one of the 30th street entrances and walk down to the end – you’ll exit into the West Village surrounded by great lunch/dinner spots and shopping.
- Ice Skating in Bryant Park: In winter, this is my favorite place in the city to ice skate. It’s bigger than Rockefeller Center, and the lines aren’t quite as long. And the view surrounding you is epic.
- Biking: There are a lot of wonderful places to bike on weekends in the city that are relatively car free. The best are: the waterfront bike path, Prospect Park and Central Park.
Ice Skating in the Winter Village at Bryant Park
Most of my favorite places to eat, including my favorite restaurant Char No. 4, are in Brooklyn. If you have time to make it out to Brooklyn during your visit, I have a curated Pinterest board with all the best places to eat in my neighborhood.
Most often you’ll need to plan meals around the neighborhoods you’re sightseeing in. When I need a spur of the moment food recommendation, I use Foursquare. It rarely leads me wrong, and I’ve found so many great places all over the world with it. I also use NY Mag to find recommendations in particular neighborhoods. Serious Eats and Eater are also both very solid.
But for what it’s worth, here are some of my favorite places to eat in the city. I’ve roughly arranged them from least expensive to most expensive.
- Pizza slices: Sorry Chicago, NY Pizza rules all. You almost can’t go wrong here: there are so many places to grab a quick, inexpensive slice. And they are so consistently good. If you need a bite to eat quickly, this is a very solid and affordable option.
- Deli sandwiches: Delis (or bodegas, as we call them) are treasures. Most people have at least one that they think of as “theirs” – close to work or home. In addition to very inexpensive coffee, bodegas are great spots to grab sandwiches and bagels. They’ll custom make any sandwich you want. I especially love getting breakfast from my favorite bodega: a bacon egg and cheese with two eggs on white toast. It’s so so good.
- Cupcakes: The cupcake craze started in New York, and continues to this day. Some people think Magnolia is overrated, but I’m not one of those people. They have many locations now, but I still prefer their West Village location. My favorite is a Vanilla/Vanilla, with pink icing. For classic cupcakes I also love Billy’s and Sugar Sweet Sunshine. Baked By Melissa cupcakes are tiny, delicious treats, and I love their large variety of flavors.
- Dominique Ansel: It’s so much more than cronuts! I’ve been going here since the day it opened – it’s a block away from my former office. Skip the giant cronut queue that extends down the block and just walk in and order any of their other wonderful french pastries. The DKA is phenomenal. The chocolate chip cookies are excellent. The freshly baked madeleines are delicious. It’s also a solid spot for coffee, and if you want something savory the “Perfect Little Egg Sandwich” lives up to its name: it’s perfect.
- Mekong: When I worked in Soho, this was one of my favorite lunch spots. Really good Vietnamese food – I love the chicken & vegetables with crunchy noodles.
- Tacombi: Tacos. Delicious, delicious tacos. The Nolita location is the most fun.
- Calexico: If you like your Mexican food with delicious spicy sauce, this is the place for you. Their “crack sauce” will change your life. Eat at any of their brick and mortar locations, or just grab tacos for lunch from their carts in Soho or Midtown.
- Alidoro: Incredible Italian sandwiches in Soho (and another location in Midtown). Know which sandwich you want before you go and bring cash – they don’t mess around here. But trust me, the sandwiches are worth it.
- Burger Joint: Great burger and fries. Always hard to get a table, but you can get it to go and walk a few blocks to Central Park and eat on the benches. The birds will want you to toss them a fry though.
- Korean BBQ: I love getting Korean BBQ in Little Korea. There are so many fantastic places all within a few blocks. Miss Korea is always a solid option. (And the plentiful Karaoke options are a great after-party.)
- Grimaldi’s Pizza: My favorite pizza. Ever.
- Dinosaur BBQ: Unfortunately the NYC locations of Dinosaur BBQ are not the most convenient – Harlem and Brooklyn. (For most: the BK location is walkable from my apartment!) But it’s my favorite BBQ in the city.
- Westville: Everything here is excellent. A giant board of market vegetable sides. The best mac and cheese I’ve ever had. Excellent salads and sandwiches. The turkey chili is so good.
- Sarabeth’s: You will never regret Brunching at Sarabeth’s.
- The Dutch: Beautiful atmosphere, and great food.
- Artisanal: One of my favorite places for a fancy dinner. The fondue is ridiculously good. And the chicken and mashed potatoes are some of the best I’ve ever had. If you want a romantic date night, I don’t think you can go wrong here. It’s also good for a boozy dinner with your best friend though – the wine list is excellent.
- Cafe Luxembourg: Cozy and Delicious. You’ll feel like you’re in a romantic movie set in NYC.
- Craft: Craft is delicious, but also quite pricy. If you want a cheaper option, try CraftBar.
- Park Avenue Spring: Park Avenue Spring is a restaurant that transforms every season – it changes menu, location, decor and name (in the summer it will be Park Avenue Summer, etc.). The menu and decor celebrates & compliments each season. I had a phenomenal meal here with one of my good friends – it’s a wonderful restaurant.
DKA from Dominique Ansel
- GMT: One of my favorite places for catching up with friends – great beer on tap, not too loud, and a good food menu.
- Peter McManus: My favorite dive bar in the city.
- The Boat Basin: If the weather is nice, head here.
- The Brandy Library: If you want a classy place to get drinks, this is a good choice.
The Brandy Library, photo by Jazz Guy on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
- The New York Public Library: For bookish people, this is a must visit. Don’t miss the main reading room or the free special exhibitions.
- Strand: Again, for bookish people, this is a must visit. It’s huge, filled to the brim with new and used books at good prices, and is a lovely place to spend an afternoon. If you need to refuel before, during or after, the coffee shop across the street is one of my favorites.
- McNally Jackson: I love this bookstore. Great selection and wonderfully curated displays. I always discover something awesome that I’d never heard of before.
- Housing Works: Secondhand bookstore with great prices – 100% of their profits go to helping people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
- Three Lives and Company: This one is very tiny, but bursting with charm. Definitely worth a stop if you’re nearby.
- Books of Wonder: An absolutely wonderful children’s bookstore. It was the inspiration for The Shop Around the Corner in You’ve Got Mail. Worth a visit whether or not you have kids in tow.
- Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks: An incredibly charming store, perfect for foodies.
- Idlewild Books: A wonderful travel bookstore – it’s organized by country/region and features fiction, non-fiction, and travel guides all together by location. It’s a fun way to browse. They also have foreign language editions, and language classes.
- Mets Game: Citi Field is a beautiful ball park. I love going to evening games in the summer. Bonus: there’s a Shake Shack in the stadium.
- Broadway Show / TKTS: To me, it would be a shame to visit New York and not go to a Broadway show. There are so many incredible shows, and it’s hard to have a bad evening when that’s your main event. If you’re on a budget and/or flexible about what you see, go to a TKTS booth and grab tickets to a show for the same night. They have a great selection (which you can view on their site) and big discounts on tickets. If you don’t want to wait in a long line, go to their Brooklyn location.
- Symphony Space: There are a lot of great event spaces & shows in the city, and Symphony Space reliably hosts some of the best literary and cultural events in Manhattan. Definitely worth looking at what’s on while you’re in the city – you could get lucky and snag tickets to something really special.
- A movie at the Ziegfeld: The Ziegfeld is a huge, one screen, old fashioned (in looks – it has fully modern audio/visual technology) movie theater. It’s fun to go to a show here – it’s like stepping back in time.
- The Staten Island Ferry: If the weather is nice, this is a good way to see lower Manhattan & the Statue of Liberty, for free, while enjoying a boat ride and being back to Manhattan in about an hour.
- Shopping: I’m not an authority on shopping in NYC, unless it’s for books. However, if you want to do some high powered clothing shopping, Soho is the place to do it. 5th Avenue is probably a must-visit for most just to see it, but you’ll have the most fun shopping in Soho. Random shopping note: my favorite (non-book) store in New York is Fishs Eddy, the most fun Kitchen Goods store ever.
The Book of Mormon on Broadway
Whew… this is a big list! It’s only a start though, and I’ll continue to expand and update it. As I mentioned above – please feel free to comment or reach out if you have any specific questions about visiting NYC and I’ll do my best to help!
What are your favorite places in NYC?