what to do in new york city

My 14 recommendations for New York City

The first time I went to New York City was also the first time I traveled on my own. I was 23, maybe. Sitting here, trying to remember where the idea for this trip first came from, I can’t. But it feels pivotal in some way. Since this first trip in 2013, I have been to New York several times, falling in love with it more each time I go. In no way am I a New Yorker, but I am pretty good at the touristy-stuff.

1. take the metro

It’s been named the best public transit system in the world. I don’t remember where I read that; I also don’t believe it to be true. But that is neither here nor there. The subway system of New York City is a must. In most cases, it’s really the fastest way to get where you are going. From a tourist point of view, it’s the easiest way to sink into the New York Way of life. So bump elbows with some Wall-Street types, discover the free, little concerts that New Yorkers put on and people-watch to your heart’s delight. Everyone uses the the metro.

For more information about getting around New York City via public transit, visit the MTA’s website.

There is also a helpful guide about which metro card to buy on FreeToursByFoot.com

2. pay respects at the 9/11 memorial

Being in New York is like being inside a noise. Everything is buzzing around you, demanding your attention. It’s exciting and overwhelming at the same time.

But when you find yourself  at the watery footprints of the twin towers in Lower Manhattan, all that noise comes to a stop. Cabs are still bustling by and a faint buzz from Midtown still wafts, but the revery supersedes all that. Ground zero has been perfectly changed into a beautiful memorial, made more beautiful by its sadness.

  • The reflecting pools constructed at the Twin Tower’s foot print hold the names of all the victims of that day. On that person’s birthday, a local flower shop puts a white rose by their name.
  • The One World Trade Center is visible from most places in New York, even Brooklyn.
  • The 9/11 Memorial Museum is a powerful showcase of what happened in 2001, how people survived, how first responders helped, how the rest of us viewed and learned about the attack, and then how we all put the world back together again. Take your time with the museum.
  • St. Paul’s Church has been a witness to this country. It’s the church that George Washington prayed the morning of his inauguration as the first president of the United States (the U.S. capitol was in New York after the American Revolution). After September 11, 2011, the church became the home of rest and food for those searching the wreckage for survivors. It is still home to hundreds of picture families posted of loved one they hoped to find. You can still see the 300 year-old wooden church pews that have been scuffed and torn by the heavy equipment of first responders to tired to remove their gear before falling asleep.
  • A side venture to 9/11 memorial is Trinity Church. You will be able to easily find Alexander Hamilton’s grave and Eliza Hamilton’s grave next to him. I haven’t been able to find his sister-in-law, Angelica. She’s supposed to be nearby.

A sidebar to this, the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C. is also worth a visit. The gravel garden is home to stone plane-wings, one for each victim. Those pointing towards the Pentagon are for those that died in the building and the ones pointing towards the sky are the lost souls on American Airlines Flight 77.

3. get a city pass

At the 9/11 Museum–at most NYC attraction, really–you will have the option to purchase a city pass. If you’ve never been to New York and you have the time to take advantage of everything this pass has to offer, you should definitely do it. It’s $122 for adults, $98 for youths.

What is included in the New York City Pass:

  1. The Empire State Building
  2. American Museum of Natural History
  3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  4. Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR Guggenheim Museum
  5. Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
  6. 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Hamilton the musical playbill in new york
Yea… this is just me bragging about being in the room when it happened.

4. visit broadway

I love Broadway. It may be a financial problem. My obsession with Broadway and my limited funding for such an obsessions has forces me to uncover a few price hacks.

I pay pretty close attention StubHub to gage what the going price is for a given show on a given night, and I once got pretty great, day-of ticket on StubHub, so I’m a fan.

Recently, I’ve discovered HeadOut.com, which offers some pretty fantastic prices for show, tours, concerts, etc.

If you have the time and the patiences, then visit those famous red steps in Time Square for the TKTS Discount Booth. There are other locations around New York City, and they all offer, discounted, day-of tickets to broadway shows. I’ve gotten 4th room and 8th room tickets to popular shows for 40% off.

Some shows, like Hamilton, have lotteries that you can enter. I won once and paid $20 for two, front row tickets to Hamilton. It was exciting.

Since this such an expensive obsession, I try to cut costs by eating cheap. A hot dog from a vendor in Time Square? Done that. Grabbed a $5 slice of pizza at Mama Sbarro’s on Broadway and 47th? Did that last night. Shown my hand as a super-tourist by getting a burger and a slice of cheesecake at Juniors on 45th? It was delicious.

Getting fat witch brownie mix at Chelsea market
Getting Fat Witch brownie mix at Chelsea Market

5. stop by chelsea’s market

In the cool Meatpacking District, across the street from Google NYC, is the Chelsea Market in an old warehouse. Go for small eats, big shopping and the Artists and Fleas set up in the back. It also has a local section in the lower level of the building, which is just yummy.

It’s open 7 days and week, so go when you are inspired!

My favorite little shop in Chelsea Market is Fat Witch Bakery. My family is kind of obsessed with their brownie mixes, so I am more than happy to swing by and collect a few bags for future consumption… and a few brownies for immediate consumption.

the rose reading room in the new york public library
The Rose Reading Room in the New York Public Library

6. spend some time in the new york public library

The New York Public Library is a gorgeous building backing up to Bryant Park (which is also worth visiting). The inside and the outside of the building is impressive. I hope you venture inside and seek out two things: the Rose Reading Room on the third level and the original Pooh Bear in the lower level in the children’s library.

For my fellow remote workers, I love retreating to the Rose Reading Room to settle into a few hours of work.

visiting the original pooh bear at the ny public library
Visiting the original Pooh Bear at the NY Public Library

7. explore strand bookstore

Strand Bookstore is the sole survivor the 48 bookstores that made up the six city blocks of “Book Row.” It brags of having 18 miles of books, which is worth a few hours of your time.  Greenwich Village is a great neighborhood all together; you’re near Union Square, Washington Square (and that ever-popular Washington Square Arch) and NYU.

christmas at macys in new york city
Macy’s decorated for Christmas in New York City

8. spend some christmas-time in the city

There are so many things to do in New York during Christmas! You can:

9. order a frrrozen hot chocolate at serendipity 3

I know Serendipity 3 from the because of the 2001 movie of the same name. It’s a bit touristy and the lines can be really long (they don’t take reservations) but it’s such a fun little diner with soul food, huge hot chocolates and Tiffany & Co. lamps everywhere.

10. find oscar wilde

I would like as many people as possible to know about the bar named for Oscar Wilde that hides just six blocks south of the Empire State Building. It apparently has the longest bar in New York City. My friend and I sat in with our glasses of Champagne trying to find all the cool antiques they have listed on their website.

11. eat everything in little italy

Maybe don’t eat everything, but stroll down the streets of Little Italy, letting your nose (and your stomach) guide you to the next adventure.

12. see the perfect manhattan view from 230 fifth rooftop

Even in the winter, you’ll be able to find something fun to do outside! 230 Fifth Rooftop Garden Bar and Restaurant has a space fully prepared to keep you nice and warm inside heated igloo, available snuggies and warmed drinks–temperature warmed and alcohol warmed.

 crossing the brooklyn bridge
Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge

13. get over to brooklyn

I love Brooklyn. They have street art, and hipster coffee shops, delicious brunches and local shopping. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is amazing, but I typically gravitate to farther north to Williamsburg. Find Bedford Ave and you’ll find something fun!

14. see a yankee game

I don’t care if you’re a Red Sox fan or if you’re not a baseball fan at all; there is something nostalgic and very American about watching 9 innings (or however many innings you can make it through) at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

Something to Add?