I can’t tell you how many times people reach out to me and ask me for tips, recommendations, and suggestions for NYC. Since I have been 8 times, I do have a few favorite things to share. I thought I would compile things here so I have a link to send friends when they ask me for suggestions.
Here’s the lowdown though: We don’t (and I’m not sure anyone can) do NYC on a tight budget. Things are just pricey there. So not everything I suggest will be cheap, but it will be worth it!
New York is easy to get around- it just depends on what you’re comfortable with/how much time you have. You can walk….but please note that in most areas North/South blocks are .1 miles each, and East/West blocks are more like .25-.3 miles each…so just know that when you’re setting out.
The subways are easy to use. You buy a Metro card and put money on it and use it. Don’t be afraid of the subway. All my friends that live in the city use it daily. You might see something crazy (man without pants on!) or sit by someone smelly…but you’ll be fine.
Or you catch a cab or an Uber. If you’re having trouble hailing a cab in a certain spot, walk a block or so and try there. Some areas are busier than others. Make sure you’re trying to hail a cab in a spot where the cab can actually safely stop. Cabs have lights at the top. If the center number is lit, it’s available. If the center number is out, it’s occupied.
To get around, I HIGHLY recommend the CityMapper app. You can put in locations (it knows restaurant names and visitor locations) and it will give you walking time/distance, cab time and average fare, or how to navigate the subway. It’s like Google Maps on steroids and makes getting around SUPER easy. Download it before your trip, but know that it’s GPS based and may not work fully until you arrive.
Where to Stay
Let’s start with my recommendations for hotel: The Hampton Inn Times Square North. It’s located on 8th and 51st. Most of “Times Square” (what you picture when you think of Times Square) is just 5-6 N/S blocks away. 8th Ave is just to the west of the action, so it’s easier to walk up and down it. You’re a 5-10 minute walk from most of the Broadway Theaters. There’s a great subway stop on the corner, and a pizza place across the street with the BEST garlic knots I’ve ever head (Gotham Pizza). You also get free breakfast here.
A lot of the Times Square area cheaper hotels are old (read: small, noisy, perhaps smelly). I can’t really recommend any that we’ve stayed at.
I’ve also stayed at the Double Tree Suits Times Square for work, but MAN was it expensive. So I wouldn’t recommend that for fun trips.
If you know me, you know we LIVE to see shows. Because of that, we don’t do the last-minute discount ticket thing. We would rather have our seats secure than guess what shows will be available that day. We buy tickets directly from the theaters. My source for info on showtimes, running times, and other important info is Broadway.com.
I highly suggest checking this schedule from Playbill (know it’s usually up to date, but double check) to see what shows are playing when so you don’t miss anything you are dying to see. Many shows are dark on Sundays or Mondays, so be aware of that.
You can check for discounts on Broadway World here. You can also try your luck on lotteries and rush tickets. Lotteries are either online or in person, and are literally throwing your hat in the ring for discounted tickets. Only a few random people will win. Rush tickets are waiting in line and getting tickets last minute. Be prepared to spend all night or several hours in line if you try this. More info on that here.
You can also try for day-of tickets at the TKTS booth. Again, you may have to wait a while in line, and tickets vary based on day and can sell out fast. You might get in line at 9 a.m. for Wicked, not get to the window until 10, and they are sold out. There are a few TKTS booths around NYC.
Here’s the deal: we don’t go to NYC to eat. Not exactly. We ALWAYS eat at Shake Shack (more on that in a minute). And now I always get Schmackary’s cookies. Trust me. Wait in line and don’t miss them. SO good.
Here are some other places we like (we are not end-all-be-all NYC foodies.)
Nizza– GREAT Italian. Tiny place. Make a reservation. Great gluten free menu.
Junior’s– Split a meal and have cheesecake. Also their Times Square location has a bakery take-away if you just want to grab a slice. Peak times (right before and after shows) are busy, but the wait is usually pretty quick.
Shake Shack– Many locations. I found the one down by the 9/11 Memorial to be the least busy so far, but it’s totally worth the wait. Like I don’t know what they put in their burgers, but they are magical. Don’t miss!
Urbanspace Vanderbilt– a neat food hall with lots of options near Grand Central. Avoid during lunch on week days (overrun with corporate workers).
Europa Cafe– fast dining for breakfast and lunch. The Times Square location has a great salad bar. One near Central Park has a great sit-down breakfast (get the french toast!)
Carmine’s– Don’t go unless there are 3+ in your party. Great Italian food, but it’s family-sized, family style portions for the table. Seriously, we ordered lasagna and got a WHOLE LASAGNA. We’re talking 1 entree for 2-4 people.
Bar Americain– Bobby Flay’s American food. GREAT shrimp and grits. I might recommend making a reservation. We went at lunch.
Serendipity– Tiny place. Neat food. Big portions. Again, split a meal and get one of their GREAT frozen hot chocolates. You may have to wait at peak times.
We’ve done a lot in 8 trips. Here are some of the sightseeing highlights and links to important things to help you plan.
Central Park. Go but don’t get lost if you don’t have time. There are tons of movie sights you can wander and see, but it’s HUGE and easy to get turned around.
Double Decker Bus Tour. I just did this on our last trip and really loved it. It was a fast way to see a lot of the sights. You can get on and off at stops. Tour guides give you history and stories. This is the Empire State Building from the bus. Dress for the weather. The top deck is open. We did the Gray Line, but there are others. You can grab a bus in Times Square. It seems shady, but it’s ok to buy from the people on the street with the brochures and placards. Bargain with them on your rate.
Live TV show tapings. We’ve done Jimmy Fallon’s monologue rehearsal and The View. Get tickets from 1iota.com Don’t be scared of the waitlist. These take time- you have to arrive early and go through security and such…but it’s way fun. 1iota has Live with Kelly, GMA, The Chew, The View, Late Night – all free!
The Highline. My favorite park in NYC. It’s in a neat area (Chealsea) and is an old elevated railway. You can see from above street level. Scenery is beautiful, there are performers, food carts, and it’s just a neat place.
Get up high. Empire State and Top of the Rock. I’ll be honest. I prefer Top of the Rock. It’s got little to no lines and you can see more (like you can SEE the Empire State Building from here!). I’ve heard it’s awesome at sunset but have yet to go.
Empire State Building- you can buy tickets ahead of time (including express pass upgrades to skip the lines- at peak times in summer it might be worth it). We went first thing in the morning and while foggy, had no lines.
This is us at the top of Top of the Rock. You can get an unscheduled ticket or choose your date and time.
Little Italy and China Town Food Tour. This was hands down one of the best things we’ve done in 8 trips. We went with Ahoy Food Tours and Tastings. It was a small group, a great tour guide, local history, and 8 yummy food stops we NEVER would have ventured to alone. They even accommodated mom’s gluten free diet.
Behind the Emerald Curtain. If you love Wicked, don’t miss this. It’s a behind the scenes look at the show. You don’t get to go backstage (it’s a huge liability) but gives you a look at costumes, how things are done, and you get to meet some of the cast.
9/11 Memorial and Museum. While this isn’t “fun,” it’s important to remember. The memorial is free and you can walk up at any time. However, the museum has an entry fee and often sells out. Buy tickets ahead of time (they are timed as well).
Radio City Music Hall Tour. Another behind the scenes look at an NYC gem. We saw way more of the theater than I would if I just came to a concert here- and the tour guide had SUCH a ton of info and we had a great time.
Grand Central Terminal Tour. This was a tour with a docent trained through the Municipal Art Society of NYC. We actually had a younger woman and another group had a retired man. They gave us audio pieces and the tour guide wore a mic, so you could hear them without having to stand right by them. We learned ALL about Grand Central, saw it top to bottom and had a great time.
Statue of Liberty. We’ve been on the island, but never up in the statue. You can visit the grounds (what we did), the pedestal, or go up in the crown. You can learn about your visit at the parks website, but then you buy ferry and tour tickets from Statue Cruises.
Other things we’ve enjoyed:
Shopping on 5th Avenue. LOTS of shops.
Flagship Macy’s. 34th and Herald Square.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lots of fun exhibitions and beautiful art.
American Museum of Natural History. This is the museum you see in movies with the dinosaurs.
Coney Island. Quite a trek from midtown (took almost an hour subway ride). But we had an original Nathan’s hot dog, walked the boardwalk and rode the Cyclone.
Washington Square Park. Another neat outdoor space. As seen in several movies and TV shows. Lots of street performers.
Things I would still like to do:
See an off-Broadway show (probably The Fantasticks)
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Go up in the Statue of Liberty
So those are my tips. I’d love to hear your favorite NYC things if you’ve been before. If you’ve never been- what are you waiting for?! Make some plans! It’s a great place to visit.