New York City Travel Guide
New York City Summary
- An incredibly walkable city with street life on nearly every block
- World's largest 24/7 subway system, with trains to most major destinations
- One of the most culturally diverse cities in the world
- The food scene ranges from trendy street food to pricey fine dining
- Must-see museums include the Met, Guggenheim, MoMA, and American Museum of Natural History
- Shop at artisanal markets, pop-ups, luxury boutiques, and department stores
- Free-to-view contemporary art at the world famous galleries in Chelsea
- Home to Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and underground theater
- From mild to wild, there are nightclubs, bars, and lounges open late
- World's most famous urban parks include Central Park and the High Line
- Diverse fabric of neighborhoods from trendy Williamsburg to vibrant Jackson Heights
- Visible LGBTQ community, including massive Pride Parade in late June
- Iconic skyline includes the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, and World Trade Center
- Network of bike paths throughout most of the city, including along Hudson River
- One of the world's most expensive cities
- Winters are brutally cold and summers are stiflingly hot
- Crowds can be overwhelming, especially in the city's tourist spots and subway
- The subway is becoming less reliable and routes change on nights and weekends
- Airports aren't easy or quick to access by cab, bus, or train
What It's Like
Even if we could tell you exactly what New York City is like, chances are that whatever we said wouldn't be the case in a week, a month, or even a year from now. The city is always changing, and the constant lament that you'll hear from locals is that "It's not the New York it used to be." Those locals would be telling the truth, though this has always been true about New York -- for better or worse.
These days, the city is worthy of almost too many superlatives to count -- and just as many cliches (most of which are true). For starters, it's the cultural nerve center of the United States, and -- in many ways -- the world. The city's museums are the stuff of legend, from the massive collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the MoMA to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim, the edgy New Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Entry to most of these comes with a hefty price tag, but there are plenty of free and famous galleries as well, including those found along Manhattan's west side in Chelsea. For something a little funkier, MoMA PS1, in Long Island City, hosts weekend and nighttime parties alongside their cutting-edge contemporary exhibitions.
Tourists who like their entertainment with more flash can opt for a Broadway show, or one the Off-Broadway offerings at theaters like The Public, in the East Village. Alternatively, check out a ballet, opera, play, or classical music performance at gorgeous Lincoln Center. If you're in New York during the summer, queue up with the locals for Shakespeare in the Park (which takes place in Central Park). Still not enough entertainment? The city draws nearly every major musical act in the world at venues both massive and intimate, like Irving Plaza and Brooklyn Steel. It's also home to professional sports teams including the Knicks, Nets, Yankees, Mets, and Rangers. Keep in mind that in most cases, you'll need tickets well in advance.
Dining out is a big deal in New York, and it happens everywhere: on city sidewalks, in the subway, during food festivals, in pizzerias, at quaint sidewalk cafes, and in some of the poshest restaurants in the world. Of course, the city is famous for its pizza, and you'll find a slice joint every few blocks, though nearly every cuisine has a home somewhere in the city. Chinatown and Flushing are hubs for East Asian fare of all stripes, and the food halls in the latter neighborhood are the stuff of legend. Jackson Heights, in Queens, is the spot for authentic Mexican, Latin American, Filipino, and South Asian dishes. In Manhattan, you can grab casual Italian or creative vegan fare on the Lower East Side, head uptown to Union Square for fine-dining at the Gramercy Tavern, or tuck into a romantic hole-in-the-wall in the West Village. Feeling trendy? Hop the train for a spot at the farm-to-table restaurants that pack the neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
If art, entertainment, and food aren't enough to keep you satisfied, the city has landmarks in spades as well. Central Park is one of the largest urban green spaces in the world. You'll also find countless famous skyscrapers in Manhattan, including the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center, which both have sky-high observation decks. However, if you head to the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, you'll get a bird's eye view of both the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center. The High Line is a feat of urban renewal that blends amazing design and landscaping with cool urban vistas and easy access to buzzing restaurants nearby. Of course, Times Square is Times Square and its neon blaze should be seen once, though we suggest heading west to Hell's Kitchen for something a touch more local. Amazing views of Manhattan can be had during a stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge, though if you want to be a bit savvier, Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens, has unbeatable skyline views and fewer crowds.
New York City is a feat, to be honest. In some ways, it's the most American of cities -- as the home of Wall Street and the world's biggest financial firms, New York is capitalism incarnate. However, in other ways it can be the least American of places. Very few people own cars; its politics are progressive; urban density is high and private space is limited in the extreme. It's also far more diverse than any other city in the United States. Estimates vary, but there are anywhere from 170 to 800 languages spoken across New York's five boroughs. Additionally, the LGBTQ community here is visible, vocal, powerful, and large. In late June of every year, the Pride March takes over the city as more than one million participants and spectators commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969.
As New York continues to grow, there are always new up-and-coming neighborhoods to explore. Greenpoint, Long Island City, Red Hook, and Fort Greene all figure high on lists of what's currently cool. There are edgy galleries in Bushwick, underground nightclubs in Ridgewood, and fancy wine bars in Williamsburg as well. All of this development comes with a major caveat, though. You see, as the city booms, these so-called up-and-coming neighborhoods often grapple with deep issues like gentrification and displacement. That hip gallery you are visiting on the Lower East Side was likely once the shop of a Chinese immigrant who was recently priced out of the neighborhood -- family in tow -- by predatory rent increases.
To be clear, New York City is a wildly expensive place. Everything from taxis to hotels, burgers, booze, and even train fare can add up quickly. The subway runs 24 hours a day, but note that routes change on nights and weekends, and you'll need to be aware of your stop -- announcements are often inaudible in the stations and train cars. The city has also been experiencing something of a transit crisis, as trains become ever more unreliable. You should expect trips of at least an hour to two hours to the city's three major airports due to traffic or public transit delays. In fact, getting around in a taxi during rush hour anywhere in the city will be an expensive and tedious affair. Thankfully, much of Manhattan is entirely walkable, and you'll find yourself racking up steps and miles in no time -- just like the locals do.
Where to Stay
Throughout the city, expect to pay a premium for cramped rooms -- a cozy 200 square feet is about the norm. But remember that in New York, location is everything, so the neighborhood you pick should match the kind of trip you're hoping to have. The lion's share of hotels are clustered around Times Square, which is certainly central, but by no means peaceful. Most major chain hotels have one, two, or three outposts in this part of town, and you'll be within easy walking distance of 11 subway lines and every major Broadway theater. Crowds here are epic, though if you head a bit farther west you'll get a more neighborhood-like vibe in Hell's Kitchen. That area has a few budget-friendly chain options as well as chic boutique-inspired properties like the Hudson Hotel and Kimpton Ink48 (as well as actual boutique hotels like the 414).
Opulence is around nearly every corner of Manhattan, with sleek and sexy options that include the Mandarin Oriental in Columbus Circle, the St. Regis in Midtown, and the Baccarat Hotel & Residences right near the MoMA. Downtown is also home to its share of premium properties, including The Standard High Line, the Gramercy Park Hotel, Sago Hotel, SIXTY LES, the Soho Grand, and the Bowery Hotel. You can also opt for boho style at places like The Ace Hotel near Madison Square Park (and its famous Shake Shack outpost), or a chic pod-style property like the Arlo SoHo.
There are an increasing number of trendy hotels in the city's boroughs as well, especially in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Long Island City. The William Vale has unbeatable multi-borough views and a dash of South Beach style in Williamsburg, while The Box House Hotel does repurposed industrial style with flair in Greenpoint. Just keep in mind that staying in Brooklyn or Queens means relying on trains or expensive cabs to get into Manhattan. However, you'll get a more locals-only vantage on New York that's a far cry from the touristy crush found in and around Times Square.
- Upper West Side: Upscale, residential community alongside Central Park, with family-focused museums like the Museum of Natural History
- Upper East Side: Affluent residents, world embassies along Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and "Museum Mile"
- Midtown West: Central Park carriage rides, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall, New York's finest dining, and so much more
- Times Square: Flashing heart of New York's tourism, known for Broadway shows and the New Year's Eve ball drop
- Midtown East: Safe, central, convenient, and surrounded by corporate skyscrapers
- Gramercy and Murray Hill: Quiet, residential 'hood just outside the business centers
- Flatiron District: Small pocket in the center of Manhattan, home to the "Silicon Alley" business district the locally loved Madison Square Park
- Chelsea: A gay culture center as well as the heart of New York's contemporary art and design scene
- East Village: Youthful culture with cheap, diverse dining and great bars
- West Village: Quaint streets, nightclubs, cute restaurants, old-school gay bars, and NYU
- SoHo: Boutique shopping and be-seen restaurants along cobblestone streets
- Lower East Side: Young and full of bars, fashion boutiques, and trendy restaurants
- TriBeCa: Like SoHo, but quieter and even more rich
- Lower Manhattan: Wall Street, Ground Zero, historic streets, and little action on weekends or after dark
- Brooklyn: Ground zero for a study in hipster culture
- Hoboken, New Jersey: Quieter, more affordable, waterfront real estate, just 15 minutes outside the West Village