Somehow in the last four years I’ve managed to travel to one of my favourite places in the world – New York City – a grand total of nine times. For me it’s one of the most magical places on the planet: as much as I love London, nothing matches the energy and vibe of The Big Apple, the city that never sleeps, and there are tons of things to do in New York.
I returned from my most recent trip earlier this week and so thought it was about time I did a round-up of my absolute favourite things to do there. So here you have it: my dream itinerary, hopefully somewhat away from the usual tourist traps…
Things to do in New York
1. Eat Seafood
I’ve eaten the best seafood in my life in New York; Oysters and Crabs in particular. Maison Premiere on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg is a gorgeous candle-lit date spot (get there earlier than 6 to get seated right away), or try the incredible oysters at Rue 57 which is a brilliant midtown spot to dine on the pavement and people-watch.
However, my favourite spot of all has to be Brooklyn Crab across the water from Downtown Manhattan in Red Hook. Make your way down to Wall Street late afternoon to catch the $5 IKEA water taxi across: the views are spectacular. There’s nothing quite like cracking incredible crab legs (the snow crab is my FAVOURITE) while gazing past industrial Brooklyn to the island beyond. Amazing.
If you’re travelling by boat this is an experience best enjoyed weekday afternoons – the weekends get insanely busy, but you won’t ever be waiting longer than an hour for a table.
2. Walk Over a Bridge
The bridges in New York are awe-inspiring and so walking across one of them is one of the best things to do in New York. Brooklyn Bridge is arguably the most brilliant, but steer clear of this on weekends and busy periods if you’re not a fan of big crowds of people (like me) – it will be overrun with camera-wielding tourists (er, like me).
Williamsburg Bridge is slightly less breathtaking but it’s less busy, more spacious, and leads you slap bang into the middle of trendy-central, Williamsburg.
3. Go To Brooklyn
There is so much to see and do in Brooklyn with some amazing eateries and adult-friendly activities. Bedford is the main drag through hip Williamsburg with a brilliant selection of pubs and bars (try Lucky Dog if you’re a fan of pooches – there’s a lovely outside area). I also love Brooklyn Winery for something different, and Brooklyn Brewery offer daily tours. Brooklyn Bowl is a legendary family-friendly venue that turns into a nightclub come 11pm: DJ Questlove’s Bowl Train on a Thursday night is loads of fun.
4. Eat With The Models
Every time I go to New York I am absolutely astounded by how many beautiful people there are. On this most recent trip to the Lower East Side they pretty much all seemed to be congregating in the hip (read: loud and expensive) restaurants, looking all cool, aloof, beautiful and skinny. Beauty and Essex is really good fun – mostly because you’ll be waiting for a table so long that by the time your food arrives you’ll be four drinks down – and it feels a little bit like you’re dining in a nightclub. Dirty French is slightly quieter with really lovely food and eccentric service.
5. Visit Grand Central Station
Whether you’re a fan of Gossip Girl or not, Grand Central Station is amazing. There’s also an amazing Oyster Bar in the dining section below: yay, more seafood!
This is massively British of me but I hate the fact that each time you walk into a shop you’ll find an assistant or six in your face asking how your day is going and what you need.
6. Don’t Go Shopping
Here’s the thing: everyone tells you to go shopping in New York. But I can’t stand it; it’s a totally different shopping experience to the one we have in the UK.
This is massively British of me but I hate the fact that each time you walk into a shop you’ll find an assistant or six in your face asking how your day is going and what you need. That intensifies if you try clothes on as they’ll all want to crowd around you telling you how *gorgeous* you look in whatever you’re considering. I find the whole thing quite intense and insincere, and as there aren’t too many things you won’t find in the UK anyway – this time the only place I nearly bought something was L.K. Bennett – I’d rather save my shopping experience for airport duty free.
Sephora is excluded from this, of course. Always go to Sephora.
7. Drink in a Dive Bar
For some reason, there’s nothing like drinking beers and playing songs on a juke box (probably an 80s British band) in a Dive Bar. Try the infamous Doc Holliday’s in the East Village, or the atmospheric Library on the Lower East Side.
8. Hire Bikes
There are many ways you can hire a bike in New York, and riding one through the busy streets is really not as daunting as it sounds. It’s a great way to explore the leafy areas of Greenwich and the West Village, and if you’re brave enough up through Midtown to the park.
9. Eat Pizza (and drink beer while you wait for it)
You can’t visit New York and not eat pizza! Prince St Pizza in NoLita is the best small slice shop but with the biggest queues: drink a beer and people watch at Oficina Latina while you wait for them to die down. Speedy Romeo in Brooklyn or the Lower East Side also does great classics (and more inventive specials – the Kale Apple Salad was amazing and to die for).
10. Get a Proper Bagel
One last food you must eat before you leave the Big Apple: BAGELS! Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side are an institution and sell arguably the best bagels around, but if you like your portions big (like most New York food establishments, natch) try Tompkins Square Bagels in the East Village. I have mine with smoked salmon and cream cheese, obvs.
11. Explore a Rooftop
New York is arguably the city for rooftops. You’ll find them everywhere: as high or as low as you like.
As someone who hate heights I will always prefer the low ones – Tiki Tabu has lovely views towards the Empire State Building – but for some WOW factor you really have to look at the vertiginous Rooftops. This trip my all-time favourite was Westlight at the new William Vale hotel: a busy place (reserve if you can) but oh-so glorious.
12. See a Comedy Show
One of my favourite things to do in New York is visit the Comedy Cellar, the ultimate comedy venue for impromptu pop-ins by big names. Here I’ve seen Aziz Ansari, Mo Amer, Craig Robinson and Judy Gold in a teeny tiny room… amazing.
This trip I travelled to Newark airport over JFK and the difference was amazing: quicker security lines and only 30 minutes into the city (rather than the nearing 2 hours you get from JFK at rush hour). If I was staying on Manhattan over Brooklyn, I’d travel through here whenever I could.
Arrived early in the morning and can’t check into your hotel yet? Finding a hotel or a place that offers luggage storage could allow you to explore without having to lug your suitcase around. Some train stations in New York have secure luggage drop-off points located in them or around them that you can use. In fact, you can find these luggage drop-off points in cities all around the world – this luggage storage in Victoria Station could be great for a London trip.
The Lower East Side is such a great place to stay if you’re into the emerging foodie scene, and is so quick into Soho, Greenwich/West Village, NoLita and the East Village. It’s also only a mile away from the Financial District (to the south) and two from Midtown (north). We stayed at the Sixty LES which was minimal but great, and had a rooftop pool which was appreciated in the July heat. I’d also recommend The Bowery in this area or The Ludlow.
Over in Soho you have the Crosby Street Hotel or The Mercer, and up in Midtown the Ace is a more pocket-friendly (but still lovely) place.
PS: 12 things to do in Brooklyn