New Yorkers are overly fond of reminding you that their city is the best city on earth. The thing is, they might be right. New York, electric, frenetic, and full to bursting, really does have something for everyone. You could happily spend a decade here, or more likely, squeeze a lifetime of experience into just one week.
Put it in Park
Touristy? Yes. Crowded? Usually, Yes. But there is a reason Central Park has become so iconic, and means so much to so many people. It really is a magical place: an urban oasis full of secret worlds, expansive vistas, and intimate little spots waiting around every corner. Go, and give yourself time to get lost. But please give the horse and carriage rides a miss – those horses don’t have happy lives.
Take a Walk
Central Park is the classic American park, but if you are looking for something a bit more new-school when it comes to outdoor excursions, check out The Highline: a converted elevated railway overflowing with luscious vegetation, art, and world-class people-watching. Running from the Meatpacking District to Chelsea Market on the Lower West Side, The Highline is one of New York’s great walks, all in a garden in the sky.
New York is so full of galleries and museums it can be culturally overwhelming. Luckily most of the best are all along Museum Mile, a stretch of 5th Avenue along Central Park. Check out the Guggenheim — extraordinary modern art collection in an iconic Frank Lloyd Wright building — and the Metropolitan Museum of Art which has everything from medieval art to impressionist masterpieces, even a complete Egyptian temple. You won’t be alone, Museum Mile is hardly a best-kept-secret, but a better day of culture and reflection is difficult to imagine.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Avenue, (+1) 212-535-7710; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Avenue, (+1) 212-423-3575.
Have a Laugh
Stand-up comedy is in a sort of golden age, and the capital of comedy is indisputably New York City. There are lots of places to catch a show but the king of them all is the Comedy Cellar — you’ve probably seen it on shows like Louie from Louis CK. Their new larger venue Village Underground around the corner is meant to be excellent, but head to the original to sit where comedy history has been made. If you like your comedy more adult, the “nasty” late shows on Wednesdays and Thursdays are for you.
The Comedy Cellar, 117 MacDougal Street between W 3rd Street & Minetta Lane, (+1) 212-254-3480.
New York is not just Manhattan. Each of the five boroughs — Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, The Bronx, and Staten Island — have something special to offer. Yes, even Staten Island. If you only have time to hit one borough choose Brooklyn: the colonial history and preserved architecture of Fort Greene, the awesome bars of Bushwick, and the hipster apocalypse of Williamsburg. Brooklyn really is one of the coolest places on earth.
Get a Good View
New York City is so big it can be tough to get a feel for it. For one of the most iconic skylines in the world, it can be a challenge to get a good look at it. If you’re looking to get above it all, I’d suggest giving the over-crowded and played out Empire State Building a miss and heading to the no-less-touristy Top of the Rock, the rooftop observation area of Rockefeller Center. The view is one of the best in the city and when you’re there, you can check out the iconic gold Titan Prometheus statue and ice skating rink out front. Or, just snoop around the building and do some celebrity spotting. Dubbed “30 Rock”, the Rockefeller Center is where many of America’s classic TV shows, including Saturday Night Live and the eponymous 30 Rock, are produced.
The roof of Rockefeller Center, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, (+1) 212-698-2000.
Grab a Slice
Where to get the best pizza in New York is a discussion that can lead to blows. I’m not even going to wade into it here. Instead, I will say you should just eat as much pizza as possible from as many places as possible. With a few exceptions, whatever you get will still be better than whatever you’ve had at home. Need more guidance? Both Best Pizza in Williamsburg — from the team behind the justly famous Roberta’s — and Giovanni’s way up in Morningside Heights are worth the trip.
Best Pizza, 33 Havemeyer Street, Brooklyn, (+1) 718-599-2210; Giovanni’s Pizza, 1011 Columbus Ave at 110th Street, (+1) 212-663-7000.
Bag a Bagel
If heaven needs a caterer, God calls Barney Greengrass. Barney Greengrass, the Sturgeon King since 1908, is the one-stop-shop for all of your traditional Jewish breakfast and deli needs. That means you can get sturgeon, lox, white fish, herring, sable, schmear and a bagel alongside the best sandwich in the world: the Number Five. It’s three layers of roast beef, chicken fat, chicken liver, turkey, coleslaw and Russian dressing on rye.
Barney Greengrass, 541 Amsterdam Avenue at 86th Street, (+1) 212-724-4707.
Eat Your Way Through Queens
According to the internet, Flushing in Queens is the most diverse place on the planet: there are people from over 100 countries who speak more than 138 languages within the 109 square miles of the one borough and that makes Queens the best destination for multi-cultural cuisine in the whole country.
If you want South American arepas, Chinese dumplings, Tibetan momos or Xinjiang noodles, authentic Indian — in the basement canteen of America’s oldest Hindu temple no less — you can eat it all in Queens. Of special note is Golden Shopping Mall, a grubby, hectic paradise for lovers of authentic regional Chinese cuisine.
Here’s a shortlist: The Arepa Lady, 77-02AA Roosevelt Avenue, (+1) 347-730-6124; Dumpling Galaxy, 42-35 Main Street, (+1) 718-461-0808; Mustang Thakali Kitchen, 74-14 37th Avenue, (+1) 929-269-2090; Golden Shopping Mall, 41-28 Main Street; Ganesh Temple Canteen, 45-57 Bowne Street, (+1) 718-460-8484.
Wildair, the newish Lower East Side wine bar from the great minds behind tasting menu destination Contra has been called the most exciting restaurant in New York by Grub Street, New York Magazine’s food blog. Everyone, including New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells seems to agree. An eclectic selection of little known, natural, and small batch wines, alongside a menu of deceptively simple reimagined modern bistro fare. Words simply do not do this place justice Just go, enjoy, and take your time.
Wildair, 142 Orchard Street, (+1) 656-964-5624.
Find a Falafel
Pizza might be synonymous with New York, but the city’s actual favorite snack may well be falafel. These deep-fried balls of ground chickpea popular across the Levant may appear deceptively work-a-day but a good falafel can be a revelation: hot, savory, crisp on the outside and pillowy within.
For my money the best falafel is still at one of the most famous shops in the city, Mamoun’s Falafel Restaurant in the West Village. Get the falafel and a side of baba ghanoush, and if you don’t want to wait in line avoid peak lunch time; Mamoun’s is beloved and burdened by the students of nearby NYU.
Mamoun’s Falafel Restaurant, 119 MacDougal Street, West Village.
Dream of Sushi
Though Mr. Yasuda has decamped to Tokyo, his eponymous sushi restaurant remains one of New York’s finest. The stark, modern interior — think Tokyo meets Gattaca — hushed reverent tones, and taught discipline behind the counter all bely the fact that the chefs at Yasuda are as willing to be as pioneering as they are traditional, as long as the boundary pushing is done subtly and perfectly. Is Sushi Yasuda the best sushi bar in New York? Well, unless you want to drop US$450 for Masa’s omakase menu, yes it is.
Sushi Yasuda, 204 East 43rd Street, (+1) 212-972-1001.
New York has no shortage of places to stay from the opulent Plaza to hipper more see and be seen hotels like The Standard, The Ace, The Maritime, and the Hudson. These hotels boast trendy restaurants, hot rooftop bars, and lobbies perpetually full of beautiful people — if often seems they were designed more for New Yorkers than out-of-towners. But you might want to avoid if you’re hoping to get any sleep.
For travelers without a lot to spend, New York is home to all of America’s best-known budget hotels in often shockingly good locations. The Comfort Inn in the Lower East Side is right in the heart of the action, and Hampton Inns always provide bang for your buck.
With three main airports New York could not be easier to get to — Hong Kong flights normally land in JFK or Newark International — but getting from the airport to the city can be a pain. You have a choice of the undependable rabbit hole of public transportation or forking out around US$100 for a car — taxis, ubers, and apps like Dial7 all cost about the same.
I prefer Dial7 because the car will be waiting when I disembark. Once you’re in the city you’re on easy street, Uber coverage is so ubiquitous that surge pricing is mostly unheard off, taxis are legion, and the subway, though New Yorkers’ favorite topic of complaint, is convenient, comprehensive, and an experience not to be missed.