22 June 2018

Long Weekend in New York City: Bex's Guide

From secret speakeasies and SoHo shops, to magnificent museums and Brooklyn Bridge, New York City is as good at alliteration as bucket-list items. Since I fell in love with the city during the sweltering summer of 1995, I’ve returned once or twice a year. These trips tend to be about four or five days including travel time, but it’s possible to pack a lot in even on short visits. You might not make it to all the major sights and museums, but you’ve got to save something for next time, right?

Following on from the long weekend in London guide I compiled last summer, I’ve put together an itinerary for a four-day weekend in New York. This assumes arrival on a Thursday afternoon and departure on Sunday evening but you can mix things up to suit your own plans. On the agenda are some of my favourite things to do and see, and places to eat, drink, shop and drink coffee. Scroll to the end for even more recommendations, some practical information and a Google Map of each featured place. I hope you find this guide useful — please let me know in the comments if you have any questions or suggestions. You can find all of my NYC-related blog posts here.


15:00 Jet-lag busting
A morning flight from London can get you to JFK or Newark soon after lunch, and if you take a taxi into town you could be at your hotel by 15:00 local time. I usually head straight out into the daylight and towards coffee. Luckily, NYC has a booming speciality coffee scene and the choice is vast. If you’re in SoHo try Everyman Espresso, in the Flatiron District check out Paper Coffee or in Midtown (via Melbourne) head to Little Collins (pictured). For many other options, click over to my full New York coffee shop guide.

18:00 Casual supper
On my first evening, I like to go to a favourite spot for a low-key dinner. The historic Fanelli Caf√© in SoHo has served food and drink, under various names, since 1847, and is a great spot for comfort food. Likewise, P.J. Clarke’s, whose bustling Midtown East branch (featured in Mad Men) is my favourite, serves a mean burger, and other modern American classics.

20:00 Sunsets and the city
You may be craving your bed but holding out for a glorious sunset from the Top of the Rock could be more rewarding (weather-permitting). I like the view here more than from the top of the Empire State Building, not least because you can see the latter from the Top of the Rock. The space at the top is more open too, which allows for better viewing and photos.


07:00 Central Park run
Unless you’re a super sleeper, you will probably wake up early and a run around the 843-acre Central Park is the perfect way to kickstart your morning. There’s a 10km running loop around the park but there are lots of other paths if you’d like a shorter run. Pick up a coffee afterwards from Ninth Street Espresso or Blue Bottle, and perhaps a sweet treat from Milk Bar.

09:00 Take the High Line
Head to the West 34th Street end of the High Line, an art-filled public park constructed on an elevated rail line that runs south to Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District. Stop for coffee along the way at Underline or Intelligentsia, and pop into Chelsea Market for interesting shops and eateries, and Story, a concept store with ever-changing concepts.

11:00 Village shops
The West Village and Greenwich Village together form one of New York’s loveliest areas. It’s fun to pick out your favourite brownstone on the small, characterful streets, and there are wonderful shops. Try Flight 001 for travel goods, Three Lives & Co (one of my all-time favourite bookshops), Marine Layer for ‘absurdly soft’ clothing, Pink Olive for accessories and gifts, and Greenwich Letterpress for beautiful stationery.

13:00 Downtown lunch
You won’t starve in these parts. Lunch options include Corner Bistro, Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque, Dante (pictured) and Jeffrey’s Grocery. I haven’t yet tried the pizzas (or burger) at Emily, but they are supposed to be top notch. For a post-lunch coffee, check out Stumptown’s gorgeous NYC flagship cafe on West 8th (pictured) or the petite but perfectly formed Third Rail Coffee just south of Washington Square.

14:30 South of Houston
Head south into the shopping paradise of SoHo. I prefer this downtown branch of Bloomingdale’s to the stuffier uptown original, and many of the chains I like to visit in the US — Madewell, Lululemon, Patagonia and Sephora — have stores here. Just east of Broadway, you can find the MoMA Design Store, minimalist clothing retailer Everlane, and two great bookshops: Housing Works and McNally Jackson. If you need another coffee, look no further than Cafe Integral, a beautiful cafe that specialises in single-origin Nicaraguan coffees (pictured).

16:00 Tenement tour
The Tenement Museum offers unique insights into the Lower East Side neighbourhood by running tours through restored tenement apartments that bring immigrant stories to life. I’ve taken three tours, one focusing on an Irish family, one on public health and one walking tour with samples of foods typical of various immigrant cuisines. Many tours sell out, so you should book in advance if possible.

19:00 LES dinner and drinks
You can find almost any cuisine in the restaurants of the Lower East Side, from Vanessa’s legendary dumplings, to Mission Chinese Food and Tijuana Picnic. Retire to The Back Room, a Prohibition Era secret speakeasy, for cocktails.


09:00 Brooklyn breakfast Take the subway to Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant for a cracking breakfast at Golda. With great coffee from Parlor and Middle Eastern-influenced cuisine in a bright and beautifully designed cafe, it’s well worth the trip. If you have time — and especially in cherry blossom season — walk off your breakfast in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

11:30 Williamsburg wander
Ride the subway to hip Williamsburg. Sweatshop on Metropolitan, Toby’s Estate on North 6th and Devoci√≥n on Grand are great coffee choices in the area. On Bedford Avenue, shop — and people-watch — your way up to McCarren Park. Then head west to East River State Park, for Smorgasburg, a huge outdoor street food market. It’s there every Saturday from October until April.

15:00 Boat trippin’
The NYC Ferry runs a route that zigzags along the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn from 34th Street to Wall Street. It’s a scenic ride and the fastest, most fun way to travel from Williamsburg to Dumbo. Disembark at Brooklyn Bridge and enjoy the views of the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Bridge Park. Then develop more house envy in Brooklyn Heights, a picturesque neighbourhood with historic brownstones and fruit-themed street names.

18:00 A view from the bridge
If you’re lucky, you may hit golden hour or sunset when you take a leisurely stroll across Brooklyn Bridge. This is my favourite walk in the world, and I still get a thrill each time I first set foot upon the iconic bridge’s pedestrian walkway. The experience is better if you walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan; otherwise, you’ll just keep turning around to soak in the stunning Manhattan skyline views, like Orpheus unable to resist the temptation of Eurydice. Don’t rush, take lots of photos and mind the cyclists!

19:00 World-class cocktails
The Brooklyn Bridge walkway leads to City Hall and then it’s a short walk to The Dead Rabbit, which rightly features in numerous lists of the world’s best cocktail bars. Its sister bar, BlackTail (pictured), in Battery Park is just as good.

20:30 Neighbourhood dining
From the Financial District, it’s a short subway ride to North Moore Street in Tribeca, home to one of my favourite New York restaurants. Cosy, intimate and with delicious food and well-mixed cocktails, Smith & Mills is a special place. They don’t take reservations but it’s worth the wait. If the jet lag hasn’t kicked in, go for a nightcap. Mother’s Ruin in SoHo and The Up & Up (pictured) in Greenwich Village are two of my favourite cocktail spots.


09:00 Brunch o’clock
Ward off last night’s excesses with a good brekkie. Prune, Ruby’s, Jack’s Wife Freda (pictured) and Bluestone Lane are all excellent choices. It’s worth booking if the eatery accepts reservations.

11:00 Sunday morning culture
Journey to Museum Mile, a section of Fifth Avenue that runs along Central Park’s Eastern flank. The Metropolitan Museum of Art may be on your must-see list, but for a more doable chunk of culture on a short trip, I prefer the Guggenheim (pictured) and the Frick Collection on East 70th — a ‘best-of’ collection of Old Masters. For post-culture coffee, try Flora Bar.

13:00 Pizza the action
If you haven’t yet had your pizza fix, take the subway to Motorino (pictured) in the East Village, which serves supremely tasty Neapolitan pizza; new LES opening Una Pizza Napoletana is also highly rated.

14:30 Getting square
After lunch, wander through the East Village and then up to Union Square. The farmers’ market isn’t open on Sundays, but there are often events and festivals taking place. Walk up Fifth Avenue or Broadway to Madison Square (both stretches are great for shopping — ABC Carpet & Home and quirky crockery purveyor Fishs Eddy are located on Broadway). Madison Square Park often has art and always has superb views of the Flat Iron and Empire State Building. If you skipped lunch, seek sustenance at Shake Shack or Italian food emporium Eataly. If you have time for a last coffee, try Patent (which turns into a cocktail bar at 16:00) or Blank Slate.


Black Fox Coffee


The Spotted Pig

Accommodation: I’ve stayed in diverse New York accommodations, from youth hostels to the Four Seasons, and everything in between. Recently, I’ve been impressed with the Soho Grand and the Gild Hall (I got a great deal when staying in February). However, given the wealth of options available, I’d suggest searching with sites like booking.com, hotels.com or Airbnb. Neighbourhood-wise, I prefer to stay in SoHo, Nolita or the Flatiron District for maximum flexibility and access to good coffee.

Arriving: From JFK, I usually splurge on a taxi, which is $52 plus tolls to Manhattan. The journey takes around an hour, depending on traffic. You can also take the AirTrain to Howard Beach subway station and then the A train into Manhattan. This costs about $8 and can be done in 1h15. From Newark, I take the AirTrain monorail and then the train to Penn Station, which costs $13 and takes about 50 minutes.

Getting around: I walk a lot when I’m in New York, jumping on the subway when necessary. The subway is generally the most efficient mode of transport, although if you’re travelling from east to west, buses are helpful. Taxis, Uber and Lyft are plentiful.

Money: US currency is the dollar ($). The UK exchange rate has been dire for some time. Credit and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere — even at many street-food stalls. Chip-and-pin and contactless payment options are catching on, although far from universal. Cashpoints (ATMs) are ubiquitous; some charge a fee for withdrawals.

When to come: Apart from July and August, when the city is often unbearably hot and sticky, New York is a delight to visit throughout the year. For busy sight-seeing agendas, spring or autumn are my favourite seasons, even if the weather can be unpredictable. Bring layers — or be prepared to shop. The city is magical during the holiday season and although it can be very cold and snowy, it’s rare that inclement weather causes much disruption.


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