Tara’s list of things to see and do (and why it’s better than all the others…)
There are a million, yes a million!, lists on the intertubes about what to see and do when you travel to New York City. Most share the obvious things, but what I find frustrating about them is that I never find the time to do all the things mentioned. Plus, THOSE lists are expensive. You know what I mean – dine at Rainbow Room, see a Broadway Play, take a horse and carriage around Central Park. All of those things are lovely (even if I’ve only done one of them – Broadway plays), but it always seems to be the little moments that define my trips. The unexpected finds, the inexpensive shops…those become the things I talk about.
What about you?
So, here in no particular order are my list of requirements for a good time in NYC. Your miles may vary.
1. A great cup of coffee and a bagel.
Seriously, if I’m going to be running around the city all day, I need some good caffeine. Please, do me a favor, and b-r-a-n-c-h out beyond Starbucks. I have nothing against Starbucks. But you’re in NYC! There are some really cool coffee places. I liked…no, loved…Caffe Bene on Broadway and 48th/49th…somewhere in there. It just opened, it gets like 3 star reviews from snotty yelpers and I have no idea why. Yummy coffee, chocolate covered waffles, delicious chocolate cake…all of it so good late at night.
If you’re going for the morning cup of joe, try Carve on 47th and 8th. It’s a good and bustling breakfast place, that has delicious pizza (yes, I know…odd choice for breakfast so go for lunch!) Yummy bagels, too.
Then there is destination coffee. One of my favorite places in NYC, coffee or no coffee is La Lanterna De Vittorio in Greenwich Village on 129 Macdougal Street and 3rd Avenue. It’s an Italian cafe that just oozes character and even romance. It’s the place you go to sit at a table and sip your coffee drink spiked with some liqueur while eating a yummy treat – either of the entrée or dessert variety. The star of the place is their garden room with the glass roof, which makes it a great idea to eat there during daylight. It gets super crowded at night, which is the time I always seem to end up there. Anytime of day, it’s a great place.
If it’s a true NYC bagel you’re after, you can’t beat Ess-a-Bagel on 3rd near 51st street. If you’re lucky, you’ll get there as they are taking the bagels out of the oven. Order you favorite kind of bagel and pick from the mouth-watering selection of cream cheese options they have available.
There are a million places for coffee…even food trucks sell coffee. If you’re willing to try a food truck, you may as well check out Wafels & Dinges. These famous NYC food trucks sell incredible waffles topped with almost anything you want, from ice cream to chocolate syrup to whipped cream, to a variety of fresh fruits. You’ll need to check their website to see where their trucks are located that day. Go to www.wafelsanddinges.com.
You have to go in Tiffany’s just to say you went in there. You can buy a key fob for about $100, but honestly, just take a picture. Same for FAO Schwartz. Both are located in the same general area of Manhattan – both on 5th Avenue between 56th and 59th. You should also plan a visit to the Apple store. It will be a zoo, but there is just about every Apple product you would ever need there. Plus, it’s next to FAO Schwartz, so you can do both at the same time. An even cooler store – actually concept showroom – is the Samsung Galaxy Studio in SoHo at Broadway and Wooster. I’m not even a Samsung user, and I thought the store was fun.
In the same general area is Niketown at 57th near 5th Avenue, a 4 (or is it 5?) story Nike store. Just go and buy some socks, but check it out. Every Nike product you would ever need or want is there.
While near the east side of Central Park, walk up 5th Avenue (which borders the Park) to 71st street. Cut over to Madison Avenue and check out Ladurée – the Parisian macaron store where the famous treats are flown in three times per week from the City of Light. Each macaron will set you back about $2.80, but as far as expenses in Manhattan go, that’s pretty good. I ordered 10, asked for a non-fancy box, and they put 8 in the box and gave me two in a bag. The flavors include chocolate, vanilla, coffee, salted caramel, lemon, pistachio, raspberry, strawberry, and more. Know what you want when you get up there, as a line will be waiting behind you. The experience will make you feel like you’re in Paris, although the Ladurée in Paris is on the Champs Elysees and has a tea room.
As I am not really into fashion, I did not check out the latest shops. You’ll have to check out other NYC lists for that!
3. Carmine’s in Times Square.
Absolutely incredible Italian food, and they serve the food family style. This means that whether you have 1 person or 12 people, the platters you order serve 5. I’d say go and order the Caesar Salad and just take the rest home, but then you’re going to miss out on the Chicken Marsala, or the Porterhouse Peppercorn platter, or…well, there a whole menu for you to drool over.
But, Carmine’s can be crowded, and you might not want to venture in if there’s just a few of you without a reservation. I’ve done exactly this twice. So what do you do? You eat at the bar. Oh yes…they have a bar – two actually – one upstairs and one downstairs. And…they have a bar menu. You can order a meal for one there. The meatball subs are to. die. for. And they come with a side Caesar salad. Ommmgeee.. Sooo good. Order that with a glass of their Pinot Grigio and you’ve got a fabulous meal. Plus, the bartender is always there…no having to wait for the server to refill your wine glass. Talk to the folks next to you for some great conversation. You can, of course, order the regular meals at the bar, too. But their sandwiches are incredible. The wine is great. And ordering enough for two people is a great option and inexpensive.
4. Cycling in Central Park
Whew! After all that shopping and eating you need to venture outside. Central Park is the heart of the city, and it’s HUGE. The only way to see it is to spend all day walking through it, paying a lot of money for a horse and carriage ride, paying a medium amount of money for someone to drive you around in a rickshaw (which seems a little weird), or…you can rent bikes. For $25, you can rent a bike for three hours (one and two hours are available as well). Just start walking toward the park. You will see vendors as you approach offering you carriage rides. At the bottom of their list is the bike option. Select that, and they will walk you to their storefront about a block away where you will pay, get your helmet, and your bike. Make sure the seat is at the height you want it. Ask for a basket if you have bags you are carrying. There are broad lanes in Central Park, and cyclists use the center lane. You can also get off the bike and walk it on some of the pathways, stop to stretch out on one of the lawns, or view the lovely lakes. Just note, Central Park is hilly! You’ll get a great work out.
Take your bikes out of the park for a harrowing ride in NYC. Only do this if you’re feeling adventurous. Riding on the streets of Manhattan is a little crazy. But, if you do go, you can bike up to Columbia University on the upper west side, pass St. John the Divine Episcopal Church for some photos of the lovely cathedral, and stop at Broadway and Amsterdam for lunch at Tom’s Restaurant – aka, the Seinfeld hangout.
Bike on down to 65th (via Central Park) and pedal over a few blocks to Lincoln Center. If you happen to be there on a Wednesday, you can attend Julliard’s free concerts – Wednesday at One. Just note: these are popular. Get tickets ahead of time if possible or get there early. Just seeing the gorgeous concert hall is worth it on its own.
5. Southern tip of Manhattan
There’s a lot to do on the southern tip of the island, not the least of which is to honor the nearly 3,000 people who died there on 9/11/2001. The World Trade Center opens in the Spring of 2014. The memorial is a moving experience, to be sure. However, my recommendation is St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway and Vesey Street. This was the site of the recuperation efforts for the first responders who came from around the country to help in the rescue and recovery. Volunteers came from around the country to care for the first responders, and an outreach ministry was born. Visit the chapel to see pictures from the long months the chapel was used to care for first responders.
Also note that George Washington attended church here (which is why the chapel used to be on the tourist trail).
Just 5 blocks east on Front Street is the South Street Seaport. From here you have a collection of shops, and helpfully, a TKTS booth. From this booth, you can buy reduced priced Broadway tickets for the following day. You can’t do that in Times Square! Plus, there’s usually a small line, unlike the 30 minute line you’ll find in midtown. Beyond the TKTS booth, walk to the waterfront and look at the tall ships (sans the sails).
Located at the World Trade Center, the PATH train is an easy and efficient way to get out of the city for some great Hoboken pizza. For $2.50, you can take a short ride across the Hudson to escape the craziness of Manhattan, walk on Washington Street, or view the gorgeous New York City skyline. There are great pizza places in Hoboken, and you can barely take two steps without bumping into one.
From Hoboken, take a short taxi ride over to Weehawken’s Chart House. Sit in the bar area, order from the bar menu during happy hour, and watch the incredible sunset over Manhattan. But you’re facing east!, you say. True, true. But the setting sun reflects off the buildings of New York City and provides a feast for the eyes. Step outside the bar to take some pictures and just take in your surroundings. Enjoy the relaxing feeling of being across the Hudson from the city that never sleeps.
Going back to Manhattan from New Jersey can be accomplished on the PATH right into 34th street station. But why not take the Weehawken ferry? This will set you back about $13.00/person, but the view of the city is worth it.
Back in midtown, you can take in your Broadway play for which you purchased tickets from the TKTS vendor the day before in the South Street Seaport. After the play, venture up to the rotating restaurant at the Marriott Marquis on 45th and Broadway. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s worth it. You’ll get an incredible view of the tops of Manhattan’s most famous buildings while in the midst of midtown. Order a fancy coffee drink or even try out the buffets. There is a dessert buffet, too, so check that out!
If you love Jazz, you must check out the famous, and oh-so-intimate Blue Note in Greenwich Village. At 131 W. 3rd street and around the corner from the aforementioned La Lanterna, the Blue Note is a Jazz club and restaurant that features famous and up and coming jazz musicians. I had the pleasure of seeing Rachael Price of the band Lake Street Drive there (who has been making the rounds on the TV talk shows and who has won a grammy) when she was just an up-and-comer. Go on a Monday night for the new artist series and get in for about $10 to sit at the bar or $20 to sit at a table. Make a reservation and splurge on the table. You’ll have a much better view. Go at Christmastime (not cheap) and you can see the famous Chris Botti who performs there for about a week before Christmas.
9. St. Bart’s on Park Avenue
Detox from your steady diet of entertainment and fancy food by attending a service in Manhattan while you’re there. I’m Episcopalian, so I love attending St. Bart’s on Park Avenue and 51st. However, there’s a service for every religion and every belief system.
No list on Manhattan would be complete without mentioning the museums. Some of the world’s greatest museums are here, from the Museum of Natural History to the Museum of Modern Art to the Guggenheim. Do not try to see it all in one trip. New York is so great that you’ll be back!
11. Bonus tip!
(And who doesn’t like bonuses?) Finally, while this last item is not a place to see, it is a thing you must do. Take the subway. You will spend so much time in traffic otherwise, thus preventing you from seeing as much as you can of this great city. You can download apps on your smart phone, but honestly, the easiest thing to do is just to let Google Maps tell you which trains to take. It will even tell you when the next train is coming. The subways are super-efficient, cheap, and easy to use. Buy a $30 pass to last you a week, and make use of this great way to get from one place to another quickly. (I do recommend that when you arrive into New York that you take a taxi. You’re still getting your bearings and you have a bunch of luggage with you.)
Need an app to get around? Check out HopStop at https://www.hopstop.com/
I hope you have found this list helpful! Have items or ideas to add? Please share below. Thanks!
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