New York City will always hold a special place in my heart - it was the first major urban city that I've truly explored, way back when I flew there my senior year in high school to visit colleges. I instantly fell in love with the way of life, the fact that you could get anything at any hour, and just the city lifestyle in general. There's so much to do here that you can stay a few years and not see everything. One of my goals is to live here someday for an extended period of time, and I hope that you'll find it as enjoyable as I did.
*** In addition to this guide, you should also look up on Google for things to do in New York City (e.x. Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, etc.) ***
My train from Boston got into New York's Penn Station in the late evening, and I really wanted to just go to my Airbnb and sleep. To make my way there, I had to navigate the sprawl that is Penn Station - it's very big and easy to get lost in, but I just followed the signs for the subway system. My Airbnb was near Flushing Main Street, which is in Queens. So, the subway ride took around an hour. I didn't mind the commute time because staying in Manhattan is astronomically expensive! I was very intrigued with this area because there is a predominately Asian population near Flushing. It kind of reminded me of Taiwan, only a little grimier. I walked about 15 or so minutes to my Airbnb, where I was able to finally get some rest after a long day.
Side Note: New York City Subway
The subway is the easiest way to get around the city, hands down. Although disadvantages include constant delays/construction, people asking for money, old trains, and more. But, the subway's range, cost, and convenience far outweigh any disadvantages. To use the subway in NYC, you'll need to get a MetroCard, which could be obtained at any machine. I got the 7-day unlimited ride MetroCard because the subway fare is the same, no matter how far you go. The per-ride cost is kind of pricey, but the unlimited MetroCard saved me lots of money even though I didn't use the full 7 days on the card. You'll have to do some math to see if the unlimited card is right for you.
Another thing is that it's easy to feel overwhelmed with all of the different kinds of trains. To get past this, Google Maps will be your best friend. Make sure you're getting on the right train headed in the right direction and that it will stop at your stop! Some lines have express trains, which only stop at certain stops. The announcements and the train itself will tell you which kind of train it is, so keep an eye out. Usually, if you compare what Google tells you vs. what the signs say, you should be fine!
Side Note: Airport Specific Information
Every time I've been to NYC, I've never had any time to spare when I'm going to and from the airport. There's always something that comes up that you didn't anticipate and you're always against the clock. It doesn't help that there's always "train traffic" ahead when you're on the subway.
If you are going through JFK, you're probably taking some sort of transportation at Jamaica Center. There's a lot of lines going through here (Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and the subway) so you just want to make sure you're going on the right line. If you're heading to JFK, try to factor in delays in how much time it would take you to get to the airport.
If you are flying in from LaGuardia Airport, the easiest way to get into the city is to take one of the express buses to a metro stop. The “express bus” costs the same as the subway ($2.75 per ride) but you have to buy your ticket before you get on the bus. What I had to do was I had to buy a MetroCard inside the terminal, and then use that MetroCard to buy the ticket to get onto the bus. Your receipt is essentially your ticket, so you’ll want to show that to the bus driver. I would strongly discourage taking Uber in NYC because it is ridiculously expensive and will probably take the same amount of time as the subway.
If you are planning on taking the New Jersey Transit to and from Newark Airport, I would definitely recommend looking at the train schedule beforehand to see if there is a train running at the time you want. One time, I had an 8:45am flight, but the first train didn’t leave until around 7am. This meant that I could have slept a little more and still made it to the airport at the same time.
I started my day off by going to the Queens Botanical Gardens, which was very beautiful. I would definitely recommend if you're looking to get out of Manhattan to a more quiet place. It does cost money to get in, but I showed my student ID and got a discount!
I went early in the day, which I thought was a good choice since you could really see how the locals live. There were groups of elderly people doing some tai chi, meditation, walking, or just sitting and talking. It was very interesting because you'll hear one kind of music in an area, and then a different kind of music in another area - it really did remind me of how people in Taiwan live!
After I visited the park, I met up with a friend at Jack's Wife Freda, which is one of the best places for brunch in downtown NYC. The place was really cute, and the food was good as well - I would go again! Another great brunch place I would recommend is Jane. After my friend and I parted ways, I walked around the area around NYU and Washington Square Park. It was interesting to see now NYU is a college with no "real" campus! Afterwards, I went to Strand Bookstore, which is one of the more famous bookstores in New York. I ended up spending quite some time here because it has a cool setup. But, I mostly spent a lot of time looking at the clearance books they have outside. They set aside all sorts of books and price them very cheaply. I actually ended up buying a few books myself. Then, I headed over to Chelsea Market to find more things to eat, and the market didn't disappoint.
I would recommend going to Chelsea Market with an empty stomach because there's quite a bit you can get here - seafood, chocolates, donut holes, the options are endless! The market also has a very quaint bookstore where they sell all sorts of cute pins - I ended up buying a few. After the market, I walked along Hudson River Park, which is a very nice place to take a walk. I ended up taking a nap on the side of the grass which was very refreshing. Afterwards, I went back to my Airbnb to get some rest.
For the second day, I had plans to meet up with other friends at Jean-Georges for lunch - it has 3 Michelin stars, which I didn't know was a big deal until my friend told me. I was pretty excited because this would be my first experience with "fine" dining. You do need reservations and be dressed nice (I had a polo shirt and nice black pants and I was fine), but sneakers would likely not pass the test. My friends and I were seated relatively quickly, where we were able to order.
For someone traveling on a budget, I was delighted to see that they offered a special lunch prix for only about $40. Basically you choose from three set menus, and each menu involves multiple courses and a dessert. It was hands down one of the best meals I've ever eaten. The best part was the dessert where everything seemed to melt in your mouth in just the right way. I definitely think it was worth the money, but only for the special lunch price - anything else would cost an arm and a leg.
After the meal, my friends and I went to Central Park to walk around. Central Park is one of my favorite places in New York City because it's a secluded haven in a bustling city (okay, maybe not secluded) but it's huge and you could get lost inside for hours - you could walk in the park for a whole day and not see the entire park! There are lots of joggers and families and everything in between. I even got to see a couple take their wedding pictures in the park!
My friends and I headed to Sheep Meadow inside Central Park, which is a huge open space inside the park where you could see the city skyline in a nature-y area. You'll see lots of people just tanning, sitting and talking, or having a nice picnic. My friend and I decided to pick a nice, shady spot, lie down, and take a nap. It was very relaxing, and I definitely recommend you stop by.
After my friends and I woke up from our nap, we went to get dinner at Ippudo, which is a famous ramen joint in the city. The ramen is absolutely amazing, but there might be a long wait. My friends and I were lucky that we were able to get seated right away, but others weren't so lucky. After that, we went to Levain Bakery to get dessert. This bakery serves insanely large, gooey cookies that will make your mouth instantly salivate. As a huge chocolate chip cookie fanatic, this was heaven to me as we snacked on our cookies - cannot recommend this place enough. After that, it was time to turn in for the day and leave for Boston the next morning.
other places to visit in nyc
I would also recommend looking at these places if you have the time: UN Building, Grand Central Terminal, NY Public Library, The Vessel, The Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards
Some other places I didn't have the chance to mention include:
The High Line - It's near Chelsea Market, and you can walk above the city while taking in the skyline while being surrounded by nature. Try to walk the entire distance to get the most out of what the High Line offers.
Coney Island - It's slightly far out of the city (around 1 hr by subway) but it has a very nice energy to it. The games/attractions are somewhat overpriced, but it's still cool to take in the carnival/boardwalk vibe and walk along the beach.
MET/Natural Museum of History/MoMA - The exhibits at all of these museums are very pretty and cool, you could easily spend up to a day in each museum! For MoMA, I would take advantage of the student discount if you have a student ID. Also, on Friday nights, it’s free! Look up “MoMA Uniqlo Free Friday nights” for more information.
Magnolia Bakery - The banana pudding is the true gem of this bakery. Sounds gross, but give it a try.
Her Name is Han - Close to Midtown, I would stop here if you're craving for some Asian food.
Momofuku Noodle Bar - The ramen here is pretty good, and it's comparable to SoCal quality ramen.
Big Gay Ice Cream Shop - Great ice cream with insanely big portions. Come with a big appetite.
Arthur Avenue - This little street is near Fordham University and goes into Little Italy. There seems to be lots of good Italian food around here, but I didn’t have a chance to try any of the places.
SEA - This is a Thai restaurant in Williamsburg, which seemed to be a restaurant and a bar. The restaurant has a very club-like ambiance with dimmed lighting and loud music. The bathrooms are oddly edgy and there’s a little pool leading up to a gold Buddha in the center of the restaurant. I got the Pad Thai which was not bad, but the atmosphere was a little excessive to me.
Radegast Hall and Biergarten - My friends and I went here to get some beers (I didn’t get anything) but there were definitely a lot of people in here. They had a live band going on and were serving food and desserts in addition to the drinks. My friends said that the beers were pretty good.
Domino Park - This is a cute little park near the water in Williamsburg. There’s a little playground with a crazy slide, and you could see the Williamsburg Bridge as you are walking. My friends and I came here during the nighttime, but I think it would be beautiful during the day.
Smorgasburg at East River State Park - This is a great food market on Saturdays with a.lot of variety and fusion items, but just be prepared to spend some money. I got this pineapple duck (fried chicken and pineapple in a pineapple shell) and this waffle cone, both of which were fantastic but somewhat overpriced. Expect anything to cost around $10-$20.
All Wise Meadery - This place was a little tucked away where the set up is pretty simple. I think the hours are only 12pm-5pm. The whole operation is run in this little shopfront, where there’s a guy offering mead to anyone that comes in (kind of like wine tasting). All of the brewing, packaging, etc is done in the building and my friends thought the mead was pretty good.
88 Lan Zhou Handmade Noodles - Overall, this place is my future NYC go-to for cheap food - it’s your traditional Asian restaurant with lots of noodle dishes. I ordered a beef noodle soup and 8 piece fried pork dumplings, which were really good1 The soup came out in less than 5 minutes, and the fried dumplings were fantastic. My bowl was $7 and the dumplings were $4 (where can you get 8 dumplings for $4 in NYC?) which was incredibly cheap by New York standards. I would definitely recommend this place if you are looking for someplace cheap.
Murray’s Bagels – The shop is a little small with only some seating. It’s more of a grab and go type of place. I got an egg omelet sandwich on a sesame bagel, which was good! I thought it was cool how they put a mini omelet in the bagel, but then it also wasn’t cheap.
Yanni’s Coffee – It’s a cute place that’s also small – more of a grab and go type of place. I got a chai latte, which tasted less “chai” than I would have liked. But, the wifi was solid (I found the password on Yelp) if you’re trying to find a place to do some work and can find a seat.
Joe’s Steam Rice Roll at Canal Street Market – It’s a solid place to get some lunch and do some shopping. I would say the market is half artisan stalls and half food. I tried the Signature at Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, which was so tasty and reminded me of eating food in Asia. I would recommend it, but I wish I got more for what it cost.
Raku – This noodle place is delicious. I got the Niku ramen, which came in a HUGE bowl and had more noodles than I thought. My friend got the most basic option, which was a little smaller but still nicely sized. If you have a small appetite, go with a bowl that costs less (I assume that the more expensive it is, the bigger the bowl).
Levain Bakery – They have the best cookies here, hands down – they’re nice, gooey and big. I could eat like 10 of these if I could. Also highly recommend going here.
Let’s Meat – It’s an AYCE Korean barbeque place in Koreatown. Bigger than I expected, and they cook the meat for you! Going lunchtime during Monday through Friday is significantly cheaper.
Starbucks Reserve Roastery – The Roastery is very similar to the one in Seattle. You have your experience bar, area of the store that sells bakery-like items, and the general coffee. I would just go for the ambiance – a cup of hot chocolate costs $6!
Joe’s Pizza – The slices of pizza here are HUGE and it’s only $4.75! Quite the steal. They have interesting toppings and a seat is hard to find. Also, it’s cash only!
Other places - honorable mention
If you find yourself having a LOT of time (like ~1 month), I would consider going to these spots as well! I found these places when I was in NYC working remotely.
Places to See:
Pelham Bay Park – Really nice and peaceful! It's great to to immerse yourself in nature and get away from the city.
Roosevelt Island – Great place to just walk around and get views of Queens and Manhattan (somewhat). I would recommend walking from one end to the other!
Little Island – Somewhat of a cool spot to just chill, but you'll most likely need a reservation to get in.
The Whitney – Definitely go on Friday nights since then it's "pay what you want". Loved the artwork here and would recommend!
Staten Island Ferry – This is the better way to see the Statue of Liberty, hands down.
Governors Island – This was a great half-day trip from Manhattan. I would recommend bringing a bike to fully explore the island!
Prospect Park – So much to see here and it's nice to just walk around. I recommend stopping by at the dog beach!
Fort Greene Park – A great place to take a stroll but could be a little hilly.
Places to Eat:
FIELDTRIP Harlem – Very reasonably priced rice bowls and tasty too.
TacoVision – They have an amazing bottomless tacos and drinks deal where the tacos are amazing! I would come again for sure.
Bibble & Sip – They have the cutest pastries - when I got mine I almost couldn't eat it. But I'm glad I did since it was so good!
Los Tacos No. 1 – An NYC classic: you have to get the tacos and the quesadillas together for the ultimate experience.
Itaewon Gastropub – Tucked away in a super lowkey spot up a flight of stairs. They have amazing Korean fried chicken!
Joe's Pizza – Another NYC classic: you get huge slices for pretty cheap!
Noodle Village – Great food at solid prices. Definitely try the noodles!
Dominique Ansel Bakery – They get kind of busy in the mornings. Best item here is their cronut!
Golden Unicorn – The dim sum here is on point but there will be a lot of people waiting. Get there early if you can!
Queens Night Market – There's a wide variety of vendors but make sure you bring cash (since not all take card)!
New World Mall – Go down the escalator and eat at their food court which is AMAZING. Most of the menus are completely in Cantonese or Mandarin, but pointing at what you want works just as well.
Boran – Fantastic Thai food!
5ive Spice Tacos & Banh Mi – There's a few places around the city, but it's super good! Make sure you bring cash.
Fulton King Hot Dog – This is a great place to get just a cheap hot dog. Cash only.
Bagelsmith – Great bagels but you may wait a while!
Qahwah House – Super lowkey place - I would recommend trying the sabaya! So good.