New York City: What to do, Where to stay, and Where to Eat
Trace the route migrants took as they sailed into New York in search of the American Dream.
Today the city still makes many dreams come true. It is both the melting pot and beating heart of America.
New York City is the most densely populated city in the USA (around 8.5 million people living in 305 square miles), as well as the most culturally diverse in the world, with as many as 800 languages spoken there. Made up of five borough – Queens, Staten Island, The Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn – New York is exciting and energetic, full of beautiful things and fascinating sights, and is many tourist’s ultimate travel destination.
Founded in 1624 by Dutch colonists as a trading post, New York City has grown up and grown out, enticing people from all over the world to not only visit but to stay. Businesses, creative arts, and tourist attractions are all part of what makes New York unique.
New York City is a tourist’s heaven, full of museums and open spaces as well as well known landmarks. When visiting the city for the first time, it can feel a little overwhelming as there is so much to do and see, and no one wants to miss out. The key is to relax, do your research, and enjoy.
If ever a city was almost more famous for its green spaces than its urban sprawl, then New York has to be it. Central Park, located in the middle of Manhattan, is a haven for weary travellers and locals alike. The Park is 843 acres of beauty and tranquillity and includes some surprises such as the Central Park Zoo, an ice rink, fountains, a castle, and much, much more. Come for a stroll, a picnic, or even an entire day out.
Of course, it is hard to think of New York without also thinking of that fateful day, September 11th, 2001 or 9/11 as it became known. A memorial and museum set up at ‘ground zero’ commemorates the lives of those who died, and explains – as far as it can be – what happened on that spot. It is a heartbreaking and emotional place to visit, but one not to miss while in the city.
Some streets are so famous that whenever you hear them, you immediately form a picture in your head. Broadway, home to New York’s theatreland, is just like that. See numerous different shows, plays, and musicals. Book your tickets through your hotel concierge or at the theatre itself to ensure great seats and a wonderful evening out.
Radio City Music Hall is a theatre that stands out from the rest, and if you can catch a show here while you are in New York, you should do so. The theatre itself is home to the world-renowned Rockettes dancers, and no matter what show is on during your visit, you will have a fun and carefree time at the Radio City Music Hall.
Another must do on your first trip to New York is to climb aboard the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry – which is free – will take you to Ellis Island (where the Statue of Liberty resides), but it’s not just about the final destination; it’s about the journey too. Enjoy a full panorama of New York City and the Manhattan skyline aboard the ferry.
Ellis Island in Upper New York Bay was where the millions of immigrants to the United States landed from 1892 to 1954. The island was the gateway to America, thanks to the country's largest – and busiest – immigration inspection station. Here you can visit the Museum of Immigration, and learn a little more about why and how so many people chose to come here. In 1998, Ellis Island became part of New Jersey, rather than New York, but wherever it is legally situated, it is a fascinating place to visit.
While in New York, it would be impossible to miss the famous Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. This national monument was gifted to America by France in 1886 to represent freedom. Lady Liberty was the first thing that the immigrants landing on Ellis Island saw, and it was a symbol of hope and new life for many. It is possible to climb to the top of the statue and visit the crown, or stay lower and visit the pedestal, in which there is an excellent museum. Or if you prefer, you can purchase a grounds only ticket. Be aware, however, you must purchase tickets in advance, and that this is a popular attraction so expect queues.
The Empire State Building is a 102-storey skyscraper located in Manhattan. Buying a ticket gives you access to the perfectly positioned observation desk, as well as the lobby with exhibits, art deco ceiling murals, and the chance to hire an interactive audio device to enhance your experience even more.
Times Square may not sound that exciting – a busy square in the middle of Manhattan. But it is so much more than that. It is iconic, and you will have seen it in hundreds of movies and TV shows. It is at a major intersection that brings Broadway, Seventh Avenue, West 42nd and West 47th Street together. Its nickname is the Crossroads of the World, and it is easy to see why when you stand in the middle and look around you. It’s breathtaking in its vibrancy, colours, and energy.
Have you ever wondered why it’s called Times Square? In 1904 the New York Times moved its offices there; before that, it was called Longacre Square.
For shopping, Fifth Avenue is the place to go. This street is where those famous shops such as Saks, Macy's, and Bloomingdales are, and where anyone who is anyone goes to find the latest fashions, trends, and gifts to bring back home.
The Chrysler Building is a beautiful example of the art deco style and has been held up for decades as the perfect way to create functional art. If you are in New York, then you ought to visit this beautiful structure – you will never forget it.
Been there before
There is always something else to see in New York, no matter how many times you have visited in the past. Even those who live there are often finding something new to enjoy – so for seasoned travellers, here are a few ideas of places you may not have seen just yet.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (also known as ‘The Met’) is one of the largest museums in the world, boasting thousands of exhibits and hundreds of events every month. It opened in 1866 after wealthy Americans visited Paris and thought that New York could do with a similar museum of culture. Today you can explore the myriad of rooms and departments with as much enjoyment as those originators did, and learn things you didn’t even know you didn’t know! The exhibits change from time to time, so even if you have visited before, it’s likely you will find something new the next time you go
The Frick Collection is a museum devoted to European art, located on Fifth Avenue. It includes painting masterpieces, major works of sculpture (including bronzes), French furniture from the 18th century, Limoges enamels, and so much more. Everything is beautiful, and important. There are gardens to enjoy too, and you will want to put aside a good few hours to make the most of what the Frick Collection has to show you.
Grand Central Station (its actual name is Grand Central Terminal, but it is hardly ever called that) is not just the busiest train terminus in the USA. The station is also known for its beautiful designs and fascinating stories too. It is huge, with 44 platforms covering 48 acres. Even if you don’t have a train to catch, you should take a look at the main concourse with its stunning ceiling and air of excitement. There are various shops and restaurants within the station (including an Oyster Bar), as well as a museum.
Central Park may be the most famous green space in New York, but it is not the only one. Bryant Park is much smaller (at just under 10 acres), but is a lovely space to enjoy when the sun is shining. Once a potter’s field (public paupers’ graveyard), it was declared a public park in 1840, and the bodies removed. Now it sits above the archives for the New York Public Library and is a great space for a wander or a picnic.
The New York Public Library contains almost 53 million items, making it the fourth largest library in the world, and the second largest in America. Although the main branch is at Bryant Park, Manhattan, it also has branches across New York, including in The Bronx and Staten Island. It was established in 1895 and was the product of a group of philanthropists (which included Andrew Carnegie, John Jacob Astor, and Samuel J. Tilden amongst others) putting their funds and ideas together to create one large library structure. The Manhattan branch's building is impressive on both the inside and outside, and even non-card holders can visit to enjoy it.
The Rockefeller Centre is yet another iconic New York building that has been seen in movie cinemas and on the small screen countless times, or is it? Contrary to popular belief, the Rockefeller Centre isn’t one building at all, but a complex of 19 separate buildings spanning 22 acres across Midtown Manhattan (between 48th and 51st streets to be exact). In 1987, the entire area was declared a National Historic Landmark and continues to thrive to this day. It is a fun, fascinating, and exciting place to walk around, and shows visitors what it is like to work in the heart of New York City.
The Tenement Museum focuses on the immigrant community in the urban environment, and specifically how the famous (or is that infamous?) tenements rose up in New York. Here you can take on the role of a housing inspector from 1906, making sure the building is up to code. You can find out what happened to the immigrants who lost everything, and those who made their fortune. Discover what life was life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – at this fascinating and moving place.
New York Hotels
There are hundreds of hotels in New York, but not all are equal. It depends on your budget, your must haves, and where you want to stay when in town. For those looking to save their money to spend elsewhere, these budget hotels are excellent value.
- Located right in the heart of the city, a few steps from Times Square, Equity Point is a perfectly appointed hotel that doesn’t cost the earth but allows tourists to enjoy the sights and sounds of New York. Clean and comfortable with friendly, knowledgeable staff, this is a great base for a short break.
- Take a trip back to 1930’s New York at Hotel 31, a gorgeous looking traditional hotel. With a subway on your doorstep, as well as being close to Grand Central Station, plenty of great restaurants and bars, and a variety of tourist attractions. The bathrooms are communal, but they are clean and numerous!
- Tucked nicely away in the West Village, The Jane is a brief glimpse of old New York – there is history here, and it is fascinating. With both modern amenities and turn of the century charm, you can have it all here. Bathrooms are communal unless you stay in the Captain’s Cabin.
A family adventure awaits you all in New York! So your hotel should reflect your great days out and be memorable for all the right reasons.
- Fantastic service, filling breakfasts, and excellently appointed rooms make Casablanca Hotel a safe and comfortable place to stay with the whole family. Close to the theatre district (which has plenty of kids’ shows on offer) and a quick trip to the sights, the Casablanca is ideal. And for families with teenagers, there are suites available so they can have their private space.
- Located in Bryant Park itself, the Bryant Park Hotel is a perfect place for families to stay, allowing fresh air and open spaces to be enjoyed straight from the hotel itself. With adjoining rooms, friendly staff, and beautiful architecture, this is a wonderful place to stay.
- Kids love pools (and so do adults), and Skyline Hotel has a great one. Spacious and clean with plenty to do nearby, within walking distance or transport available to other parts of New York, everyone in your party will love the Skyline.
New York and luxury go hand in hand, and when it comes to hotels, New York has some of the best in the world.
- Located in the Soho (South Houston) area of the city, the Crosby Street Hotel has everything you might want, and if it isn’t there, the staff will get it for you. Perfect for spending some relaxing "me" time or as a base for exploring New York, you will be happy to return here at the end of a long day’s sightseeing. A cinema, lounge, and honesty bar make the experience ever more enchanting.
- Friendly, stylish, comfortable, luxurious - The Surrey Hotel ticks all the boxes and then some! 24-hour room service, close to Central Park, and with a stunning rooftop bar and restaurant, this place should not be missed.
- The Ritz-Carlton is perhaps the best of the best, and you are guaranteed to experience the real (luxury) New York City when staying here, and it includes a spa and steam room complex. With everything, every place, and everyone at your fingertips, why stay anywhere else?
New York Restaurants
Some of the best chefs in the world are in New York and, thanks to its cultural diversity, you can discover food you never knew existed, or try your old favourites with a unique NY twist. If you enjoy food on a budget, why not try these great restaurants for real value for money?
- An empanada is a bread or pastry stuffed with mouth-watering fillings. At Empanada Mama, the chefs elevate this delicious Portuguese dish to stunning new levels, with over 40 different types to choose. Using 100% natural products, a unique combination of herbs and spices, and the freshest of ingredients, this is an experience you won’t want to miss.
- Bagels are perhaps the food most commonly associated with New York City, and the bagels at Ess-a-Bagel deli are some of the best. Choose from a huge range of fillings and bread including chocolate chip cream cheese! The lines here are huge, so get here early or when you’ve time to spare – but once you have got your food, this is an authentic New York experience!
- Bleecker Street Pizza: This is the epitome of New York pizza! Perfect crust, excellent toppings, superb service. Get it while it’s hot (or save it for a satisfying breakfast if that’s your thing!)!
New York loves kids. So there are plenty of places to take the whole family to enjoy a satisfying, stress-free dining experience.
- Perfect for indulging in a few treats for both kids and adults, American Girl Café is ideal for the little ones – there are even doll sized seats for their cuddly companions to join in with the feast. It’s a fixed price menu, so you know what you are getting in advance, and the food is 1930’s themed.
- With a huge kids’ menu as well as plenty of choice for the adults, Big Daddy’s all-American diner is a big hit with families. You can book parties here too, so if one of your family has a special day while visiting New York, why not make it even better?
- Greenwood Park has a large garden, which is ideal for enjoying a picnic style lunch with the great food available here. An extensive children’s menu gives the younger ones plenty of choices, and for the adults, there are 60 beers on tap – enjoy!
Fancy spending some money? There is plenty of opportunities to do that when it comes to luxury dining in New York City!
- The best new chefs from all over the world go to the Chefs’ Club to showcase their ideas and talent – this is the place to spot stars of the future, and of the present as they come together to create culinary masterpieces for you. The chefs vary, and the menus are never the same in this intimate dining experience.
- Owned and run by chef Daniel Boulud, this self-named restaurant serves exquisite, exciting food at its best. You will feel pampered and looked after here by the waiting staff in their smart uniforms.
- Described as "quaint and laid back," at Tree Bistro you can luxuriate in excellent food, and relax at the same time thanks to the wonderful dining room and staff. It is cosy and romantic, and full of the kind of memories that New York is there to make. Food includes sautéed crab cakes, various tasting boards, seafood linguine, and bread pudding with bourbon maple caramel.
New York for Families
Although the hustle and bustle of New York City may at first make it seem relatively kid unfriendly, that is not the case at all. From dedicated children’s restaurants to activities and events, to tourist attractions that know just how to make even the most disinterested child want to know more, this is where your family will learn, have fun, and remember for the rest of their lives.
When to Visit
New York is beautiful in any season. Come in the spring when the greenery is budding, or in the summer when it’s hot and full of promise. Come in the autumn when the streets are buzzing, or in the winter when the snow is falling. Christmas in New York is spectacular.
Have you visited New York City? What tips would you give a first timer? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.