This post has been a long time coming; other than DC, New York City is the city I’ve spent the most time in as an adult. There’s so much to do, so many places to eat, so many neighborhoods to cover that I’ve put off writing a travel guide on NYC for years and years because I was worried it wouldn’t be comprehensive enough or I didn’t have enough authority since I’ve never worked full time there. But I think one of the great things about New York is that everyone can have their own version of the city that’s shaped by their experiences and places they love to go. My New York probably looks so different than your New York, and that’s what I think makes New York the magical place it is.
NYC is unlike any other city I’ve ever been to, and I think once you can navigate yourself around it, every other city becomes much more manageable to explore. I absolutely love New York—its such a trend-setting place with amazing food and drink and no shortage of things to do. But after a few days in the hustle, schlepping it on the Subway, and paying a premium for everything, I’m always ready to get back to DC. It will, however, always be one of my favorite places to visit and is a town that holds a lot of my memories.
I first went to New York City on a school field trip in middle school, and was lucky to return a few times in high school on field trips through the yearbook program. In college, I spent one of the best summers of my life interning at Conde Nast and living in the NYU dorms with sorority sisters, and since then, have made it a point to visit friends in New York at least a couple of times a year. In my current role, I am lucky enough to get to go with work about every other month or so. My recommendations and the photos below are aggregates of my many trips to the city so nice they named it twice and are almost all in Manhattan since that’s the borough I’ve explored the most.
HOW TO GET THERE /
Whatever you do, I would not recommend driving to New York! You would have to pay me a ton of money to want to navigate the roads in Manhattan and parking is crazy, crazy expensive.
I’ve taken both flights and the train. If you’re going to fly, I’d recommend trying to get a flight into LaGuardia in Queens as it’s much closer to Manhattan than JFK or Newark. From DC, the flight is a quick up-and-down 45 minutes from gate-to-gate and then I usually just grab a taxi to make the 20-25 minute drive over to Manhattan. I’ve flown before when I had enough airline miles to get a free flight, however, unless using those (or earning miles!) is a priority for you, I’d highly recommend taking the train. Unlike with flying, with the train, you’ll be dropped off right in the heart of Manhattan at Penn Station and can easily walk, take the Subway, or call a taxi or Uber to wherever you need to go.
From DC, can either take the Amtrak Northeast Regional or the Amtrak Acela, which is the express train. If you book your trip early enough, you can get Super Saver tickets on the Northeast Regional from Washington Union Station to New York Penn Station round trip for $100! I take the Acela for work, and while the train is nicer and the trip is about 30 minutes shorter, for personal travel, I always take the Northeast Regional unless I have enough Amtrak points to cover my Acela. Unlike with the airlines, with Amtrak, it’s really easy to move your train schedule around—you just have to pay the difference of the actual ticket, but not a change fee—and if you miss your train, there’s always another one leaving within an hour.
The one thing I will flag about the train is that boarding in Washington is really civil—they post which track your train is at, usually about half an hour before departure, and then you get in an orderly line to board. At Penn Station, that is not the case at all. There’s a large waiting room where they post the train track, usually about five minutes before departure, and then there’s a mad dash to the escalators to take you down to your train. I find it to be so stressful, and I’m usually traveling alone—so if you have small kids or someone who needs extra time to board, I’d highly recommend getting the Amtrak Red Cap service, which is free, and they’ll take you to the train before general boarding.
A lot of people I know also swear by the bus between DC and NYC—I’ve never gone the bus route, so I can’t speak to that, but it’s definitely an affordable option and anything is better than driving into Manhattan!
WHERE TO STAY /
Manhattan is a large city, and I’d recommend staying close to the main things you want to do so you can easily walk places and cut down on the number of cabs you’ll need to take. I also personally would recommend avoiding Midtown—while it is close to Times Square and certainly attracts a lot of tourists, there’s not much authentically New York about Midtown since you’ll just be nearby a sea of office buildings and chain stores and restaurants. Without knowing your exact itinerary, three hotels I stay at often and love are:
- W in Union Square—the summer I lived in NYC, I lived in Union Square, so I am a little bit biased, but it is a great neighborhood. Union Square is located just south of the Flatiron District and offers lots of shops and restaurants. It’s also pretty central to most points in Manhattan and its Subway Station is on the N, Q, R, 4, 5, 6, and the L, which offers great connectivity to the rest of the city.
- Sheraton Tribeca—if anything I need to do for work is in Tribeca, Soho, or a little bit south of there, I try to stay at this hotel. It’s not necessarily the nicest or newest hotel ever, but it is clean and there’s a great bagel shop right next door. This would be a great option if your priority is exploring Soho, Little Italy, the Financial District and World Trade Center, Battery Park, and the Statue of Liberty. It’s also a block away from the Canal Street Station on the A, C, E.
- Le Meridian Central Park—if my work obligations bring me north of midtown near Central Park or Columbus Circle, I stay here. If you’re looking for a great hotel to use as home base during the holiday season, this would be a great one since it’s near all the beautiful displays. It’s also close to the 57th Street Station on the N, Q, R, and W.
When I am not in town for work, I’ve always crashed on friends’ couches—while many started out in Murray Hill or StuyTown, a lot of my friends have migrated to the Upper East Side now, which is also a really nice neighborhood to spend a weekend.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK /
New York City is one of my favorite places to eat and drink, and you certainly won’t go hungry when you’re in town. Here are some of my favorite NYC restaurants and bars:
- James Beard House—the JBF House hosts 260+ events a year, and while members get discounted prices, anyone from the general public can buy tickets. The House is James Beard’s personal townhome he donated to the Foundation, and at each event, they invite guest chefs from around the country to come and cook a meal. There are usually multiple courses and amazing wine pairings. And, whatever you do, make sure you take a selfie in the bathroom—it’s a rite of passage!
- 21 Club—a speakeasy during Prohibition that had had a series of levers built in to dump alcohol into the sewer system during a raid, this is an old school New York haunt that would be great for a fancy dinner or drink. They have a dress code, so make sure you’re in adherence, and they have matchbooks—you just have to ask!
- Doc Holliday’s—my favorite bar in all of Manhattan, this is a country music dive bar where the music is controlled by a Juke Box in the back corner and pitchers of Bud Light are cheap. This place is nothing fancy, but dang, it is fun!
- Rosie’s—if you’re looking for Mexican in NYC, I love Rosie’s! Definitely get the guac and come ready to drink a margarita.
- Veniero’s—I fell in love with this Italian patisserie when I interned in New York City and brought everyone who came to visit me that summer there for dessert. They have a take-out counter in the front and a sit-down cafe in the back. If you’re out in the neighborhood for dinner, definitely stop by Veniero’s for dessert; my favorites are the cheesecake and the lobster tails.
- Eataly—they have Eataly in other cities, but if you’ve never been to one, add it to your NYC list. An Italian market, they offer all sorts of food products shipped in right from Italy and a variety of grab-and-go and sit-down restaurant options. I’ve been to both the one in Flat Iron and the one in FiDi, the latter of which has amazing views of the World Trade Center.
- Jack’s Wife Freda—a favorite of mine for breakfast, they’re open for all three meals a day and offer an American-Mediterranean menu. Everything I’ve had has been really good, but I love the Green Shakshuka and Maya’s Bowl.
- Hillstone—recently when I’ve been coming to NYC, my best friend Emma and I have been having nightcaps at the Hillstone Bar. We like to split the fried chicken sandwich and the burger, both of which are amazing.
- La Pecora Bianca—this is some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had, and when I went, the service was awesome! We tried pretty much every appetizer—definitely get the burrata and meatballs! I also loved the Rigatoni.
- Ophelia Lounge—a penthouse lounge, Ophelia has amazing views of the East River! I came with coworkers once and we had an amazing time watching the sunset with wine in hand. The potato wedges, crispy chicken BLT sliders, and spinach and artichoke dip were all amazing.
- Calexico—another great Mexican spot, this one is California-inspired. The atmosphere is really fun and I think they have great margs. And they have my favorite: fajitas!
- Bar Coastal—my friend Emma used to live around the block and introduced me to this gem of a bar. A great place to watch a game on weekends, they make the best wings. They also do takeout if you’re looking for some good bar food from the comfort of a hotel room!
- Eli’s Night Shift—a great spot for a date or a night cap, they’ve got a ton of craft beer on draft and make a mean burger.
- JG Melon—speaking of burgers, JG Melon makes the best late night burger and fries in NYC. And don’t forget to bring cash!
- Dorrian’s Red Hand—a bar on the UES that’s been around forever, my friends introduced me to this really fun spot. They have a great playlist with all sorts of classics from Paul Simon to Hall & Oates and really fun dance floor.
- The Frying Pan—when it’s warm outside, The Frying Pan is one of my favorite places to grab a drink during happy hour or on the weekend. A historic boat permanently docked at Pier 66, it’s a popular spot, so get there early!
- BG Restaurant—if you’re looking for a fancy afternoon, grab a reservation at BG at Bergdorf Goodman’s and treat yourself to a fancy cocktail or tea. They’ve got an amazing view of the park that would be a great place to enjoy a sweeping view of fall foliage. You can see my full post on BG here.
- Bemelmans Bar—named for the author of Madeline, this is the bar at the Carlyle Hotel, and they have a beautiful mural running throughout done by Bemelmans himself. This is definitely a fancy, special occasion spot, but it’s worth it.
- The Palm Court—champagne just tastes better at the Plaza! Another splurge spot for a drink, the Palm Court also offers afternoon tea.
- The Plaza Food Hall—if you’re looking for something a little more approachable, but still want to eat and drink at The Plaza, definitely check out the food hall! They have a variety of food stalls and counters offering everything from pizza to oysters to pastries.
- Dos Toros—a fast-casual Mexican spot, this place is akin to a Chipotle, but it is absolutely delicious! And, get the salad dressing regardless of whether or not you get a salad. I always put mine on a bowl and it really adds something special.
- Sardi’s—Sardi’s is one of those old New York places you just can’t help but love. It’s one of my go-to spots for a pre- or post-Broadway show drink. The walls are lined with caricatures of celebrities, politicians, singers, and famous New Yorkers alike.
- Junior’s Cheesecake—in high school, my yearbook advisor always used to take us to Junior’s Cheesecake after a Broadway show for dessert. It’s stayed a tradition whenever I see a show with my sister, we always come here after. I always get the strawberry cheesecake and it is so, so good. One time my whole family was here and we actually ran into Smash from Friday Night Lights, so definitely keep your eyes out for celebs.
- Chelsea Market—a food market with a mix of stalls and sit-down restaurants, this is a great place to grab lunch on-the-go during a busy day of touring around NYC! I really like Friedmans Lunch. It’s a sit-down place, but the service is fast, and they have some delicious sandwiches and salads!
- Grand Central Market—another great food market I fell in love with because of my friend Lindsay years ago, regardless of if you pop into Grand Central to admire the beauty or to catch a train, this is another great place to pick up anything from tacos to breakfast foods to Shake Shack. As a heads up, Grand Central Market is split between the concourse level and the lower level.
There are so many amazing places to eat and drink in NYC that this list of my favorite places barely skims the surface.
WHAT TO DO /
You could probably spend the rest of your life in New York City and still not do everything! Here’s a roundup of my favorite places that I’ve been over the years:
- Walk through Grand Central Station’s Concourse—and don’t forget to look up at the Heavens just like generations before you have.
- Snap a photo in front of the Friends Apartment—I’ve never actually eaten at the cafe on the ground floor, but I can tell you it’s not Central Perk.
- And, do the same thing at Carrie Bradshaw’s Apartment—I’ve also taken the SATC bus tour, and there’s probably one for your favorite show if you’re based in NYC, too!
- Walk the West Side Highway—this is an amazing walk right on the Hudson River, and you can also bike it if that’s more your thing.
- Walk the Highline—an elevated park above Chelsea Market and near The Whitney that used to be an old railroad line, this would be a great family-friendly activity.
- Picnic in Central Park—nothing beats an afternoon with your favorite snacks and some mimosas with your friends in Sheep Meadow. I also love The Mall and Literary Walk, Bethesda Terrace (Gossip Girl fans, add that one to your list!), and Conservatory Water. I’ve never eaten at Tavern on the Green, but would love to one day.
- Go to the top of One World Trade Center—a beautiful observatory that makes you feel like you’re on the top of the world. The elevator ride up has an amazing video of the history of NYC.
- Visit the 9/11 Memorial—the fountains that stand at the bases of where the Twin Tours used to be are absolutely massive and so, so moving. It is a very somber, but peaceful place. I would love to visit the museum, but just haven’t brought myself to do it yet.
- Enjoy the street performers in Washington Square Park—marked by it’s famous Washington Square Arch, this is great park to spend an afternoon people watching. Definitely grab soft serve from Mister Softee if one of their ice cream trucks is parked nearby.
- Tour NBC Studios—this is such a fun tour lead by the NBC pages and you get to see real working sets and the control room for many of the flagship NBC shows.
- Take in the views from Top of the Rock—don’t sleep on Top of the Rock! It’s probably my favorite observatory in NYC because you can see all the other famous buildings from it—The Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, the Chrysler Building.
- Or The Empire State Building—and don’t forget to watch Sleepless in Seattle before you do! I’d highly recommend getting tickets online before your visit to help avoid some of the lines, especially if you’re visiting during peak hours.
- Visit the Statue of Liberty—you need to do it once and seeing it and Ellis Island are one of those moments when your elementary school history comes to life before your eyes. Definitely buy your tickets ahead of time, otherwise you will be waiting in really, really long lines!
- Walk the Brooklyn Bridge—you’ll get an amazing view of the city, and I’d highly recommend taking this walk at sunset if you can.
- Explore a museum—The Whitney, MoMa, The Met, and the Museum of Natural History all get a ton of love, and for good reason, but my personal favorite is The Frick.
- Grab a cocktail on the roof of The Met—in the warmer months, from April to October, you can grab cocktails on the rooftop of The Met and take in the amazing views of Central Park.
- Spend an afternoon at Coney Island—one summer, my friend and I rode the Subway all the way out to Coney Island and we had a blast enjoying the overpriced amusement park, eating funnel cake, and walking on the beach.
- Enjoy the decor at Christmastime—you can see my full post on that here.
I’ll add to this list as I explore more of NYC—would love to know what your favorite things to do are!
As I said in the intro of this post, I absolutely love NYC and am so glad I got to share some of my favorite Big Apple haunts with you today. I’m always looking for new things to do and new restaurants to try when I’m in town, so definitely drop me an email with any of your favorites: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Frank Sinatra once said, I want to be a part of it, New York, New York! x