I really love New York, but I’ve never wanted to become so classically white millenial that I start declaring it’s my favourite place on earth and it just really gets me. I do feel those feelings though. When I booked flights for July 2018 to visit the city for my third time since 2012 I realised it was going to be really embarrassing to make the same set of instagram posts I’d made the last two times I was there and still justify visiting again without instead experiencing a European Summer.
This trip helped me realise that when it comes to experiences I find a lot more joy in depth, not width. I’d rather tell you about the amazing jazz club we found at midnight and how I’ve worked out where the best pizza in Manhattan is (from the 28 I’ve tried) or when New Yorkers drop out for iced coffee, than give you a list of cities I’ve ticked off a bucket list. This also means I’m a bit of a tourist trap snob, if you like things that are classically set up for tourists New York is FILLED with them and some of them are awesome, I just avoided them so they don’t appear in the list.
A note for first time visitors…
If you’ve never done New York before I really recommend visiting some of the key tourist spots that we missed out this time around, places that don’t appear on our list but are worth visiting…
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art – No matter your feelings about art just get along, the displays are incredible and the facade has featured in so many movies it’ll feel oddly familiar
- The American Museum of Natural History – if there’s one place I regret us not visiting it’s here. We ran out of time as is so often the case, but some of the exhibits in the museum are mind blowing.
- Cruise to the Statue of Liberty – I’m gonna can this idea later in this list, but if you’ve never been there it’s just worth doing once. The reason you’ll hear people speak out against doing this is that there are a million other ways to get great photos and views of Lady Liberty, but this is one of those things you must do at least once.
Our two weeks in New York
We used a 10 Day New York Pass for many of the attractions featured below. There is so much positive and negative advice on the pass, my key point to make is to look at the attractions and conditions of all the city passes available in New York before you go, work out if it will truly provide value and then decide if you want one. For us it was incredible value. Also, New York during peak periods is busy – remember your ability to cover a lot of ground in those times is massively diminished. I’ll put (NYP) next to anything we visited using the pass.
Transport – 7 Day MetroCard – every bit of public transport we used was covered on a US$33 a week unlimited MetroCard. It doesn’t get easier than that. Don’t ask questions, just buy one.
Staying Connected – T-Mobile Tourist Sim Card for my phone, originally I tried to convince Kim to also get one but she was right in us really only needing one. If you take out the ability to update your instagram story at any time, the gold of the tourist sim is that it allows you to use Google Maps to work out how to get places easily (google maps syncs with live public transport data, so it tells you which subway station, which train and when it will arrive). It also became handy for us to use Yelp! to find the best food options in the area we were in. More on that soon.
LinkNYC – Much of New York is covered with Link terminals, they just look like tall skinny billboards on the footpath, but they output superfast free wifi. Once you connect to one everytime you walk by one your phone will automatically connect again. Parts of New York are meshed with them, for example in East Village much of where you walk you’ll stay on Link WiFi. They also have a little tablet where you can search for things on the web or just use maps to find something nearby.
Using a combination of TripAdvisor, Yelp! and an endless stream of blogs I think I tracked down some of the best eats in New York. I really recommend hitting Google with (your favorite food) best in New York to uncover some absolute gems in the city. This was one of our top parts of our trip! The closer you are to massive tourist destinations (Times Square) the less likely you are to find reasonably priced, top quality eats.
John’s of Bleeker Street – Arguably the best and one of the oldest Pizza Places in New York.
Luke’s Lobster – We really don’t do lobster rolls in Australia, that sucks. This place has a big price tag, but they’re delicious and you’ll find them all over NYC.
Nom Wah Tea Parlour – One of the oldest establishments in New York, based in China Town these guys do some of the absolute best dumplings I’ve ever had, and it’s such a classic feeling Chinese restaraunt.
McGee’s Pub & Restaraunt – The legend goes that the creators of How I Met Your Mother would come here to dream up ideas while they were working on David Letterman’s show, so this pub is the closest thing to a real life Maclaren’s from How I Met Your Mother. The whole cast have been here – photos on the wall to prove it!
Gray’s Papya – Another How I Met Your Mother reference – this is one of the few food places referenced in the show that does indeed exist! It’s cheap, cheap Hot Dogs, but holy moly they were easily the best hot dog I tried in the city. A couple of locations, they’re open 24/7.
Mighty Quinn’s BBQ – BBQ’d meats are a real thing worth your attention – this is a franchise that gets some pretty top reviews, though I suspect a true New Yorker could give you some better options. Start by searching for Blue Smoke.
Shake Shack – not just another American burger joint, this local favourite started as a shack in a park and is now ALL over Manhattan. I’m a huge fan.
Best Bagel & Coffee – If you’re in midtown at breakfast time the line out the door here should suggest it’s worth going here! Bagels are available all over the city, but do your research to try and find some top quality ones. Just make sure you try a few!
The Nugget Spot – If you love friend chicken and unique tastes, this place is worth checking out! Some really delicious options here.
Culture Espresso Bar – Supposedly the best espresso coffee in New York. I’d agree. Visited quite a few times thanks to their two locations being super close to our accomadation.
Dan and John’s Wings – I googled “Best Wings NYC” and this place kept coming up. Because Google KNOWS the truth! We went here twice, and it was fairly out of the way for us. AMAZING!
Ellen’s Stardust Diner – This gets a full review below in our second Sunday, seems like a tourist trap, maybe some people say it is, I think it was awesome.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory – The flavours here are out of this world – both the kinds of flavours and how good they are! It was 39 (yes, celcius) the day we went here and it couldn’t have been better!
Dominique Ansel Bakery – When I went to New York in 2015 a good friend of mine at the time told me she wanted to go there one day too because on Glee they’d gotten cronuts there… I didn’t know Cronuts started in New York… turns out they did, at this very bakery! They sell out of them super early, but the real gold in my opinion is there Cookie Mile Shots! Holy Moly, get on board!
The Burger Joint – Longtime friend, New York Lover and Burger reviewer, Gabbi, messaged me and told me that there was a burger place hidden inside the lobby of the ritzy Parker New York. I mean hidden, like behind a black curtain kinda gear. Not only was she right about that, but she was right about the burger being delicious!
Junior’s Restaraunt & Bakery – We both really wanted cheesecake, this placed looked like the kind of place that sold overpriced and undertasted cheesecake, looks can be deceiving, this cheesecake was delicious!
Burger & Lobster – We wanted to have decent lobster one night and found this place with some great reviews. Like I said earlier, no where in Australia really serves lobster like the US. A whole animal on your plate with a stack of sauces to dip in!
Day 1 – Saturday
Arrived JFK 1:30pm
Transfer to Manhattan – Dial7 Transfers – this was booked during our stopover in Hong Kong and upon landing at JFK I connected to the WiFi, hit a link in an email they’d sent when the plane landed and they let me know the car to look out for. There’s a lot of opinion on getting to Manhattan from JFK, I’m of the opinion if you’re travelling with luggage and off a long hall flight, a car transfer is the most cost, time and energy effective way to go. Dial7 have the best customer satisfaction from my research.
Checked in – Hilton Garden Inn West 35th Street – we got an awesome deal on this place by booking a few months out. I couldn’t fault the hotel based on the price we paid and the service we received. We specifically chose midtown near Herald Square as this was the most “in the middle” option I could find. I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re near a subway station you’re find for transport, but being near a station with express lines stopping makes transport 10/10 quicker. HOWEVER midtown is the hustle bustle city of New York, one one hand we were under the Empire State, on the other hand all the blocks around us were fairly characterless and the unique eating options were few and far between.
Day 2 – Sunday
Hillsong NYC – We love church, this church is born out of the Australian Hillsong Church but has captivated NYC in a way I’ve never really seen a church do before.
Big Bus Tour – Downtown & Uptown New York (NYP) – I had avoided doing this before because it felt too much like a tourist trap, but it seemed like a good way to get our bearings on a lazy first day Sunday. It guarantees you see some of the tourist sights like the Flat Iron building without needing to take time out hunting them down. The commentary is far more insightful than I expected. This is a great way to start a trip, we learnt everything from where the Oreo was invented and it’s role in the cardboard box’s discovery through to it being illegal to beep your horn in New York.
Day 3 – Monday
SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown Walking Tour (NYP) – Three equally interesting and different parts of New York! It was boiling hot the day we did this tour but it was worth every sweaty step. The history of each of these neighbourhoods is fascinating and at times shocking. Make sure as you do this tour you grab out the notes app on your phone and note down the stuff you want to come back and see!
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory – Technically this should be in the food section, but if you’re in Chinatown anyway, drop in – the flavour choices will blow you away!
The Strand Bookstore – I didn’t think I could be so excited by the size of a bookstore – I was. If you love reading make sure you get lost in here, even for just 30mins.
Day 4 – Tuesday
Secrets of Downtown – Wall Street Walking Tour (NYP) – This part of New York is old and unbelievably interesting. Originally the Dutch, then the British, then the revolution – it all happened on this turf. Parts of this tour will make you double check the map that you’re not in Europe. Add in Wall Street and the World Trade centres, there’s a lot to be seen and learnt on this tour.
National September 11 Museum & Monument (NYP) – It’s weird to say but this is one of my favorite parts of New York. The memorial park is stunning, the Museum is something else. Perhaps it’s because I remember the event taking place. The museum is heartbreaking, at times enraging and always so raw.
Staten Island Ferry – This is the best way to see the Manhattan Skyline & Statue of Liberty for free! The ferry runs 24/7/365 – yes, all night! It cruises on by the Statue of Liberty, then turn back for an amazing view of the Manhattan Skyline. You jump off at Staten Island, go for a look if you want, or walk back around and join the line to go home!
Day 5 – Wednesday (4th of July)
Central Park – Hallett Nature Sanctuary – this bird sanctuary feels like you’re in the middle of a rainforest – but you’re actually just metres from the hustle bustle skyscrapers of Manhattan.
Broadway – Dear Evan Hansen – It won more Tony Awards than I could fit on my trophy cabinet and for good reason. It was THE musical I wanted to see when we went to NY and I’m so glad we did. This was such a great reminder for me how much they respect and love theatre in New York – with lines along the road to see the cast after the show. Amazing.
4th of July Fireworks
Day 6 – Thursday
The Rockefeller Centre Tour (NYP) – Made famous from it’s named appearance in the show “30 Rock” & the giant outdoor ice skating rink and Christmas Tree that appears in every New York movie set at Christmas. This centre is the home to NBCUniversal, including the Jimmy Fallon & Saturday Night Live studios, but it’s history and artwork is far more interesting than I expected. It’s almost an art gallery in its own right. Worth the time to do this tour for sure!
Top of the Rock (NYP) – It’s the best observation deck in New York! Amazing sweeping views of the city, incredible views of Central Park and of course a downtown view with the stunning Empire State Building in the middle of it. If you only want to go to the top of one building in NYC make it the Top of the Rock.
Museum of Modern Art (NYP) – Warhol, Picasso, Van Gogh – they’re all featured on the walls here.
Day 7 – Friday
Chelsea Market – Ultimately this is just a large food court in an old biscuit factory, the architecture alone makes it a worthwhile visit, but then add in the unique and delicious food options up for grabs you can’t say no.
UCB Improv Theatre Show – The Law Firm – Over ten years ago I was introduced to improv comedy group Improv Everywhere, I remember reading then they’d come out of UCB in New York, this trip we finally got a chance to visit a show! The Law Firm was brilliant, the actors were clever and funny and the crowd just lapped them up. Many writers for TV shows hone their skills here. I wish we had more night free to see more of them.
Day 8 – Saturday
The Met Cloisters (NYP) – An interesting little offshoot of The Met – great if you like medieval and Catholic works. The parkland it’s based in is a stunning part of New York.
Grand Central Station Audio Tour (NYP) – This is a part of New York I’d overlooked in many of my previous trips so we decided we’d give the time to the self guided audio tour. It’s interesting – it’s an amazing bit of architecture with such an interesting history.
Tom’s Restaraunt – The famous neon “Restaraunt” sign facade from Sienfeld, to be honest, grab your photo out the front and keep walking.
Day 9 – Sunday
Central Park Bike Hire (NYP) – We put together a list of places we wanted to see in Central Park and the used the speed of the bikes to go between them all. This is an incredibly fast way to get around Central Park but be aware that you will be surrounded by experienced, fast, weaving bike riders for most of the paths!
Here’s everything we wanted to see in Central Park, the benfit of this list is travelling to each one will afford you a look at alot of the general scenary of the park.
- Belvedere Castle
- The Ramble
- Alice in Wonderland Statue
- The North Woods (Waterfalls)
- Shakesepeare Garden
- Strawberry Fields
- Hallett Nature Sanctury
- The MET Stairs
- Row Boat in Central Park ($15) – Loeb Boathouse
- Alice in Wonderland Statues
- The Pond
- Bethesda Terrace
If you’re in New York in Summer work your butt off to get tickets to Shakespeare in the Park, it’s free but you have to “win” tickets. Sadly it as in it’s two week break when we were there.
Circle Line Sightseeing Tour (NYP) – We did the Harbor Lights Cruise, previously I’ve done the Landmarks Cruise, they were both amazing. Just like the bus and walking tours before the insights the tour guides give you are incredibly interesting. The Manhattan skyline is incredible from the water, plus another quick pick at the Statue of Liberty and a very unique look at the Brooklyn Bridge.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner – Yep, this is in the food catergory, but worth unpacking here too. I was really worried this would be an overpriced tourist trap but Kim loves musical theater and was super keen to see it. As the week went on everytime we dropped by the line was huge so we kept putting it off… until tonight, we strolled passed by accident and the line was almost empty. Thank GOODNESS Kim pushed to see this place, it was SO good. The food was above average diner quality but the singing wait staff were INCREDIBLE. The whole thing is a lot of fun and absolutely worth the trip.
Empire State Building Observation Deck (NYP) – I mean it’s a requirment to reenact the scene from Sleepless in Seattle right? The building is stunning and it’s history is amazing! Two recommendations, firstly, the building is open til 2am every night, have a late night and go after 11pm. The lines are SIGNIFICANTLY reduced (it’s up to three – four hours during the day), after midnight I can feel like you’ve got the place all to yourself. Secondly, this is the one to do at night – the views aren’t quite as great as Top of the Rock, so you want it for the photos, but you also want to see New York City at night, ESB is perfect for it! Plus the late night adds some old school romance feel to it all.
Day 10 – Monday
Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO Walking Tour (NYP) – For all the times I’ve been to Manhattan I have never really given Brooklyn any love, that finally changed. Brooklyn Bridge is always slow and packed, but doing it in a tour group adds a great element of information about just how this thing came together. The DUMBO part of the tour is also great – it’s an interesting, fast changing part of the world.
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert Filming – Currently the highest rating late night show in the US. Seeing how these massive shows get put together is super interesting, the show is hilarious and a lot of fun. The dissapointing part about our trip timing was Colbert was really the only show filming in the time we were in the states. You have to book these (free) tickets up to a month in advance, they book out SUPER fast – so research when they’re going online and wake up at the rediculous Australian time to book them.
Day 11 – Tuesday
Visit to China Town, Little Italy & Chelsea to revisit places we saw on the tour and wanted to know more about.
Broadway Walking Tour (NYP) – This was a walking tour we were a bit unsure of, afterall, what more could we find out? Mistake! Times Square, Broadway, the history of both of these places was far more interesting than I’d ever conceived. The impact that broadway has had internationally on creative arts becomes so much more incredible when you hear the stories of how the whole theater distrcit came together.
Please Don’t Tell! – I’d read about this place on a few of the off the beaten track articles about New York. During prohibition illegal bars started popping up called speakeasies, Please Don’t Tell is a replica of one of these. You go into the neighbouring hot dog shop, step into their little phone both, dial 3 and wait for the matre di to answer! That’s the only way into this little cocktail bar. Great drinks, great Hot Dogs, but defs worth it for the cool factor.
Small’s Jazz Club – The last time I was in New York I tracked down this Greenwhich Village Jazz Club and was MESMIRISED. I don’t love live music and I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Jazz, but this was something else. We went back again and my music loving girlfriend, Kim was blown away. It’s packed into a little basement, chair all facing the performers with a bar off to the side. Not some tacky little band playing in a corner while people talk, this is a performance. The mucisians are something else, a man sat in the corner paiting as they played. It’s US$20 entry, worth every cent.
Day 12 – Wednesday
Broadway – Hamilton – Kim had been waiting years to see Hamilton, she paid a HUGE price for tickets, tells me she’d have paid double. Everyone says it’s amazing, no doubt I should have gone!
Bryant Park – While Kim was at Hamilton I headed to Bryant Park, sat, drank coffee and read. Around me couples met up, a hip hip dance troup rehearsed, a man with a sign inviting people to debate him about God for $2 showed up, people played games on the grass, it was awesome. New York has some great parks throught it, other than Central Park, Braynt is my favorite. Everything that happens there is free, including the super fast wifi and summer outdoor movies. Check their website for all the cool stuff constantly going on.
The Comedy Cellar – It’s an institution in comedy circles, rumours of Jerry Sienfeld, Jimmy Fallon, Dave Chappelle & Chris Rock performing surprise shows are not uncommon. The first time I went here in 2015 a pre-Trainwreck Amy Schumer took to the stage. This time we saw a brilliant line up including Judd Apatow. It’s cramped, but always brilliant. Book in advance and make sure you get along for a fun night.
Day 13 – Thursday
Roosevelt Island Tram – Ever since reading The Great Gatsby’s quote “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time” I’ve wanted to check out the Queensboro Bridge – the easiest way to do this is on the Roosevelt Island Tram across to Roosevelt Island. The admission price is included in your MetroCard and it’s a pretty cool experience tramming your way over to the island. The views are very nice, it’s very peaceful. It’s worth a look if you’ve got the time.
New York Public Library – I wish we had more time and energy to dedicate here, but if like us you’re merely passing through than make sure you check out the Rose Reading Room. Also for double points, if you walk up E 41ST Street toward the library there are some awesome quotes embeded in the path.
Union Square Park – This always feels like the creative melting pot of New York. Catch a train there and see what’s going on.