Now that we've gone over some of the amazing places you need to eat at in NYC: Part 1, I want to share with you some of the things you can and should do when visiting New York City. I had almost five days in the city when I visited, and while there was definitely a solid list of things I wanted to do, I wanted, even more, to just enjoy the city for what it had to offer. I wanted to wander, explore, and stumble upon anything that was already happening, and I can honestly say now that I did just that. I mean, I ended up being a part of a random photo shoot in Bryant Park when I was waiting for my friend to meet me! So my first piece of advice would be to just let New York City happen to you, because that's truly the best way to experience one of the most magical cities in the world.
Okay, now let's get on with some of the practical stuff. If you're planning your first visit to NYC and you really want to see some of the famous city sights, I would definitely recommend purchasing a CityPass. At only $122, this pass allows you access to your choice of six different attractions in the city, including: the Empire State Building, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Top of the Rock, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and more. Tip: if you don't have enough time for six stops, consider the C3 Pass ($76), which allows you access to three attractions of your choice. This is what I purchased prior to my trip and it was totally worth it. Not only did I not have to worry about buying individual tickets (which meant paying more), but I often got to skip lines!
I totally mentioned this in my first post, but MADISON SQUARE PARK was easily one of my favorite places to hang out, catch my breath, and inevitably end up people watching. First of all, it's right across the street from Eataly Flatiron, where you can get coffee and eat alllll the Italian things. Second, the gorgeous Flatiron building is right there and is a stunner to look at. And third, there is a Shake Shack right in the middle of the park, so hello. I found myself here quite a few times during my trip, including late one night while I was strolling through the city taking photos of the fog starting to creep in (pictures from that at the bottom of this post).
A Nashville friend told me that I had to see STRAND BOOKSTORE while I was in the city, so on day one we headed into the most massive book store I think I've ever seen. It's 3.5 floors and houses over 2.5 million books, so yes, it's huge. I told myself that I wasn't allowed to buy any books because I already have way too many needing to be read on my nightstand, so I was happy to grab a "Be Nice" pin from their pin collection, which I now sport proudly on my backpack (yes, this makes me sound like a child, but I've got my backpack with me constantly as it carries my laptop and often camera gear). After visiting Strand, Ainsley made sure to take me through WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK, and I am so glad she did. The park itself was gorgeous and I loved the way that the arch framed the Empire State Building. Really, I just love all the parks in NYC because of the dichotomy between their greenery and the concrete buildings surrounding them.
I mentioned how awesome GRAND CENTRAL STATION is in my last post, but it deserves to be repeated here because it really is so amazing. Not only was it absolutely my favorite place to stop when taking the subway, but it boasts some of the most beautiful architecture and interior designs. I mean, look at that ceiling artwork! Additionally, there is a food court on the lower level (which includes a Shake Shack!) and this place has some of the best people watching ever because over 750,000 people travel through it every. single. day. That's a lot of humans, y'all.
I was told by many friends that THE HIGH LINE in Chelsea was a spot I needed to see, and they were absolutely right. The High Line used to be an elevated railroad track which was converted into a "linear park" and walkway. It's full of little garden spaces, lawns and overlooks, and even some spots to grab coffee or a bite to eat. There are plenty of spaces to chill out, enjoy the scenery, and — my favorite —people watch. I loved just walking aimlessly up and down the walkway, stopping every once in a while to sit and read.
My first full day in the city, we made a spur of the moment decision to visit the ONE WORLD OBSERVATORY right after sunset. We walked through the Occulus on our way there, which was quite the experience in itself as the building is a true work of art. Once we got into the observatory building, we took the incredibly fast elevator up to a special area called the "Forever Theatre," and I refuse to give away what happens there because it was just so cool. Then we stepped into the main observatory, which is 100+ floors up and has a 360 degree view of lower Manhattan, including the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, and New Jersey. You can also see down to the 9/11 Memorial, where the two fountains are lit up where the original World Trade Center towers were. Lastly, there's a cool feature called the Sky Portal where you can stand on top of a glass structure that looks down to the city streets!
When I was in NYC last I did the Empire State Building, so this time I decided to visit TOP OF THE ROCK, which is literally the top of the Rockefeller Building. Not only is it often less crowded than the former, but some would even say it has a better 360 degree view of the city. On one side you can look down onto Central Park, and on the other you get a perfect view of the Empire State Building itself, as well as the other skyscrapers of lower Manhattan. It was the most beautiful day when I was there, and it felt like I was able to see for miles!
ST. PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL was something I knew that I needed to see in person, and it did not disappoint. A little known fact is that I actually grew up in the Catholic church until I was about 10 (this is a big part of my testimony, actually), and I have always been a bit fascinated with the traditions and the beauty of their buildings. Despite a mass service starting just a few minutes, I was able to step inside the church and walk down the center aisle to take it all in. Y'all, it is HUGE, and full of so much stained glass and other beautiful elements. I almost chose to stay for mass, but knew I wouldn't have quite enough time before I had planned to meet my friend. Still, a great place to just step into if you can. Bonus: across the street from the backside of the church is the Palace Hotel, another famous spot from Gossip Girl.
Oh guys, the NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY right outside of Bryant Park was so spectacular. I honestly wish I would have had more time to explore around the giant facility, but it was just a quick stop for me on this last trip. You best believe, though, that I could have spent hours there. If, like me, you just love to read, I highly recommend making this a spot to hit up when you're in NYC.
It wouldn't be a trip to New York without a walk through CENTRAL PARK. I did this a few times while I was in the city, wanting to make sure I made a few special stops. The first was Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, a beautiful spot in the middle of Central Park. It's actually one of the most famous and recognizable fountains (it's been in many movies), and the terrace was the spot where Blair and Chuck got married in Gossip Girl so you knooow I had to stop there, too. The other places I wanted to see were the Mall (which we walked through to get to Bethesda fountain), the Loeb Boathouse, and Belvedere Castle.
If you can, make it a point to go to THE MET (aka The Metropolitan Museum of Art). It's a huge, spectacular museum full of art from all over the world, and it's right in Central Park! Also, for any GG fans, you gotta get your photo snapped on the Met steps. If you have the time once inside, you could easily spend hours and hours walking through all of the different exhibits, and trust me, it's real easy to get lost in there (we did, a few times). Even if art isn't really your thing, make it a point to find the Rooftop Bar. Find a museum employee to find the entrance for the bar, because it's kind of hard to find. There are even some exhibits right there on the roof, and it has the most beautiful views of Central Park and the skyline! Pro tip: the bartender warned us that their drinks are real strong, and he wasn't lying, so definitely take your time.
If this is your first time to NYC, ya just have to hit up TIMES SQUARE. Even if you've been before, it's such a spectacle that I would say go again if for nothing else than just to people watch in the most epic of ways. Full of tourists and street performers and vendors of all kinds, Times Square is an experience in and of itself. I won't lie through, the crowds are absolute insanity, so if you're even remotely claustrophobic I'd recommend swinging by earlier in the day. It will still be crowded, but in my experience it wasn't nearly as packed as it was in the evening.
I also highly recommend seeing a BROADWAY show, because you're in freaking New York City so why wouldn't you. Last minute, I decided to go see a show solo and am still so glad that I did. I would recommend buying tickets before your trip, but if you're a bit of a procrastinator like myself, check out this helpful post from my friend Chloe on how to get cheap Broadway tickets.
Walk the BROOKLYN BRIDGE from Manhattan to Dumbo, preferably at the beginning of the day. We ended up there on a Sunday and the bridge wasn't too packed with people yet which made the experience and the ability to take some solid pictures so much more enjoyable. We took the train to City Hall to start our walk across the bridge. We got into Dumbo, stopped for coffee and treats, and then sat on the Pier watching boats go by before grabbing lunch. It felt like a nice change of pace from the go-go-go of Manhattan. After eating, we grabbed a water taxi to Williamsburg to explore that area. Some of our stops were Mast Brothers for some chocolate, Le Labo Cafe and Fragrances to test all their scents (apparently they are very popular in NYC), and Catbird Jewelry, where I restrained myself from spending all the moneys on their beautiful jewelry.
This one probably seems like a no brainer, but if you're in NYC and you've never been, you must go to the 9/11 MEMORIAL & MUSEUM. I was only nine years old the last time I was in the city (when me sweet grandmother brought me), which was in 1998, just 2 years before the World Trade Center was attacked. So this was the thing at the top of my list that I needed to do while I was there. I spent a few hours in the museum, slowly walking through the exhibits and trying to let myself feel all the feelings. I don't know about you, but I can 100% remember where I was and what I was doing when 9/11 happened, and it was so sombering to see it all come to life again in such a tough but beautiful and honoring way at the museum. After that, I sat outside at the memorial fountains for a while and just prayed. It was honestly one of the most humbling moments of my life.
So yeah, New York City is the absolute best and I had the greatest time, and I want every single one of you to make your way there as soon as you can. Even if that means traveling solo in the biggest, most populated city in the country, you really do need to go because it's the best. Here are some of my personal tips and tricks for exploring NYC:
- For real, the subway is your best friend. I used it to get absolutely everywhere, and loved it with all of my little heart. I recommend buying an unlimited weekly pass for $32, because trust me, you will absolutely get your moneys worth out of it. I also saved a copy of the subway map to my phone and used it for reference constantly, and I'm proud to say that I didn't get lost once, not even while navigating my way through the city after midnight.
- It is definitely an expensive place to visit, so here are two tips: split meals if and when you can, and order alcohol sparingly. Seriously, those $18 cocktails add up real quick and it's not always worth it.
- When you're wandering through the city, put in your headphones. Whether or not you choose to listen to music/a podcast/an audiobook is totally up to you, but having your headphones in helps to ensure that strange people will be less likely to try to chat you up or ask for money. My friend Ainsley shared this tip with me, which I found extremely helpful.
- If you only have a day or two to explore NYC, I highly recommend using this guide to get the most out of your time there!