The Best things to do in New York City

To know “The City” like a local might be the greatest badge of honour for travellers. However, I am pre-warning you now that you won’t be able to cover all the museums and galleries, eat at every restaurant or $1 pizza slice joint, or walk every neighbourhood in one visit. But that’s the good news- it gives you a reason to keep coming back!

What to do:

Now that you’ve booked your trip to New York City, you need to decide what you want to see and do to make the most of your time. New York City offers visitors endless options of things to do, there is no chance to get bored during your stay. Experience the best things to do in NYC with this guide to essential sights, eats, drinks, culture and nightlife.

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1- Central Park

Central Park is the heart and soul of New York City. It is a place of peace in an otherwise loud, crowded and hectic city. Enter via 72nd Street in Central Park West and head towards Strawberry Fields, Bow Bridge, Bethesda Fountain and Loeb Boathouse. Allow 3-4 hours here.

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2- Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock is an observatory on top of the Rockefeller Center. I prefer this view over the Empire State because I want to see the iconic building, not be in it. It is best to book your ticket online to beat the long lines. Allow 1-3 hours here.

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3- The High Line

The High Line is a public park built in 2009 on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. The High Line is a funky space filled with restaurants, art and design stores, and is a beautiful way to see the city’s architecture. Allow 2-3 hours here.

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4- Soho

Soho is my favourite area to walk around in NYC. It is filled with beautiful cast-iron-facades, cobblestone streets, designer boutiques and high-end art galleries; making it a very trendy area and top shopping destination. Let yourself get lost amongst the streets and fall in love with the beautiful architecture, cafes, stores and vibe. If you love to shop, allow yourself 2-4 hours here.

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5- Guggenheim

The Guggenheim is a beautiful art museum located in the Upper East Side. The Guggenheim is an architect-lovers dream! When the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum opened in 1959, critics were unimpressed with the building, likening it to a washing machine. Today it has become one of New York City’s most beloved architectural icons. Allow 2-4 hours to peruse the art and the outside of the building.

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6- 9/11 Memorial and Museum

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is a memorial and museum commemorating the September 11, 2001 attacks, which killed 2,977 people. This attack attempted to tear apart  and destroy a city and a country, but the result of watching the opposite of that happen is truly inspiring. It is a must-visit when in this city, as the attacks completely altered the way the city and the country is today. It is a somber, meaningful place for remembrance and reflecting. Allow 2-4 hours.

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7- Greenwich Village

Greenwich Village has a heart and soul of its own. It is a hub of jazz clubs, off-broadway shows, restaurants, and home to NYU. Fan of rock and roll music? Make sure to visit Cafe Wha?; the spirit of rock & roll, where Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan used to jam. Spend hours walking around the streets, there’s a lot of special gems to be found in this neighbourhood. Next time I visit, I’m staying here! Allow 1-3 hours.

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8- Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park is inside Greenwich Village but I thought it deserved a special mention. Grab a slice of pizza, sit on a bench with a good book or people watch for hours as there is always something happening in the park. Allow 30 mins-3 hours.

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9- MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art was founded in 1929. It was recently renovated, expanding their galleries making it a truly beautiful and special experience. It is an awe-inspiring art gallery with some of the greatest artworks by the greatest artists in the world: including several pieces by Picasso, Monte, Kahlo, Warhol, Cézanne and Chagall to name a few! It is open 10am-9pm and you can purchase your ticket online beforehand. Allow 3-5 hours. 

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10- The Vessel

The Vessel is a structure and visitor attraction built as part of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project. I stumbled upon this as I was walking The High Line. It is a spiral staircase meant to be climbed; offering wonderful views of NYC from a new perspective. Allow 1-2 hours.

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11- Little Italy

Little Italy was once home to the immigrants who settled there from Sicily and Naples in the 1880s. For years it was a thriving area filled with Italian restaurants, bakeries and shops. Nowadays, the Italian presence has shrunk down to the blocks surrounding Mulberry Street. There is a deep, dark and interesting history within these streets- I suggest finding a free walking tour that includes this area! Allow 1 hour.

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12- Financial District

The area home to Wall Street, New York Stock Exchange and Trinity Church may still be dubbed the Financial District but it is no longer what it used to be. Whilst here on a walking tour, I found out that the New York Stock Exchange barely exchanges any stocks there anymore and is actually used as a department store. The New York City we knew, is no longer. Alas, it was still nice to walk the streets and imagine what life would have been like here in the 1920s! Allow 1 hour.

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13- New York Public Library

The New York Public Library is the second-largest public library in the United States and the third-largest in the world! It is located in a beautiful building with breathtaking decor and ceiling art. Even if you aren’t interested in reading or books, it is worth taking a look inside. Allow 30 mins-2 hours.

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14- St Patrick’s Cathedral

The Cathedral of St. Patrick is a Neo-Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral in the centre of the city. It has become a quintessential part of NYC; you can often spot a bride and groom snapping their wedding picture in front of the iconic church! Allow 30 mins to look inside. If you are religious you can attend a mass or confession.

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15- Times Square

Times Square is a billboard-littered hell that has very little to do with the rest of the city. Nobody hangs around outside the M&M store, and nobody buys anything from the souvenir stores. Locals pass through as quickly as possible on their way to a Broadway show, and I suggest you do the same. See it once and then get out of there! Allow minus 1 hour.

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16- Rooftop bars

New York is flooded with trendy rooftop bars. I visited the popular 230 Fifth, located in Manhattan, which boasted amazing views, especially at sunset. I wish I could have visited more!

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17- Oculus

The Oculus represents the most integrated network of underground pedestrian connections in New York City. It serves as the centre of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. It is an amazing piece of modern architecture, bringing a new life to a place of destruction and sadness.

18- Broadway Show

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Broadway shows are practically synonymous with New York City! It is inspiring how important the arts and theatre are to this city and it is important to support that so it never changes. If you are worried about the steep prices for theatre tickets, keep checking online for sales, and there are ways to win free tickets on the day from special ticket booths around the city.

Where to eat:

19- Pizza by the slice from Little Italy

This is not to be confused with Little Italy as a neighbourhood but Little Italy as a dingy hole-in-the-wall pizza slice joint on Amsterdam Street between 70th and 71st- as shown to me by a New York City local. Don’t miss it!

20- Bell, Book & Candle

If your eyes aren’t peeled you might miss this gorgeous bar and restaurant located in the West Village. The menu is made from local, organic and sustainable procurement, mostly from the vegetables on the rooftop- my kind of place!

21- Levain Bakery

Levain Bakery opened in 1995 and there are now multiple storefronts all over the city. If you pass one, go in!

22- Miznon

Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani brought Miznon to the U.S. after the pita sandwich spot was considered one of the best restaurants in Tel Aviv. I can attest that this place will not disappoint!

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Where to shop:

23- Reformation

Reformation is a beautiful clothing store that celebrates women’s bodies while ensuring the clothes are made sustainably and ethically. It is my favourite store ever and is located in Soho. Stop by during your visit if you’re into the eco but stylish life.

24- Everlane

Everlane is another eco-brand. They partner with ethical factories all around the world to make their clothes. They are a great go-to for staple items in your wardrobe.

25- The Real Real

The RealReal, Inc. is an online and shop marketplace for high-end vintage goods. They sell clothing, fine jewellery, watches, fine art and home decor. This place was practically an art gallery. I didn’t buy anything, but it was fun to look around.

26- MoMA Design Store

This is part of MoMA. I love looking at any art gallery store, but especially this one. It is filled with creative, quirky gifts, books you need and gadgets you definitely don’t need but want anyway. Make sure to have a peruse!

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There you have it! My must-dos of what to see, do and eat when you come to New York. Now, of course, I barely even scraped the surface on my list. There were many more art galleries, museums, restaurants, cafes and shops I wanted to check out but unfortunately, there isn’t enough time in the world to see everything in New York- but I’m going to try!

 

 

 

Planning your trip to New York City

There is no place in the world like New York City. It is an iconic destination for many reasons including the blend of world-class museums, delicious food, bustling streets and giant skyscrapers. However, for the same reason New York is unique, it can also be overwhelming. Whether you want to visit for a week or just a couple of days, it is important to plan if you want to make the most of your trip.

If you’re visiting for the first time or the 100th time, there’s always something new and exciting to discover. It is a city of eight million inhabitants, and you can bet there is something for everyone to enjoy!

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Understanding New York’s boroughs and neighbourhoods

New York City is made up of five boroughs; The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Within the boroughs are different neighbourhoods. Each borough and neighbourhood offers a different vibe. This is why it’s important to do your research. If you only have a few days in the city (or even two weeks), you want to make sure you’re covering what you want to see because you won’t get everywhere.

Now, it is important to know a bit of New York geography when visiting. As this will save you a lot of time! In New York, when someone says “downtown,” they mean “in a southerly direction” or any of the neighbourhoods below 14th street. “Midtown” means the neighbourhoods in the middle section of Manhattan, between 14th Street and 59th Street. This section also happens to be the busiest, most office-building-filled part of the city. And “uptown” means “north” or any of the neighbourhoods in Manhattan above 59th Street.

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When to Visit NYC

There isn’t the best time of year to visit New York. It’s always busy, and there’s always something to see, learn or do no matter the weather. Figuring out when to visit depends on what you want to do, as each season has its perks.

For me, I would never visit in winter because (I imagine) it is far too cold for my Australian-self. However, winter is great for those who want to experience a white Christmas or watch the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. There are slightly fewer crowds and more discounts as well.

Spring and Autumn are the most enjoyable times to visit in my opinion. You’re either going into summer or coming out of it, so the weather is pleasant. Spring-time also means beautiful flowers over the city, and in the Autumn you’ll see the foliage across Central Park- what a sight. Visiting in these months means New York is very walkable, so you get to see a lot more of it!

Summer can be sweltering hot in NYC. Try walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in 35-degree heat- not fun! Summer is also the busiest season as everyone in the US is on holidays. However, this also means that a lot is going on!

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Where to stay

Where you stay is going to depend on which borough and neighbourhood you prefer and how much money you want to spend. The closer to the heart of the city, the more money you’re going to pay. Manhattan is the more popular destination because it’s where most of the tourist attractions are; making it one of the most expensive areas to stay.

That being said, Manhattan is a large borough. Do you want to stay in the Upper East Side, Tribeca or Noho? I suggest writing an itinerary and marking where you want to visit and what you want to see on a map and stay in the area where the majority of your tourist attractions are to minimise long commutes and make the most of your day.

There are hotels, hostels or AirBnbs all over the city, providing lots of variety when it comes to location and cost.

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Travel tips

  • Tipping is essential:
    • For table service at a restaurant, make sure to tip between 15-25% of the total cheque
    • Tour guides depend on tips, generally, a 15-20% guideline applies
    • Taxi drivers should be tipped 10-20% of their fare
  • Metro Card: If you’re here for a week or more, consider getting an unlimited seven-day card for $33, which you can buy at a kiosk in any MTA station.
  • Subway: Understanding the Express v. Local Subway is necessary! Don’t get on the express subway or bus unless you’re sure that it’s going to stop off where you want it to.  The regular train will stop at the majority of the stops while the express trains will skip on average half the stops.
  • Museums: A lot of the museums have a free day or specific hours where you can visit for free. Check out their websites.
  • Pizza: The dingy whole-in-the-wall pizza stores are the tastiest
  • Times Square: This is the worst, most horrific part of New York (arguably the whole world). Avoid this area unless you want to see a broadway show; then I suggest you get in and out as fast as possible.
  • Time to spend: New York City is SO BIG and I would recommend no less than four days. If you want to get a real feel for New York City, you need to spend at least a week.
  • Friendly: New Yorkers are very friendly! If you are lost on the subway or on the street, just ask someone! 9/10 times someone will be a local and will be more than happy to help.

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If you do decide to visit you’ll learn what a crazy, vibrant and magnificent city it truly is. The city looks just like the movies, but to understand it, you must experience it for yourself.

NYC is a city of immigrants, in a budding symbiotic relationship. Whether you’re after knishes and bagels, Chinese food or a Korean bbq, Colombian meats, Yemeni tea, Himalayan food or cannolis, you’ll find whatever you desire.

New York City can be an overwhelming city to visit, but if you take the time to understand it, you’ll fall in love with its grittiness, craziness, quirks, beauty and charm. You’ll start to understand why so many people move here and make this city their home.

If you’ve been to NYC, let me know your favourite thing about it!