This April before going back (once more) to my beloved California, I decided I needed to finally visit The Big Apple. Although the West Coast has my heart (period), I’m very happy I visited so that I could see with my own eyes why everybody gets so excited about visiting New York City.
For the entire time, I felt like I was surrounded by history. The Five Points, the Twin Towers, John Lennon’s Memorial, the famous pictures of the Empire State Building’s construction workers.. the echo is still there. You can tell it all happened here. It’s still in the air. Everywhere you go in New York, you are breathing history. But not the same type of history you’d experience in a city like Paris or Rome, it’s a different kind. It’s a more recent one. A more dramatic one.
It was way too cold for me, and the whole “ACHIEVE ACHIEVE ACHIEVE” mindset that everyone seems to share is really not my cup of tea. But still, I’m happy I saw NYC with my own eyes and these are the 10 top things that you shouldn’t miss, in my opinion, if you visit :)
1. Take a Guided NYC Tour
No one can explain New York better than a New Yorker. My USA Guided Tours tour guide Tyler was extremely kind, patient, and CLEAR. I got to know the town’s history and cool anecdotes, while our bus driver was riding around Manhattan (and believe me this felt pretty nice since it rained the whole day! We had some walking parts, but I was sooo grateful when we could sit in the warm bus for some time!).
From the Rockefeller Building to Times Square, from the 9/11 Memorial to Wall Street, the tour covered the best points of interest in Manhattan. My favorite part was the boat cruise around the Statue of Liberty. And believe me, I was expecting this at all!
I had a total awe-moment being alone on the boat’s bow while we were sailing back to the city and seeing New York’s skyline in the fog. I mean.. This would have been the view that Titanic’s passengers would have seen if they could actually arrive in the Big Apple. It was the view that so many immigrants saw arriving on their boats, full of hope and dreams. It was a very magical moment for me.
I booked the Discover NY Day Tour, which starts/ends in Times Square.
2. Experience the Best NYC Skyline Views From Brooklyn
I’m sure you all have heard of DUMBO, which truly is the best spot to get amazing views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, as well as incredible views of Manhattan skyline. Unfortunately, it rained the whole week so we didn’t get the best sunset shots, but it was still very fascinating.
3. Get a Ramen in Chinatown
So.. I’ve never been to Asia (I know.. I know.. I’m working on it). So Chinatown was a one-of-a-kind experience for me. Very characteristic.
When in the area, check out the Mahayana Temple Buddhist Association (pictures aren’t allowed, but temple truly is fascinating – and full of oranges, lol) but most of all get some traditional food!
We got ramen, which was actually the cheapest meal we experienced in New York (where everything is crazy expensive).
4. Admire the Views From the Top of the Rock
“The only building not visible from the Empire State Building is, indeed, the Empire State Building”. This was enough information for me when it was time to pick an observation deck. So I didn’t pick the Empire, but the Top of the Rock instead.
Tip: try to book your tickets online, otherwise the ticket lines can get pretty intense. Pick a day with a clear sky and try to get there before sunset to watch all the lights turning on.
5. Visit Flea Market and Vintage Stores in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Williamsburg is one of the most eclectic and artistic neighborhoods of NYC and.. I’M OBSESSED WITH IT. Full of vintage shops (VERY EXPENSIVE vintage shops!), cool restaurants, and PLENTY OF HIPSTERS, Williamsburg is, without doubt, THE must-see.
It took us such a long time to find the right location, but we made it to the famous Brooklyn Flea Market! There was food from all parts of the world. Elisa got a delicious French baguette full of Raclette cheese, but you could find all kinds of strange specialties here.
Address: Smorgasburg – State of New York- East River State Park – 90 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA (Locations are different in winter and summer! Be mindful! We visited in April ON A SATURDAY and it happened to be there)
There are two locations where the amazing Artists & Fleas Market takes place: Williamsburg and Chelsea (see #8). I appreciated The Williamsburg location way more, it was bigger and with more diverse products. The atmosphere was very chill, the place visually stimulating, but be mindful: this is high-end vintage, very well selected and so pretty PRICEY.
6. Take a Stroll in Central Park
It’s classic, and it’s worth it.
Luckily we happened to visit in April so cherry trees were blossoming: everything was just VERY PINK and beautiful. My favorite points of interest were Strawberry Fields (the memorial erected by Yoko Ono after John Lennon got murdered in 1980 across the street, outside the Dakota Building) and the gorgeous Bethesda Terrace.
7. Pay Homage at The 9/11 Memorial
Two huge fountains have been built where the Twin Towers used to stand. The fountain’s water sound completely covers the town’s noises. Written on the fountains’ rims are all the victims’ names. Anytime a victim’s birthday occurs, a fresh white rose is placed upon the victim’s name.
2,997 people died on September 11th, and 411 of them were emergency workers. When I naively asked if the emergency workers rushed there just because they weren’t aware of what was actually was going on, my guide said that she’s spoken with multiple Firefighters of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) and they told her that “when those guys were called, they knew they weren’t coming back”.
8. Grab a Lunch at Chelsea Market
You seriously need to check this place out! Chelsea Market is a potpourri of different cultures, foods, drinks, and much more.
From Mexican food to Indian spices, from French crepes to American donuts, you won’t be able to choose! Lobsters, sushi, cookies, you’ll find anything you could imagine! This place put me in such a good mood :)
While Elisa had a Noodle Soup at VERY FRESH NOODLES, I decided to go with BEYOND SUSHI – THE GREEN ROLL, customized fruit and veggie sushi that looked incredibly fancy. I loved it. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
For more info visit ChelseaMarket.com
9. Explore NYC’s Iconic Neighborhoods
Soho, Noho, Little Italy, East Village, Alphabet City: these little neighborhoods aren’t just great for food and shopping: they will truly inspire you!
10. Get Crazy With Food and Drinks!
If you are in New York, you need to get the world-famous NYC cheesecake. We tried it at Magnolia Bakery and Junior’s – which is said to have the best cheesecake in town (tip: don’t get the plain version! “Upgrade with strawberry and graduate with blueberry” ;)
I also tried Shake Shack for the first time – and even if I didn’t appreciate it like In-N-Out, it’s still a must-try! It felt slightly healthier than the usual fast food.
Also, you are allowed to get crazy trying all sorts of cocktails! I mean.. You are in New York! I enjoyed the 230 Fith Rooftop Bar (sweet potatoes fries were delicious!): they even give you fluffy robes and blankets if you wanna sit outside (it was freezing and I didn’t wanna leave my robe at all!).
If you are in the Wall Street area (and if you don’t mind spending some money), stop by the award-winning Dead Rabbit Pub for drinks and finger food: the atmosphere is quite unique (and dark!), the floor covered with sawdust and the drinks, indeed, very particular.