Where to Find the Best Views of New York City

New York City’s skyline is one of the most beautiful and impressive in the world.

The Manhattan skyline is home to the tallest building in the United States and the most photographed building in the world, the Empire State Building.

With so many superlatives, it’s no wonder that there are no shortage of cool observation decks in Manhattan with epic views.

But there are also many under-the-radar places for a great view of the New York skyline!

Because Manhattan is an island, there are incredible views of the Manhattan skyline just about everywhere: in Brooklyn, Queens, and even in neighboring New Jersey!

Here are some of our favorites.

The Best Views of New York City in Manhattan

On a Helicopter Tour

Contributed by Mark and Kristen of Where Are Those Morgans?

New York City is home to arguably the most iconic urban landscape on the planet. You can soak up epic NYC skyline views from several famous vantage points, such as Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

But imagine if you could see every single one of the best skyline views NYC has to offer in just 20 minutes?

That’s where a luxury NYC helicopter tour comes in to swoop and glide over Manhattan, the Hudson River and all of its most revered landmarks.

The catch? Taking a helicopter tour over Manhattan is going to absorb a huge chunk of your NYC travel budget. But it is worth eating the expense, particularly if you only have 1 or 2 days in the city.

You can choose flight time, flight route and even whether to fly with doors on or off based on various price points. 

Flights begin at around US$ 140 per person but that’s just a basic tour. Factor in more like US$ 250 – 400 each if you want the full experience.

Tours take off and land in both New Jersey (Kearny, Linden) and Lower Manhattan (Pier 6) throughout the day but advanced reservations are recommended due to high volume ‘walk in’ demand creating long lines.

You can fly over the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, One World Observatory and Downtown Manhattan, Empire State Building, Times Square, Edge at Hudson Yards, Central Park and even as far north as Yankees Stadium.

Photography can be challenging from a bumpy helicopter so be sure to crank up your shutter speed to at least 1/4000s for best image quality.

If you’re looking for one of the very best things to do in New York City, take a bucket list helicopter tour right over the top of the entire city!

Metropolitan Museum of Art Rooftop

Contributed by James Ian from Travel Collecting

One of my all-time favorite views in New York City is from the rooftop terrace of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met).  

The terrace occupies the southwest corner of the museum and has incredible views over the treetops of Central Park, and of the historic apartment buildings along Fifth Avenue and the towers of Midtown.  You can see the Plaza hotel and the new super narrow skyscrapers along and near Central Park South perfectly framing the park.

The rooftop is one of the Met’s best-kept secrets.  Access to the rooftop terrace is included in the museum’s admission fee, which is $25 for adults unless you are a local resident.  The terrace is only open in the summer months.  During this time, there is an art installation that changes each year.  

There is also the Cantor Roof Garden Bar on the terrace, and you can get a glass of sangria and a snack while you enjoy the views. (This is temporarily closed in 2021 due to Covid). There are some benches, but seating is quite limited, so I recommend getting there early to secure a spot. 

To get to the terrace, there is one elevator in the American Decorative Arts section on the first floor.  It goes express to the fourth floor, and from there you walk up to the fifth floor.  The museum is currently open Thursday to Monday, 10 am–5 pm.

Whitney Museum

Contributed by Isabella of Boundless Roads

New York City is one of the most photogenic cities in the world and you can find amazing views of NYC from literally every corner, and even in museums! 

If you are into art you may want to explore the Whitney Museum where you can enjoy not only the most unique contemporary art expositions but also catch some incredible views from its terraces.

On every floor of the museum you have the chance to get out on the terrace and see New York from a different angle, but the best one is obviously on the top floor with an almost 360° of the city including the Hudson River and the brand new Little Island with its manicured gardens and pathways, which is one of the most instagrammable places in NYC.

You can also have a glimpse of the start of the popular Highline, another great viewpoint, the majestic skyscrapers that populate the city, and the gorgeous rooftop terraces.

The Whitney Museum is located at the north end of Greenwich Village, one of the most historical areas of NYC that you cannot miss even if you are visiting NYC for a short time, so that it can definitely fit in your New York itinerary.

The entrance of the Museum is $25 but if you manage to go on a Thursday, you can make your own offer which can be as little as $1. In any case, it’s completely worth the price both for the incredible views and the unique artworks. Make sure you pick a sunny day though!

New Museum of Contemporary Art  

Contributed by Kenny of Knycx Journeying  

The New Museum of Contemporary Art is located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan within the vibrant Soho area, was established 40 years ago and dedicated to showcasing works of the up-and-coming international contemporary artists, hence the name “new”.  

The museum originally operated on Hudson Street; The current museum building opened in 2007, and it is a sleek and modern white architecture, standing amongst the iconic red brick buildings and flea markets in the neighborhood. Now, the museum has an important and influential legacy and mission to keep breaking new ground.  

The Sky Room is on the 7th floor of the museum with floor-to-ceiling windows and a terrace, offering an obstructed view of Soho, and a panoramic view of the dramatic skyline from Midtown to lower Manhattan. It is one of the few locations in the area that offers such a wide-angle from both indoor and outdoor.   

The room is opened to the public unless it was booked for a private event. The general admission to the museum and Sky Room is US$18 for an adult with a discount for senior visitors, students, and disabilities. New York Pass holders enjoy free access.   

The Best Views of New York City from Brooklyn

Time Out Market Rooftop

Contributed by Megan of Your Brooklyn Guide

If you’re looking for the best skyline views in New York City one of the best places to go to is the neighborhood of DUMBO in Brooklyn. 

DUMBO is home to prime waterfront real estate along the East River which provides some of the best views of Lower Manhattan and the skyline, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Brooklyn Bridge which can be enjoyed along the Brooklyn Bridge Park waterfront here, but the best view is actually from the top floor of Empire Stores at Time Out Market New York.

Situated inside a former industrious warehouse is one of the most exciting food market halls in the city including a lower floor full of food options and the 5th floor which offers a few more eateries, a bar, and an outdoor terrace where you can sit and eat or just come for the sweeping views!

From this prime location you can get photos and views of both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, the NYC city skyline, and Brooklyn Bridge Park below including the whimsical Jane’s Carousel with the East River.

This is an especially great spot during sunset and if you happen to be here early morning or late at night you can access the outdoor terrace using the outdoor staircase even when Time Out Market isn’t open.

The nearest subway stations are York Street (F line) and High Street ( A/C lines). You can also take the NY Ferry to the DUMBO stop or even walk across either the Brooklyn Bridge or Manhattan Bridge.

Manhattan Bridge

Contributed by Rachel of Rachel’s Ruminations

The Brooklyn Bridge is a popular tourist destination in New York City; tourists throng the walkway of this elegant bridge. That’s part of why the Manhattan Bridge is actually a better choice, both for views and for comfort.

Both bridges connect Manhattan to Brooklyn, not very far apart from each other. The Manhattan Bridge isn’t as pretty, but it’s also not nearly as crowded.

From the Manhattan Bridge, as you listen to the subway cars roar by right next to you, you’ll get the best view of the older and prettier Brooklyn Bridge, with its Gothic Revival arches made of stone.

And the city skyline beyond it isn’t blocked by parts of the bridge, as it is from the Brooklyn Bridge.

A metal suspension bridge, the Manhattan Bridge was completed in 1909. A second level was added to it in 1922, and two separate paths – one for pedestrians and one for cyclists – were added in the early 2000s.

That means that, unlike the Brooklyn Bridge, you won’t be risking your life sharing a path with New York cyclists in a hurry or wobbly tourists admiring the views.

Walking both bridges is also possible, of course. It is probably wisest to do the Brooklyn Bridge early in the morning before the crowds gather, then take the Manhattan Bridge for the return trip. Both are free to cross. Bring water and sun lotion if it’s a warm day.

The nearest subway stations in Manhattan are Grand Street (B and D trains), East Broadway (F) and Canal Street (4, 6, J, Z, N, Q, R, W). In Brooklyn, the nearest station is York Street (F train).

To learn more about both bridges, read about walking across the Manhattan Bridge & the Brooklyn Bridge.

Westlight

Contributed by Martha at May Cause Wanderlust

Westlight is a rooftop cocktail bar in Brooklyn, from which you can enjoy a stunning panoramic view of Manhattan.  

It is on the 22nd floor of the luxury William Vale hotel in Williamsburg and the bar is run by Chef Andrew Carmellini’s NoHo Hospitality Group.

It offers a delicious selection of small plates and appetizers inspired by street food all around the world and the cocktail menu is inventive and full of personality. The design of the bar is an elegant mix of modern and classic. 

However, the star attraction is the sweeping view from the terrace. From here, you can see most of midtown Manhattan, easily picking out the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.  At night, especially, it is a mesmerising, sparkling spectacle.

You’ll find Westlight at 111 N 12th St, Brooklyn, which is a ten minute walk from both Bedford Avenue (L train) and Nassau Avenue (G train).  There are also buses which stop nearby (B32, B62, M14-A-SBS and M9). 

Like many popular bars, it gets busy, so you it is a good idea to reserve a table in advance.  You can book indoors or on the terrace. If you can only get a table inside – and even if it is freezing cold – make sure you spend some time out on the terrace to marvel at the view!

The Skyline Drive-In

Contributed by Shannon of Traveling Teacher Girl

The Skyline Drive-In is located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and offers amazing views of the East River and east side of Manhattan.

Skyline Drive-In is the only drive-in cinema that offers a view of the Manhattan skyline (hence where it got its name- Skyline Drive-In).

You can either drive in and watch a movie from your car, or you can walk in and use their available seating. They show movies 7 days a week year-round. 

Tickets cost approximately $55 per vehicle if you drive-in or $22 per seat if you walk in. They have typical movie theater snacks for sale such as popcorn, candy, and soda. You can also bring in food from one of the many great restaurants nearby such as Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop or Jungle Cafe. 

Be sure to arrive early in order to secure a spot closest to the screen. If you are driving in with your car be sure to allow time for typical NYC/Brooklyn traffic driving in New York City. If you are walking in, you can get to the neighborhood of Greenpoint by subway via the G train or by NYC ferry. 

There are several great spots to take photos here. The first is to take a photo from your car or seat with a view of the movie screen and the Manhattan Skyline behind it. You can also walk closer to the shore of the East River and grab a photo with an uninterrupted view of the Manhattan Skyline.

The Edge Park

Contributed by Isabella of Boundless Roads

Designed by W Architecture, The Edge Park was built in 2011, to recuperate an ugly industrial area and turn it into a beautiful waterfront park for the citizens of New York and visitors alike. 

Located in the heart of Brooklyn, in the trendy Williamsburg, The Edge Park is a spectacular space where people enjoy hanging out, jogging, sunbathing, or taking their dogs for runs, in the dedicated area.

The idea was to turn an inaccessible area into an enjoyable space, ensuring that the tower buildings were not obstructing the spectacular views of the East River and Manhattan but on the contrary, becoming connecting elements with the iconic skyline.

The mission was definitely accomplished and the area has become a lively trendy space, very much appreciated by the locals, especially in the spring and summer when people love to hang out, gathering with friends, or enjoying a nice book while sunbathing on the manicured grass or on the benches.

If you get to the end of the pier you can admire a spectacular image of the Manhattan skyline with the Empire State Building towering over the city.

To get to Edge Park from Manhattan you can get Subway Line L and get off at Bedford Avenue station, and then walk 5 minutes, or if you are coming from Queens, bus B62 is the best way to get some sightseeing before reaching your destination.

If you are traveling in the summer make sure you add a swimsuit to your NYC packing list, in case you want to join the local vibe for some sunbathing!

The Best Views of New York City from Queens

Hunter’s Point South Park

Contributed by Polly Witker of Polly Goes

Hunter’s Point South Park is a true hidden gem for anyone wanting to take in fabulous views of Midtown East in a relaxed setting!

Situated directly across the East River from 34th street at the westernmost edge of Queens, Hunter’s Point Park is a prime spot to see landmarks like the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.

The park has plenty of seating areas, a grassy area for reading or relaxing, and a recreational space for sports like soccer or volleyball.

The iconic and Instagrammable Pepsi-Cola sign is also nearby at Gantry Plaza! LIC Landing is a casual, to-go cafe onsite with coffee and snacks.

One of the best parts about taking in the views of the NYC skyline from Hunter’s Point South Park is that it’s completely free!

Getting there is easy: by subway you can take the 7 train just one stop from Grand Central to Vernon Blvd – Jackson Avenue. Or take the NYC Ferry which stops right at Hunter’s Point.

The Best Views of NYC from New York Harbor

Governors Island

Contributed by Megan of Your Brooklyn Guide

One of the most under-the-radar spots for best views in New York City is located in the New York Harbor between Lower Manhattan and South Brooklyn at Governors Island.

Governors Island is a former military base that was active from the Revolutionary War until 1996. Since then, the space has been converted to a public playground open only from the months of May through the end of October.

You can rent bikes here or bring your own, picnic, eat, sway in hammocks, and wander around the art exhibits and former military housing on the island.

The best part though has to be climbing ‘The Hills’ where you get one of the best unobstructed views of the Statue of Liberty in one direction and breathtaking views of the Lower Manhattan skyline and World Trade Center in the other direction.

There are several vantage points around Governors Island that make it one of the best spots to catch a great view in the city not to mention plenty of things to do that you can spend as little as an hour or two to spending the night at their luxury glamping resort.

Getting to Governors Island is also cheap, you just have to pay your round trip ferry ticket which is a whopping $3 for adults, or if you want to save some cash you can come on the weekends before noon for FREE!

The ferries operate from the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan 7 days a week or Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park and Atlantic Basin in Red Hook on Saturdays and Sundays only.

Staten Island Ferry

Contributed by James Ian from Parks Collecting

One of the best views of New York City is the view of Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry. 

The bright orange ferries are an integral part of the New York City experience.  The first ferry started all the way back in 1817.  In more recent years, they have featured in countless movies and TV shows, including the iconic opening scene in the classic 80’s movie Working Girl.  

The Staten Island ferry leaves from its own terminal, Whitehall Terminal, at the southern tip of Manhattan near Battery Park. Getting there is easy by subway. The South Ferry Station (1 train) and Whitehall Street-South Ferry station (R and W trains) are just outside the ferry terminal.

The 25-minute trip to the St George terminal on Staten Island goes right past Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty.  It provides breathtaking views of the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan, including the World Trade Center.  Stand at the back for the best views. You slowly see the island of Manhattan receding as you inch further away. 

One of the best things about this is that the ferry is completely free! There are no tickets – so beware of scammers trying to sell you tickets. 

When you arrive in Staten Island, you can spend the day exploring some of the sites of Staten Island (there is a historic village and some great beaches), or pop back on the next boat to Manhattan.  If you decide to head straight back, you will need to get off and then get back on the next boat leaving – you can’t stay onboard the same ferry. 

Stand near the front to get the same view in reverse, this time with lower Manhattan slowly getting bigger and closer.  You will also get great shots of the Statue of Liberty on the left as you pass right by.

Statue of Liberty Pedestal

Contributed by Darcy Vierow of planreadygo.com 

The Statue of Liberty National Monument is a top visitor site in New York City. And while many come to see the statue itself, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to take in the amazing view of Lower Manhattan from the top of the statue pedestal. 

From the pedestal you can see iconic Manhattan buildings such as One World Trade Center/Freedom Tower, the Empire State Building and 432 Park Avenue (one of the tallest residential buildings in the world). 

The only way to get to the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island is to purchase tickets through Statue Cruises, the official vendor for statue pedestal reservations and ferry transportation to the island. Make sure you select the ticket with pedestal access, which costs approximately $20. A pedestal reserve ticket also includes access to the Statue of Liberty grounds and museum as well as Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. 

You can choose to take the Statue Cruises ferry from either Battery Park in Lower Manhattan or from Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Visitors are strongly encouraged to book their pedestal reservations well in advance as reservations are required for entry. 

Because the stone pedestal is approximately half of the height of the whole monument (and roughly the same height as a 10-story building), there are quite a few steps to climb to reach the top. Wheelchair access is available by using an elevator from the lobby, but the outdoor area at the top of the pedestal is not wheelchair accessible. 

The Best Views of NYC from New Jersey

Exchange Place

Contributed by Sean of LivingOutLau

If you want the best views of New York City, your first instinct might be to go straight to Manhattan, get on the tallest skyscraper, and just look out at the view!

But ironically, that doesn’t give the best view of NYC because you are standing on what you want to look at. If you want the NYC best views, you don’t stay in NYC, you want to stay across from NYC so you can take in the extensive views.

Consequently, the best place to view NYC is from the Exchange Place waterfront in Downtown Jersey City, New Jersey!

Located directly across the Huson River from Tribeca, the waterfront at Exchange Place offers visitors spectacular views of some of the skyscrapers in Tribeca, Wall St, and Battery Park.

The One World Trade Center is unquestionably the one that will immediately catch your attention, as it is the tallest building in the United States. 

If you are staying in NYC, there are two ways to get to Exchange Place. The easiest method is to take the PATH, which is a train system that connects New Jersey with Manhattan.

Alternatively, you can take the ferry from Battery Park, Brookfield Place Terminal (adjacent to the One World Trade Center), or Midtown to Paulus Hook, which is the ferry terminal at Exchange Place.

Though it might be a strange thing to do in NYC to visit New Jersey (especially if you have a short trip), you will not regret visiting Exchange Place for its views. If you have the opportunity, pick nighttime to visit as the skyscrapers illuminate the Manhattan skyline at night!

The Best Observation Decks in New York City, Ranked: An Honest 2021 Guide

One of the top activities on every New York City itinerary is to see NYC from above from one of the city’s many observation decks. 

Skyline views of Manhattan are an indispensable part of sightseeing in New York. But which of these observation towers offers the best views of Manhattan’s skyscrapers and surroundings?

I just got back from a trip to NYC in June 2021 where I visited three of these four observation decks in NYC (the fourth, I visited on a prior trip in 2017), so my knowledge is fresh, firsthand, and fully honest. 

As someone who lived in NYC for nearly a decade from 2007-2016, I adore this city and I am constantly striving to steer people away from the biggest mistakes tourists make in NYC (and I mean actual mistakes like posing with a terrifying Elmo in Times Square, and not silly things like calling it ‘the Big Apple’ — who even cares?) 

I paid out of pocket for these experiences and am sharing my 100% truthful opinions with you.

I consider myself an ex-New Yorker, and New Yorkers are known for their honesty above all else. I’ve channeled that honesty throughout this piece, letting you know what to prioritize and what to skip.

I hope this guide will help you find which observation deck is best in NYC, for your personal travel style and desires!

The Best Observation Decks in NYC: Quick Comparison

View from the Top of the Rock – my favorite observation deck in NYC!
Buildings (Ranked by Preference)Highest Observation DeckCostBest View Of
#1: Top of the Rock70th floor$41Central Park; Empire State Building
#2: One World Observatory102nd floor$41 ($52 skip all lines)Statue of Liberty; Brooklyn Bridge
#3: The Edge100th floor$41East River; New Jersey
#4: The Empire State Building86th floor; 102nd floor (extra cost)$46 ($85 skip all lines); more for 102nd floorChrysler Building; Flatiron Building

The 4 Observation Decks in New York City: Pros & Cons of Each

Top of the Rock (Upper Midtown)

View of the Empire State building dead center amongst other Manhattan skyscrapers from Top of the Rock

Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112

Hours: 10 AM to 10 PM daily

Height of Observation Deck: 70th floor

Tickets: Buy online here from $41

Available with Passes? Yes, CityPass and New York Pass.

With the lowest height of any of the decks on this list, you’d think that Top of the Rock with its 70th floor deck would rank the lowest on my list of observation decks in NYC… but the opposite is true!

Top of the Rock is actually my favorite viewpoint in New York City, and while it may not be the tallest (hello, One World) or the edgiest (hello, Edge), it offers the best all-around views of the city.

Allison Green smiling as she looks through a viewfinder at buildings in NYC

Central Park? Check! 

Top of the Rock’s position on 50th Street means that Central Park starts just 9 blocks away, and the views from the northern side of Top of the Rock over all of Central Park are simply breathtaking. 

The vastness and lushness of Central Park is unparalleled elsewhere in the city, and from Top of the Rock, you can see it all in a way that none of the other observation decks can even approximate. 

Vintage viewfinder with Central Park in the distance and a compass mosaic on the ground

While you can see a sliver of Central Park from both the Edge and the Empire State Building, it’s such a small fraction of it that it’s not really worth noting, whereas this is a major feature of Top of the Rock.

Another advantage Top of the Rock has is that it offers the best view of the Empire State Building than all the other observation decks. 

The view of the Empire State Building is basically head-on from 15 blocks away, and being on the 70th floor is plenty high to really get the perspective you need on it. It doesn’t get much better than this! 

Compare that to the partially obstructed view of the Empire State Building from the Edge, the far-away (though admittedly higher!) view from One World Observatory, and the lack of a view from inside of the Empire State because, well, you’re inside it, and Top of the Rock is the clear winner in this category.

Allison sitting in the window at the. Top of the Rock looking at the Empire State Building

Where the Top of the Rock Observation Deck falls short are in two main areas: its height, as the shortest tower on this list, but also in its user experience. 

I originally visited Top of the Rock in 2017 with a CityPass, and the experience was a nightmare. 

Perhaps it has improved since then, and while I visited the other 3 observation towers in NYC on this list in 2021, I did not revisit the Top of the Rock on this last trip, so I have to base it off of my 2017 experience and my experience using a CityPass.

If you use a CityPass, you have to go in person to the Top of the Rock and wait in a long line to exchange it for an actual timed-entry voucher. 

This can sometimes be incongruous with other things you want to do on your trip, especially since you may not be able to exchange it for entry at that moment, but rather for a later time in the day or perhaps even the following day!

This may not be a big deal if your hotel is located near Rockefeller Center, but if it’s not, it can be a real pain and is not worth the savings that a CityPass grants.

However, I admit that a large part of why I found the process of going to the Top of the Rock painful was because of using a CityPass.

Allison Green spinning in a polka dot dress in front of the Empire State Building at the Top of the Rock

You can actually just book your tickets directly with the Top of the Rock Observation Deck through an authorized ticket seller like GetYourGuide and the experience would, presumably, be a lot nicer! 

This is the tactic I took with my other observation decks I visited this year (2021) and entry was fast, easy, and painless in all instances, as all I had to do was show my mobile voucher and show up at the time I booked — no need to wait in a long line to buy my ticket, exchange a voucher for a timed-entry ticket, etc.

Buy your Top of the Rock tickets online here!

Pros

– Best view of the Empire State Building

– Best view of Central Park

– Least crowded

– Reasonably priced

Close up zoomed in view of Central Park against skyscrapers of new york city

Cons

– Lowest observation deck in NYC

– Worst customer-facing service (confusing organization and ticketing, rude staff)

– Not as iconic of a building as One World Trade Center or the Empire State Building

– Not as many views of Lower Manhattan landmarks

The One World Observatory (Downtown)

View of Uptown Manhattan as seen from One World Observatory on a partly cloudy day

Address: One World Trade Center (285 Fulton St, New York, NY 10007)

Hours: 9 AM to 10 PM daily

Height of Observation Deck: 102nd floor

Tickets: Buy online here from $41 to $52 for skip-the-line tickets

Available with Passes? Yes, New York Pass only (no CityPass).

If you want to visit a building for its history, One World Observatory is it. 

Built atop the ashes of the Twin Towers, One World Trade Center is a phoenix that symbolizes New Yorkers’ indomitable spirit. Even in the face of the worst tragedy imaginable, New Yorkers rebuild.

That was true on September 11 of 2001, and it’s true after March and April of 2020, when New York City was one of the hardest-hit places in the world at the early stages of the pandemic. 

I visited the One World Observatory this year in 2021, and the experience was quite powerful, especially put into the context of New York City in 2021 as it rebuilds in a different way after the pandemic changed the social and economic fabric of the city immensely.

Up there on the 102nd floor, admiring the 360-degree views of the city skyline, I knew that New York will always rebuild, no matter how hard it gets knocked down. 

And One World Trade Center is proof of that.

View from the window of One World Trade with people looking out at the city views

The tallest building in the United States, the spire at One World Trade Center makes the building 1,776 feet tall — purposely designed to match the year of America’s Declaration of Independence.

It was especially remarkable for me to experience One World Observatory for myself. I went to grad school just a few blocks away at Pace University, obtaining my Masters of Science in Teaching. 

From 2011-2013, every time I went to class, I checked on the progress of the construction of One World Trade Center, little by little. It was finally finished in 2014. 

While I didn’t go to the top of One World Observatory until after I moved out of New York City (nor any of the observation decks, in fact — locals always avoid the touristy things!), coming this year in 2021 felt like a cool homecoming in a way I never expected! 

Allison Green smiling at One World Observatory wearing an orange dress and jean jacket and sandals

Of all the observation tower experiences, I think One World Observatory does the full-on immersive experience the best. 

The elevator ride video is incredible, showing 500 years of New York City history condensed into a one-minute elevator ride as you soar up 100+ floors, immersive and surrounding you in 360 degrees.

Once you reach the top, there’s another video, which admittedly felt a little cheesy… but once the video finished, and the screen lifted to show the city landscape behind it, even I — a jaded former New Yorker — was floored. The reveal was incredible!

View of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges from One World

One major downside I will say about One World, though, is that the entire experience is indoors. 

While that means it’s nice in inclement weather, it also means that it can be hard to take photographs through the glass. 

I found that to not be a huge problem during the day, although I did get some glare, which you can see in some of the corners of the photos.

At night, I would imagine photos would not quite turn out nearly as well due to the glares of light on the glass!

Buy your One World Observatory tickets online here!

Pros

– Coolest elevator ride experience with epic visual storytelling

– The immense history of the building itself and the show of strength and resilience it signals

– Best views of Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island; only view of Governors Island

– Best views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge

– Good views of Hudson River, East River, and New Jersey (though the Edge’s are better)

View of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from One World Observatory

Cons

– One of the most popular observation decks with long wait times, especially without skip-the-line tickets

– No open-air section; all indoors with windows which can make photography difficult, especially at night

– Not as great of a view of the Empire State Building (far away)

– No view of Central Park

The Edge (Hudson Yards / Midtown East)

View of The Edge Observation Deck jutting out from the building as a sky deck on a sunny day in New york city

Address: 30 Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10112

Hours: 8 AM to midnight daily

Height of Observation Deck: 100th floor

Tickets: Buy online here from $41

Available with Passes? Yes, New York Pass only (no CityPass).

The Edge is the newest observation deck in New York City, and it’s got all the buzz (and amazing views to back up the talk).  

From the 100th floor observatory, you can see incredible views in both the interior area and the open-air sky deck — the tallest outdoor observation deck in the entire Western Hemisphere, which is pretty freaking cool!

The outdoor sky deck is also quite amazing. It has a partial glass floor which has cut-away views 100 stories below you!

Allison Green looking below on the glass floor of the sky deck at The Edge observation deck in NYC, wearing a black shirt and red floral skirt

Sitting on the glass floor for an epic photo is not for the faint of heart! I have pretty much no fear of heights, and even I was feeling a twinge of vertigo on the glass floor.

As the tallest building by a long shot in the Hudson Yards area, which is on the far west side of Manhattan, you’ll get a different perspective of the Manhattan skyscrapers than you would from being in the middle of the concrete jungle. 

This means both good and bad things!

For one, you get a great view of the Hudson River and New Jersey and Midtown Manhattan. You can see One World Trade Center pretty prominently, and the Statue of Liberty is faintly visible.

View of One World Trade Center and the Hudson River from the Edge

But you also miss the East Side of the city, such as the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge, which are visible on other observation towers.

Some other important buildings in the New York skyline are also partly obscured.

Allison Green smiling with a view of the Empire State Building behind her while visiting The Edge observation deck in Manhattan

For example, the Empire State Building — easily one of the most iconic buildings that you want a photo of — is hard to get a straight-on photo of, as most views are partially obstructed by other buildings. 

You can get a better view from the interior area, near the gift shop, but it’s not quite as exciting as getting to see it from the sky deck, plus the window does add a bit of glare or cast on the photo.

There’s also some construction going on, which does interrupt some of the shots, but I imagine that will change as time goes on.

Better view of the Empire State Building from inside the inner The Edge building

Buy your tickets to The Edge online here!

Pros

– The newest observation deck in NYC

– The highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere 

– Most unique design blending open-air and interior spaces

– Fun elevator ride experience with great visuals

– Best photo spots and most “Instagrammable” of the four observation decks on this list.

Allison posing at the Edge in a typical Instagram-style fashion

Cons

– Disorganized set-up and difficult to find the entrance (located on 4th story of a mall)

– One of the most crowded due to its newness and ‘edge’ factor!

– Timed tickets must be bought way in advance at peak hours like sunset

– Several iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building are partially obstructed or not visible 

The Empire State Building (Lower Midtown)

Views from the Empire State Building of Lower Manhattan

Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112

Hours: 10 AM to 10 PM daily

Height of Observation Deck: 80th floor, 86th floor, and 102nd floor (for an additional, extortionate price!)

Tickets: Buy online here from $46 to $85 for skip-all-lines (strongly recommended)

Available with Passes? Yes, both CityPass and New York Pass, though no skip-the-line capabilities are available.

The beautiful Art Deco Empire State Building is one of my favorite buildings in all of New York. I may be clichéd, but it’s true. 

That said…. it’s not my favorite observation deck, and I rank it 4th out of the four on this list. Hear me out!

Allison Green at the Empire State Building

I lived in New York City for nine years and far and away, I’m obsessed with the Empire State Building and I view it as the emblem of the city.

But herein lies the problem with visiting the Empire State Observatory Deck… you just can’t see the Empire State itself from it! 

While that seems very self-explanatory and not at all something you should be surprised by, I must admit, there is something disappointing about seeing panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline without its most iconic building of all!

A view from the Empire State Building at sunset, in the distance you can see the observation tower of The Edge in Hudson Yards!
See that tiny ledge on the tallest building in the photo? That’s The Edge!

Plus, it’s squarely in the middle range of the observation decks in terms of height… unless you pay a premium of the Top of the Empire State Building ticket, which brings you to the (teeny-tiny) 102nd floor. 

That’s a barely appreciable difference from The Edge and no different from One World Observatory, and on both of those, you have far more room to move around and explore different angles.

Buy your Empire State Building tickets (and skip-the-line tickets) here!

Pros

– The oldest observation deck in New York City and the most classic

– Skip-the-line tickets allow you to zip through which makes it a far more pleasant experience

– Best view of the Chrysler Building

– Interior is gorgeous and the Art Deco beauty is unmatched

– Skip all lines capability is fantastic; no waiting at all if you choose this option!

The Art Deco interior of the Empire State Building

Cons

– Most underwhelming elevator ride experience (slow, broken into two parts, no interesting graphics like One World Observatory or The Edge)

– No view of the Empire State Building itself!

– Most expensive, especially for the skip all lines pass

– Often very crowded if you don’t have the skip-the-line privilege

Should I Get a CityPass or New York Pass?

Honestly? It is a mixed bag, and I lean towards no unless you plan to see more than two observation decks in NYC plus a good amount of other attractions. 

While an attraction pass used wisely can definitely save you money, it can sometimes come at the expense of time and convenience. 

However, used wisely, it can also be a great money saver, especially for families buying multiple tickets where the costs quickly add up.

There are two main passes: CityPass and New York Pass. I’ll quickly go into them both.

For CityPass, Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building are both on their included attractions. The Edge and One World Observatory are not.

Personally, I’ve used a CityPass to see the Top of the Rock, and I’ve never used a New York Pass. 

However, I can say that my CityPass experience was not fantastic, and so even though I chose to see three observation decks during my week in New York in June 2021, I opted to pay individually for skip-the-line tickets rather than buy a pass.

Skipping the line at the Empire State Building was 100% necessary!
Following the Skip the Line ‘red carpet’ to avoid lines at the Empire State — worth every penny!

Why? When I used CityPass, I found that the process of exchanging my CityPass voucher for a Top of the Rock timed-entry ticket was really stressful and confusing, with lots of lines, zero organization, and really unfriendly employees directing people around. 

I actually almost missed my opportunity to use it and go to the Top of the Rock, since I didn’t know that it was possible I wouldn’t get in on the same day. 

Luckily, I stopped by earlier in my trip and was able to reschedule other activities around it, since once I exchanged my ticket, it was for the following day.

After having that experience, I soured a bit on CityPass and the idea of attraction passes in New York in general.

However, a lot of people — especially families working with a tight budget — may still value the discount that CityPass offers, which can be quite high!

If you visit all 6 attractions, the discount in total off all the attractions is 40%; however, if you’re not visiting all of the included attractions, that discount will reduce.

Here’s what’s included on the CityPass. There are 3 attractions that are standard for every CityPass: the Empire State Building, Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For the other 3, you have a choice between two attractions for each remaining choice. You can not mix or match between this; you must pick between the two.

You can also choose between the Guggenheim OR Top of the Rock; the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR a harbor cruise; and either the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum OR the 9/11 Museum.

On the other hand, the New York Pass includes all four observation decks on this list, which is definitely a pro of it over the CityPass if you’ve got observation deck fever!

The New York Pass includes a whopping 100+ attractions as opposed to CityPass’s 6. This is another huge advantage of the New York Pass.

However, CityPass can be used over 9 days, whereas you pay per day for the New York Pass, which can be more expensive.

If you marathon your sightseeing, the New York Pass may be a good deal cheaper, since there is no limit on the number of attractions on the list you can visit in a day.

However, like the CityPass, certain attractions require an advance reservation, such as the Empire State Building. 

Others require you to show up in person to receive the next available time slot (such as One World Observatory). This can often not be for hours and hours, or perhaps the next day.

Sign telling next admission times at One World
When I arrived at noon, the next admission for those who were buying tickets in person or trading in vouchers wasn’t until 4:30 PM — and it wasn’t even crowded this day!

This means that you may not be able to get in when you first arrive, and so you’ll need to factor in flexibility and alternative plans.

It depends on what matters more for you: saving money or saving time.

With places like the Empire State Building, where waits exceed 2+ hours at times, I strongly suggest skip-the-line tickets. 

Many attractions also offer the option for timed-entry tickets, where you can easily book a time slot. 

It’s hard for me to say definitively what is better for you, but feel free to check out the offerings, make some decisions about your New York itinerary, and pick the pass that’s right for you — or book a la carte.

Book your New York Pass or your CityPass

Other Buildings in NYC with Great Views

View of greenery of Central Park from the Met rooftop with skyscrapers behind it

This post enumerated all the different true observation decks in New York City. But there are a number of other places in NYC where you can get an epic view – some even for free!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a great rooftop open seasonally between April and October. Admission to the rooftop is included in the $25 admission fee to the museum. 

The roof is not that tall — around 6 stories or so — but the view over Central Park means that you get an impressive view of the Manhattan skyline. It’s also an Uptown view, which none of these observation decks can boast.

Another great place to see the Manhattan skyline is from the Statue of Liberty! The ferries to and from the Statue of Liberty offer incredible Lower Manhattan views. 

This is also just an essential part of any NYC sightseeing experience, so it’s a great two-for-one activity.

Another favorite is from the TimeOut Market in DUMBO in Brooklyn, which offers incredible Lower Manhattan and East River views, plus great views of the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, and Williamsburg Bridge.

Future Observation Decks Planned

View of the Art Deco architecture of the Chrysler Building in NYC

Slated for opening in the fall of 2021, Summit One Vanderbilt is being built above Grand Central Station. 

It will offer views from 93 stories up with cool features like glass elevators and outdoor spaces with lots of greenery. Here’s a little preview of what’s to come!

Its tentative opening date is October 21, 2021, as per an article released this May. Hopefully, it’ll meet its targets!

There are also plans for a rehaul of the Chrysler Building, the Art Deco masterpiece, but it’s without a set opening date thus far. 

There will be a public observation tower on the 61st floor, so lower than Top of the Rock, but in a more impressive and historic building.

Best Time to Visit the Empire State Building: Insider Tips For Your First Visit!

Neon lights flashing a beautiful symphony, cascading light over the city streets. The orange glow of the sun as it rises over the wire-wrought architecture of the Brooklyn Bridge. The proud spires of impossibly high buildings, a few jutting prominently over the rest to make the skyline irrefutably New York.

These are the images that make a trip to New York City a trip of a lifetime, just as memorable as any other trip you could conjure up.

And while I’ll always urge you to get out and explore the off the beaten path side to the city — the brownstones of Brooklyn, the food trucks of Queens, the street art of the Bronx — I’ll also always tell you you shouldn’t miss New York’s most classic sights: the Empire State Building, the icon of the city, being one of them.

Disclosure: This post is written in partnership with GetYourGuide, my trusted tour company partner, who is encouraging people to explore their own backyards this summer. Book memorable tours, activities, and attractions all in one spot on GetYourGuide.com

But First: Why New York?

As a former New Yorker who called the city home for nearly a decade, I often contend that traveling around New York is like traveling internationally, just between neighborhoods rather than countries — and you can do it by foot, without needing a plane or even a train.

One minute you can be scarfing down Greek souvlaki in Astoria and walk down to admiring the skyline from Gantry Plaza State Park; the next, you can be crossing the Pulaski Bridge for authentic Polish pierogis in Greenpoint, then heading to Bushwick for street art and a wide variety of food from vegan Ethiopian to Venezuelan arepas to Nepalese momos.

And that’s just one walk of millions upon millions you can do in New York City.

New York is a city with a million different stories, and I urge you to take trips both on and off the beaten path while you’re in New York.

Manhattan is incredible, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of New York. In fact, it’s the smallest borough in terms of area and the third-smallest in terms of population.

However, Manhattan is certainly home to no shortage of New York iconic sights, which is why you simply must dedicate two or even three days to exploring Manhattan and all it has to offer, from beautiful Battery Park all the way up to Harlem.

And while you’re traversing Manhattan, you’ll likely see so many of those iconic sights that make Manhattan synonymous with New York City in the eyes of all who visit. And one of those images, the Empire State Building, stands head and shoulders above the rest.

If you’re planning a trip to New York City, a few things likely figure at the top of your bucket list.

The Empire State Building, Broadway, Times Square: these things are so quintessentially New York that they simply must be a part of any New York itinerary.

But while it may be quite obvious when to visit Broadway (uh, showtime) and Times Square (any time after dark to best see those neon lights shimmering) — the Empire State Building, with its fabled queues, is a little more difficult to decide when to visit.

As someone who lived in New York for nine years, I’ve guided many of my friends around their first trips to the city and to the Empire State Building. Through their (and my) many trials and errors, I’ve been able to determine the best time to visit the Empire State Building for any type of traveler.

Quick Caveat: There is No “One” Best Time to Visit the Empire State Building

Keep in mind that as with anything, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

Photographers always say that the best camera is the one you have on you. In a similar vein, I will say that the best time to visit the Empire State Building will always be when you are best equipped to enjoy it.

For example, while there may be no lines first thing in the morning when the Empire State Building opens, if you can’t stand waking up early in the morning and forgoing your hotel breakfast in order to beat the queues — you simply won’t enjoy yourself, and that’s no way to vacation!

Similarly, if you’re traveling with young kids who can’t stay up late or risk getting crankier by the minute, visiting the Empire State Building late at night won’t do much to improve your experience!

So keep in mind your personal tastes combined with my advice in order to find the best time to visit the Empire State Building for your particular group of travelers — or just yourself if you’re on a solo adventure!

So I’ll give a few possible ‘best times to visit’ the Empire State, and you can use your discretion to pick which one is actually the best for you!

Best Time to Visit the Empire State Building #1: When It Opens

Unless you’re an early bird, you’re probably dreading hearing this… but hear me out!

Early morning light in New York is the stuff of magic, and by visiting the Empire State Building in the morning when it first opens, you’ll have a front row seat to some of the most beautiful colors dancing over the city — without as much of a line, to make things even better.

Luckily for us mere mortals who don’t love waking up before the sun, the Empire State Building has a reasonable opening hour — 8 AM. I suggest you arrive 30 minutes beforehand to wait in line if you want to beat most of the lines.

To make that waiting painless, I strongly suggest getting a bagel to-go from my favorite Manhattan bagel shop, Ess-a-Bagel, and eating it in line. Lines and bagels, two quintessentially New York experiences! Ess-a-Bagel offers contactless pickup via Seamless — order ahead, grab your bagel (everything with schmear and lox — trust me on this), and enjoy it with a cup of coffee while you wait for an energizing New York morning.

Due to Covid-19 safety measures put in place, the ticket office at the Empire State Building is no longer open, so you must order your tickets online. There is no buying at the door!

Be sure to book with an authorized ticket seller! I use GetYourGuide as my trusted ticket seller wherever in the world I go.

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Book your Empire State Building tickets online before you go!
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If you want to go early-ish in the morning (but not necessarily when it opens) without the line-up, I strongly recommend going with a skip-the-line ticket.

Visiting the Empire State Building at peak times (roughly 10 AM-2PM and again around 6PM-10PM) can mean wait times in excess of 2 hours, up to 3 even!

Unless you plan to follow my Empire State Building tips to the letter and get there at one of the prime visiting times when the Empire State Building is quietest, you’re probably better off with a skip-all-lines ticket, which you can also book via GetYourGuide.

The skip-all-lines ticket means you can skip to the front of the security line and elevator lines, whereas the standard ticket just lets you skip the ticket line (which, at time of writing, is not open anyway!). This can save you 2-3 hours on your vacation, so if you can swing it, I highly recommend it!

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Buy your skip-all-lines ticket today!
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As an added benefit, going to the Empire Sate Building early in the morning means you’re in a prime position to enjoy the rest of your day in Manhattan.

Walk up to Bryant Park and Rockefeller Center, stop into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, marvel at the ceilings of Grand Central Terminal, see the New York Public Library, and choose between Murray Hill for Indian food or Koreatown for a delicious Korean lunch.

Best Time to Visit the Empire State Building #2: Late

A common nugget of New Yorker wisdom is that the Empire State has the best nighttime views of Manhattan.

Straddling both uptown and downtown, you can see all the incredible architecture of the Financial District and the impressive One World Observatory from one side of the observation deck, whereas from the other, you can see Rockefeller Plaza and the Chrysler building all lit up and sparkling like gems.

However, most people hear this and assume to go for sunset…. which I’d have to say is not at all the best time to visit the Empire State Building, unless you are armed with either a saint’s measure of patience or skip-the-line tickets for your whole party.

Here’s instead what I suggest.

Get a delicious meal to take-away from one of New York’s many delicious Manhattan restaurants and have a picnic at nearby Bryant Park or Madison Square Park, or if you don’t have a picnic blanket with you, grab a bench at Greeley Square Park.

There are a range of options from extremely budget-friendly to higher-end. For budget-friendly, get a burger from the original Shake Shake at Madison Square Park (which has some limited outdoor seating as well).

You could also go to the original Halal Guys cart near Columbus Circle and go sit in Central Park for a delicious picnic there (snap a photo of the iconic LOVE sign on the way!)

For a higher-end option, why not try a takeaway experience from a Michelin star restaurant at prices you’d normally only dream about? Here are 20 of New York’s 76 Michelin star restaurants offering deeply discounted but no-less-delicious takeaway Michelin-starred meals.

After eating, wander around the city enjoying the lights — whether it’s a romantic walk through a lit-up Central Park or the neon lights of Times Square — trying to push it until at least 9 PM (last entrance is currently 10:15 PM) when you can visit the Empire State building without the lines, virtually guaranteed!

You’ll still need to book your tickets online (remember: no ticket booth at the moment!) but you can get away with not needing the skip-all-lines ticket at this time, as the queueing will be incredibly minimal at the time, as this is one of the quietest times to visit the Empire State Building.

Best Time to Visit the Empire State Building #3: Between 3 and 4 PM

If you’re not a morning person or a night owl, you may be wondering if there’s a time you can enjoy the best of the Empire State building without the crowds.

I have to admit that anytime during the middle of the day will be more busy than others and you may have to wait, but generally speaking, the time between 3 PM and 4 PM is definitely less busy, as people are usually finishing up their morning visits or preparing to wait for a sunset visit.

The light at this time won’t be quite as spectacular as morning or golden hour light, but you won’t have to battle the crowds!

Best Time to Visit the Empire State Building #4: Both Morning And Night!

Can’t decide whether it is better to visit the Empire State Building at morning or at night?

As the classic meme says: why not both?

For people who just can’t choose, you can get the AM/PM Experience Ticket which offers a 27% discount off of buying two separate tickets!

Go first thing in the morning and again after 9 PM for two beautiful experiences, seeing the city as it ‘wakes up’ and again as the lights sparkle around the city like magical candles.

Note that if you get this ticket, both visits must be in the same day.

Best Time To Visit the Empire State #5: On a Clear Day!

Of course, all this is to say that the time you visit the Empire State building matters quite a bit, but nothing matters more than the weather!

If the weather is raining buckets, it doesn’t matter whether you show up at 8 AM or sunset — your views won’t be what you expect.

Keep an eye on your weather app and plan to visit the Empire State Building as early in your trip as possible, so you can reschedule for another day if you need to.

Remember, GetYourGuide has a flexible cancellation policy so if you book and then rain seems inevitable, you can cancel for free and schedule for another day within 24 hours.

Safety Matters

Traveling this year comes with some uncertainties, so it’s important to come equipped with knowledge when making travel plans.

One thing I really appreciate about GetYourGuide is how they’re making very transparent every attraction and tour’s specific Covid-19 safety plan.

At the time of writing, here are the safety measures in place for visiting the Empire State Building. However, feel free to check here for any updated safety measures.

– All customer touchpoints are frequently cleaned

– To reduce crowds, the number of visitors is limited

– Masks are required, please bring your own

– Temperature checks are mandatory

Since there is a cap on the number of visitors, it’s extra important to book your tickets well ahead of time as the Empire State Building is operating at reduced capacity to keep all its visitors safe.

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Don’t miss out — pre-book your ticket today!
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Finally, GetYourGuide realizes that this is an uncertain time for travelers and as such, they’ve loosened their already flexible cancellation policy.

Tickets canceled within 24 hours receive a full refund; tickets canceled within a 24 hour period receive a full refund issued in the form of a voucher for another GetYourGuide activity in the future.

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So if you’re planning a trip to New York sometime soon — please let me know in the comments if this post has helped you plan an epic trip to the Empire State Building!

And if you’ve used any of these Empire State Building tips for when to visit, let us know how it went for you!

Pin This Guide to When to Visit the Empire State Building!

The Perfect 3 Day Finger Lakes Road Trip Itinerary

The Finger Lakes region in New York is made up of 11 lakes and 14 counties. The area is a popular destination for travelers who love wineries, breweries, scenic hikes, and gushing waterfalls.

The small cities and towns surrounding the lakes are full of history while at the same time, on top of the trends with innovative restaurants, wine and food festivals, and revitalized downtowns.

Visitors could spend weeks exploring the Finger Lakes and still only scratch the surface. One way to get started is to focus on exploring one or two lakes at a time.

Here is a 3 day Finger Lakes road trip itinerary that highlights the best of Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake, which are located in the eastern part of the Finger Lakes region.

Pack up your car with all your road trip necessities; it’s time to hit the road!

Day 1 in the Finger Lakes

Start the day in Ithaca

Ithaca, NY, located at the southern end of Cayuga Lake, is the perfect city to kick-off to a Finger Lakes road trip.

Here you can sample some of the finest restaurants in the region on Aurora Street’s Restaurant Row, grab a cold one at a local brewery, and pop into the Visitor Center on Ithaca Commons to ask about local events.

If you arrive the night before you begin your road trip, stay at Argos Inn, a lovely restored mansion furnished with French antique furniture and decorated with eclectic artwork.

Hike the Cascadilla Gorge Trail

After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, set out for an easy to moderate hike on Cascadilla Gorge Trail.

It’s three-quarters of a mile in length and runs through a deeply cut gorge, connecting downtown Ithaca to Cornell University. You’ll also pass several waterfalls as you make the 400-foot ascent via stone pathways and staircases.

If you need a midmorning snack after your hike, try Ithaca Bakery for fresh coffee, bagels, and baked goods.

See Taughannock Falls

From Ithaca, head north along the western shore of Cayuga Lake. Before stopping at your first winery, make a quick stop at Taughannock Falls State Park to see a waterfall that’s actually three stories taller than Niagara Falls.

This is an easy detour. The state park is just off the main road and it’s possible to drive up to a viewing platform, where there is a visitor center and a parking lot.

Visit the Cayuga Lake Wineries

It’s time, finally, to sample some wines along the scenic Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. There are several wineries to choose from, plus a handful of hard cider houses and breweries. Here are a few recommendations to help whittle down your itinerary, located from south to north.

Americana Vineyards is popular not only for its wine tasting room but also for their Sunday live music and on-site café. Bacchus Brewing is also located on the grounds for the beer lovers in the group.

The Finger Lakes are gaining steam as a premier hard cider-making region. If that appeals to you, swing by Finger Lakes Cider House. The tasting room is located inside a spacious renovated barn, with views that look out onto acres of beautiful farmland. You can also pick strawberries, peaches, and apples when they’re in season.

Heading further north, Lucas Vineyard is the oldest winery on the 40-year-old Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. Ruth Lucas, the general manager and founder, has the distinction of being one of the first women in the region to own a winery. 

Next, Sheldrake Point Winery is popular for their expansive lake views, as well as their dry Rose and ice wines. Heading north, Knapp Winery’s Vineyard Restaurant is a good place to stop for lunch.

You have a couple of choices once you’re ready to wind down your day. If you’re really into the Cayuga Lake vibe and don’t mind backtracking a little, stay at the elegant Inn at Taughannock, just steps from the waterfall. Alternatively, to position yourself nearer to tomorrow’s destination, head to Seneca Falls and stay at The Gould, a funky art deco hotel. Both establishments have excellent restaurants.

Day 2 in the Finger Lakes

Take a Nature Walk in Seneca Falls

For a small town, Seneca Falls is packed with things to do. Start your day with a dose of nature at nearby Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

There are options for driving or walking along the trails, and visitors usually spot woodpeckers, hawks, herons, and more. The refuge is also home to six bald eagle’s nests.

Visit Women’s Rights National Historical Park

After a morning of communing with local wildlife, take in some history at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park.

The Visitor Center is a good place to start. Explore the exhibits that tell the stories of the fight for women’s suffrage, watch an informational film, and talk to the Rangers about guided tours, maps, and special events.

Next door is Wesleyan Chapel, where the first U.S. women’s rights convention was held in 1848. It’s also possible, depending on the season, to tour the homes of women that were vital to the movement, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home.

Other sites related to the women’s movement in Seneca Falls include the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and Ludovico Sculpture trail, which takes visitors on an easy nature walk along the canal and features sculptures of prominent women.

At this point, you have a couple of options for lunch. Grab a bite at a restaurant on Fall Street in Seneca Falls, or stock up on snacks, fruit, fresh baked goods, and made-to-order sandwiches at the very well-stocked Sauder’s Store. The latter is a good option if you want to get started on the wine trail.

Follow the Seneca Lake Wine Trail

The rest of the day is dedicated to the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, following the eastern shore. As on Cayuga Lake, you’ll have to be selective due to the large number of wineries to choose from. From north to south, here are some of the most popular ones.

The tasting room at Ventosa Vineyards is housed in a building that’s modeled after a Tuscan villa and offers panoramic vineyard and lake views.

At Three Brothers Wineries and Estates, you can choose your adventure. Sip wine in one of their tasting rooms, cool off with a wine slushie, or sample craft beers at War Horse Brewing Company, the onsite brewery whose décor is entirely made up of World War II memorabilia. This is definitely the party winery, where you’re most likely to see tour buses crowding the parking lot.

Driving south, Wagner Vineyards is one of the oldest wineries in the Finger Lakes and has dozens of award-winning wines available. Next, if you picked up a to-go lunch back at Sauder’s Store, and if the weather cooperates, consider claiming a picnic table at Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars.

Finally, Hazlitt 1852 Cellars is a scenic, laid back winery with live music on select nights. You can also catch a stunning sunset from their property. If you’d prefer watching the sun go down with a craft beer in hand, Two Goats Brewing is just a couple miles to the south.

In between Hazlitt and Two Goats, Hector Handmade is perfect for souvenir shopping. The store is owned by two local artists. All of their items are made by local Finger Lakes artists.

End the day in Watkins Glen

For accommodations, Idlwilde Inn is a charming bed-and-breakfast inside a 19th-century Victorian mansion. Watkins Glen Villager Motel is a slightly cheaper alternative. The small village of Watkins Glen has a number of good restaurants for dinner, including Rooster Fish Pub and Graft Wine + Cider Bar.

Day 3 in the Finger Lakes

Hike in Watkins Glen State Park

Another morning hike is on tap at Watkins Glen State Park, which has one of the most beautiful landscapes in New York state. The hike is rated moderate in difficulty, mainly due to the steep stone stairways.

For all of your stair-climbing, you’ll be rewarded by the 19 waterfalls you’ll see along the hike. Be aware that it does get very crowded so it’s a good idea to get there early.

The Gorge Trail is 1.5 miles long one-way, but you’ll get a sense of its dramatic beauty even if you only hike a short way and turn around.

Follow the Seneca Lake Wine Trail

Now it’s time to tour the wineries along the western shore of Seneca Lake, where there also happens to be some great breweries worth checking out.  

Begin at Seneca Lake Brewing Company, an English style pub that’s also a cask ale brewery. Next, Glenora Wine Cellars was the first winery on Seneca Lake and their restaurant Veraisons is popular for its fresh seasonal menu items. If you’re interested in farm breweries, Climbing Bines Craft Ale Company is located on a beautiful estate where they grow their own hops.

Anthony Road Wine Company is a friendly, family-run winery that makes popular dry and semi-sweet Rieslings. 2020 marks the 30th year that they’ve been in the wine-making business. Finally, Fox Run Vineyards strives for sustainability by using solar panels for energy, committing to locally sourced ingredients, and nourishing the soil with regenerative farming techniques.

When you’re ready for lunch, go to FLX Wienery to sample some local comfort food with an emphasis on wieners and sausages. For a slightly more upscale eatery, Ports Café is a popular bistro that pairs local wines with seasonal menu items.

End the day in Geneva

For accommodations, the William Smith Inn in Geneva is a lovely bed-and-breakfast with friendly owners. When you’re ready for dinner, you can wander downtown and find a restaurant without any trouble. Geneva has become a go-to spot for farm-to-table restaurants with excellent food.

If you’ve got the time and inclination on your final day, there a few more points of interest before heading out of town. Red Jacket Farm Store carries local food specialties as well as T-shirts, jewelry, and more, all handcrafted by local makers. Belhurst Castle is a 19th century estate with a checkered past that includes once serving as a speakeasy. They also have a winery on site, as well as lodging and dining.

Extending your Road Trip in the Finger Lakes

If you have an extra day, consider spending it in Corning, a small city south of Watkins Glen.

The downtown area is loaded with good restaurants, bakeries, breweries, and shops, and the nearby Corning Museum of Glass is well worth spending at least a half a day.

When to Road Trip the Finger Lakes

Although there is a stark beauty to the Finger Lakes in the winter, late spring through mid-autumn is the best time to fully experience the region.

Many attractions listed here are closed during the winter, and most wineries and breweries have reduced winter hours.

About the Author

Michele traveled the world for years before growing roots in New York City. Now she explores the Empire State, region by region and shares her experiences on her blog, From Inwood Out. You can find her on Instagram at @frominwoodout.

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What to Pack for New York in Fall: What to Wear & Bring

Disclosure: This post is brought to you in partnership with Moon Travel Guides. All opinions and recommendations expressed are entirely my own.

Let’s be honest about New York: no one lives there for its weather.

There are few things that New Yorkers can agree upon, but the fact that fall is the best season to be in New York is surely one of them.

New York’s winters are about three months too long, stretching on so that it feels like half a year. Spring lasts about three weeks, only in bits and pieces, teasing you before plummeting back into winter temperatures or before giving itself over to a miserable, scorching summer.

Oh, summer. That time of year when the subways feel like saunas (only smellier and far more crowded), throngs of families finally able to travel on their school breaks flood the streets, and there’s a pervasive heavy humidity to the air that so that walking feels like wading through water.

But fall, fall is the promised land when it comes to New York seasons. The smothering humidity lessens to a crisp, fluttering breeze. The leaves on the trees do their yearly magic to ripen to red slowly, before fluttering down onto the streets in a cascade of satisfyingly crunchy leaves. Chafed thighs and underboob sweat are banished (until the following year). It’s the little things.

The best thing about visiting New York in fall is that you can actually make the most of it and see as much of the city as you set your heart to. Sure, you may not have those endless summer days, where the sun doesn’t set until nearly nine at night, but you also aren’t constantly maneuvering through crowded, sweaty streets desperately seeking out your next hit of A/C.

Visiting New York in fall means that you can actually visit it the way it’s best experienced: slowly, deeply, and on foot.

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Not sure what to wear in New York in fall? This fall New York packing list will help you decide what to bring. Complete with fall in New York outfit ideas and fashion tips, this packing list for New York in fall also covers your basic NYC travel necessities and must-haves, as well as recommended guidebooks, products, and fall clothing. It's all you need to plan the perfect fall trip to New York City!
Not sure what to wear in New York in fall? This fall New York packing list will help you decide what to bring. Complete with fall in New York outfit ideas and fashion tips, this packing list for New York in fall also covers your basic NYC travel necessities and must-haves, as well as recommended guidebooks, products, and fall clothing. It's all you need to plan the perfect fall trip to New York City!

What to Pack for New York in Fall: The Essentials

A high-quality guidebook like Moon New York City

Travel blogs are great for pre-travel research, but nothing beats the convenience of having a well-curated guidebook in your day bag or purse. While I rely on blogs for much of my travel planning, when I travel I still often grab a coffee and sit down with a guidebook to strategize and get some neighborhood tips without having to trawl through the internet.

Moon Travel Guides sent me a copy of their latest New York guidebook to review, and I’m impressed by the quality of the recommendations in the book. Moon New York City is written by a New York native and features some serious insider knowledge. And fall is the perfect season to travel with a guidebook in hand, leisurely following one of the suggested neighborhood walking tours or eating your way through the city.

As a former New Yorker, I love seeing tourists directed towards the city’s finest (and away from the endless tourist traps). I love when tourists get a chance to see the city through our eyes: through our local under-the-radar restaurants, hidden speakeasies, craft beer bars, and offbeat neighborhoods.

Many of my personal favorite places are featured in the guidebook, giving you an idea of what New York means to New Yorkers beyond just the tourist sites that, honestly, most New Yorkers ignore. Get the guidebook on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Comfortable walking shoes

Since fall in New York gives you the best possible conditions to explore the city, I strongly recommend that you pack the most comfortable shoes possible, so that your travels aren’t interrupted by pinched toes or chafing blisters.

I’m originally from California, so anything below 70 degrees is ‘boot weather’ on my warped inner thermometer. I wear these Blondo waterproof leather boots nearly all fall and winter long for the last decade and they’ve held up beautifully that whole time, though I did get them re-soled about five years ago to keep them looking their best. They’re ultra-comfortable to walk in and great if there’s some rain in the forecast or if it’s on the chilly side.

If it’s on the warmer end of the fall months, I swear by my Birkenstocks; otherwise, I find a comfortable but stylish running shoe like my black Nikes are the way to go to keep myself pounding the pavement without getting tired.

Camera & charger

New York is an epic city with so many amazing angles to capture. Don’t be caught off guard and miss a photo-perfect moment.

My current photography set up is the Sony A6000 mirrorless camera with the 18-105mm f/4 lens, which lets me get everything from street scenes to super zoomed-in detail shots. The lens is definitely a bit on the bulky side, but the A6000 is so lightweight that it all balances out.

More and more, I find myself reaching for my iPhone X out of laziness when I’m photographing food or general street scenes. I generally find that it performs as well as my mirrorless camera in most daytime scenarios and can sometimes outperform it in low light conditions. However, in times when I want to zoom in on a particular composition, I love having my mirrorless camera + zoom lens combo. The zoom on camera phones is still pretty terrible, so if you want a diversity of shots, I recommend a versatile lens like the 18-105 I recommended above.

Of course, make sure you have some spare batteries as well as your camera battery charger to keep your camera juiced up and ready to capture the fall beauty of New York! Also, unless you’re coming from the Americas or certain parts of Asia, you may need a universal adaptor for American outlets, which use Type A and B sockets.

External battery pack

More and more, we rely on our smartphones for getting us around as we travel, whether it’s navigating unfamiliar streets on Google Maps, using it as our primary camera, uploading to Instagram Stories, hailing Ubers, or using it to present skip-the-line tickets bought on mobile apps. 

Make sure your smartphone can keep up with your jam-packed trip to New York and bring along an external battery pack. My personal favorite brand is Anker, which I have used for years and find to be the best combination of powerful, compact, and reliable.

Reusable water bottle

Cut down on plastic waste during your trip to New York and take advantage of the fact that New York City has some of the cleanest urban tap water in all of the entire United States.

Using a reusable water bottle, you’ll save a ton of money over buying bottled water, not to mention keep plastic waste to a minimum, and any coffee shop, restaurant, or bar will be happy to refill your water bottle for you (or you can fill it up at any water fountain which you’ll find throughout the city’s main sites and museums).

While we’re at it… be sure to bring some reusable tote bags as well to avoid creating plastic trash!

What to Wear in New York in the Fall: Clothing Packing List

Let me put in a quick note on what the weather is like in New York City in fall. If I had to put it in two words, it would be this: changing rapidly.

September average temperatures range from lows of 61° F to highs of 76 ° F. For you metric folks, that’s 16° to 24° Celsius.

Then by October, temperatures drop pretty significantly and range from lows of 50° F to highs of 64° F (in Celsius, 10° to 18°).

November is when fall in New York really starts to fade away and merge into winter. Don’t be surprised if you see a bit of snow in November! The average low is around 42° F and the average high is around 55° F (for Celsius, 6° to 13°). Of course, much lower (and higher) temperatures are possible than this!

Those are just to give you some ideas of what to expect from New York fall weather, so that you can better adapt your New York in fall packing list. As you can tell by the temperature averages, what you’d wear in New York in September is much different than what you’d wear in New York in November, so adjust this generic list according to the temperatures you think you’ll experience but also what you’re used to. A Californian like me will have a much different idea of “cold” than a Chicagoan or Londoner!

Also, please note that this is my packing list for women in New York — men, you’ll want to make adjustments where it doesn’t apply to you, keeping in mind the temperature ranges I listed above.

Now, without further ado, here’s what to wear in New York in September and onwards!

A warm, versatile jacket

As I hinted at above, my recommendation for what kind of jacket to wear in New York in fall depends on when exactly in fall you are visiting. Fall in New York really has two distinct halves – the one that is the tail-end of summer, and the one that is the harbinger of winter.

So, if you’re deciding what to wear in New York in September, I’d recommend bringing a lighter jacket rather than a full winter coat. This is the perfect time to wear your favorite leather jacket (or vegan leather jacket!) – bonus points if it’s black, so you’ll fit in with all the other New Yorkers. The crisp fall air is perfect for your leather jacket.

In addition to this, a simple black cardigan or a chambray shirt which can be worn unbuttoned is a great and lightweight addition to your New York fall wardrobe. I love these options because they are perfect to wear for the daytime before transitioning to your heavier jacket at night, and they don’t take up much space in your bag.

If you’re planning what to wear in New York in October or November, it gets a little trickier. The end of October is particularly finicky. I’ve experienced everything from literal snowstorms to literal hurricanes in the final week of October! Of course, both of those are freak occurrences and not likely to happen during your fall in New York, but just be aware that it’s not unusual to have extreme weather in the late fall in NYC. 

If you’re planning on visiting in October/November, it’s better to bring a warmer jacket as your primary jacket and a lightweight jacket as your backup in case of freakishly nice weather. I love the UNIQLO packable down jacket (here’s a similar version) as a stylish but lightweight alternative to heavier winter jackets, and I find that mine keeps me warm in temperatures as low as 40° F / 4° C. If necessary, you can layer the two, as the down jacket is quite light — I do this often!

A rain jacket and/or umbrella

New York isn’t particularly rainy in the fall – expect an average of 7 days of rainfall per month, about a quarter of the time. However, it’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared in my book!

I love my Marmot PreCip jacket and used it in New York all the time. It kept me dry even on long bike rides through the rain in the city! 

If you don’t want to bring a raincoat, I’d still throw an easy folding travel umbrella in your bag. Whenever it rains, you can easily grab an umbrella on the street in the touristy parts of New York – they proliferate as if out of thin air – but they’ll be overpriced and break within a few uses and just add to landfill.

A knit hat and scarf

I find that my ears and neck get cold first, before any other part of my body. I strongly recommend bringing a knit hat with you, as well as a lightweight scarf. They’re easy to pack and will bring versatility to the clothes that you bring. 

I find that if I just accessorize what I would wear on a summer day with some extras – a jacket, a hat, a scarf, some leggings – that’s the perfect recipe for a fall in New York outfit.

Comfortable leggings

I love leggings for travel. To me, leggings plus a dress plus boots equals the ultimate travel outfit. Not much to match, and it’s hard to beat the stretch and comfort of leggings. 

In the early fall, I recommend simple cotton/spandex leggings (I usually buy mine at H&M); by the time late fall rolls around, you’ll often find me in my favorite fleece-lined leggings, one of my favorite ways to stay warm when the temperature drops in New York.

Your favorite travel outfits

What I recommend you wear in New York in fall depends on what your personal taste is, and that isn’t really for me to dictate! You could be a jeans and sneakers kind of person, or you could be a dresses and leggings kinda girl (raises hand).

Generally, for one week of travel in the fall in NYC, I would bring the following: 1 pair jeans, 3 pairs leggings, 3 long-sleeve shirts, 2 short-sleeve shirts, 2 skirts, 3 dresses, 1 chambray button-up, 1 leather jacket, 1 ultra-light down jacket, and my favorite travel-friendly shoes. 

Pro packing tip: Pick neutral colors for your shirts and skirts and prints for your dresses so that you can easily mix and match your separates!

Underwear and other essentials

Of course, don’t forget to bring enough bras and underwear for your trip! I don’t recommend doing laundry in NYC if you can help it – it’s expensive and a pain in the ass – so bring enough to last you your trip unless you’ll be in New York for such a long time that it’s not feasible to do so.

For one week, I would bring 2 bras and 8 pairs of underwear, as well as 7 pairs of socks.

A travel daypack or purse

While in general, pickpocketing is not a major issue in New York the way it is in many European cities, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen – especially in crowded places like Times Square or a rush-hour subway car.

I lived in NYC for nine years and was never the victim of theft (well, okay, once someone stole the front wheel of my bicycle while I was at dinner, but that hardly counts). 

However, if you’re going to be spending a lot of your time in touristy places in New York, I do recommend investing in a bag with some security features. Make sure it’s one that you like so you can use it in other cities around the world! I am obsessed with my PacSafe backpack and it’s been with me to nearly 30 countries since purchasing it. 

It has interlocking zippers, RFID blockers, and slash-proof construction and is basically theft-proof (I mean, I could barely get into my own bag when I first got it, so that tells you how a thief would do with it!). It’s also actually cute and stylish, so you won’t look out of place in New York. Be sure to put it in front of you while on the subway – it’s polite, but it’s also the best way to prevent theft.

Of course, if you don’t like carrying a backpack, a purse also works. I recommend a cross-body bag you can wear in front of you so you can keep an eye on it. 

Odds & Ends to Pack for New York in the Fall

Your everyday toiletries

Shopping for odds and ends in New York is likely twice as expensive as it is back home, so I recommend stocking up on what you need beforehand and bringing it with you to New York rather than shopping once you arrive.

Here is what I would bring, but adjust it for your own needs: lip balm, everyday makeup, a moisturizer with SPF for day time, deodorant (please for the love of God), shampoo and conditioner, body wash, a razor, a hairbrush, and hair ties.

Hand sanitizer & Kleenex

How shall I put it nicely? The New York subway is likely where the superbacteria that will take us all out will form. 

I’ve seen all sorts of nastiness go down on a New York subway car, so try to avoid touching the railing if you can. And if you can’t, be sure to use hand sanitizer (squirt a little hand sanitizer into a Kleenex to clean the rail if you’re rightfully germophobic). 

Kleenex is also handy as finding a free restroom in New York is like finding a needle in a haystack and finding one stocked with TP is like winning the lottery. 

Headphones & earplugs

You’ll love having headphones on the New York subway, trust me! And I’d strongly recommend bringing earplugs as well. Even if you’re staying in a quiet neighborhood, New York can be one hell of a loud city, with sirens blaring, horns beeping, and the occasional drunk reveler bellowing show tunes from many floors below…

Complete New York in the Fall Packing List, in Bullet Form

Just want a quick and dirty New York in fall packing checklist? Here you are:

ESSENTIALS

CLOTHING (ASSUMING 1 WEEK OF TRAVEL)

  • 1 or 2 jackets, including 1 waterproof option
  • 2 or 3 pairs comfortable walking shoes (I recommend one pair of boots and one pair of sneakers, plus throw in a pair of sandals if visiting in early fall)
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 3 pairs comfortable leggings
  • 3 long-sleeve shirts
  • 2 short-sleeve shirts
  • 2 skirts
  • 3 dresses
  • 1 chambray button-up or cardigan
  • 2 bras 
  • 8 pairs of underwear
  • 7 pairs of socks.
  • 1 scarf
  • 1 knit hat

TOILETRIES + ODDS & ENDS

  • Umbrella
  • Lip balm
  • Everyday makeup
  • Moisturizer with SPF for day time (and one without for nighttime)
  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Razor
  • Hairbrush + hair ties
  • Kleenex
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Headphones
  • Earplugs

New York Packing List (Winter Edition): What to Wear in New York in Winter

My first trip ever to New York City was in the winter. I had just finished my college applications and was going to New York with my dad to check out New York University (which I’d later end up attending) and Columbia University (which, LOL that I ever thought I could get in).

There are a few things I remember from that trip: staying in the world’s tiniest hotel room that my dad confided still cost a whopping $300 a night, being awed at the Columbia campus, and oh yea, the bitter f#(*ing cold. 

Growing up in California, I had no idea what to wear in New York in winter. I became obsessed with pea coats I saw on style blogs (because I was convinced that upon moving to NYC, I’d somehow become a fashion maven, even though nothing style-related ever came to me even remotely naturally back in California) and bought one to prepare for my trip.

Two years later, I’d relegate my Gossip Girl-esque pea coats to a garbage bag in the back of my closet and give them to Goodwill, having finally accepted that the only appropriate answer to “what should I wear in New York in winter?” is: everything (and then add a layer).

Jokes aside, packing for New York in winter isn’t hard at all if you’re used to cold weather. If you come from a place where snow is both mesmerizing and terrifying, like I did growing up in California, you might need a little help.

After nine years of surviving brutal New York winters, I’ve prepared this New York packing list (winter edition) to help you get through the most ‘magical time of the year’ in the Big Apple.

Clothing That Should Be On Your New York Winter Packing List

There’s no need to buy an entirely new wardrobe to pack for a winter trip to New York, especially if you come from a place that already has harsh winters. This list may seem silly for people who live in, say, the Midwest or Canada. I’ve written this from the perspective of a Californian who was super taken aback by how cold New York winters could be.

I’ve outlined a few of my favorite NYC winter product necessities below, in case you are in need of cold weather clothing recommendations. If you already have all the cold weather gear you need, feel free to skip below, where you’ll find a more general New York packing list for winter.

Best Outerwear for New York in Winter

I told you my peacoat anecdote that started off this article for a reason: leave your cute jackets at home unless you check the weather right beforehand and are convinced you’ll be warm enough. Winter in New York varies greatly — I’ve seen December temperatures as high as 60°F / 16°C, and I’ve biked to work through polar vortexes in January as low as 2°F / -17°C. Climate change means that winter in New York – already capricious to being with – is volatile. So my biggest tip is to pack for the worst but hope for the best.

Realistically, a more average temperature range to help you with packing for New York in the winter months is around 32°F / 0°C, perhaps a few degrees warmer or colder.

I have two jackets that I recommend for New York winters: one thicker parka-style down jacket and one thin down jacket for layering.

My life in New York improved dramatically when I finally indulged in a proper winter jacket. I’m obsessed with this North Face parka and, while it’s pricy, it will last you a lifetime. North Face quite literally has a lifetime guarantee, which I tested when my zipper came unstitched after two years of heavy use, wearing it every day including when I was biking to work in the winter. North Face promptly fixed it up and sent it back as good as new.

I also use a small down jacket from UNIQLO – the Ultralight Down. (You can buy a knock-off version here). For me, it’s good for temperatures around  40°F / 5 °C and up. I also layer it underneath my North Face down parka on extremely cold winter days, or if I want to get away with wearing a cute coat that isn’t exactly winter-approved, like my leather jacket, I’ll wear it as a layer between my sweater and my cute jacket.

Best Shoes for New York Winters

Some people are really into snow boots and wear them all winter. Personally, I don’t really find snow boots necessary for New York. Yes, we get a few major snow storms in the winter, but they are few and far between. I find that having a proper pair of leather boots that are waterproof and have decent traction is perfectly fine for navigating New York sidewalks in the winter. I’ve occasionally used my Hunter rain boots on snowy winter days and while they are not the warmest, when they’re paired with some decent wool socks they do the trick as well.

I first bought a pair of Blondo waterproof leather boots in 2008… which means I’m celebrating my 10-year anniversary with them this year. (Is this my longest relationship?) I’ve only had to get them resoled once, which set me back about $60, but for a pair of shoes that I’m completely obsessed with and wear all the time, it was 100% worth it. It’s no wonder it made the cut for my favorite travel shoes.

It’s been literally a decade since I bought these boots, so I’m sure the original version I bought is no longer available, but these look exactly like the ones I have.  Even all these years later, they still make my list of favorite travel shoes!

Be sure to pair your winter boots with proper wool socks. No matter how insulated your shoe is, it won’t do much good if you are wearing thin, crappy cotton socks (another thing that took me several years to learn… why do I suck at winter so badly? Oh yeah, California). I invested in these Smartwool socks after much hemming and hawing about the price and I’m so glad I did. You don’t need that many pairs because you can actually re-wear them a few times before they get smelly because wool is so odor-absorbent and magical.

Accessories for New York in Winter

This is really what makes or breaks whatever you decide to wear in New York. As long as you have a hat, gloves, and scarf, you can almost get away with wearing whatever you want. (And with the right jacket, you kind of can).

In terms of a hat, I recommend wearing a tightly-knit hat that fits firmly on your head, covering your ears completely. Bonus points if it is lined with fleece! I lose my hats constantly so I go through several each winter, but I do recommend a beanie-style knit hat kind of like this one.

When it comes to gloves, you’re going to want something that is touchscreen compatible and warm, but you don’t need something waterproof or crazy high-tech. I recommend a simple pair of gloves like these ones. You’ll have your hands in your pockets most of the time anyway!

For scarves, I recommend the biggest, most wrappable scarf you can find. If you can tolerate wool (I can’t, except for socks, because of my ultra-sensitive skin), then get the wooliest monstrosity you can find. I tend to go for something huge, chunky, and made of acrylic which is easier on my skin. I prefer an infinity style knit scarf for winter that I can wear super tight around my neck to keep in as much warmth as possible.

Now, I’m going to let you in on my #1 secret weapon when it comes to what to wear in New York in winter… fleece lined leggings. These leggings are magic when it comes to surviving the New York winter. Again, if you can tolerate wool, you’ll probably be even warmer with something like these merino wool leggings. But since I can’t, I substitute fleece-lined leggings like these ones. On a cold day, I typically wear them underneath a pair of jeans and I am toasty warm all day long. I prefer the ones without feet because they sag less during the day.

I think that’s pretty much it in terms of accessories. If you get cold really easily, you may want to throw in some thermal tops to wear as a base layer as well. 32 Degrees (my preference) and UNIQLO make good ones.

Clothes to Wear in New York in Winter

If you’ve followed my advice up to this point — parka, fleece-lined leggings, all the winter accessories — you can actually get away with wearing pretty much whatever you want with them. I tend to choose a lot of sweater dresses because I am lazy when I travel and don’t like to pack a lot of different things that I have to mix and match. But you can also just wear jeans and sweaters on your trip so long as you have the appropriate winter accessories, shoes, and outerwear.

One big misconception about New York is that we wear all black all the time. While certainly you won’t look out of place in all black, New Yorkers also integrate a lot of color into their wardrobes, especially with their accessories, so don’t be afraid to wear whatever colors you normally would back home.

Here’s my basic New York packing list, winter edition (enough for 1 week):

What Else Should Be On Your Winter in New York Packing List?

Once you’ve figured out what to wear in New York in winter, I’ve got a few more things you should add to your NYC packing list. Some are NYC-specific but most are related to how you’d normally travel, anyway. New York has basically everything you need, so don’t be worried if you forget anything. There is a pharmacy on virtually every city block that will have everything you need. Just pop into a Duane Reade, Walgreen’s, CVS, Rite Aid… and you’ll be well-sorted (though you’ll pay a bit for the convenience).

Toiletries

  • Lip balm: Your lips will get more chapped in New York than you ever thought possible… going from the windy cold streets to the super-heated interiors will do a number on your lips. Be sure to bring a good quality lip balm with you – I love this Aquaphor.
  • High-quality moisturizer: For the same reason as above – New York winters will do a number on your skin. I use Shiseido moisturizer on my face most of the winter.
  • Sunscreen: Don’t discount the need for sunscreen even in the winter! New York is quite sunny in the winter (and cloudy days actually require SPF, too!) despite the cold so make sure you protect your skin. I use this fancy Japanese Biore sunscreen for my face as my skin is quite sensitive and acne-prone and this is really gentle on my skin
  • Hand sanitizer: New York is a dirty city – the subway in particular is a germ war zone. I recommend traveling with hand sanitizer for when you can’t get to a bathroom quickly and touch something questionable (which is basically any surface in the city). I carry a mini bottle of Purell like this one.
  • Kleenex
  • Everyday make-up
  • Basics like shampoo, body wash, etc.
  • Deodorant (please)
  • Prescription medicine, if you need it

Electronics

  • High-powered portable battery pack: Your phone battery will get run down very quickly on a cold winter day in New York, so be sure to pack a portable battery charger like an Anker battery pack (this is what I swear by as a blogger who needs fully charged electronics at all times!)
  • Camera: I personally use a Sony A6000 mirrorless camera, which is the perfect travel camera for producing professional-quality photos without taking up much space or weighing too much. I have several lenses for it but most people will be fine with the kit lens. Be sure to pack several extra batteries as well, for the same reason as above (winter weather = zapped electronics)
  • Adaptor, if visiting internationally: If you are visiting from Europe or somewhere that uses different outlets than U.S. plugs, you’ll want an international adaptor for sure.
  • Phone and charger
  • Laptop or tablet and charger
  • Kindle, if you use one
  • Noise-canceling headphones, if you have them: For the subway, trust me.

Random

  • Reusable water bottle: New York tap water is excellent quality. Save money and the environment with a reusable metal water bottle. Pretty much any café or restaurant will be happy to refill yours (I’ve never been turned down).
  • Reusable bags: The plastic bag ban is currently being battled in New York City, but please step ahead of the curve and bring your own reusable tote bags anyway.
  • Whatever else you’d normally pack for a week away from home!

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33 New York Tips To Ensure a Smooth First Time in NYC

If you’re planning your first trip to New York City, you’re probably slightly overwhelmed. New York has been the subject of so many films and stories that you’re likely coming to it with a ton of preconceptions and a fair bit of trepidation.

I lived in NYC for 9 years, but I remember what it was like when I first moved to New York. It was terrifying – everyone seemed to follow some set of rules that I didn’t know and had to ad lib along the way. But eventually, you learn the choreography of the city, and the city slowly becomes less overwhelming and even, dare I say, a bit familiar?

I’m here to share with you all my best New York tips to make your trip run smoothly, distilled from my cumulative years of knowledge of this intoxicating, immense city. Don’t be freaked out by the sheer volume of this post — I have a lot of opinions — but I wanted to make this a solid, thorough resource chock full of tips for visiting New York City for the first time.

After reading this, be sure to head over to my 5 day NYC itinerary where I lay your whole trip out for you in detail, including boroughs most New York first timers never get to!

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments below, or suggest things I haven’t covered!

New York Tips for Sidewalk Etiquette

Practice proper sidewalk etiquette or prepare for death stares

Even though I said New Yorkers are actually pretty cool people and that whole “rude New Yorker” thing is overblown, there’s one crucial exception, which is my #1 New York tip for first timers: do not [email protected](* with the sidewalk.

There are few things guaranteed to elicit the X-ray glare of New Yorkers faster than messing up basic sidewalk etiquette. Luckily, it’s pretty freaking simple – basically, follow normal escalator rules, and don’t be an jerk.

Keep it moving

This is a New Yorker’s #1 pet peeve and one of my top tips for visiting New York City for the first time. It’s quite simple: absolutely do not stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk to text, take photos, or check directions.

If you really need to stop and figure out directions or respond to an urgent message, that’s perfectly fine, but you should stand on the curb or by a storefront so that you’re out of the line of people walking. Simple.

Don’t hog the sidewalk

If you’re part of a couple, don’t walk holding hands at an insane distance taking up all the sidewalk, or if you’re in a group of 3+, don’t walk in all in one horizontal line. Both things make it impossible for people to easily pass you.

Trust me, it’s infuriating to try to weave past a pack of tourists who have inexplicably decided they need to walk at exactly the same latitude while you’re late for something (and let’s face it, New Yorkers are usually late because our subway system absolutely sucks — more on that in just a bit).

Keep to the right so people can pass

Let me dispell another myth for you: you do not need to walk like a bat out of hell to keep up with New Yorkers. We really don’t care if you walk slowly — New Yorkers are used to weaving past people they need to pass. In fact, I dare say we almost enjoy it.

But keep to the right and don’t zigzag around in an iPhone daze. This makes it easy for faster-walking people to pass you, and all will be well.

Don’t block the bike path and always look for cyclists

I biked year-round (yes, including winters, because I am insane) in New York City for 4 years. Naturally, I have strong feels about bike lanes. For one — they are not a place for sidewalk spillover. Yes, I get that the sidewalks are crowded, but cyclists need to use these bike lanes or else be at the mercy of hoards of sociopathic drivers.

This goes especially for the Brooklyn Bridge, where it’s so miserable for cyclists that many of us actively avoid it and go out of our way to take the Manhattan Bridge instead (where there still somehow manages to be pedestrians in our bike paths, despite having an entirely dedicated section, but I digress…).

If you’re walking the Brooklyn Bridge — which is definitely one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC — please avoid the bike lanes and keep an eye out for cyclists.

Even more importantly, if you’re taking a cab or Uber, do not open the car door without looking for cyclists first! One of my biggest fears as a cyclist was not being hit by a car, which I can do a decently good job of avoiding, but being “doored” by an unsuspecting driver or passenger, which is pretty much impossible to predict as a cyclist. Before opening the door streetside, check your mirror and blind spot. It could keep someone out of the hospital, or worse.

You can jaywalk, but don’t be a dick about it

New Yorkers are notorious for crossing the street at any time. Don’t overdo this and be a jerk who walks in front of cars who have the right of way. If you feel you must cross the street and a car is moving in your direction, you better freaking hustle. The basic rule of thumb is let the person who has the right of way use it, and don’t be an asshole who ruins someone else’s day.

I hope it’s getting better, but New York drivers are also awful about running lights and making left turns without looking for crossing traffic, so be cautious and keep your eye open when crossing — yes, even if you have the right of way. New York introduced the Vision Zero traffic safety program and it does seem to be working, but drivers can still be real assholes in New York… so always be cautious, even if you have the signal.

Save some time in your itinerary to just walk around

One of my biggest New York tips is to not plan too much. Some of the greatest joys in the city are just found walking around and making discoveries on your own. New York is such a vast and ever-changing city that even the best-planned itinerary will never encompass everything.

A few of my favorite neighborhoods to stroll around in are as follows: the West Village and Alphabet City in Manhattan; Greenpoint and Park Slope in Brooklyn; and Sunnyside and Jackson Heights in Queens.

New York Public Transportation Tips

The subway is hell on earth, but it beats the alternative, I guess

Don’t be fooled by people who claim New York’s subway system is great and efficient. It’s not, and it’s been spiraling downward for the better part of a decade (if you’re interested, read here to learn how it got so bad).

However, traffic is also horrible, thanks to a huge number of bridge-and-tunnel commuters. So buses and taxis aren’t exactly great alternatives, either. Walking is my personal favorite way of getting around the city, but it’s not always realistic, as NYC is massive.

Factor in some extra time before anything super time-sensitive, like a Broadway show or getting to the airport. Literally, you may want to give yourself an extra 30 minutes to an hour, and I wish I was joking. Spend that extra time enjoying a coffee or going for a walk.

And for everything else, just accept that lateness has become a quintessential part of the New York experience. Can you really say you’ve been to New York if you haven’t been stuck underground for upwards of an hour on a crowded train? (Side tip: if you’re claustrophobic, bring your best anti-anxiety meds).

Oh, and that suspiciously empty subway car? Yeah, best avoided.

Finally, subway rides do add up quickly, so I suggest buying a weekly unlimited card if you think you’ll take 3-4 rides a day over 3+ days. It’s nice to just pay once and be done with it rather than always question if it’s worth shelling out the nearly $3 for another ride. It’s about $32 for a 7-day unlimited card, though fares are always increasing so it may be a little more now.

Follow a few basic rules to make riding the subway slightly less hellish

As decrepit as our public transportation system is, riding the subway is a New York must. It’s as iconic as it is maddeningly necessary. First time in New York and need some tips for subway riding?

Here are a few simple NYC subway tips to make your life — and the lives of those around you — a little easier.

1) Move into the car rather than standing at the edges blocking the door. You will be able to get off later, don’t worry.
2) If you’re stuck at the edges of the door on a crowded train, get off to let people get off the train more easily and get back on.
3) Never, ever get on the train before you’ve let everyone who’s exiting the train off first.
4) Take off your backpack and wear it in front while you’re on a crowded train
5) If possible, avoid taking the subway during the morning and evening rush hours. This is for your own sanity.

Please don’t tip “showtime” dancers

As someone who once had to take the Q train to work over the Brooklyn Bridge every day, let me tell you, there was nothing I hated more after a long day’s work than “showtime” — when people come into the subway cars blasting music and doing breakdancing and gymnastics routines on moving train cars.

It is legal to busk in the subway stations, but not on the cars, and frankly, it’s pretty dangerous — not to mention irritating — to do an intense, involved gymnastic routine to tinny, loud music on a moving subway car. But tourists eat it up, which is why this illegal and obtrusive trend continues.

Feel free to tip buskers who are doing it legally (in the stations, in parks, and on the street), but don’t encourage illegal behavior on the subway cars. Our commutes suck enough as it is.

If you want to ride the bus, you better have a loaded MetroCard or $2.75 in change

Riding the bus in New York is ridiculously annoying if you don’t have a MetroCard. Our incredibly antiquated system requires you have exact change, which would only be mildly annoying if it weren’t for the fact that the U.S.’s largest coin is a quarter. Meaning you need at a bare minimum 11 coins to ride the bus. No bills are accepted, and the bus driver will not have change. There are precious few bus stations where you can purchase a ticket streetside, and most are in places where you can easily take the subway, anyway.

The easiest thing to do if you know you need to take a bus often is to purchase an unlimited or prepaid MetroCard. But honestly, there are precious few instances where a bus will come in handy compared to the subway unless you are staying in the outer reaches of Queens or the Bronx, so I’d avoid the bus if you can.

Mastering the art of the MetroCard swipe is an acquired art

I’ll admit it — even after 9 years of living in New York, I suck big time at swiping myself into the subway, almost embarrassingly so. I think I always swipe just a bit too fast. Don’t be embarrassed if you can’t get your card recognized on the first go.

Our machines suck and do this to everyone (usually as a train is just pulling into the station while you’re on your way to a first date or an important job interview). Continue trying, slightly slower than you’d think you’d need to — that’s what works for me, at least. Give it a few tries, and if it’s not working, there’s no shame in moving onto the next turnstile. Sometimes the turnstiles can be a little finicky.

Please, get out of Manhattan and see at least ONE outer borough

Listen, New York is not just Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. I urge you to explore beyond just Manhattan and see what the daily life for most New Yorkers is really like. So many people say “I could never live in New York” — but really, what they’re thinking of is the hoards of people in Times Square and Midtown and Columbus Circle. Here’s the thing — most of us could never live there either. I’d have gone nuts far earlier than I did.

Visiting Brooklyn and Queens and getting a bit off the beaten path, you’ll see how New York is far less busy and expensive than you think. Each neighborhood has a really distinct feel, almost more like a collection of towns than one large city. And of course, there’s also the Bronx and Staten Island, places which I still barely know after 9 years, which are also ripe for exploring.

Tips for Visiting New York Attractions

Skip the line tickets are a god-send on a short trip

If you’re only visiting New York for a short amount of time, like a week or less, skip the line tickets will be your best friend while in the city – especially during popular times of the year to visit.

Oftentimes, skip the line tickets are either the same price or only a few dollars more and will save you up to an hour per attraction.

For example, this skip-the-line ticket to the Met lets you skip the line and is the exact same price as a ticket you’d buy on-site. Similarly, the MoMA skip-the-line is also the same price as if you bought it at the museum, but with no waiting needed.

Tip: Save time at no extra cost! Book your Met ticket in advance and skip the line here or your ticket to skip the line to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) here!

Other attractions will allow you to skip the line at a small surcharge, so you’ll have to weigh if the time savings is worth it for you.

For me, it almost always is, because if I have a short amount of time at a once or twice in a lifetime destination, I certainly don’t want to spend it in line. However, for others, the money savings buying standard tickets vs. skip the line tickets may be worth it.

These are the attractions with the longest lines in NYC, that I suggest considering skip-the-line tickets for:

9/11 Memorial: This memorial is essential viewing for any visitor to New York. To save time, buy skip the line tickets with museum access and receieve a bonus free audio guide app. Note that just visiting the memorial is free, but the museum is highly recommended to further understand this tragic yet historic site. Book online here.

One World Observatory: Going up the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere is a must on most New York first-timers bucket lists. The fact that this building rose out of the ashes of the tragedy of 9/11 is a testament to New York’s strength. Predictably, lines can be outrageous, so be smart and save time. GetYourGuide is an authorized ticket seller which offers both standard entrance tickets that let you skip the ticket purchasing line and fast-track tickets that all you to skip all lines. Check out ticket options and book online here.

Empire State Building: A view from the top of the Empire State Building is a must for many visitors to New York. While I’m personally partial to Top of the Rock, I understand that many people want to see the Empire State. Just be warned that lines here are nuts, as this is probably one of the most popular things to do in New York, so definitely save time and book in advance. Book online from an authorized reseller and save tons of time: the Empire State offers both general and skip-all-line tickets, which you can book online here.

Top of the Rock: My personal favorite viewpoint in NYC. Why? Because you get to see the Empire State, which is kind of hard to see if, you know, you’re on top of it. The lines here can be frustrating – and the people running the show and keeping the lines moving are famously brusque – so skipping the ticket purchasing will enhance your experience immensely.

I suggest buying this flexible entrance ticket which will allow you to plan around the weather for optimal views. However, do know in advance that you need to show up the day before to book a time slot for the following day or days, so plan accordingly.

Statue of Liberty: New York’s most famous landmark is an iconic must-see for many travelers here — which means serious queues during popular times of year. There are several ticket purchase options – including standard admission and skip the line admission with and without pedestal access – so you can pick the one that’s right for your budget and priorities. Check ticket options here.

Tips for New York Bars & Restaurants

Some places are cash only, so check first if you don’t have enough cash to cover you

An odd but pertinent New York travel tip is to always carry cash, which may be surprising to some travelers coming from more card-friendly countries like Northern Europe. For some odd reason, many restaurants in New York are cash only, which can be super frustrating if you’re someone like me who prefers to use a card. I don’t know what it is about New York, but it’s the American city that — to me, at least — seems to be the least friendly to credit cards.

I recommend carrying a small amount of cash at all times as ATM fees can be steep (often $3+ at a bodega, plus whatever your bank charges) if you have to take out cash unexpectedly.

Be prepared to wait in line for just about any place you’ve seen on Instagram

I don’t understand it, but people in New York seem to love waiting in line for the new, hot Instagram-food sensation. As in, those ridiculous Black Tap milkshakes you’ve seen? Sure, go for it if you want to waste two hours of your life standing in line.

I’m incredibly impatient and personally don’t think there’s much in this world worth waiting for, especially in a city like New York when you’re so spoiled for choice. But I’m also not one to jump on the latest Unicorn latte bandwagon, so perhaps I’m a bit biased. I’d pretty much always rather eat dumplings.

If you’re from overseas, you have to follow our tipping culture – even if you don’t like it

Nothing is more ridiculous than American tipping culture, I’m aware, but quite simply: our absurd laws make it so that servers make just about $2 an hour without tips. As a result, the customer has to step in to make sure their server doesn’t starve.

Even if you had shitty service, leave a minimum of 15%, and for anything upwards of OK service, please tip 20% or more if you want to. I know it’s annoying, but that’s just how it is in America. If you short them their tips on your bill, you are essentially stealing your server’s wages. I agree that it’s wrong that it is this way, and that it should be incumbent upon employers to provide a living wage, not the other way around. However, you aren’t going to change anything by not leaving a tip — you’re just taking food off your server’s table, i.e., the very person who is putting food on yours.

By the time you add tax and tip, your bill will come out to 30% more than you thought it’d be. Just factor that into your food budget, accept it and move on. If you can’t afford to eat out, don’t sit down at a restaurant – take advantage of vibrant street food and takeaway scene. At bars, tip $1 per drinks — yes, even beer — and maybe $2 if you order a more involved cocktail.

Take advantage of our amazing diverse food food

The best thing about being in New York is all the cheap, delicious, and unique ethnic restaurants you could ever dream of — what, you mean you haven’t had Uyghur food before? — are at your disposal. Even better, they’re often cheaper than your standard ‘American’ restaurant.

One of my best tips for New York is to eat at least a few meals outside of Manhattan — that’s how most real New Yorkers eat!

Go for Himalayan food in Jackson Heights, Thai food in Elmhurst, Russian food in Brighton Beach, Korean food in Murray Hill (Queens), Chinese food in Flushing, Filipino food in Woodside… the list goes on and on. If there’s a certain cuisine you’re after, please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you with my best suggestion.

Tips for Enjoying NYC on a Budget

Take advantage of free museum nights

NYC has a ridiculous amount of museums worth visiting, though the entry fees are often quite steep. Most New Yorkers know of all the free museum nights, and it’s rare for us to pay full price for admission (we’re usually spending 50% of our salary on rent). Here are a few of the best free museums in NYC and any day/time restrictions.

1) The Museum of Modern Art is free on Fridays from 4–8 PM. It will be quite crowded, though.
2) Brooklyn Museum is free the first Saturday of every month from 5-11 PM, but the admission is suggested, anyway, so you can pay what you wish anytime.
3) The Jewish  Museum is free on Saturdays.
4) The Neue Galerie (one of my favorites, actually – and it’s right next to the Met) is free the first Friday of every month from 6-8 PM.
5) The 9/11 Memorial Museum is free on Tuesdays from 5-8 PM.
6) Brooklyn Botanic Gardens are free on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10 AM to noon.
7) The New Museum is free on Thursdays from 7-9 PM.
8) The Morgan Library is free on Fridays from 7-9 PM (combine with a visit to the nearby MoMA, also free on Friday nights)

There are others which you can find here. Please note that the Met used to be suggested admission, but now it is so only for New York State residents. 🙁

Get stellar views on a budget

One of the best views of the city skyline can be had from the Roosevelt Island cable car, which costs just $2.75. Likewise, you can glimpse the Statue of Liberty for free on the Staten Island ferry. Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Brooklyn Promenade offer stellar views of Manhattan’s skyline as well, also for free.

Sure, you can go up to the Top of the Rock or the Empire State, but I prefer these sweet free and dirt-cheap views, and it’s one of my top NYC travel tips.

If you really want a good Manhattan rooftop view, one of my favorite rooftop bars is 230 Fifth Avenue because it’s right next to the Empire State Building. However, there are countless other rooftop bars worth checking out.

Sure, it’ll be a bit of a pricey drink, but it’s way cheaper than paying $30+ for the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock (plus, you’ll get to actually see both buildings!)

Another great choice for enjoying NYC on a budget with views to match is packing a picnic lunch from a tasty NYC deli and enjoying a picnic in one of NYC’s many parks!

Don’t drink bottled water

New York tap water is some of the best in the entire country. It tastes delicious and it’s 100% clean. In fact, I have more trouble drinking water in other places in the U.S. because I was spoiled by San Francisco and NYC tap water my whole life.

Any café or coffee shop will be happy to fill up a reusable water bottle for you, so just ask. Plus, you’re saving unnecessary plastic from ending up in landfill or the ocean.

Follow the happy hour trail

Everyone bemoans the cost of drinking in New York, to which I want to tell them: you’re doing it wrong.

There are quite a few bars that do an extremely generous happy hour. In Brooklyn, my favorite is Night of Joy which has inventive $6 cocktails and $4 beers daily from 5 to 8 PM. In Manhattan, my favorite spot is Local 138 in the Lower East Side, which offers an incredibly generous $3 draft beer selection from 4 to 9 PM. It was always my pre-game spot before hitting up a “cooler,” more expensive bar later in the evening.

Consider money-saving passes wisely

Some of New York’s most iconic attractions are free, but many cost quite a bit of money. Depending on the kind of sightseer you are, the Explorer Pass  will either be a colossal waste of money or it’ll save you a bundle. I don’t think you really need to do every big-ticket attraction to enjoy New York, but I also lived there for nine years, and your priorities become different when you live in a place.

Besides the museums I listed above which offer free admission on certain days, there are also plenty of always-free attractions… wandering Central Park, riding the Staten Island Ferry, gawking at street art, walking the Brooklyn Bridge, etc., so no matter what your budget is, you can plan an itinerary to match.

However, if it’s your first trip to NYC, you’ll likely want to see some of the main sights. If that’s you, buying a city pass can save you a ton of money. The one I recommend people is the Explorer Pass because it’s the most transparent, flexible, and easy to compare.

The more sights you plan to visit, the more you can save, and you can pick between 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 10 sights. Just be sure to do the math on it to make sure you’re actually saving money on the sights and tours you want: most people save about 40% vs. booking each thing independently, but if you pick the wrong attractions, it may not be worth it. Check all that the New York Explorer Pass offers here.

Don’t pay full price for a Broadway show

If you want to see a Broadway show but don’t have a specific must-see like Hamilton that requires advanced tickets, I recommend not booking your tickets in advance. Sounds crazy, right? But you’ll save a fortune if you wait until you get to New York to buy your tickets. There are four TKTS discounted show booths in NYC: one in Times Square, one in Lincoln Center, one in Downtown Brooklyn, and one in South Street Seaport (Downtown Manhattan).

At TKTS booths, you can get same-day discount tickets to evening shows for up to 50% off. You can check in advance to see what shows they will have tickets for. The TKTS booth opening times vary dramatically by location, so be sure to check opening hours online first before showing up.

New York Safety Tips

Street harassment is a reality for women

Now, I can only really advise about when I last lived in New York (2016), and I’m not sure if #TimesUp and #MeToo have had any impact on New York catcalling culture… but I kind of doubt it. Let me say that I have never been sexually harassed more than in New York City — not in even Morocco, which everyone told me would take the cake for harassment (it ran a close second).

If anyone harasses you, it’s safest to just ignore them. I’ve mouthed off and lost my temper to men who harassed me, and I’ve had my safety severely threatened as a result, with men following me home and threatening to beat and rape me. I truly hope that things are different now, but I can only offer my own experience. I love New York, but the constant harassment really got to me after a while and was a large part of why I left New York City.

That said, violent crime is pretty low for an American city

America is not one of the safest countries on Earth, which is why I’m usually bemused when people ask me about if it’s safe where I live (Bulgaria) or if I’m worried about traveling Europe.

The reality is in New York that the majority of crime is concentrated in a few areas. These are mostly neighborhoods on the periphery of New York that you wouldn’t really visit if you were an outsider. If you’re looking for a hotel or an Airbnb, most neighborhoods in Manhattan or close to it by train are pretty safe (with the exception of some neighborhoods in the Bronx – and even these neighborhoods are not that dangerous in the grand scheme of American cities). Always read the reviews of your hotel or Airbnb (more on this in a bit) with an eye for location.

Watch your belongings and take a cab or Uber home if you’ve been drinking a lot

This goes without saying and is pretty normal for any city, but as safe as it is — New York is not immune to petty theft and crime. Like most places, most crime will happen at night, and most of the victims will be vulnerable in some way – alone, intoxicated, etc.

If you want to have a big night out in New York, it’s perfectly safe to do so! But plan on having a ride home. Your safety is worth the extra bucks for cab fare.

That said – don’t forget travel insurance!

One thing I remind non-Americans visiting New York is that travel insurance is absolutely essential when visiting the U.S. I know of a Canadian who visited NYC for a weekend, took a bad fall, and ended up owing $3,000+ in medical bills because they weren’t insured.

The U.S. famously has no nationalized health care system, and if you have a health emergency while in the U.S., you could be facing life-changing medical costs. It’s better to be safe than sorry when traveling in general, so I always recommend travel insurance regardless of the destination, but I recommend it even more strongly for travelers to the U.S., where medical costs are outrageous.

Even if you’re American and have health insurance, in my opinion, travel insurance is still a good idea because it can help you if you get pickpocketed, experience travel delays or a cancellation, or if your general health insurance policy has a high deductible or doesn’t have doctors in your network in New York.

I’ve used World Nomads while traveling the world for the past three years, and I love the peace of mind it gives me wherever I go. While I’ve been lucky enough to have never needed to make a claim, my friends’ successful experience in making claims make me feel secure that if I ever needed to, it would be easy and hassle-free. Get your free quote here!

General New York Tips

New Yorkers are not that rude – in fact, I kind of think they’re lovely

Has anyone ever struck as much fear in the hearts of the public as the legendary “rude New Yorker”? It’s probably the most pervasive New York myth, but I’m here to tell you that luckily — it’s largely not true. Outside of a small bubble (which is, oddly, the exact shape of the Financial District — I kid), New Yorkers are a pretty easy-going bunch.

We’re opinionated, yes, busy, yes, stressed, sure, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re rude. Here’s the truth: living in New York City hardens you. Trust me, when you’ve seen a woman pee through her underwear in the middle of the sidewalk in broad daylight, you’re not going to get all pissy about a tourist asking for directions.

That said, no one will rise to your defense quite like a New Yorker. We’re generally a very helpful bunch and don’t mind answering questions, giving directions, etc. – just keep it short and sweet, because we’re usually in a rush (that whole being constantly late thing wasn’t hyperbole).

Choose the time of year that you visit carefully

The summer in New York can be miserable; the winter, too. Holidays can be magical (for people who like that kind of thing — I’m a bit of a self-admitted Grinch). If you don’t care about the weather and just want to visit New York on a budget, January through March offer the best deals on hotel rooms. But don’t come during the winter unless you’re prepared for all kinds of weather, including snow storms and frigid-but-freakishly-sunny subzero days.

I personally think early October is the best time to visit New York — families with kids won’t be traveling this time of year, prices will have gone down a bit from their summer highs, and the weather will be perfectly crisp and fall-ish. But be aware that by the end of October it’s not unheard of for there to already be snow! I still not-so-fondly remember the freak Halloween snowstorm of 2011. Not cool, New York.

Use the bathroom whenever you can

New York has a serious public bathroom problem. Anytime you have an opportunity to use a bathroom (like when you’ve just finished a meal, are visiting a museum, or are getting a coffee) — do it.

Trust me, your bladder will thank you later.

Please don’t rent a whole apartment on Airbnb

The way the law works with Airbnb in NYC is as follows: it is legal to rent out a single bedroom in a tenant-occupied apartment for any amount of time, but it is not legal to rent out an entire apartment for any period shorter than one month.

In other words… to use Airbnb legally in New York, you need to opt for a private room, not a full apartment. This is to protect locals suffering a housing crisis, which has been vastly exacerbated by people abusing Airbnb. I personally knew a few scumbags who made their entire living renting out their under-market value apartments to tourists. This perpetuates the housing crisis by taking usable apartments off the market and artificially inflating the value of all apartments in the city.

Even if you don’t care about contributing to the housing crisis, NYC is actively shutting down illegal Airbnbs, meaning that you may be left totally screwed if your illegal Airbnb gets caught before you arrive. I’ve heard anecdotes of this happening, so it’s best to adhere to the law and stick to hotels or private rooms in an Airbnb.

Avoid Dunkin Donuts coffee like the plague

This is a bit tongue in cheek, and I’m pretty sure I’ll lose my New York badge for this, but I don’t care: Dunkin Donuts coffee is some of the foulest coffee on Earth. I’m not a huge Starbucks fan, but I’d choose Starbucks over Dunkin Donuts a million times over.

You’ll get the same quality coffee (read: utter shit) from Dunkin Donuts at any bodega for half the price, if you really want some shitty coffee. But New York has no shortage of delicious coffee spots offering actual, quality coffee for not much more than a jumbo-size Dunkin Donuts in a gross styrofoam cup. So treat yourself 😉

37 Ways to Find the Unusual, Off the Beaten Path NYC

I’m a California native, but I lived in New York for nine years — just a year shy of becoming a “true New Yorker.” But considering that I’ve had a pigeon fly into my chest when taking out the trash and a rat run over my boot, I’m going to go ahead and say I deserve the New Yorker badge, anyway.

Like a real New Yorker, I willfully neglected to see a good half of New York’s most famous attractions. I never went to the Statue of Liberty, nor Ellis Island. I finally did make it to the Top of the Rock after 9 years (mostly because I was gifted a CityPASS) but the Empire State Building, nah. But what I lacked in traditional tourist sights, I made up for in chasing the delightfully odd and the deliciously underrated: the true hidden gems that make New York the city it is.

I’ve previously written a comprehensive 5-day itinerary for New York, which I recommend reading if it’s your first trip to NYC. Some of the advice there will overlap here. If you’re a New York veteran or a dedicated fan of the unusual, this guide may be better suited for you.

Tips for Exploring Off the Beaten Path NYC

New York is a city where new cultural happenings are a constant: new shows, galleries, and restaurants open up nearly weekly (and unfortunately, many close nearly as quickly). It’s almost maddening to try to suss out what’s new; being a hipster there is basically a full-time profession.

While it’s hard to keep up with the pulse of New York, here are a few resources I often turn to when I want to find inspiration on what to do in NYC off the beaten path:

  • Time Out New York is probably the best, most comprehensively up-to-date resource about what’s going on in New York. If you’re looking to see what festivals, events, shows, or new happenings are on in this endlessly changing city, TONY is your best resource.
  • Checking out Atlas Obscura is one of my favorite ways to do research when visiting a new city. With 295 unusual things to do in New York currently on their list, if you saw one a day it’d take nearly 10 months to go through their list.
  • Untapped Cities is another great resource for finding hidden gems in NYC
  • For foodies, my favorite New York-based food websites are Serious Eats and The Infatuation. I’d often make it my weekend goal to go through one of their listicles and try as much food as I could in one of the highlighted neighborhoods.
  • My friend Ariel of Urbanist produces amazing Facebook Live and edited videos about New York City’s many hidden gems. Recently, he explored occult symbolism in Grand Central Terminal and the history of coffee in Brooklyn.
  • Guided tours on a specific theme are a great way to dive into the nitty gritty of one aspect of the city and see familiar buildings through a new light.

Offbeat, Delicious, & Unusual Things to Do in Manhattan

Manhattan could be a city all on its own, and with 1.6 million residents, it’s already double the population of San Francisco proper. While Manhattan is where you’ll find many of the tourist clichés (I’m looking at you, Madame Tussaud’s), you’ll also find an incredible variety of culture there. Manhattan is also a history lover’s dream, with a past rich with important literary, musical, and political figures.

Here a few of my favorite off the beaten path things to do in Manhattan.

off the beaten path nyc
Ready to explore the off the beaten path NYC?

Check out the expressive street art of the Lower East Side

Now the hippest part of Manhattan, the Lower East Side was once in danger of being demolished by 20th-century urban planner Robert Moses in order to make room for an expressway. That fortunately never happened, and the Lower East Side has gone through a period of gentrification that has brought both incredible development and major growing pains. One of the best ways to explore the history of the Lower East Side is through its street art.

While you can do a self-guided tour of the street art, I often find it beneficial to learn about the context of the street art through a guide. I recommend the Alternative New York Street Art tour by Inside Out Tours (check out prices and availability here).

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On this tour, you’ll get to learn more about one of Manhattan’s most culturally important neighborhoods. Traditionally been the home of immigrants arriving from Ellis Island, over time the Lower East Side came to be populated by artists, writers, and poets. This hybrid culture gave rise to a one-of-a-kind art scene that you can see for yourself on this tour. Starting at a classic  New York institution — Katz’s Deli — you’ll learn all about one of New York’s most fascinating neighborhoods while also enjoying its incredibly expressive street art on a slow-paced 3-hour walking tour.

Check out NYC’s tiniest museum

Mmuseumm is so small and obscure that even though it was open for 4 of the years that I was living in New York. I only learned about it after leaving through my friend Ariel’s video of it!

It’s located in an old elevator shaft on Cortlandt Alley between Franklin Street and White Street in Tribeca. A mere 60 square feet, this museum (and its “second wing” located 3 doors down) hosts a few curios from around the world, focusing on contemporary artifacts.

Drink at a speakeasy in the back of a hot dog restaurant

One of New York’s worst-kept secrets, Please Don’t Tell is the famously exclusive speakeasy bar which you enter via telephone booth in the back room of Crif Dogs.

It’s best (though still difficult) to make reservations by calling at 3 PM on the day you want in, though you can try your luck as a walk-in any time it’s open. Cocktails are extremely expensive, even by New York standards – like, $15 a pop – but their inventiveness and the speakeasy atmosphere makes it (a bit) easier to stomach the coast. Pair with a deep-fried or bacon-wrapped hot dog if you’re feeling crazy.

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Trace (and taste) Downtown Manhattan’s immigrant history through its food

With influences from Chinese, Latin American, Jewish, African-American, and Italian culture — and countless more — Downtown Manhattan tells the story of New York in a microcosm. And what more delicious way to explore history than through food?

On this tour, you get to experience many different cultures at once in a 3-hour tour (check prices, availability, and ratings here). Explore Downtown Manhattan on a tour that starts at City Hall and takes you through Little Italy, the Essex Street Market, and Chinatown.

You’ll learn more about how the first immigrants settled here while sampling food from all over the world — including New York icons like the potato knish. This tour is a great way to experience New York’s multiculturalism and see how America’s deep immigrant history makes our culture so much richer and stronger. Not to mention more delicious.

 

Find New York’s hidden Highline

The Highline Park that goes from the trendy Meatpacking District up through Chelsea and Hudson Yards is now quite famous and always packed with people – but it wasn’t the first elevated park in New York. The Elevated Acre in Downtown Manhattan is even less known, accessed only via an escalator or elevator at 55 Water Street, which is often easy to miss amidst scaffolding and construction.

Located 3 stories up, it’s a quiet respite from the unrelenting hustle of the Financial District (well, if you can get past the helicopters constantly going by — it’s right near the helipad. Nothing’s ever perfect in New York). With an amphitheater hosting events as well as a beer garden, there’s plenty to do to while away the time in this true New York hidden gem. Plus, it has great views of the Brooklyn skyline.

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Explore Harlem’s thriving and historic jazz scene

For decades, Harlem has been synonymous with jazz, from the greats like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Miles Davis to today’s performers carrying on the torch. There are plenty of excellent jazz clubs you can visit independently in Harlem. I also spent many a night at the Fat Cat in Greenwich Village as a young NYU student. Alternately, you can take a guided tour organized by Welcome to Harlem (prices and availability here), where you’ll learn the life stories of the Harlem jazz scene’s greats and see some of the first venues they performed in. Even better, the tour ends with a concert performance by some of the most talented musicians today while you enjoy lunch.

Check out the criminally underrated Cloisters museum

It may seem strange that a branch of the Met is considered off the beaten path NYC, but so few people venture up to the Cloisters due to how far uptown the museum is (well into the 200s, nestled in Fort Tryon Park). However, I think that’ll soon be changing now that the Met is charging a mandatory $25 entrance fee and offering 3 days worth of admission to its 3 branches.

Still, those who do go will be richly rewarded with one of New York’s most stunning buildings and a collection of art from medieval Europe, including some epic tapestries, all in one of the quieter museums in all of Manhattan.

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See a section of the Berlin Wall

A fancy apartment lobby on perhaps the most capitalistic avenue in all of New York, Madison Avenue, is now home to a 5-section wide panel of the Berlin Wall

Painted by Thierry Noir and Kiddy Citny, this section of the Berlin Wall as brought across the Atlantic by boat in 1990 and used to live in the outdoor plaza nearby until it was threatened by water damage. Brought inside the lobby, you can now view it during everyday business hours, weekdays from 8:30 AM – 6 PM at 520 Madison Avenue.

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Relive the punk rock days with a rock’n’ roll walking tour

Now a playground for yuppies and NYU students, the East Village was once the birthplace of American punk rock. If you’re a fan of the Ramones, Blondie, and the Talking Heads, you can’t miss this rock’n’ roll walking tour (there’s one run by Rock Junket Rock n’ Roll tours; check prices, availability, and ratings here)

On this tour, you’ll explore New York City’s East Village and learn how this neighborhood played in three important musical genres — rock, punk, and glam rock — hearing the stories of legendary bands such as the Ramones, New York Dolls, and Led Zeppelin. You’ll also get to see legendary sites like the former CBGB’s (now closed, and now a John Varvatos store – eye roll), Fillmore East, and the former residences of Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone, and Madonna.

Explore New York’s hidden catacombs

If you’re looking for a truly unique – and slightly spooky – look at New York City’s history, then this is the tour for you. This tour will take you underneath the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (in Downtown Manhattan, not the famous one on 5th Avenue) to explore the catacombs below, lit by candlelight.

These catacombs have served as the final resting place for some of the city’s most famous citizens for over 200 years. Access to the catacombs is only allowed by exclusive tours (check ratings, pricing, and availability here) so if you’re curious to explore New York’s spooky side by candlelight, book ahead to make sure you don’t miss out.

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Go buckwild on Korean food in K-Town

Manhattan’s West 32nd Street is nicknamed Koreatown for a reason: countless, countless delicious Korean restaurants serving up BBQ into the wee hours of the night. You can’t really go wrong anywhere, but my favorite is Jongro. Just be prepared to wait – I’ve waited up to an hour and a half on a weekend. It is expensive, but oh, so worth it.

Tip: try grilling your kimchi – it’s even better that way! And they’ll refill the banchan (side dishes) as much you like, so just ask.

Sail around Manhattan on an old school schooner

This tour will give you a look at New York City from a truly unique perspective. Don’t settle for a tired old ferry ride to get your harbor views — sail instead on New York’s largest sailboat, the Clipper City, a picture-perfect replica of the large schooners used over a century ago. From the Clipper City’s deck, you’ll get to see the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Ellis Island. The deck is  comfortable and features a full bar — at a price, of course (this is New York, after all). Check out tickets and availability here.

Take the Roosevelt Island Tramway

One of Manhattan’s best views can be seen for the low, low price of a MetroCard swipe ($2.75, at the moment). The Roosevelt Island cable car is one of the city’s best-kept budget secrets, bringing you soaring above the Triboro Bridge straight the tiny residential Roosevelt Island, tucked between Manhattan and Queens.

The cable car is the main attraction – there’s not too much to see on Roosevelt Island – so either take it both ways and return where you started, or take the F train onto Queens to explore some great neighborhoods like Long Island City (breweries!) and Astoria (try the Greek food!)

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Strange, Alternative & Delicious Things to Do in Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a place that delights in the odd and unusual, making it a perfect base to explore off the beaten path New York. One of the most richly historic places in New York, Brooklyn was the site of several important Civil War battles and has been the landing grounds of countless immigrants. In fact, my very own uncle grew up in a Brooklyn candy store, the son of Polish refugees.

Brooklyn today is gentrifying rapidly, bringing changes both bad and good to historic neighborhoods. But look beyond Instagrammable bagels (please do — the rainbow bagel should die and rot in hell) and you’ll find a rich synthesis of culture, expressed through food, street art, and performance.

Explore Bushwick’s intriguing street art scene

Bushwick is virtually synonymous with Brooklyn’s flourishing art scene. The best place to start is with Bushwick’s dynamic street art scene, which you can see in the work of the Bushwick Collective, a famous group of graffiti artists. While it’s free for all to visit the Bushwick Collective, you may find it beneficial to take a tour (check out ratings, availability, and pricing here)

On this tour, you’ll get to see some of the beautiful outdoor works of the Bushwick Collective, a famous group of graffiti artists. You will learn more about the group’s history and enjoy some truly incredible artwork from artists past and present. In addition to this, you’ll also meet Joe Ficalora, the founder of the collective and one of its most respected artists.

Explore the transit of yore at the New York Transit Museum

I had long heard of this place, but never thought I’d find it so interesting. I actually only went there seven years into living in New York, when I guided a field trip there for my students. But I think I honestly had almost as much fun as they did.

The Transit Museum is located in the abandoned Court Street subway station and includes gems such as a perfectly preserved subway car from as far back as the 1920s (complete with old-fashioned subway ads). It’s a fun way to step back in time (and it’s a hundred times more enjoyable than riding the actual subway).

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Drink your way through local breweries

Beer fans may be surprised to find that Brooklyn abounds in breweries, but it’s true! You can independently visit one of Brooklyn’s most famous breweries, Brooklyn Brewery, or take an Urban Adventures tour to learn what makes Brooklyn’s beer scene one of the best in the U.S. (check availability, ratings, and prices here).

On a 2.5-hour walking tour, you’ll get to see how your favorite beers are made at a local brewery — and of course, drink plenty of samples along the way ;). In addition, you’ll visit 19th-century buildings from the pre-Prohibition era. And because nothing goes better with beer than pizza (except Asian takeout, but I’m biased), you end the tour with a stop at a local pizza joint to get a slice of that classic New York pizza.

Explore the massive, beautiful Green-Wood Cemetery

Hauntingly beautiful and one of the more serene places in Brooklyn, Green-Wood Cemetery is a can’t-miss for cemetery lovers (where my fellow creeps at?).

In New York, even the dead are subject to ridiculously high rents — a plot at the exclusive Green-Wood cemetery costs of $20,000, whereas a mausoleum will set you back nearly half a million dollars. Even if you could never afford to be buried here, it’s beautiful to walk around and see the sights (obviously, be respectful of mourners should you choose to visit).

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See burlesque and circus arts at the House of Yes

A Bushwick institution, the House of Yes is home to circus and cabaret artists and countless dance parties. Ranging from burlesque dancers to contortionists, aerialists to fire dancers, the performers at House of Yes are anything but boring.

Check out their ever-changing events schedule (ignore the doors time — they’re a joke — actual times of the events are on the ticket sales page)

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Eat your way through a Brooklyn brownstone tour

Brooklyn’s Smith and Court Street are some of the most beautiful streets in Brooklyn – I can almost guarantee you’ve seen them in film at one point or another. On this food and walking tour (run by Urban Adventures – check prices, availability, and ratings here), you can simultaneously explore some of Brooklyn’s most iconic architecture while sampling local treats.

Instead of seeing the more famous restaurants, you’ll be visiting small, artisan mom and pop shops to get a truly local look at Brooklyn’s diverse food culture. Artisan cheese shop Stinky Bklyn, an authentic Italian pastry shop, a modern-day soda fountain, and the oldest Middle Eastern bakery in New York are just a few of the places you’ll explore on this 3-hour food and history tour.

Walk through the living film set of Ditmas Park

The mansions of Ditmas Park feel completely out of place in contemporary New York. Preserved from the days when Ditmas Park was farmland, many of these mansions still remain — some derelict, others in pristine condition. The architectural styles range wildly, from Southern plantation-looking monstrosities to quaint Victorian-style houses.

For this reason, odds are if you’re passing through Ditmas Park, a film set is either being set up, filming, or being dismantled. I used to live a few blocks away (in a much more modest area of Flatbush) and walking or biking through this neighborhood never got old. Just at the tail end of the Prospect Park Lake, near the new skating rink, a walk through this neighborhood is literally like stepping backward in time. Most of the mansions are located on the hoighty-toightily named Marlborough, Argyle, Rugby, and Westminster Roads between Albemarle and Cortelyou.

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Forget cheesecake – eat the best Key lime pie you’ll find outside of Florida

New York is synonymous with cheesecake thanks to Junior’s cheesecake (delicious, but slightly overrated). But in my humble opinion, Steve’s Key lime pies are an under-the-radar New York institution.

I’ve found Steve’s Key lime pie served at a few different places in New York over the years, but what better way to enjoy them than at their source in Red Hook? Have the classic or try a “swingle” — a slice of his Key lime pie dipped in chocolate (and other goodies — I’m partial to the white chocolate and raspberry one).

Go wine tasting at one of Brooklyn’s two wineries

Centuries back, when Brooklyn was mostly farmland, it was home to several vineyards. While these farms have given way to residences and businesses that support the 2 million plus inhabitants of Brooklyn, a few intrepid wine lovers have brought Brooklyn’s past in line with its present.

Using grapes from the North Fork of Long Island, one of New York’s two main wine regions (the other being in the Finger Lakes), winemakers have lovingly crafted wines right in Brooklyn, processing, barreling, and aging them right in New York City. You can sample them at the Red Hook Winery and Brooklyn Winery, which both host tours and tastings.

Drink vodka and ogle leathery old Russians on Brighton Beach

Forget Coney Island — Brighton Beach is my favorite beach in Brooklyn (though Queens has better beaches with actual waves). Mostly because of the food.

Stop in one of the many delis serving up Russian favorites to-go from an enormous deli counter. I always went to the same one, whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten (I blame the brown bag vodka that always accompanied these Brighton Beach excursions). I’d load up on pickles, stuffed peppers, pierogis, cabbage, mushrooms, and more, grab a bottle of vodka and soda from the liquor store down the block, and watch old Russian men with giant silver foil sun reflectors get their tan on.

Get your artisan chocolate fix in Brooklyn

Who knew that Brooklyn was home to a chocolate renaissance? Stop by Fine and Raw chocolate (full disclosure: my friend may have worked there and I may have consumed a LOT of free chocolate from there over the years) in Bushwick for a delightfully hipster spin on a chocolate factory.

Or, for the real sweet tooths, take a longer 4-hour tour sampling 4 different chocolate shops spanning a variety of neighborhoods ranging from DUMBO to Red Hook, stopping for a picture-perfect view of the Statue of Liberty in Red Hook. If intrigued, check out tour pricing, availability, and ratings here.

Explore New York’s least-known Chinatown

New York is home to several Chinatowns, but one of its best-kept secrets is the small Chinatown in Sheepshead Bay, centered around Avenue U.

Honestly, I likely never would have known this place existed had I not stumbled upon it when I was an in-house SAT tutor for rich kids. A few favorites are Long Wang bakery for delicious egg custard tarts and Wing Hing for classic dim sum, but this guide to Avenue U is more extensive.

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Take a scenic nature walk… along one of New York’s most polluted waterways?

It’s kind of ironic that you’d find a self-proclaimed “nature walk” along one of the most polluted bodies of water in all of U.S. Surprisingly, walking along Superfund-site Newtown Creek is surprisingly enjoyable thanks to the work of architect George Trakas.

Located on the outer edges of Greenpoint, Atlas Obscura bills it as “an area of beauty amidst a history of environmental damage,” which I think is an apt way to put it.

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Delightfully Odd & Delicious Things to Do in Queens

Queens is New York’s most diverse borough. It’s considered the language capital of the world, with 800 unique languages being spoken in just this one borough alone. As a result, the best way to explore Queens is through your stomach — nowhere else in New York is home to as many delicious restaurants and unique cuisines as Queens.

While the food is really the star of Queens, there are plenty of offbeat hidden gems that are well worth a visit as well, including some of New York’s most interesting museums.

Eat the best momos ever in the back of a phone shop

In the multicultural borough of Queens, Jackson Heights is among the most diverse. One of the most visible immigrant groups in Jackson Heights is the Himalayan community (namely Nepalese and Tibetan). And they’ve brought their delicious food (yak anyone?) with them.

There are countless delicious places to dine on momos, the Nepalese/Tibetan version of the humble dumpling best enjoyed with a heavy dose of hot sauce. But my favorite place to enjoy it is at Lhasa Fast Food, which is a bit hard to find seeing as it’s located in the back of a cell phone shop (if you get lost, just ask and you’ll be pointed in the right direction). There’s often a wait, as the shop is tiny but well-loved in the neighborhood, so be prepared. But the deliciously fragrant beef momos are well worth the wait. If you’re curious, you can try the butter tea as well, but it’s not a favorite of mine, I’ll be honest.

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See New York in miniature at the Queens Museum

The Queens Museum is home to a sprawling, 9,335-square-foot replica of New York City. It’s comprised of nearly a million buildings representing 320 square miles of NYC, and it’s a sight to behold. Even New York’s most iconic landmark, the Empire State, measures only 15 inches tall on this massive model of New York.

The model was originally created for the 1964 World Fair and was so well-loved that it was updated again in 1992 to bring it up to date. As a result, every building that existed prior to 1992 is immortalized in miniature form. I’m wondering if they’ll update it agian — New York is such a fast-changing city — but I love how New York is forever frozen in this moment in time, in small scale. Truly a can’t-miss.

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Explore Fort Tilden, an abandoned nuclear base on a beach

There’s an abandoned military base on the beach in Rockaway, Queens, which was built in 1917 to protect the U.S. from German and Russian fleets during World War I. Later, during World War II, they fortified the area, and during the Cold War, Fort Tilden became home to a massive arsenal of nuclear missiles — missiles twice as strong as those that levelled Hiroshima.

Fortunately, as the Cold War thawed, so too did the need for nuclear weapons on New York’s beaches, and in 1972 the base was abandoned. Now, it’s a little-known beach well-loved by — you guessed it — hipsters.

Eat the best Chinese food you’ll find in an underground mall

Flushing is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Queens and in New York as a whole. Getting off the train during peak hours in Flushing almost feels like traveling to China. Virtually all signage is in Chinese, and that’s the dominant language you’ll hear as you explore Flushing. Slick, lacquered orange Peking ducks hang from the windows all up and down Main Street, and steam rises from bamboo baskets everywhere you look. Basically, it’s a magical place.

The heart of Flushing Main Street is Golden Shopping Mall, in my opinion, loved by Anthony Bourdain and countless others. Two stalls here became so loved that they became larger scale enterprises: the tiny Tian Jin Dumpling House became the massive Dumpling Galaxy, and Xi’an Famous Foods became the well-known New York mini-chain it is today. Those are both worth stopping in (be sure to get the lamb and squash and/or vegetarian dumplings at Tian Jin, or the cumin lamb noodles at Xi’an). But another love of mine is Chengdu Tian Fu, serving up fiery hot, no-nonsense Sichuan food. You can’t miss the cucumber salad slicked with Sichuan peppercorn and sesame oil, the ultra-thin and perfectly chewy dan dan noodles, or the twice cooked pork with leeks.

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Eat dosas twice as large as your face at an underground temple canteen

A 20-minute walk from Flushing Main Street, you’ll find the massive Ganesh Temple, which was the first Hindu temple ever built in the United States. That’s impressive in its own right, but I’m bringing you here for the food.

Head to the downstairs canteen – it may take a little poking around and asking to find, but that’s why you go off the beaten path, no? – and be prepared to be stunned with some of the most delicious dosas you’ll find outside of South India. The paper dosa spans two plates  – literally – and is served with incredible chutney and sambar dipping sauces. But my favorite is the chili masala dosa, stuffed with insanely spicy potatoes — only for the brave. I’m also partial to idlis, a steamed fermented lentil dumpling (it tastes way better than it sounds!) — my best friend’s mom in my teenage years always made them, and this is the only place that’s come close to replicating hers.

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Go on an around-the-world food tour

If you’re a bit overwhelmed by Queens and all the food it offers, I can’t say I blame you. These are not eateries for tourists; they’re catering to large, vibrant immigrant communities (though of course, everyone is always welcome).

If you prefer a bit of hand-holding, or just some local advice, I’ve heard excellent things about Jeffrey Tastes’ Queens food tours. Three different tours are on offer, and all sound equally mouth-watering – I’m holding myself back from booking a ticket back to NYC just writing this.

Unusual & Tasty Things to Do in the Bronx

I’ll be honest, I don’t know the Bronx nearly as well as I should. I’ve only gone a few times, for some specific purposes: a Yankees game, a trip to the Bronx Zoo with my students, the Botanic Gardens (too bad the Chihuly exhibit is now done!), and eating. I know there’s more to be seen in the Bronx – specifically, exploring the street art scene of the South Bronx, wandering Grand Concourse, or exploring Pelham Bay Park, thrice the size of Central Park.

But since the way to my heart is through my stomach, here are three culinary standouts of the Bronx that are worth exploring. Check out this guide to the Bronx by locals to build up ideas of what else to explore while in one of New York’s more underrated boroughs.

Explore the real Little Italy

Forget that tiny, tourist-trappy, few-block radius of “Little Italy” in Manhattan, slowly being overtaken by Chinatown. If you want the real Little Italy, you’re going to have to go out of your way, like a lot, to the Bronx.

Welcome to the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue, where Italian-American families continue to shop and run businesses. Don’t miss burrata at the Casa Della Mozzarella, imported goods from Tino’s Deli, and ALL THE MEAT from Calabria Pork Store. If you prefer a little more guidance, there is an excellent food tour run by Urban Adventures (check prices, ratings, and availability here).

The tour starts with the famous Arthur Avenue Retail Market, where food arrives directly from Italy. From there, you’ll visit nearly a dozen Italian restaurants and specialty markets, many of which have been around for almost a hundred years. If you’re a true fan of Italian food and culture, then this is something you have to see.

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Eat New York’s best Mexican food

I first ventured to the Bronx to eat at Carnitas El Atoradero — which became too famous for its own good and has since closed and relocated to Brooklyn (predictably, it doubled its prices and slashed its portion sizes). But the Bronx is still home to some of New York’s most legit Mexican food, as certified by a picky Californian and four-time visitor to Mexico.

For Oaxacan food including a variety of delicious moles, try La Morada, or for delicious mole poblano and chilaquiles, try Xochimilco Family Restaurant.

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Try West African cuisine

The Bronx is one of New York’s few quasi-affordable boroughs, and as a result, it’s home to a larger immigrant population. West Africans are one of the largest of the Bronx’s many diasporas, and this can be seen in delicious restaurants you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the U.S.

Try Accra or Papaye for Ghanaian food, Nabaya for Guinean food, or Patina for Nigerian food.

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Explore the history of hip-hop through a tour

OK, so this tour technically covers the Bronx and Harlem, but I wanted to show the Bronx a little more love. If you’re a fan of classic hip-hop, then this is something you can’t afford to miss. On this tour, you’ll be guided through the genre’s early history and visit some of the most important clubs in its early development. On top of this, the guides for this tour are legitimate hip-hop celebrities, including Grandmaster Caz, Kurtis Blow, and Reggie Reg. If you’d like to see how your favorite music got started, then this is something you have to check out: you’ll see street art, breakdancing, famous venues like Harlem’s Apollo theatre, and a lot more on a comfortable, 4-hour bus tour. Check pricing, availability, and reviews here.

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One Thing to Do in Staten Island (Just to Be Fair)

Sorry — part of claiming my New York badge is getting to constantly joke about Staten Island (to all Staten Islanders, I’m sorry, but we all kind of knew this was going to happen).

Staten Island doesn’t get much love. It’s largely residential, and honestly, I’ve never stepped outside the ferry terminal. I have, however, taken the ferry several times, so that almost counts. However, I’ve been told that Staten Island is home to some pretty epic Sri Lankan food as a result of the extensive Sri Lankan community out there, which is almost reason enough for me to leave the ferry terminal. Almost.

See the Statue of Liberty for free, with beer in hand

OK – the beer isn’t free. But the ferry is! I’ll never get tired of taking the Staten Island Ferry from Battery Park to Staten Island and back, taking in views of the Statue of Liberty and Downtown Manhattan all the while. Bonus, unlike most places in NYC, you’re actually allowed to drink on the ferry — you can even buy it on board the ferry!

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Unusual Places to Stay in NYC

Brooklyn

The Box House Hotel: Located in the ultra-hip Greenpoint neighborhood, the Box Hotel is one of New York’s coolest. Made from a converted factory (of course, because #Brooklyn), this hotel has been lovingly converted into ultra-stylish lofts with funky designs from local New York artists. Even cooler, the Box House has its own vintage 1970s checker cab, which they use to shuttle you to the subway (which is a bit of a walk away). It doesn’t get more Brooklyn than that! See photos, reviews, prices, and availability here.

Queens

The Paper Factory: Following the trend of factories-turned-hotels, the Paper Factory in Long Island City, Queens is one of the more atypical hotels you can choose during your time in New York. It’s near other off the beaten path gems like the Museum of the Moving Image and Gantry State Park, which has amazing views over Manhattan. The hotel itself has lots of awesome design quirks, like authentic British red phone booths (perfect for confusing your Instagram followers) and vintage mini-fridges in your room. See photos, reviews, prices, and availability here.

Manhattan

The Library: If you’re a book geek like I am, this hotel was pratically designed for you!  Not far from the iconic NY Public Library, this hotel is library-themed, and each room is dedicated to a different genre or topic of literature – each room has some hundred or so books for the guest to peruse. Plus, there’s an enormous reading room (that you’ve likely seen photos of) — plus more books in the front desk, the restaurant, and beyond. The hotel also has a hip rooftop bar serving literary-themed drinks! See photos, reviews, prices, and availability here.

OK, fellow New York lovers and New Yorkers, hit me with your best shot — what are your favorite off the beaten path NYC gems?

A 5 Days in New York Itinerary, Written with Love by an Ex-New Yorker

It’s a major oversight that I haven’t written about New York City at all in the nearly two years I’ve had this travel blog. After all, New York was my home for 9 years, and as a result I know the city better than any other in the world.

I guess New York is such an overwhelming topic, and to try to consolidate my 9 years of wisdom into a quick New York City itinerary in nearly impossible. I wanted to create an itinerary that represents a wide span of the city – not just the iconic museums and buildings, but the independent bookstores, cozy cafés, and authentic ethnic restaurants that really make New York what it is.

This 5 day New York itinerary is made with first-time visitors in mind, but I think even New York veterans can find something new and exciting on this — especially on days 4 and 5, where I zero in on Queens and Brooklyn.

5 days in New York City is kind of the bare minimum to get a good idea of Manhattan and still get to see a few of the other boroughs. Of course, there’s so much more you could do – 9 years in the city and I’m still discovering new sides to New York.

Note: NYC is one of the safest big cities in the U.S., but I still highly recommend having travel insurance – especially if you are from outside the U.S. Due to a lack of a national health care system, obtaining health care in the U.S. is incredibly expensive if you have an accident or medical emergency while traveling abroad. I use and personally recommend World Nomads as my travel insurance to cover me all around the world.

5 Days in New York: Day One

Downtown Manhattan, the Staten Island Ferry & Downtown Brooklyn

Walk from Union Square down Broadway

Your first day in New York should be about getting a feel for what makes this massive city so quintessentially New York. Union Square is as good a place as any to start – stepping off the subway here, for me, will always feel like peak New York. Whirl your head around and up and marvel at the buildings around you: you’re in freaking New York City!

Walk down Broadway, where you’ll pass a few sites worth noticing. The Strand on the corner of 12th and Broadway is my favorite bookstore in the world, boasting 18 miles of books. Stop in and browse the impressively curated selection of new and classic books on the ground floor, or go on a treasure hunt through the used dollar book carts out in front. There are also tons of rare first editions and leather-bound books for my fellow mega-book nerds.

Just a few more blocks down on 10th, Grace Church is worth a quick stop into. I’ll always have a soft spot for this church since my first home in New York was right across the street (making hungover Sundays a painful situation – but I digress).

Explore arty SoHo by foot

Keep walking and you’ll reach Houston Street, where SoHo begins. Walk around some of the cute side streets – I especially like Crosby, Mulberry, Mott, which are parallel to Broadway but to the East.

There are countless cute boutiques to stop in if you want, but I just love the experience of walking down these streets. If you’re about due for a coffee, La Colombe on Lafayette between Prince & Houston makes some of the best espresso drinks on this planet. Book nerds like me will adore the Housing Works Bookstore & Café on Crosby between Prince & Houston as well.

Street art lovers, take note: the SoHo/Nolita area is probably the best place for street art in Manhattan. There’s too much to list here, so here’s a super-comprehensive guide to the area’s best street art.

If you’re into quirky contemporary art, now is a good time to pop over to the New Museum on Bowery between Stanton & Rivington. Otherwise, I recommend the Tenement Museum for a thoughtful look into what life was like for low-income New Yorkers and immigrants in the early 20th century.

Feast in one of the U.S.’s best Chinatowns

Once you’ve had sufficient time to wander Soho, you’ve probably worked up an appetite. You can safely skip Little Italy as it’s rather gimmicky and has been pretty much overrun by Chinatown. If you really want pizza, may I direct you instead to the oldest pizzeria in the United States, Lombardi’s on Spring Street.

If you keep walking south, you’ll hit Canal Street which is pretty much the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown. Try not to get lured into purchasing fake bags or sunglasses, and just gawk at the bustling atmosphere instead.

Chinatown is fantastic and I could write an entire blog post all about it… but I’ll just give you a few quick recommendations here. For delicious hand-pulled noodles, try Spicy Village. Their big tray chicken is unmissable and will feed 2-3 hungry people for under $15 (and it’s BYOB as well, so just pick up some beers from the bodega next door if you want to feel peak New York). Note: Are you gluten-free? Check out this gluten-free guide to New York.

For dumplings, Joe’s Shanghai has the best soup dumplings I’ve been able to find in New York. If you’re into dim sum, Golden Unicorn is my absolute favorite but Nom Wah Tea Parlor and Jing Fong are also close contenders.

Finally, I’m obsessed with Xi’an Famous Foods’ cumin lamb noodles, but there are locations all over the city so it may be best to save it for a different day of exploring. For dessert, I love the egg custard tarts at Tai Pan Bakery on Canal Street.

Marvel at the architecture of the Financial District

After you’ve filled up and rested your feet a bit, continue downtown. One of my favorite buildings is a residential building by Frank Gehry, the architect behind Prague’s famous Dancing House. It’s located on 8 Spruce Street right by City Hall.

Continue on Wall Street and the Financial District. Here, you’ll find the Fearless Girl statue facing the iconic Wall Street Charging Bull statue.

Say hello to Lady Liberty

Keep walking a bit further south. You’ll be by the Staten Island Ferry which is free for all to take, with amazing views of New York’s harbor and its most famous resident — The Statue of Liberty.

If you prefer an up-close visit with Lady Liberty, you can schedule an actual tour of the Statue of Liberty or a combo Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island tour.

I haven’t done either as I’ve never actually gone to see the Statue of Liberty up close. It’s funny how when you live in New York, you often don’t get around to doing all the NYC itinerary musts. But I know many people want to see the Statue of Liberty as part of their New York trips, so if that’s something you want to do, I recommend booking your tour tickets in advance as they often sell out in high season (June-August and Christmas).

»» Book a Statue of Liberty tour here «« 

There’s also an affordable 60-minute cruise passing by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but it doesn’t let you visit either on foot.

There’s also a free option! Enter… the Staten Island Ferry, aka the best cheap-o hack for budget travelers and in-the-know New Yorkers who don’t want to spend like $40 every time someone comes to town.

If you want to hack a free trip to see the statue, which is what I always did when showing people around NYC, just hop on the Staten Island Ferry, ride it over, hop off and hop right back on (as there’s not much to see in Staten Island). Roundtrip, it will take you about one hour and will be a nice break from being on your feet so much!

An alternate idea (and truly on the other side of the price spectrum) is to take a helicopter tour over Manhattan!

It is a true bucket list item, and it is a great way to see the city (and Lady Liberty!) in a new light. Click to check prices and availability, keeping in mind that you should book in advance if this is definitely an activity you want to include on your NYC itinerary.

Pay your respects at Ground Zero

After you’ve seen the Statue of Liberty, head a bit north to see the 9/11 Memorial, a must for anyone’s New York itinerary. It will make you feel quite somber to be in the presence of such tragedy, but it’s absolutely worth the visit and helps you understand what New Yorkers have been through and why they are so resilient.

Local Tip: The lines can be quite long here, especially if you visit in the peak season (which is really any time that’s not January, February, or March). I highly recommend booking a skip-the-line ticket online in advance if you plan on visiting and you have a busy New York City itinerary scheduled. This will let you skip waiting in line, doesn’t need to be printed out, and includes a timed-entry admission to the museum and memorial and an audioguide.

Soar to heights of the Western Hemisphere’s highest building

One thing that I think is so beautiful about New York’s spirit is that it’s unbreakable. When terrorists knocked down New York’s most important building and ended the lives of nearly 3,000 (and leaving many thousands of first responders with chronic health conditions), the city could have decided the pain was too great to rebuild.

Instead, New York decided to build an even taller building in its place, to create a new symbol of strength and beauty. It took nearly the entire time I spent living in New York for the building to be built, but when it was finally done, it was beautiful.

Now the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth largest in the world, visiting this beautiful observatory is a testament to New York’s ongoing strength, bravery, and grit.

Predictably, the lines to get in are insane, so I highly recommend booking a skip-the-line ticket which lets you skip the ticket queue (you’ll still have to wait for security and the elevator).

»» Book your One World Observatory tickets today and save time «« 

Stroll the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge

After you’ve seen the memorial, take a walk across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge please, watch out for cyclists as many people do use this bridge to commute daily (or actively go out of their way to avoid it because the tourist traffic is so insufferable).

Once you’ve crossed, take a seat somewhere in Brooklyn Bridge Park and watch the sun go down for an epic sunset and stunning views of Downtown Manhattan.

Find an epic dinner in Brooklyn

For dinner, the world is your oyster – this is New York, after all, one of the best places to eat in the world. If you didn’t have pizza earlier, I recommend Juliana’s – the pizza is even better than next-door Grimaldi’s (in fact, it was voted the best pizzeria in the entire U.S. in 2015 on TripAdvisor) but it’s not often in the guidebooks so there’s usually no line. If you do this, be sure to save room for dessert at the delicious Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory just down the street.

If you’d rather have something different, here are a few of my favorite Brooklyn restaurants. None of these are within walking distance of the end of the Brooklyn Bridge so at this point you’ll want to call a cab/Uber or hit the subway.

For something different, try Ethiopian at Ghenet in Park Slope. For a modern take on ramen, try Chuko in Prospect Heights. For upscale farm to table fare with an Italian twist, try Frannie’s on Flatbush Avenue (sadly, reader Bettina just informed me that Frannie’s is now closed – read this lovely eulogy to my beloved pizza place!)

I used to recommend Pok Pok for Thai, but that too has apparently closed (such are the perils about writing about a dining scene as mutable as New York’s!) I haven’t personally eaten here, but the new Thai restaurant Ugly Baby gets rave reviews despite the silly name. For tapas, I’m obsessed with La Vara. For those on a budget, you can’t go wrong with Shake Shack – New York’s closest attempt at imitating the perfection that is In-N-Out Burger (what, I’m a California girl at heart!).

Pretty much all of these places are within a stone’s throw of tons of fun yet relaxed bars, if you have any energy left after that ridiculous amount of walking I had you do. If not, head home and rest up for the next day.

5 Days in New York: Day 2

West Village, Chelsea, and Midtown

Stroll around Greenwich Village

Start your day at Washington Square, which is the heartbeat of New York University and home to the famous Washington Square Arch. It’s fun to people-watch here by the giant fountain in the middle if it’s a sunny day.

If you’re a dog creeper like me, head to the dog parks in the southwest corner to gawk at all the adorable New York canines. There’s also often plenty of street performers if that’s your thing. Remember to tip your performers if you enjoy their work!

Wander west to the West Village

Keep walking west on 4th Street/Washington Square South and explore the West Village. It’s easy to get lost here, as the streets snarl and confuse in the most delightful, Alice-in-Wonderlandian of ways… For example, West 4th intersects with West 10th, and Waverly Place intersects with itself. Logical.

Walk until you’ve worked up an appetite, then find a place for brunch – that most New York of meals.. A few favorites are Westville for some unpretentious veggie-friendly fare, Tartine for decadent French food (which you’ll likely have to wait in line for – the quintessential New York experience), or Jack’s Wife Freda for delicious Middle Eastern food. Those on a budget can grab a delicious falafel at Taïm – I love their sweet potato falafel.

But perhaps the coolest place to have lunch is at The Little Owl – which is the delicious restaurant beneath the apartment from Friends! If you’re a fan of the classic sitcom, you’ve got to make a quick lunch stop here, if not to pay homage to the show then at least to eat some delicious food (I love the gravy meatball sliders, yum!)

Alternate idea: explore the Village through your stomach! This Greenwich Village food tour covers the history of the Village from the perspective of a local, taking 3 hours and including 6 tastings, including New York classics like the hot dog, a true New York deli sandwich, pizza, and other secret treats that will be revealed on the day of the tour.

»» Book your Village food + walking tour here! «« 

There aren’t too many landmarks in the West Village: mostly you’ll be gawking at the beautiful brownstones and philosophizing about the moral lows you’d sink to in order to be able to afford an apartment here (let’s just say that Friends wasn’t exactly realistic…).

There are a few notable historic pubs in the West Village, and that’s about it for sights. Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street has been the heart of the gay rights movement, since the riots that took place there in 1969. As you walk north towards Chelsea, stop at or pass by the White Horse Tavern, the former watering hole for musical and literary legends like Bob Dylan, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jack Kerouac. I recommend ordering a whiskey neat, no matter the time of day, and feeling like a BAMF.

Hit up the incredible (and incredibly busy) Chelsea Market

Keep walking north and you’ll hit the Chelsea Market on 9th Avenue and 15th street. Give a big fat middle finger to the Anthropologie store there, where I slowly lost my sanity working for 18 months (kidding/not kidding). Continue inside to some of the gourmet shops within the Chelsea Market.

A few favorites are Fat Witch for insanely good brownies, the Chelsea Wine Vault for super-knowledgeable wine sellers (and sometimes free tastings!), the Doughnuttery for adorable mini-donuts, Heatonist for artisan hot sauces, Los Tacos No. 1 for surprisingly authentic and delicious tacos (certified by a Californian),  and Num Pang sandwich shop for delicious banh mi.

If you just need coffee, 9th Street Espresso has some amazing iced coffee and great espresso drinks. You can also go on a Chelsea Market food tour!

Stroll the highline, New York’s elevated park

5 days in New York itinerary

I recommend getting at least some sort of thing to snack on to-go, as you’ll be walking The Highline next. Depending on the time of year and time of day, this can alternate between lovely and so ridiculously crowded that it’s not anywhere close to enjoyable.

If you need to retreat from the crowds, Terroir Wine Bar is one of the best places to day drink and hide from people. If the crowds aren’t so bad, enjoy the view of fancy buildings and some street art, and walk up to about 20th or 23rd Street.

Snag a great view of NYC with a quick midday cocktail

Exiting the Highline on 23rd street, walk east until you reach the Flatiron Building on 5th Avenue. This is a great spot for photos and it’s one of my favorite buildings in New York.

If you want a view from above, check out 230 FIFTH which has a cool rooftop bar. Drinks are overpriced, but it’s worth it for an epic view over the city, with an especially great view of the Empire State Building — New York’s most iconic.

Be surrounded by books

Keep heading north towards 42 Street. You can stop at the Morgan Library & Museum on Madison Avenue along the way but it’s rather expensive at about $20. But for book nerds, admission to Pierpont Morgan’s 1906 Library alone is worth the cost of admission. Up to you.

From there, walk towards the New York Public Library with its famous twin lion statues. The architecture of the building is stunning: marble floors, ceiling murals, chandeliers — this ain’t your average public library, that’s for sure. The Rose Room is the most famous part of the library, so be sure not to miss it!

Marvel at the ceiling of Grand Central

Finally, stop off at Grand Central Station, a New York landmark for its beautiful vaulted ceilings. This place is amazing for photographs and just for watching the chaotic symphony of New Yorkers going about their nightly commutes.

If you feel really classy, stop for dinner at the Grand Central Oyster Bar. If you’re poor like the rest of us, check out this guide to some of New York’s best cheap eats (psst- this is a great time to visit a branch of Xi’An Famous Foods — there’s one on 45th Street!)

Cap off your night with a 2 hour night lights harbor cruise (better for kids) or a romantic champagne sailing cruise (better for couples) to see some gorgeous skyline views of New York. Keep in mind food and beverages are not included so plan accordingly.

5 days in New York: Day 3

Uptown, Museums, Central Park, & More

Start the day with a great view of the city

This post is assuming you’ll pick one of the main observation decks in midtown NYC, either Top of the Rock of the Empire State. I prefer the Top of the Rock because you can see the Empire State Building, my favorite building in the entire city.

However, many people prefer to go up the Empire State Building itself (or go to both). Besides the view, the lobby is incredible: murals of 24K gold and aluminum leaf form a beautiful art deco tapestry, and the Dare to Dream exhibition detailing the construction of the building is quite fascinating.

If you visit the Empire State, I strongly recommend getting a skip-the-line ticket like this one. The general ticket will result in a lot of queueing and isn’t really worth it, especially given how little time you have in New York. For extra speediness, opt for the Express ticket which lets you skip all the lines and has a flex date feature so you can visit any day within one month of your chosen date, so in case the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can easily visit a different day.

»» Book your express skip-the-line ticket here to save time «« 

However, many people pick the Top of the Rock because you can get great views of the Empire State Building. And in my opinion, the Empire State is the best part, so if you’re going to spring for one or the other on your New York itinerary, make it the Top of the Rock.

I never did it when I lived in New York, and went for the first time earlier this year. It’s amazing and well worth the price, I think (just make sure you go on a good weather day!). Take in a view of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building and be sure to snap plenty of photos for Instagram so you really get your money’s worth.

Note: Again, if you hate lines as much as I do, I strongly recommend that you buy your tickets in advance online. If you just show up to buy your ticket in person, you likely won’t be able to get in right away and will have to come back at a later time – or even a later day – therefore waiting in line not once, but twice. If this is something you want to do, do not save it until the last day as there is a decent chance you won’t be able to get in.

PS – the guys running the line at Top of the Rock make the TSA (American airport security) seem like warm, friendly puppies. Don’t take it personally. 

Visit some of Midtown’s landmarks

Afterwards, stop by the iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral just across the street. This is probably the most impressive religious structure in all of New York, and a definite must-visit regardless of your religion (or irreligion, as the case may be). Entry is, blissfully, free.

Next, visit the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art). This museum is absolutely massive but you’d be a fool to miss it, as it has probably the best collection of modern art in the entire world. If Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night isn’t being loaned out elsewhere, this is the place to see it!

They also have fantastic temporary exhibits in addition to great impressionist art. Note that if you’re on a budget, you can visit for free on Friday nights, so keep that in mind and maybe prioritize a visit then. Skip-the-line tickets are also available if you’re not planning to visit on a free Friday, which I definitely recommend investing in as the lines here can get cray.

»» Pre-book your tickets to the MoMA here «« 

Pop over to Columbus Circle, the gateway to Central Park

Next up, walk towards Columbus Circle. You can pop into the iconic Tiffany’s on Fifth Ave if you’re an Audrey Hepburn fan (don’t forget your danish and to-go coffee – you can skip the evening gloves though). The famous Plaza Hotel is another well-known film spot, home to works of art such as Home Alone 2 😉 Still, the lobby is absolutely stunning, and definitely worth popping into.

Foodie note: this part of New York is where culinary dreams go to die, unless you’re insanely rich and can afford to eat at places like Jean Georges where you’ll easily spend upwards of $100 per person. There’s very little in the way of good restaurants to eat around here. Most will be just above decent, but priced atrociously expensively. The Infatuation is my favorite guide to New York restaurants, and here are their recommendations for the culinary hellhole that is the area around Columbus Circle. I’ve never eaten at any of these so I can’t vouch for anything personally.

Instead, I recommend just grabbing something simple — now might be a good time for some street meat, aka halal. You can’t go wrong with chicken over rice (if you’re extra hungry and screaming for carbs I recommend asking for a pita on top too.) Careful with the hot sauce – it’s super hot, and the guys will go crazy with it if you say you like it spicy. I don’t have any particular place to recommend, just look for somewhere relatively busy and well-trafficked.

Get lost in Central Park

Now that you’re fed, you’re at the gateway to Central Park. Central Park is almost like a city unto itself. What you do in Central Park depends on what you’re interested in. If it’s just people-watching and strolling, walk away — you’ve got literal miles of walkways to choose from. For a more scenic side, check out the Lake near the Central Park Boathouse Restaurant. If you’re a Beatles fan, check out Strawberry Fields, dedicated to John Lennon (this is where you’ll find the famous “Imagine” memorial where people often leave flowers). The best people-watching and chilling spot is Sheep Meadow – watch out for topless hippies (it is legal for ladies to be topless in NYC, FYI – #freethenipple!).

There’s also Belvedere Castle, the Friedsam Memorial Carouselthe Conservatory Garden, and the famous Alice in Wonderland statue — so go on a treasure hunt for these if you feel like it! If you really want to cover Central Park in depth, some companies offer affordable guided walking tours.

Visit New York’s (or even the world’s) best art museum

another fun thing to do in New York for first timers!

After relaxing in the park for a bit, it’s time to get your culture on. The Met (short for the Metropolitan Museum of Art) is an absolute must-see, if not for the art, at least for the amazing architecture and iconic steps.

Admission used to be pay what you wish — as of 2018, it’s now a steep $25 for out of towners. It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s well worth the cost of admission, as there’s really something for everyone here. Since you have to pay the mandatory fee now, you might as well book online and skip the line for no added charge.

There are countless things to see here, so just pick a few rooms and focus on those. There’s simply no way to see it all. My favorites are the Impressionists, the Egyptian section, the Native American art, and the insanely luxurious European applied arts on the first floor.

If you’re not an art fan or if you have young kids in tow, the American Museum of Natural History is also fantastic (book tickets in advance here to avoid lines).

I’ve come here at least 10 times (hello, teacher days!) and it’s incredible each and every time. The dinosaur skeleton replicas cannot be missed! Also, don’t forget to take in a show at the Hayden Planetarium, where Neil de Grasse Tyson’s butter-like voice will soothe you as he takes you through a ridiculously psychedelic cosmic journey.

Dine somewhere nearby

By around now, it’ll probably be close to dinner time. Despite my many years living in the city, I still don’t know this part of town well for restaurants, so I’ll direct you to the Infatuation yet again for recommendations on where to eat near The Met or Eater for where to eat near the Natural History Museum.

Both the Upper East & West Side are rather on the expensive side, so if you’re trying to save some cash, head down to Hell’s Kitchen east of Times Square for some delicious Thai food. I love Wondee Siam for traditional Thai and Larb Ubol for the spicier Thai food from the Isan region.

Visit Times Square all lit up at night

A must for New york newbies - Times square!

And of course, end the night taking in the bright lights of Times Square! Yeah, Times Square is a bit of a shitshow, but it’s a quintessential New York itinerary stop for a reason.

By day, it’s easy to get angsty at the aggressive Elmos and ladies in body paint hounding you for photos, but at night even I find Times Square dumbfounding, and – at risk of having my New Yorker license revoked – a bit magical.

5 days in New York: Day 4

Off the Beaten Path: Food & Culture in Queens

Quick note: Queens is probably my favorite borough in New York. It lacks the freneticness of Manhattan and the relentless hipper-than-thou feel of North Brooklyn. It’s underrated as hell, and you should definitely save one of your 5 days in New York City for it. I’m going to lead you through all my favorite parts of it on a one-day epic Queens tour.

Start your day at the Roosevelt Island tram

What to do in New York in 5 days - ride the Roosevelt Island cable car

Start your day with a scenic gondola ride in New York — all for the price of a MetroCard swipe (that’ll be $2.75, unless the MTA has further price-gouged since I was in NYC last June, which is quite probable). You’ll be taking the Roosevelt Island Tram, which has an entrance in the Upper East Side of Manhattan on 60th street and 2nd Avenue (closest subway stop: Lexington Ave-59th St., NQR or 456 trains), with excellent views of both Uptown and Long Island City.

The views are what you’re really going for, here, as Roosevelt Island isn’t that exciting – it’s just a residential area. If you want, you can take something called the Red Bus, which will take you around the island for 25 cents. Or you can just hop on the F train and make your way over to Queens.

Stroll around Long Island City

Start in Long Island City, the neighborhood right across from Manhattan.

You can check out some interesting contemporary art at P.S.1 (a branch of MoMA – your ticket to the MoMA should get you free admission here). There used to be some amazing graffiti right nearby here at 5 Pointz, but they got destroyed in order to make room for condos – sadly, not that unusual in NYC these days.

Afterwards, take the quick walk over to Gantry Plaza State Park for some of the best views of Upper Manhattan and the 59th Street Bridge.

Hop back on the subway (or walk if you’re feeling ambitious) to the next museum worth seeing in Queens – the Museum of the Moving Image, which explores the history of cinema through interactive exhibits as well as frequent showings.

You’re probably getting hungry – but don’t get tempted to eat just yet! Next stop is Jackson Heights, one of the most diverse ZIP codes in the entire United States.

Eat your way through NYC’s most diverse & delicious neighborhood

Get off the subway there and walk in a variety of different directions depending on what your heart desires for food. Himalayan food reigns supreme here. My favorite is Lhasa Fast Food which is quite literally hidden in the back of a phone shop. But Patola Cart‘s street stall is a close second for delicious momos (Tibetan dumplings).

There’s also plenty of other options: Rajbhog or Dosa Delight for Indian dosas and chaat, the various Mexican street carts lining Roosevelt Avenue between 75th and 85th street which make insanely good sandwiches (tortas/cemitas), the list goes on and on… Thai food is especially well-represented with a walk 10 minutes away to to nearby Elmhurst where Khao Kang is a standout amongst other perfectly good Thai choices.

Head to Flushing Meadows

Next up is the Queens Museum at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. I know, I know, another museum — but stay with me here because this one is special! This hosts an entirely miniature version of New York City that contains almost 900,000 structures, literally every building in the city that existed before 1992. 

You can continue checking out Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which is Queens’ answer to Central Park. The coolest thing to see are the leftover structures from two former World’s Fairs that were hosted here: in addition to the mini-NYC you saw at the Queens Museum, you can also find a 12-story globe (the Unisphere) and a UFO-shaped pavilion.

The New York Hall of Science is also here, and great for little kids if you happen to be schlepping them around with you – or if you’re a kid at heart. You could also check out the Queens Botanical Garden here if you are so inclined!

Explore NYC’s biggest and best Chinatown

Finally, you’ll stop in my favorite part of Queens: Flushing Main Street. Exiting the train at Main Street-Flushing is pretty much the closest thing to going to China. It’s pandemonium for the senses in all the best possible ways.

I have way too many recommendations on where to eat here, but here goes: Dumpling Galaxy for dumplings (or the original Tianjin Dumpling House located in the Golden Shopping Mall), White Bear for spicy wontons, Spicy & Tasty for decent Sichuan food, Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao for Shanghai soup dumplings, orrrr go full Korean with some KBBQ at Mapo (recommended if you’re traveling with a group as KBBQ for one is a bit depressing, not that I speak from experience….).

If your feet are tired, you can get pampered with a $20 per hour foot massage at nearby Coco Spa, just around the corner from the Golden Shopping Mall. Just beware that they will hound you for tips and that $20 massage can easily become $30 if you’re a pushover like me.

Read Next: 37 Ways to Get Off the Beaten Path in NYC

5 Days in New York: Day 5

A perfect Saturday in Hipster Brooklyn

*NOTE: If one of your days in New York happens to be a Saturday, shuffle around this itinerary to make this day your Brooklyn day so you can check out Smorgasburg and the Brooklyn Flea.*

Have breakfast like a true New Yorker

There are so many cool things to do in Brooklyn, so get an early start today. If you haven’t had the classic bacon egg & cheese from an NYC bodega (deli) yet, this is when I advise you to do so! Literally any bodega will do, even though there are better ones than others… but if you’ve only got 5 days in New York you’ve got to prioritize.

Head to Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Then, start the morning at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Depending on the time of year, you may see tulips, cherry blossoms, or beautiful fall foliage. Either way, don’t miss the Japanese-inspired section: super beautiful.

After a morning stroll through the Botanic Garden, pop into the Brooklyn Museum (admission is suggested, so pay as you wish) for a quick perusal. They usually have some cool exhibits, so pick one or two floors to scan.

Visit Brooklyn’s main library and Prospect Park

Walk to the Brooklyn Public Library and marvel at the beautiful architecture and pop your head inside if you wish.

You can stroll through the farmer’s market at Grand Army Plaza just across the street before dipping into Prospect Park for a quick walk.

Hit up Brooklyn’s hippest neighborhood

Next, and head to Williamsburg for the Saturday Brooklyn Flea. I recommend taking an Uber or cab, as subway connections between north and south Brooklyn suck since you have to transfer in Manhattan or take the G train, which almost never shows up except for when you’re entering the subway station and then you’re too late because it’s inexplicably half the length a regular subway car….

Next, it’s time to check out Smorgasburg for lunch. Be sure to get there well before it closes at 4 PM. Smorgasburg is pretty much the birthplace of many Insta-famous food trends, like the notorious Ramen Burger, so be prepared to wait in line and pay a bit more than you’d like. It’s still a worthwhile experience for New York first-timers.

Check out Brooklyn’s thriving street art scene

Now it’s time to walk off all the insane concoctions you’ve put in your stomach. Luckily, some amazing street art isn’t far away. Kent Avenue in Williamsburg has some great murals, and same with nearby Wythe Avenue. For more specific information on where to find Williamsburg street art, check here.

If you’re crazy for street art, you might want to head to Bushwick and see some more of it at the famous Bushwick Collective and more – it’s just a few stops over on the L train. There’s plenty of art you can see just wandering around, but if you prefer more structure, there are also affordable guided walking tours of Bushwick’s street art.

If you’re staying in Williamsburg, you can indulge in a spot of vintage shopping, hipster spotting, and café hopping. Beacon’s Closet is one of NYC’s best thrift stores and it’s fun to peruse some of the tacky wares there. Bedford Avenue, trendy as it is, is also home to countless quality coffee shops (and the delicious Van Leeuwen ice cream truck!) if you need to take a break and rest your feet.

Have a fun night out in Brooklyn

To end the night, you have countless bars are your disposal in Williamsburg and Bushwick — this is pretty much the going out capital of young New York. Night of Joy in Williamsburg has one of my favorite happy hours in all of New York — daily from 5 to 8 PM with $6 delicious cocktails.

A few other favorites include Bar Matchless for a dive bar (also great on Two-for-Tuesday), Berry Park for Manhattan skyline views, and Spritzenhaus for a German beer hall feel.

In Bushwick, I love Heavy Woods and Cobra Club.

Where to Stay in New York

New York is expensive to visit and the fact that it has virtually no off-season doesn’t help. Generally, the season between January-March is a bit slower because the weather is crap but all the Christmas tourists have left. You may be able to find a good deal on a nice hotel during those months, but the rest of the time, New York is expensive. 

Virtually everywhere in Manhattan is pretty well connected, and even neighborhoods like Times Square can sometimes be a surprisingly affordable option at times. If you look outside of Manhattan, there are some deals to be found, but you may spend more of your time in transit than you like unless you’re in waterfront neighborhoods like Astoria, Long Island City, Williamsburg, and DUMBO. However these areas are all quite trendy now, so you might not even save money by staying outside of Manhattan!

Airbnb is an option, but keep in mind that NYC has been hit super hard with an apartment shortage leading to astronomical rent inflation. If you choose to use Airbnb, it’s more sustainable for locals if you rent out a room in their apartment rather than a full apartment, as whole apartments tend to be used full-time as unregulated hotels. Plus you get an insight into the fascinating creatures that are New Yorkers 😉

Budget (around $50 a night): America is notoriously bad when it comes to hostels, and New York is really no exception. I’ve never stayed at a hostel in NYC, but HI New York seems to have the best blend of low budget and high ratings. Chelsea Pods has the best options for single rooms if you prefer a bit of privacy at a low price, but the reviews appear mixed, so do your research first.

Mid-range: For the best savings, check out modern hotels that do away with things like receptionists and concierges in favor of self-check in and other automated systems. YOTEL and citizenM come to mind and both are conveniently located in Times Square which, for all its hecticness, is one of the most central locations for public transportation in all of New York. I haven’t tried a YOTEL property before but I am a big fan of citizenM having stayed at their location in Shoreditch, London, so that would be my personal recommendation if you can afford it.

Luxury: There is basically no end to the amount of luxury options in New York. From classics like The Plaza to newer, more niche offerings like The Library Hotel, you’re spoiled for choice on this end of the spectrum.

What to Budget for New York

Yes, New York is expensive, but it’s not the most expensive place I’ve ever been (here’s looking at you, Switzerland). Here are a few average costs so you can get an idea of what you’ll spend your money on.

A weekly subway pass: $32
A cappuccino at a café: $4-5
Street food and super-cheat eats: $3-5 per meal
Average sit-down restaurant: $15-20 per meal, including tax & tip but no alcohol
A night out: $6-7 for a beer, $8 for a mixed drink or wine, and $10-15 for a cocktail
Average museum entry: $15-20, but keep in mind many have pay-as-you-wish admission

For an average day, I’d budget $30-50 for food (though you certainly can do with less if you research, as New York has a great cheap eats scene, where you can get a full meal for less than $10), $20 if you want to add drinks, $6 for transit, and $30 for activities. That’s $66 to 106 per day — and not even counting the roof over your head!

Depending on where you sleep (and if you’re traveling solo vs. with a partner or friends), you’ll want to add another $50-150 to that total – and that’s on the budget end of the spectrum. I’d say at a minimum, you want to budget $150 per day, but $250 would give you more wiggle room. To extrapolate out to budget for 5 days in NYC, you can expect to spend around $750 but you will be more comfortable with $1250. If you have friends to stay with, though, that will slash a lot of money off your budget.

Reminder: As expensive as New York is, please make sure you also budget for travel insurance on your trip to NYC. I use World Nomads Explorer Plan to cover me on all my trips. It’s inexpensive and can save your butt in an emergency.

In Summary…

So there you have it — my ultimate, 6000+ word plus 5 days in New York itinerary! I’ll stop now before my fingers fall off. If you have a 6th day, I recommend checking out the Bronx — see a game at Yankee Stadium, visit the New York Botanic Garden, or stroll along the real Little Italy along Arthur Avenue. I have a whole lot more ideas covered in my 37 ways to get off the beaten path in NYC post.

I hope you enjoyed this exhaustive, exhausting itinerary to seeing New York in 5 days. It’s taken me nearly two years to feel like I had enough distance from the city to write out a comprehensive guide that I think first-timers, as well as repeat visitors, will enjoy.

If you have any questions about New York, I’m happy to give guidance in the comments!

Read Next: 30 NYC Tips For First-Time Visitors

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