Ultimate Guide to New York City – Things to do, What to Eat & Where to Stay!

(Last Updated On: June 1, 2018)

The city so nice they named it twice! New York City has so much to see and do that it can easily intimidate the first-timers. The city stuns with its infinity; the key is to bite the Big Apple, one slice at a time. NYC has endless stories woven into its rich fabric that are ready to unfold only if you are a good listener and spectator.

A Guest Post by Anjali Chawla of  Travel Melodies

Now you might be curious that who am I to give tips for NYC when even a New Yorker finds it difficult. I so second you. I’m not an expert here but as it’s wise to learn from others’ missteps; I sincerely hope that this guide helps you navigate the city like a pro by avoiding mistakes I made during my visit.

I have endured rains, pains, and strains of being in the greatest city in the world just because I wasn’t prepared well and I’ve been meaning to write this guide for so long to help travelers survive, even better, thrive New York.

Planning a Trip to New York City?

Welcome to New York City

NYC has 5 boroughs namely Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. All the five boroughs have their own set of neighborhoods, landmarks, and attractions.

Things to do in NYC - New York City Skyline

Each borough is a part of New York’s 5 counties:

Manhattan – County of New York

Brooklyn – County of Kings

Queens – County of Queens

The Bronx – Bronx County

Staten Island – Richmond County

NYC has hundreds of strikingly distinct neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has its own vibe and mood. You are sure to find one that fits your personality.

Navigating the Capital of the World is an Art

To navigate Manhattan, know that Avenues usually run north (uptown) to the south (downtown) while streets run east to west (crosstown); with few exceptions, most of them are one way, even-numbered streets go east and odd-numbered streets run west.

Uptown avenues start from First, Second, Third, Lexington, Park, Madison, Fifth, Sixth (aka Avenue of the Americas), Seventh, Eighth (aka Central Park West), Ninth (aka Columbus), Tenth (aka Amsterdam), Eleventh (aka West End), West Side Highway.

“You can take a CAB back home if it’s Late PM.” is the best way to remember that the uptown avenues are Columbus, Amsterdam, Broadway, Lexington, Park, and Madison from left-to-right.

Streets are much easier to understand than avenues and they are almost all numbered apart from few that are named.

This is a standard Manhattan Grid System. The other four boroughs are designed differently. Here’s a guide to decoding the other boroughs.

P.S. There are exceptions in Manhattan too viz. Harlem, Washington Square Park. The best way to find your way around is to simply wander the streets, get lost and you are guaranteed to stumble upon the most New Yorkish things!

Keep this map handy to navigate the city better.

Classic Yet Cool Things to do in NYC

I know…I know…offbeat travel is so à la mode these days and of course I’ll suggest the lesser explored places in New York but you know there’s a charm in doing things the quintessential way. Isn’t it? I mean what good is a trip to Paris if you haven’t been to The Eiffel Tower!

These classic spots will surely help you feel the pulse of the greatest city in the world.

Brooklyn Bridge

One of the top New York attractions, the Brooklyn Bridge in New York across East River that connects downtown Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights is historically, visually and literally grand.

Things to do in NYC - Brooklyn Bridge

Walk from the Manhattan side of the bridge towards Brooklyn; admire the architecture of the bridge and the illustrious skyline behind you.

Top of the Rock

I’d always recommend climbing up to the observation deck atop Rockefeller Centre over Empire State Building. The 360-degree panoramic view of Central Park, Manhattan’s uptown and midtown that includes The Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock is absolutely hallucinatory.

You must check the Lego store in Rockefeller Center. It has huge green dragon made of legos hanging across the entire ceiling of the store and the masterpiece of all – an exact replica of the Rockefeller center made of legos depicting minute details.

Times Square

If there’s only one touristy thing you oblige yourself to indulge in, let it be a visit to the Times Square. One amongst the top places to visit in New York it is endlessly overwhelmed with people, the place is maddeningly helter-skelter but one gets a sense of relief in getting lost. You can wander around for hours without getting noticed. It’s the solitude of its own kind.

Things to do in NYC - Times Square

Soaked in audaciously vivid neon lights, massive digital screens and billboards, a fleet of yellow taxis ceaselessly honking, people posing with Disney and Elmo costumed characters – it’s noisy and overcrowded but full of life.

Don’t forget to check Broadway Theatre District and if you find yourself in New York in winter, watch for Broadway Week.

Central Park

Leave the crowded sidewalks and make way into the huge Central Park with beautiful meadows, rolling hillsides, fountains, unique bridges and arches and what not. It has numerous playgrounds, a castle, ice skating rink and even a zoo. All this natural beauty in the middle of a concrete jungle feels like a miracle. Don’t forget to look for Alice in Wonderland Sculpture, which is known to be one of the most cherished sculptures and kids love to climb all over it. A must-visit if you are looking for some fun things to do in NYC with kids.

Things to do in NYC - Central Park

A ruined fort known as Blockhouse No. 1 and Ancient Egyptian pillars called Cleopatra’s Needle are some of the other attractions in the Central Park.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met is one of the world’s largest art museums and has continued to be the cultural epicenter of NYC.

9/11 Memorial and Museum

One thing you can’t miss when you are in NYC is National September 11 Memorial. It honors those who lost their lives in 2001 WTC bombings.

The Strand Book Store

The oldest in NYC, home to over 2.5 million books, The Strand is a literary paradise. Go and gratify the bibliophile in you.

Museum of the Moving Image

Located in Astoria, Queens, this is a fun museum chronicling almost everything related to film, television, and media – in short, Entertainment! Entertainment! Entertainment!. Definitely not to miss on the list of things to do in NYC with kids.

The Grand Central Terminal

NYC’ s most celebrated landmarks, one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, is fine arts classic.

Things to do in NYC - The Grand Central Terminal

Hudson River Park

Exit the concrete jungle and walk along the Hudson River to enjoy the open spaces and nature or indulge in activities like kayaking, rock climbing, trapeze that are often free.

Wall Street

The center of NYC’s Financial District, Wall Street is, in fact, the global financial hub. Waiting in the queue to take pictures with the Charging Bull and Fearless Girl bronze statues are worth it!

The High Line

Freight railway turned extremely thriving elevated urban park, The High Line stretches from Hudson Yards to Chelsea. Wildflowers, lush green landscape, outdoor art pieces and smashing views of New York’s Skyline define the walk on the High Line.

Harlem

New Yorkers flock to a bunch of bars and restaurants at Lenox Avenue in Harlem for some live music and cocktails. The churches here are famous for the gospel choirs.

Coney Island

Coney Island’s iconic amusement park, Luna Park is a must-do activity with kids. Don’t forget to experience the fun and exhilarating ride at historic Coney Island Cyclone, a wobbly wooden rollercoaster.

Choco-Story New York

Chocoholic? Traveling with kids? You can’t afford to miss New York’s Chocolate Museum then!        And you know what; you are sure enough to come away with lots of chocolates.

Staten Island Ferry and Statue of Liberty

Staten Island Ferry ride is magical and free! Ferry gives you the panoramic views of Iconic Lady Liberty and New York Skyline. You can also spot the Brooklyn Bridge, New Jersey, and Governor’s Island.

Disembark at the Staten Island; take a stroll while you enjoy the lime water or a cup of coffee and incredible views all around and proceed to the main gate to take the ferry back to Manhattan.

Things to do in NYC - Statue of Liberty

I wouldn’t recommend you to climb the steps up to the pedestal or crown of Statue of Liberty because it isn’t worth the amount of money they charge. Instead, get a look as you pass by the ferry or even better go to Red Hook in Brooklyn for the awesome view of the Lady Liberty.

Roosevelt Island

Board the aerial tram at the Manhattan Station on 2nd Avenue between 59th and 60th streets that take you to the Roosevelt Island. Even if you don’t intend to spend time on Roosevelt Island, the roundtrip tram tour gives the awesome glimpse of New York skyline, especially at night.

NYC Food – Best Places to Eat in NYC

Bagels at Ess-a-Bagel – You can’t leave NYC without trying Bagels, one of the NYC’s defining foods. To choose the best place to try Bagels when New York is home to hundreds of options is an overwhelming task. It was for us but not for you because I know where you can get the perfect crispy outside, chewy inside, melt in mouth Bagels. It’s none other than the quintessential NYC Bagel shop, Ess-a-Bagel!

Pizza at Joe’s– Grab a slice or two at Joe’s Pizza while you explore the amazing nightlife of the world’s greatest city. It’s a perfect go-to midnight hunger pizzeria.

Falafel at Mamoun’s – NYC’s classic hole-in-the-wall, Mamoun’s is brimming with people all the time mostly because of its delicious falafel at crazily low prices. You got to congratulate them on their breakneck service even after the huge crowds they see every time

Cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery – Who doesn’t want to taste fresh, baked gosh-darn-delicious cupcakes that promise you-just-can’t-stop-at-one experience! I know everyone wants to. So, be ready to brave the long Magnolia queue that’s absolutely worth that yum cupcake.

Potato and Kasha Knishes at Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery – Eat knishes the classic way at the oldest Jewish bakery in NYC.

Burrito Bowl at Chipotle Mexican Grill – Chipotle remains one of my favorite places to eat in NYC because of the nutritious, tasty yet cheap food.

My Burrito Bowl contains – Brown Rice, pinto beans, fajita veggies, and sofritas topped with guacamole, lettuce, sour cream, tomatillo-green chili salsa and some queso.

Indian Food at Curry Hill – I love to try different cuisines when I travel but at times crave Indian food. And the good news is that there are plenty of Indian food outlets in different neighborhoods in NYC.

Though they say that Jackson Heights in Queens is a go-to place for your Indian food fix but they can be wrong, you know. If you ask me, I’d say that Curry Hill in Lexington Avenue, Murray Hill largely influence New York’s Indian food scene. In short, Curry Hill has come to evolve as Indian Food Mecca in New York.

Choose from the Chennai Garden (Tiffin Wallah) or Ganesh Temple Canteen for one of the best dosa experiences in NYC.

Sahib, a restaurant by a Michelin-starred chef from Mumbai serves authentic North Indian food in typical North Indian style.

Vegan Food at Beyond Sushi or Nix– Make a beeline for some vegan fruit and vegetable sushi coupled with tofu seasonings at Beyond Sushi. Nix is another pretty famous vegan food joint by Michelin-starred chef John Fraser.

Balinese Food at Selamat Pagi – In a quiet corner of Greenpoint neighborhood in Brooklyn, lays this low key charming Balinese inspired food joint. Escape from the entire hullabaloo, walk into the Fiesta and relish the healthy vegetarian Balinese food.

PS: If you are in NYC anytime from April to November, grab a bite at Smorgasburg at Williamsburg which is an open-air annual food flea market featuring 100 food vendors serving seriously yummy and generously cheap food every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Off the Beaten Path NYC

High Bridge

Take a historic walk on the oldest surviving bridge that connects the Bronx to the Manhattan. It’s reopened for pedestrians after 40 years.

Pomander Walk

Located between 94th and 95th street, Pomander Walk is New York’s charming and unexplored gated colony. It features around 25 Tudor-style homes exuding old English charm.

The Abandoned City Hall Subway Stop

The oldest city hall subway station at the foot of Brooklyn Bridge is a thing of beauty. It’s grand in every sense. To take a tour of this beauty one has to take a membership of The New York Transit Museum that hosts tours of this station throughout the year.

I have heard that train 6 going to downtown after making its final stop at Brooklyn Bridge station passes through the abandoned city hall subway station but passengers are told to disembark the train at the final stop.

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe

An epicenter of art and creativity, this cafe in the East Village is a cultural gem in the true sense. The vibe is just right. Bohemian aura, Inspiring poetry slams, and the passionate audience make it one of a kind of experience.

Mmuseumm

Visit the tiniest museum in China Town’s abandoned elevator shaft featuring the oddities of the modern world.

Day Trips from New York City

Governors Island

A ferry ride from downtown Manhattan takes you to the hideaway like no other. It’s a must go, if you want to experience NYC from a different perspective.

New Jersey

The most admired feature of Jersey is its lively shore (Atlantic Ocean) and people from the other side of the river flock here for some beach fun.  Jersey is well-nigh surrounded by water to the east, west, and south. The idea of traversing the wilderness in the middle of the city was inconceivable until the time I visited Pine Barrens of New Jersey.

Long Island

Beautiful beaches, famous Hamptons, charming downtown hamlets, Wineries, and Vineyards just seven bridges and two tunnels away from NYC. Gantry Plaza State Park at Long Island City is known for its best sunset views.

Upstate New York

Where do New Yorkers escape to take a break from NYC’s commotion? They don’t need to go too far to look for serenity. From Letchworth State Park (Grand Canyon of the East) to Frederick Farms (Fields of gold) – upstate has places craving to be discovered.

Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park is other-worldly with amazing 200ft limestone cliffs and super-amazing waterfalls. Cavern Cascade and Rainbow Falls Bridge at Watkins Glen are jaw-droppingly beautiful.

New York City on a Budget

Exploring one of the most expensive cities in the world can just amount to a hill of beans! You heard it right. Free events, great bargains, steal deals – you’ll find it all.

Choose the free days at various museums and gardens. Here’s the list.

Here’s a guide to NYC free walking tours.

Look for NYC’s free cultural events and attractions.

One of the most awesome ways to explore NYC on a budget is by choosing a travel pass that suits you. Find the one for you here.

Click here to plan NYC on budget.

Best Time to Visit New York

Everything in New York is fascinating in every season. There is always a good time to visit New York.

New York in winter is a white beauty. The city looks like a storybook village. A perfect season to enjoy winter sports.

New York in spring is swoon-worthy. There is nothing more exciting than to experience the capital of the world in full bloom.

New York in summer is high-spirited. The city is bright with day long sunshine and blue skies. New York Skyline looks mesmerizing on a sunny day with a clear blue sky.

New York in fall is a magical wonderland. It is undoubtedly my favorite time in NYC. You cannot help but fall in love with the city. It is in the air! The city is painted with orange and red colors and the air is crisp; the smell of leaves fills your soul and the sound of leaves under your feet is soothing.

Things to do in NYC - NYC Central Park

And yes, not to forget the autumn sunsets…they are out of this world. It’s certainly one of the amazing places to see fall foliage.

New York in the holiday season is enthralling. Yes! While most of the places have 4 seasons; NYC really has 5 seasons. The holiday season spans from Thanksgiving through New Year. It is the best time to shop your heart out, you know and the city is decorated like an Indian bride.

Where to Stay in New York City

There are endless options when deciding where to stay in New York. In NYC, there’s nothing like budget hotel concept. Even supposed budget hotels are overpriced. So, if you are looking for budget accommodations, I would suggest you stay in Brooklyn or New Jersey because Manhattan is lavishly expensive.

Hotel Stanford NYC, conveniently located in Midtown Manhattan, is one of the best value hotels.

Check for Availability and the Latest Prices on Booking.com for Hotel Stanford NYC. 

Paper Factory Hotel in Long Island City, Queens is a lovely kid-friendly hotel and what I particularly love about it is its artsy decor and ravishing views from its rooftop.

Check for Availability and the Latest Prices on Booking.com for Paper Factory Hotel

People visiting NYC on a backpacker’s budget have quite a lot Hostel options, especially in Queens and Brooklyn. Some good ones include

The Local Hostel NYC (Queens)

Check for Availability and the Latest Prices on Booking.com for The Local Hostel NYC

HI NYC Hostel (New York)

Check for Availability and the Latest Prices on Booking.com for HI NYC Hostel

Getting Around in NYC

New York City is hard to navigate and the city gets pretty confusing for the tourists. Thankfully, NYC’s exceptionally efficient public transportation system gets out of hock.

New York City Subway – Fastest, affordable, operating 24X7, unaffected by traffic chaos, NYC Subway is the best way to explore the city. The subway serves 4 out of 5 boroughs (excluding Staten Island) and one needs to buy a Metro Card in order to use the subway system.

Find the map of the NYC Subway System here.

PATH – It is New York’s other subway that connects Manhattan and the World Trade Centre with Newark, Hoboken, Harrison, and Jersey City in NJ.

NJ Transit – NJ Transit is the most pervasive public transportation in New Jersey. It only makes one final stop in NYC (Penn Station) so the PATH is the best option for those traveling from NJ to Manhattan.

NYC Bus Transportation System – The bus system serves all the 5 boroughs and the payment is made by using Metro Card or else the exact change. Unlike subway system buses are affected by the traffic congestion and delays are inescapable.

New York City Taxis – Cabs are convenient but expensive. Hiring a cab can be affordable if you are exploring the city as a group where you can split the taxi fare.

I’d recommend the blend of different modes of transport according to the sitch.

Car Rental – All the local airports have on-airport car rental services. Make sure to book in advance to save time.

Cycle the City – Rent a Citi Bike and explore the city while burning few calories. New York is fairly bike friendly city though one needs to know the avenues and streets that should be avoided.

Airport Transfers – E train/A train takes you to AirTrain for John F. Kennedy International Airport, M60 bus to LaGuardia Airport, and NJ Transit train from NY Penn to the Newark Airport.

P.S. I always choose to walk the city whenever and wherever possible. It’s liberating. And NYC is at its best when explored on foot.

New York City Travel Tips

Blocking peoples’ way while walking the sideways is a cardinal sin here. NYC Sideways is more of highways in point of fact.

Better hoof it early in the morning to allow the city to live up to all the hype.

You’ll find people performing in subway or sideways or parks which may seem weird or new to you but watch for space and traffic while you ogle or gawk at the oddities.

New York’s weather is highly unpredictable. Be prepared for anything and everything.

Never ever go for red bus hop-on-hop-off tours and Circle Line sightseeing’s cruise. Sheer wastage of time and money, I tell you.

Check the overhead light while calling a cab for hire. You tell the driver about the destination once you’ve hired the cab.

Board from the front gate and get off from the back while boarding the bus.

Find the official guide to New York City here.

NYC opens itself to people who take time and heart to embrace its chaos. You are in the city that never sleeps. Trains are always on the move, the Bodegas (corner grocery stores) are open 24X7 and New Yorkers are out till the cows come home. Thus, make the most of your trip. Sleep can wait.

You can Follow Anjali Chawla and her Travelogues on Facebook and Instagram

 

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