They say you only become a true New Yorker after you’ve lived here for 10 years. Well, I’ve only been here for just over 2, but I still think I’ve learnt a thing or two in my time!
I often get asked about what to do and what to see when friends, colleagues and acquaintances are visiting NYC so I thought I’d compile my favourites for you! This is mainly aimed at first time visitors weighing up which of the many NYC tourist spots are worth doing.
So, here are my two penny’s worth but would love to know what I’ve missed or what’s on your NYC hot list right now!
My advice – go only if you must!
Ok, so I might be biased about this as I work right in the middle of Times Square and have to battle my way in and out of the crowds twice a day! But if it’s your first time to NYC, I totally get that you will want to check out Times Square.
My suggestion is to go early in the morning, i.e. 7.30 am for a way more quiet and civilised experience, or go at night, perhaps after dinner or the theatre and see it really come to life, all lit up. Even better, avoid the chaos of the crowds on the ground and grab a drink or a bite at one of the many Midtown rooftops, my choices would be The Terrace and Garden Bar at the Times Square Edition, R Lounge Times Square or St Cloud Rooftop at the Knickerbocker.
Whatever you decide – get in, get your photos and get out, as quickly as possible! There are MUCH better areas to eat, drink shop and play in Manhattan, believe me! It’s definitely an iconic part of New York, but New Yorkers avoid it like the plague and I think its so sad when tourists spend all day here and don’t see the real New York.
Top of the Rock over the Empire State and One World Trade
Again, if you’re visiting NYC for the first or second time, you probably want to get in a couple of tourist attractions and I’d definitely recommend doing one of these and seeing New York City in all it’s glory from up high. I’ve done all three and in my humble opinion, Top of The Rock (ToTR) is the best experience.
The Empire State is great, but I feel like you want to see the Empire State and be able to get it in your photos! ToTR allows you to do that!
I enjoyed the One World Observatory experience and it does have spectacular views of Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty (obviously looking teeeny tiny, in the distance) but you can’t get outside at the top of it, which I felt was very disappointing.
So for me, ToTR, is the winner here. You get great views of the city but more importantly (to me anyway), you get to go outside at the very top, and see all of NYC with just a pane of perspex in front of you. It really is a fabulous experience and one of those tourist spots that’s actually worth doing.
Whether or not you decide to visit the observation deck at One World Trade Center, you should definitely make time to head downtown to FiDi (the Financial District) and take in the 9/11 Memorial.
I remember visiting, what was then, Ground Zero and it felt so dark, enclosed and claustrophobic – really eerie. When I moved here a couple of years ago, I had to make a visit to FiDi soon after I landed to visit one of the federal offices and apply for my Social Security Number. As it was so close to the Memorial, I walked over after my appointment.
I couldn’t believe how different it looked and felt. It is such a beautifully designed, serene and peaceful memorial – even despite all the tourists and visitors. I always get the chills whenever I visit and it’s somewhere I like to take any visitors I have who are new to the city. Especially now that I work in NYC, It is so hard to imagine what those people in the twin towers went through that day and I think it’s so important, as time passes to remember what happened and pay our respects.
Whilst you’re downtown, I’d really recommend spending a couple of hours in Seaport. If you’ve been following my NYC Neighborhood Series, get ready for a Seaport Guide coming soon!
It’s such a cute, vibrant area! One of the oldest, most historic parts of the city, it has recently been re-developed and has a totally different feel to most of NYC. It sometimes reminds me of a less busy, less tourist-y version of London’s Covent Garden, with all the cobbled streets and the centre square – with the added bonus of being right on the water where you get some of the best, uninterrupted views of Brooklyn Bridge.
As mentioned, Seaport Neighborhood Guide on it’s way with lots more specific recommendations but as a starter for ten, my favourite restaurant here is Barbalu and I’ve loved the new additions this summer in the Pier 17 complex – wining, dining and concerts galore. Next on my list to try is The Fulton.
Brooklyn Bridge / Brooklyn
Walking (or if you’re braver than me, cycling) over Brooklyn Bridge is definitely one of those tourist must dos in my book and in fact, I try to do this every time I have a visitor in town. For me, it just never gets old and it can’t be beat for one of those ‘pinch me, I’m in NYC’ moments! It’s also so different depending on the time of year and the weather on any given day – the next time I walk it, I’m going to try to time it with sunset!
I have to admit, I haven’t explored as much of Brooklyn as perhaps I should have done since moving here but one of my favourite days with my brother J, was when we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and rewarded ourselves by eating pizza at Love & Dough in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Super yummy pizza by the way, so much so that we walked around all day with our box of leftovers because we couldn’t bear to part with it! Mine was the Brontese – pistachio pesto, mozzarella and mortadella and James got the Naughty – tomato, mozzarella, ham, mushrooms and artichokes. Deee-licious! Even cold a few hours later as a leftover snack!
And, of course, we then got that infamous DUMBO shot….
Afterwards, we wandered through the awesome Domino Park in trendy Williamsburg. This is a great place to take some fabulous shots of Manhattan and the bridges over the East River, especially at sunset. We spent so long at Domino Park, we didn’t have time for a Williamsburg rooftop – but I’d suggest the roof at The Wythe Hotel or Westlight to end your afternoon in Brooklyn!
If you visit in the summer, you should definitely check out one of Brooklyn’s best food markets, Smorgasburg, Williamsburg – it’s, loud, vibrant and intoxicating!
When I can get myself together and organise a Brooklyn brunch, I’m eyeing Cecconi’s in DUMBO, this place looks unbelievably beautiful!
And then, don’t miss the opportunity to take the NYC Ferry back to Manhattan! A much better mode of transport, and way more fun than the subway!
Boat Cruise around Lower Manhattan
Oh my gosh, my absolute favorite thing to do when I have a visitor in town – and to be honest, even when I’m not entertaining!
As long as you don’t get boat/ motion sick, this is a fabulous way to spend a few hours AND see the Manhattan skyline at it’s absolute finest. My top tip is sign up for an evening or sunset sail. That way you get to see Manhattan by light and then, as your boat turns around, you see dusk falling and Manhattan lighting up…… so pretty!
I’ve done boat tours with both Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises and Classic Harbor Line. Would recommend both, with Classic Harbor Line, the boats tend to be smaller and nicer in quality and they will often offer packahe deals like ‘champagne and sunset’ cruise. The Circle Line is a bit more touristy, the boats are way larger but at the end of the day, you’re still seeing the same, iconic Manhattan skyline! Another tip would be to have a look at voucher codes for both – as I usually am able to find a discount which always helps!
A boat cruise is also the BEST way to see the Statue of Liberty, you sail right past it and get such close views. You can easily do the Staten Island Ferry, but these views are better and who wouldn’t prefer to see this iconic sight, with a glass of wine in hand on a lovely sailboat?!
Generally the boat cruises I have been on last around 90 minutes which is pretty perfect in my opinion!
Though with these amazing views, maybe 90 minutes won’t be long enough for you!
Walk the High Line – and stop for an NYC diner breakfast!
The High Line is an old, abandoned railway line that has been transformed over the years into a quasi park, quasi public art space. Starting on Westt 30th Street, you can walk all the way to Greenwich Village (Ganesvoort and Washington Streets) on this elevated platform, enjoying the gardens, works of art and all the hustle and bustle of NYC going on below you!
Top tip, stop halfway along, in Chelsea and get off the High Line for an equally elevated NYC diner breakfast at, the hard to miss, Empire Diner.
A NYC diner breakfast or brunch is always a good idea and while there are lots of diners that are more popular or more tourist-y, I love Empire. It’s not your average greasy diner experience, butt something just a little bit more special. And their brunch is amazing!
Back on the High Line and you can walk a bit more and maybe help that brunch along! The High Line takes you past Hudson Yards and all the way to the bottom of the Meatpacking District. Once there, you’re literally a hop, jump and a skip away from one of my favorite neighborhoods – the West Village. You can read more about the West Village – all my top tips on what to do and where to go in my West Village Neighborhood Guide.
I really encourage you to pay a visit! It’s such a far cry from the craziness that is Times Square and for me, this is the real NYC! It’s quiet, tree lined and absolutely beautiful. Brown stone townhouses everywhere you look, cute restaurants with pavement seating and chic, boutique shopping (or window shopping!).
Most friends I take here, always want to come back and spend more time soaking up the delightfulness that is the West Village! It’s really special so take my word for it, and make sure it’s on your NYC itinerary!
And how could I write a NYC tourist guide and not finish with, perhaps one of the most quintessential New York spots – Central Park!
It’s hard to grasp exactly how huge this park is until you start to wander round it! And there’s so much to see – whether it’s lazing and sunbathing in Sheep’s Meadow, visiting the Central Park Zoo, snapping a selfie at the Alice in Wonderland statue, listening to buskers strum away at the Bethesda Terrace or visiting Strawberry Fields, there’s something for everyone in Central Park. By now, you know that I love being by the water at every chance I get, so my favourite spots are the Boat Lake…..
And the immense Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir – 40 feet deep, holding a billion gallons of water with a 1.58 mile running track circling it’s periphery. It’s visually stunning and I love to spend time here.
So there you have it! My NYC tourist tips!
I hope they’re useful and I would love to know your NYC faves! Leave me a comment below!