NYC Visitors Guide

Hello friend,

I’m so glad that you will be coming to my city. Growing up here was the privilege of a lifetime, and I am passionate about sharing my insights and knowledge with my friends. I hope that this information helps you plan a successful adventure and I can’t wait to meet up and tour you around!

Planning your Trip

The Boroughs

New York is composed of five “boroughs.”

  • Manhattan: The classic “New York” of legend. Manhattan is considered the center of New York and the other four boroughs are known as the “Outer Boroughs.”
  • Brooklyn: More low key, hip and a world-renowned center of culture.
  • Queens: The most diverse part of the entire US, a smorgasbord of delicious food and friendly people.
  • The Bronx: A working class and up-and-coming borough that features some larger attractions like the Bronx Zoo.
  • Staten Island: Accessible by ferry from Manhattan. It has some good stuff but is mostly suburban residential and not a common place for tourists to visit.

For first-timers I recommend focusing on Manhattan with jaunts into the other boroughs. On subsequent trips, focus on the outer boroughs and unique places off the beaten path.

Where to Stay

For a first-timer I recommend staying in midtown Manhattan or Chelsea (the very north of Downtown, between 14th and 28th streets). This will give you quicker access to the “must-do” NYC attractions and give you the classic “New York experience”.  If you’ve done a trip already and seen many of the Manhattan landmarks I recommend staying in Brooklyn or Queens for your next visit to get a more authentic feel for what it’s like to live here. If you’ve been here a lot and know your way around, staying in the Bronx, Jersey City or Hoboken can be great options to save some cash while still having easy access to the heart of the city.

New York has outlawed AirBNB. Other short-term rental options may be available but could be unreliable. New York has great hotels but be prepared for the high rates. I don’t recommend splurging on a high-end hotel experience because in my opinion staying in your hotel is not what an NYC visit should be about. At the same time, the lower-end hotels can be dirty and loud, with bed bugs and roaches, so I don‘t recommend cheaping out either.

Generally, if you are booking well enough in advance, as a solo traveler you should be able to book a decent hotel room for between $150 and $250 a night. For a family of four splitting two rooms, expect to pay around $300 a night per room. I recommend booking very far in advance, but if you need to book a room at the last minute, deals are often available. Booking 1-2 weeks out is the most expensive time, so if you do not have accommodations and live life on the edge, feel free to try and book a room a few days before or even the day of. Remember to check the reviews. Anywhere with less than a four-star Google review has something wrong with it.

I recommend using Google to find hotels, compare pricing, and book online. For last-minute stays, I recommend the HotelTonight app.


New York has many free and cheap attractions and food. It also has some of the most expensive restaurants in the world, luxury shopping everywhere, and can obliterate your bank account if you’re not careful. If you have a moderate budget I recommend picking a few high-end experiences to splurge on. New York has the best of everything and whatever you are into you can find. So don’t miss your chance to ball out and have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Just keep it to one or two parts of your trip, and spread your remaining budget out on more affordable activities.

You can have a fun day out in New York for as little as $50/day per traveler, but you will feel quite restricted. The more you budget the more flexibility you can have. But I recommend thinking through your budget in advance because your trip can end up costing much more than you bargained for if you don’t keep an eye on it.


As the first activity in your trip I recommend getting high. In the air, that is! There are several skyscraper observatories, like the Empire State Building, that give you a 360° panoramic view of the city. Starting your trip this way will allow you to visualize the entire city and see the neighborhoods you will be experiencing later on in your trip. For a first-timer I recommend going during the day so you have the most visibility, but for a repeat visitor, nighttime is amazing, and allows you to avoid the crowds.

I recommend picking two primary activities per day and planning to walk as much as possible to and from those locations. Try to pair things up in such a way that you will cover as many neighborhoods as possible on foot throughout your trip.

New York offers pretty much everything, from entertainment, to food, unique museums, shopping, sports, and even nature experiences and parks. Aside from a few “must-do” things, there is no “wrong” way to do New York. You really can’t do everything, so just focus on the stuff that you and your travel mates are most interested in and you will have a great time.

Google is a good way to understand which attractions are the most popular, but be aware that things with a lot of good ratings actually tend to be more touristy. Many things that New Yorkers enjoy doing won‘t come up first, because they are less commonly visited. So combine the internet’s recommendations with recommendations from friends like me!

I have provided a full list of recommended activities below.

Getting Around


Walking is the way to experience the city the best. It gives you a sense of the connections between different areas and gives you the chance to be spontaneous and pop in to shops and restaurants that catch your eye. You may see something random like a celebrity, movie shoot, street fight, pizza rat, or celebrity vs. rat street fight. You never know in New York!

Secondly, there is the famous Subway system. The subway is reliable and runs 24/7. Make sure you use it at least a few times during your trip, you will feel like a real New Yorker! Google Maps will give you very good directions as to which subways to take, but there are also posted maps throughout the system, and most New Yorkers are happy to give directions to visitors if you need.

There is also a strong bus system. I don’t recommend that first-timers rely on it because it can be complex to navigate and know which busses to take and where to get them. However, Google maps provides very good, consistent directions by bus, so if you notice it recommend that you take the bus, don’t hesitate!

Finally, in a pinch you can use ride sharing services like Lyft or Uber, and classic yellow cabs. Getting around by car is uncommon in daily NYC life so to have an authentic experience I recommend sticking to public transit and walking. However, for specific trips (such as to and from the airport) and at certain times (late at night), a car can be the best way to go. If you are staying in one of the outer boroughs or far uptown in Manhattan, I recommend being ready to use Lyft or Uber to get back and forth from Manhattan late at night.  I would almost never recommend that you rent a car in NYC – parking is a nightmare and it often is a slower option than walking or transit.

These days you can rely on your smartphone to give you reliable directions from place to place, including public transportation options. However, I encourage visitors to put the phone away and try their best to get from place to place by using the street grid and major landmarks. This is the best way to truly learn how the city is structured and feel like a local.

Most of Manhattan is covered by a fairly logical, rectangular street grid, with numbered streets running east-west and “avenues” running north-south. The numbered streets start downtown and increase in number as you go uptown. Anything south of 28th street or so is considered “Downtown”. Between 28th and 59th Street is considered “Midtown”. Above 59th street is considered “Uptown”.

The avenues are also numbered, with lower numbers in the east and higher numbers in the west, though there is no 4th avenue, and that instead is replaced by Madison Avenue, Park Avenue, and Lexington Avenue. Largely, if you are going from one avenue to another you can tell if you need to go west or east by the number.

The most famous street in the world, Broadway, runs north-south but does not conform to the grid. Instead it wanders uptown, intersecting the avenues. Walking along Broadway is a tremendous way to experience New York.

Getting to and from the Airport

New York has three major airports and you are probably arriving using one of them:

  • Newark: Located across the river in New Jersey
  • JFK: Located at the far edge of Brooklyn
  • LaGuardia: Located in Queens

If you have a choice, fly to LaGuardia. It is the closest to the heart of the city, and was recently remodeled, with very good food options.

From any of the airports you can get a Lyft/Uber easily into the city. This will take anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours depending on traffic and where you are going within town. Traffic into the city is heaviest during the morning rush hour and is generally very light by around noon. It gets busier again in the evening as people enter the city for evening activities but is not as bad as the morning. Traffic after 8pm into the city is also generally good. Expect to pay at least $50 for your ride.

Public transit is cheaper and often faster. From LaGuardia, take the M125 bus into Manhattan, where you can connect with the subway to get to your hotel. From Newark, you need to take a small “AirTrain” to the airport’s New Jersey Transit train station. From there, you can take a New Jersey Transit train to New York Penn station, then take the subway to your destination. From JFK, there is a monorail called “AirTran” that goes from the airport directly to the NYC subway (A Train).

Generally you don’t need to plan for transit prior to arrival. Once you land, use Google Maps to look up directions and it will show you the best option based on the state of the traffic.

When returning to the airport to go home, I recommend leaving plenty of buffer time in case of traffic or travel delays.



This is the true New York bucket list. All of these things are touristy, but they are worth it! If you are not a museum person or afraid of heights, feel free to skip those.

  • One of the Observatories. You only need to do one, but I recommend starting your trip with either the Empire State Building, One Vanderbilt, One World Trade Center, Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center), or The Edge at Hudson Yards. You will have a great time at any of these. My overall favorite is the Empire State Building, which features a stunning historical museum with fun activities and installations for all ages. For a cooler instagrammable experience, One Vanderbilt is unmatched, featuring infinite mirror floors and a full glass facade.
  • Central Park. The park is one of the defining features of New York. It features miles of walking trails, woods, lakes, the worlds most famous museum (the Met), a zoo, restaurants, a skating rink, playgrounds, and more. Go wander and people-watch. If it’s nice weather, a picnic is a must. Grab food to-go from one of the many great restaurants nearby. Pair this part of your trip with The Met, another must-do. Walking from park to museum and then back again is a magical feeling.
  • The Met. The Metropolitan Museum of art is the largest museum in the country, featuring everything from antiquities to modern masterpieces. It is so big, it has full buildings inside the building, such as an Egyptian temple and a Japanese tea room. You can spend days here, but I recommend budgeting around 4 hours for a solid walk-through.
  • American Museum of Natural History. Across Central Park is one of the world’s greatest collections of natural wonders. See everything from dinosaurs and wooly mammoths to bees, butterflies, and amazing artifacts from human history. Budget at least 4 hours.
  • MoMA. Likely the best modern art museum in the world, featuring Van Gogh and Monet alongside today’s most throught-provoking artists. You can do a quick tour in 2 hours or spend up to a full day if you are an art lover.
  • Brooklyn Bridge. The most famous bridge in the world, connecting the two most populous boroughs. I recommend walking across en route to or from Brooklyn Bridge Park for a truly special experience. The walk takes 30-60 minutes and offers spectacular views of New York Harbor.
  • New York Public Library (Main Branch next to Bryant Park). Built in the 30s by wealthy philanthropists like Astor, Morgan, and Vanderbilt, this building is a gem of architecture for the public good. They have rotating exhibits and quiet reading rooms for study and reflection. A great place to get quiet work done, journal, or read. Budget an hour to “see it”, but stay longer if you want.
  • Grand Central. The busiest train station in the world, connecting Manhattan with upstate New York and Long Island. It is an architectural marvel and features excellent restaurants, bars, and fun shops like the iconic Apple Store. You will likely pass through here at some point if you are using the subway. Walking through it is enough to check this box, but you can stay longer too.
  • Times Square. The tackiest and most touristy part of New York – and also an absolute must-do. At the least, walk through on your way between activities. For a quick bite to eat, check out Los Tacos No. 1 located nearby – but watch out for the line at peak hours.
  • See a Broadway Show. New York is the world capital of theater, and every major production is based or shown here. Tickets are pricey but it can be worth it for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For the budget-conscious, the TKTS booth in Times Square offers last-minute tickets at low prices. You may just need to see whatever show has seats available instead of picking a specific show in advance.
  • World Trade Center & Oculus. Every visitor to New York should come pay their respects to the victims of 9/11. At ground zero are beautiful infinite pools which inspire reflection. Nearby is the marvelous Oculus, a train-station-slash-mall with a stunning design by Santiago Calatrava. Nearby you can walk near Trinity Church, where Alexander Hamilton’s gravestone can be seen from the street, and down Wall Street. This is the heart of old New York in the revolutionary era.
  • High Line: Converted from old railway tracks, this is an elevated walkway connecting Hudson Yards to Chelsea Market. The walk takes around an hour and is a great way to soak in these neighborhoods. A classic itinerary is to go up to The Edge observatory, then walk to Little Island and Chelsea Market on the High Line.

Highly Recommended

  • Manhattan
    • The Apollo: A famous theater in the heart of Harlem, where Dr. King, Malcolm X, and other civil rights leaders have spoken. They feature many shows but the iconic experience is Amateur Night, the ultimate open mic, where both cheering and booing are acceptable forms of expression. You will see some amazingly talented people, and some people who merely think they are amazingly talented.
    • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island: The iconic gateway to America. Budget a full day to do both.
    • St. John the Divine: New York‘s most beautiful and famous church, featuring rotating art galleries. My dad has showed artwork here!
    • The Guggenheim: Frank Lloyd Wright’s stunning take on the modern art museum featuring a single continuous hallway that spirals upward. Budget at least 2 hours.
    • The Whitney: One of the world’s best collections of contemporary art, featured in an avant garde building with river views and beautiful balconies. Budget at least 2 hours.
    • Rockefeller Center: The iconic home of NBC, featuring ice skating and an observatory. The plaza nearby houses classic shops like Nintendo, Lego, and American Girl. Great for families.
    • Chelsea Market & Artechouse: An indoor bazaar that traverses the interior of a full city block, featuring a wide range of food and shopping options. Budget at least an hour to stop by but you can spend 3-4 hours here. Visit Artechouse for a quick digital art experience (1 hour)
    • Bryant Park: A park that transforms depending on the season, from holiday market to outdoor movie theater to skating rink. Check for current activities.
    • Cloisters/Fort Tryon Park: The Cloisters is a medieval art museum housed in a monastery that was literally shipped from Europe to NYC, featuring beautiful gardens and views of the Hudson River. It is nestled into Fort Tryon park, with manicured gardens and wanderable trails. Check out the Fort Tryon Arcade for some very grammable pics.
    • Riverside Park: A vast network of green spaces stretching down the west side of Manhattan from 181st street all the way down to 72nd street or so. Amazing for sunset.
    • Gantry State Park: A riverside park in southern Queens, facing Manhattan. Amazing for sunset.
    • Saks Fifth Avenue: The iconic high-end department store. Splurge on something special or just window shop. What makes Saks a fun experience are the food options: A cafe, fine dining restaurant, a hidden Omakase counter, and a cozy bar designed like a Swiss chateau.
    • Morgan Museum & Library: The home of J.P. Morgan has been converted and extended into a museum featuring his personal collection of artifacts, including a gutenberg bible, and visiting exhibitions. Budget 2 hours.
    • Macy’s: The iconic, humongous department store, featuring original wooden escalators. Dining options are present but not great.
    • Irish Famine Memorial: A quiet space near the World Trade Center that will make you think you’re in Galway. Beautiful.
    • The Intrepid: A WW2 aircraft carrier now turned into an air and space museum. Great for families.
    • Tenement Museum: A stunning window into immigrant life in old new York
    • Arts at Lincoln Center: See the Opera, Ballet, or Philharmonic. You won’t be disappointed.
    • Elevated Acre: A secret park nestled between office towers in the financial district
    • The Queens Museum: An off-the-beaten-path museum located
  • Brooklyn
    • Brooklyn Bridge Park: Nestled below the Brooklyn bridge, this park features fun activities, beautiful design, and great playgrounds for kids.
    • TimeOut New York (DUMBO): Near Brooklyn Bridge Park, this food hall and event space features food stalls from around the world plus a beautiful balcony view of Manhattan.
    • Brooklyn Botanic Garden: A lovely public garden known for its roses. Free in the winter.
    • Brooklyn Museum: A comprehensive and non-touristy collection of historical artifacts and modern art. Budget 2-3 hours.
    • Pioneer Works: An avant-garde arts space
    • Industry City: A sprawling complex of industrial warehouse buildings repurposed as restaurants, shops, and cultural spaces. Check out Japan Village for a taste of Japanese culture.
    • Prospect Park: The largest park in NYC, featuring a small zoo and many beautiful spots. A park you can get lost in!
    • Coney Island: America’s original beach town. Outside of summer many of the attractions are closed but the acquarium, baseball stadium and small museum is open.
    • Vital Climbing Gym, Williamsburg: My favorite place to climb in NYC, featuring a rooftop bouldering setup with views of Manhattan.
  • Bronx
    • Bronx Botanic Garden: The best botanic garden in NYC if not the country. Budget 2-4 hours.
    • Bronx Zoo: A large, comprehensive collection of animal friends. Great family fun.
    • Bronx Little Italy: A compact neighborhood with NYC’s best remaining collection of authentic Italian bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants.
  • Governors Island: Located a short ferry ride from the southern tip of Manhattan, this former military outpost is now a playground for visitors of all ages, featuring public art installations, historical sightseeing, a day spa, and fun restaurants overlooking Manhattan harbor. Full day trip.
  • Go to a Sporting Event: Seeing sports in New York is a classic experience. Take public transit or walk to the stadium and soak up the atmosphere. If you have the chance, I recommend seeing the Knicks or Rangers at Madison Square Garden first, as MSG is an iconic landmark of its own. Seeing the Yankees or Mets (or their minor league equivalents, the Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees) is a quintessential American experience. The Nets and Liberty play in Brooklyn at New York‘s newest major stadium, Barclays Center. If visiting in August/September, see if you can catch the incredible US Open in Queens.
  • See Live Music: New York has the best music scene in the world. Major acts come to Madison Square Garden, Terminal 5, Irving Plaza, Grammercy Theater, and other large venues. For a more intimate experience, check out Bill’s Place (Harlem), The Django (Lower East Side), or Le Poisson Rouge (Greenwich Village)

Also Great

  • Spyscape
  • Hispanic Heritage Museum
  • Museum of Illusions
  • Little Island
  • Chelsea Piers
  • Children’s Museum of the Arts
  • Noguchi Museum
  • Museum of the Moving Image
  • MoMath
  • Winter Garden
  • New Museum
  • Hudson Yards
  • The UN
  • Roosevelt Island
  • Grant’s Tomb
  • Chelsea Galleries: Gaggosian,
  • The Uncommons Gaming Cafe

Food [WIP]


  • Eat Pizza
  • Eat a Bagel
  • Get a Bodega Sandwich
  • Katz’s
  • [Weather-Dependent] Rooftop Bar

Highly Recommended

  • Sylvia’s: The soul food destination, in the heart of Harlem
  • Fraunces Tavern: The oldest bar in America. George Washington drank here, you should too.
  • Friend of a Farmer: My happy place. A family favorite growing up. Try the chicken pot pie!


  • Red Rooster: Marcus Samuelsson’s take on American comfort food
  • Honeywell: A chic 70s-style speakeasy in Harlem Heights

Also Great

  • Anjelly