Are you looking for travel tips on things to do in New York City?
As part of our city guides series, we chatted with Kate Voyage who has visited New York City 10 times since 2003, and since 2007 has been spending July and August there each year.
Kate shares with us her insider tips on the best things to see and do in New York City including where to eat, sleep, drink, shop and explore.
Why visit New York City?
It’s got energy and personality like no other city. All the attractions (food, theater, art, parks) are world class.
Things to do in New York City
I love big glitzy Broadway shows. Go to at least one during your trip. To get an idea of what’s on and popular vs. not popular, check out the Broadway grosses and look at the percentage of seats sold and average ticket price.
Unless a show is selling out, you can easily Google for discount codes. Using online discount codes will save time and usually give you better seats compared with using the discount TKTS booth that’s in Times Square. You can typically use the discount code at the box office to save online booking fees.
Biking around Central Park and over the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan are other must-dos.
Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting is at the MOMA (The Museum of Modern Art). You can get in free from 4.30-8pm on Fridays.
Other major museums include the Metropolitan Museum of Art “the Met” (admission is by suggested donation, you do not have to pay the full amount), the Museum of Natural History, and the Guggenheim. I personally like the Frick.
You’ll have fun just walking around. There’s no need to pack in “attractions.”
Best neighbourhoods to explore?
I spend most time in the theater district and the east village neighborhood. For the east village, go to Union Square at the intersection of Broadway and 14th St. The theater district is Broadway from 42nd St to around 52nd St. The main entrance to Central Park is at 59th St.
From Union square, you can take the 14th street bus West over to the Highline, a former elevated train track that has been turned into an urban park in the sky. It’s concrete with some plants rather than the grass you’d expect of a park, but it’s still nice.
A great walk is just up or down the length of Broadway. Each 20 numbered blocks is around 1 mile, so 14th St to 44th St (30 blocks) is 1.5 miles. Note that this doesn’t apply to the avenues, only the streets.
Neighborhoods south of 23th street tend to be the cooler neighborhoods (except that the financial district at the bottom tip of Manhattan isn’t very cool). Great ‘hoods include:
- Village/West Village
- the East Village
- the Lower East Side
- and Tribeca.
I would skip Little Italy or Chinatown (unless you’re going to Chinatown to eat).
For Brooklyn, you can take the L train to hipster central Williamsburg or take a stroll around Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, or Park Slope if you’re keen to venture beyond Manhattan. These are nice places to stroll to see Brooklyn, which has it’s own unique character separate from Manhattan.
Where to eat in New York City?
Yelp.com is great for NYC food recommendations.
If you want to know which restaurants are currently the trendiest, try NY Mag’s Grub St blog. Grub St also tends to have good information about the possibility of getting reservations. Some super trendy places have no reservations policies and the wait can be up to 3 hours.
For cheap eats, my favorite is Taim falafel bar in the West Village. They also have a new falafel truck. Their falafel is consistently on NYC’s best lists. It lives up to the hype, and it’s vegan.
Another street food favorite is the dosa vendor in Washington Square Park (lunchtimes).
For coffee, I like drinking Stumptown cold brew in the lobby of the Ace Hotel (on 29th St, near Broadway). This hotel lobby has seating and is a great place to have a quiet meeting.
Joe in the West Village is also a popular coffee option. It’s close to Taim falafel.
If you’re in the mood for gelato after (or before) walking around Central Park, there is a branch of Grom Gelato, near the Columbus Circle 59th st entrance.
“For restaurants, you have hundreds of options. You’re in the restaurant capital of the world”.
Pok Pok NY is new and hot for Thai.
Michael White’s Marea is consistently recommended for Italian.
All the way up the scale, you can go fine dining at Per Se, Daniel, Jean George, and Le Bernardin.
Think of all your favorite judges from Top Chef, Google their restaurants, and then check previously mentioned Grub St for hints on getting reservations.
If you want to be cooler, you can try Brooklyn hotspot Franny’s.
NYC restaurants are known for often being very crowded and discouraging lingering with design elements like backless seats. Do some research before taking your parents to trendy restaurants.
You can’t visit without eating ______ ?
- Bagels – I like Murray’s Bagels in Greenwich Village, on 6th Ave between 12th and 13th. It’s just West of Union Square.
- A close second, pizza! NY’s best pizza is a hotly debated. Di Fara in Brooklyn is very popular and serves slices. Slices in NYC are as big as your head. Be warned!
- For Vegan Pizza options, try Cafe Viva on 2nd Avenue between 11th and 12th St.
Where to drink in New York City?
New York Magazine have a big feature on where to drink on each night of the week in NYC.
The lobby lounge at the Mandarin Oriental serves cocktails and has an amazing view of Central Park.
There is no need to limit your drinking to night time, New Yorkers are also very fond of drinking with brunch. Try the spiked coffee with brunch at Sons of Essex.
To drink for free you can go to an art show opening. Try The Skint to find info. They’re often quite fun. You can just walk in, chat to people, and have a few drinks.
Best places for a night on the town?
- A Broadway show.
- Bryant Park is open very late at night for ice skating in winter.
- An alternative way to spend an evening is to do the free monthly 10pm bike ride around Central Park, or one of Times Up’s other moonlight rides.
Where to stay in New York City?
I get sublets using Craiglist or through friends. If you’re looking for a sublet and have any NYC-based friends, just ask them to do a Facebook blast on your behalf. Rent is so high in NYC that NYers are often keen to sublet.
If I have any days before my sublet starts, I stay at the Hosteling International located at 103rd and Amsterdam (dorms only). It’s a really nice hostel.
At the risk of this sounding like an ad for the Ace Hotel (it’s not), it’s a great mid range hotel option for people who want to keep it classy. Their rooms start around $229, which is cheap for New York, and include free wifi.
For a splurge (and possibly to tick an item off your bucket list), the uber famous Waldorf Astoria has surprisingly good rates. They start around $369 a night, but there are also some good packages around.
Markets and Shopping Districts?
The Union Square farmers market is amazing in summer. It’s on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Fridays are the best.
For people from outside the US, the chain stores that I think are worth checking out are: The Gap, H&M, and JCrew. There is a JCrew in the Time Warner Center right next to the 59th St entrance to Central Park.
There’s also an awesome Wholefoods supermarket in the Time Warner Center, with seating and even a microwave. Perfect for lunch or supplies for a picnic in Central Park (and for a clean toilet near Central Park!).
There are multiple branches of The Gap and H&M.
The Century 21 Discount store near the World Trade Center is good(ish) for designer labels at discount prices. Prices are probably better at designer discount stores in other states (such as Ross Dress for Less, which isn’t in NYC but is in places like LA and Vegas).
My most fashionable friends like Soho, which is where you’ll find boutiquey shops.
Events and Festivals in New York?
I’ve been in NYC for Gay Pride, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and 4th of July.
The 4th of July Fireworks are cool but the public viewing areas are claustrophobically crowded. I’d be more inclined to avoid major events and festivals than seek them out.
As a visitor, it’s a pain to work around attractions being closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Getting Around New York City?
The subway is incredible. I love it. You can buy a 7 day pass ($29) or a 30 day pass ($104).
Unlike other cities there are no zone restrictions. For the same fare, you can use any subway including to Brooklyn and Queens. A subway pass is also valid for the buses.
With the exception of “crosstown” buses that travel east/west rather than north/south, I don’t generally recommend the buses though. You’ll just end up stuck in traffic. Google maps will give you subway directions if you click on the public transport symbol.
There’s a reason why Sarah Jessica Parker has such toned legs (apart from wearing heels all the time)! NYC is an amazing walking city. A combination of walking and the subway is best.
WiFi in New York City?
You can use wifi at Starbucks and they’re everywhere.
If you want to do work for the day, go to famous reading room at the main branch of the New York Public Library at 5th Avenue and 42nd St. There are plenty of desks, each with a power point.
Best time of year to visit New York?
Most people say Fall. I like summer because there are so many free events taking place. Only go in summer if you like the heat. Temperatures in the 90s F/30s C are common. The weather is bleak in winter.
Favourite side trip?
Don’t leave. There’s too much to do. These days I spend more time in Brooklyn than in Manhattan, so I would say Brooklyn as a side trip if you only think of NYC as Manhattan.
You can easily fly into any of three airports. Kenndedy/JFK, La Guardia (LGA), and Newark (EWR). Transport links from all three are good.
There are also cheap buses from Boston, Washington DC, and Philadelphia. Mega Bus is a good choice.
Best “insiders tip?”
Find free events using sites The Skint. This will get you off the tourist trail if you wish to do that.
I love New York because ______ ?
of New Yorkers. They’re generally friendly and helpful. There is a sense of anything is possible, people having self-confidence, and people living life their own way.
Especially in Brooklyn, there’s also an amazing sense of highly concentrated creativity. New York is inspiring and energizing.
Need more New York travel tips?
- Taste New York’s history through a walking food tour
- New York City Travel Tips
- 11 ways to enjoy a New York summer
More Resources for New York
Check out these helpful travel guides:
- Frommer’s EasyGuide to New York City 2014 (Easy Guides)
- Fodor’s New York City 2014 (Full-color Travel Guide)
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: New York City
- The Best Things to Do in New York, Second Edition: 1001 Ideas
- NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette
- Compare New York City Hotel Reviews & Ratings. Find the Best Hotel Deal!
Do you have tips on things to do in New York City?