Grand Central Station? Movies never do that justice.
Central Park? So romantic and quiet you would never guess it is smack-dab in the middle of one of the world’s biggest cities.
Everywhere we went there were breathtaking churches and intricate carvings on beautiful buildings. I didn’t even take pictures most of the time because I knew that no picture would ever do justice to actually being there. It’s really a place you have to see in order to fully appreciate.
Also, New Yorkers? Nicest people ever. Well, most of them anyway. Super helpful, super not flustered with how annoying tourists can be. (Because tourists are seriously the worst. I know I was a tourist, too, but I never took a selfie that stopped traffic or while I was at the memorial pools at Ground Zero, so I don’t think I was that bad.)
I feel like the easiest, most helpful way to recap this experience would be to just bullet point my favorite highlights, along with some tips if you ever wanted to do the same. Please keep in mind, we only barely scratched the surface of New York City. If you just go there with no agenda but to walk around and eat the food you will not be disappointed. (Because the food is so amazing. It kind of sucks to be back in my normal life with my normal food nowadays. I need to become a really amazing chef, fast. Or move to NYC. That would work, too.)
So here’s my list of favorite things, but not in any particular order
(or, 21 Things to Do, See and Eat in NYC):
1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: We also visited the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern Art, but this one was definitely my favorite. So many famous paintings, sculptures, and artifacts. We saw “George Washington Crossing the Delaware” up close and personal. And it’s humongous. And that was just one. There were so many incredible paintings, I can’t list them all. I definitely wish that we had gone earlier in the week when we had more stamina for exploring, because this place deserved no less than a full day of our time. MoMA is pretty cool, too. And for the first time I stood in front of a Pollock and totally understood the hype. His work really is pretty moving. It’s strange. I think you definitely have to see it in person to understand.
2. Taping of Late Night with Seth Meyers: We are huge Seth Meyers fans and have followed him from SNL over to late night, so we’ve always wanted to see him live. I tried calling ahead of time to reserve tickets to the show, but they were already sold out. So we learned that you can wait in the standby ticket line outside of the NBC Experience Store at Rockefeller Center for tickets. I think these were the most worth-while lines we stood in. It was really cool to see a show taped live. The studio is beautiful and Mr. Meyers did the whole thing in one take. It was so fun to see someone we’ve followed for years in real life. If only Fred Armisten had been there, too, instead of in Portland filming Portlandia. (Standby tickets are numbered and then those ticket holders are seated according to how many regular ticket holders don’t show up to check in at the appointed time. So, if 15 regular ticket holders don’t come, 15 standby ticket holders will be seated. Therefore, the earlier you arrive to the standby line, the better your chances are. At 9 am the line is divided into those waiting for Jimmy Fallon tickets and those waiting for Seth Meyers tickets. We arrived in line at 7:30 and were 3rd and 4th in line for Seth Meyers. You cannot get tickets for anyone not in the line. When we went the line for Jimmy Fallon was much, much longer. Only 148 audience members are seated in studio 8G. Click here for more information.)
3. Pippin on Broadway: My favorite of the two Broadway shows we saw. This is a revival of a classic and it is incredible! The story is set within a circus, so there are all sorts of aerial tricks and gymnastics and dancing and magic and fire and just everything cool! Plus great music and lots of funny breaking of the fourth wall. A really fun show to see! (We bought tickets at the TKTS booth in Times Square the day of the show. Music Box Theater. 239 West 45th Street.)
4. Phantom of the Opera on Broadway: The quintessential broadway experience, beautiful music and sets. Never a disappointment. Steve and I have decided to learn to sing, “All I Ask of You,” as a duet, so you know. we’re super cool. (We bought tickets at the Majestic Theater 3 days in advance. 247 West 44th Street.)
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at the Ziegfeld Theater: The Ziegfled is a famous theater where movies often premier. It’s huge! And Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is actually a really good movie! I was surprised! If you’re in Midtown and need to pass a rainy evening, the Ziegfeld is a pretty great place to do so. (Also known as Bowtie Cinemas. They only show one movie at a time. 141 West 54th Street.)
6. Row Boats in Central Park: The most romantic thing you can do in NYC? Possibly. (It’s a big city, so that would a pretty big statement to make.) But definitely one of my very favorite things we did, just me and Steve early in the morning. So beautiful and tranquil and majestic all rolled into one. (Cash only. $15 per hour, plus $20 boat deposit returned to you when you return your boat. The Loeb Boathouse opens at 10 am.)
7. Highline Park: Everyone said we should go there and they were right. It’s very cool. If I were a New Yorker I would never tell anyone about this because I would want it to stay our little secret. But I’m not a New Yorker, so I told you. An old stretch of railroad was converted into a park and has various art sculptures on display as well as beautiful plants and little places to stop and take in the view of the Hudson or the City. You can get on an off at multiple locations, so it’s a great place to visit on your way to other places. (For more information, including access points, click here.)
8. Bryant Park: Just beautiful. Surrounded by gorgeous buildings and complete with a carousel! We were sitting there eating cupcakes as a giant yoga class was finishing up. I’m sure there is a place you could go to find out when the yoga class is so you could go and then feel less guilty eating your cupcakes there afterward. (Things to do in Bryant Park, click here. 42nd Street, Bryant Park stop on B, D, F, or M subway lines.)
9. One World Trade Center/Financial District: It was incredibly sobering to be at Ground Zero. There are memorial pools built in the foundations of the Twin Towers. If you know someone who lost their life on 9/11, you can look up their name and story, as well as the location of their name at the pools. Unfortunately, I felt like the throngs of tourists were not very respectful here. Just a few blocks away is the Financial District, Wall Street, etc. It’s kind of crazy to see how narrow and unassuming the streets are there. It’s like nothing important happens there at all… oh wait…
10. Union Square District – ABC Carpet and Home, The Strand Bookstore: If you are like me, you will probably never, ever be able to afford anything in ABC Carpet and Home, but it’s cool to look and dream. Beautiful handmade dishes and gorgeous light fixtures and just a million other things I could never buy. The Strand is a giant bookstore that will make you want to buy all the books they have, which is a lot. These two are really close to each other, so enjoy them both! (Also, if you’re going here, you might as well stop on over at Artichoke for some amazing pizza. They even have a crab pizza, which is really delicious if you like crab. Or they have the best margherita I’ve ever eaten if you don’t like crab. (ABC Carpet and Home: 888 and 881 Broadway // The Strand: 828 Broadway, on the corner of 12th // Artichoke: 328 East 14th Street)
11. Washington Square Park: Another beautiful park, another beautiful view. Warning: you may be serenaded by weird strangers here, but that’s just part of the experience.
12. 5 Pointz: So, I’m not entirely sure what is going to happen to 5 Pointz. It is a building, or series of buildings, that are usually covered with graffiti, but like the really cool, artistic kind. As of right now, there is debate about tearing the building down, which would be super sad. It also appears that there are seasons in which the art is all on display and then it gets white-washed over. We happened to go during the off-season, so most of the art was covered over, but it was still cool to see all the layers of paint and the graffiti that was on display. If it is still standing when you visit, you should definitely go. The area is called Five Points because it is where the five boroughs of New York meet. It has been the center of a lot of history for a long time and has been the site of slums, gang wars, all that kind of stuff. (Click here for more information.)
13. John’s Brick Oven Pizza: It’s hard to pick a favorite pizza from New York, because it is almost all incredible (As long as it costs more than $2.50 a slice. Anything less is, understandably, ummm, gross.) But if I had to, this would be the place. Delicious. If you’re on Bleeker Street, do yourself a favor and get yourself some of this pizza. (Cash only. No slices. 278 Bleecker Street, between 6th and 7th Avenue.)
14. Hungarian Pastry Shop: Pastries so light and heavenly you will wonder why we don’t let Hungarians take over the world. They are clearly doing something very, very right. I asked for the counter girl’s recommendation because there were too many wonderful looking choices and, sadly, far too little time. (Cash only. 1030 Amsterdam Avenue, between Cathedral Parkway and 111th Street in Morningside Heights. A place to pick up a few pastries before going to Central Park.)
15. Royal Bangladesh Indian Restaurant: This place is awesome. It is really festively hung with thousands of Christmas lights that make for a very fun atmosphere. It would be the perfect place to have a birthday dinner, I think. The food is very good and the staff is helpful. I think it is hilarious that the website is royalfinedining.com, because although it is a blast, I would never have described it as “fine dining”. You’ll see when you go there. (93 First Avenue, between 5th and 6th Street.)
16. Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery: We called ahead and ordered my mom a New York Cheesecake for her birthday and got it on the night of our arrival. Yummy. Later in the week we went back for their $2 cupcakes. Divine. (126 Rivington Street.)
17. Tom’s Restaurant: Seinfeld fan? My brother dragged us here because he is a fan and this is Monk’s Diner (although really they are on a set and this is just the restaurant they photographed for the street view). But they have really delicious milkshakes. And on a lucky day, we’ve heard that Seinfeld and friends actually go there and put on little skits. (Cash only. 2880 Broadway, Morningside Heights.)
18. Hog Pit: Ribs that fall off the bone and are so tasty. Dennis chased this place down after it moved from the Meat Packing District because he liked it so much.
19. Shake Shack: Skip the lines and order frozen custard from the “C Line”. Best frozen custard for miles. Maybe hundreds of miles. (In the Theater District: 691 8th Avenue, corner of 44th Street. Other locations found here.)
20. Katz Delicatessen: A famous little deli where you can get the world’s biggest pastrami sandwiches. They’re $18, which seems like a lot until you see that they are putting an entire cow’s worth of pastrami on there. So maybe split it? Also, this is where Harry and Sally met up for lunch and that whole famous “I’ll have what she’s having,” line was filmed. (Cash only. 205 East Houston Street, corner of Ludlow Street.)
21. Cart Food: Gyros, falafels, hot dogs, ice cream, smoothies, you name it. A good New York experience. But beware of unmarked prices. If you don’t see prices clearly marked (especially in touristy locations), you may get a special inflated price just for you! Which you will feel obligated to pay because they already gave you your food.
And other things I think you might want to know:
If you do that whole Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island tour in the summer, you’re going to be getting the real immigrant experience complete with super long lines, what feels like months of waiting (and I do apologize to all immigrants for trivializing their trials), people crowding around you speaking languages you don’t understand. So, if it’s worth it to you to see that green lady up close and personal (she is pretty incredible), just be prepared. Same with the Empire State Building. Long lines. And just when you think you’re done standing in lines, more long lines. Bring provisions. It’s a good bonding experience for your entourage.
There are really cool things to do and see in Midtown (Rockefeller, Times Square, Broadway, etc.). But just steer clear of that whole area come the weekend. So many people you can’t breathe. Weekends are a great time to explore other cool parts of the city, because there are so many other cool parts.
Your neck will hurt from looking up at so many beautiful things.
In Chinatown, be sure to read the menu before going into a restaurant. Unless you like really authentic Chinese cuisine like goose liver and leek stew. In which case, Chinatown is your playground.
The Subway is super navigable and many New Yorkers are willing to help if you ask for directions. Get yourself a map and try to figure things out. The nice thing is that once you’ve looked at a map of the island a few times, you will see that the city is very well laid out. North? Uptown. Bigger street numbers. South? Downtown. Smaller Street numbers. Midtown? Middle street numbers, just below Central Park.
Everyone walks there, so sidewalks should be treated like streets. Stick to the right side so there are passing lanes for faster people. And also, bring good walking shoes. And I mean really good. New Yorkers wear lots of comfortable, yet stylish shoes like Keds or Vans, so you won’t be out of place wearing something that will keep you from wishing you could cut off your feet at the end of a long day.
Carry cash as much as possible. Many restaurants are cash only. There are lots of ATMs available, but if they aren’t yours you’ll have to deal with the fee.
Be flexible. There is always something cool going on somewhere. Make room in your itinerary for just exploring something you just heard about. There are concerts or movies or plays in the parks in the summertime. If you know anyone local, ask what they’ve been up to. Also, flexible schedules may make it possible to get less expensive tickets to shows, etc. Follow your favorite New York comedians, actors or musicians on Twitter and sometimes you can get free tickets to their shows.
Organize your time. If you have predestined shows or restaurants you want to visit, get out a map and do things that are close to each other on the same day so you don’t have to waste your time going back and forth on the Subway.
Before you go, check out this awesome book: NYC (Basic Tips and Etiquette) by Nathan W. Pyle. Hilarious and helpful graphics about how to navigate New York City without being annoying.
And of course, don’t stay anywhere but an Airbnb. I loved how ours made us feel like real New Yorkers for a hot minute. And now I understand NYC apartments in ways I never could have. I love seeing pictures of railroad style apartments and being able to imagine the layout having actually stayed in one! Ours was right near Katz and was the perfect location!