New York: the city that never sleeps, so good they named it twice, if you make it here you can make it anywhere. Etc etc.
You can download a PDF copy of this New York guide at the bottom of the page.
It’s literally the most hectic place on the planet, but if I had to be anywhere I’d be there. I just adore everything about it and life never feels quite right if I don’t have a date for my next visit.
I first travelled to New York as a wide-eyed and excited 21 year old and have visited many times since. I’ve stayed all over the place – Midtown, Brooklyn, the Meatpacking District, the East Village, the Lower East Side – and there is truly something in for everyone in this big, beautiful, slightly grubby city.
One of the things I get asked most often is for my N-Y-C Word document of dreams. As an obsessive trip planner, I record each and every one of my favourite New York places here, and after visiting both a best friend and a boyfriend who lived in the city many times these are not your usual tourist hotspots.
Without further ado, here is what I reckon to be the best of the best when it comes to taking on New York, my definitive New York guide. You can leave your art galleries, your Central Parks, your Times Squares (though if that stuff is your bag then please! Do those things too), here’s the REAL New York:
Flying to New York
It takes between 7-8 hours to fly to New York, and my airline of choice thanks to points and party atmosphere is always Virgin Atlantic. If you can swing it – by which I mean score some cheap-ish flights in their sale – I’d always fly Upper Class (BAR ON BOARD, BABY!!). But if you’re watching your wallet you can currently get return flights on Norwegian Air for around £275.
If possible I’d recommend flying in to Newark airport. Yes, it’s the Stansted to our London Heathrow, but once you’ve waited 3 hours in an immigration queue at JFK followed by a long hour and a half in a taxi into the city, the just-over-an-hour plane-to-city at Newark suddenly feels beautiful.
Welcome to New York – a New York Guide
Whether you stay in a hotel or apartment for your trip to New York is entirely down you. I love a good hotel so unless budget is a concern that’s my first option, but you can get some good deals in an Airbnb otherwise.
Hotel-wise you’ll be looking at anything between £250-£350 a night for a decent 4* hotel (I loved my stay at Public last year), but be prepared for the rooms to be Small with a capital S. You can get a studio or 1 bed apartment from £100-£180, depending on the area you go for.
Though good value, I wouldn’t recommend a room in someone’s apartment unless you can help it following an experience I had 4 years ago with a shared bathroom and a very yappy dog.
Soho is bursting with excellent shopping and some really iconic restaurants. Home of the Prada store that Carrie visits with Berger in Sex and the City and the location of some of my favourite bars, Soho is home to many a beautifully typical New York cast-iron building and high-end hotel. It’s buzzy and intimate, a really lovely area of the city.
My favourite thing to do in Soho is shop! You’ve got a huge Sephora, a Nike, a Forever 21 alongside the aforementioned Prada (a must-visit) and Gucci. Spend the morning traipsing around these stores before heading to Bathazar on Spring Street to people watch with a glass of champagne.
Also in Soho you’ll find La Esquina Mexican restaurant on Kenmare street: book the brasserie and on arrival you’ll be led through a secret door to an amazing ‘secret’ bar and restaurant. Continue the party vibe at Mother’s Ruin on Spring Street, just next door to Sweet and Vicious, a bar with a gorgeous outdoor patio that serves lethal Margarita slushies. Arrrriba!
If, like me, most of your early NYC references come from Sex and the City, you’ll know the Meatpacking district as the place where Samantha buys an apartment (and has lots of sex). It’s now not quite as happening as it once was but is the location of Soho House – if you visit in the summer and can get up to their rooftop pool it’s well worth it – as well as much of the filming of How To Be Single.
Window shop at the famous Diane Von Furstenburg store before taking a stroll along the High Line, stopping off for an espresso at The Standard (a hotel that has excellent river views) before wandering around nearby Chelsea Market and goggling at Google’s HQ.
A blow-dry is a necessity when in New York (when in Rome, eh?) and there’s a DryBar in the Meatpacking, again one that’s been in the movie How To Be Single. It’s a very pleasant way to spend half an hour – make sure you book ahead.
Everyone needs to experience at least one bottomless brunch in NYC and mine was at Fonda, just north of the Meatpacking district in Chelsea. I was told afterwards that “just because the drinks are unlimited doesn’t mean you have to drink them all, Alice”. I wasn’t sure what to reply except for “I’m British, that’s exactly what it means”.
The food was good, too. I think.
East Village/Lower East Side
For me, one of the most interesting areas of the city (and not just because it’s where my ex-boyfriend used to live). Back in the day this area used to be home to gems such as CBGBs and is now a thriving and energetic spot with amazing bars and eateries. I like staying here when I visit and again would recommend hotel Public (which also has a fantastic rooftop bar), so this is my favourite part of my New York guide.
Sunset over the pool at Hotel Indigo/ Bar Purple – a lovely rooftop bar
The Stanton and Rivington Street areas are buzzing full of brilliant bars – I love Pianos, Welcome to the Johnsons and Ludlow House, and Beauty & Essex is a restaurant experience that must not be missed – it’s really quite mad.
Up towards East Houston street we have Tiki Tabu at Sixty LES, a bar with gorgeous views towards the Empire State building, and The Library, a sticky-floored dive bar with moody staff. Dirty French restaurant is very good (a Kardashian was here the last time I visited) and Remedy Diner is the best 24 hour breakfast you’ll get in New York. It’s a better spot even than Katz’s Deli, though this is just around the corner so do stick your head in.
Still around the East Houston area you’ll find Russ and Daughters, a stalwart of New York Jewish comfort food along side the Clinton Street Bakery (go here for brunch!). Pig and Khao is a great choice for interesting South Asian fare with staff cooler than you or I will ever be, and Mission Chinese is Sichuan food done fantastically. Finally there’s The Grayson: a sports bar with banging chicken wings and all the beer you could possibly want to drink.
The Williamsburg bridge runs from the Lower East Side to Brooklyn: it’s not as iconic as the Brooklyn or Manhattan bridges but it’s a hell of a lot quieter and there’s loads to do once you get on the other side of the water.
A walk down to the Financial District
Busy during the week yet quieter during the evenings and weekends, the Financial District is a popular place for families to live and stay: Battery Park by the water on the southern tip especially is a great place for kids with its open space and parks.
Head to the Financial District to see the 9/11 Memorial – it’s an incredibly moving and sad spot but such a key part of New York’s history.
From here both Wall Street and City Hall are only a short stroll away.
The view from the IKEA Express Ferry
If you want to get out on the water I’d suggest doing it from this area via Pier 11 on the IKEA Express Ferry ($5). Not only is it a super cheap way to see the sights of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty but you alight in Red Hook Brooklyn, an area that feels light years away from the city and also home to the bloody amazing Brooklyn Crab. Go on a weekday lunchtime and order a bucket of crab sat on the top deck overlooking the water.
For me, this is a heavenly must-do.
Brooklyn Crab – You MUST wear the bib
An Uber into Manhattan from Brooklyn Crab runs to about $20: stop off and see DUMBO on your way back (and take THAT iconic photo ;).
This is where you’ll find both the Friends apartment and Carrie Bradshaw’s house, all within a few blocks of each other. Think tree-lined streets, the most expensive brownstones you’ll ever see and lovely little bistros on every corner.
One of my favourite ever New York experiences was renting a couple of bikes with my friend Craig: we cycled up through Chelsea and up 7th Ave for a pub crawl of sorts. I tell you, there’s something really quite incredible about freewheeling up such an iconic street. Loved it!
There aren’t many hotels in this area but I can recommend The Jane as a great budget option, and one with an amazing history. Even if you don’t stay here do try to get up to their rooftop bar for an afternoon G&T with the Statue of Liberty as your background.
This area is full of loads of little neighbourhood gems. Try Buvette for their excellent rosé and lovely European food, Pearl Oyster Bar for the best lobster rolls in NYC and The Spotted Pig well-known for a lively bar, its burger and shoestring fries. Little Branch, an underground jazz bar, is such a fantastic spot if you can get in, and the Comedy Cellar is a must-visit (they ALWAYS have famous comedians practicing their sets here, I’ve seen two in my four visits). Cafe Cluny is another great spot for food and I had a very lovely lunch here.
(Le) Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street is a cabaret venue that hosts Jessie’s Girl each Saturday night, a live 80s cover band that are SO SO SO good and The Garrett just along the road is a very cool speakeasy-type bar above a Five Guys. Lastly, Blue Note is another famed jazz bar that’s perfect for cosy nights with a martini.
Home to the hustle and bustle of Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, Broadway and the Rockerfeller Centre, Midtown is a bit much for me. If this is your first visit to New York and you want to see all the usual tourist spots it’s a very convenient place to base yourself.
Here I’ve stayed at the Ace Hotel, a more budget-friendly option (I booked via the Hotel Tonight app – use the code ‘AJUDGETALBOT’ for a £40 credit on a hotel stay in any city). The NoMad is a super sexy romantic hotel in the same area with a fabulous restaurant – I can recommend the lauded Roast Chicken for two.
The view from Bar 54
If you’re in the Times Square area you must head up high for a rooftop drink on one of the skyscrapers you spend your trip staring at. Bar 54 is the tallest on Times Square and can be found at the top of the Hyatt – worth a peek, even for people nervy of heights, like me. It makes people look like ants!
Eataly, a massive Italian food hall, is a must-visit for foodies. It’s basically the downstairs of Selfridges on acid. With pasta. Multiplied by a hundred. Just go, basically.
Upper East Side
The Knightsbridge of New York, the Upper East Side is fancy. It borders the east side of Central Park and is full of expensive restaurants, private schools, doorman buildings and ladies with small dogs wearing pearls (the ladies, not the dogs).
The Met steps and rooftop bar
For all fans of Gossip Girl a trip to the steps of The Met is a must, and I’d recommend you compliment that with a visit to the top of the museum to visit one of the least well-known rooftop bars in the city. With seasonal exhibitions, you can mooch around this area taking in the views, the art, and a cocktail. Perfection.
The Surrey is a quintessential Upper East Side hotel, and apart from the odd stroll around the Park (which is a very lovely thing to do) this is where my knowledge of the area ends.
Upper West Side
The Kills at Terminal 5
Bordered by both Central Park and Riverside Park, the Upper West Side is a quiet neighbourhood that’s another favourite with families where you’ll find the Lincoln Center and the American Museum of Natural History. Hell’s Kitchen borders UWS to the south and is where you’ll find Terminal 5, a grungy music venue. Well worth a visit here as well as the dive bars close by if there’s a band you fancy seeing.
Williamsburg has long thought to be Shoreditch’s twin in New York, an area full of hipsters, trendy restaurants and craft beer. Slightly quieter than frenetic Manhattan, there are plenty of very lovely hotels here you can take your pick from – The Hoxton, The William Vale and the Wythe.
Westlight is the bar on top of the William Vale and has the absolute best views over the river towards Manhattan. This is one of my favourite places in the city.
I like to take a lunchtime walk across the river to Williamsburg, up Beford Avenue (the main drag) before ending up with these wonderful views. Along here you can visit Maison Premiere for oysters and absinthe cocktails, Lucky Dog for pup-friendly drinks, a garden and shuffleboard, and Berry Park for a laid-back roof terrace.
Also in Williamsburg you’ll find Brooklyn Winery, a place for locally-produced wines and interesting tapas plates (I love it here), Sweet Chick for excellent fried chicken, Fantastic southern food at The Commodore and beautiful Italian in a converted garage at Lilia.
Hotel Delmano is not in fact a hotel but a cosy date night venue for drinks and nibbles, and Union Pool is a buzzy bar in an old pool store with a taco truck in the back. Brooklyn Bowl is of course an institution, and if your jet lag isn’t killing you they have some great shows late-night.
I’m saving my only restaurant burger recommendation for DuMont, a casual brasserie on Bedford where you can sit on the sidewalk and people watch over your beef and a beer. And for BBQ meat try Fette Sau – food by the pound in a converted garage. Freehold by the water in Williamsburg calls itself a ‘hotel without hotel rooms’ and it’s just that: a hotel lobby-style bar with a fantastic outside area that lends itself to music and frozen cocktails as the day gets older (I love this place).
One thing you must do when in New York is get a mani-pedi, and my favourite to do this as a walk-in is Primp & Polish on Bedford Ave. Go shopping afterwards at Catbird, congratulating yourself on your beautiful hands.
And here ends Alice’s definitive New York guide! I’d love to know where you enjoy going when you’re in the city.
Click here to download a PDF copy of this guide.