New York City is a trip of a lifetime for some and yearly must visit destination for others. There is no doubt that it is a one of a kind city that always deliver a new experience no matter how many times you have been. I LOVE NYC and having visited multiple times with kids, girls trips, with family, and for work – it truly never gets old and I am always excited to go back. Whether you are planning your first trip or a return trip hopefully my personal experience can help you plan the perfect NYC getaway!
Getting There: There are several options for flying into NYC, the three major airports are JFK, LaGuardia (LGA), and Newark (EWR). I suggest checking each airport for the best airfare, but note that getting a taxi from NYC to Newark will cost you extra as the drivers will charge you for a round trip since a NYC taxi cannot pick up a fare from EWR which is located in New Jersey. With Lyft and Uber this doesn’t apply, so again just look for the best airfare.
Where to Stay: I think nothing is better than staying right in the mix of it all in Times Square/Theater District. You can stay further away and for the true budget traveler staying in Jersey City or Hoboken, NJ can be as little as $100 per night. I have stayed in Times Square, Midtown and Financial districts and my favorite is right in the heart of Times Square, or maybe a block or two away if you are sensitive to the noise and light. Below are a few of my favorites:
Marriott Courtyard Times Square – Located on 40th Street between 6th & 7th Avenue this is a moderate hotel in a great location, just off Times Square (about 5 minute walk to all the lights and action). The subway is about 1 block away and you can walk to Rockefeller Center (about a 10 minute walk). Rooms are clean and good size for NYC, I have always had great service as well. Rates are $200-$300 per night on average, depending on time of year.
Hilton Garden Inn Times Square – Located on 8th Ave between 48 and 49th Streets this is another moderate hotel in a great location, just off Times Square (5 minute walk). They have a nice breakfast at Pigalle connected to the hotel, it’s pricey as much of NYC is, but the buffet has a great variety or you can order from the menu. The service at this hotel has always been consistently good and the rooms are clean and comfortable, nice size for NYC as well. Rates are $200-300 per night depending on time of year.
Doubletree Times Square – Located right on Broadway right in the heart of Times Square, this hotel is a splurge and location is excellent with subway station across the street heading Uptown and just outside the door the Downtown station. This hotel is a little pricier and can be bright and noisy, you would want to request a room on a higher floor and away from Times Square if you are sensitive to light and noise. The rooms are very spacious and great for families or groups of 4 or more staying in a room with large double sink bathrooms and living room area for relaxing. Rates can vary $250-550 per night average depending on time of year.
Another option for hotel and big savings in NYC can be Hotwire. At Hotwire you can select that you want a 3 or 4 star hotel in Times Square area and the site will give you price ranges, once you purchase the hotel is revealed. I used Hotwire when it’s only 1-2 people travelling and I am not worried about being connected or close to my travel companions. Using Hotwire I have stayed at the Intercontinental Times Square, Millennium Hotel Broadway, Staybridge Suites Time Square, and Hotel Belvedere – all were good comfortable hotels and I paid about half what the actual hotels had advertised.
Tip: When planning your trip to NYC, look at hotel rates before booking airfare – certain events will make hotel rates skyrocket. Hotel prices during NYC Marathon, Thanksgiving Week, NYC Fashion Week, etc. will double or triple in price. Someone I know really well (me) planned a girls weekend trip with friends not realizing it was during the NYC Marathon the only hotel I could fine was a Motel 6 and paid over $400 per night!
Things to do: What you do in NYC really depends on your interest and how “on the go” you want to be, I will list some of my favorites and recommendations for booking ahead to save time. How much or how little you do is really up to you and I have had as much fun just spending the day walking around SoHo (best shopping and restaurants in my opinion) as I have making the trip to the Statue of Liberty.
Statue of Liberty: This really is a must see at least once, I have been multiple times and I still enjoy a little thrill each time we pull up to the island! My recommendation is to purchase tickets in advance from www.statuecruises.com – this will save you a lot of time. There are 3 options when visiting, Liberty and Ellis Island access, Pedestal Access, and Crown Access.
I recommend pedestal access, it is quite a few stairs (231 with elevator access for handicap) but doable and they are spaced out and not as warm, the climb to the crown is a tight spiral staircase that adds another 162 steps that can be downright hot in the summer months. I think being able to step outside and walk around the pedestal is a once in a lifetime experience, I can’t say I feel the same way about a trip up to the crown.
Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, and One World Observatory: I group all these destinations together because they are iconic landmarks with observation decks offering amazing views of the city. The views from all of them are amazing and I recommend a visit to each at least once. If you can only pick one it would be a toss up between Top of the Rock and One World for me, no matter what you pick purchase your tickets in advance to save hours of waiting in line.
Empire State Building: Purchase tickets at www.esbnyc.com, highly recommend VIP access for this site. There are two options just the 86th floor which includes the iconic outdoor viewing area, or 86th and 102nd floor access. It is fun to see from a few more floors up, but it’s enclosed with windows so picture don’t turn out well here and it can be crowded at times. Back to VIP access, this allows you to use the express line both going up and down. I have spent 3 hours in line waiting to go up and another hour waiting to get back down, well worth the extra $$ to bypass very long lines. Tourist Trap Tip: As you approach the Empire State Building you will be approached by ticket sellers for NY Skyride attraction that includes “skip the line” access to the observation deck. This is an overpriced ticket to a poor quality film that does not have any time waiting in line. If you purchase a City Pass that includes NY Skyride my advice would be to skip it.
Top of the Rock: Purchase tickets at www.topoftherocknyc.com, I recommend purchasing a timed ticket before or after lunch as there are great shops around Rockefeller center area along with one of my favorite NYC restaurants. They do no do VIP access and instead use timed tickets which saves time on entry and waiting in line. There is a mix of both open areas and enclosed areas on the observation decks (between 67th and 70th floors) with glass partitions which allow for better views and pictures than the Empire State Building.
You can also take the NBC Studio Tour, it’s very interesting in you want to learn more about the history of 30 Rock and want to see where some of the most iconic shows are shot, such as Saturday Night Live, Today Show, and more. The tour takes about 2 hours and you make a fun video at the end as a keepsake (plus you get 20% off at the NBC store!)
One World Observatory: Purchase tickets at www.oneworldobservatory.com, I recommend purchasing Priority admission to save time on waiting in line. This allows you to bypass the very long line for entry and security going up although you will still have to wait in line to come back down it, but it will save 2-3 hours waiting in line. Even if you decide not to purchase priority admission, be sure to purchase tickets in advance or arrive very early. This is the newest attraction in NYC, the observatory just opened in May 2015. On the day we visited our tickets were for 1pm and they were no longer admitting anyone else for the day, I saw a lot of disappointed people walking away. The observation deck is between 100th-102nd floors with 360 degree views of the city. There is also a pricey but good restaurant at the top as well.
9/11 Memorial and Museum: A visit to the Memorial is free and is a lovely tribute and remembrance of all that lost their lives on that tragic day. You can also pay to enter the museum, again very well done but I would not recommend for children. It is very much like visiting Pearl Harbor, a part of our American history but also very intense emotionally, but beautifully done.
Museums: There are sooo many museums in NYC, I recommend the following to visit at least once:
Metropolitan Museum of Art: This gorgeous museum appeals to art lovers from all era’s from Ancient Egypt to Modern Art. “The Met” is one of the largest and most visited museums in the world and it can take days to see everything, but it’s worth the time even if you have just a few hours to visit.
Modern Museum of Art (MoMa): One of my favorite museums in NYC, this building is a work of art along with some well known pieces such as “Starry Night” by Van Gogh and “Water Lillies” by Monet along with quirky and eclectic art of all genres. Often there is a one day a week where admission is free by a sponsored company, I have been for free on Target Thursday and UNIQLO Friday.
American Museum of Natural History: This beautiful museum featured in “Night at the Museum” is filled with Dinosaur skeletons and everything from African Elephants to precious Jewels. Don’t miss the Cosmic Pathway in the Rose Center for Earth and Space along with the Planetarium.
Guggenheim Museum: A must see for contemporary art lovers or Frank Lloyd Wright architecture lovers, this building is a work of art on it’s own as well.
Broadway and Off Broadway: A trip to NYC would not be complete without seeing a Broadway show! There is an abundance of shows both on and off Broadway that will appeal to everyone from kid friendly or adult. My recommendation for saving money and securing the best seats are to research first by going to www.broadway.com. After researching and finding a show that appeals to you then do a google search on the theater and purchase your tickets directly from the box office, most offer a will call or print at home option. Another option if you have the time and aren’t set on a particular show you can visit one of the three TKTS Discount Booths for same day shows with discounts of 50-70% off (expect long lines especially at the Times Square location), go to www.tdf.org for more information. A great Off Broadway experience can usually be found at New World Stages and typically these shows are about half the cost of the typical Broadway show, but just as entertaining! You can go www.newworldstages.com to purchase tickets and see what shows are currently playing.
If you are lucky enough to secure tickets to see Hamilton, it is worth it and the show more than lives up to all the hype. One of my all time favorite shows!
Places to Eat: There are so many great places to enjoy a meal in the city, below are just a few of my favorites that I try to get to each time I am in town:
La Bonne Soup: Thank you Maria for showing up this lovely gem! It has become a “must eat here” for anytime I am in the city, located near Rockefeller this small bistro with a French twist serves up amazing soup, quiche, omelets, fondue and more. The Soup special is a great deal as well which includes salad, glass of wine or soda, bowl of soup (French Onion is amazing), and dessert (Chocolate Mousse is heaven) for $21. A bargain for NYC and you will be stuffed when you leave!
Le Pain Quotidien: One of my best friends and I stumbled upon this great eatery one morning. Located across from Radio City Music Hall they offer simple and delicious food that is fresh and fast. I love the communal tables and farmhouse feel of this bistro which serves breakfast and lunch with lots of vegan and organic options.
La Masseria: Located in the theater district this Italian eatery serves fresh and delicious food, I love the ambiance of this eatery. I highly recommend the melt in your mouth gnocchi. Another bonus is your meal is just as amazing when dining at 7pm or 11pm!
Balthazar: Located in SoHo this french inspired bistro has a fantastic Sunday brunch but also serves late night dinner. The seafood dishes are always superb, the steak frites is amazing, and the goat cheese and onion tart is one of my favorites.
Buddakan: Pricey but delicious this Asian and Japanese fusion restaurant located in the meat packing district (near Chelsea Market) is loud and very popular, but it is worth the wait and crowds. A fun side note for Sex and the City fans, this is the restaurant where Carrie and Big had their rehearsal dinner.
Ferrara Bakery: Located in Little Italy this bakery/brunch is a must stop for a treat for me. I love their Pignoli cookies, the Gelato shakes, Spumoni, Cheesecake….something to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth here. The sit down cafe is a nice place to rest as well between sightseeing.
Getting Around: When you arrive into NYC it’s easiest to take a taxi or Lyft/Uber to your hotel, depending on traffic and time of day will take 45 minutes to 1 hour and cost about $40-$60. Once you are in the city the most efficient way to get around is by the subway or walking. The subway is very easy to navigate and I have always been able to ask someone nearby to confirm I am on the right platform, but you can download a subway map like above to keep folded in your wallet as a reminder to which way is uptown versus downtown.