When you’re in the city that never sleeps, it’s easy to only think big. New York is one of those places where there’s always new and exciting things happening in the midst of its already rich history – to see it all would take years. Luckily, there is something for everyone and you’re almost guaranteed not to leave disappointed. I’ll get into what I loved as well as my do’s and don’ts to keep your travel stress to a minimum below.
Don’t overdo it
If you’re not inherently go-with-the-flow in travel situations (like me) this can be the hardest rule to follow on any trip. Give yourself time to thoroughly enjoy everything. When you cram too much into your agenda, it’s easy to become more focused on the next activity than the one you’re in the middle of. You’ll want to make the most of your visit. Write a list of things you want to see and shave it down from there – prioritizing is key! If you don’t get everywhere you wanted to, don’t beat yourself up. It’s good to have a game-plan, but life hardly ever goes accordingly. And the best part is, most of the items on your list aren’t going anywhere.
Make it your city
Of course, you’re not going to feel like a local right away. The grouchy New Yorker stereotype is exactly that, a stereotype. However, when walking down the street is a competition for space and everyone has somewhere they need to be, it’s not like anyone will be rolling out the red carpet for you.
You can still carry yourself with confidence in the midst of the madness and tailor your trip to make it a customized adventure. Do you love Friends? You have to check out the Pulitzer Fountain and maybe even find the apartment front.
Love Gossip Girl? The Empire Hotel has a very classy bar (with a Chuck Bass level price tag to boot), the Campbell Apartment, now the Campbell, is a real bar inside of Grand Central Station, and we all know the Empire State building is a fixture of the city and of any GG fan’s fantasy.
You might want to see Lady Liberty and reflect on the thousands of people who saw her for the first time while chasing their dreams, or you might prefer to pay your respects at the World Trade Center memorial and museum. My point is, you don’t have to see every tourist trap or everything your mom’s jet-setting friend recommended. Fill your days with exactly what you want, whether it be art museums, a foodie scavenger hunt, or stalking celebs. I’ve heard they like the Spotted Pig, an adorable West Village bar, but I haven’t had any luck so far.
Take advantage of your tools
You’re going to the city. This means more events and easier access. If you’re a fitness fanatic, create a ClassPass account – you’ll never be in a place with more gyms and studios to try. Websites like EventBrite, StubHub, Facebook and more will show you everything that’s happening and how to get in. You’ll be able to find the most detailed guides to even the smallest corners of the city. If you’re into music, take a free walking tour around Greenwich Village and learn some history. If you’d rather just walk around Times Square and Broadway admiring the pretty lights and people watching, search sites like Yelp, Thrillist or Buzzfeed for the best place to grab a bite around wherever you end up.
As far as getting around goes, you have options, from Uber, Lyft, cabs to the the New York Subway. Word to the wise: the horrible traffic is not a myth. If you’re on a time crunch, give yourself a lot of leeway! Most transit apps will account for traffic in their estimates, but it’s never a sure thing.
Figure out your budget beforehand
It’s no secret that cities are expensive, and it seems that the bigger the city, the steeper the prices. Even if you intend on treating yourself on your vacation, figure out what you’re working with beforehand and make even a loose outline of what you’ll spend on lodging (I recommend staying with a friend if you have one and don’t mind couches), transportation, food, and activities.
This way, you’ll know how much you have leftover for your shopping trip rather than holding your breath every time you run your card and frantically checking your bank app from the fitting room. Keep in mind that little things can really add up! A $15 Uber and a $12 cocktail plus that museum admission ticket and lunch earlier can rack up a big balance quickly.
My personal recommendations
Museums: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Natural Science
If you are a museum person, New York will agree with you. The Met is legendary for many reasons and, unsurprisingly, has a stellar permanent collection and incredible temporary exhibits. Don’t forget to grab a parfait for the Met steps.
The Guggenheim, located just down the street from the Met on Museum Row, will wow you with just its swirly architecture alone. Museum Row is full of tabletop shops outside with amazing prints and souvenirs, tons of food trucks and cafes, and a gorgeous view of my next recommendation.
Come on – even just one walk. Keep in mind that it is pretty big, so be aware of your entry and exit point if you’re getting around mostly on foot or public transport. If you’re traveling solo, bringing a book to enjoy on one of the park benches is a great way to give your feet a break.
The High Line
Starting in the Meatpacking District and going through Chelsea, this will give you an amazing bird’s-eye view of the city and leave you in a very cool neighborhood. While you’re there, stop by the Chelsea Market for all sorts of goods. My favorite shop was a place called Artists and Fleas – each booth is set up by local artists, designers and thrifters alike.
If you have the time, it’s worth the day trip. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge, check out Williamsburg and DUMBO for some sightseeing and find a few of the cozy galleries and café’s that Brooklyn is known for.
World Trade Center Memorial/Memorial Museum
9/11 was an indescribably tragic event, and now a huge part of our country’s culture. This is one of those spots that will move you emotionally and although it’s not a joyful time, it is incredibly powerful. It’s something that I think everyone experiences differently, but that few would regret seeing.
If your budget includes shopping and you like to walk around and simply take in your surroundings, take a spot through Soho. You’ll find some killer outfit inspiration, window shop like a queen, and you’re right by Little Italy!
This is another place with an enormous amount of shops (especially tourist traps where you might score some cheesy souvenirs for your friends) and is chock-full of iconic buildings. Keep your head up while walking – it’s jam-packed with people and a little overwhelming, especially when you’re hypnotized by the billboards.
Don’t pressure yourself – just have fun!
Figure out what you want out of your visit and do your best to take the roadblocks in stride – literally and figuratively, as you’ll notice right away that there is a ton of construction. Follow the tips above, do some digging of your own, and you’ll be planning your next trip before the first one’s even over. Happy travels!