I have been in love with New York City for as long as I can remember. Blame it on Fame. As a kid in the 80s, who didn’t wish they could go to school at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts?!
Consequently, all my favorite things are New York-centric: Annie Hall is my favorite movie, The Great Gatsby is my favorite book and Paul Simon is one of my music holy trinity (along with Prince and Peter Gabriel.) There’s also a romance to the city that never gets old for me.
I made my first trip to NYC when I was 17 and a senior in high school. I thought then—and I still think today—that I would want to live there. And it could still happen.
But for now, I just visit. And lucky for me, my sister lives in Brooklyn, which makes it convenient and much cheaper when you have a place to stay for free. I try to visit at least twice a year—more frequently if I’m lucky—so I have a list of favorite things to do in the city.
Over Memorial Day weekend, I visited with my friend, Tracy who was making her first trip. Tracy is an architect, so I was able to look at the city from a different perspective. And I could be a tour guide, which I love, of course!
Turns out—Jess is visiting NYC in a few weeks—and she requested a list of recommendations for her upcoming trip. Jess has been to NYC but not in a few years.
So this is for Jess—and anyone else that is thinking of visiting NYC. So charge up your phone, bring an extra battery (Google Maps and Snapchat will burn through your charge like whoa) and let’s explore NYC!
In old school David Letterman-style: My Top 10 Things to Do in NYC:
- The High Line: This has quickly become my favorite thing in NYC (aside from shopping and shows.) The High Line is a reclaimed railroad line that runs along the west side of Manhattan above the streets. I would start by visiting the new Whitney Museum of American Art which is exceptional. Budget time to walk the entire length of the trail. You’ll see public art exhibits, gardens and water features, the changing architectural landscape of the city and various places to sit and people watch, preferably with a People’s Pop. The High Line is free and gives you a completely different view of the city. Avoid peak times, if you can, to also experience a little quiet high above all the bustle below.
- South Street Seaport: I love the Pier 16 view, probably because of Annie Hall, but it’s also just a really beautiful view of the city. At South Street Seaport, you can stop at the TKTS booth and get your discount show tickets avoiding the lines at the Time Square location. If you go here, get off at the Fulton Street subway stop for a nice walk down—and Jess!—they have a brand new no line Shake Shack in the station! I find this area is always changing and has an interesting mix of old and new. There’s a big development going on here, so it’ll be different the next time I go. Once you visit, you have a quick subway ride to the start of my next favorite…
- Brooklyn Bridge: Make the time to walk the Brooklyn Bridge. Take the subway into Brooklyn and walk into the city instead of out of the city. You get the best views of One Observatory Tower, Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building. Bonus points to wear headphones and listen to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
- Central Park and The Plaza Hotel: Again–this is iconic for it’s appearance in The Great Gatsby and general Fitzgeralds’ lore–but that’s not the only reason why I love it. I’m a total sucker for old school NYC glamour. And the Plaza Hotel knows glamour. The lobby is spectacular and is totally worth the visit just for the chandeliers. I would recommend getting breakfast in the fancy food court in the basement level and starting off on your Central Park journey. On my recent trip, I finally visited the Central Park Zoo and it’s 100% charming, as is the park as a whole. Stop by the Dairy which serves as a visitors center to get a free map. There’s also a really nice app you can download for information. You could spend all day there, but my highlights are the zoo, the Wollman Rink, and Bow Bridge. There is also a Le Pain Quotidien–which is my favorite chain restaurant in the city–right in Central Park near the Belvedere Fountain. The Organic Baker’s Basket is a great snack when you’re on a budget and just need a little nosh and break from walking. And one more thing–there are signs at some of the iconic locations within the park with a phone number to call for more information. Do it.
- Architecture of Midtown Walking Tour: I never would’ve done this had Tracy not recommended it–and I loved it! You see places you might have missed, like the Chanin Building and Tudor City and learned things you would never know on your own. I thought the price of admission–a reasonable $35–and you really see many of the greatest hits of NYC architecture: NY Daily News, Chrysler Building, Bowery Savings Bank, Bryant Hotel, Grand Central Terminal. Take the time after the tour to visit the New York City Public Library on your own. I had walked past it many times, but had never gone in. It’s a marvel.
- Shopping: So admittedly, this could be my number one favorite thing to do when I visit. I love going to the shops in Soho and in Brooklyn, both in Williamsburg and near Holly’s place in Park Slope. Vintage shopping can be ridiculously expensive, but you’ll see some amazing stuff. But even Zara and H&M is more exciting when you’re in NYC. I also love walking up 5th Ave and checking out all the windows–which is an absolute must if you’re traveling to NYC during the holidays. My advice for shopping in NYC is the same as shopping everywhere: try it on.
- Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) in Chelsea: My sister, Holly has been taking me here since she moved to NYC a million years ago. Formed by Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh, UCB is an improv space. I’ve seen many SNL cast members drop in over the years and saw Hannibal Buress a million years ago on a random Sunday night. The shows are cheap and not a long commitment, but for some of the more popular ones, you’ll need to reserve seats in advance. And stop by Doughnut Plant before or after the show for some of the best donuts ever. (pro tip–if you go near closing and tip on your order–they may throw in a ton of free donuts.)
- Brooklyn: Holly has lived in Brooklyn for a while now, so there are many trips where I barely go into the city at all. I’ve found so many favorites in Brooklyn like concerts in Prospect Park, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Flea, and great restaurants, neighborhoods–and as noted earlier–shopping.
- Broadway Dance Center: This is where I go when I’m in town to take class. I’m always the oldest in class. I feel like I can barely keep up. And I love it. Classes are comparable to a drop-in yoga class in Madison and are offered at a variety of times. Beginner classes are your best bet, but if there’s an instructor you love and you can only make their Intermediate class, just hide in the back and enjoy the experience. And when you’re done, go grab a slice–or two–at Two Boots Pizza.
- Sleep No More: Full disclosure–I have not done this–but my husband, Matt has and he would put it number one on his list. The only reason I haven’t gone is time. The night he went, Holly and I were going to a concert that my Matt and her Matt were not into seeing. So they did this instead. And it’s ALL Matt will talk about if you ask him about his favorite things to do in NYC. The next time I go to NYC, it is tops on my list.
(Side note: If you’re a first timer to NYC: I have no problem going full blown tourist. No shame here. I think jumping on a double decker bus can be a great way to get an overview of the city. The only down side is a tour like that can eat up a bunch of time and doesn’t necessarily get you in the thick of things. But if you are making your first trip and you need to get acclimated, the bus tour is a nice way to go.)
What are your favorite things to do in NYC? There’s so MUCH!!!! Tell me in the comments below!