New York City is one of the most incredible cities in the world. It is a complete mixing pot of all cultures, foods, languages, people, and sites to see, so there’s no wonder why it’s such a frequented tourist destination, too. There are a ton of things to keep a tourist occupied for quite a long visit, but this guide aims to break down the most important or interesting sites, in addition to some lesser known sites. I grew up about an hour north of NYC in the Hudson Valley, so while not exactly a New York City native, I spent years growing up visiting the city and sorting out the best things to do and to show to out-of-towners when they come to visit. So without further ado, here’s my travel guide to New York City!
Where to stay in New York City:
There’s no getting around the fact that staying in New York City is expensive, but there are some good options for various price ranges in New York. Airbnb has apartments and rooms all over New York, and offers budget travelers some great alternatives to the lack-luster hostel options available. (New to Airbnb? Use this coupon for $36 in travel credit on your first stay!)
Staying in New York isn’t so much about what type of accommodation you’re staying in, but where in the city it’s located. New York is absolutely massive, and each neighborhood has its own unique personality, so knowing a bit about the neighborhood you’re staying in is key! If you want a skyscraper, busy street, cab whizzing by experience, Midtown may be the neighborhood for you. There are certainly loads of hotels in this area, I recommend the Hampton Inn Manhattan Grand Central as a reasonably-priced option. The rooms here aren’t huge, but this hotel is in the perfect location. It’s just blocks from Grand Central station, and is also just down the street from the Chrysler Building. If you want to get to Times Square, you’re only about a 20-minute walk away as well. This hotel gives you the perfect “hustle and bustle” feel of staying in Midtown. Their rate also includes breakfast each morning, which is a bonus for saving some money throughout the day!
If you’re looking for a more historic vibe, a hotel near Wall St. is the perfect location for you! I know it may seem strange that staying on or near Wall St. isn’t both incredibly expensive and overwhelmingly high-powered, but it’s actually an incredibly unique part of the city. Wall St. is located right near the southern tip of Manhattan, and this was the first part of the city to be developed. This is the area where you find loads of cobbled streets, streets which are not in a grid, and varied architecture beyond the giant glass skyscrapers. Of course, this area is also full of loads of attractions; it’s actually one of my favorite places to stay when I’m in New York. The Holiday Inn Manhattan Financial District is a great hotel in this area. It’s within walking distance to the Freedom Tower and 9/11 Memorial, Wall St., Federal Hall, and Battery Park where the ferry leaves for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Although they don’t offer breakfast in all of the room rates, there are a bunch of great diners and delis nearby where you can easily grab a bagel or breakfast sandwich in the mornings.
If you’re okay with staying outside of Manhattan, you might want to look just over the river in Brooklyn or on the other side of Manhattan in New Jersey. Hoboken is a great little city, and has some great bars and such in its own right, but the PATH train connects right to Midtown, so you’ll have no problems getting in to the city.
Where to eat in New York City:
It’s so hard to create an exhaustive list of the all of the “good places to eat” in New York City, so I’ll list some of my favorites (in no particular order):
- The Harlem Public is an awesome bar in an up-and-coming area that has a killer menu and beer selection. They have a bunch of craft brews on tap, and this is also where you’ll find the famous peanut butter burger- definitely worth a stop if you’re looking to hit up a non-touristy watering hole. They have 2 sister restaurants now, At the Wallace and The Honeywell, which each have their own unique flavor. They’re all located on the same block, so this is a great place to spend an evening bar-hopping!
- Gallow Green at the McKittrick Hotel isn’t the typical hotel restaurant. The McKittrick isn’t in the business of renting rooms, but rather a performance art space with a restaurant/roof top bar attached. Gallow Green is lovely for a cosy winter meal and glass of wine by the fire, or for a great summer evening sitting on one of the tall rooftops in NYC. They have absolutely delicious food, too. This one is an experience not to be missed!
- Schmackary’s is a cookie bakery on 45th and 9th that’s known for being a favorite spot for Broadway’s actors to grab an intermission or rehearsal snack. The cookies are seriously incredible, so if you’re looking for a snack near the theatre district, this is the place to go!
- 44&X is aptly named due to it’s location on the corner of 44th street and 10th avenue. They have a great menu for brunch, lunch, and dinner, and is a great place to stop before catching a show, or just because! It’s a little on the pricey side (not exactly too high for NYC, but high in general), so it’s a good place to go for a nice evening out.
- Ruchi is an Indian restaurant located very close to the World Trade Center. It isn’t crazy expensive, which is a nice break from the norm in NYC, so if you like Indian food, definitely check it out!
- Kilo is an American-style tapas bar with locally sourced food, interesting menu items, and a killer wine list. It’s a great place to grab a bite to eat before a show since it’s fairly close to the theatre district. It isn’t the cheapest restaurant, but the dishes are meant to be shared so for a small dinner it definitely isn’t too bad!
- Grom is an Italian gelato shop located at Columbus Circle, and it’s seriously incredible. They have an amazing selection of delicious ice cream, as well as homemade hot chocolate that will blow your mind!
- Gotham West Market is a vendor-based gourmet dining space, and it’s really amazing. There are different vendors that each have different food options, but these are definitely up-scale culinary experiences presented in a fun way! This is a great spot to try something new (they have everything from a tapas bar to a ramen shop to a burger place), but will work especially well if you and your friends can’t decide on what you want to eat- there will be something for everyone!
- Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory is a great local ice cream shop with delicious homemade ice cream. The best part about this place is definitely the location- the original shop is located on a pier just under the Brooklyn Bridge with awesome views of Manhattan on the other side of the river. There’s also a boat dock right off the pier, so after your ice cream you can take a ferry boat back across the river for an extra mini-tour!
- Grimaldi’s is a famous coal-oven pizza restaurant with excellent pizza. There’s a location right under the Brooklyn Bridge, making it a great spot to escape to if you want to get out of Manhattan. Be prepared for a bit of a line to get in, but it’s so worth it and the line moves super quick as they work pretty hard to get people in and out quickly. It’s quite the experience!
- Cafe Grumpy is an excellent coffee shop with several locations throughout the city. In a city with a Starbucks on every corner, I find it super refreshing to grab a good cup of coffee from an independent business, and this is a great place for it- they even roast their own beans in Brooklyn! Plus, their coffee cups have grumpy faces on them, which really just makes me happy.
For some cheaper options, check out this list of cheap places to eat in NYC!
A list of honorable mentions! Looking for something different than what I’ve listed above? These are all tried and true restaurants across the city.
- The Meatball Shop
- Pommes Frites NYC
- Spot Dessert Bar
- Think Coffee
- Lure Fish Bar
- Tao Downtown
- PhD Rooftop Lounge
- The Rocking Horse Cafe
- Ample Hills Creamery
- Four & Twenty Blackbirds
- Joe’s Shanghai
- Bagel Bob’s
What to do:
New York is kind of a black hole of things to do, and it’s really almost impossible to see and do everything unless you’re there for weeks. This is my list of the best and most interesting, unique things to do across New York City.
The High Line.
This public park space is one of the most unique in the city. It’s a converted industrial rail line that’s been turned into a lush, green park sitting atop the Meat Packing District. Visiting the High Line is a great way to get a birds-eye view of the West Side, while enjoying some nice green space. The nice part is, visiting the High Line is totally free, Check out this video to learn more!
This spot tops my list because it’s one of the most iconic and beautiful things to see and do in New York City, and it’s totally free! I usually walk from the Manhattan side to the Brooklyn side, and then there are some great cafés, restaurants, and bars once you’ve crossed over to check out. If you want to continue your journey for beautiful views of the Manhattan skyline, check out the Brooklyn Heights Promenade or take a ferry boat ride back across the river. The ferry leaves from the pier under the bridge, and you’ll get to see a cheap river view of the city!
If you’ve not been to New York City before, you definitely need to see Times Square. It’s probably what most people think of when they think of New York City, and again, it’s (mostly) free! There are now a huge set of bleachers (for lack of a better word) above the TKTS stand, which is a great place to sit and people watch. Try not to find a place to eat at a restaurant too close to here, though, as you’ll pay triple the price for lack-luster food! Check out the list above for some decent options, some of which aren’t too far of a walk.
Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
Ellis Island is a really interesting piece of American history, and it’s a very cool place to visit. The building and island have been turned into a museum that takes you through the history of immigration through Ellis Island. If you have some spare time and are a bit of a history buff, it’s definitely worth checking out! The ferry that goes to Ellis Island also goes to Liberty Island (the Statue of Liberty), and the ticket price for the ferry includes admission to both attractions- this is probably the best deal you’ll get in NYC.
Take a walking tour.
New York has so much history, and so many interesting stories that you probably wouldn’t know just by walking through the streets. Free Tours by Foot offers incredible free walking tours in different neighborhoods, and I highly recommend them. I’ve been on several, and I always walk away feeling like I’ve learned something new and interesting. Make sure you book in advance, as they have limited spaces and the tours do fill up!
One of the free museums in New York, Federal Hall is the former site of the first Capitol building in the USA where George Washington took his oath of office. Now it’s run by the National Park Service, and the park rangers offer free tours of the building throughout the day. It isn’t a huge museum/monument, so you can probably count on spending 30-60 minutes here depending on whether or not you take the tour (you should!), but it’s a really cool place to visit full of loads of history. It’s located just across the street from the New York Stock Exchange, so it’s also in one of the most historic and beautiful neighborhoods of Manhattan.
Empire State Building.
The Empire State Building is arguably the most iconic building in New York, and it offers some of the best views across lower Manhattan. I like the views from the Empire State Building because you can see all of the lower tip of Manhattan, including the Freedom Tower. The only issue with visiting the Empire State Building is the time that it takes to get to the top because of the massive lines that are usually outside of it. If you’re going to visit, I encourage you to do so first thing in the morning when it opens. I made it in with the first group on my most recent visit, and it was amazing! We just walked through all of the lines and essentially had the top level mostly to ourselves while everyone else got inside.
Going to see a Broadway show is one of the best things to do in New York City. Theatre has long been a staple of New York City culture, and you’ll have the opportunity to see some truly amazing pieces of theatre that you likely won’t be able to see anywhere else. If you’re a student with a valid student ID card, check out Student Rush tickets to get a good deal just for students. Some of these shows will allow you to simply buy cheaper tickets at the box office before the show, while others will require you to line up before the box office opens to purchase one of the limited student tickets they have available. Some shows also sell discounted tickets by lottery, so you just show up (usually) 2 hours prior to curtain to put your name in. Check on the previously linked site to check the policies of the show that you want to see. Try to be flexible about what you want to see and you’ll likely have better luck getting cheap seats! If you’re not a student the TKTS booth in Times Square allows you to buy same day theatre tickets for sometimes upwards of 50% off. This office sells the unsold tickets for that day’s performances, so check out the board in the morning and hop on line to see which tickets you can grab!
Relaxing in Central Park in the afternoon is one of the greatest joys if you’ve just spent a whole day walking around Manhattan. Being in New York City is a very exhausting experience, and spending some down time exploring Central Park is really amazing. Check out the Central Park Zoo if you want to see an attraction, or otherwise just find a bench or rock to sit on and enjoy the people watching and beautiful scenery. Please do not take one of the horse-drawn carriage rides- the horses are grossly mistreated, and tourists taking these rides only perpetuates the problems associated with this “attraction”.
Freedom Tower & 9/11 Memorial.
The site of the 9/11 Memorial and new World Trade Center is a truly incredible place to visit. The memorial above Ground Zero is spectacular, and is definitely worth a visit. If you’re interested in learning more about 9/11, check out the September 11 Memorial Museum, which is underneath the memorial. You can book a guided tour of the museum, which is great to do if you’d like additional information about the artifacts shown, or you can go through the museum on your own. Either way, plan to book tickets in advance just to be sure that you can get them, and to avoid waiting on what can be a very long line. Also plan some extra time to go through the security checkpoint at the entrance to the museum. The Freedom Tower, has an incredible observation deck, One World Observatory, which is worth visiting, if not a little expensive. You can book tickets for a specific time in advance, which I strongly recommend as it’s quite a busy spot with the tallest view of Manhattan.
Whether or not you’re a baseball or a Yankee fan, seeing a Yankee game while you’re in New York is a must-do. The stadium is basically a museum to baseball history, so be sure to arrive early for your game! The food and drinks are pricey, but you can get cheap bleacher seats if you look around for them (I’ve paid $25 for a popular Yankees/Red Socks game before). If you’re not familiar with baseball, it’s very easy to follow, and it’s truly an “American” experience!
Visiting New York City is an absolutely incredible experience. Every time I go, walking around the busy streets of Manhattan seems to breath new life into me. It’s an incredible feeling to be swept up in to such a busy, fast-moving environment, and to feel that kind of energy. There are, of course, plenty of things to see and do that I haven’t mentioned, but this list will get you started if you have several days in New York to explore.
Please note that some links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book using the link on my website, I’ll be paid a percentage of your booking fee at absolutely no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and all recommendations are based on my own personal experience.