New York is one of my favourite cities in the world and I have visited quite a few times. Over the years a few people have asked me for ideas about things to do and see on their visits, so I started a list and it has been shared around a few times. The list has grown and been updated and now includes good ideas from others as well. So, I thought I would start sharing some of the items here and will keep adding to it over time. (Like all cities – things change and new things appear so let me know if you have something new to add or update here)…
- Get a map: Manhattan is one of the best cities in the world to walk and most of the streets are built on a grid system (except for downtown area). You can get fold out type maps in NYC at most newstands etc – pop it in your pocket and get walking…
- Use the subway – if you tire of walking or want to get from one end of Manhattan to the other quickly, use the subway. Get a MetroCard from subway stations (it can be used on buses as well). To work out which line/where get a free subway map or even better get the easy to read KICKMap version for your iPhone.
- Buy a copy of Time Out at a newstand – Time Out is the NYC bible of what is going on each week with where to shop, eat, go out, special events etc. Check out the Time Out website before you go to check out what is on while you are there.
- Hang out with a local – you can do this by talking to someone in a bar OR better yet, organise it through Big Apple Greeter. This is a free service and very reputable. You fill out a request via their website and they will try and match you with a local (volunteer) who will come and hang out with you for a few hours and show you their New York. I did this back in the early 90s on my first visit (in the middle of winter) and spent a wonderful afternoon with Sheila from Queens. Sheila and I hit it off so well that I ended up having dinner with her family and had a few visits during my stay. This is also a great thing to do if you are travelling alone or want to get off the tourist trail and not sure where to start.
There are a few really good things to do that don’t cost anything in NYC …
- Staten Island Ferry Forget the tourist ferry rides and catch the Staten Island Ferry for free where you will see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and amazing views of Manhattan whilst riding with the locals. Catch the 1 or 9 subway to South Ferry station and follow the signs (and people) to the ferry terminal
- Best View of NYC – from Brooklyn To check out the view you see in the movies you need to go to Brooklyn. You can either go to the Fulton Ferry Landing Pier – catch the subway and walk down to the Pier or you can walk across the Brooklyn bridge. Best walk is to catch the subway to Brooklyn and walk back to Manhattan – catch the A subway train to High St station – you can access the bridge staircase at Prospect Street and Cadman Plaza East (check it out on google maps)
- The High Line The High Line is an old elevated freight train line that was built to take the freight trains off the streets of Manhattan in the 30s. It was disused and has now been turned into a lovely park walkway starting in the meatpacking district (west side) and finishing at 34th Street. Not many tourists know about it yet and it is a real New York thing to take a walk there. There are a number of access points – check out the website for more details. If you go, check out the Standard Hotel that overarches the Highline. Very cool.
- Museums All of the museums have ‘free’ days usually a Sunday – check out their websites to find out which one has a free day when you are visiting.
- Live TV Audience tickets It is always fun to get tickets for one of the live TV shows – we have managed to snaffle tickets to David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and late nights with Carson Daly. Saturday Night Live is impossible to get tickets for – they hold a lottery once a year BUT I can recommend the NBC Studios tour as you get to see the SNL set and they give away tickets for whatever show is taping that afternoon. It took me 4 visits to get tickets to Letterman and then it was just a flook as a lady on Times Square asked me to do a survey and gave me tickets to Letterman (lucky). We got both Conan and Carson on the NBC tour – buy the tour tickets at the NBC store on Rockefeller Plaza and ask them what they have tickets for. Conan has moved to LA and Jimmy Fallon is now doing the Late Show.
- Sunset view over Central Park Best sunset view over Central Park (if you don’t have an apartment at Central Park West) – time it with your visit to the Metropolitan Museum and go to the Rooftop Garden & Martini Bar on top of the museum. Ask the museum attendants where to go and they will direct you to the lift that will take you to the top. They often have interesting sculptural pieces on the roof so you can appreciate good art whilst taking in the views.
- Other free events – The official NYC guide website has a list of free events for each week. Check it out for what’s on during your visit – NYC Official Guide
This is not my list, it comes from www.concierge.com and has some great tips, so I thought I would share it before the Must See section (which this list mostly refers to). The good thing is, it gives great alternate options for the “not to do” activities. I agree with most of the things they say except the comment about Magnolia Bakery – the cupcakes are good and if you go during the day (not on a weekend) it is quiet and the park across the road is quite pleasant to enjoy them it. Also – nothing is better than a hot dog from a street vendor on a cold NYC winters day to warm you up quick.
Ok – here’s the list of things most people know about NYC and want to see. My advice, if you aren’t going to NYC in an off-season (like winter) check out the tourist attractions early or you will be overcome by the length of queues. Dont try and do everything in one visit or you will just end up running around from one tourist site to the next and wont get the feel of the real NYC (and you will spend a lot of time hanging out with tourists.)
- Times Square (42nd Street & Broadway)– best time to go is at night to see all the neon lights – it is amazing and there is always something going on and you may see a TV show being filmed. You can also get cheaper theatre tickets at the TKTS booth – watch out for the hawkers though.
- Empire State Building (350 5th Ave East at 34th St)– make sure you go early to take a ride to the top, the crowds are crazy during the summer time
- Rockefeller Plaza – check out the gold Prometheus statue and if it’s cold try the ice skating rink. You can also go to the Top of the Rock – 30 Rockefeller Plaza – to get a great view of NYC incl Central Park .
- Chrysler Building – you can see the Chysler building best on Lexington Ave anywhere between 35th and 60th streets
- Visit Central Park – check out Strawberry Fields (on west side between 71st & 74th streets). Dedicated to John Lennon and across the road from the Dakota building where he lived with Yoko.
- Check out the museums – Metropolitan, MOMA, Guggenheim & Natural History (they all have great gift shops too).
- Greenwich Village – check out the village scene – music, art, shopping and food
- Wall Street – if you are into money then this is a must see. Way down town, just before the ferries.
- Brooklyn Bridge – best view of NYC skyline
- Grand Central Station (42nd Street East between Lexington and Park Ave)