February 26, 2010

Cory’s Visitor Guide to New York

Filed under: — Cory @ 3:06 pm

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in New York City, and occasionally people who are about to visit the city ask me for recommendations and tips. In December 2009 I had three different sets of friends that were planning trips to NYC, so I went ahead and wrote a long email with things for them to see and do. I eventually decided to put everything I wrote on the web so I wouldn’t have to keep sending it around, and also so I could continually update it with new things to see and places to eat. So here it is, I hope you enjoy New York!

Some notes first:

  • With the exception of the first section on the Empire State Building, this page is ordered geographically, from north to south Manhattan
  • Most things on this page should be considered touristy, as it is targeted for visitors who are unfamiliar with the city

(If you decide that this page is too long and you don’t want to read it all, at least read this next paragraph. I put it at the top of the page because I think it’s something everyone who visits NYC should do.)

The Empire State Building

If you do nothing else in New York, at least make sure that you go up to the top of the Empire State Building. The view of the city from here is incredible. Be sure to buy the extra ticket to the 102nd floor, it’s an extra $15 and absolutely worth it (it is almost like a private room). You can’t buy it online, only at the ticket counter. Go on a weekday morning if possible, unless the weather is bad or there is no visibility. Also, don’t worry about heights, the 102nd floor is enclosed.

Upper West Side & Upper East Side

  • Walk through Central Park. If you take the B or C subway lines to the 72nd street exit you’ll be able to see the John Lennon tribute (“Strawberry Fields”) in Central Park, near where he was shot.
  • The Natural History Museum is really fascinating (Also the B,C subway, 81st street stop, on west side of park)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art is incredible and could take an entire day if you wanted it to. This is on the east side of Central Park, at 5th Ave & 82 street. There is a $20 “suggested donation”. As long as you donate $1 or more they will give you a ticket, just put $1 on the counter if you want to be cheap.
  • Restaurants:
    • Cafe Lalo – Fantastic desserts (map).
    • Tom’s Restaurant (the Seinfeld restaurant) – I’ve never eaten here, but it is a tourist attraction. It’s at 2880 Broadway (map).


  • Visit Rockefeller Center. There is also an observation deck at the top, called Top of the Rock. The Radio City Music Hall is also nearby, and you could see a Rockettes Christmas show.
  • If there is a shopper in your group you may want to walk down 5th Avenue between Central Park and Rockefeller Center (50th Street). There are lots of world famous shops here, including Tiffany’s.
  • Walk through Times Square (7th Ave & Broadway, between 42nd-47th streets). Go in the huge Toy’s R Us store there, it is really neat.
  • See Grand Central Station, be sure to go inside (42nd street & Park Ave)
  • The Chrysler Building is near Grand Central Station, at 42nd street and Lexington Ave. They don’t let you go up, but you can see the lobby which is neat.
  • The most famous New York Public Library is on 5th Ave between 40th & 42 Streets, you can go right in.
  • Broadway shows – if you want to see a Broadway show go see “Wicked.” I’m not into musicals, but my girlfriend is and she says this is the best one.
  • The famous FAO Schwartz toy store is at 5th Ave and 58th street, beside the 5th Ave Apple Store. This is the flagship Apple store and is open 24/7.
  • Restaurants:
    • Korean Town is basically 32nd Street between 6th Ave and 5th Ave (two streets south of the Empire State Building). I don’t care for Korean food so I don’t have any recommendations, but there are lots of Korean restaurants there.

Flatiron District / Union Square

  • If you can, go to Union Square on Saturday morning when they have the farmer’s “Greenmarket“. The market is also open on Mon/Wed/Fri.
  • The famous Flatiron Building is at the intersection of 5th Ave, Broadway, and 23rd Street.
  • If you want a great view of the Empire State Building at night and from the south, you can go to the top of 230 Fifth Avenue. There is a garden/bar/restaurant up there on the roof (not too loud though), and they’ll let you in for free if you are dressed appropriately. They even have open air heaters up there, it is really neat. Check out the photos on their website. Jeans are ok, but I doubt running shoes are. (map)
  • Restaurants:
    • Shake Shack – Very good burgers, fries and shakes in Madison Square Park across from the Flatiron Building. There will be a long wait (20-30 mins), so only do this if you are really craving a burger.

Greenwich Village

Greenwich Village is divided into the “West Village” and “East Village”. They aren’t far apart and you can walk from one to the other in 5 mins, but they are separate parts of town.

West Village

  • West Village is best seen along Bleecker Street, between 7th Ave / 6th Ave / MacDougal Street. Take the A,B,C,D,E,F,V (orange or blue) to the West 4th Street stop.
  • Make sure to spend time in Washington Square Park. A lot of it is being renovated right now, but the northern and eastern parts are not and there will be lots of interesting stuff going on there, including musicians. The famous chess masters hang out in the north western corner and have permanent tables. Don’t be fooled by their looks, they are very good. This is a great place to hang out on Saturday afternoons.
  • Restaurants:
    • Casa Restaurant (Brazillian, but not a Churrascarria) – This place is very good, we’ve eaten there several times. They take reservations, or get there early (they open at 6pm). It’s at 72 Bedford street (map)
    • La Lanterna – This is a really good Italian place, we eat here frequently. They usually have tables open. It’s at 129 MacDougal (map).
    • Little Havana – This is a fantastic little Cuban restaurant in the West Village, at 30 Cornelia Street (map). The black bean soup is incredible, as are the Cuban tamals.
    • Hummus Place – I love going here for brunch. It isn’t just hummus, but everything is fantastic. Best for light meals. There are two in West Village and one in East Village.
    • Bleecker Street Pizza – In my opinion the best NY style pizza in NYC. It’s at the corner of Bleecker Street and 7th Ave. If you want NYC pizza, go here.
    • ‘Ino – Great breakfast/brunch, also a wine bar. (truffled egg toast is great). It’s at 21 Bedford, near 6th Ave/Houston (map). Beware, this place is tiny.
    • Pinkberry – This is authentic tangy frozen yogurt. There’s one of these on Bleecker street near MacDougal, and also one in the East Village on St. Marks. Actually, they are all over the place, including one on 32nd Street by 5th Ave (Korean town). A very similar tasting place is called Red Mango, but Pinkberry is the most famous one.
    • Magnolia Cupcakes – this is the place made famous by Sex in the City. Pretty good cupcakes. It’s at 401 Bleecker (map)
    • The Wafels & Dinges truck is normally in the West Village at Christopher St and 7th Ave on Saturday nights and he sells very, very good Belgian wafels for dessert, with toppings (dinges). He announces where he is parked via Twitter (twitter.com/waffletruck) and often gives a code for free toppings.
    • Waverly Restaurant – Typical NYC style diner. I eat here a lot because it is right across the street from my girlfriend’s apartment. It’s at 6th Ave and Waverly Pl, and is cash-only.

East Village

  • East Village is best seen along St. Marks Place, between Broadway & Avenue A. You can take the R,W subways to the NYU stop, or the 6 subway to Astor Place.
  • The famous “Stomp” show is here, by 2nd Ave and St. Marks Place.
  • The Eastville Comedy Club is normally pretty funny (be prepared to be picked on)
  • Just walk around here, there is a lot to observe (general wackiness)
  • Restaurants:
    • Yakitori Taisho is one of my favorite restaurants. They have all sorts of Japanese skewers that are incredibly good. It’s at 5 St. Mark’s place (map). Be there when they open at 6pm or you’ll probably have to wait, it’s a tiny place.
    • Veselka – This is a wonderful Ukrainian restaurant, especially good breakfast/brunch but it gets packed by noon. It’s one block north of St. Marks Place.
    • Veniero’s Pastrys has famous desserts. It’s at 342 East 11th (map). If you are in the East Village at night and want dessert, make sure to go here.
    • There is a Pinkberry on St. Marks Place as well.


  • This is the area that is south of Houston / east of 6th Ave / west of Lafayette St / north of Broome St, that is known for great shopping and boutique stores. This is best on Saturday mornings and afternoons. Just take a while and walk around, you’ll see plenty of neat shops and art galleries.
  • Restaurants
    • Jane Restaurant (on Houston street) – We’ve had brunch here and it is great.

Chinatown / Little Italy

  • This is the area south of Houston Street and east of Broadway. The B,D lines (orange) are the best way to get here, but you can also take the 6 (green) to Spring St. or Canal St., or the J,M (brown) to Bowery.
  • Walk around Chinatown and see the open seafood markets (you’ll see things squirming in buckets that you’ve never seen before).
  • There’s more street shopping along Canal Street (around Broadway and Lafayette). Everything here is really cheap, and they will usually negotiate the price if you want to try to get an even better deal.
  • Restaurants:
    • Ferrara Bakery in Little Italy has fantastic desserts. It’s at 195 Grand Street (map)


  • The New York Stock Exchange is at the corner of Wall Street and Nassau. Go here on a weekday and be there at 4:00 when the markets close, it’s just kind of neat to see. There is a federal museum opposite of the NYSE where you can sit up on the steps and watch everything.
  • Ground Zero at the World Trade Center – There isn’t much to see here right now as they have most of it closed off for construction, but you’ll probably want to go there anyway. You can take the E (blue) subway line to the end (southbound) and the WTC site is right there. If you are already downtown just ask someone how to get there, or just look up for the big gap in the skyline (it’s huge).
  • Alexander Hamilton’s grave can be seen from Rector Street at Trinity Church (map). It is very close to the NYSE.
  • Restaurants:
    • Blaue Gans – This is an incredible Austrian restaurant and is one of my favorite places to eat in NYC. Any of the schnitzels are great, and you must get dessert here, it’s really great. The restaurant is at 139 Duane Street (map).

General Tips and Information

  • Streets run east/west and are numbered starting from the south near Houston Street. Avenues run north/south and are also numbered starting from 1st Ave on the east to 11th Ave on the west. South of 14th Street in the East Village there are Avenues A through D. This area is called Alphabet City. In this area, from east to west, the streets go: Ave D, Ave C, Ave B, Ave A, 1st Ave, 2nd Ave, and so on. (map) Below Houston street the streets are still on a grid in the SoHo/Little Italy/Chinatown areas, but they are not numbered. Downtown the streets are not on a grid and can get confusing.
  • You may hear people say “West 34th Street” or “East 11th Street”. This means east/west of Broadway, which cuts through Manhattan on an angle. So west 17th Street could be on the same avenue block as east 38th Street. Look over the map to see what I am talking about: maps.google.com/nyc
  • The streets that border Central Park and Washington Square Park change names when they border the park. For example, 5th Ave (borders Central park on the east side) becomes “Central Park East” along the park, and Waverly Pl. (borders Washington Square Park on the north side) becomes “Washington Square Park North” as it borders the park. So there is a Central Park (North/South/East/West) and the same for Washington Square Park. This can be confusing if you don’t know about it and people refer to these street names.
  • During the weekdays the subways keep very good schedules, but on the weekends they perform maintenance and sometimes the trains aren’t operating on their normal routes or schedules. Just look for signs like these posted in the subways for service announcements. They normally give instructions for other ways to get where you are trying to go (sometimes other subway lines, sometimes buses, etc). Most subways and buses run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Nearly all of the subway lines either pass through or end somewhere downtown.
  • The MTA website is at http://mta.info and they have fares and schedules there. Don’t forget that the Google Maps app on the iPhone has tabs at the top of the “Directions” page for walking directions and public transportation directions. Use these, they really work great.
  • You can buy a 7 day MTA pass that works on the subways and buses for $27. I would recommend getting this for your long weekend trip. The fare is $2.25 per ride as it is so if you ride the subway 12 times (or 4 rides per day) then you’ve paid for it. Plus it is nice to not worry if you need to refill your card when you are in a rush. You can buy these with a credit/debit card in any subway station (choose “unlimited ride” in the menu)
  • Take cabs to/from the airports. It’s just easier that way unless you know the city rather well. Expect it to cost around $50 each way to/from Manhattan (it’s about the same distance from all three airports, with LaGuardia being slightly closer)
  • You will see some people in the subway or on the streets that look or act scary. Ignore them, they are almost always harmless. Just don’t start up a conversation with them.
  • You don’t always need to plan constant entertainment in NYC because walking around the streets can be as fascinating as anything. You’ll walk upon little parks with musicians playing, or some street performers, or experience some of the best people watching on the planet. And if you walk too far you can always take a subway back (which is often entertaining itself). Don’t be afraid to walk at night in most of Manhattan, you are safe.
  • Most of the great restaurants are in the West Village, and East Village. Midtown/downtown doesn’t offer as much, especially after business hours. Get a hot dog from a street vendor, they are great (my favorite ones are from the vendors outside the Natural History Museum). Ask for the price before ordering. They’ll probably tell you $2. If you ask for the price after you order it may end up costing $2.50-$3.00.
  • Pronunciation:
    • Greenwich is pronounced Gren-ich
    • Houston Street is pronounced House-tun Street
  • New York has had a reputation as an unfriendly city, but you’ll see that it isn’t. If you are confused or lost in the subways just ask someone who looks like they belong there (anyone at all, you’ll be surprised at who will be happy to help you). Just don’t interrupt someone who looks like they are in a hurry, they hate that.
  • Carry cash. Many places in NYC only accept cash (and not just hot dog vendors). There are ATMs and banks on every corner though, so if you run out of cash don’t sweat it.
  • Diner’s in most places are cheap, but not in NYC. If you eat at a diner you should expect it to cost 10-12 per person, and usually they will only accept cash.
• • •

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