So, I was a New Yorker recently. Here's my guide to the city for people visiting.
JOHN'S TOP FIVE HALF-DAYS FOR NYC VISITORS
- First thing: the dorky double-decker bus tour. Really. it's a great orientation and a good way to see the city from a different angle. Check the weather: the Gray Line has a 3-day (72h) option, and CitySights has a 2-day (48h) option. Make sure you hop off at St John the Divineuptown, and stay on a bus heading through Midtown to SoHo at least one sunset.
- 42nd Street: the United Nations Tour is unmissable for the art, architecture and political history. Book in advance because the UN is under some construction. Consider margaritas at Calico Jack's or steak at Capital Grille. Then hop on the M42 or M50 bus (PDF) to the Intrepid. Book in advance for the Concorde tour.
- Canal Street: visit Chinatown & Little Italy. Walk around the back streets and go shopping at Pearl River. Have dim sum at Jing Fong, bubble tea at Kung Fu and then stroll up to Ferrara for coffee and cannoli.
- The Met: the Hudson River School at the Met in the Warner Gallery in the American Wing. Go find the conquistador and the oxbow lake. Also hit the Federal Era rooms, the Temple of Dendur and Arms & Armor. Then head on over to Shake Shack for a burger and a milkshake.
- The Village: head to Christopher St/Sheridan Square on the 1. Visit Stonewall and have a wander. End up at Waverly Diner for a classic experience. (See if you can find Frank Mills.) If you're missing good coffee, head over to Dub Pies at 123 W 3rd (east of 6th) for a choice flat white.
A FEW EXTRA THINGS
No, of course I can't just keep it to five things.
- The Circle Line boat tour. Take the semi-circle trip that goes out and back around Midtown, Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
- Wander around Wall Street and go visit the Federal Reserve. (Book in advance for the Fed.) On a Sunday, go to Compline by Candlelight at Trinity Church.
- The MoMA. The Guggenheim. The Frick. The Whitney. The Cloisters. Yes, we do museums here.
- The Ridiculous Revolving Restaurant on the Marriott Marquis. The food is okay, but you don't come for the food — you come to sit and watch as the restaurant rotates you along the side of Times Square. Check the time of sunset and book a table for an hour or so beforehand. There's also a bar up there.
- Grand Central Station. Yes, it's a train station (and you could do worse for a view than head up the Hudson Line to lovely little towns like Tarrytown and Cold Spring). It's also incredibly beautiful, and there's a NYC Transit Museum store for some great souvenirs.
- Top of the Strand. Open-top rooftop bar with the best view of the Empire State Building you could want. Call to make sure there's no private event, and lurk for a seat with one of the best views in the world.
WHERE TO STAY
New York hotel rooms are tiny, overpriced or both. I recommend finding an Airbnb in my old Tudor City neighbourhood.
If you absolutely must stay in a hotel, I have friends who swear by the view from the Holiday Inn Manhattan View just over the East River in Long Island City. I also hear the Best Western Plaza (also in Long Island City) isn't too stabby.
Alternatively, I'd go for mystery hotels on Expedia, Wotif, and so on. If in town on a weekend, consider a Financial District hotel — they're pretty empty.
GET INTA/OUTTA/AROUND HERE
Three airports, all a bit of a pain to get to if you have luggage.
- From JFK, I always take a cab for the flat rate pricing. To JFK, I'll usually pick up the NYC Airporter bus, which was a block from my apartment, but pickup from JFK is a pain. If I don't have a lot of luggage or am travelling solo I might also take a cab to the nearest A or E station and then take the subway to either Jamaica (E) or Howard Beach (A). Note that some A trains go to Ozone Park/Lefferts Blvd instead. If I have luggage, I'll usually book a car service.
- To & from LaGuardia, I'll take a cab.
- To & from Newark, I really quite like the Newark Airport Express bus, which leaves from several spots on and around 42nd St. But book a car service to pick you up if you're not solo or have one or more suitcases. I use Carmel. Taxis are extortionate (because Newark is in New Jersey) and the faff of getting to and from Penn for the train (which runs on the :00 and :12 from EWR on Sunday nights, ugh) is not worth it.
NYC public transport uses the Metrocard stored-fare swipecard on subways (PDF map) and buses (don't bother unless you know the city). If you'll be taking more than 13 trips in a week, get the $30 7-day card. Just swipe it in every time you want to use it: it's a flat per-journey fee ($2.50 if you don't have the 7-day), not zone-based. Note that the AirTrain to JFK is an extra $5 on your MetroCard, not covered on your 7-day ticket, and that some buses are limited-stop, pay-before-boarding Select Bus Service routes.
NEW YORKERS EAT LIKE KINGS. AND QUEENS
For what's hot according to the New York Times, check out The Scoop and download the app. My ever-expanding A-Z:
- Bagels: Bagels on the Square, 7 Carmine St, in the Village. If you order anything other than a bagel of your choice with cream cheese, untoasted, please don't tell me. Alternatives: Zabar's and Zaro's.
- Brunch: Brasserie, 53rd between Park and Lex. Like the Qantas First Class lounge in Sydney, and with brunch that's just as good.
- Burgers: Shake Shack. Not the Times Square one (the lines are stupid).
- Coffee: Don't. But if you must, Dub Pies at 123 W 3rd (east of 6th) does a very good flat white and proper Kiwi pies.
- Dim sum: it has to be in Chinatown. Jing Fong if you want the full aunties-with-trollies experience, or Red Egg if you'd like something quieter and with full English spoken.
- Hot dog: either from a street vendor or from Gray's Papaya (no, I have no idea what's in the papaya drink, but it's delicious).
- Seafood: Grand Central Oyster Bar. Seriously.
- Steak: Capital Grille is my Midtown local, but I still love Smith & Wollensky. If you must go to Brooklyn, I hear good things about Peter Luger.
- Times Square: a desolate wasteland of enormous queues and insane pricing. My go-to for a burger is Schnipper's on 41st & 8th, which tends not to be as insane.
T-Mobile or AT&T are your best bet for a local SIM card, and since plans change regularly my general recommendation is usually to pop into a local store and figure out what's what. But if you're British, I find that the Feel At Home deal on Three (12GB of US data for free over 3G if you've got an unlimited data plan in the UK) is far superior.