NEW YORK CITY – What more could one possibly write regarding the world’s most famous city? Truth be told – not much. The most famous city is surely the most documented and, without doubt, the last thing you want is to be bored by yet another descriptive dialog detailing the greatness of New York City. It needs no introduction and I’m not going to give you one. So, you ask, what interest do I have in yet another blog on New York?
The reason behind this post – like the vast majority of my blogs – documents how to get around the city within the limited time constraints of a layover. My layover concept, (see previous blog), has rarely worked so well. By laying the ground work – and mapping out some almighty walking tours – my 4 day itinerary is a great example of my layover concept working to its best effect and precisely the reason I have decided to open my first blog with it.
I should stress that 4 days is not typical of a layover, however, there will always be occasions where you do have a little longer and exceptions should be made for cities such as New York. If, unfortunately, you only have 24 hours, my 4 day itinerary is designed to act as a guide for how to maximize that limited period. Even with less than 24 hours you can tackle this almighty city, taking away the memories of, what might just be, the most perfect day in New York City. Here’s how…
(To skip to my walking tour itineraries and bullet point suggestions please scroll to the bottom)
Prices are steep and rooms are small. Sadly something we must all come to terms with whilst staying in New York. Cheaper options are available outside of Manhattan, however, within the limited time frame I’ve outlined I advise, (and with no disrespect to the other boroughs intended), staying on the island.
So where in Manhattan? Most first-timers opt to stay near the Theater district around Times square. A good option for nightlife and food in Midtown after hours however not necessarily the best value for money. If we are talking about location I’m sure most New Yorkers would tell you to forget the theater district – much better for nightlife is Chelsea, the Meatpacking district and Greenwich or West village. The East village, Lower East side and the districts of Nolita, Noho and Soho, not far from this action, with a great deal of nightlife themselves, also present good options and, if you ask me, where the real heart of New York lay. This entire area south of midtown between E/W 14 St and E/W Houston street is where, I believe, you should really be looking to stay for the quintessential New York Layover.
So what are your choices? Well, if you can stretch your budget I would recommend The Standard (http://standardhotels.com/east-village) in the heart of this, above mentioned, area. The rooms are nice, (if a little small), with views to die for, friendly staff and one of the best locations south of midtown. You can, however, forgo the free breakfast. If this seems a little steep, a good compromise, midway between Times Square and Greenwich village, in the heart of midtown, is the Gershwin hotel (http://www.gershwinhotel.com). At very reasonable prices and with a very helpful and friendly set of staff – a good cheap option although I should say the rooms are very tired. There are, of course, countless others and I would recommend crosschecking these against others on review based sites such as Trip-advisor to find one that meets your personal needs and budget.
How to get around in New York? Simple – walk. Each individual area in New York is immensely walkable and with the exception of getting to and from certain areas of town – you absolutely, where possible, should take to the streets by foot. My 4 day recommended itinerary is based on some almighty walking tours that enable you to take in the major sights whilst exploring all the boutique shops, markets, eateries and cafes, in between. Of course with the time of the year being an important factor – being stinking hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter – the best time to come would be the spring or autumn (or fall for you Americans). If it’s particularly unpleasant outside your options, as most cities, are the bus, metro, or taxi. The metro being easy enough to use, although not an altogether pleasant experience, and cabs at a reasonable price with many easy enough to flag down.
It’s impossible to say exactly where you should eat in NYC. With so much good global food on the offering it’s difficult to go wrong. What I will say is do your homework. Write down the institutions and give them a go… Here are a few of my recommendations.
Italian food in particular is very good in NY with some of the best pizza you can get outside of Italy (Yes thin crust is absolutely the way a pizza was meant to be)! In Nolita and Little Italy try Rubirosa, Peasant or Oregano for some of the best to be had Italian food. Grimaldi’s for a legendary slice can be found in Brooklyn Bridge Park (Tip – work up an appetite by walking the bridge over from Manhattan first!). A stop should also be made in Eataly food hall for lunch followed by a beer atop Birreria (roof top bar).
For the best burger, dare I say it, Minetta Tavern and the Spotted Pig are both contenders. Other burger institutions include the Burger Joint, Social Eatz and the much loved Shake Shack (don’t personally understand the hype here). For the best dog both Grey’s Papaya and Crif-Dogs are something of institutions. (Travelers tip – be sure to call ahead and book a spot in the novelty bar PDT – Please Don’t Tell – accessed via a secret telephone booth inside Crif-Dogs).
For Brunch – absolutely go to Cafe Orlin in the East village. Otherwise the Cookshop and Balthazar are great spots. The best bagel will also stir up fierce debates among New Yorkers. Try Russ & Daughters, Ess A Bagel or David’s Bagels for some classic doughy goodness (among countless others). For sandwiches – Katz’s Delicatessen is a very famous institution – or, for something a little different, try Baohaus (Taiwanese sandwiches) or El Margon (Cuban sandwiches). The best markets include the Chelsea market, Union Square market and the New Amsterdam market.
Other restaurants include Danji for some excellent Korean inspired tapas. ABC Kitchen for some modern American fare is a great restaurant. Don’t miss Little Owl in the West Village (my personal favorite). Les Halles is Anthony Bourdains French, meat lovers, restaurant. Kutsher’s Tribeca is good Jewish fare. Joe’s Shanghai for dumplings in China town – another institution. While Takashi, Sushi Yasuda or Ichimura at Brushstroke provide some good Japanese options. And so the list goes on… Anyway as I said before, do your homework and cross check any suggestions, including these, that you come across on either Yelp or Trip Advisor. My Itineraries below outline my suggestions for certain areas that tie in to where you are at a particular time. Ill try to give options where possible.
What to see in NYC? Well, if you can manage it, as much as is humanly possible. The danger here, of course, like any layover, is rushing everything but not really seeing anything. My walking tours give you the option of taking your time and really exploring the individual areas of New York. Of course you won’t manage to see everything but you can give it a damn good go. My Travelers tip, as always, is try and be unconventional with your sightseeing. Strolling along the high line is much more enjoyable than standing in one! Enjoy the view from atop a roof top bar instead of being herded along side swarths of other tourists trying to get atop the Empire state building. Walk along Battery City Park and enjoy the Statue of Liberty in all her glory instead of spending the entire afternoon on top an overcrowded boat full of other sweaty tourists. Central Park, mercifully, can be enjoyed by everyone with no worry of time wasting. Museums, on the other hand, are a different story. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, considered, perhaps, the best in NYC, is sadly a full day affair and unless that’s all you plan to see, sacrifices must be made. What you decide to do is ultimately up to you, but I hope my tours will demonstrate just how much you can do by being smart about it.
Shop or sightsee? See a broadway show or simply play it cool in a Jazz bar? Once again the choice is yours and the choices are good. Ill demonstrate what we managed to do in 4 days and how you can fit your ideal activities to match your quintessential layover experience.
DAY 1 – The perfect introduction…
- Madison Square Garden (A) – Start your day here. Cross the road at the southern end to get your perfect snap shot of the Flatiron building!
- The High Line (B), Chelsea and Meatpacking district – Either walk from Madison Square Garden via Broadway and then W 27th street (via the flower market) and then W 28th street to the northern end of the high line or, alternatively, start your day here. Feel free to explore some of the many galleries in the surrounding area.
- Brunch at Cookshop and a stroll through Chelsea market (C) – Have a picnic at your favorite spot along the high-line with goodies purchased at the wonderful Chelsea market. Or simply take a pitstop and fill up with a hearty breakfast from the Cookshop (on corner of W 20st and Tenth Ave).
- Exploring the West village and Greenwich village – Drop off the High Line from its southern most exit and take a right till you reach the hudson. Stroll down the riverside till you hit pier 45 then cut back into Manhattan inventing your own way through the more difficult to navigate West village. Be sure to stop for lunch at the Spotted Pig (D) – a great gastro pub.
- Washington Square park (F) and the East village – Take a stop at washington square park for a bit of people watching before strolling onwards towards the East Village to explore St Marks Place (H). (Alternatively cut left passing Union Square park (G) and check out the market there – if you have a show to catch that evening in the theatre district I would advise heading that direction – planning for an early bite at ABC kitchen off E 18th Street or pop into Eataly a little further on back at Madison Square Garden to complete a nice circle (see top). If I only had 24hours that is what I’d recommend – then catch a cab or take the metro to your particular show followed by a jazz or piano bar in the theatre district. If you have a little more time then save that for another night and keep reading.)
- Nolita for dinner and drinks in the Lower East Side – From the East village, if its not time for dinner yet (in which case you walk really fast) then grab a drink first or head onto Nolita, Little Italy or China town for dinner. Check out one of my suggestions above, such as the Peasant or Rubirosa, following that with some the drinks in the adjacent areas of either Soho or the Lower East Side. OR…
- Little Owl (E) for dinner and Jazz in the West Village – Alternatively from the East village make your way back to Little Owl in the West Village (be sure to book in advance) – I cannot recommend this place enough – followed by an evening of Jazz in places such as the Bar Next Door or Village Vanguard. (This would be my preference if I only had 24 hours and wasn’t going to see a broadway show). Finally head home reflecting on your perfect first day in NYC.
DAY 2 – Paying respects (just not to my legs)…
- Little Italy and Chinatown – Start your day close to where you finished yesterday having a good feed at either Cafe Orlin (East Village) or Balthazar (Nolita). Save room for a bagel to go (and possibly some chocolate pretzels) from Russ & Daughters (A) then head south down Mulberry street passing through both Little Italy and Chinatown.
- Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge Park – From Chinatown head to city hall and find your way onto the Brooklyn Bridge (B). Walk across the bridge then exit left on the other side to head down into Brooklyn Bride Park (C) for the best view of this stunning bridge. After a flurry of photo taking grab a slice at Grimaldi’s (D) (Front St) or take the metro from High St to Chambers St and grab a Shake Shack (A – next map – 215 Murray St) burger and milkshake before exploring the surrounds of Lower Manhattan.
- 9/11 Memorial and Wall street – Pay your respects at the stark 9/11 memorial (B) before heading south through Wall Street to the New York Stock Exchange (C). From here continue in the same direction till you reach Battery City Park (D). Make your way to the waterfront.
- Battery City Park to Battery City – Admire the Statue of Liberty before turning right and follow the waterfront all the way round till you reach Battery City (E) (adjacent Murray St to complete a circle) or until you have had enough… If your feeling super fit and still have time in the afternoon cut back into Manhattan from the water front from chambers st, north of Battery City and the World Trade Centre, to explore Tribeca area, or, if completely knackered and jet-lagged, as we were, hop in a cab back to your hotel for an afternoon nap before dinner and drinks.
- Dinner and drinks in the West Village or East village – Depending on where you ended up last night I would select the other area for dinner and drinks (see above). If it happens to be your last night I would seriously consider heading for a show and something to eat and drink afterwards in the Theater district near Times Square. An alternative option would be to have a feed at a restaurant in Lower Manhattan such as Les Halles then head into Tribeca area for another nightlife hotspot.
DAY 3 – Quintessential New York – Central Park and a Broadway show…
- Roosevelt Island and Central Park – Grab some breakfast (Options include Ess A Bagel located (A) on E 51 St and Third Ave or Rue 57 on E 57th St and Sixth Ave) before starting your day with a quick hop across to Roosevelt Island on the cable car (B) (4 minute aerial tram for stunning views of the Upper East Side). Take a few snap shots before jumping back across to Manhattan. From the cable car terminal walk West along E 59 St till you get to the South-Eastern corner of central park. Take a stroll, which ever way you so desire, up the Eastern side of central park making your way to the Metropolitan museum.
- The Met or Guggenheim museum? – Spend all day exploring either The Met (C) and/or the Guggenheim museum (D) within a few blocks of each other before heading to the Theater district for a Broadway show. Alternatively, as we did, take a very abbreviated tour of the Met by visiting the most famous Monet paintings and then take a breather atop its roof bar for amazing views of Central park.
- Central Park – Pass by the Guggenheim then cut back West into central park making your way (depending on how much time you have to spare), round the Northern or Southern side of the big reservoir before coming back down the Western side of Central Park. A great lunch option would be to swing by Yura on Madison (E 92 St) first and pick up a ready-made box lunch ideal for a picnic.
- The Upper West Side – Exit central park heading West down W 74th St and make a pitstop at both Levain Bakery (F) (for some of the best cookies you have ever tried) and then Grey’s Papaya (corner of W 72nd St and Broadway) for a pre show snack (Traveler’s Tip – so you can enjoy a late dinner afterwards). Alternatively exit a little earlier on W 81 St till you get to Broadway and check out Zabar’s (E) – a cool kitchen and food store) then make your way south via Levain Bakery and Grey’s Papaya. Continue south down Broadway (if you have time stop to admire the Lincoln Centre) till you reach the Theatre district (G) in time for your perfect Broadway show (Traveler’s Tip – unless after a specific show, you can grab tickets at the TKTS Booth, where same-day top Broadway shows go for half the price!)
- Broadway show and the Theater district – After the show find a place for dinner. I would recommend Danji (not open on sundays) if only for the sliders (a combo of bulgogi beef and spiced pork belly served on mini grilled buns – unbelievable). Other options are numerous and include super fine dining (book well in advance) restaurant Le Bernardin or simply a number of other cheap but good Japanese eateries. Following dinner find a great Jazz bar or check out The Rum House (a piano bar) or alternatively Don’t Tell Mama (cabaret) for a jolly good evening. Be sure to stroll through Times Square at night to cap off another great day.
DAY 4 – Shop (and walk) till you drop… a final flurry.
- Department stores – Start your day near to where you began yesterday exiting the metro at the 59th St exit on Lexington Avenue (A). Depending on what you desire shopping wise (or simply to admire some of these impressive American department stores) stroll around the area from here. A number of department stores to check out (all within easy reach of one another) include Barney’s (clothes), Bloomingdales (clothes), Nike Town (sports), Apple Store (computer goods), Argosy (books), FAO Schwarz (children’s toys) and Dlyan’s Candy Bar (food and drink) to name but a few.
- MoMA – If shopping isn’t your thing check out MoMA (B) – a cool modern art museum – easy to do within an hour or two. Or simply go here before or after shopping (opens at 1030am). For lunch make your way across to Danji (C), if you haven’t yet been (a little out of the way but well worth it), or have a burger from Burger Joint or Social Eatz.
- Rockefeller Centre – After lunch make your way to Fifth Avenue then turn south till you reach the infamous Rockefeller Centre (D). For arguably better views than the Empire State building head up Top of the Rock (should the queues not present too much of a wait) with the added advantage that you will actually get to see the Empire State building in all her glory. Traveler’s tip – if the queues really are horrendous (as they will then be at the Empire State building) then try a roof top bar instead (keep reading).
- Grand Central Terminal and Chrysler Building – Continue down Fifth Avenue till you hit E 42nd St and make a left for a snap shot inside Grand Central Terminal (E) followed by a close up of the beautiful Chrysler building. Get yourself back onto Fifth and continue south. If the Rockefeller was out of the question and you don’t have time to do the Empire State building grab a gin and tonic at Top of the Strand (F) (just off Fifth on W 37th street) for an alternative roof top experience. Two more roof top options are available (keep reading).
- Empire State Building and Madison Square Park – Continuing south on Fifth pass the Empire State building on your right continuing till you reach Madison Square park. Grab a drink atop either 230-fifth (a fav roof top bar) or Birreria (G) before dinner. For dinner grab something to eat in Eataly or alternatively, continuing south on Broadway (till E 17th St), stop off at ABC Kitchen (H) (wonderful whole wheat pizzas are a personal recommendation).
- The East Village and a late night Crif Dog – Finish your final day in NYC with drinks in the many bars along St Marks Place in the East village. Grab a dog (if your stomach can manage) at Crif Dogs before trying to bag a spot in the novelty bar PDT (call ahead!!!). Hit the hay or continue into the early hours of the morning to really maximize your quintessential New York Layover experience.
Did you like my blog? If so, or not, please drop us a line – I’d love to hear your suggestions and comments.