New York is the best city on the planet. There. I said it. Having spent 2 years living, breathing and eating (mainly eating) my way round New York City, here are my top tips on how to get the most out of your time in the city that never sleeps.
WEATHER AND WHEN TO VISIT
The key learning to take from the weather around the New York metropolitan area (and in fact the entirety of the North Eastern USA) is no half measures. When it’s cold, it’s really cold, I’m talking, minus-20-the-air-is-hurting-my-face cold. And when it’s hot and humid, New York takes ‘sweaty mess’ to a whole new level, and that’s not to mention the monsoon-like rains that sometimes hit the city.
For me, the perfect time to visit is around Mid-April through June and then again from late August to Mid-October. Think clear skies and balmy spring days. That’s not to say there is really a bad time to visit – Christmas in the city is magical.
WHERE TO STAY IN NYC
New York is such an enormous city, that to give an in-depth assessment of which neighbourhood is best for you would require a whole lot more time than we have here, so I’ll keep it brief.
Most accommodation you’ll find in the city is centered around Manhattan’s Mid-Town area, which spans from the southern border of Central Park, through to about 14th Street (Union Square) – with tonnes of hotels and a few hostels Midtown is a great choice for being in the thick of things; and as most commuter trains and subway lines stop in Midtown, it also serves as a great location for navigating the city.
Another fantastic option is staying up on the Upper East with your very own Chuck Bass or Upper West Sides; traditionally a more residential part of town, these neighbourhoods have great access to the park and are literally a few minutes’ walk from some of the famous museums in NYC; the Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are all just a stones-throw from much of the accommodation in these areas.
If you’re looking for something a little bit different, Harlem, north of Central Park is an area undergoing an enormous transformation, with some fantastic places to stay such and tonnes going on. For great value; take a look at Hoboken or Jersey City in New Jersey, which are by no means the most scintillating of places, but will offer great value and views of Manhattan, and are merely a 10 minute train journey from downtown. North Brooklyn and Long Island City in Queens also have some great accommodation options, without leaving you too far away from Manhattan.
Really, getting around NYC is a piece of cake – most of Manhattan is easy by foot, with interesting neighbourhood’s sharing borders throughout the city. The other boroughs do present a little more of a challenge, however the Subway is extensive and simple to use, and pretty good value at $2.50 a journey (don’t worry, there are no zones to worry about!) Simply pick up a Metrocard and top up as you go, or just add a weekly travel pass. If all else fails, jumping in a cab it’s certainly a lot more affordable than, say, Australia, in terms of cost. Just do remember to throw your cabbie a couple of bucks as a tip when you finish your journey.
WHAT TO SEE
With so much to see it really depends on where your interests lie. Art buff? Check out the Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim and Museum of Metropolitan Art uptown; Interested in exploring the cities great parks and nature? Central Park, The Highline and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens are beautiful, tranquil oasis’ in the hustle and bustle of NYC.
Fancy checking out a show? Broadway is fantastic, with cheap deals galore; but so is BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music; with amazing touring productions frequently appearing at the theater. More of a sports fan? A baseball game at Yankee Stadium or trip out to see the Mets is inexpensive and a great laugh, as is getting your hands on tickets to see the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks,Rangers or Giants (Basketball, Hockey, American Football respectively).
None of that appeal? No problem; simply wandering the city will lead you to some of New York’s most famous sites, from the Brooklyn Bridge, to the Empire State Building, from Ground Zero to the Statue of Liberty; much of the wonder of New York lies in the sheer impressiveness of the city itself.
SHOPPING IN NYC
Although the dollar has flattened out in recent years, New York is still a mecca for shopping, and while Macy’s and Bloomingdales get most of the international acclaim, it’s really the smaller neighbourhood boutiques where you can find some of the best shopping in the city.
Soho is an obvious place to start, with tonnes of flagship stores for big brands like J Crew and Levis, plus a smattering of great independent stores. The East and West Village are also great, with lots of record shops, vintage clothes shops and antiques and curiosity stores.
Williamsburg is another brilliant location, just across the water in Brooklyn; especially on a Sunday when you can visit the famous Brooklyn flea market whilst overlooking one of the most spectacular views of the Mid-Town skyline. At the market you’ll find anything from vintage pairs of Jordan’s through to beautiful restored jewellery and out of print books and records, as well as locally made arts and crafts. This market also runs in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, on a Saturday.
Eating in NYC
There are so many restaurants in New York that keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s delicious in city would require a few extra days in each week, however in my opinion, you have to tick the 4 must do’s off your list on any trip to New York: Pizza, Hot Dogs, Burgers, Bagels and Donuts.
For Pizza, really you’re spoilt for choice, from Joe’s in the West Village, to Di Fara in Midwood, Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint and Tottonnos at Coney Island – there are a million spots to get your pizza fix; however for short lines and a truly NYC experience I’d recommend Patsy’s in Harlem (1st Ave and 118th Street).
For an unbelievable Bagel, Murrays near Union Square is fantastic, as are H&H Bagels in Midtown. For Hot Dogs, there’s only one option for – the legendary Grays Papaya on Broadway and 72nd street, and the best Donut’s you’ll ever taste are at Greenpoint’s Peter Pan Bakery, it’s worth the trip, I promise! Honourable mentions also go to the Clinton Street Bakery’s Pancakes, Carnegies giant Sandwiches and Nom Wah’s dim-sum.
And for the best darn burgers you could ask for hit up, Shake Shack in Madison Square Park! Mmm, I am official drooling over the thought of this.
CLOSE TO NYC
I nearly wrote ‘Getting Bored of the Big Apple?’ to start this section, however, with so much to do, I doubt that’s possible…
However, if you do fancy an escape to somewhere not-too-far from the city, the railway out of New York is pretty great, with excellent connections to upstate New York and nearby cities Boston,Washington DC and Philadelphia. A personal favourite of mine is Cold Spring, around 90 minutes out of the city on the Metro North train link. Cold Spring is a quaint little colonial town that sits on the Hudson River and is perfect for a chilled out day or two on the outskirts of the city; with great hikes, cute restaurants and some good swimming opportunities, it’s a bargain for only around $30 train fare.