Does the world need another New York City guide?
That is a question I asked myself before sitting down to write one of my own. And the honest answer is - probably not.
I love New York, and I think you will either love it (or hate it) too no matter what you do. Then again, I know I like guides and inspiration myself. I also know that I am pretty good at finding cool places, you may even call me a truffle pig when it comes to finding restaurants, hotels, and things to do. And no, I am not just very full of myself, my mother said it first and you know that mothers are always right. Also, I happened to have lived in New York for over 6 years so I like to think I know my around the Big Apple - even on a student budget.
So with that established, no the world doesn't need another New York guide, but you may just find something yummy, something new, and somewhere to sleep in the city that never sleeps here. I give you - a phrase I never thought I'd use - my insider New York tips!
New York Tips from a former Local
New York City Hotels*
*which won't break the bank
New York is notoriously expensive, and quite frankly I was about to cancel my flight and cut my losses when I started searching for a hotel. As I have only ever lived flats in New York, I had no idea how much hotels and even Airbnb was. Flats are already incredibly expensive, but this?!
While I wasn't opposed to the idea of staying in a hostel, I was not going to sleep in a dorm as I am just not that type of traveler and honestly never have been. Neither was I going to pay $150 for a single room. In a hostel? No way!
Also, gone are the days when I stayed at a "hotel" in New York that mentions on their website their clean sheets as a unique selling point. One of my best New York tips when it comes to accommodation? Don't give up and venture outside of Manhattan as well.
Luckily fate got in the way, and I found the perfect hotel for me - Hotel Giraffe. How can I resist with such a name?! Even if you don't care for giraffes (why are you here??) it comes with a perfect Midtown location on 26th and Park, two blocks from the subway stop and with Park Avenue giving you access to cabs going up- and downtown.
My room was spacious - especially for New York conditions - and even came with a tiny Juliette balcony. Great bed, great pillows, and a proper New York bagel selection for breakfast.
The only thing that needs improving in my eyes is their coffee, but then you are never short on options once you step outside. They also offer a complimentary cheese and wine bar in the evening which I unfortunately missed and giraffe books in the room!
The Paperfactory Hotel
In case you want you don't feel Midtown I recommend you head to Queen and check out the Paperfactory Hotel in Long Island City. This cool little hotel is set in yes, a former paperfactory, still showcasing old beams and original floors. Best of all - stunning views over the Manhattan skyline from my loft-like room (ask for one on the upper floors).
This hotel is full of eclectic memorabilia from around the world including a book column, an old paper press, and an English phone booth but at the same time still gives you a sense that you are in the heart of Queens. They offer movie nights in the adjacent garage as well as live music at their restaurant and the perfect little to-go coffee counter for all your breakfast needs. And with major subway stations around the corner you are just a short 10-minute ride from that incredible skyline you can see from your room!
A Local's favorite NYC Restaurants
New York was never shy on great food options for every budget. Whether you want to splurge or just have a perfect snack, I have put together a little list with some old and new New York favorites of mine.
The Todd English Food Hall at the Plaza
When you get invited to the Plaza, in any capacity whatsoever, you don't say no. You just don't. I mean, come on, it's the Plaza!
You especially don't say no if you get invited with all your friends to eat all the food and drink all the drinks. So you may say that I am biased especially if the loveliest of all waiters brings you dessert even though you declined (and thus you don't have to feel bad for being a complete glutton). Because honestly if someone tells me I can order anything on the menu chances are I will order everything.
The Todd English Food Hall is basically a food court. But since you are at the Plaza the court is filled with the crème de la crème of foods: oyster bar, lobster tank, sushi, and of course a bar of note to wash it all down.
Usually Fifth Avenue and Central Park East is a bit tricky when it comes to finding decent food spots, so I think this is the perfect place to have a snack (or a 5-course meal) before strolling it off in Central Park. Mind you, in our case, we were lucky to make it off the bar stools alive - we almost literally ate everything on the menu.
The Plaza: Fifth Avenue at Central Park South, New York, NY 10019 - entrance to the Food Hall is on Central Park South
Bar Pitti is my favorite in all of the New York restaurants. Why? Just go and experience pasta perfection. If you have to wait for a table, do it and don't be tempted to go to the Italian next door. While it may look similar, the prices are steeper, and the food and service cannot be compared.
Bar Pitti: 268 Ave of the Americas, New York, NY 10014
I came across Gitane 17 years ago thanks to my back then bible, Lonely Planet, which has some great New York tips and have been going there ever since. It is one of those New York institutions that many visitors don't seem to know about.
First things first: it is always crowded. Come early for meal times or expect a wait. Once you are in order everything but especially an iced mince tea (the menu has a slight Moroccan touch) and the chicken sandwich or the focaccia with mozzarella and tapenade. Well, those are my personal favorites, my friends all have their own which sort of shows that whatever you order, you can't go wrong.
Cafe Gitane: 242 Mott Street, New York, NY 10012
How keen was I to finally get me some David Cheng? So much so that I not only went to the Momofuku Noodle Bar for one lunch but also to the Ssäm Bar for another. They are both something to write home about: easy, cool and delicious. Have the shrimp buns and the spicy lychee slushie - best $6 you will ever spend on a drink, even a non-alcoholic one!
Now I am super keen to not only watch every David Cheng program on TV but also to try his fine dining options - has anyone been?
Noodle Bar: 171 1st Avenue between 10th + 11th Street, New York, NY 10003
Ssäm Bar: 207 Second Avenue at 13th Street, New York, NY 10003
I have been dreaming of eating a proper cronut ever since my first doughssant in Cape Town. So when I stayed just a few blocks away from the cronut home, Dominique Ansel Bakery, I thought it was the perfect chance to dig in.
Mind you, digging in is relative as they come with instructions: come early or pre-order a gazillion weeks in advance. Order two per person. Only one flavor per month. Apparently, 11 am on a Tuesday is not early enough so I ended up spending over $6 for a tiny cheesecake while watching a couple eat their two cronuts each. They may have been worth it, my cheesecake wasn't. It is not called New York cheesecake for nothing, so if you are in New York and sell a cheesecake for $6 it better be the best flippin' cheesecake ever.
It wasn't, and so I went to Ladurée around the corner to make up for the mediocre cheesecake with some macarons. What can I say? They are not originally New York, but they never disappoint.
Dominique Ansel Bakery: 189 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012
Ladurée Soho: 398 West Broadway, 10012 New York
Caracas Arepa Bar
The amount of money I have spent here over the years is something I don't want to know, but I dare say it was worth it.
Caracas offers mainly Venezuelan arepas, a little maize flour bun, grilled and filled with really anything your heart desires. From cheeses to beans, the infamous Pabellon Criollo, the Venezuelan national dish, and everything in between. Douse it all in their secret sauce and wash it down with a sugarcane juice, you will be a happy person, I promise. And try my personal favorite - the La del Gato.
Caracas now has a few different branches, but I still like the one on East 7th Street best, take a walk over to St. Marks Place afterward and you can wave hello to my old flat.
Caracas Arepa Bar: 93 1/2 E 7th Street, New York, NY 10009
Unique Things to do in NYC
That New York is overflowing with options for every taste is rather obvious. I wish I could add that it also offers something for every budget, but quite frankly I don't think that is true. I used to joke that you will lose $20 just to go around the corner in New York and had to double it on my last trip. Very few things are for free, so I have not made that a pre-requisite here but rather wanted to share a few of my favorite things to do in the city.
While I was in New York during September 11th, I had not been back downtown yet to see Ground Zero. I knew it wasn't going to be easy but this time, I had to go and see the new memorial. I was enamored. I think it is magnificent and just somehow right, capturing the appropriate amount of gravitas without being too sinister or showy.
It is made up of two large rectangular pools in the size of the former Twin Towers that are cascading inwards. All around them, you will find a banister with the names engraved of those who lost their lives.
Next to them you will also find the 9/11 museum. It looked nicely done though I didn't go inside. I wanted to remember the day but not get reminded too much of gory details. I feel like if you were on the Titanic, you don't need to see the Titanic exhibition. Does that make sense? Well, it did for me...
9/11 Memorial & Museum: 180 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10007
There is no good explanation why you would combine a memorial site with a potential shopping excess except that they are right next to each other. A few minutes away, you will find Century 21, the institution of discounted designer clothing - shopping in New York but affordable!
While the store has come a long way from shared changing rooms with no partitions, it is still a complete hit or miss and absolutely to be avoided on the weekend. But if you get lucky, you get really lucky: Rick Owen, Lanvin and Martin Margiela are no strangers to these rails and often 1/4 of regular store prices. Worth a little digging for I think.
Century 21: 22 Cortlandt Street, New York, NY 10007
Warm Up at PS1
The Saturday summer parties at MoMA PS1 were already legendary when I was a student in New York. They call themselves a New York staple and have been around for 19 years!
An oldie but a goodie, so head towards Queens on a Saturday afternoon for some outdoor dancing and frolicking in the sun. Bring your friends, bring your kids, check out the art with a cocktail in hand and listen to some of the experimental music, sound as well as national and international DJs.
MoMA PS1: 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City
Relax & The City
Visit the beautiful High Line, an urban park built on former train tracks over the city. It is the perfect place to soak up the sun, enjoy the views over the Hudson river and the skyline and enjoy a greener side of New York.
Get chased by a Dinosaur
Looking for New York tips with kids? My all time favorite museum is the American Museum of Natural History. Not only do they have very spacious space center but fossilized dinosaur eggs that you can even touch. And if you are not traveling to New York City kids you can always make a video of yourself in a yellow cab being chased by a dinosaur to send home. Your very own mini Jurassic Park movie!
American Museum of Natural History: Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024
New Yorkers are (in)famous all around the world. That's why one of my favorite things to do in downtown NYC (or uptown if you are into Breakfast at Tiffany's or Gossip Girl) is people watching - in fact, I think it was invented here. Where to go? Walk around from uptown to downtown, from the West Village to the East Village. Sit, an iced coffee from Dean & Deluca at hand and watch the world go by.
One of my preferred places is Washington Square Park. New Yorkers are actually quite a friendly bunch (unless you tell them you hate their city!) so don't be surprised if you end up with two Pitbulls to your feet and a new friend next to you on the park bench.
What are your favorite New York tips? What should I check out next time?
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