New York has always been the number 1 destination on my bucket list. And finally, after years of dreaming, I actually made it a reality when I went over so that my sister and I could celebrate our birthdays together (as she had recently moved to Long Island) in the Big Apple. And, as I tend to travel very spontaneously, with just a vague idea of what I want to see and do, I thought I would put together this guide if you were planning on visiting the city that never sleeps in a slightly more structured way.
Tip: there is always something to in NYC, so consult guides like Time Out New York for ideas and events around town to explore like a local. That’s how I found out about Spa Week, where spas and wellness locations were providing full-service treatments for just $50 each during the time I was there.
I’ve always had a slight fascination with American food, and so spent most of my time doing something I’ve always wanted to: eating my way through almost all of the fast food available (which is another post). But when in NYC, there are some iconic foods you have to get: a hot-dog, bagel, and $1 pizza slice. (Shout out to the pretzel, which I sadly did not get a chance to try and therefore will not be mentioned further)
Pizza slices in New York are basically the perfect meal – they’re cheap and big and taste better the later it is in the day (it’s a dollar, you get what you pay for). With my first bagel of the trip, I walked into Tompkins Square Bagels and asked for the most New York bagel they had, and was happily obliged (with an everything bagel with lox deluxe, I would later find out). Take a walk to Tompkins Square Park and enjoy amongst the puppies.
Just don’t plan on actually finishing any of your meals in one sitting.
Tip: DO NOT buy (street) food near tourist destinations. We made the mistake of getting a hot-dog near the entrance of Central Park for an amount I refuse to disclose, as I weep every time I think about it. It’s not worth it, just trust me on this one.
2. TV TOUR
As you walk around New York, you’re overwhelmed by how large everything is, but at the same time, comforted by a certain familiarity. That’s because the city is such an iconic part of so many of our favourite TV shows and movies, it’s basically a character on its own.
So, naturally, there were certain places we had to go see (when in Rome, as they say) and as such, ended up on the Met steps a laGossip Girl, had a drink at McGees (the inspiration for How I Met Your Mother’s MacLaren’s), loitered on the stairs outside Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw’s house, hung out in Washington Square Park like the girls in Broad City, and saw the Friends apartment block!
Tip: don’t pay for a TV tour, most of them are overpriced and will take you to public places you can locate yourself. Rather make your own – you’ll find everything you need online, so grab your MetroCard (see point 4 below) and Google Maps and get on your way!
Shopping in New York. What. a. rush. As a South African, I went over there with the expectation that every purchase I made would break the bank, but you quickly find out that it’s easy to find some great deals and possible to live your best Carrie Bradshaw life while there.
Ok, I mean, did I overspend at Sephora? Yes. But was it worth it? Hell yeah.
But there are so many bargains to find. We stumbled across some amazing shops on Broadway, and got some exceptional deals (a jumpsuit for $10 – bought, a pair of heels for $2 – don’t mind if I do). Also, be sure to check out the outlet shopping, which is life-changing. Head on over to the local Marshalls, T.J. Maxx and Century 21 (although the latter is all designer gear, so on the steeper side) for some great gems. Check out the Chelsea Market for local art, design, fashion, vintage and artisanal food. And if that’s not enough, I also ended up in a Target in Queens and lost so much time, and space in my luggage, there.
Tip: love thrifting and vintage clothing? Brooklyn is your best bet for that: head on over to shops like Buffalo Exchange, Awoke Clothing and Beacon’s Closet and pick up some amazing additions to your closet.
4. GETTING AROUND
I love to walk, which is helpful as we put in the miles while exploring. So for me, the best ways to get around were (1) walking, as you get to explore and stumble across things you necessarily wouldn’t have in other circumstances, and (2) the subway. While I was in Bushwick, I was right next to the L train… which was not working. You’ll get that a lot. Always have Google Maps open to guide you around these.
You can get a MetroCard easily (there are various options, either get a Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard which you top up with your own amount, or an Unlimited 7-Day Ride for $32, taking into consideration how much you plan on travelling via subway – with each fare being $2.75). We did take a yellow cab once, to get the full New York experience, but if you must take a cab, UberPool is far more cost effective. Also, New York drivers are terrifying.
TIP: be sure to take the Staten Island Ferry (which is free!) and get the best view of the Statue of Liberty and NYC skyline.
Central Park/The Met
Two of my absolute favourite places in New York have got to be Central Park, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). Central Park is huge, and there’s so much to explore that you always stumble across something new. And, just on the other side, is the MET – one of the largest museums filled with so much you need to book out a solid day just to wander through and take in all of the pieces (just note that the MET admission fee is now $25 for non-residents, and no longer on a donation basis. It’s still very much worth it).
Coney Island, which isn’t an actual island, is located in Brooklyn, and home to theme parks and attractions, like Luna Park. Having been to the one in Sydney, I was keen to check out the OG, only to find it closed (this is why you always consult Google!). Nevertheless, even if you can’t hit the park, you can take a walk down the boardwalk, along the beach and all the way down to the aquarium and take in the sights (and grab a bite to eat, too).
Long Island City
One of the best views of the New York midtown skyline can be found in Long Island City (located in Queens). Take a walk through Gantry Plaza State Park and take in the beauty and magic of the city from the other side. You can find the iconic Pepsi-Cola sign there in this truly underrated gem.
Empire State Building and more
The High Line, New York’s elevated rail line turned urban park and walkway is also a must see, as is Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Centre (30 Rock!), Wall Street and the usual suspects.
TIP: you don’t pay for and go up the Empire State Building. Rather go to top of the rock (where there is no fencing in the background), or grab a drink at a rooftop bar and get the same view, minus the cost.
6. NEW YORK BY NIGHT
The city truly never sleeps – there’s always something to do. Have a look around and check out the local bars (especially the rooftop ones if you want a view with your drink – 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar is the most touristy). If you’re in the mood to hit the clubs, PHD downtown also offers an amazing view of the city, including the Empire State Building.
Viewing the city at night is striking – take a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and take in the city at its finest. Finally, Times Square by night, brightly adorned with billboards and advertisements, is one of the most spectacular, if overwhelming, things you will encounter. It is also a major tourist trap, with swarms of people, but something you have to do at least once.
TIP: look ahead and check out what concerts are happening around your trip- I got to see Florence and the Machine at the Barclays Centre during my stay and it was an unforgettable experience.
Got more ideas on what to do in NYC? Leave a comment below, or on my Facebook!