New York City Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know | Stanton House Inn
The view from the Staten Island Ferry, a top pick on the New York City Travel Guide

New York City Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know

The Brooklyn Bridge at sunset

New York City, obviously, needs no introduction. Marveling at the Empire State Building and paying homage to the Statue of Liberty is on most people’s bucket list. Museums, galleries, and restaurants offer a taste of the city’s rich history and culture. Central Park beckons with its zoo, carousel, and lakes. It’s a perfect setting for people-watching and spontaneous musical performances. Don’t skip the summer tradition of Shakespeare in the Park. Sports fans have their pick of venues, from Yankee Stadium to Madison Square Garden. The backdrop for countless movies and TV shows, the city is yours to explore in your own way. This New York City travel guide is packed with essential tips for navigating New York City with ease. This writer will of course highlight must-see spots and culinary delights. It’s crafted for both newcomers and experienced travelers, it will make your visit as memorable as the city itself.

Ready to explore the ultimate New York City Travel Guide? Let’s get into it:

Quick hits

  • New York City is a diverse cultural hub. It offers everything from iconic landmarks like Central Park to hidden gems and neighborhoods.

  • The city’s performing arts scene is rich, featuring Broadway shows and venues such as Radio City Music Hall. Outdoor festivals and food tours across various neighborhoods immerse visitors in the art and culinary scene of NYC.

  • Visitors can navigate the city efficiently thanks to its vast public transportation network.

 

 

A Brief History of New York City

An early picture of Nieuw Amsterdam made in 1664, the year it was conquered by the English.

Many would argue that boiling down the history of New York City into a few paragraphs is a fool’s errand. That’s not going to stop this fool from trying!

Discovery

Before the arrival of Europeans, the Algonquians called NYC home. In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian explorer under the French flag, was the first European to enter New York Harbor. Later, in 1609, the Englishman Henry Hudson arrived on behalf of the Dutch East India Company and claimed the harbor. The Dutch later arrived in larger numbers to the establish New Netherland.

The Dutch

The Dutch began their colonization with the purchase of Manhattan, then known as New Amsterdam. In 1626, Peter Minuit acquired it from the Canarsie, a local Lenape band, for a mere 60 guilders. The Dutch West Indian Company introduced the patroon system to encourage settlement. Wealthy Dutchmen who could bring over 50 colonists received large land grants.

At first, the Dutch West India Company held a monopoly in New Netherland. That said, they relinquished control of the fur trade between 1639 and 1640. That move spurred economic diversification. Peter Stuyvesant, the colony’s final Director-General, maintained an authoritarian rule. To be fair, he also established order in what was then the outskirts of civilization.

The English took-over New Amsterdam in 1664. They didn’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, however, so most Dutch policies persisted. And the Dutch continued to settle here in large numbers for several hundred years afterwards.

The Dutch practice of welcoming all in open commerce is what’s made New York City so unique in the world, and America.

Industrial Era

This oil painting depicts George Washington's inauguration as the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789.

New York City saw significant changes during the American Revolutionary War. It briefly served as America’s capital.

The Erie Canal opened in 1825. With its opening, New York’s markets and harbor became the conduit for the flood of food coming from America’s Midwest. This was what separated New York City from its regional rivals: Boston and Philadelphia, and put it on a path to being a global city.

The Civil War divided the City, like the country at large. The Draft Riots of 1863 were a violent period targeting the city’s elite and African American residents. The Black population dropped sharply by 1865.

The city proved resilient, in its recovery and growth. The Statue of Liberty, dedicated in the late 19th century, welcomed millions of immigrants. The consolidation of New York City completed when Brooklyn joined in 1898. The subway opened in 1904, marking the city’s emergence as a global center for industry and communication.

Modern Era

The former World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan

The Stonewall riots of 1969 marked a pivotal moment for LGBT rights. The 1970s brought economic challenges and high crime rates. And yet by the mid-1990s, the city underwent a transformation with lower crime rates and gentrification.

Significant events that tested the city’s spirit included:

  • The September 11th attacks in 2001

  • Occupy Wall Street in 2011

  • Hurricane Sandy in 2012

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the most recent trial, with a heavy toll on lives. And yet, New York City’s enduring strength is its ability to recover and evolve. And keep making lots of money for its stakeholders.

Iconic Landmarks and Attractions

Breathtaking view of New York City skyline

New York City is the crossroads of the world. It’s long captivated visitors with its diversity, world-class architecture, and thriving arts scene. A visit to NYC is incomplete without experiencing its iconic landmarks and attractions in Midtown Manhattan, which include:

  • Central Park

  • Empire State Building

  • Times Square

  • Radio City Music Hall

Aside from well-known sights, the city brims with lesser-known yet equally intriguing attractions. You can enjoy panoramic views atop One World Trade Center or marvel at the architectural splendor of Grand Central Station. Plus, many of these attractions are free.

It doesn’t matter if you are passionate about history and want to discover the city’s historic buildings. Or maybe you’re an art aficionado looking to visit top-notch museums. New York City has something for everyone. Remember to take a walking tour to fully embrace the Big Apple’s unique atmosphere.

Central Park

Scenic view of Central Park in autumn

A green oasis amidst the towering skyscrapers, Central Park spans 843 acres. This park is a microcosm of New York City itself. Top stops at what is one of the best parks in all New York City include:

  • The Mall’s tree-lined paths

  • The romantic Bow Bridge

  • And the tranquil Strawberry Fields

Beyond its well-known landmarks, Central Park conceals hidden gems. The Conservatory Garden, The Ramble, and North Woods are secluded spots for quiet moments with nature. Central Park is a haven for a bike ride, a puppet show at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, or a game at the Chess & Checkers House.

The park also boasts a ton of historic sights. Some of the notable attractions include:

  • The Blockhouse, the oldest structure in the park, offers a glimpse into the city’s past

  • The panoramic views from Belvedere Castle are sure to leave you awestruck

  • Don’t miss the Shakespeare in the Park performances that bring the bard’s plays to life against the park’s scenic backdrop

Empire State Building

Historical image of the Empire State Building construction

The Empire State Building is the towering symbol of New York’s architectural mastery. The scene from Independence Day where aliens destroyed it remains iconic for its symbolic attack on the city’s heart. Completed in 1931, the building was constructed in a record-breaking 410 days. Distinguished by its art deco style and original mast designed for docking airships, the Empire State Building is a marvel.

The observatories on the building’s 86th and 102nd floors provide stunning city views. On a clear day, you can see across six states:

  • New York

  • New Jersey

  • Pennsylvania

  • Connecticut

  • Massachusetts

  • Delaware

This location is also ideal for admiring the New York skyline. The observatory’s lights add to the spectacle by changing color to commemorate holidays.

The building’s art deco lobby is a historic landmark. And for those who prefer a more heart-pumping experience, there are 1,860 steps from street level to the 102nd floor observation deck. But don’t worry; if climbing isn’t your thing, the building houses 73 Otis elevators to ease your journey to the top.

Times Square

Vibrant lights and billboards in Times Square

Times Square is the actual ‘Crossroads of the World.’ This dazzling spectacle of lights and sounds stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Streets along Broadway and Seventh Avenues. This bustling commercial intersection forms a bow tie shape, alive with activity at all hours.

Under its luminous lights and immense electronic billboards, Times Square hosts diverse activities. Impromptu concerts, yoga classes, and engaging street performances are common.

The enchantment of visiting Times Square at night is particularly striking as the area comes alive with its iconic bright lights. Keep a distance from:

  • Characters offering photos

  • Street vendors selling fake tickets

  • And individuals offering ‘free’ items

And, of course, keep an eye on your belongings here.

Radio City Music Hall

Home to the world-famous Rockettes, Radio City Music Hall is the most famous example of the city’s rich performing arts culture. Whether it’s a concert, an event, or a performance by the Rockettes, a visit to the Radio City Music Hall is bound to be memorable.

For s behind-the-scenes tour, the Radio City Stage Door Tour offers an exclusive look at the production process. You might even have the opportunity to snap a photo with a Rockette! The hall also features special Christmas tours. The tour includes the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes—a holiday season highlight.

Exploring NYC Neighborhoods

Charming streets of West Village

New York City comprises a mosaic of neighborhoods. Each former town or village within the larger city radiates its own unique vibe, culture, and history. NYC’s neighborhoods are as diverse as its people.

Walking tours offer a unique way to explore the city’s neighborhoods. Free walking tours meander across New York City:

  • The Brooklyn Bridge

  • Manhattan

  • And the Williamsburg Bridges

Prospect Park

Provide sweeping views and a chance for urban exploration. NYC’s outdoor spaces are peaceful retreats spaced between architectural wonders and busy streets. Some of the most popular green spaces include:

  • The High Line

  • Little Island

  • Washington Square Park

  • And Hudson River Park

For a blend of leisure and culture, you might consider:

  • Taking a brief ferry trip to Governors Island

  • Visiting historical landmarks such as Alexander Hamilton’s grave and Grant’s tomb

  • Catching sight of the Statue of Liberty from the no-cost Staten Island Ferry

West Village

Restaurant at the foot of the Friends Apartment building

On the western side of Lower Manhattan, the West Village exudes charm and charisma. Quaint streets, historic brownstones, and artistic vibe create a laid-back, village-like atmosphere. Hence the name. The West Village is famous for its clandestine culinary scene. Top stops include:

The neighborhood also boasts speakeasies like Employees Only and Little Branch. Intimate atmospheres and expertly crafted cocktails await. And the Garden at St. Luke in the Fields and Té Company, with its exceptional teas and signature pineapple Linzer tart, make peaceful escapes.

East Village

East Village

Head east from the West Village to find the appropriately-named East Village. Its streets hum with a bustling nightlife, eclectic boutiques, and a colorful display of street art. The East Village also houses several cultural institutions worth a visit.

One such institution is La MaMa, revered for its commitment to fostering theater, dance, and the arts. They work to highlight those that push the boundaries of the conventional. The Park Avenue Armory also stands out as a versatile cultural center, hosting a variety of events that include:

  • art exhibitions

  • music concerts

  • historical lectures

  • dance performances

In its uniquely adapted space. If you’re an art enthusiast, the East Village is definitely a neighborhood you wouldn’t want to miss.

Upper West Side

The San Remo in the Upper West Side as seen from across the lake, Central Park

Moving uptown, the scene transitions from towering skyscrapers to historic residential buildings. Known for its upscale residential atmosphere, the Upper West Side marries city life with suburban qualities. The Upper West Side is also home to significant cultural institutions, including:

  • The American Museum of Natural History

  • Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

  • The Beacon Theatre

  • The New York Historical Society

The American Museum of Natural History is a standout among New York’s cultural institutions for this writer. It is the largest natural history museum in the world. It houses 28 interconnected buildings and 45 permanent exhibition halls. The museum’s offerings are vast, including:

  • A planetarium

  • A library

  • And a remarkable collection of dinosaur fossils

Upper East Side

At sunset, cars line the Upper East Side, waiting for the light to change.

Across Central Park from the Upper West Side is its equally posh counterpart, the Upper East Side. This neighborhood is synonymous with exclusive dining, high-end shopping, and scenic parks. It’s a quintessentially elite NYC experience.

Park Avenue stands out for its exclusive restaurants, cafes, and shops that reflect the neighborhood’s upscale status. The iconic Bloomingdale’s flagship store provides a premier luxury shopping experience. And establishments like H&H Bagels offer gourmet delights galore.

The neighborhood’s green spaces, such as Carl Schurz Park, provide a perfect balance of urban life and natural tranquility.

Art and Culture in NYC

Woman reading at the Cloisters

New York City is a worldwide hub for art and culture. The city boasts world-renowned museums, Broadway shows, and a vibrant street art scene. Architectural enthusiasts can marvel at The Vessel at Hudson Yards. This engaging structure of interlinked stairways can still be viewed from the ground. The streets of New York serve as canvases for artists, and performances abound in its diverse neighborhoods. You can attend show tapings or explore museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum.

Museums

Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art

New York City is home to some of the most prestigious museums in the world. Among them are:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which boasts over two million works

  • And the Guggenheim Museum, known for its outstanding modern art collection and distinctive architecture

Even more of the best museums here with a rich diversity of art collections include:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which hosts a range of exhibitions such as ‘Picasso: A Cubist Commission in Brooklyn’ and ‘Manet/Degas’

  • The Brooklyn Museum, with captivating exhibits like ‘Copy Machine Manifestos: Artists Who Make Zines’

Broadway Shows

NYC Theater District

You may have never stepped foot in New York City, but you’ve heard of Broadway. It’s a term that embodies the enchantment of live theater. This iconic avenue is home to some of the best theater productions in the world. And you’ll find a variety of performances that cater to a diverse audience. From timeless classics to modern productions, Broadway shows are an integral part of NYC’s cultural landscape.

Getting tickets for these shows doesn’t have to break the bank. You can find discounted same- and next-day tickets for Broadway shows at the TKTS booth in Times Square, with possible discounts of up to 50%. Whether you’re a fan of musicals, dramas, or comedies, Broadway has a show for every taste. Among the highlights are:

  • ‘The Cottage’

  • ‘Shucked’

  • ‘Purlie Victorious’

  • ‘Merrily We Roll Along’

  • ‘A Doll’s House’

  • ‘Here Lies Love’

  • ‘Parade’

  • ‘Sweeney Todd’

Street Art

Street art in Manhattan

New York City’s street art vividly mirrors its diverse culture and energetic spirit. Some notable areas to explore street art in NYC include:

  • The Lower East Side, known for its vibrant murals

  • Bushwick, with its graffiti-clad walls

  • Williamsburg, home to a mix of street art styles

  • The High Line, where you can find art installations along the elevated park

These areas and many more serve as an open canvas for local and international artists alike.

Various neighborhoods in NYC, such as the Lower East Side and Wall Street area, are vibrant with the latest street art. These locations bring a dynamic visual energy to the city’s streets and alleys. Notable places where you can witness this street art include:

  • The Bushwick Collective in Bushwick

  • Welling Court Mural Project in Astoria

  • The Bowery Wall in Nolita

  • Coney Art Walls in Coney Island

  • DUMBO Walls in DUMBO

Food and Drink Adventures

fe6b1d32 366a 4f57 a9b8 8deb7f89dee5 New York City Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know

New York City is a food lover’s paradise, offering everything from iconic eateries to hidden culinary gems, and immersive food tours. The city’s food and drink scene caters to every palate and preference. Foodies descend, eager to explore local cuisine or a casual diner in search of a quick bite.

Sample:

For a quintessential NYC dining experience. For the road less traveled, places like:

  • Bonnie’s, with its glazed pork on a sesame milk bun

  • The rich, chicken-based broth at Totto Ramen

  • And Ci Siamo, the Italian restaurant where Chef Hillary Sterling works her magic

Offer more unique dining.

Food tours are another fantastic way to experience the city’s culinary diversity. These tours guide you through different neighborhoods, introducing you to a variety of food and drink offerings.

Iconic Eateries

The famous delicatessen where the famous fake orgasm scene was shot for When Harry Met Sally, Katz's Delicatessen.

Like every city, New York City has its own iconic eateries. From:

  • The classic New York-style pizza and bagels

  • To internationally renowned fine dining establishments

The city’s iconic eateries offer a culinary experience like no other.

Katz’s Delicatessen is a legendary eatery celebrated for its classic New York City dining experience. Famous for its pastrami on rye and corned beef, Katz’s is an essential stop for visitors. This kosher-style deli maintains Jewish culinary traditions. And it’s arguably the tastiest example of the city’s cultural heritage.

And save room for a Nathan’s hot dog where it all began, on the boardwalk of Coney Island, NY.

Hidden Gems

Small burger joint in SoHo

While New York City’s iconic eateries are a must-visit, the city also abounds with hidden culinary treasures. These establishments are often nestled in the city’s diverse neighborhoods.

In the Lower East Side, Banzarbar is a speakeasy that serves unique dishes alongside a selection of cocktails and rum. For those who prefer dining in solitude, Ichiran provides ramen in private booths. And for a taste of Egyptian cuisine, Astoria’s Abuqir lets patrons select fresh seafood to be cooked to their liking.

Food Tours

A car speeds past a restaurant neon sign in New York City at night.

For food enthusiasts eager to delve into the city’s varied culinary scene, a food tour could be the ideal choice. NYC’s food tours offer an immersive exploration of the city’s diverse food. It’s the best way to explore the various neighborhoods here, in this writer’s opinion.

Guided by knowledgeable experts, these tours provide a mix of tastings and educational content. They introduce participants to the unique flavors of different areas. For those planning special occasions, Foods of NY Tours offers private group food tours. They add a personalized touch to celebratory events.

Getting Around the City

NYC Subway

New York City boasts a comprehensive public transportation network. It makes navigation around the city easy. And you kind of have to take advantage of the 24/7 subway service and the iconic yellow taxis synonymous with the city’s streets at some point.

The NYC subway provides the quickest and most efficient means of traversing the city. With its frequent service during peak hours and less frequent overnight service, the subway allows you to explore the city at your own pace. That said, navigating the subway system can be a bit tricky, especially for first-time visitors. Some tips for navigating the subway system include:

  • Verify your stops before boarding, especially if you are taking an express train that doesn’t stop at all stations.

  • Use a subway map or a navigation app to plan your route in advance. They have them in most stations, on the wall somewhere.

  • Pay attention to the signs and announcements in the subway stations to ensure you are heading in the right direction.

Grand Central Station

By following these tips, you can navigate the NYC subway system with ease and make the most of your time in the city. If you’re nervous, download directions from Google Maps before you go underground.

While the subway is the most popular form of public transportation, there are other cost-effective options as well. The city’s grid layout makes it perfect for walking and biking. The Citi Bike rental program enhances accessibility, offering thousands of bikes across the city that can be rented for a small fee.

And for a unique view of the city, consider the Roosevelt Island Tramway. It’s North America’s only commuter cable car and offers scenic views of the cityscape and the Hudson River.

Seasonal Events and Festivals

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

New York City’s spirit is best experienced through its seasonal events and festivals. The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony marks the start of the holiday season. And the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks dazzle the Manhattan skies. These events offer an immersive experience that transcends the usual tourist attractions, such as a New York Yankees game.

Winter in NYC transforms the city into a wonderland. The holiday festivities begin with the lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center. They continue with the Times Square New Year’s Eve Wishing Wall tradition. This is when wishes written on confetti descend at midnight to welcome the new year. For jazz enthusiasts, the Winter Jazzfest is a must-attend event. It showcases a spectacular array of contemporary talent.

Or come to New York City in the summer for a season of outdoor festivities. Some notable events include:

  • Oswego Harborfest: Visitors can savor free entertainment, mingle with local vendors, and watch a spectacular fireworks show, all reflecting the community’s summer spirit.

  • SummerStage festival in New York City: A diverse lineup of artists perform from June through September.

  • US Open in Queens: Tennis fans can catch the world’s tennis elites on the grand stage.

That said, NYC’s festivities span the entire year. Some more events to be on the lookout for are the Tribeca Film Festival, New York Fashion Week, and the Governor’s Victorian Holiday Ball.

Best Places to Stay in New York City

Westlight Rooftop Bar, Brooklyn, NY

The range of accommodations for your New York City trip includes:

  • Lavish hotels in Midtown Manhattan

  • And charming bed and breakfasts in quieter neighborhoods

Traveling alone and seeking a snug hideaway? Or looking for a romantic spot as a couple, or needing roomy lodgings for a family? New York City has the perfect place for you.

Hotels

TWA hotel bar in Queens, a great spot to see the New York skyline

New York City’s hotel scene is as varied as the city itself, with options ranging from luxury to trendy boutique hotels. If you’re seeking indulgence, the upscale hotels offer premium bedding, spa services, and fine dining, all complemented by stunning city views.

For a modern stay, the Moxy Hotel in the Financial District is your go-to spot. It features a sprawling bar, basketball court, and arcade. The rooms are equipped with automated amenities, a 50″ SmartTV, and complimentary toiletries, making it an ideal choice for a fun-filled weekend.

In Midtown West, the Refinery Hotel offers an artistic vibe with chic décor. Its proximity to Times Square and budget-friendly options make it a smart choice for travelers.

The Bowery Hotel in the East Village exudes classic style with its industrial design and cozy rooms. Its location near popular spots and the Bowery Mural Wall fits a mid-range budget perfectly.

Bed and Breakfasts

A boutique hotel room in New York City

The best bed and breakfasts in New York City are unique. They’re not like your usual hotels. Each one has its own character and offers personal service. You’re more than just a room number.

Chelsea Pines Inn in Chelsea is a quiet spot. It’s decorated with old Hollywood movie posters. Guests enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi, local calls, and upscale bath products from Gilchrist & Soames.

Harbor House is simpler, resembling a beach house with views of Manhattan. The rooms offer essentials like a clock radio and TV, but no phones. Guests can enjoy a basic continental breakfast and morning coffee on the porch.

For a touch of grandeur, Northern Lights Mansion in Central Harlem awaits. This 1880 structure boasts classic New York architecture, a modern kitchen, and jacuzzies with waterfalls.

Tl;dr

New York City is an unparalleled destination. Iconic landmarks, vibrant neighborhoods, diverse cultural experiences, and world-class cuisine make it so. It caters to travelers of all kinds, whether it’s your first visit or you’re a seasoned urban explorer. Prepare to delve into the city that never sleeps and embark on adventures that promise to be as unforgettable as the city itself. Get ready, set your sights on exploration, and experience the heart of New York City!

Frequently Asked Questions

How many days do you need in New York City?

To truly experience New York City’s essence, including iconic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and Central Park, plan for a minimum of three days and two nights.

Lacking the luxury of time? Then check out our guides to:

What is the best guide for New York City?

What, this one isn’t good enough for you? For another excellent guide to New York City, check out Lonely Planet’s Pocket New York City. It provides detailed insights into the city’s premier experiences and the distinct life found in each neighborhood. This guide is a reliable companion for those eager to discover the city’s iconic landmarks, vibrant art scene, and much more.

Is it ok to travel to New York City now?

Yes, New York City is safe to visit. Based on FBI statistics, New York City ranks as the safest major city in America.

What are some must-see sights in New York City?

You must visit Central Park, the Empire State Building, Times Square, and Radio City Music Hall when in New York City. These iconic sights offer a glimpse of the city’s vibrant culture and history.

What are some hidden culinary gems in the West Village?

In the West Village, you can discover a range of hidden culinary gems: Hudson Clearwater offers New American dining, Toriko specializes in omakase ramen, The Little Owl provides an intimate dining experience, and Rafele serves classic Italian cuisine.

 

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