Most of my travel tips posts (mini guides, exploring city X) come from my wish to share you with you the places I’ve been and things I’ve done either in my home country or abroad, so that you can take note and be inspired for upcoming tips. And then there is this type of lengthy “guide” type of posts (essential guide to X), which actually stem from emails and suggestions that I’ve written for friends.
Which is the case with guide to New York City as well; I’ve visited the city 3 times so far, covered the “basics” (twice) and then went out to explore lesser exposed areas of the city like the Upper West Side and Brooklyn (albeit a small part of it). When two of my friends visited the city last year I drafted an email with all sorts of suggestions about sightseeing, dining and shopping. Fast forward to today, I’ve gone over that email, added more details (and of course pictures) and I’m (finally) sharing with you my ESSENTIAL guide to New York City! This guide is rather huge (as is New York City) so it’s being split in two sections: Sightseeing & Museums, Shopping, Dining and Exploring.
Sightseeing in New York City
New York City has so many sights and things to see and explore. To be honest in the eyes of a first time visitor, the whole city is a sight! I still have memories of the train approaching Manhattan (I got there from Washington DC) and seeing the Empire State building and Chrysler building all lit up in the distance (no One World Trade Center back then)!
Empire State Building (ESB)
Let’s start off with New York City’s trademark (along with the Statue of Liberty): Empire State Building. Built in the early 30s in a true art deco style, ESB used to be the tallest building in NYC until the original World Trade Center towers were built. The ESB observation desk provides beautiful views over Manhattan! Best time to visit is during dusk and during busy periods it is better to book your ticket in advance. You can find information about tickets prices (and of course book) right this way!
Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rock
Fifteen (or so) blocks north of ESB, you’ll find (another) grand art deco complex of total 19 buildings making up Rockefeller Center. The tallest building in the complex (One Rockefeller Plaza) is also equipped with an observation deck called Top of the Rock (in lower height than the ESB one) ideal for 360 views over Mantattan! The Rockefeller Plaza gets super busy come Christmas time, as a grand Christmas tree is set up here along with an ice rink! Again, the best time of the day to visit the observation deck is at dusk and you will find all the information about visiting Top of the Rock over at their website.
One World Trade Center and 9/11 Memorial
In November 2014 One World Trade Center opened its doors for business. Reportedly the building’s first tenant is Conde Nast Publications. In May 29th, 2015 the One World Observatory also opened its doors to the public (unfortunately after my last visit). Next to One World Trade Center lays the 9/11 Memorial pools in the place that the original Twin Towers were located as well as the 9/11 Museum. Information about One World Observatory can be found here and about the 9/11 Museum right here.
Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty is yet another iconic NYC fixture, which I had the pleasure of visiting up close and personal during my first visit in the city. If you are short on time or don’t bother visiting the statue but would like to get close, you can take the Staten Island Ferry, which is free of charge and passes pretty close to the Statue of Liberty.
If you do plan to visit the Statue of Liberty (combined with a visit at Ellis Island), I suggest that you book tickets in advance. I opted for tickets up to the statue’s pedestal and I learned much about the statue’s construction history, Eiffel’s involvement in building it and the fact that the statue is a gift from France, but the Americans still had to pay for the pedestal! I would have liked to get up to the crown but those tickets sell out fast even in low season! P.S. The sightseeing tour companies include combination tickets that include visit at Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on top of their tours around NYC.
Brooklyn Bridge is an iconic feature of New York City and is accessible both on foot and on bike! If you are pressed for time, Brooklyn Bridge most probably won’t be on your list, but it worth to walk on it, as it provides marvelous views of Manhattan and you can get all the way to Brooklyn and explore this neighborhood as well.
Related: A walk in Brooklyn and Williamsburg
I have a habit of getting to New York City late in the afternoon (all 3 times I’ve been there) and the first thing I do is go straight to Times Square!
The square is surrounded by buildings with countless LED displays featuring a variety of content (mostly advertisements) and It’s a place you’ll probably pass by, take some pictures, maybe shop and don’t bother again! My favorite stop in the area is the M&M’s world at Broadway and 48th street!
Central Park is probably the most famous park in the US and a popular filming location. My favorite spots in the park that you shouldn’t miss are Bow Bridge, Bethesda Fountain and Underpass as well as Belvedere Castle, which provides a nice view to the northeastern part of the park!
Related: A walk in Upper West Side
Grand Central Station
New York’s Grand Central Station is the largest rail station in the world in terms of platform capacity. It’s also famous for its exquisite concourse level (opening scene of Gossip Girl’s very first episode anyone?). It is located on Park Avenue and 42nd street and apart from admiring the architecture you can also visit one of its shops and dining options!
Museums in New York City
New York city caters for every art lover’s needs as it is home to hundreds cultural institutions. Here I’m presenting the city’s most famous museums, even the ones I haven’t had the time to visit yet (there’s always next time)!
Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET)
The MET is a must visit museum especially if you haven’t visited the Louvre in Paris and/or the British Museum in London. For me it’s the American equivalent of the Louvre and you can find pieces of art from all over the world. If you are a museums’ fan, you can literally spend a whole day here. If not, you better prioritize what you’d like to see. My favorite collections in the Museum are the Egyptian ones (especially the Dendur temple) and the American ones (especially Tiffany’s glasswork). The MET’s full price is $25 at the time of writing but keep in mind that you CAN pay as much as you like. Information about your visit can be found on the MET’s website.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
This has to be my favorite museum in New York City as I’m a big fan of modern and contemporary art. I also happened to study almost half of the museum’s exhibits as part of the history of art class I took in fashion school. I have been lucky enough to have seen Marina Abramovich performance “The Artist is present” a few years back and that was quite an experience. The museum has free entrance every Friday between 4 and 8pm. Full price is $25 at the time of writing and you can find more information at MoMa’s website.
I’ll be honest with you here: I’ve visited the Guggenheim museum twice and both times I ended up spending much more time taking pictures of the atrium of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed building rather than seeing the exhibits! If you do like to visit, do so on a Saturday afternoon, when entrance is donation based!
Whitney Museum of American Art
I’m bummed that I missed the museum’s opening at the new building in the Meatpacking District, but if you do find yourself in the area do stop for a visit, as the museum includes over 22,000 works created by more than 3,000 artists in the United States during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries! If you are interested in visiting, the Whitney’s website will provide you with all the information you’ll need.
The Neue Galerie (meaning New Gallery in German) is located almost opposite the MET and houses early 20th century German and Austrian art and design. More information can be found at Neue Galerie’s website.
The Frick Collection
This was a suggestion from a family friend when I first visited New York City, but there’s only so much one can see in 5 days in NYC, so I never got around to visiting, but I’m do passing the tip along to you. As per their website “The Frick Collection includes masterpieces of European painting, major works of sculpture (among them one of the finest groups of small bronzes in the world), superb eighteenth-century French furniture and porcelain, old master and nineteenth-century works on paper, Limoges enamels, and other works of remarkable quality” More information can be found at Frick Collection’s website.
New Museum of Contemporary Art
This was a suggestion as well, but haven’t visited yet! You see during my last visit in NYC last year I preferred to spent time exploring different neighborhoods rather than visit museums! The Museum was founded in 1977, as a leading destination for new art and new ideas. It is located in SoHo and you can find more about the museum and exhibitions on its website.
…and that’s a wrap for part 1 of my essential guide to New York City! Stay tuned for part 2 where I will cover shopping, dining and exploring cool neighborhoods in the city!