New York, New York. So good they named it twice. Honestly I barely even know where to begin with a travel guide for NYC, and I’m by no means an expert – you could live there for a decade and have hardly touched the sides – but I have been a few times so hopefully I can pass on a few tips I’ve gathered along the way on how to enjoy this iconic, crazy, brash city to the best of your ability – and eat magnificently well whilst you’re stateside.
Forget the Empire State Building, Central Park, Times’ Square…New York is worth visiting for the food alone. It may just be the best city for food in the world. Everything from dollar slices, cheap ramen, over the top desserts to all the top restaurants and every cuisine you can think of, New York really does have it all. In a city where groceries usually cost more than ordering in, food is at the centre of life as a New Yorker. And this being America, naturally portions are massive, so start training your stomach in advance so you can make the most of it. Here are some favourites of mine to eat at when in town.
Inside the Parker Hotel, 119 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019, USA
220 36th St, Brooklyn, NY 11232
One of my favourite burgers in the world, I’ve been going to the Burger Joint since my first ever visit at around 11pm after catching a Broadway show when I was 19, all dressed up in my best dress, shoving a $9 cheeseburger into my face as I took in the surroundings of the tiny restaurant where celebrities have scrawled their names on the wall. They’ve closed their bigger West Village outpost now which is a shame as they did banging margaritas for cheap, but they’ve got a place in Brooklyn now too. The original is the best though, hiding in The Parker hotel, marked by a solitary neon burger sign near reception.
35 Downing St, New York, NY 10014
919 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11238
Now before trying Emily’s famous Emmy burger I would hands down call Burger Joint my favourite burger in NYC, but it’s been a while since I tried the Emmy and I’m still thinking about it. I’m consequently counting down the months until I can get back to NYC and have it again, so make of that what you will. It’s also at least twice the price of the Burger Joint burger. Double patty, with cheese, pickles, caramelised onions and a signature sauce served on a pretzel bun, it’s also served with the ultimate side: curly fries. Emily also does incredible Detroit style pizzas so go with someone so you can share a burger and pizza between you, or arrive very, very hungry.
225 E 60th St, New York, NY 10022
Made famous by the movie of the same name, you have to see the size of these desserts first hand to believe them. Sundaes the size of your head and slabs of cheesecake the length of your forearm smothered in hot rich fudge sauce and sliced strawberries – these desserts are as elaborate as you can only imagine and if you can finish one off yourself I’ll be impressed. There’s often a queue but you can put your name down and return later.
Magnolia Bakery was made famous to me by Sex and the City – like many places in this city – and it’s true, the cupcakes are very good. However I’m personally I’m all about their individual cheesecakes. There’s one with lashings of caramel and chopped pecans on top of it and it is a thing of beauty.
205 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002
Legendary Jewish deli Katz’s serves up the most incredible melt-in-your-mouth pastrami sandwiches the size of your face on the Lower East Side. Made famous not only for their mega sandwiches but also for that scene in When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan fakes it. You’ll want what she’s having.
Russ and Daughters
79 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002 (the deli)
127 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002 (the cafe)
I’m kind of a sucker for a Jewish deli to be honest; they just do food, and specifically, bagels, so damn well. My favourite NY outpost for the humble bagel with all the trimmings is Russ and Daughters on the Lower East Side. I didn’t have time for a pitstop here on my most recent visit so it’s shot to the top of my list for a return trip next year.
World’s Best Cookie Dough
164 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012
I don’t know how New York City became the authority on cookie dough but I am here for it. Every trip seems to include a dedicated cookie dough dessert bar, and the big draw at World’s Best Cookie Dough are the half baked cookies that are served warmed, the centres of them completely soft and oh so delicious.
550 LaGuardia Pl, New York, NY 10012
Speaking of cookie dough, if you’re into the sickly sweet stuff you cannot leave New York without a trip to Cookie DŌ. With a queue literally across the street, the hype for Cookie DŌ’s raw (but safe to eat!) cookie dough is real. With a menu of various flavours and seasonal guests, there’s something for everyone (even gluten free). I can personally vouch for the Heavenly flavour with Nutella swirled through it and the Salty and Sweet, where salted caramel is star of the show.
42 Grove St, New York, NY 10014
High on my list for my next visit, this French cafe in the West Village serves amazing looking brunch and friends have confirmed the croque monsieur is as banging as the photos convey. Classically no reservations (but an advantage for eating solo!) however looks well worth the wait. My friend personally vouches for the eggs at Buvette, and no brunch worth its salt can exist without exceptional eggs. Good luck ordering because I’m already looking at the menu for my next visit and I’m struggling.
One of the very best things about New York, aka one of the most expensive cities in the world, is the humble pizza slice. Often cited as the best pizza slice in NYC, Joe’s Pizza’s original outpost is on Carmine Street in Greenwich Village, though can now be found in several other locations across the city, too. I don’t feel qualified enough to comment on whether this is the best pizza slice in the whole of NYC – research I’m willing to take on, of course – but it’s certainly up there.
Beauty & Essex
146 Essex St, New York, NY 10002
A restaurant that’s been high on my list for years to visit, Beauty & Essex is designed as though you are walking through a pawn shop to get to the beautiful dining space. We went for brunch, though next time I’d choose dinner time instead, given the dark lighting and moody feel of the place that lends itself to a glamorous evening meal. The cocktails and food is excellent – particularly the super light doughnuts; grilled cheese, smoked bacon and tomato soup dumplings; and I’m genuinely still thinking about how good the apple and kale salad with goat’s cheese and candied pecans was. On a weekly basis. Apparently they serve champagne in the toilets after dark, though I’m not 100% on whether my cousin was pulling my leg with that one….
Black Seed Bagels
170 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10012
You can find mouthwatering photos of Black Seed Bagels all over Instagram – their classic with lox, cream cheese, capers, red onions – the works – was delicious, although paying $15 for a bagel is A Bit Mad. Their breakfast offerings full of melted cheese and bacon are next on my list, despite the price tag.
831 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10022
Among the most famous bagels in NYC, this place was a few blocks from where I was staying and absolutely packed out with a queue out the door and snaking around inside! Had a great bagel from here and would definitely return for the lox and cream cheese – I was trying to mix it up with the bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado, and whilst great, I should always stick with the classic.
Jack’s Wife Freda
50 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014
224 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012
A brunch spot that’s been on my list for a long time now (there’s a trend here…), I wasn’t disappointed when I finally made it to Jack’s Wife Freda. Hugely popular on the weekends, go on a weekday if you don’t want to queue, or alternatively for dinner in the evening. I opted for the eggs benedict on potato latkes (any excuse to up my Jewish food intake) served with bright pink beetroot hollandaise sauce. Delicious.
114 Kenmare St, New York, NY 10012
1402 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10021
200 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019
La Esquina is a great, affordable little taco joint in Midtown and on the LES, but the original on Kenmare Street is the one to seek out. What looks like a small and modest place to grab a quick taco, there’s actually a hidden bar that serves banging margaritas and has a quintessentially New York vibe to it.
120 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002
I’m told this place is the big new hype in New York, serving up elaborate donuts, croissants, cronuts, cruffins, and every other inventive hybrid that’s around these days. The menu changes regularly but I for one am hoping the croissant soft serve ice cream sticks around as I *need* to try that. There’s also a big old neon “Bite Me NYC’ sign in store which is delightfully Instagrammable.
Gorgeous French bakery with a few outposts across NYC (and also Toronto), I stupidly kept pushing my visit to Maman to the following day and subsequently never made it, but their chocolate pistachio croissant is top of my list for my next visit to the Big Apple. I’ll be grabbing some nutella beignets to go, too.
A visit to NYC isn’t complete without a stack of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup and refills of burnt filter coffee at a generic American diner. I don’t care which you go to, just go for the American equivalent of the greasy spoon breakfast and struggle to finish the ridiculous portions they give you. Go when you’re on the last of your dollars as this won’t set you back too much.
386 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11201
1515 Broadway, 45th St. B/W Broadway & 8th Ave, New York, 10019
1626 Broadway, 49th Street, New York, 10019
Often cited as the best cheesecake in New York, this one is still on my list for next time. The original outpost from 1950 is situated in Brooklyn, though there are two more in Manhattan now, both near Times Square.
105 Christopher St, New York, NY 10014
Whilst I make my way through plenty of pizza when in NY, I don’t get nearly enough Italian food down me, so I Sodi is high on my list for next time. Owned by a chef who grew up north of Florence and whose life was shaped by her mother’s Italian cooking and love of food, I Sodi is regularly listed as one of the best Italian restaurants in New York.
167 W 74th St, New York, NY 10023, USA
351 Amsterdam Avenue New York, NY 10024
2167 Frederick Douglass Blvd. New York, NY 10026
Instagram famous cookies that are well worth the journey to the Upper West Side. They’re bloody delicious. Levain Bakery was opened with the intention to make the world’s best chocolate chip cookie – which is the most admirable of goals, I think you’ll agree – and the chocolate and walnut one in particular is giving that title a damn good shot.
Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream
2 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002
As the debate about New York’s best ice cream came up and I said I’d been recommended Ample Hills Creamery (which I promise I’ll try next time!), I was informed very seriously that Morgenstern’s was in fact the best in the city. We found ourselves in the right vicinity on my first day and I have to say I’m a convert – that’s among the best ice cream I’ve ever had, and the array of different fancy toppings you can whack on top is admirable. Espresso honeycomb? Er, yes please!
Famous for their crack pie and cereal soft serve ice cream, Milk Bar is an offshoot of restaurant Momofuku (highly acclaimed and often stated as a must in NYC, though I’ve not tried it – yet!). The crack pie is truly one of the sweetest things I’ve tried, and I can see why it has such a following, though at $6 a slice I was hoping it would be a little bigger – although maybe I was just expecting ridiculous American portions by that point. That said, it has so much butter in it it would probably be illegal to serve it in larger slices.
Bottomless Drag Brunch at Lipps Drag Queen Show Palace
227 E 56th St, New York, NY 10022
This is the best thing I have ever done in New York. Honestly, I cannot tell you how much fun this two hour bottomless brunch is. Now, you don’t go to Lipps for the food, in fairness, but seeing as it’s still a brunch I’m whacking it under ‘food’ anyway. You get a dish (all named after musicals) and endless mimosas whilst these incredible drag queens perform numbers from Broadway and Disney and all sorts. It is amazing, unmissable, hilarious and they don’t even top up your mimosa jug with extra orange juice – just more fizz. Iconic.
New York is not New York without its huge array of rooftop bars, and what better way to kick off your first few hours in the city after check in with views of the vistas you’ve dreamed about seeing?
Mr Purple is well known for its deceptively large looking rooftop pool surrounded by beautiful people. The crowd isn’t generally my type; a bit too ‘throw money at bottle service’ but worth a visit for the views that sweep out towards the financial district and the Freedom Tower on one side and look across to the Empire State on the other.
If you’re after cheap happy hour drinks that run from 1pm until 7pm with a banging view of the Empire State Building nearby, 230 5th is the rooftop bar for you. A mixed bag of people and popular with tourists so perhaps not as ‘New York’ as other places, but does what it says on the tin. Take advantage of the $8 G&Ts whilst you have the opportunity and save your dollars for well…everything else in New York.
Westlight at The William Vale
Much like I favour the Top of the Rock to the Empire State Buildings, the best views of Manhattan are when you’re not IN Manhattan. Get yourself over to Williamsburg in Brooklyn and enjoy the vista from Westlight rooftop bar at The William Vale hotel. There’s also an incredible infinity pool at the top of The William Vale and you can use it even if you’re not a hotel guest…but it’ll set you back $150 for the day. Compromise and go for drinks or lunch at Westlight, but don’t do what I did and not check opening times before schlepping over to Brooklyn…for someone so organised that was a big fail, but in my defence I was sporting a bad hangover.
Hotel 1 Brooklyn Bridge
A great hotel rooftop bar perfectly situated for beautiful views of lower Manhattan and the financial district, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty beyond.
The Crown Rooftop
More stunning views from this rooftop on the Lower East Side, there are two outdoor terraces, an Asian inspired cocktail menu and small bites on offer. With sweeping views of downtown Manhattan from the 21st floor, The Crown is definitely on the list for my next visit.
I’m lucky in that I have family who live in New York who generously let me crash on their sofa whilst I’m town in exchange for at least 3kg of Cadbury’s and gossip from home, but if I didn’t and still wanted to put most of my money toward food and activities in NYC rather than a bed, I’d likely stay at one of the Pod hotels. With four locations across New York and a couple of very lovely looking rooftops, there’s the option for both private rooms and dorms, and they’re very reasonably priced for one of the priciest cities in the world. As ever, Air BnB is a great option too – you’ll get somewhere impressive with more of you.
THINGS TO DO
Oh where do you even start? You could live in New York for a decade and still have things leftover to tick off your list. There is too much to fit in for any trip, but the best way to maximise your time whilst you’re there is to break it down by neighbourhood, so I recommend doing your research in advance and sketching out a rough itinerary of your plans.
Top of the Rock
My personal favourite place for a view of Manhattan whilst in Manhattan. People rave about the Empire State but the joy of the Top of the Rock is that you can see the Empire State Building from it. The views are fantastic, and it’s fun to learn about the history of the Rockefeller Centre too.
It’s unlikely you’ll come to New York without visiting the Rockefeller Centre, as you’ll probably want to do the Top of the Rock, but at Christmas time the Rockefeller really is unmissable. Site of the massive, beautiful Christmas tree and ice skating rink made famous in countless movies over the decades, it’s a sight to behold and feels very special to see it all festive, even if the crowds are huge.
Circle Line Boat
There are several options on the route to take on the Circle Line boat tour but the one I’m definitely doing next time I’m in New York (and there’s hopefully no fog and cloud masking the city…) is the Harbor Lights Cruise. Departing at 7pm, this 2 hour tour is perfect in the summer as you’ll see the city in both the day and the night, and with any luck, a spectacular sunset too.
Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty
A trip to Ellis Island will allow you to learn all about the immigration into America that has so clearly built New York into what it is, with cultures from all over contributing to what makes the city so special. If you’re heading over that way, it would make sense to do the Statue of Liberty too – though bear in mind if you want to go up into Lady Liberty’s crown, there are limited tickets each day and they must be booked in advance – so get organised.
Empire State Building
The most famous of buildings in the New York City skyline, the Empire State Building gives you panoramic views from both the 86th and 102nd floors. If you go past midnight, you won’t have to queue and it’ll be quiet up there, which feels pretty special in a city that never sleeps.
Catch a game or concert at MSG
Madison Square Gardens is home not only to the Knicks and Rangers, but host to some of the biggest names in music throughout the year. It’s always worth checking out what’s on whilst you’re in town, it’s a fantastic stadium.
Eat hotdogs at a baseball game
If you’re in town during the summer months and fancy spending a fair few hours in the sunshine eating hotdogs, drinking beer and generally being a massive New York cliché, get tickets to a Yankees or Mets game.
Get involved with some NFL action
If you can’t get tickets to the Jets at the Met Life stadium, the perfect way to experience a bit of America is to get yourself to a dive bar for the NFL games on Sunday or Monday night. These bars usually have insanely good drinks offers too, which in a city as pricey as New York is a very welcome thing, and they often have a great atmosphere to boot.
St Patrick’s Cathedral
Perhaps a bit of a random one, but I love to pop into St Pat’s Cathedral on fifth avenue. The beautiful Gothic cathedral serves as a peaceful reprieve from the madness of midtown and is well worth a look for the architecture.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
I’m not a massive art person, but the collection at the Met is quite something – I’m particularly a fan of their extensive Ancient Egyptian collection (nerd). Check out what exhibitions they have on during your visit too as they had on an absolutely brilliant fashion exhibition ‘Heavenly Bodies’ all about couture, high fashion and religion on when I visited recently and it was a highlight of my trip. $25 entry is valid for 3 days and gets you into the three different sites of the museum across Manhattan.
Another one for art people, the Guggenheim is an important museum of contemporary and modern art, as well as a famous bit of architecture on Museum Mile. Usually $25, but every Saturday, from 5–7:45 pm, you can pay what you wish for admission (cash only) – suggested donation is $10. A great way to see famous art for less in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Closed Thursdays.
You can’t go to New York and not have a wander through Central Park, that would just be wrong. The beauty through the different seasons in Central Park is timeless (autumn is my favourite) and during the winter there is the famous Wollman Rink in action which is a great place to watch people skate, or join in if you’re not utterly terrified of skating like me. Take a wander over to the west side of the park to find the Strawberry Fields ‘Imagine’ tribute to John Lennon, watch people race their model boats at Conservatory Water or visit the Central Park Zoo. Rent a boat at the Loeb Boathouse and row your way around the lake, discover the Alice in Wonderland statue on the east side or go for a run round the 2.5km track that circles the Jackie Onassis reservoir. There’s so much to do in Central Park.
Similarly, it would feel wrong to go to NYC for the first time and not see Times Square. It’s mad busy, a bit stressful (try not to time your visit with the start and end of all the Broadway shows) but the lights are mesmerizing and although it’s full of tourists, I love seeing it.
It’s a pricey one, so understandable if you miss it, but if you’ve not got the West End easily accessible to you, I’d highly recommend getting tickets to a Broadway show. When in Rome, and all that. If you don’t mind dedicating some time to your Broadway dreams, every day at the TKTS booth there are discount tickets to that day’s performances of all the biggest hit shows. The earlier you get there the better, and it’s worth it given the talent on Broadway.
One of my new favourite things to do in New York, the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village has live comedy on every night. Book in advance as it’s seriously popular, though if you get there early enough to put your name down you may luck out at show time. There are often surprise sets from well established and famous comedians too.
I had one of the best night’s I’ve ever had in New York at Cafe Wha? listening to amazing live music with some ridiculously talented singers. Would definitely return for another night of dancing, singing and plenty of G&Ts, though I’ll try not to fall asleep on the toilet next time (due to jet lag, no reflection of how fun it is there!)
9/11 Memorial and Museum
A personal must do, the 9/11 memorial is a beautiful space to pay your respects to those lost on September 11th all those years ago. The fountains are stunning, and the staff who work at the memorial and museum put a rose in the name of the victims on their birthdays. The museum is excellent, albeit very difficult to do. I couldn’t handle much of it, but as museums go it is a great one.
The Freedom Tower
One World Trade Centre is not only the tallest building in New York, but in the whole of the United States. This beautiful building stands near to where the original WTC buildings stood, and the observation deck will give you sweeping views of the city in all directions.
DUMBO, Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Brooklyn Bridge
Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, aka, that photo famous spot in Brooklyn of the bridge peaking out between the buildings. A wander down here and through Brooklyn Bridge Park to the Brooklyn Bridge itself is a lovely way to spend some time. There are plans to build a public pool at Brooklyn Bridge Park by Pier 1, which would quite frankly be awesome. Make sure you walk over the Brooklyn Bridge towards Manhattan, it’s pretty special.
New York has some brilliant street art. Around the East Village and Lower East Side there are some famous murals, there’s the Welling Court Mural Project over in Astoria, Queens, and in Brooklyn there is the well known Bushwick Collective.
What are your favourite things to do in New York? Have I missed off your favourite place to eat whilst there? Let me know in the comments so I can check it out on my next visit!
Want regular travel guides, posts on Solo Female Travel and ramblings about life in general direct to your inbox? Enter your email below so you never miss an update!
Be sure to check your junk in case your confirmation email is hiding there.