At first, I mostly thought of NYC as the home of the US Open, a massive tennis tournament. I first attended the US Open in 2002, and sadly didn’t return again until 2011 but I’ve made up for my long absences by attending every year since. As a huge tennis nerd, I just love hanging out at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center so now that I’m back living in the US I will likely attend every year possible.
Attending the US Open is wonderful, but I don’t have much spare time when I go to a grand slam tournament. So when I moved to New Jersey in mid 2013 I was well excited to be so close to NYC and it became my second home for 14 months. My train ride to Penn Station was a regular thing and over that period of time I explored many corners of the city. I luckily had friends all over the city, so I hung out all over Manhattan as well as Harlem, Brooklyn and Queens. I met friends for brunch in the Lower East Side, went for cocktails in Little Italy, walked through the Union Square Greenmarket and so much more.
New York City is big, crowded, a bit smelly and incredible. It’s by far one of my favorite cities in the world and I dearly miss being so close to it. I always prefer to walk around NYC instead of taking the subway, so for the most part I walked everywhere (except of course if I was heading to Brooklyn or Queens). I’d usually walk all day then cab it back from wherever I ended up back to Penn Station, but I’ve also taken the ferry and bus as well as the subway on occasion.
My train from New Jersey always arrived into Penn Station so I got to know that area very well. My usual routine was to either grab a bagel and coffee at Best Bagel and eat it in Herald Square (right by Macy’s) or head to Koreatown for my favorite bibimbap. Side note: eat all the bagels in NYC, and take some home with you. They really are the best out there!
Since I used to live in South Korea I always loved going to Koreatown in NYC which has some great restaurants (my faves were Don’s Bogam and Hangawi). I’d also recommend grabbing some gimbap (Korean sushi) or getting a cheap mani or pedi anywhere along E 32nd Street.
If you happen to arrive near Grand Central Terminal, by all means explore the station as it is stunning inside and out! There’s a great food court downstairs as well as the yummy Grand Central Oyster Bar. Just a few minutes’ walk from Grand Central is the Chrysler Building – be sure to go inside and see the beautiful art deco lobby!
Central Park is a wonderful park, but I preferred Bryant Park on 42nd Street. My Granny grew up in NYC and she used to work right by Bryant Park and spend a lot of time there, so I made it a regular part of my NYC time. It’s a lovely park and especially amazing in the winter when the Winter Village is all set up. Christmas in NYC is magical anyway but the park looks incredible with more than 100 shops inside adorable kiosks all over the park. There’s also an ice skating rink and it’s one of the few places (only place?) where you can ice skate for free in NYC during the holidays.
Throughout the rest of the year, the park has all sort of free areas to hang out and play, including the Reading Room, Games and Art Cart and so much more. There’s a lovely carousel onsite and a cafe and of course the park is right across the street from the amazing New York Public Library. I never went inside until one of my last visits to NYC and I have no idea how I didn’t realize how beautiful the library is inside. Go!
Top of the Rock/Rockefeller Center
I have never been to the top of the Empire State Building (mostly because I’ve been told it’s really crowded and that’s not my thing) but thankfully a great friend who lives in NYC took me instead to the top of Rockefeller Center. Amazing! I went in March, and it was certainly chilly but I got a wonderful clear day and it was stunning. Look at this beautiful view:
Rockefeller Center is a pretty place to hang around – the ice skating rink is certainly a beautiful view even on a quiet November morning. If you fancy an early morning in Midtown the filming of NBC’s Today Show takes place right by Rockefeller Center. I had to go there for a work thing once and we stood around as the stars of the show came out and talked to fans. It was fun.
The Museum of Natural History is by far this is one of the best museums I’ve ever been to anywhere in the world. I really wish I had gone there more than once because it’s incredible. From the dinosaurs to the amazing mammals section all the exhibitions are extremely well done.
Though I’m not a huge art person, when in NYC you have to visit MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) and at least go see the outside of the Guggenheim and the inside of the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art). MoMA was my favorite of the three by far and well worth a visit. See the Andy Warhol at least and the restaurant onsite is great for lunch. Also, the MoMA store has some beautiful items for gifts. If you do go to the Guggenheim, I suggest you cross the road before or after as you can access the northern park of Central Park for a stroll around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.
For such a huge, populous city, NYC has some amazing parks in Manhattan. I’ve already touched on Bryant Park, but of course the most famous is Central Park. I usually entered Central Park on the south entrance and that’s probably the busiest area. My favorite parts of the park include The Mall and Literary Walk, Bethesda Terrace and The Great Lawn. I’ve also been to the northernmost part of Central Park while in Harlem and that’s a nice quiet alternative.
As I spent a lot of time in Midtown, I was a frequent visitor to Madison Square Park, and not just for Shake Shack. It’s a lovely small park that is close to Penn Station. Another one of my other favorite parks to while away some time is Washington Square Park. This park is very hopping any time of the year, partly because NYU is nearby. I’ve seen piano concerts, lively performers and more here.
Honestly, I really detest Times Square mostly because it’s such a touristy mess of people all the time. But if you want to see a Broadway show, queue up in the mornings for cheaper tickets to many shows (not the biggest ones) at the TKTS Discount Booth. I saw Annie in late 2013 which was amazing, mostly because it was inside the Palace Theatre which is beautiful.
One place worth a visit is the Times Square Museum and Visitor Center, where you can see one of the now retired New Year’s Eve balls and read all sort of info about Times Square. In addition, this is an ideal place to get some visitor info and use a public bathroom (very important).
If you want to see the Financial District, Chinatown or the 9/11 Memorial I suggest first taking the subway to Brooklyn and walking over the Brooklyn Bridge to start your visit to Lower Manhattan. If you do this start at the famous Grimaldis Pizza near the Bridge before you walk over to fuel up for all the walking!
The 9/11 Memorial is pretty amazing and definitely a worthwhile stop. The museum hadn’t opened yet when I went here in early 2014 so I can’t speak to that but take some time to walk around all parts of the memorial. I think they did a fantastic job designing it with the names of all victims inscribed along the top of the two memorial pools. I went during the day, but at night the names are lit up and I imagine it’s extremely moving visually.
It’s a bit of a walk (1.5 miles) but I’d suggest walking from the 9/11 Memorial toward Chinatown and Little Italy for food, drinks or shopping. Eat cheap dumplings or steamed buns in Chinatown, get a cheap massage and follow that up with some cocktails in Little Italy. Alternatively, you could pop down to Battery Park and over to catch the Staten Island Ferry which is free and you can see the Statue of Liberty from the ferry. If you go to Staten Island, it’s a short walk to Postcards, a memorial to Staten Island residents who were killed on 9/11.
My Granny was born and raised in Brooklyn so I was pleased to get time to revisit her old neighborhoods in Park Slope and nearby Prospect Park. Some suggestions when you head to Brooklyn include the aforementioned Brooklyn Bridge walk, Smorgasburg and the Brooklyn Flea. Prospect Park is a huge, beautiful park and nearby was my favorite taste of New Zealand: Dub Pies. If you’re keen, go grab a flat white and savory pie from Dub Pies and walk in the park.
There really is no end to things to do in NYC and I’ve barely scratched the surface here or in person with my own adventures. I had many places on my list that I never got to, including Coney Island, the Cloisters, Ellis Island, a show at Radio City Music Hall, The Frick Collection and Katz Delicatessen. Plenty to do on my next visit!
Here are some more photos from amazing NYC. What are your favorite places to visit in NYC? Hit me up in the comments!