When researching things to do in New York City, as well as where to stay, eat and drink, I never thought I’d end up sitting in a cave with a stranger watching porn.
When I told friends that I was travelling to New York for the first time, each person kindly gave me a shed-load of recommendations – one even emailed me an informal guide she put together just to send to any friend visiting the city.
Unsurprisingly, when it came to my trip the two-page A4 list of things to do in New York City created quite the itinerary! A packed five days later and I have whittled it down to this, my ‘ultimate’, ‘definitive’ or whatever-you-want-to-call-it guide for things to do in New York City.
(Don’t worry, the porn is optional).
Where to stay in Brooklyn: McCarren Hotel and Pool
When people talking about Brooklyn being ultra-trendy, they’re most likely talking about Williamsburg which surrounds Bedford Avenue subway station. If you tell someone you’re staying in Brooklyn, they will assume you’re in this area.
McCarren Hotel and Pool was a short walk past American ‘taverns’ (not dissimilar to our British pubs) and pizza joints aplenty.
Rooms go from a superior king with views of McCarren Park or the hotel pool and superior queen with the same views, but seen from a private balcony, to king suites with or without a balcony, which come with an adjoining living area and kitchen space. Oh, and a penthouse, of course.
There is a large gym area and the pool, where locals pay to come throughout the summer, is one of the largest heated outdoor pools in the city and is surrounding by cushioned loungers for lazing the day away. The rooftop bar, with panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, has a daily happy hour, innovative cocktails and Mexican food.
Where to stay in Manhattan: Archer Hotel New York
This high end, boutique hotel sits mid-block on 38th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues (perfect for shopping).
Filled with quirky, curated luxuries, this midtown Manhattan haven promises 180 luxe guest rooms, many of which overlook the Empire State Building.
The modern designs feature wood floors and exposed brick with windows from floor to ceiling – giving hints of the classic New York apartments you see all over TV. The hotel is even partnered with New York Sports Club, giving guests access to 13 spots across Midtown.
Rising 22 stories, the Spyglass Rooftop Bar has signature cocktails, small bites and an out of this world view of the Empire State Building. Everyone should visit this bar at night for a decadent drink, even if they’re not guests of the hotel.
The location could not be more ideal for those who want to be in the hustle and bustle of the city and within walking distance of the sights. A few steps out the door you will find Bryant Park, Times Square, the Theatre District, the Empire State Building and Fifth Avenue shopping.
What to do
If you want to see any of the sights, get your hands on a CityPass and save yourself some money. The £100 booklet will give you access to the top of The Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Top of the Rock Observation Deck (Rockefeller Center) or the Guggenheim Museum, Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum or Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
Personally sightseeing isn’t my thing, but after getting my hands on a couple of CityPasses I felt obliged to do some, and I really regret it.
Luckily we went to the Empire State Building early so it was a quick entry, but we literally walked around the top once and came back down. The best thing to see in the New York skyline is the building you’re on, so I would recommend Top of the Rock Observation Deck where you can see the Empire State Building and the Chrysler building – an art deco–style skyscraper .
I also regretted visiting the Statue of Liberty (sorry if this offends you). First of all, it is busy all day long and you queue in a sea of people which is quite an unpleasant experience, especially if (like me) being in an inescapable crowd makes you feel anxious.
Secondly, on the boat and on the island you are one of hundreds of people taking photos and selfies and it all begins to feel so stupid. At any given moment you are swamped by people doing the same and you could barely get a photo without a herd of tourists in the background.
(NB: All the friends I’ve told this to were aghast and in complete disagreement).
If you are able to leave your stiff, English upper lip at home then the Museum of Sex should be high on your list of things to do in New York City. The museum seeks to preserve and present the history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality.
The permanent collection has more than 20,000 artefacts and is comprised of works of art, photography, clothing and costumes, technological inventions and film – sitting in a little cave and watching porn with my boyfriend and a TOTAL STRANGER was one of the weirdest experiences of my life.
He was a similar age to us, which made it slightly more palatable, but when I saw an elderly couple making their way towards the dark little nook in the museum I promptly decided it was time to move to the next floor.
If you have children with you or if you want some very cool photos of yourself, head to Candytopia. This interactive art installation celebrates the vibrant colours and flavours of sugary delights across over a dozen environments, from flying unicorn pigs to a marshmallow tsunami.
A “sprawling sanctuary of confectionery bliss” tastefully curated by Hollywood Candy Queen Jackie Sorkin, realised by Zac Hartog and brought to life by life-long retailer, John Goodman.
Look it up on Instagram and you will see the imaginative scenes they have created for you to take photos – which they take and and you can easily download for free. We went early to avoid the crowds but ended up feeling a little weird as an adult couple without children, surrounded by children…
If you fancy escaping the hustle and bustle, have a wonder round Central Park and spot the movie locations. Or go along the Highline – a curated garden footpath that follows an old train track, where you will find street art and sometimes even performance art.
Grand Central will be disappointing, but it has a gorgeous ceiling. Manhattan Bridge, on the other hand, will be even more fun than you think – but try and go early to avoid crowds, although not too early otherwise you’ll face angry cyclists on their morning commute.
Where to eat
On your way to Chelsea Market you’ll spot the coolest of the cool wearing their hair and clothes in a way you never imagined could look good, but you will soon be distracted by a never ending food offering inside the massive indoor hall.
One of my favourites, Nom Wah Tea Parlour, serving dim sum and dumplings, has been open since 1920 so it’s a great sight to see.
Just be prepared to wait outside (there’s seats) for anything up to an hour depending on the time of day. They’ll let you know how long it will be, and call you repeatedly if you’re not there, giving you the chance to wonder around China Town while you wait.
Bar Pitti is an Italian restaurant popular among celebrities, while Ruby Rosa is a packed out hipster spot in Little Italy.
Eat at the Frying Pan and stay into the night. It is located on the Lightship, a historical floating lighthouse built in 1929, brought to NYC in 1989, that has become a hidden gem of the nightlife.
If you’re in Brooklyn, head to Sweet Chick for the softest chicken and waffles you’ll ever have and the best pale ale (their own concoction) I’ve ever tasted.
Where to drink
The Gibson and The Charleston, located in between Bedford Avenue subway station and McCarren Hotel and Pool, are a great place to have a beer and feel like a local. The Charleston even offers a whole free pizza with your drink everyday (time depending).
PDT (Please Don’t Tell) is a cocktail bar that can be found by walking through a phone booth, but even on a Sunday night you can expect to wait an hour to get in. Thankfully, the booth is in a different bar so you won’t be in the cold. If you don’t fancy waiting (I didn’t), then head round the corner to Pouring Ribbons.
This vintage style bar has no fancy entrance, just some simple steps into a big room with lots of space. I went on the last night of the old cocktail menu so I can’t say too much about what they have now. What I can tell you is that the list is extensive, the staff are experts, and you won’t find the same offering anywhere else.
Think I’ve missed anything? Add your favourite spots in the comments below… xxx