New York you’re perfect – don’t, please don’t, change a thing. Growing up, living in the vibrant and bustling island of Manhattan was all I could dream of. I watched Gossip Girl and Sex and the City and imagined the fabulous life I would lead as a magazine editor. Ultimately I moved to NYC in 2014 and quickly fell in love (it took me about 4 months to get used to the hectic pace and a year to feel comfortable). Although I no longer live in the city, I still visit every chance I can get and explore NYC like a local.
One of my favorite things about New York is the constant NEW – new restaurants, shops, always something new to do or try. But over the years I’ve found some places are tried and true for the best of reasons. This is my list of absolute classics and mainstays that I always return to when I’m back in the city.
If you are looking for a sightseeing guide I recommend this list of the best touristy spots to see.
Campbell Apartment – you have to try a speakeasy when in New York. There are some complicated ones like Please Don’t Tell or Employees Only, but the Campbell Apartment is actually in Grand Central Station and grand it is! This is one of my favorite spots in the entire city. The cocktails are pricey but wonderful. I even based an article for The Daily Meal off their spiced apple Moscow Mule.
Niagara – this is my favorite bar, hands down. It’s more of a neighborhood bar and a great way to experience NYC like a local. One time my friend called me and told me to head to Niagara for a cool show, which happened to be Penn Badgley’s awesome band Mxther, hosting an impromptu small gig (I think there were about 20 people there). Where else does that happen?! Since I can’t go to CBGB’s, this place has the grunge NYC punk-era feel that I need. The Joe Strummer mural outside is just the icing on the cake.
Charleston – this gem in Williamsburg has $1 pizza with your drink. It also has games in the back. My friends and I frequently started or ended up here on our nights out. It’s also a great place to meet people. A good conversation starter = what toppings they are choosing for their drunk pizza.
Bowery Electric – this is another good venue for live music! It’s on my favorite strip on NYC in the Lower East Side and on the weekends it’s hopping.
Hair of the Dog – funny story: one time I frantically searched for a bar called “Dog of the Hair” before deciding this must be what my drunk friend meant. When I got there I knew why she was mixed up – this is the place for a hot mess on Saturday night. It is still extremely fun! It’s also packed in the spring/summer on Saturday afternoons with people hanging outside and drinking all around this block.
Surf Bar – this is my other favorite bar in Brooklyn. It has actual sand in it. If you are craving the beach in NYC this is your spot. It’s got the coolest shore vibes and laid-back atmosphere.
The rooftop bar at Pod 39 Hotel – you have to try out a rooftop bar in NYC and this is my favorite. Empellon Al Pastor serves delicious margaritas and has the coolest energy. Very cute décor as well!
Smorgasburg – food fairs are one of the most fun ways to experience the huge melting pot of food in nyc like a local and Smorgasburg (held on weekends in the summer) is my absolute favorite. There are two locations but I usually frequented the Williamsburg one (and by frequented mean, went every chance I could get).
Whole Foods Bowery – the great thing about NYC is that the Whole Foods = shopping malls, they are huge and have every product ever. The prepared foods section is like heaven and it’s a pretty cost effective way to eat out. They had delicious sections like burgers, barbecue and more, but it seems they have eliminated these.
Beyond Sushi – of course NYC has an entire sushi restaurant that is vegan! The rolls are so inventive and feature a lot of delicious ingredients like artichoke, mango, fennel, eggplant and more.
The Butcher’s Daughter – I love this place for both dinner and brunch. Plus, the location in the Lower East Side is great. Rice flour vegan pancakes with whipped strawberry vegan butter – yes please!
Gemma – this is a fun, casual restaurant in one of the most hip accomodations in the city – The Bowery Hotel. Great place for celeb sightings and delicious craft cocktails. I especially like the jalapeño tequila drink.
Gramercy Tavern – if you’re looking for a fancy night out you can’t beat Gramercy Tavern. I visited a lot of the top restaurants in NYC, such as ABC Kitchen, and none impressed me more than Gramercy Tavern. Expect exceptional service and food.
Art – MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) is an incredible collection and houses many of my favorite works. However, tickets are very expensive and the place is PACKED on the free night. The Met (Metropolitan Museum) is a much more pleasant experience and you can pay what you think the experience is worth. Technically you could give a penny, but I always like to support this wonderful NYC institution. Other city museums like the Natural History Museum operate under the same policy. My favorite work at The Met is Manet’s beautiful impressionist painting, Boating.
For touring galleries I suggest you check out Meetup.com – I easily joined a free gallery tour of the Lower East Side and was introduced to so many great new places and artists. The meetup possibilities are endless as well (you can join groups heading to a restaurant or food fair or speed-dating, whatever!). There are literally 101 things to do in NYC. Lastly, make sure to look for any auction previews. When I lived in NYC I was lucky enough to hear about the exhibition of the Alfred Taubman collection at Sotheby’s. I got to preview the estimated $500 million collection containing some of my favorite artists like de Kooning, Rothko, Calder, Lichtenstein and more.
Take a boat ride around the city – this is a cruise atop a lobster restaurant that also serves drinks. Great way to relax and see the city from a new perspective!
Shopping – I love the Lower East Side for shopping. Billy Reid is on Bond Street and Rag & Bone is close by. I suggest checking out both. They are my favorite boutiques in NYC.
Teatime – It’s no secret that I am obsessed with Led Zeppelin. My humble apartment in NYC was only 10 streets away from the iconic Physical Graffiti building. I frequently passed by it hoping I might see Jimmy Page (just kidding). The best part? Underneath is an adorable tea shop – Physical GraffiTea – that sells all sorts of exotic tea you can enjoy right there in the shop or take home for a cuppa. You might even run into Robert Plant (he does go there!).
Party at Gotham Hall – there used to be an epic Halloween party called the “Villain’s Ball” but it looks like it may not be happening anymore. However, the same company hosts a New Year’s Eve party there, which seems like a great time as well. The venue is stunning and feels like the most fabulous New York event ever.
East Village/LES – my favorite area of NYC, I love just walking the streets and discovering new spots
FiDi – super fun in the summer when the block parties on Pearl Street start
Gramercy – this is the wonderful, quiet residential area that I fell in love with
Williamsburg – the cool, hip area of Brooklyn
Union Square – very fun, tons of restaurants
LeahSeptember 30, 2019 at 9:02 pm
Wonderful tips for NYC! I cannot believe that I still haven’t been there (I’ve lived in the USA my entire life). There is so much there that I want to explore. The food you shared about looks incredible- especially the gyro! East Village in the winter looks really lovely. Hope to make it there soon. 🙂
AndaSeptember 30, 2019 at 9:46 pm
I don’t know whether I should envy you for living in N.Y. or not. Don’t get me wrong I absolutely love this city, but I always thought that living there is more of a curse than a blessing. I envy you for having access to so much culture and entertainment, but when I think of those dreadful winters and humid summers, not so much. At any rate, it’s great to get recommendations from a local, so I think this is a wonderful guide to New York.
Yukti AgrawalOctober 1, 2019 at 3:52 pm
NYC is exciting city with full of wonderful things to do. The mural on Bowery in the Lower East Side really looks beautiful and huge and as I love murals, I would surely check some mentioned in your list. The photos of this huge city from top of the rock. Even the neighborhoods are exciting, especially the Flatiron building near Gramercy.
LisaOctober 1, 2019 at 6:33 pm
We have an apartment in NYC and visit regularly. However, saying that, we’re definitely not locals, so reading one’s perspective is always a bonus. I love that Ramones mural and will be visiting on our return. And yes please to the cronut! We have a Dominique Ansel bakery in London and it’s so tempting!
AmritaOctober 2, 2019 at 11:22 am
I can totally understand your feelings about NYC. There are some cities that we absolutely fal in love with, and it becomes a part of our lives. And NYC is definitely a beautiful city with such a stunning skyline, restaurants and so much to do. Thanks for sharing your experience in NYC, it was a lovely read to know about the famed city.
PaulaOctober 2, 2019 at 6:21 pm
Great tips! I haven’t been to New York yet and I need to correct that ASAP. I am guessing based on your post that there is so much to see, one week might not be enough. Hopefully I get to visit there soon!
Arnav MathurOctober 2, 2019 at 11:31 pm
I haven’t been to the States yet, but visiting NYC has been high on my bucket list for quite some time. NYC is a city with many faces, and with many hidden jewels, which only the seeker finds. Really enjoyed reading this, and learning more about NYC and about the things to do in NYC.
Soumya GayatriOctober 3, 2019 at 1:12 am
This is an absolutely lovely local’s guide to NYC. I lived in the city for a few months and instantly fell in love with it. I can definitely understand how you feel about the place. NYC is always changing. And that is what is so adorable about it. It constantly moulds itself to make the perfect fit for its inhabitants. I am so glad you have found a set of mainstays that could provide one a local glimpse into the city. I would particularly love to visit those pretty neighborhoods.
RenukaJanuary 6, 2020 at 10:23 am
New York! It’s one of the cities that I’d like to visit just to walk the streets and explore the cafes. Would love to soak in the vibe and embrace the energy!