Recently I put out a Complete Travel Guide to Tokyo and I had so much fun sharing my knowledge! I recently went to New York for 5 days in May and finally got around to looking at my photos. I wanted to keep the same format and share with you a New York Travel Guide featuring quintessential experiences and hidden gems! My boyfriend lived in New York for 2 years before so it was nice that our travel was based on tips from a local! One thing to note though is that New York is so big and there are so many tourist attractions and hidden gems, don’t feel like you have to see it all in one go! It’s a city most people end up going back to!
1) Grand Central Station
The first thing I did when I arrived in New York was go see Grand Central station. If you’ve ever watched Gossip Girl, you might have an even stronger gravitation to feel the hustle and bustle of this station. There are some shops and cafes inside the station but I’d recommend going elsewhere for food and shopping! You don’t need to stay for long to get the vibe. My favorite part about the experience is seeing the old school arrivals board.
Tip: To get a nice photo without as many people around, go inside the Apple store on the upper floor (this is where my photo was taken).
2) Chelsea Market/High Line
The High Line is such a beautiful park with nice views to the city. It is quite crowded though even when we went right around 9-10am. There are lots of benches and art installations that will keep your interest as you wander through the unique architecture. Aim to spend about an hour. Then we wandered off to Chelsea Market. If you aren’t planning on spending money on souvenir shopping, there’s actually not too much to do. But I enjoyed checking out the various vendors and tried to visit the best taco in town, Los Tacos No.1. However there’s a huge line up already so we followed this obscure sign to Los Mariscos.
Los Mariscos has wonderful seafood tacos and there’s even seating! Definitely recommend this if you don’t feel like waiting at Los Tacos No.1 (no seating)
3) Visit Brooklyn Bridge
Another super iconic attraction of New York is the Brooklyn Bridge. We woke up really early to see the bridge without the crowds and was able to take tons of amazing photos. For tips, see my post on the Most Instagrammable Spots at Brooklyn Bridge. I love being able to see Manhattan and Brooklyn. The traffic was also buzzing on the street level below. We took the J line to Chambers St station. It took about 45 minutes to get across the whole bridge but you can do it in 30 minutes if you don’t stop as many times. I also enjoyed the serenity of Main Street Park on the Brooklyn side of the waterfront. Make sure also lump Dumbo in as it’s just a 5 minute walk away once off the bridge.
The classic Dumbo view can be found at Washington St. and Water St.
4) Steps at the Met (Or Visit the Museum)
When my parents visited New York, they spent an entire day inside the Met. Although I wish I had the time, I settled for another Gossip Girl moment of sitting on the steps of the Met. I can see why it’s so popular as it’s a perfect resting point after you walk through Central Park. You can get some hot dogs from multiple food carts. While you eat your $5 hot dog, you can day dream about who lives in the ultra luxurious townhouses on Madison avenue right in front of your view. Oh ya, did I mention, there’s free wifi and a clean bathroom on the ground floor on the south side of the building.
5) Pick a Fine Dining Restaurant
If there’s one thing New Yorkers like to do, that’s to eat. There are so many fine dining restaurants to choose from and also Michelin starred restaurants. In Tokyo, we visited two Michelin starred restaurants with very different styles. In New York, we decided to visit Cote which just received a star last year and has a very accessible $45 set menu! It is a Korean BBQ style restaurant with a grill on each of the table. We did order additional items but the $48 set menu will not leave you hungry! It was a wonderful casual vibe with great food and great drinks! Make sure to make your reservations early as New York restaurants are often full weeks in advance!
6) Eat Pizza and Bagels to save money
It’s not all about fancy food in New York though. Two of the most classic New York street foods give great bang for the buck. Pizza slices in New York are huge! Often 2 slices is more than enough for me. Similarly, bagels are LOADED with cream cheese and are very filling. Prince Street Pizza in Soho used to be a hidden gem but now has lines all day long! Luckily, right across from Hotel Indigo Lower East Side where we stayed was La Margarita. We went there twice during our stay! Russ & Daughters is the most well known spot for bagels and lines can easily be for 30-60mins. For more locations, try Murray’s and Ess-a-Bagel.
7) Free tour at New York Public Library
The main branch of the New York Public Library is the Stephen Schwarzmann Building at Bryant Park. It’s a gorgeous building with marble and sky high ceilings. Just walking in made me feel more intellectual. You can walk around the huge building or attend one of the guided tours. It doesn’t take long to stop by and is convenient located by other tourist attractions.
As you can see, I missed out on quite a few other quintessential experiences during my time. Depending on your interests you should put the following on your list: Watching a Broadway show, visit the Statue of Liberty, See the city from Top of the Rock (although I’ll share an alternative below), spend the day at Met/MoMA museum, rent a boat in Central park.
1) See the Manhattan Skyline from across the river
Although the two well known observatories (Top of the Rock, Empire State Building) are in the Manhattan side, you can get a perfect view of the whole skyline if you go on the other side of the river. We went to Westlight which is a rooftop bar at William Vale. It usually gets very busy at night time so come during the day to miss the line up! The drinks are normal NYC price ($15-$20) and if you sit outside on the patio, you can see so much of New York! The patio is about 270 degrees, so you can also see more of Brooklyn as well to get a since of the sprawl.
2) Get outside on bad weather days
I was really bummed to see rain during my short 5 day trip but it was actually the perfect time to see the city without the crowds. My boyfriend was adamant about not going to Times Square but I managed to convenience him and was able to see the magical lights without the crazy crowds of tourists. We also got to stroll through Bryant Park all to ourselves which was a really nice break from the big city. So although you might be tempted to go to a museum or hole up in a mall, try going to tourist sites that may be too crowded normally instead.
3) Shopping Tips on 5th Avenue
I’m going to have a few tips for shopping. Depending on which stores you want to hit up, you might want to search if there are alternative locations. Most of the retailers that are on 5th Avenue also have a store in Soho. Also, it might be worthwhile to have a specific items you’re looking for otherwise you can get lost inside stores like Zara, Uniqlo, Abercrombie etc. One store that really caught my eye on 5th Avenue was & Other Stories. I first saw this brand when I was in Paris last spring, I love the European chic vibes and also the affordable pricing.
If you enjoy luxury goods, head to the south end of Central Park. Within a few blocks you’ll find Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, and all the boutiques like (Chanel, Dior, LV, Gucci). When i went, Bergdorf was actually having a sale and the prices were really good!
4) Outlet Shopping at Century 21
The other tip I have for you is to look for Century 21. It is a higher end version of Winners or TJ Maxx. Everything there is on “discounted prices” already. I didn’t find too many luxury brands but there was lots of mid range brands and a huge jeans selection! I probably could have spent all day there but we were on a tight schedule. I went to the one near Battery Park so I was able to see the 9/11 Memorial and the Oculus at the same time.
5) Explore the Neighbourhoods
A lot of the tourist attractions are in Midtown but definitely get out to the neighborhoods. For trendy boutiques, great restaurants, and fun bars, check out Lower East Side. My boyfriend highly recommends this neighborhood if you’d like to see the city like a local especially if you’ve seen the main tourist attractions. It is also within walking distance to Soho, Nolita, and East Village. For an awesome hotel to stay in, check out Hotel Indigo Lower East Side.
6) Williamsburg- East River State Park
I really enjoy walks along the water and you can get a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline from Williamsburg. The view is kind of similar to the rooftop bar I talked about in #1, but if you aren’t a fan of drinking and would rather enjoy peace and quiet, this is a great choice. Also, this park is where Smorgasburg is held! I really wanted to attend this huge food fair but unfortunately timing didn’t work out.
7) Good clothes, pretty flowers, and the cutest coffee mug at Sezane
Lastly, this is kind of an Instagram driven hidden gem. You may think it’s silly, but for anyone looking for good Instagram content, Sezane in Soho is a must go. The store shop features beautiful flowers outside with the cutest bicyle. The clothing inside is beautiful but a bit out of my budget. There is a sitting area for anyone in your party not looking to shop. The best part are these cute “Bonjour New York” coffee cups you can grab for free from their cafe!
I stayed in New York for 5 days and still didn’t get to do everything on my list! Just remember that it’s a big city and you’ll likely have to pick and choose based on your preferences! This post may not be a comprehensive guide to everything there is to do, but I only wanted to include things I actually have done so I can share my honest opinion! Hopefully you found this helpful and save it for your next trip! Next up, I’ll be writing a post about everything I ate in New York!