I probably don’t need to tell you how much there is to do and to eat in Manhattan. I also probably don’t need to tell you about things like Times Square and Broadway, so I’ll do my best to make this interesting.
Growing up on Long Island (and having spent one college semester in Brooklyn), I won’t say I’m an expert, but I’ve certainly been able to take advantage of some of the lesser-known parts of New York City.
Unique Things You Can Only do In Manhattan
The High Line
This is still fairly new and somewhat of a work in progress, so it hasn’t hit all the travel sites yet. I’ll try to do it justice here, but it really is something you have to see to understand its beauty. It is a park that sits on what was once an elevated train track. Elevated tracks aren’t really a thing anymore in New York for lots of reasons, the primary being safety. Apparently too many pedestrians were hit by above-ground trains. Impatient New Yorkers, I guess. It’s a lot easier to brake a car than a 1,000 + ton train. Anyway, the High Line is a mile and a half long and it runs down the West side of Manhattan. It both begins and ends in the meat-packing district and Chelsea (you can decide which side is the beginning and which is the end). I recommend starting in Chelsea/Midtown and ending in the meat-packing district if you want to walk the whole thing, because mid-town is probably where you’re going to be doing other things. This guy posted a super helpful guide that I wish I had when I was figuring out how to find the High Line. I hope he doesn’t mind my sharing.
It’s a beautiful park and you can still see pieces of the railroad which make for great photo op’s. There are incredible views and gardens and graffiti to see. Yes, graffiti. There are little gift shops (more in this realm in the warmer months, which is when you should do this) and the restaurants in the meat-packing district are crazy good, so I recommend getting some grub on that end of the park (did I just say grub?). You should probably take a cab or subway back to midtown or wherever you’re trying to end up at the end of the day, though.
Also, check the hours before you go. Even though it’s a park, it is privately owned and I guess they want to keep the hooligans out at night or whatever.
Top of the rock
This is one of the more tourist-y attractions that I highly recommend. You can read up on it in a million different places but I want to share this with you because you need to understand that it’s more than just a long elevator ride and the top of a building. The view is breath-taking, so don’t think it’s not worth it. However, if you’re only in New York for a week or any short length of time, I don’t recommend doing both Top of The Rock and the top of The Empire State Building. The view is slightly different from both buildings, but the cost to do both may or may not be worth it, depending on your interests.
Now if you’re afraid of heights it might not be the best idea, but you are surrounded by glass walls. Also, there are two different levels to look out from. Both levels are almost the same view. It’s worth it to go to the very top if you’re not scared of heights, but if you are you can still enjoy it from the (slightly) lower level.
Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island
You can take a little ferry ride over to Ellis Island and take an audio tour if you’re into the whole history thing, and that’s pretty cool, and if you book it way in advance you can go up to the crown, and I’ve never done that but it seems pretty cool, but the best way to see lady liberty is to sail by her on the Hudson.
Now, this is by no means the easiest way to see it but it is the coolest way. When you’re on liberty island, you’re so close to the statue you can barely see it. It’s when you see it from the Hudson that you really get the full view and you can take in all her glory. I was lucky enough to sail all through the Hudson on a friend’s boat, so if you have a friend with a boat that’s the best way to do it. Otherwise, see if you can rent one for the day. It was easily one for my top 10 experiences list.
Another incredible way of seeing Lady Liberty/Manhattan is by helicopter or plane tour. My dad actually got to do this on his friend’s plane, so again we were a little lucky there, but you can definitely do a helicopter tour yourself and have a similar experience. Nothing beats this view:
Live Tapings of TV Shows – 1iota
While you might think of L.A. as the city for live show tapings, NYC has just as many if not more opportunities. Some shows are super easy to get tickets for. It’s quick, free, and painless to sign up for 1iota, and then you just log on and enter to “win” tickets for shows like your favorite late night talk shows, GMA, etc. Some random things will pop up too, like VH1 tapings. Saturday Night Live is notoriously difficult to get into, and you can’t just sign up through 1iota. For SNL tapings, you’ll need to join the lottery in August (the only time to do so) and hope you get picked. Some times you can get stand-by tickets by waiting in line, but people get there by 2 AM and wait on the street all night (pro tip: while you may not get into the live show this way, you might be able to get into the dress rehearsal)!
9/11 Memorial/Ground Zero/World Trade Center
This is something that every American needs to see. It’s heartbreaking to see young tourists and foreigners snapping pictures of their smiling relatives in front of the two fountains in the ground that sit where the Twin Towers once did. To some, it’s an excursion. To most of us, it’s a reminder. A beautiful one, and very well done, but still a reminder. I encourage you to take the time to read some of the names written along the fountains. Check out the museum if you wish, but the truly beautiful part is to stand where the towers once were and just think for a few moments. Remember where you were when it happened, remember those who were lost and those who helped or were nearby and survived. Take a walk by the new World Trade Center if you get a chance, too. It’s a beautiful building. It’s hard to miss the freedom tower. It definitely makes a mark on the New York skyline.
Pay As You Wish Museums
Not everyone realizes that you can pay whatever you want for many of the museums in Manhattan. They will list a suggested donation price but will accept pennies if that’s all you have to give. If you hand over a handful of pennies at the MET you might get a look from the staff, but hey that’s your call. My personal favorite is the Museum of Natural History.
I love checking out different stadiums when I visit different cities, and New York has a lot of them. I’m a big Yankees fan, so that’s my favorite. The stadium is in the Bronx, not Manhattan, but it’s easy to get to by subway. Madison Square Garden hosts the Rangers and Knicks, and you can find the Islanders and the Nets in Brooklyn. For football you’ll have to go to Jersey. Even though both the Jets and Giants have been there for years, they are New York teams with New York fans.
The Bronx Zoo is my favorite zoo in New York, but the Central Park Zoo is actually in Manhattan if you want to stay there. It’s great, too, because you can sort of kill two birds with one stone. Although…you probably shouldn’t be killing birds if you’re going to the zoo (bad joke, I’m very sorry). My point is, you’re doing it wrong if you visit Manhattan from a far away land and you don’t walk through Central Park. I’m not saying you have to go through all of it, but seeing as the Central Park Zoo is in it and the best museums line it, it wouldn’t exactly be a challenge to come across it.
Things to Eat in Manhattan
I’m going to have the same issue here that I had with “things to do” where there are more than a million things to eat in New York. I’ll just list a few here that I’ve heard people say they didn’t try or didn’t know about before going to New York.
Come for the shakes, stay for the burgers…or something. It’s immensely satisfying greasy but-not-too-greasy fast food, and their shakes come in seasonal flavors. Their salted caramel hot chocolate is my fave in the winter. You’ll never stop craving it after your first bite. You’ve been warned.
You have endless options so I don’t want to hear that you didn’t find good Italian food in New York. If you’re hanging out in Midtown, please for the love of God don’t eat at Olive Garden. The least you can do is eat at Tony’s or Carmine’s – family style and fabulous. You can’t go wrong with Little Italy as long as you stay on the main strip (not sketch) and don’t make too many weird turns (totes sketch). Same goes for China Town but I would vote for Little Italy over China Town due to the sketch-factor. But that’s just one 5’2 girl’s opinion.
Brunch in the Village
My favorite place for brunch in the NYC is Agave. This place is a restaurant/tequila bar in Greenwhich Village and their brunch includes bottomless mimosas. ‘Nuff said?
True NY Bagels & Pizza
You can find a delicious bagel sandwich and a fantastic hot slice of pizza on almost every block in NY. I’m not even going to recommend specific places here, because there are so many – it really depends on where you’re staying or where you are that day. Just make sure you grab one of each while you’re in the city.
Tourist Experience at Ellen’s Stardust Diner
Sure, they serve overpriced diner food, but you go to Ellen’s for the experience, not the food. While you eat, multi-talented performers sing and dance classic Broadway hits all around you. Famous Broadway performers have worked at Ellen’s early in their careers, so if you go there now, you just might be watching the future best and brightest of Broadway.