So you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple… the City of Dreams, the Concrete Jungle… and, in my opinion- the greatest city in the World.
If it’s your first time, you’ve got some serious ground to cover! There are some staples that you simply have to do at least once in NYC, (even if they are tourist traps ;) ) but there are so many hidden gems that the city has to offer and I believe they deserve some shine too! If you haven’t visited yet, I hope that this blog posts makes you want to book a ticket right away… and if you’ve already been, I hope reading this makes you want to come again with a completely new itinerary.
I’ll be honest, the things I love to do more than anything in NYC is eat and walk, so most of what your about to read consists of where to eat. Though I’m not a ‘food blogger’, rest assured I know how to eat, and I do it well! So without further ado, let’s jump right into my favorite thing to do in NYC!
This one gets the top spot on my list because not only do they have phenomenal food, but the environment in this place makes you feel like you’ve been dropped down the rabbit hole straight into high tea with Alice in Wonderland. This is my go-to brunch spot that I like to bring my friends to because just being there makes me happy. They have a covered garden courtyard in the center of the restaurant that is a lovely oasis in the winter and opens up in the warmer months. Filled weekly with fresh cut flowers, this place is well worth the reservation. Added bonus- it’s my favorite neighborhood in Manhattan-the West Village so I recommend taking the subway and walking through the neighborhood.
Since I’ve already taken you to the West Village for brunch, let’s continue on down Bleeker Street and head to Murray’s Cheese Bar shall we? Murray's started out first as a cheese shop in 1940 (just a few doors down from the bar) but has expanded to the bar (restaurant) and also a mac and cheese bar on the corner now as well! If you love cheese, you will LOVE Murray’s. This is one of my favorite places to eat alone and just vibe out with a glass of Malbec and a spread of the best meats and cheeses I’ve ever had. They have Happy Hour Mon-Thurs from 4-6 and Fri 12-6 which doesn’t happy often in the city!
Now that I’ve stuffed you with brunch and a plate full of cheese, it’s time for a lovely stroll over to Hudson Street in the West Village to visit Sweet Corner Bakeshop. This place holds a special place in my heart. Many people don’t know that I was an aspiring baker for about a decade after college. I’ve baked cookies, pies, cakes, pretty much anything my sweet tooth could think of since I was a kid and had a real knack for it. After college I started making cakes on the side and had business cards and all! (I called it the “Sweet Tooth Cakery”) But alas, that dream began to fade as it made way for others and now I just bake for my nephews and God children mostly. My point in getting into all this is that if I had continued down that baking path, I would have wanted my shop to be just like Sweet Corner. It’s an adorable little shop that has a few tables and chairs outside and some bar seating inside. They goodies they create are just so special, like their Nutella hearts that are “made to be broken” and the seasonal creations like this year’s Unicorn Easter chocolate eggs. Should you need a very special cake, for a very special person (or treat yo self?), the owner Rodolfo makes amazing cake designs that have won him the Winner Cake All Championship on the Food network!
What brings me coming back to this wonderful, unpretentious bakeshop time and time again is their cookies. They’re known for their cheesecake-stuffed chocolate chip, Nutella-stuffed red velvet, sea salt chocolate chip and, my personal favorite, the blackout brookie. Pro tip- when you order ask them to heat your cookie and enjoy the gooey, chocolatey goodness right away.
Moving North about 10 blocks, you’ll hit Chelsea Market. Home to some seriously good eats and definitely worth a stroll or two through to take it (smell it) all in. If you exit Chelsea Market on 9th street and hang a left, you’ll immediately run into the massive from door of Buddakan NYC. Described as “asian fusion”, they have an absolutely mouth-watering menu and the decor inside is a feast for the eyes as well. I’ve sat in every room in Buddakan and am completely convinced there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The service is as impeccable as the food (I have a shellfish allergy and they always are incredibly accommodating to make sure I don’t go into anaphylactic shock which is always appreciated haha). My menu must-haves are their oxtail dumplings, the vegetable fried rice and the Broken Chili Chicken. Although, if you’re going with a party of 6-14, I recommend getting the Chef’s tasting! It’s a TON of food and you get a taste of almost everything. Make sure you make reservations in advance for this place!
If you’re looking for really great food with a lighter price tag, my friends Justin and Tommy introduced me to an amazing Thai restaurant in the East Village called Klong. They have an incredible Happy Hour and even better Pad Thai! I recommend calling ahead to make sure you get a table, the wait is usually 30-60 mins. If you do end up having to wait though, head across the street to Barcade. It’s part bar, part arcade and has all of the nostalgic games from my childhood. Ms.Pacman, Galaga, Tetris, Street Fighter… so go ahead and choose Chun Li and kick some ass while you wait ;)
If eating with a view is more your thing, Eataly downtown has a dining room with incredible views of the World Trade Center’s Freedom Tower and Memorial Pools. And then there is the Eataly location in the Flatiron that boasts a gorgeous rooftop that is decorated seasonally called Serra. The rooftop is often crowded so make sure you book your table in advance. (There is also a bar on the roof that is first come, first serve) I love Eataly for larger groups that maybe can’t decide on one place because there are several restaurants inside each location so everyone can grab a plate of what they want and you can reconvene afterwards.
Perfect for date nights and more intimate evenings, I’d argue that this restaurant has the best view of the NYC skyline, but you’ll have to travel to Williamsburg, Brooklyn to get it. At the top of the Westlight Hotel is their rooftop bar and restaurant. The walls are all floor-to-ceiling windows so you really cannot go wrong with any seat in the house. Reservations are a must, and if you have a reservation you won’t have to wait in line downstairs to get it. Simply walk up to the person manning the elevator and let them know you have a reservation (Thanks to my friend Emily for introducing me to this place and that skip-the-line tip).
Now that we’ve covered some of my favorite restaurants throughout the city, let’s move on to quick-eats. Everything in NYC moves fast, sometimes you only have a few minutes to grab a bite in between the chaos, so why not make it a really good bite?
I've only had dessert and coffee at Palette, but it's always such an immersive, happy experience! Located on the Beauty level of Bergdorf Goodman, is this cafe tucked away from the crowds of 5th Ave. The entire cafe was curated by one of my favorite artists, Ashley Longshore and it is sure to put you in a good mood just stepping foot inside.
I was a picky eater as a kid and a teenager which turned me into somewhat of a chicken tender connoisseur. That being said, Sticky’s has the best chicken tenders and nuggets I’ve ever had in my life, without even a close second other than homemade. There are several shops sprinkled around Manhattan so just search for Sticky’s on the GPS and it’ll take you there. This chicken is good enough to eat plain, but if you want to spice up your life, go for the buffalo balsamic blue or the vampire killer flavors!
If chicken isn’t your thing, or even if it is, make sure to grab a burger at Shake Shack so that you can participate in the age old In N’ Out versus Shake Shack competition! I was introduced to Shake Shack years ago at a Mets game and instantly fell in love. Personally, I feel like their crinkle cut fries give them the winning edge. They’re also all over the city so there’s bound to be one close to wherever you are.
At least you know one thing for sure in NYC- you won’t go hungry. I’ve got just a few more food recommendations and then we’re on to the sight seeing!
No trip to NYC is complete without a Bagel. I have two favorite spots for bagels- one is Pick A Bagel in Midtown Manhattan and the other is Have A Bagel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I’m a huge blueberry bagel fan and if you get there early enough some of the bagels are still hot! For more of a hearty breakfast, the bacon, egg and cheese on an egg bagel never lets me down!
I can’t let you leave NYC without a pizza recommendation either! If you are anywhere close to Bushwick, Brooklyn you’ve got to head to Roberta’s for their ‘Bee Sting’ pizza. It’s a little sweet, a little spicy and a lot of delicious. If you’re looking for pizza in Manhattan, Made in New York pizza is great (upper west side) as well as Prince Street Pizza in Nolita. Then there is the hidden gem pizzeria inside Penn Station- their slice of plain cheese is SO. FREAKING. GOOD.
And if you feel completely overwhelmed with my suggestions and don’t know where to go, just head to Smorgasburg. I like to describe it as a food festival that just keeps going. They have incredible food vendors with every kind of cuisine you can possibly imagine and now have locations in WTC, Hudson Yards, Prospect Park and Williamsburg. Check out their website for days and times as each market is open on different days.
Alright, now that you’re salivating, let’s dig into my favorite sights of New York! I’m going to do this geographically so that if you wanted to start and work your way through the list in a weekend, you won’t have to bounce all over the city.
We’re going to start in the Upper West Side (UWS) at the American Museum of Natural History- my favorite museum in New York! If you take the subway up, the stop has some fun tile decorated with all kinds of wildlife. Once inside you can really take your time and make a day of it, or get right down to business and head for the T-Rex on the 4th floor.
Once you’ve got your fill of the natural inside the museum, you can stop into Made In New York pizza to grab a slice, or head a few blocks East to Central Park. I love starting at Strawberry Fields (enter the park at 72nd) and following the path to the center of the park and one of the most picturesque spots- Bethesda Fountain.
Continue heading East through the Park and you’ll get to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Their Egyptian Art exhibit is awesome and includes the Temple of Dendur that was completed by 10 B.C. and gifted to the US in the 1960’s!
If you aren’t completely museumed-out, you can head back to Central Park and walk South through the Mall walkway (this tree-lined walkway is stunningly gorgeous in the fall when the leaves are changing) that will lead you to the southern end of the park. Aim to come out around 6th Ave and walk south to run into the MoMA. Grab a coffee on the balcony in the museum’s cafe before taking in Van Gogh’s The Starry Night painting and Monet’s Reflection of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond.
Just a few blocks South on 6th Ave will run you into Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center. Grab a ticket to head to the Top of the Rock and get views of the entire city on a clear day. If it’s overcast it probably won’t be worth it as you won’t be able to see very far. Around the Holidays, snag a ticket to see the Rockettes in the Christmas Spectacular show to really get you in the spirit.
Another must-do around the holidays is the Christmas Village in Bryant Park. The park fills up with all types of artisan booths and of course- there’s an ice skating rink! You can also ice skate at the rink in Rockefeller center, I just recommend checking the line because it gets very busy.
Grand Central Station is just a few blocks east if you’re alright with a small detour. There is so much history in this building I feel like it is a must-see. Look up the secrets of Grand Central online to turn it into somewhat of a scavenger hunt as you visit! The station is also home to The Campbell Apartment- former apartment of financier John W. Campbell turned cocktail lounge. It is incredible to have a drink in- but you’re going to pay for the ambiance much like you do everywhere in NYC.
Heading South down Broadway will eventually run you into Macy’s Herald Square! Though not the original store, this flagship has been here since 1901. And it. is. MASSIVE! Ten floors of shopper’s delight, including a few cafes to rest your feet and load up on caffeine ;) Make sure to check out the second floor shoe gallery, it’s the kind of place dreams are made of.
Just a block East you’ll find the Empire State building in all of its glory. Head to the top on a clear day for an awesome view! Or if you’d rather view the building itself, 230 fifth rooftop is where you want to be!
The iconic Flatiron building is off of the same street a the Empire State Building, just 10 blocks down. When it was originally built in 1902, it was only 1 of 2 “skyscrapers” north of 14th street and one of the tallest buildings in the city at 20 floors high. There’s a ton of great shopping in the flatiron district as well as one of the Eataly locations in case you’re starting to get hungry!
If you have an interest in astrology, the Flatiron area is where my Astrologer, Anna- A Song of Sparrows, is located. She is an incredible person and having her create and read my birth chart for me was spectacular. You’ll need to book this weeks in advance of course since she does so much research into your chart before your appointment and you’ll also need to know the exact time and location of your birth.
If you continue South past the Flatiron, you’ll run into Union Square which has a ton of shopping and food as well (there’s a sticky’s finger joint close by). But south of Union square I where the magic is. Home to Greenwich (pronounced “gren-itch”) Village, Soho, Little Italy and the West and East Villages. These are my favorite neighborhoods in Manhattan to just stroll around. Checkout Artists and Fleas in Soho to “treat yo self” to a piece of artisan jewelry to commemorate your visit… it’ll look better on you than an I <3 NY t-shirt will, trust me on this.
Another amazing stop in Soho is Bite Beauty's Lip Lab. Behind the polished doors of the quaint little shop lies a sleek countertop, walls complete with lip-print wallpaper, and your shot at making your very own custom lipstick shade- all the way down to the finish and scent! I've had the chance to visit a few times and get asked constantly what lipstick I'm wearing when I'm wearing my custom nude shade. You can stop in, but I'd recommend make an appointment here first just to be safe.
Once you’re done strolling the quaint streets of lower Manhattan, grab a cab and head to the WTC Memorial pools to reflect and walk around downtown. You can actually grab the bull ‘by the balls’ at the Charging Bull statue at Bowling Green, or snag a pic standing your ground beside the Fearless Girl statue at the NYSE. Battery Park at the very end of Manhattan offers a great view of the Statue of Liberty, but if you want to visit the island and head up to the pedestal of Lady Liberty, you’ll need to book your tickets a few months in advance.
Now here is a question for you… if you visit NYC, but don’t take a picture on the Brooklyn Bridge, does that visit even count? If you answered no to that, then your next stop is the Brooklyn Bridge! If you said yes, your next stop should still be the Brooklyn Bridge because it is just a wicked cool walk with incredible views and some seriously instagram-worthy shots. Once you make it over to the Brooklyn side of the bridge, head to over to Melt Bakery to reward yourself with an ice cream sandwich (as if you even need a reason for an ice cream sandwich!)
Although this isn’t geographically correct, I’ve saved this for the end because in real life, I kind of dread heading into TS even though all of my family requests to go there when they visit. I’m going to let you in on a secret… majority, if not all New Yorkers despise TS. It is completely packed with people and it makes you feel like cattle walking from block to block in droves. But… it’s still a must see because it’s like no other place in the World. The massive billboards, bright lights, people dressed in creepy character costumes and overpriced chain restaurants just has something magical about them. Magical enough to bring around 1 million people into the square every New Year’s Eve and magical enough for about 1 BILLION others to tune in to watch the iconic ball drop. If you’re visiting TS for NYE, be warned there are so many people you won’t really be able to move so don’t get caught there if you don’t want to be. If visiting with little ones keep a hand held at ALL times or carry them- no matter what time of year.
TS is home to a few of my other favorite things in New York, so even if you don’t visit for the lights and splendor, visit for these places…
Located on 45th street just west of 7th Ave, Junior’s was originally established as a Brooklyn staple. This location has a very large dining room sitting indoor and outdoor, but I mostly visit the small bakery just beside it that serves all of their delicious desserts! )My favorite is their original cheesecake topped with strawberries) You can also have their cakes delivered around the US, so if you want to send your favorite Aunt something around Christmas, rest assured Junior’s Cheesecake won’t disappoint.
Even if you “don’t like plays”, I still recommend going to at least 1 show on Broadway in NYC. Some of my favorites that are out right now are Wicked, Mean Girls and Beetlejuice. They usually have a matinee in the daytime around 2pm, and a night show around 7 or 8pm (however there aren’t matinees everyday so check the schedule). A great way to get tickets is in Time Square’s TKTS location. TKTS sells day-of tickets for amazing prices, but they only get what is left over for that day so there could be a chance the show you want to see won’t be available. Nonetheless, go with an open mind and you'll be sure to score a great deal. They also have a location in South Street Seaport if you’re down that way and want to check it out- both locations have access to the same tickets.
C’mon guys, you should have known I wouldn’t finish an NYC blog without including my sanctuary away from the madness! Just a few months ago Sephora opened it’s largest location in the US right smack in Times Square. So if you’ve forgotten any beauty products on this trip, want to discover some new finds, or just escape the mayhem of the TS… come on in!
There you have it! My guide to my favorite things to do in NYC. Cheers to hoping the next time you come to town you try out a couple of them! If you have any NYC gems that you love to visit, I would love to hear about them! Sound off in the comments!