My husband and I just returned from a 2 week visit to NYC. It was my first time in the city, though he has been on several different occasions. Our trip was a combination of business and pleasure and we got to experience many parts of the city during our extended stay. We had an absolutely wonderful time and I wanted to share our suggestions and hints discovered during our stay to help others plan theirs!
Don't forget your camera and enjoy your trip!
Get the unlimited Metro card! From a day pass to a week pass, this is your key to getting around the city. We easily rode the subway 5-10 times a day as we explored the city and limited our walking, so it quickly paid for itself! The metro pass is good for both the subway and bus system. A combination of both will get you within blocks of any spot in the city. Ask for a free map at the ticket window of any station to help you navigate the subway system! Be aware that there is often construction on the weekends, so routes and schedules are commonly altered. Signs on the posts beside the track will detail alternate routes and schedule changes, or you can check www.mta.info to plan your trip before you leave. Have your metro card out before approaching the turnstyles, or step to the side and let others by while you get it out.
Most museums in the city, including the Met and the Natural History Museum, have suggested donation entry fees, but you can pay what you can. You will have to get a ticket, but the posted prices are only suggested donations. You can tell the clerk what you would like to pay and they will give you a ticket for any donation. Both museums loan out wheelchairs for free that can be checked out from the coat check or info desk- check the museum websites for details. The Met offers a free coat check, which is especially helpful during the winter or spring rainy season. You may check bags as well, but must remove all valuables.
If you visit in the spring or winter, I would highly recommend rubber rain boots! Puddles and runoff from melted snow quickly cause wet feet, and walking miles around the city with wet feet will not be a fun part of your visit. I purchased a pair from Target for our trip, which I wore with an added gel insole & two pairs of socks, and I was so glad to have them! Tucking pant legs into your rain boots will save you hours of wet clothes. I would also recommend a solid umbrella during the spring rainy season. We had one day of our visit with strong winds and a heavy downpour and the city became an umbrella graveyard! We lost 2 umbrellas and broken umbrellas were in the gutters, filled trashcans, and abandoned in the subway. A friend of ours that lives in the city said that Windbuster umbrellas are really the only ones worth having in the city, as they withstand the gusty wind during storms.
If you are traveling with children, note that strollers are prohibited in many NYC restaurants. Check ahead if you don't want to be surprised!
Layers are key to comfort in the city, especially in cooler weather. Nights can be much chillier than during the day, and the subway and indoors can be rather warm. I was constantly adding and taking away layers to be a comfortable temperature!
Favorite Restaurants & Eateries:
We love food and as our friends said, we “ate our way through NYC.” These were our don’t-miss favorites! (I have written reviews for each which you can find at the bottom of this review, along with reviews of other restaurants we tried.)
Shake Shack – My new favorite burgers and delicious, thick milkshakes! Upper West End & Madison Square area
Crumbs – Best cupcake bakery in town, locations across the city
The Popover Café – Features flaky popovers similar to croissants with entrees built around these giant popovers in the Upper West End
Carmines – Family style Italian in the Theatre District
S’mac – Gourmet mac ‘n cheese on the Lower East Side
Café Lalo – Café famous from it’s appearance in You’ve Got Mail and a good spot for late night coffee and dessert or breakfast, with delicious Belgian Waffles
Cranky’s – Neighborhood coffee shop and café in west Queens near the Vernon Blvd. stop
Doughnut Plant – Specialty donuts in the Lower East Side
Serendipity 3 – One subway stop from Central Park, made famous by Serendipity the movie. Skip the food and get the Frozen Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate!
Top Sites & Places to Visit:
The Statue of Liberty via The Staten Island Ferry: The Staten Island Ferry is free and you get good views of Lady Liberty without paying the fees or taking hours for an official tour. But, you do see it from a greater distance, so if you want to get up close and personal with the Statue of Liberty, I would recommend the tour. We were content to take an hour and ride the ferry over and back and enjoy the views of the Statue from the ferry. The majority of ferry travelers were locals and it was interesting to observe. You do have to get off the ferry upon arriving at Staten Island Ferry and walk through the station to get on a return ferry.
The Brooklyn Bridge: Take the time to walk across the bridge and enjoy the beautiful views of Manhattan! This is a great spot to take photos of both the bridge and the skyline. You can stroll leisurely across the bridge in 30 min to an hour and it’s worth the time. I would recommend taking the subway over to Brooklyn, having some NY style pizza at Grimaldi’s, then walking back to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge facing the view of the Manhattan skyline. There is a whole 2nd level on the Bridge above the street devoted to pedestrians and bikers, with lanes painted half and half.
Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center: Phenomenal views of the city, including the Empire State Building and Central Park. A favorite spot for photos of the city! Though it isn’t cheap, budget for this attraction…it’s worth it as a part of your experience of the city! On the way to the elevators that take you to the observation deck, there is history of the Rockefeller Center, including a few short videos that you can watch to learn about the building and it’s history. I would choose Top of the Rock over the Empire State Building for views of the city. Radio City Music Hall is just across the street, so see it while you are here!
Times Square: Go at night! It’s an experience just to see it and it’s most impressive at night when it’s so lit up that it practically looks like daytime. Just a couple of blocks from the Theatre district, check it out after a Broadway show.
Theatre District and a Broadway Show: TKTS offers discounted tickets the day before and day of a show. They have electronic boards that list the shows they have tickets available for outside each location. You cannot choose your seats, but can tickets up to half off! There are two TKTS locations; Times Square and South Street Seaport. Your wait time is significantly shorter at the less busy South Street Seaport location. Go early for the best selection of tickets! I highly recommend “In The Heights” which was a Tony award winner with lots of laughs and fun, upbeat music that highlights life in the NYC neighborhood of Washington Heights. Both my husband and I have seen many broadway shows across the country, and we both really enjoyed this show!
The Met: Wonderfully diverse collections of art and sculpture. Sadly, the costume wing was under renovation during our visit. Don’t miss the armor gallery! The building itself is beautiful! If you are staying on the West Side, take a bus across Central Park, unless it’s a nice enough day to walk!
Central Park: Definitely most beautiful in the summer and fall, it’s a sight to see anytime! If it’s a nice afternoon, the park will be filled with people. You can spend hours exploring the park and seeing the sights and sculptures within Central Park. There is an ice skating rink in the winter and carriage rides throughout the park most of the year (weather permitting.) Catch a carriage on the south side of the park near Columbus Circle. I wouldn’t recommend spending time in the park at night, especially alone.
Highline Park: In the trendy meatpacking district, Highline Park isn’t entirely finished, but it’s still worth a stop! The High Line was originally built to get dangerous freight trains off the street, but has been turned into an elevated park. With interesting architecture and great views of the city, this is a fun walk and unique park concept that I hope carries over to other cities across the US! www.thehighline.org
Greenwich Village and West Village: These are fun neighborhoods to take a walk through, with European influence and lots of cute restaurants and cafés. They have some of the most “neighborhood” like feel in the city.
Upper West End: This is the neighborhood of brownstone style homes bordering Central Park to the west, and what many people think of when they think of NYC. Many movies and TV shows set in New York are set in the Upper West End. Enjoy one of the best burgers in the city at Shake Shack on Columbus Ave., across the street from the Natural History Museum.
Chinatown/Little Italy: If you are looking for good Italian food, skip Little Italy. There are much better Italian restaurants elsewhere in the city, such as Carmines or V&G. Grab some gelato and just walk around to see this area of the city. Chinatown is an experience for the senses. Nice Green Bow is a great choice for Chinese food in this area! Try the scallion pancakes and the pork dumplings with seasoned pork and a flavorful soup inside.
Garment District: If you are a fan of Project Runway or enjoy fabric and beads, walk through the garment district! Tinsel Trading Co. is a fun shop full of vintage ribbons and embellishments and MJ Trimming has buttons, ribbon and trim galore. Store after store is filled with walls of beads of every color and shape. And of course, Mood is the store for fabric.
Natural History Museum: This is a popular stop, but I was a little disappointed. The dinosaur exhibit is interesting, but the museum has an older and a little run-down feel. I don’t feel like this museum’s exhibits are leaps and bounds above other Natural History Museums that I’ve been to in other cities, but it would be a fun spot for older children. It’s worth popping in to see the dinosaurs, and with any donation gaining you admission, you can donate a couple of dollars and spend a little time to see just the dinosaur exhibit if you’d like.
MOMA: Museum of Modern Art. We actually didn’t make it to this museum (the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art at the Met is more my style), but many people enjoy exploring this famous museum.
The Popover Cafe:
The Popover Café has the vibe of a local eatery with an atmosphere that is a cross between a lounge and a café. High backed, red cushion booths, industrial style nickel light fixtures, a combination of black and white framed photography and paintings, and candles or lamps on the tables create a comfortable yet trendy space to enjoy your meal. A great date spot, the menu ranges from sandwiches to steak, and includes daily specials.
This café is known for its namesake popovers, which are similar to a croissant in flaky, buttery texture, but shaped like a giant muffin. By giant, I mean 6-8 inches tall! You can order them as an appetizer with apple butter or strawberry jam, or they are featured in many of the entrees. Since we felt compelled to try the popovers this restaurant is known for, both my husband and I ordered entrees that highlighted a popover. I had the Granny turkey melt on a popover, which was a hearty sandwich stuffed between a halved popover. They were very generous with the filling and my melt arrived with a thick layer of turkey, large slices of bacon, avocado, greens and perfectly melted cheddar cheese. They happily substituted rosemary potatoes in place of the usual pasta salad side and the potatoes had a fresh flavor and weren’t too oily. Any of their sandwiches can be served on a popover. My husband ordered the Eggs Benedict Arnold, an open-faced popover topped with smoked salmon, fried eggs, spinach, melted cheese and a lemon hollandaise sauce. It was rich and filling, and they didn’t skimp on the salmon as is common with salmon dishes. The burgers looked delicious and were a popular choice of diners at the tables around us. We were both satisfied and full after our entrées, sadly leaving us no room for dessert.
The prices are extremely reasonable for the quality and size of the entrees, especially in the city, and we will definitely be recommending The Popover Café to our friends who find themselves in the Big Apple!
As big fans of a good burger, and fairly frequent travelers, my husband and I often find ourselves seeking out the best local burgers (not excluding regional chains) as we travel around the country. Always in search of a new favorite burger, we find ourselves sometimes disappointed, but often satisfied. But rarely do we come out of a burger joint having found a patty that tops our previous favorite. After 2 stops at Shake Shack in the Upper West Side during our recent visit to NYC, we agreed that we think we’ve found our new favorite burger!
The burgers are flavorful and tender, without seasoning that overpowers the meat, leaving you to enjoy the fresh, quality beef used to create these juicy burgers. A surprising highlight was the perfect buns which take the burgers to another level. Made fresh, with a light butter flavor, and grilled but still soft, they are the perfect foundation for the not-too-greasy beef patty and whatever combination of fixings you desire. The burger flavor shined alone so well that I enjoyed the simple addition of just cheese & ketchup. My hubby was a huge fan of the Shack Stack, which topped the beef patty with a fried mushroom, cheese and the Shake Shack special sauce. The fries are handcut crinkles that can be ordered plain or with cheese sauce. With no trans-fat, you don’t have to feel as guilty in satisfying your fry craving. They are so hot and crispy that they are just as good plain with a side of ketchup as they are with the melted cheese.
And don’t forget to save room for dessert! The shakes are top notch, holding their own beside the burgers, with rich flavor and the perfect thickness that even requires a larger-than-usual straw. I ordered a combination of peanut butter and chocolate (possible though not listed on the menu) and it was like liquid Reeses in a cup.
Five Guys, I still love you, but Shake Shack has stolen this girls’ burger heart!
Carmines has a location right in the heart of the theater district and is a perfect stop for a pre-show dinner, though I would highly recommend a reservation if you are short on time and trying to make it to a show. We decided last minute to try out this Italian favorite recommended by a friend, and there was an hour wait even on a Thursday evening. They will happily serve their full menu at the bar though, so we chose to hover until we snagged a seat at the bar and enjoy our meal there. The bartender provided excellent service even though every seat at the bar was full and even the standing room was filled with guests enjoying a drink while waiting for their table, and our food came out fast and piping hot.
The menu items are all family style (even the appetizers and salads) and humongous! We ordered the lasagna and it could have easily served 3-4 adults. I do not exaggerate when I say that I was shocked by its size when the bartender placed it in front of us! My husband’s appetite is rarely rivaled, and we still struggled to finish the plate. The lasagna was hearty and flavorful, with perfectly cooked noodles served in a generous amount of the tasty marinara sauce which wasn’t too tomato-y and had just the right mix of basil, garlic and spices. Because of the family sized portions, and unusually ample space for an NYC restaurant, Carmines would be a great choice for a large group dinner. There is a fairly extensive wine list with plenty of options for those in the mood for red or white, and they are offered both by the glass or by the bottle.
The atmosphere is charming too, with large crystal chandeliers, exposed brick, lots of dark wood and low light. From a romantic date night to a fun group dinner with huge Italian dishes to share with friends, Carmines would make just about anyone feel right at home.
I adore mac ‘n cheese, so when I heard there was an entire restaurant devoted to this American favorite, I knew we had to try it. Two friends recommended it when they heard we were going to be in NYC. S’mac is gourmet mac ‘n cheese at its best. The menu provides both a list of suggested favorites, or the option to create your own unique combination from their extensive list of ingredients. S’mac even offers a sampler wheel with small portions of 6 of their most popular dishes if you can’t decide which one to try or would like to experience a new flavor combination every few bites. Served in cast iron skillets, the cheesy deliciousness comes out steaming hot and stays good & hot throughout the meal. The mac ‘n cheese is rich and pleasingly gooey with just the right amount of cheesy goodness, but just a tad heavy on the butter for my taste. Each dish can be ordered with or without breadcrumbs on top.
We tried the Alpine, a swiss inspired mac which featured gruyere cheese with hearty pieces of slab bacon mixed in, and the 4 Cheese, a combination of cheddar, muenster, gruyere and pecorino, to which we added pieces of grilled chicken. Both were delicious, but the Swiss was the favorite of us both. I was impressed that they offer both gluten free and whole wheat elbow macaroni for those with special dietary needs.
Even the nosh size is a hearty portion for one, and I would only recommend the larger munch size if you’re planning to share. Brown mustard and hot sauce can be found beside the salt and pepper in a caddy on each table if you’d like to dress your mac n’ cheese up further.
S’mac is located on the Lower East Side of the city, just a short walk from the nearest subway stop. Don’t make the same mistake we did. There is both a take-out shop for to-go orders and delivery (including a take-and-bake option for any of the dishes), and a sit down restaurant with ample seating. We came up from the take-out side and didn’t realize there was a sit-down option until after we’d ordered. We ended up taking our to-go boxes to the eat-in side at the recommendation of the girl working the take-out register after she figured out our confusion, but know that they only offer the sampler option in the dine-in shop. We were sad we missed out on the sampler! If we ever find ourselves back in NYC, we would definitely visit S’mac again.
Fig & Olive:
Fig & Olive is simple yet sophisticated with upscale European character mixed in. Terra cotta pots filled with dried lavender hang on the wall, white tablecloths, exposed brick & low umber lighting, create a romantic ambiance reminding me of a modern take on a French restaurant. Backlit wine bottles create the wall dividing the dining room from the kitchen, and line the back of the bar area in the center of the dining room. Like many restaurants in the city, the tables are packed in with little room to maneuver, and it can get pretty loud in the dining room during the busy dinner hour. Reservations are recommended if you want to be seated immediately. In the trendy meatpacking district, Fig & Olive isn’t for those who get sticker shock easily.
An old friend who lives in the city treated us to dinner during our recent visit to NYC and choose this restaurant because she loves the fresh ingredients and flavorful preparation of simple dishes. A bread basket is served with a trio of flavor infused olive oils to start your meal. Unique olive oils are highlighted throughout the menu. The fresh salads and crostini trios (choose any 3 from a long list of creative combinations) are a favorite, and mixed plates of olives or cheese are also available to kick off your meal. All are perfect to share, as starters or for a lighter dinner, but if you are in the mood for a heartier plate, the filet mignon was fantastic. Perfectly cooked & seasoned, the meat was silky and tender, melting in my mouth. I regretted ordering the mashed potatoes which were beat with olive oil instead of butter and cream and weren’t the creamy consistency I desire in mashed potatoes. I would order the roasted fingerling potatoes if I had it to do again. My husband’s pasta was good, but nothing spectacularly memorable. The wine list is extensive, or you can enjoy one of the many fruity martinis or cocktails. The champagne float is a delicious choice.
Hands down, Crumbs was my favorite sweet spot during our visit to NYC. It far outshined the more famous cupcake shop in the city in my book (and my husband’s.) In town for 2 weeks, a combination of business and pleasure, I won’t divulge how many visits I made to this charming cupcake shop, just blocks from Central Station. I sampled several of their cupcake varieties, which change daily on a rotating basis. My favorites were the Fluffernutter, which had a perfect flavor combination of vanilla and peanut butter with cream cheese icing, and the Grasshopper with a delicious minty icing piled high on a moist chocolaty cake. My only disappointment was the Squiggle, which was a less than memorable take on the famous Hostess cupcakes. The chocolate ganache was chewy and not nearly as enjoyable or flavorful as the other fluffy, smooth frostings. Mini cupcake sampler packs are available and perfect for those who want to try a bite size taste of the many varieties, which is a fun option since so many of them look temptingly delicious!
The cupcakes are generous in size, the cake is moist, and each variety has a cream filling in the middle that is like a surprise party for your tastebuds. If this bakery had a cookbook, it would be at the top of my list to add to my collection!
The well-known Magnolia Bakery left me wanting more. The cupcakes were small, the cupcake was disappointingly dry and the icing was too sugary. There were only around 5 varieties of cupcakes to choose from, and red velvet was not offered this particular day. After having already made a visit to Crumbs, I had cupcake envy and determined to return and enjoy another of their superior treats.
A friend of ours who lives in the city had told us not to miss the Magnolia Banana Pudding. He couldn’t have been more right! Skip the cupcakes and save room for their light and fluffy, rich banana pudding that is the best banana pudding I’ve ever had. The wafer cookies were the perfect texture, soft but not mushy, and the vanilla pudding was whipped and airy, a consistency I’ve never experienced in a pudding.
Located in the charming West Village area, there is a park across the street that is a fun spot to enjoy your sweets in nice weather. There was a long line at Magnolia when we arrived, and it was crowded and hurried inside, so don’t expect a leisurely stop with time to linger and make your selections.
Famous for it’s appearance in You’ve Got Mail, Café Lalo is a charming café with European flair. Perfect for breakfast or late night dessert and coffee, while lunch and dinner are overpriced and nothing to write home about. Go for the experience and plan to linger over coffee and take in the charm.
We stopped in for brunch on a very rainy day and enjoyed the cozy atmosphere for a leisurely cup of coffee. The front of the café is a wall of windows and the white lights in the trees lining the street twinkled through the raindrops on the glass, making it delightful even on a dreary afternoon. The Belgian waffles are superb. The hazelnut flavor was just right, the strawberries were ripe and plentiful, and the whipped cream was airy with just enough sweetness. I wish we would have skipped the French Spinach Quiche for a double order of waffles. The quiche needed more egg, less spinach & cheese and a flakier crust. The Mediterranean salad served on the side was an odd flavor combination with pickles, peppers, tomatoes and it’s liquid ran all over our plate, soaking the crust of our quiche. A leafy green salad would be a much more suitable side. The Mocha Cappuccino was rich and satisfying, perfect for a rainy afternoon. (Note that strollers are not allowed in the restaurant!)
While spending a few days at a friends’ apartment overlooking the river, we were looking for a neighborhood café to stop at for breakfast on a Sunday morning, within walking distance of Vernon Blvd and 50th in Queens. Just a couple of blocks down Vernon, we found Cranky’s, and if we were local, we’d be regulars. The coffee is good, the couches are comfy and our breakfast was fresh and delicious. We shared the breakfast burrito and the sausage gravy and biscuits. The burrito didn’t skimp on filling and the avocado and pico added a lot of fresh flavor. The sausage gravy was creamy and not too greasy, served in a bowl alongside a generous amount of flaky biscuits. The large variety of pastries and croissants displayed in the case and on the glass counter took me back to my visit to France. I was sad I didn’t save room for a pastry. The service was fast and friendly, and though we had somewhere to be, I would have loved to linger with a book for awhile. The exposed brick, chalkboard menu and cozy sitting area say, “you are welcome here…grab a drink and stay awhile.” I wish we had a Cranky’s in our neighborhood!
Located on the lower East Side, this doughnut shop is a bit of a diamond in the rough, not quite fitting into the surrounding neighborhood. The Delancey stop was probably the sketchiest and smelliest subway stop I encountered during our visit to NYC. But, keep your eye on the doughnuts! The line was often long, but it moved quickly.
Known for their innovative flavors, the doughy goodness did not disappoint. The crème brulee doughnut had an intriguing slight sugary crunch to it’s exterior and a thick, rich crème filling that reminded me of a smooth custard. The peanut butter glazed doughnut filled with blackberry jam was another favorite. We regretted not getting a cake doughnut too, since all the varieties we selected were glazed. The consistency of the glazed doughnuts was a little chewier than I prefer, but the intriguing flavor combinations made up for that. Definitely skip the cinnamon bun! It was disappointing. It looked delicious but was extremely dry and lacked both sweetness and cinnamon flavor. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought it was a day or two old.
Stick with the doughnuts and they just might be the most interesting doughnuts you’ve ever tasted.
Made famous by the movie “Serendipity,” this café is quirky and full of personality. The wait can often be as long as 2 hours, so hit it during off hours if possible. It is just one subway stop and a few blocks from Central Park on the Upper East Side, so if you do have a long wait, add your name to the list, head over to Central Park to people watch, and return at your projected time. The menu is pricey, so skip the food, and plan on dessert. They are known for their delicious Frozen Hot Chocolates, and the Peanut Butter and Mint varieties are the best choices! There is an $8.50 minimum order per person. Even though it’s a tourist destination & considered overrated by locals, I think it’s worth a stop, especially if you are a fan of the movie or love chocolate. (Note that strollers are not allowed in the restaurant!)