Updated: May 20, 2022
We absolutely love New York City. The energy is intoxicating, the skyline is spectacular and the food is constantly surprising. We are lucky to have been numerous times and even lived there briefly, so it aways feels like home. However, the speed of life and towering scale of Manhattan can feel overwhelming on a first time visit and many visitors don’t go beyond well trodden Mid Town sights and Times Sq. They are massively missing out. So, here’s our tips on how to get the most out of this dazzling city that never sleeps.
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Manhattan is home to some of the best museums in the world. The Met stands out as everyone’s favourite. We’re not saying don’t go, but do be warned that you could spend days absorbing its remarkable collection (it has endless rooms of instantly recognisable post-Impressionist art, galleries of sumptuous Egyptian artefacts, an actual temple and a reconstruction of a room by Frank Loyd Wright for starters). So, if you’re short on time pick a more manageable museum like the Frick or the Cloisters for traditional art - or the Tenement Museum for history. The Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side gives super informative and eye opening tours of its collection of historic New York Apartments. We learned more about New York’s immigration history and early inhabitants here than in any guide book.
If modern art is your passion, then MoMA is the pinnacle, but again it’s huge. So why not try the more manageable Guggenheim instead housed in an incredible instagrammable building by Frank Lloyd Wright? Finally, another less visited attraction is the Radio City Music tour which takes you behind the scenes at this glamorous, art deco theatre. Like the Tenement Museum tours, you get a real sense of the history of Manhattan via preserved interiors and antique artefacts.
You’ll be spoilt for high rise views in NYC. The Empire State is the classic and busiest, but for us, apart from seeing the ornate lobby from the queue, the view from Top Of The Rock is the best. This is because you can see the Empire State from the top of the Rock! It’s also much less busy, quicker and has a cool lift.
You are equal spoilt for views from the water. The (free) Staten Island Ferry return trip is classic and hard to beat, but it takes time and you need to get off and on again at Staten Island. A more expensive option, and our favourite, is to take the Water Taxi service from one side of Manhattan to the other. The taxi speeds along and you get a real sense of New York as a sea port, which is easy to forget. This trip is less touristy and has better views from both the Hudson and the East River. You also get to see The Statue Of Liberty from the water, which we think is sufficient. We once visited The Statue of Liberty and found the trip expensive, crowded and an anti climax.
Finally, our top don’t miss view of Manhattan is from the Brooklyn Bridge. Once you get past the souvenir stalls at the Manhattan entrance ramp and beyond the first arch, the tourists thin out and the views are spectacular. Our tip is to walk it early morning maybe on arrival when you wake up early with jet lag and there’s nothing else open. There’s also a handy Starbucks at City Hall on the Manhattan side for a grab and go breakfast on the bridge.
Shopping is not our thing, but there’s no denying it’s big business in the Big Apple. The famous shops are midtown - Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Sak’s. However, we tend to avoid midtown on our visits as they are rammed with tourists and not very relaxing. We find it far better to head to cooler neighbourhoods like LES, Brooklyn and SoHo to shop. Soho, in particular, has branches of all the major cool brands, including all the luxury shops of 5th Avenue, plus countless-one off designer stores. It’s more walkable than mid-town, stress-free and has beautiful architecture and fantastic cafes. Another option for stress free luxury brands is the Oculus a magnificent shopping mall in the Financial District designed by Calatrava. It’s worth a visit for the architecture alone.
For us, New York has the best food in the US. The fashionable restaurants are constantly changing and increasingly expensive. So, when we eat out, we love Gemma in the uber cool Bowery Hotel for incredible rustic Italian food pizza. If you’re on a budget, a take-away slice from Prince St Pizza in SoHo is equally mouthwatering - the walls are decorated with photographs of the many celebrities who’ve eaten there. Our splurge place for breakfast is Balthazar in SoHo (for fluffy scrambled eggs), but we are equally as happy at the legendary and pocket friendly Katz’s Deli in the LES. Tip - if there’s queue, the take away bagels at nearby Russ and Daughter’s are our favourite in Manhattan (and quite possibly anywhere the everything bagel is unbeatable).
If you want historical glamour, head for the ornate Oyster Bar at Grand Central (this exquisite station with its iconic clock should be on everyone’s itinerary) and check out the whispering gallery right outside the door!
Finally, ice-cream. Sorry Italy, but we’ve had our best ever ice-creams in NYC! Our favourite is Morgernstern’s in Greenwich Village with a vast selection of intriguing flavours - we love Burnt Sage and the Salt and Pepper Pine Nut. We also go to Laboratorio Del Gelato in LES for desert after Katz’s or Russ and Daughter’s - the Cream Cheese flavour is more-ish. Finally, Sundaes and Cones Black Sesame ice cream in the East Village takes some beating.
Our final tip for exploring and getting the most out of this incredible city is to walk everywhere and look up. By walking, you’ll experience different neighbourhoods, stumble across cafes and parks and get a far better sense of the city. You should always look up or you’ll miss out on the architecture, it’s usually far more ornate at the top. Finally, if your time is limited, just walk the High Line threading from the Meat Packing District to Hudson Yards to get an overview. We walk it every time we visit!