23 September 2013

Bex's Guide to NYC: Things To Do

I promised three parts to my 2013 guide to New York — coffee, burgers and cocktails — but there were still quite a few of my favourite experiences in the city missing from the equation. Hence this bonus fourth list. I am lucky enough to visit New York fairly often, so this isn't a round-up of the biggest and best tourist attractions, but I find that the activities on the list are all very New Yorky experiences. I will also be posting a Google Map with all of my NYC highlights on the blog on Wednesday.

1. Get high. You could go up the Empire State Building if you want to get a great view of the city, but I prefer the Top of the Rock experience at Rockefeller Center. It isn't as tall as the Empire State Building, but I think the skyline view is better — you get to see the Empire State, for example — and you get to look out on the city without any glass or railings in the way. There is, of course, a wall, but you can look out over the top. I like to go at sunset, but it can get busy, especially if you like to leap. 30 Rockefeller Plaza bet. 5th & 6th Ave and 49th & 50th St (Midtown). Mini-reviews of the Top of the Rock here and here.

The view from the Top of the Rock at sunset.

2. Pick a museum. My favourite is the Frick, a sort of best-of collection of the Old Masters, which has enough history to get around the fact that I'm not into art. The American Museum of Natural History is great too, especially the planetarium; I love the MOMA design store; the Tenement Museum tour is fascinating; and I've also enjoyed wandering through the grand rooms of the Morgan Library. 1 East 70th St bet. 5th & Madison Ave (Midtown).

3. NYC's worst-kept-secret freebie. You can get some of the best views of New York from the Staten Island Ferry, which runs from Whitehall (South Ferry) in Lower Manhattan to Staten Island. The bright orange ferries run 24/7 and the journey takes about 25 minutes and is completely free. Don't forget your camera. 4 South Street (Lower Manhattan).

4. Parks and recreation. When I'm staying in Midtown, I try to run in Central Park every day, looping around the reservoir if I don't have time to do the full circuit. It's gorgeous in autumn, but the park is beautiful at any time of the year. If you're there in the summer, take a picnic and relax under the trees. If it's winter, try the skating rink, with its superb skyline views and warming hot chocolate. 59th Street to 110th Street (Midtown / Upper Manhattan).

5. A view from the bridge. I love to get up early and take the subway to High Street Brooklyn (the blue A and C trains), cross the park and then run back to Manhattan over the bridge, which brings you out near City Hall. You can do it the other way round, but it's much more exciting to watch the Manhattan skyline appear before you. And you don't have to run — walking is fun too, especially if you also take in the gorgeous houses and views from Brooklyn Heights Promenade. (Lower Manhattan / Brooklyn)

Manhattan at sunrise, viewed from Brooklyn Bridge.

6. Take the high road. The High Line — a disused, elevated freight railway line that has been converted into a park and public space — now stretches from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 34th Street, bringing you level with the Empire State Building (although several blocks further west). You can enjoy the view and the green space, as well as art, live music and a few food, drink and artsy retail opportunities. If you walk southwards, you can reward yourself with brunch, lunch or dinner outdoors at one of the many Meatpacking restaurants. Pastis and the Standard Grill are among my favourites. Gansevoort to 34th St (Meatpacking District / Chelsea) Mini-reviews of the High Line here, here and here.

The Meatpacking District end of the High Line.

7. Eastern promises. Catch the L train or, better, the East River Ferry, and spend the afternoon exploring Brooklyn. There are tons of great shops and eateries on Bedford Avenue, Billyburg’s main drag, and at weekends, check out the Smorgasburg and Williamsburg Flea markets. Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn (Williamsburg) More about Williamsburg here, here and here.

8. Hit the shops. I must admit that indulging in some retail therapy is usually one of the first things I do when I enter the 212 area code. My first port of call is usually SoHo, but once I've raided my favourite chains (J. Crew, Madewell, Lululemon), Kate Spade and Bloomingdale's, I like to wander around the independent stores in NoLIta and NoHo. Fanelli's on Prince Street is my favourite place in the area to refuel; it's a complete coincidence that it's just opposite J. Crew! I've been going there with my family for over 15 years, but in the grand scheme of the café's 166-year history, that isn't very long. Further north, I really like shopping on the stretch of Fifth Avenue between Union Square and Madison Square Park, and Henri Bendel is the best place to shop for lovely gifts for girls. (SoHo)

9. The other Bloomies. This (mostly) recovered nail biter had her first manicure at Bloomie Nails in New York, and I’ve been loyal ever since. My mother discovered them by chance, as we often stay very close to the Midtown branch. Efficient and proficient, they even make my hands look pretty. 44 West 55th Street bet. 5th & 6th Ave (Midtown)

10. People-watching. Perhaps the best thing of all about New York is that you don't really need to do anything much to have fun and experience the city. Grab a coffee or a bagel (try Ess-A-Bagel) and sit in a café or in Union Square or Madison Square Park, or stand in Grand Central Station (especially at rush hour) or Times Square and watch and listen as New York goes by. What a great city.

Part 1: Top 10 New York coffee bars
Part 2: Top 10 New York burgers
Part 3: Top 10 New York cocktails

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