I probably don’t need to tell you how much there is to do and to eat in Manhattan. I also probably don’t need to tell you about things like Times Square and Broadway, so I’ll do my best to make this interesting.
Let me just say: there’s a big difference between taking the train into midtown from Long Island to go see Wicked and taking the subway at 9am to get to work. Like, a huge difference.
Considering that I’m a college student and I rarely do anything expensive, this will also serve as a guide for Manhattan on a budget.
Anyway, I know you can find most of this stuff on Trip Advisor, so I’m going to pick out some of the things that less people seem to know about and tell you about my experiences with them. Let me know if I missed anything that you want to know about! Woooooooo
This is still fairly new and somewhat of a work in progress, so it hasn’t hit all the travel sites yet. I’ll try to do it justice here, but it really is something you have to see to understand its beauty. It is a park that sits on what was once an elevated train track. Elevated tracks aren’t really a thing anymore in New York for lots of reasons, the primary being safety. Apparently too many pedestrians were hit by above-ground trains. Impatient New Yorkers, I guess. It’s a lot easier to brake a car than a 1,000 + ton train. Anyway, the High Line is a mile and a half long and it runs down the West side of Manhattan. It both begins and ends in the meat-packing district and Chelsea (you can decide which side is the beginning and which is the end). I recommend starting in Chelsea/Midtown and ending in the meat-packing district if you want to walk the whole thing, because mid-town is probably where you’re going to be doing other things. This guy posted a super helpful guide that I wish I had when I was figuring out how to find the High Line. I hope he doesn’t mind my sharing.
Anyway, it’s a beautiful park and you can still see pieces of the railroad which make for great photo op’s. There are incredible views and gardens and graffiti to see. Yes, graffiti. There are little gift shops (more in this realm in the warmer months, which is when you should do this) and the restaurants in the meat-packing district are crazy good, so I recommend getting some grub on that end of the park (did I just say grub?). You should probably take a cab or subway back to midtown or wherever you’re trying to end up at the end of the day, though.
Also, check the hours before you go. Even though it’s a park, it is privately owned and I guess they want to keep the hooligans out at night or whatever.
This is one of the more tourist-y attractions that I highly recommend. You can read up on it in a million different places but I want to share this with you because you need to understand that it’s more than just a long elevator ride and the top of a building. The view is breath-taking, so don’t think it’s not worth it. However, if you’re only in New York for a week or any short length of time, I don’t recommend doing both Top of The Rock and the top of The Empire State Building. The view is slightly different from both buildings, but the cost to do both may or may not be worth it, depending on your interests.
Now if you’re afraid of heights it might not be the best idea, but you are surrounded by glass walls. Also, there are two different levels to look out from. Both levels are almost the same view. It’s worth it to go to the very top if you’re not scared of heights, but if you are you can still enjoy it from the (slightly) lower level.
You can take a little ferry ride over to Ellis Island and take an audio tour if you’re into the whole history thing, and that’s pretty cool, and if you book it way in advance you can go up to the crown, and I’ve never done that but it seems pretty cool, but the best way to see lady liberty is to sail by her on the Hudson.
Now, this is by no means the easiest way to see it but it is the coolest way. When you’re on liberty island, you’re so close to the statue you can barely see it. It’s when you see it from the Hudson that you really get the full view and you can take in all her glory. I was lucky enough to sail all through the Hudson on a friend’s boat, so if you have a friend with a boat that’s the best way to do it. Otherwise, see if you can rent one for the day. It was easily one for my top 10 experiences list.
Another incredible way of seeing Lady Liberty/Manhattan is by helicopter or plane tour. My dad actually got to do this on his friend’s plane, so again we were a little lucky there, but you can definitely do a helicopter tour yourself and have a similar experience. Nothing beats this view:
Live Tapings of TV Shows – 1iota (Good for LA too)
I’m surprised more people don’t know about this. I almost don’t want to tell you about it, but I’m also living in Nashville now so I don’t use it nearly as much.
Some shows are super easy to get tickets for. It’s quick, free, and painless to sign up for 1iota, and then you just log on and enter to “win” tickets for shows like Fallon, Kelly & Michael, GMA, etc. Some random things will pop up too, like last year I got to see the VH1 “You Oughta Know” show. Artists like Tori Kelly, James Bay, and Hozier were there so that was really cool. Live with Kelly & Michael is easier to get tickets for than you may think. I’ve gone three times (oops).
Since I’ve been working in the entertainment industry, I don’t get starstruck anymore, but I still love going to these things because it’s really cool to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how the shows are run. The live ones are especially cool to see because everyone runs around like chickens with their heads cut off during commercial breaks.
Everyone wants to see Saturday Night Live – that’s the hardest to get tickets for, and you can’t do it through 1iota. You have to email their team before the season starts for a chance, and you don’t even get to pick the show date if you do get tickets. You just have to hope that if you win, you’ll be in town that weekend.
This past year, I went with two friends on the eve of my 20th birthday and we waited on the street outside of 30 rock (49th) from 3am to try to get stand-by tickets. If you choose that route, think the bigger the host/musical guest, the earlier you have to get there. So you’ll wait/sleep/watch a movie (bring your laptop) on the street until 7am when they collect names. They’ll ask you if you want to try for the live taping or the dress rehearsal, which is the same as the live taping except that it’s not broadcasted on TV, and it’s about a half hour-45 minutes longer because nothing has been cut yet. So if you get into that one and you really like a skit, laugh really loud so that they producers will keep it in and then you can watch it again later. Your chances are better for getting into the dress rehearsal than the live show because a) the people in line in front of you probably all tried to get into the live show and b) they probably have less tickets for the live show to start with, because why would you turn down your tickets if you got them?
Anyway, after all that waiting, you can go home and nap for a few hours but then you have to come back AGAIN to maybe POSSIBLY get into the show. It’s crazy. We got super lucky. I’d like to think it was the birthday Gods shining down, because it was right before the release of Mockingjay Part 2 and Elizabeth Banks was the host. Shown below: Vh1 You Oughta Know, The Chew, Colbert, The View – I also saw Kimmel because he does one show in New York each year! Try it out if you’re there in the fall.
If you’re into the live TV thing, you might also consider an NBC tour. It’s really freaking cool. You get to see The Tonight Show studio as well as some of the control rooms. You learn about the history of NBC and the 30 Rock building, and at the end you get to create your own video (at no additional cost) where you and your group pretend to be on a live TV show – complete with a host, guest, band, and control room for those who’d rather be behind the camera.
This is a tough one to stomach. Especially if you’re a northerner/know someone who was involved/are American/are human/have a heart. But I absolutely think it’s something that every American needs to see.
It’s heartbreaking to see young tourists and foreigners snapping pictures of their smiling relatives in front of the two fountains in the ground that sit where the Twin Towers once did. To them, it’s an excursion. To us, it’s a reminder. A beautiful one, and very well done, but still a reminder. I encourage you to take the time to read some of the names written along the fountains. Check out the museum if you wish, but the truly beautiful part is to stand where the towers once were and just think for a few moments. Remember where you were when it happened, remember those who were lost and those who helped or were nearby and survived. Take a walk by the new World Trade Center if you get a chance, too. It’s a beautiful building. It’s hard to miss the freedom tower. It definitely makes a mark on the New York skyline.
Pay As You Wish Museums
Not everyone realizes that you can pay whatever you want for many of the museums in Manhattan. They will list a suggested donation price but will accept pennies if that’s all you have to give. If you hand over a handful of pennies at the MET you might get a look from the staff, but hey that’s your call. My personal favorite is the Museum of Natural History.
I love checking out different stadiums when I visit different cities, and New York has a lot of them. I’m a big Yankees fan, so that’s my favorite. The stadium is in the Bronx, not Manhattan, but it’s easy to get to by subway. Madison Square Garden hosts the Rangers and Knicks, and you can find the Islanders and the Nets in Brooklyn. For football you’ll have to go to Jersey. Even though both the Jets and Giants have been there for years, they are New York teams with New York fans.
The Bronx Zoo is my favorite zoo in New York, but the Central Park Zoo is actually in Manhattan if you want to stay there. It’s great, too, because you can sort of kill two birds with one stone. Although…you probably shouldn’t be killing birds if you’re going to the zoo (bad joke, I’m very sorry). My point is, you’re doing it wrong if you visit Manhattan from a far away land and you don’t walk through Central Park. I’m not saying you have to go through all of it, but seeing as the Central Park Zoo is in it and the best museums line it, it wouldn’t exactly be a challenge to come across it.
I’m going to have the same issue here that I had with “things to do” where there are more than a million things to eat in New York. I’ll just list a few here that I’ve heard people say they didn’t try or didn’t know about before going to New York.
Shake Shack – I would just like to start by sharing this lovely thing that happened recently.
Come for the shakes, stay for the burgers…or something. It’s immensely satisfying greasy but-not-too-greasy fast food, and their shakes come in seasonal flavors. Their salted caramel hot chocolate is my fave in the winter. You’ll never stop craving it after your first bite. You’ve been warned.
Italian – You have endless options so I don’t want to hear that you didn’t find good Italian food in New York. If you’re hanging out in Midtown, please for the love of God don’t eat at Olive Garden. The least you can do is eat at Tony’s or Carmine’s – family style and fabulous. You can’t go wrong with Little Italy as long as you stay on the main strip (not sketch) and don’t make too many weird turns (totes sketch). Same goes for China Town but I would vote for Little Italy over China Town due to the sketch-factor. But that’s just one 5’2 girl’s opinion.
Agave Brunch – This place is a restaurant/tequila bar in Greenwhich Village and their brunch includes bottomless mimosas. ‘Nuff said? I’m pretty sure it was about $30 each for the price fixed option. The food was good, the drinks were great, the company was better, I was slightly hungover by the time we got to School of Rock on Broadway that night, but when you’re a college student at a bottomless drinks brunch you have to get your money’s worth.
Bagels – Literally get one anywhere in NYC and it will be the best bagel you’ve ever had. Try out multitude of cream cheeses.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner – This is the first and potentially only time I’m going to argue against a restaurant, and it’s for your own good. If you have small kids who are really into live performances and broadway and all that jazz, then by all means go. But the food is nothing special and it’s crazy over-priced. If you don’t know what it is, it’s basically a restaurant that serves things like chicken fingers and deli sandwiches for $15 while broadway actors (wannabe stars, understudies, in-between shows, completely failed, etc.) sing and dance broadway hits for you. It’s a great concept, but poorly executed in my opinion. I would love to pay a little bit more and sit in a nice restaurant while really great performers sing on stage instead of on diner tables.