What to Do in New York City
Statue of Liberty and the tip of Manhattan, as seen from the Staten Island Ferry
New York City is (technically) made up of five boroughs (boroughs are like bigger neighborhoods):
- Manhattan (its own island and the heart of NY)
- Brooklyn (on Long Island, but not politically affiliated)
- Queens (on Long Island, but not politically affiliated)
- Staten Island (its own island)
- 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.
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).
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.
(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!
(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…
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)
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).
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)!
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
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.
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.
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.
American Museum of Natural History
Grand Central Station
Staten Island Ferry
What to Eat