For most of my life, I avoided New York City. My impression of the city was formed from watching bad 70s sitcoms and dreary crime dramas throughout the decades. A friend of mine went there in the late 80s and said they still had the peep shows and other illegal activities in Times Square. Based on that, I really never had the desire to go.
In the late 90s, Sex in the City came out and I watched some of those episodes and it presented the city in a much different light.
Finally, in 2004 I went with some family members just before Thanksgiving weekend and I loved it. Since then I have returned 6 other times. It has almost become an annual trip either in November or December. However, I missed my trip last year so I am looking forward to returning later this year.
During each of my trips, I try to do or experience something different each time. For instance, back in 2012 I rode a tourist bus deep into Brooklyn for the first time. I had been over the Brooklyn Bridge many times, but just around the area not too far from the East River.
With that being said, here are some of the best things to do in New York City.
Fun Inexpensive Things to do in NYC
Visit the Museum of Natural History in New York. There is enough in that museum to
Visit the Apple Store on 5th and Central Park. If you have never run into this glass cube, it is on the corner of 5th Avenue and the southeastern corner of Central Park. Another nearby landmark is the old hotel across the street where they filmed Home Alone 2.
While you are in that area, walk across the street to one of the main entrances to Central Park located at 59th Street.
However, you can access it all along 5th avenue walking north up the island. This area just north of the Apple Store is very nice. There are lots of very expensive mansions along the way including the home of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as well as many beautiful Brownstones.
Once inside the park, you can rent skates and go out on the ice, or just watch everyone having fun.
It is particularly relaxing on a cool winter day with a blue sky over head. That bridge across the water has been in too many movies to mention.
If walking is not your thing, you can bike around the park. The city now has bikes you can rent at bike stations located all over.
Walk the Length of Broadway. Actually, walk 20 or 30 blocks because it runs the length of the island, but you will experience everything New York has to offer along the way. If you start at Central Park and walk south down Broadway, you will hit Times Square in about 7 or 8 blocks, then a few block further is the corner of the famous Macy’s store. Continue on. You can make a day out of this one too because there is plenty along the way to see.
Visit Brooklyn. There is a statistic regarding Brooklyn that I am trying to remember. It is something along the lines of if it was a city on its own, it would be the 6th or 7th largest city in the United States. There are a lot of people that live on the tip of Long Island. Take a bus over and ride around or go to the new Barclays Arena where the Brooklyn Nets play their home basketball games.
Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock. Both will give spectacular views of the city. Pick one. If I had to make a choice between the two, I would choose the Rock though. You get a better unobstructed view.
Visit Times Square
Times Square New York City
If you are walking around, you will probably stumble across Time Square by accident. Be sure to go there during the day and night. It really is amazing to be in standing there and taking everything in.
And while you are in the general area around 34th Street, you might as well go in Macy's. You don’t have to buy anything, just walk through it. The wooden escalators are worth the visit alone.
Walk into the Waldorf Hotel. This is an historic hotel on Park Avenue within site of the Metlife building you see in so many television shows and movies. It is a classic. Actually, you might want to try to book a room there for at least a night. They have specials at certain times of the years that can go below $400 a night. That actually isn’t bad for New York City and to actually stay in the Waldorf is something you could brag about for years.
Visit Grand Central Station. It actually is a bit tricky to locate. You can see it at the base of the MetLife Building, but you have to cross several streets and go through a building or two if you are approaching it from the north. I actually got a bit lost when I first tried to find it, then all of a sudden I opened some other glass doors and bam, I was in the main area. There is also an Apple Store inside.
Visit the New York Public Library. This is another iconic building that has been in a lot of movies and television shows, most recently in an episode of The Following.
Go to Ground Zero. This is a no-brainer. Just do it. The new Freedom Tower is complete, but there are plenty of memorials in the area. While you are in the area, take a stroll along the banks of the river all the way to the tip of the island. It is a very scenic view and you will end up close to the new Freedom Tower.
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New York City Restaurants
Where to Eat in New York City?
When it comes to eating, I will try just about anything, but I tend to stick to my favorite foods even when I am traveling to a different part of the country or world.
During my seven visits to New York City, I have several spots that I have to hit during each trip. Some are simple spots like the Chipotle on 50th Street near one of the hotels I stay at a lot. Others are New York classics.
Honestly, New York City is very expensive and the sales taxes are 9% I believe, so I tend to skip the $100 meals. But there are plenty of really good restaurants in NYC to eat for much less that will allow you to get a taste of the local food.
My best NYC restaurants recommendations primarily come from people at the hotel or from tour guides on the big open air red bus we take around town sometimes. Some of the trendier places take reservations but for the most part, it is first come and wait for a seat during busy dinner times. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite NYC restaurants.
Italian Food – I recommend a restaurant called Marea located just off Columbia Circle near Central park.
For Pizza – Anywhere really. New York pizza is sold by the slice and it is usually very big. Go anywhere for pizza except Sbarro.
Best Hamburger – There is a place called Juniors just off Times Square at 45th Street. Just ask a local around Times Square. They will know. They have a lot on the menu, but my favorite thing to get is this giant cheeseburger with fries and onion rings. It probably has 5000 calories, but I don’t care. It’s good.
Best Cheesecake – Juniors again. They have a separate bakery with just about everything you can imagine, but they specialize in cheesecake.
This list could be endless. After all, New York is the restaurant capital of the world. Finding a great place to eat is really as easy as just walking around and looking at menus on the sidewalks or asking your hotel staff.
Times Square: Junior's at the Crossroads of the World
If you want a great hamburger or an excellent piece of cheese cake, try Junior's on 45th Street just off Times Square.
Public Bathrooms NYC - Where are the Bathrooms in New York
If you are going to be doing all of walking during the day visiting various sites around the city, one thing you will find is that a public bathroom is hard to find. And if you are in New York in the colder months like me, you will probably be drinking coffee at some point, so you tend to make a mental note of every possible bathroom you can use along the way.
Yes, the fast food places in Times Square and other places have restaurants, but they do not like you walking in and using it. At least go in and buy something for later. The one I use a lot is in the big McDonalds in Times Square.
Places to Visit in New York City
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However, my go to bathroom is the one underneath Rockefeller Center near the ice skating rink. That one never fails and it is centrally located.
You may laugh at this, but if you are in the city, you will be spending a lot of time walking around, so you better make a mental note of things like this.
Best Way to See the City - Grayline Tour Bus
Fun Things to do in NYC at Night
The big red open top buses are probably the most touristy thing you can do in the city. In fact, New Yorkers probably roll their eyes relentless when they see those coming and clogging the streets. However, forget about that and just do it.
The company that I have used several times is called Gray Line Tours. They sell one day, two day or three day passes. During that span of time, you can board the bus as much as you want on whatever route. They even have nighttime rides and this is especially nice during November and December when all of the lights are up around the city.
Honestly, it is the best way and the cheapest way to see Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Taxis are very expensive so you want to avoid those whenever possible. So that leaves the subway as the other major option.
The subway in New York is probably the largest in the world so for someone out of town, it can be a little intimidating. If you are there for a week, you can buy a 7 day pass for $29.
If you want to get out on the water and see the city, there is a cruise that goes around the island that is very nice. I believe it costs around $100 a person, but it goes from one side of the East River to the other side of the Hudson. If taking photos is your thing, this is a great trip.
You also have to take a ferry over to the Statute of Liberty so if you want to get out on the water and see the statue, you can kill two birds with one stone there.
Finally, the Staten Island Ferry is great. Why? It’s free. It leaves from the tip of Battery Park from a big station just south of Wall Street. You can’t miss it.
I could write for hours on the all of the things to do in New York City. The fact of the matter is there is something always open and there is some place you can always go and it does not have to cost a fortune. There are actually a lot of things to do that are free in NYC. If you are visiting NYC and are bored on your visit, it is your fault.
I would love to live in New York City but it is a very expensive in most areas. Most people that live in Manhattan either come from old money, or they live in very tiny spaces that would shock most non-New York natives. Still, if you are young and don’t mind living in cramped spaces, you might want to give New York a try.
There is a lot of opportunity in New York City and coming from another part of the country, you will constantly be amazed at all of the historical places you will see. It really is something you have to check off your life bucket list if you have never been.