What to Do in New York City

What to Do in New York City

Statue of Liberty and the tip of Manhattan, as seen from the Staten Island Ferry

The City


New York City is (technically) made up of five boroughs (boroughs are like bigger neighborhoods):

  1. Manhattan (its own island and the heart of NY)
  2. Brooklyn (on Long Island, but not politically affiliated)
  3. Queens (on Long Island, but not politically affiliated)
  4. Staten Island (its own island)
  5. The Bronx (on the mainland)

However, for people that live in/around New York, Manhattan is “The City”.  You’ll never hear a New Yorker refer to The Bronx as “The City.”

Since I’m a New Yorker, when I refer to “The City,” I’ll be referring to Manhattan.  Other boroughs I’ll name individually.

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Navigating Your Way Around


New York City might be the easiest city to navigate – the entire city is a grid (like perfect lines).

Streets are like the rungs of a ladder going up and down (North and South).  The farther North, the higher the number.  The farther South you are, the lower number.  This flawless system works, until you hit….

Distance – 20 street blocks (the short blocks, going North and South), is about 1 mile.  25 street blocks is about 2 kilometers.

SoHo – which stands for “South of Houston Street” (said like “House-Tin” – NOT like Houston, Texas).  Once you’re South of Houston Street (in SoHo), anything goes.  What I mean is, the streets no longer make any sense, so have your map in your back pocket).

Avenues are like columns on your map – they run North and South, so from West to East (left to right), they count down (more or less; some avenues have actual names instead of numbers).

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Times Square

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Getting Around


Subway & Bus – $2.50 per ride (no matter how far you go).  You need to get an MTA card (at any subway station), and put some money on it to use for the subway or buses.  MTA cards cost $1 just for the card, and then you can put any amount of money on it.

CitiBike – costs $9.95 for 24 hours and you MUST dock the bike every 30 minutes (or less).  If you don’t, there are ridiculous fees that will be charged to your credit card.  This is very different than all the cities that I’ve ever rented a bike from in Europe – they were either free or just one flat rate for the whole day… I was actually very confused when I rented the bike in NYC – be very careful of the time!

Taxi – the more expensive, yet more direct, option for getting around.  A taxi will take you to exactly where you want to go, but for a higher price than a subway or bus.

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(Free) Iconic Moments


Central Park – Walk through Central Park and check out the two fabulous museums on either side (the Metropolitan and the American Museum of Natural History, see below)

Rockefeller Center – My favorite time to visit Rockefeller center is during December because of the huge Christmas tree and ice skaters.  Also, directly across the street is the very famous Saks Fifth Avenue (and during the holidays, the side of the Saks building is decorated and has an amazing light show that plays about every 15 minutes or so).

High Line – And while you’re in the walking mood, check out the new walk way in NYC! It was created from an old train route over the streets of Manhattan, and is now turned into a garden walk!

Staten Island Ferry – The best view of the Statue of Liberty can be seen from the Staten Island Ferry… and it’s free!  Skip the lame tourist tour TO the Statue of Liberty because you’ll be looking straight up (not a good view).  The best view is from the free ferry! (see above)

Times Square – The intersection of Broadway and 7th Ave. and stretches between 42nd Street and 47th Street.

Grand Central Station.

Brooklyn Bridge – Walk across for great views. (see below)


Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Ice Rink, during the best time to visit: December!

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(Other) Iconic Moments


Empire State Building – You may want to go to the observation deck at the top  (Tickets start at $29).  However, my advice is: If you have to choose just ONE observation deck (because the tickets are pretty expensive), I would choose…

Top of the Rock – Located at Rockefeller Center, you can go to the top of the big building (behind where the Christmas tree stands).  This observation deck over looks central park and has spectacular views!  I would choose to go to the top of this building rather than to the top of the Empire State Building to the Statue of Liberty…

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Museums


Most museums ask for a donation or give a “suggested price” to enter.  Most people pay this thinking that the MUST pay it, but that’s not the case.  I don’t want to tell you to not pay anything, because I think it’s important to support the arts, but if the suggested price is $20, I usually just say “I’d like to only pay $10” (or whatever you can afford), and they’ll let you in with everyone else paying full price).  This is not for EVERY museum, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask if you’re unsure and really can’t afford to pay a lot.

The Met – “The Metropolitan” (suggested prices: adults $25, students $12)

American Museum of Natural History (suggested prices start at $22)

MoMA – “The Museum of Modern Art”  (my favorite)!  I love love LOVE the MoMA, but “modern art” is weird (which is probably why I like it), and not for everyone (fixed prices, not suggested: adults $25, students $14).

MoMA Store – If $25 is too steep for you, but you still want to check out modern art, then hop across the street to the MoMA store.  The store is like a mini museum with fun little things that you can buy.  Located at 53rd St. between 5th and 6th Ave. (6th Ave. is nicknamed “The Avenue of the Americas”-  most maps have the full name instead of the number)

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Foodies, Beware!


You can spend months in the city and not be bored. Every cuisine is here in all price ranges.

Street Vendors – Try the street vendors for hot dogs, knishes, pretzels, and gyros.

Diners and Delis – Two symbols of NYC (the diner and the deli) will make just about anything you want for little money.  What I get in pretty much any deli: an egg sandwich (egg, cheese, and a breakfast meat on a soft roll) – for about $3.50… breakfast, to-go, and cheap (and so good)!

Pizza – NYC pizza is world famous.  You must try it!

Bagels – Even better than the pizza, are the bagels!  Oh my, how I love NY bagels!!  I eat one EVERY day that I’m in NY (no exaggeration).

Neighborhoods

Chinatown

Little Italy – there’s one square block around Little Italy called “Eataly” which has a ton of authentic Italian food and desserts (more info, see below)

Greenwich Village – has some nice restaurants

I don’t want to necessarily recommend any particular restaurant because I never go to any specific one…. Whenever I’m hungry, I find some place around (which is what I’m sure you will do to).  However, there is one restaurant that I have gone to quite often when I was a kid.  If you have kids, this is my one recommendation:

Jekyll & Hyde – This was, by far, my favorite restaurant as a kid!  My brother and I would beg to go here.  This restaurant is SO fun (even for adults).  It’s a haunted house.  The bathroom doors look like book cases (I couldn’t find it a few times when I was younger), the pictures on the walls have eyes that actually move, the heads of animals on the wall talk to you while you’re eating (and sometime heckle you while you chew), and there’s always a quick show in the middle of the restaurant (something along the lines of Frankenstein).  The line was always ridiculously long when I was a kid (not sure about nowadays), so perhaps call and ask about wait times or reservations).

Eataly – A one-by-one city block of pure Italian amazingness! Pasta, dessert, coffee, a beer garden, etc.  There are actually two in NYC:

  • 5th Ave & 23rd St.
  • Downtown right next to the World Trade Center Memorial (On Church St., in a mall, above H&M)

The Last time I was in NYC, I actually went to both of the Eatalys in one day (haha). First one as soon as I got there for great coffee in the morning, and then the other one later in the day for amazing pistachio pasta (that’s right, pistachio pasta)!

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Patriotic?


The Statue of Liberty – You can walk around it, go inside the bottom (pedestal), or climb to the top.  Here are the prices for each (for adults).  Prices: Grounds Only $18, Pedestal $18, Top $21

Ellis Island – Trace your roots with many interactive and fun activities.  Free to enter, but the ferry ride is $18

The 9/11 Memorial – The base of where the World Trade Center buildings once stood, have been turned into a beautiful memorial… Two square waterfalls that fall into what once was the foundations of the buildings.  Around the waterfalls, are all the names of the people who died during 9/11 – either from being in the buildings, on one of the flights, or helping others during that awful time.

The Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum

Fraunces Tavern Museum – The Revolution had just ended and George Washington bid farewell to his officers.  This is a restaurant and bar where GW said goodbye to his men before returning back to Virginia.  Prices: Adults $7, Kids $4, Family $20 (1 adult and 4 kids, or 2 adults and 2 kids)


Brooklyn Bridge as seen from South Street Seaport

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Hey Folks! Nostalgic?


Spend time at South Street Seaport for a look at Old New York. Visit the Tenement Museum to experience immigrant life 100 years ago. Have lunch at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, a 1950’s eatery where the waiters sing. Go to Coney Island for a knish and a hot dog at Nathan’s.

Whatever you do, do not leave New York without trying a chocolate egg cream (if you can find it), a bagel with cream cheese and a slice of New York cheesecake. You will never be the same.

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Hey Kids! In the Mood to Play?


Head to the Sony Wonder Technology Lab, FAO Schwartz (toy store), or ride the Roosevelt Island tram. Get locked up in the Police Museum. Have tea at the Plaza Hotel, just like Eloise. Explore the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

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Stay Outdoors


Check out Chelsea Waterside Playground, the Botanical Gardens, the Bronx Zoo or the smaller zoo in Central Park. Take a “hike” window shopping along Fifth Avenue where the city’s favorite stores are. Sail around Manhattan. Ride in a horse-drawn carriage through the Park or rent a row boat there.

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LINDSAY’S PICKS


Uptown

American Museum of Natural History

Central Park

Mid-Town

MoMA Store

Times Square

Grand Central Station

The Highline

SoHo

9/11 Memorial

Staten Island Ferry

Brooklyn Bridge

New York City SQUAREWhat to Eat

Bagels
Egg Sandwiches

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23 comments

  • I would not recommend biking on the streets of NYC with children. That said, here are some tips to help you safely navigate the Big Apple: Citi Bike offers 470 stations making it super convenient to ride. The Department of Transportation (NYC.gov/bikes) will give you info, safety tips, laws and info re taking bikes on the subways. In NYC there are 3 types of lanes: bike-only paths, separated lanes (which put parked cars between riders and traffic), and “green lanes” (which is a separate path painted green without a barrier). Get a bike map (free at notoriously friendly bike shops here) and study it to learn the ropes. Kids under 13 must wear helmets by law (can be rented for about $3 a day). NYC bike shop owners gladly share their expertise and will happily answer questions, provide suggestions, review safety procedures, etc. My foreign visitors have all noticed how great these guys are, so don’t be shy!

  • If you are between the ages of 6 and 13, you can have an adventure: a sleepover in the American Museum of Natural History! Starts at 5:45 pm and ends at 9 am, includes evening snack, breakfast, a fact-finding mission by flashlight, a 3D movie, cots, presentations and take home activities to continue the learning. Cost is $145 per person. Call for more info: 212 769 5200. Building is on Central Park West at 79th Street, Manhattan. Or just spend a wonderful day there learning about nature, taking in a planetarium show, watching an IMAX movie, etc. The dioramas of animals in their natural habitat and the hall of dinosaurs are favorites for all ages.

    • Two things: the subway stop is under this museum, making it super convenient to get to and great in bad weather. Also, take a break and walk through Central Park to the opposite side. This puts you on Fifth Avenue right near the Metropolitan Museum. Central Park has a fun little zoo that not many tourists know about. My kids loved seeing policemen on horseback riding through the park. Be a real New Yorker (at least for the day) and take a picnic lunch into the park.

  • New Yorkers love Grand Central Station, 100 + years old, scheduled for demolition in the ’70’s. It was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who fought for the restoration of the beautiful Beaux Arts building by pleading with the Mayor and then holding a press conference in the famous Oyster Bar (still there). Today there are more than 40 shops, several cafes and eateries, and historic details to marvel at. Take a walk through and have a coffee. (It’s at 42nd St. and Park Ave.)

  • Head over to Brooklyn (“the new Manhattan”) for a chocolate egg cream at a vintage soda fountain. (This was a chocolate drink we were treated to in the 50’s if we were good!) At Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain (513 Henry St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn) you’ll sit on a stool in an authentic old pharmacy and watch the “soda jerk” make up your order. Open 10 am to 10 pm (11 on weekends) daily. Food also available but if this is too pricey, many coffee shops and diners in Brooklyn will do an egg cream for you. Carroll Gardens is a nice, safe residential area, good for a walk and filled with nostalgia. Many films are made here, too.

    • And have a “black and white” (cookie with chocolate and vanilla icing) with that egg cream for a real trip down memory lane! Every NY bakery has them and they have been a staple in NYC since the 40’s.

    • In Carroll Gardens, just ask for “the Farm” when looking for that egg cream. That’s what the locals call Brooklyn Farmacy.

  • The Metropolitan Museum is SO HUGE but if you focus on a few areas, your kids will have a ball.
    The Egyptian Temple of Dendor is impressive and the armor. At Christmastime, a gigantic tree is erected in the medieval hall with a beautiful Italian Nativity all around it. There are special children’s programs but check them out before you go (through their website). If you go to the Cloisters on the same day, your admission ticket from the Met is good there. Go up by public bus, take a picnic lunch. The views from the Cloisters (rebuilt in NY from various architectural sites in Europe) are beautiful.

    • Save some time by eating downstairs in the Met. There is a self-service buffet that has hot and cold foods. Especially good in bad weather so you don’t have to leave the building.

    • Always check out what’s going on at the Met before you go at metmuseum.org because there is always so much to see and do. Kids get tired if pushed all day so break up the visit with a walk in Central Park (just behind the museum) or a stroll down Fifth Avenue (out the front door of the museum). In summer, sit outside in front and people watch for a bit. When you’re refreshed, go back in and spend a few more hours. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see everything. New Yorkers who go regularly haven’t seen everything either! just enjoy what you can do.

  • IHOP (the International House of Pancakes) is a NY institution for crepes, omelettes, pancakes, waffles, burgers. The one on Lexington Ave. is open 24 hours every day. Prices are reasonable and the food is good and plentiful. Coffee is refilled for free as often as you want (unlike in Europe). European visitors should know that a 20% tip is customary in US restaurants and is not automatic on the bill.

    • Visitors should know that the portions are pretty big here. There is a kids’ menu and a discounted one for senior citizens. Coffee is pretty good.

    • Always try the seasonal specials, available for a short time, like Pumpkin Spice pancakes in the fall (taste like pumpkin pie!) and all the red, white and blue stuff around the 4th of July (usually berries on pancakes with whipped cream). And don’t just go for breakfast. They have a full menu for lunch, dinner and snacks. You won’t be disappointed!

  • Be aware that strollers, backpacks and large bags (including diaper bags) are not permitted at the Statue of Liberty and there are no lockers at the ferry terminal. Lines are also very long at the Statue. A better idea is to see her from the water en route to Ellis Island Immigration Museum (run by the National Park Service) – worth a visit and picnic grounds face Manhattan.

  • Don’t miss Ellen’s Stardust Diner (Broadway and 51 St.) where the waitstaff sings and Broadway stars eat. This is a real old-fashioned NY diner and a fun experience. Open from 7 am till midnight daily (till 1 am on weekends). The desserts are the best part – just go for coffee and cake and the music and you’ll be happy.

  • Christopher and Joan

    Saved so much $ with your ideas. Thanks! Also, St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Catholic) just finished a multi-million dollar renovation and it’s beautiful (5th Ave. and 50th St.) and right opposite Rockefeller Center. If you go in winter, make sure you ice skate there and have hot chocolate afterwards, just like a real New Yorker!

  • Fastest way around NYC is by subway (metro, underground). System is based on 1 ride = 1 token, no matter the distance. Get a free map in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese at any station – just ask at the ticket booth. Maps include a list of top attractions and directions on how to get there by subway.

  • The National Museum of Mathematics (11 E. 26 ST.) is filled with interactive, fun exhibits, puzzles, robots and more. Open 7 days a week from 10 to 5 (closed only on Thanksgiving). Emphasis is on 4th to 8th graders but there’s a lot of interesting stuff for every age. A great place to encourage kids to look at math in new ways. Admission is $15 for adults and $9 for children.

  • Thanks for the suggestion about the Staten Island Ferry. Great views of Manhattan, absolutely free, runs every 15 – 20 minutes weekdays and about every 20-30 minutes weekends. Can walk a bike on but no cars permitted. Ride from lower Manhattan to Staten Island, then you have to get off and re-board (never a problem) to come back. Passes the Statue of Liberty for photo op. Food and beer sold on board. You have to see Manhattan rising from the water to truly appreciate her grandeur.

    • Another great spot for photos of Manhattan is in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), a park area in Brooklyn right on the water. Fantastic and authentic pizza in that area also. The Manhattan Bridge is parallel to the Brooklyn Bridge so you can get photos of that too.

  • Don’t miss the Highline which is the highlight for many visitors. It’s 3 stories up with great views of the city and harbor, absolutely free, beautifully designed and landscaped with seats along the way for picnics or rest. Walk a few blocks or the entire length. Open all year round with plantings designed to change with the seasons.

    • Not far from the High Line is “EATALY”, a square city block filled with Italian foods, restaurants, gelato, bakeries, a coffee bar, cooking classes, cookbooks, pasta shop, wine and a rooftop beer garden with great views. So much fun. At 23rd Street where 5th Avenue meets Broadway. Food is creative and authentic. Watch pasta being made, try a pastry, people watch. Something for everyone but if you’re a foodie, it’s heaven.

  • Cheapest way to get to the city from JFK airport is to hop on the Air Tram (about $6.) from any terminal to Jamaica station and then catch the subway from there. For the price of a token (about $2.50) you can get to anyplace in the 5 boroughs. Rush hour is tricky if you have a lot of luggage so avoid 7:30 – 9:30 am and 4 – 6 pm. (No charge for luggage.)

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