I have been remiss in not writing this sooner, I hope you will forgive me.
I get asked constantly: Where should I stay? What should I do? So, in an effort to consolidate my answers, which are the same answers invariably, I am writing it here for you to reference.
I would further ask my friends in Manhattan to please chime in! If you feel like I missed something please feel free to comment below or if you have a recommendation, please! This is the itinerary that I normally use to take visitors to see my city. (yes, mine)
If this is your first time visiting New York City and you are only staying a couple days, then I suggest you stay in Midtown West near the Port Authority. It is an easy commute from any airport (EWR, JFK, LGA), you are smack in the middle of the city, and you can get anywhere with trains. Don’t be scared, the rats don’t bite tourists. Plus, NYC is super walkable and bike-able now! You can rent bikes for the day or weekend and it is a Wonderful way to get around, especially in warmer weather. https://www.citibikenyc.com/
Getting to NYC from an airport: There’s train and there is Express Bus. I recommend the Express Bus, it’s $16 per person, has wifi, is comfortable and it’s easy. You can catch it from any airport outside the baggage claim areas. Please ask the ground transfer agents and they can direct to the correct area. They run very frequently, I want to say every 15-30 minutes. The bus can drop you at the Port Authority and Grand Central Station. And, you can take it on the return as well. The Express Bus stop is in between 8th and 9th Avenue directly on 42nd Street.
Which hotel? There are so many hotels but to name a few: The Hilton Times Square, Staybridge Suites Times Square, The Yotel (small rooms but good location), and The Pod Times Square is an interesting concept. There is also the Ink Hotel that has a fabulous rooftop bar, that’s on 11th Avenue and 48th street. It is a quieter area but still central and directly across the street is the Gotham Marketplace which is a multi-cultural food-court that I personally love. All of these are walkable from the Port Authority. The Ink would be the furthest of those mentioned but it’s still walkable.
Where to eat? There is a plethora of restaurants on 9th Avenue starting from 43rd and going up to about 56th street that are all fabulous and more local than Times Square proper. For more shishi options, there is the Times Warner Center on 59th and 8th Avenue (technically it is Columbus Circle, but you will see what I mean when you are there). There are of course amazing restaurants throughout the city, but I am trying to focus on those that would be more convenient for you if you stay in midtown.
I suggest you start out a tour at Columbus Circle. You can get there by bike or subway and get out at Columbus Circle. You can either walk through the park or walk along Central Park South (59th street) towards 5th Avenue. If you are an ambitious sightseer you can conceivably do Central Park, 5th Avenue, Bryant Park and Times Square in one day. If you want to do it more relaxed, you can do Central Park in one day and 5th Ave, Top of the Rock, Bryant Park & Times Square in another day.
Maybe I should take a moment to explain the layout of Manhattan so you can get your bearings. Manhattan is broken down into East and West. 5th Avenue is the line between East and West and the building numbers start from 5th Ave and get larger the further East and West you go. The numbered streets start at Houston (pronounced House-ton) and go all the way up to the Bronx, which is far. The Port Authority is located on 42nd St. & 8th Ave. The North/South streets are very short, like a joke short. The cross-town blocks are ridiculously long, really, they feel like they never end.
OK so you are on 59th and 5th Avenue: to the right of you is the Plaza Hotel, across from the Plaza is the Apple Store with the glass triangular entryway. **Nerd Alert: there is an actual book seller on the corner of 59th and central park east**
Turn right and walk down 5th Avenue. (**Tip: the night before you do this walk, reserve a time slot for the Top of the Rock, I suggest sunset if you can swing it**) You will walk past all the major stores, St. Patrick’s Cathedral will be on the left side on 50th St. Rockefeller Center is on the right side on 49th street. The Top of the Rock entry is on 49th between 5th & 6th Ave.
Why do I recommend the Top of the Rock and not the Empire State Building? From the Top of the Rock, you can get pictures of the entire city, the sunset over the Hudson River and the Empire State Building. Beat that! That is, in my opinion, the best view and is worth every penny. **There is a Starbucks on the bottom floor of Rockefeller Center that overlooks the ice rink in the winter, stage in the summer, good for a pit-stop.**
OK back to 5th Ave. continue walking south. On 42nd street cross the street and turn right (that impressive building is the NY Public Library) the backyard of the library is Bryant Park. This is a great place to stop for a libation, sit on the grass, absorb the energy of the city. Sometimes there are free movies or dance parties as well. Rest your feet for a minute, you’re not done.
Back on 42nd street, you go in the same direction, which is West. Keep walking, you won’t miss it. Times Square is a thing of wonder. Do not be scared of the dancers or the panhandlers. Contrary to what people say, NYers are friendly, we are fast, we are direct, we don’t tolerate bullshit, but we have a sense of humor. There is no way that 8 million people from everywhere in the world could live on a small island without having a sense of humor. Sarcasm is appreciated, feel free. Sit, look, snack, drink, enjoy. **I suggest that you see Times Square after sunset, it is more impressive at night**
Go eat, shower, sleep, or have a drink at a rooftop bar if you have the energy.
Central Park Sightseeing:
I suggest your start this day at Lincoln Center. Take a train, bike it, however you feel comfortable. Take your pictures and walk east on 66th street to the Park, enter the Park. I recommend that you turn right, the lake will be on your left, and follow the signs to The Mall, the big field on your left is Sheep’s Meadow. Walk the Mall **bring singles to tip the musicians, there is music everywhere in the park and they make the experience even more beautiful so please support our #MusiciansOfCentralPark **
Head towards Bethesda Terrace. Follow the pathway to the Loeb Boathouse, lovely place to have an adult refreshing beverage overlooking the lake. After resting a bit, walk to the Ramble and then go to I think it is called Turtle Bridge. This is a really beautiful walk and a great spot for pictures, especially at sunset. From Turtle Bridge you will go to the bike pathway that you started on I suggest you exit the park at 72nd street, walk through Strawberry Fields. The white building with brown detail on the corner of 72nd St is the Dakota, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived.
There is a multitude of restaurants and bars on Amsterdam Ave., 2 avenues West of the park, starting in the 70s and going up through the 80s, these are local and good. **If you want to try something different, La Caridad is a Cuban & Chinese restaurant which is a staple of Manhattan, it’s located across from the Beacon Theater.
Other walks I recommend if you have more time:
- Have dim sum in China Town, walk through Little Italy, end up in Soho
- B&H Photo, then walk the Highline down to the Meatpacking
- Get lost in Soho and the West Village
- 9/11 Memorial, Battery Park, South Street Seaport, Hornblower Cruise for sunset on the Hudson River
I prefer cab over Uber in Manhattan, but this is a personal preference. I have had Uber drivers that were clueless and that annoys me to no end. Then again, I have also had cab drivers that were lost as well, but that has happened fewer and more far between than Uber. Really, walking, the subway and bicycle is the best way to get around.
This is a lot of information to digest but I hope it will be helpful to you! If you would be so kind as to use my links to book any tours or hotels it would be greatly appreciated!