Many people often reach out asking for recommendations when traveling to New York City. I love being a tour guide and sharing some of my favorite places with everyone, therefore, I've decided to create this one of a kind Guide to NYC filled with all of my personal favorites for all of you who wish to be a VAGA or VAGO (lol) and take on the city like a true New Yorker! I've been here for 3 years and have lived in Brooklyn, worked, attended school and now living in Manhattan so I think I've gained enough credibility and am somewhat allowed to call myself a New Yorker, right? I'll try to keep it concise and to the point! Feel free to reach out if you still find yourself having any questions!
Safe travels!! xo
HOTELS & LOCATION
I cannot vouch for many hotels as I've hardly ever stayed in any because I have my own apartment. But, I can speak on hotels family and friends have stayed in and that I've visited. As far as location, I'd suggest Manhattan. Let me backtrack and provide y'all with a quick geographic lesson. For those of you who may not know, NYC is made up of 5 boroughs.
1. Manhattan: (also known as "The City") being the most popular and what most likely comes to mind when you think of NYC.
2. Brooklyn: which is now becoming super popular (and gentrified), especially Williamsburg... if you're into the Hipster scene, this is your neighborhood! Williamsburg and Bushwick have cool bars and so many restaurants to check out. Bedstuy, home of Notorious BIG. Also check out Brooklyn Bridge Park (one of my faves with some of the most breathtaking views!)
3. Bronx: where the Yankee stadium and Bronx Zoo is located.
4. Queens: is HUGE, some locations worth checking out are: Jackson Heights, an ethnically diverse community with tons of delicious Indian, South East Asian, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Mexican cuisine. Astoria is a cute neighborhood. Long Island City has some beautiful views of the City skyline! Citi Field home of the NY Mets is also here.
5. Staten Island: I have no idea whats there cause I've never been.... and I can't think of any reason why you should find yourself wanting to visit lol. There is a ferry that takes you there and that's about all I have to contribute about Staten Island. Sorry!
Back to hotels, anything below Central Park or 58th Street is fair game in my opinion (see map image below) Why that particular location? Well, because most likely your hotel will be near a subway station (which is a necessity) and probably near all of the attractions or restaurants you're going to want to visit anyway. I personally love the chaotic lifestyle of NYC so as a tourist I would probably choose to stay somewhere central and in the midst of all the chaos (ex: Midtown) lol. Others would prefer more quiet neighborhoods of NYC (Upper East/West Side, Brooklyn, Queens etc), so, think about what experience you'd want and go from there. Honestly, wherever you stay, whether in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens, you can get to any destination in under 30 minutes, so don't choose to stay in one location simply because it's near one attraction you want to visit.
As far as Air Bnb, my brother and other friends have found the cutest places to stay in Manhattan. Other friends have chosen to stay in Brooklyn; Williamsburg, Bushwick or Downtown Brooklyn area. I'd personally suggest Brooklyn if you're looking for something more affordable, as long as its not too far deep into BK. Again, anything that is near a train is a winning location. Do some research and I'm sure you'll be able to find cute, affordable places in great locations!!
Check out my London Trip + Travel Tips for recommendations on general information for booking airfare, hotels and planning tours and attractions here: https://www.hervagaboundroots.com/single-post/2018/06/18/VAGANDO-POR-EL-MUNDO-London-Travel-Tips
Hyatt Centric Times Square
Night Hotel Times Square
New York Marriott Downtown
Conrad New York
The Avalon Hotel
If you come to New York City and do not use the subway to get around the city, did you even come to NYC? The subway system is a whole 'nother city on its own! Make sure you experience it! I know in Los Angeles using public transportation is not custom and is almost frowned upon but here in NYC, public transportation is THE thing to do. Everyone here rides the subway or buses. Occasionally you'll hail a cab, which can sometimes be somewhat more expensive than ordering an Uber or Lyft.
New York offers MTA Metro Cards: One ride is $3.00 but I suggest if you're visiting for a week or even a few days, buy the Unlimited Week Metro Card which is $32.00. You'll most likely be riding the subway multiple times a day and buying an individual ride would not be the smartest thing to do because you'll end up spending more than $32.00 dollars in just two days.
Download the Google Maps app. I lost count how many times the Iphone Maps app has gotten me lost, but google maps is accurate and great! Type in your destination and it'll literally list the trains you need to take from start to finish, including where you need to get off and/or transfer. It's awesome and user friendly. You can have the worst sense of direction but if you're capable of reading and following directions then you'll master the subway system in no time, I promise.
One of my favorite things about NYC is having the capacity to have ANYTHING you're craving at whatever time of day. The city is literally a melting pot, rich and full in diverse, ethnic and cultural food. From Indian, Greek, and Colombian, to Mexican, Italian, Caribbean food, you can find anything to satisfy those taste buds of yours!
I will say I am a little selective when it comes to food and while I try and step out of my comfort zone most of the time I always stick to my favs. I'll try and list a variety of foods inclusive of my faves and also just popular places in NYC. I won't go through each of them in detail, but just know if they're on the list- they are worth checking out! Bon appetite!!!
(Side note: download the Yelp app. I usually use the app to find highly rated/ popular restaurants near me when I am trying to find something new to eat! Also, the pictures are always worth looking at lol)
Grimaldis (Brooklyn under the BK Bridge)
Ruby rosa (Manhattan)
Roberta's (Brooklyn) order the Bee Sting
Di Fara Pizza (Brooklyn)
Sorbillo Pizza (Manhattan)
Julianna's (Brooklyn, she is Grimaldi's owner's sister, so essentially youre having the same pizza lol)
Prince Street Pizza (Manhattan)
Joe's Pizza (Manhattan)
Paulie Gee's (Brooklyn)
Malatesta Trattoria (Spinach Gnocchi)
San Marzano Pasta Fresca (bomb freshly made pasta)
Lillia (Pasta in Williamsburg)
Patrizias of Williamsburg
Tacos #1 (Chelsea Market and also the BEST tacos I've ever had!!)
Mariscos (Chelsea Market)
La Esquina (tacos)
Taquerias in East Harlem
Breakfast & Brunch:
Order a "bacon, egg & cheese on a roll" at a bodega or local breakfast spot
PMF Pardon My French
Gordos Cantina (Mexican, Long Island City)
Jack's Wife Freda
Ravagh Persian Grill (Best chicken Shish Kebob)
Katz Delicatessen (the best pastrami sandwhiches)
Burger and Lobster (delicious Lobster roll)
Original Halal Guys (from the streetcart or check out their restaurant)
Luke's Lobster (lobster roll and Lobster bisque is so good!)
H&H Midtown Bagels East
Bread Brother's Bagel Cafe (Rainbow bagels, also try the Cragel breakfast sandwhich (Croissant & Bagel, bacon , egg and cheese)
Randolph Beer (brunch in Brooklyn)
La Havana (Cuban food, Ropa Vieja, Empanadas, Mojito)
Malecon (Dominican food in Washington Heights)
Smorgasburg (food fair in Brooklyn)
Ippudo Westside (pork buns & Ramen)
Beecher's Handmade Cheese
Ichiran Midtown (Ramen)
Amy Ryth's (soul food in Harlem)
Red Rooster (Harlem)
Momofuku Ssam Bar
Cafe Cortadito (bomb Cuban food in like LES: lower east side)
Cachapas y Mas (Washington Heights)
Peter Lugers Steakhouse (juicy aged beef)
Philippe (high end Chinese food and also Cardi B's favorite restaurant)
The Beatrice Inn
Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse
Beauty & Essex
Emack & Bolio's
Laduree (Famous French Macaroons on Madison Ave)
Dough (cookie dough ice cream)
Bars & Clubs:
Bar 65 at Top of The Rock (beautiful views and need to book reservations online)
The Brooklyn Barge (literally on a barge, spectacular views)
The Garret (East or West)
Pod 39 Hotel
La Marina (Washington Heights)
Mamajuana Cafe (Washington Heights)
230 Rooftop Bar (they have Red robes to wear during fall/winter)
Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge
The Press Lounge
Iguanas (Latin Music)
Los Feliz (in LES, Lower East Side)
Mr. Purple (LES)
Hotel Chantelle (LES)
Northern Territory (Brooklyn)
ATTRACTIONS AND THINGS TO DO
There is so much to see and do in NYC.
When friends and family visit I often have them make a list of the top 10 things they want to do or see so we are able to schedule an itinerary. I suggest you do the same to maximize your time here. Many attractions and sites are free.99 if you do your research (download or google Eventbrite to see what events are happening in NYC during your stay. They always have cool activities or parties you can RSVP to).
Other more popular location do cost money therefore I always recommend family and friends to purchase a "City Pass". The pass costs $126.00 but its worth every penny because it includes ticket admission to 6 different attractions (3 preset tickets and 3 option tickets, see list below). If you do the math this booklet saves you money and time, as tickets are more expensive when purchased separately and able to skip long lines to purchase tickets at each attraction.
Note: They also have a more affordable version for $82.00 and includes admission to 3 attractions rather than 6. The booklet includes the following locations (the ones in bold are my personal faves):
-Empire State Building ( single ticket costs $37.00)
-American Museum of Natural History
-The Metropolitan Museum of Art
-Top of the Rock Observation Deck (must do, ticket costs $40.00) OR Guggenheim Museum
-Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island (25.00) OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
-9/11 Memorial & Museum (ticket costs $24.00) OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Click here to buy: https://www.citypass.com/new-york-comparison
Seeing a show on Broadway while in NYC is a must!!!!
Download "TKTS" and "Today Tix" app on your phone for deals up to a month in advance, also check out the TKTS booth
underneath the Red stairs in the middle of Times Square (starting at 2:00pm) to get discounted tickets for that day's evening shows! I've seen a few, some that I loved and others that put me right to sleep lol. Browse through the shows and choose one that is popular or that you've always wanted to see!
The Lion King: MY FAVORITE
Jersey Boys: So good!
Wicked: Was cool
Chicago: A staple in broadway but very long lol
A Bronx Tale & Aladdin: want to see, invite me
Cats: cute for kids
The Book Of Mormon
Come From Away
Dear Evan Hansen
St. Patrick's Cathedral (this and the next 3 locations listed are all in the same vicinity)
Its absolutely beautiful! It's right on 5th Avenue and while there is so much going on outside the minute you walk into the cathedral you are met with this instant wave of serenity. It is GRAND. I have visited a few Cathedrals and honestly this is still one of my favorites. Its open to the public daily and on Sunday they hold mass. When you visit take some spare dollars and light a candle in honor of yourself or your family.
Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall is an iconic entertainment venue so visit their website and check out who will be in town performing while you're here! This place also hold a special place in my heart as this is where NYU Silver School of Social Work held our 2017 commencement ceremony. Memories to last a lifetime!
During the holidays this is one of my favorite places. Here is where they have the famous "Lighting of the Tree", the HUGE christmas tree and performance they have every year in December. The tree sits at the foot of Rockefeller Center. Here they also have a huge skating ring, however, unlike Bryant park where there is no fee to skate, here there definitely is $$$.
Stroll down the iconic 5th Avenue and do some light shopping at all the high end stores that line 5th Avenue.
9/11 Memorial AND Museum
(Ticket is included in City Pass)
The memorial water fountains are breathtaking. They are extraordinary. All along the edge of the water fountains are the names of the individuals who passed away on 9/11. Random Act of kindness: Take a flower and place it on the name of someone you choose to honor. <3
Both the memorial and Museum are so beautiful and honor all those lives lost in a beautifully and carefully designed manner. It is absolutely a place you NEED to visit... to pay respects but also to learn more about the events of that day. I promise you wont regret it. You will at least spend 2 hours here, so make sure you don't come when on a tight schedule.
Top of the Rock
(*Ticket is included in City Pass)
Between the view at the top of Empire State Building or Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, I personally prefer Top of the Rock. Why? Well for starters, Empire State Building is so popular and is always packed with tourists. AND the view is obstructed by a huge gates surrounding the viewing platform. Boo.
In contrast, Top of the Rock has spectacular views all around, with huge glass walls NOT obstructing your view of the city AND most importantly you're able to get a perfect view of the most iconic skyscraper: the Empire State Building. What I usually suggest is visiting the Empire State building during the day and then heading to Top of the Rock by night.
Also make a reservation to have a drink at Bar 65 (one drink per person minimum) or dinner at the Rainbow Room ($60.00 dollar minimum per person)
Empire State Building
(*Ticket is included in City Pass)
The entire experience from the minute you walk into the building is awesome. The building has an old retro Great Gatsby feel to it. The line usually goes by fast and the elevator up to the 86th floor is scary but cool, your ears will pop! I have visited the observation deck both during day and night and have found that the view is 100x better during the day. I promise.
If you ask native New Yorkers what they think about Times Square they'll most likely scoff and say something along the lines of this, "I avoid that place at all costs. Too many tourists". And you know what, they are right about one thing: there are TOO many tourist but also, this place is so f**** bad ass lol. During the day is not as incredible at night. So I suggest to visit at night when all of the screens illuminate the night for blocks on end. Try and spot the ball that drops every New Year's eve!!
Washington Square Park and NYU
One of my most favorite sites in the entire city. Any and everyone who visits me gets a tour of Washington Square Park and NYU lol. The park is so special. It welcomed me with open arms and provided refugee for me in between classes or whenever I was feeling overwhelmed with school. I remember on my first day of graduate school, I had no friends, didn’t know the city well and I had two hours to kill in between classes. There is when I discovered all the beauty the Park had to offer. I remember seeing so many people happy, eating, playing music, performing, tanning, napping, laughing, I felt at home. I ate lunch and laid down my jacket and took a nap... the rest is history.
If you come during the Summer, the water fountain is on and some people even bathe in the water lol! If you come in fall/winter, the fountain will be off and you can sit inside the fountain and often people are performing inside, its pretty cool! I love to sit on the water fountain and people watch. Buy a treat and hang out, I promise it's worth it. Also, this park is the unofficial park of NYU, as it's right in the center of the campus of the university. NYU is an urban campus and what I love most about it is that it's placed right in the middle of the city. Old apartment buildings have been renovated into classrooms and sometimes even sit right above or next to random stores and restaurants. You will know what buildings are NYU affiliated as they are always designated with Violet flags in the front of building.
Herald Square on 34th Street
Herald Square is a basically like a huge outdoor shopping mall with almost every store you can think off within one or two blocks. And just off 34th street is an an actual indoor mall; Manhattan Mall. Macy's Herald Square is the flagship store of the department store chain and one of the largest department stores in the world. I kid you not, it is a zoo in there lol. Especially during holidays because of its infamous and uber expensive window displays! It's worth visiting tho, they go all out with decorations during holidays. Also, they still have an operating old wooden escalator which is fascinating to me lol.
Also, 34th St Herald Square is a huge subway hub, many trains stop there. Its a busy station and there is always someone performing inside the station. Head down there to see some of the talent. It's worth it!
Statue of Liberty
(*Ticket is included in City Pass)
The entire experience is pretty cool. You take a ferry out to the island where the Statue of Liberty is. I'm going to be honest, I was a little disappointed when I first visited because it was a lot smaller than I had anticipated. lol. But its worth the visit and also get off at Ellis Island, of of the busiest immigrant inspection stations in the late 1800's / early 1900', and learn all about the fascinating stories of immigrants whom entered USA via Ellis Island.
Roosevelt Island Views, Tramway and Ferry
So I have lived on the island now for a little over a year and I love it! It has some really awesome views of the city skyline. If you have time to check it out, take the "F uptown" and get off on "Roosevelt Island". Then hop on the tramway back to Manhattan!!! The tram (and the island) is a hidden gem, as not many New Yorkers know about it or have ever even visited! The tram experience is awesome and you get some bad ass views, but I will warn you that it's somewhat scary, so if you're afraid of heights and or roller coasters this might not be the thing for you lol.
If heights are not your thing, perhaps a ferry ride back to the city is more your style. YUP! You read that right, there is a also a ferry you can take to and from the island and like I said before, not many people know about it! The ferry service only opened abut a year ago. It costs $3.00 and you can take it to either Long Island City, 34th Street (midtown) or Financial District. You get these kinda views from the ferry. I know. Incredible!
The park is huge!!! Exactly 60+ blocks to be exact lol (From 59th Street to 110 street). Don't expect to explore the entire park. I've listed some of the more notable things to do:
- Strawberry Fields for the John Lennon & Beatles fan in you!
- Rent a boat at the boat house
- Visit Zoo
- Have a picnic
- Bethesda Fountain
- Ice Skate (during fall/Winter)
- Ride the carnival rides (during Summer)
- Eat at the different restaurants
New York Public Library
This library is just as grand on the inside as it is on the outside! Check out the exhibitions they usually have inside, but definitely visit NY's Public Library historic Rose Main Reading Room. It recently reopened after being closed for more than two years for important repairs and restoration. I promise it's jaw droopingly gorgeous.
This park is so awsome because it's right behind New York Public Library and surrounded by nothing but huge skyscrapers. There is usually some kind of event happening at this park; Free yoga classes, movie night, pop-up shops etc. During the Winter, they have a huge ice skating ring (no fee to skate only pay for skate rental) and so many cute holiday shops around, as well as a big Christmas Tree.
Grand Central Station
Definitely a place to visit. It's absolutely beautiful. Sometimes I dream of shutting down Grand Central Station or NY Public Library and having my wedding reception there lol.
Charging Bull and Fearless Girl in Financial District
(short walk away from Statue of Liberty ferry or 911 Museum)
Spend the day walking down Dyckman St and eat some bomb Dominican food or check out Cachapas Y Mas for classic Venezuelan grub. Also, party at La Marina!! or the infamous Mamajuana Cafe!
Try catching a show at the infamous Apollo Theater where renowned performers like: Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Michael Jackson, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Elton John started their career or performed at. While in Harlem, look up some delicious food!!
A two mile elevated park built on an old train rail track
The Met (Metropoloitan Museum of Art)
To see Madonna and Child by Duccio, paintings by Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and more!!
The MOMA (Museum of Modern Art)
To see The Starry Night painting by Vincent van Gogh, paitings by Pablo Picasso and more!
Museum Natural History
I am not huge fan of animals but this museum was pretty cool. I've visited when I first came to NYC back in 2012 and haven't been since so I'm not sure what exhibitions there have currently.
Yelp some delicious Italian restaurants, eat a cannoli and some gelato!
If you wanna go souvenir shopping this is the spot. Head down to Canal St. in Chinatown and you'll find any and everything you're looking for at a more reasonable and affordable price than say, the souvenir shop on Times Square. Also eat some dim sum!
Fun fact: its called SOHO because its south of Houston St (pronounced How-ston). Walk around, go shopping, eat some delicious cheesecake from Eileen's Cheesecake shop.
Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge Park
I love, love, LOVE Brooklyn Bridge! Walking across the bridge is a such a treat. You get some beautiful views of the city skyline, not to mention, the bridge itself is astonishing. If you ask me, I would suggest walking the bridge from Manhattan and into Brooklyn. Once on the Brooklyn side, head over to the best pizza in the world: Grimaldi's for lunch or dinner,
then head down by the water for some amazing views. Also visit Brooklyn Bridge Park, there they have a carousel and again, you get a perfect view of the city. Either day or night, walking the Brooklyn Bridge and vising the park is sure to make you want to move to NYC in a heartbeat.
New York Transit Museum
I love this museum, I visited when my best friend came and it was a really cool experience. You learn all about the progression the transit system has made and they have a display of all of the subways carts beginning with the first one used in like early 1900's!!
Downtown Brooklyn is a quaint little neighborhood. Walk around and end up near the Brooklyn Bridge and eat some delicious pizza to end your day!
Williamsburg in Brooklyn
Check out the food and bars listed above, many of them are near or around Williamsburg! Walk down Bedford Ave, it's lined with restaurants, bars, shops etc.
Brooklyn Street Art (Biggie Murals and more)
I sometimes miss living in Bed Stuy (short for Bedford Stuyvesant) Brooklyn, "home of that boy Biggie", it was full of culture and I LOVED seeing all of the different colored brownstones on my walks to run errands in the neighborhood. Brooklyn is full of street art so go out and explore!!! One Notorious BIG (Che Guevara inspired) mural I'd always see
when going to Target is located at: Habana To Go, 690 Fulton St, Brooklyn. NY.
Marcy Projects: where Jay Z grew up
Malcom X street: They have a few murals here of him, sorry I dont know the exact location
Old Dirty Bastard Mural: Corner of Putnam and Franklin Avenue
Frida Mural: Off the J,Z or M, Myrtle subway stop
Smorgasburg on Weekends
Food festival near the water. Delicious food and amazing views. Doesn't get any better.
Domino Park in Brooklyn
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Never been, but have heard it's beautiful! The Bronx has one too!
THE BRONX --------------------------------------------------------------------------
I'm a Dodgers fan at heart but also root for the Yankees, especially now that Giancarlo Stanton is playing- he was born and
raised in the 818!!! If you come to NY try and make your way to catch a game at the new Yankee Stadium. The stadium was finished in 2009 and it really is a sight to see. Take the 6 train to The Bronx and check out what the Yankees are all about! P.S. If you're coming from LA, they unfortunately do not sell Micheladas like at Dodger Stadium. I know, it's a shame. :(
I've heard that it's the largest metropolitan zoo in the US and among the largest in the world. Who knew?! Check you out The Bronx!!!!
The place where HIP HOP was born!
"Jamaican-born DJ Clive "Kool Herc" Campbell pioneered the use of DJing percussion "breaks" in hip hop music. Beginning at Herc's home in a high-rise apartment at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue"
Bronx Botanic Garden
Heard it's bigger than the one in Brooklyn!
Hoping this guide is helpful for the inner VAGA in you! I've included the things I am familiar with, love, or have heard are popular, but of course there is still so much more of the city to be explored. I've found that even after living here for 3 years I'm still discovering new places daily. Hoping this guide along with your own research helps you design a perfect personalized guide for you to make your trip truly unforgettable!
If you're ever in town and need a seasoned tour guide hire me! No joke I've done the activities on city pass over 6 times each and can really show you a day in the life of a VAGA lol! Although I've sworn to never do any of those activities again, I'd be glad to accompany you so as long y'all pay me in ticket(s) and/or meals hahah! If not hit me up, I'd love to say hello anyway! Safe travels and hope you fall in love with New York just as much as I have! Bon Voyage, VAGAS (and vagos lol).