A few iconic activities, like going to the Top of the Rock, taking the Staten Island Ferry, walking through Times Square and catching a show on Broadway aren’t on this list. These activities were awesome, but I feel like if you only ticked off the blockbuster sights you’d miss the little things which make New York City so much fun.
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1. See a Yankees Game
I’m not a sports nut, but seeing a baseball game was one of the highlights of my trip. The atmosphere at an American baseball game is next level and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in Australia. We were lucky enough to catch a game between legendary rivals, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Yankee Stadium is in the Bronx, which is an easy (but long-ish) subway ride from Manhattan. A must-do experience in New York City if you’re there during baseball season, especially if you’re not from the US.
2. Window shop at Bergdorf’s and eat at their secret restaurant
For a complete change of pace from a packed sports stadium, fall down the rabbit hole in Bergdorf Goodman.
This luxury department store is the epitome of the Upper East Side. I obviously didn’t make any purchases here, but it was eye opening to wander through a temple to consumerism and opulence of epic proportions. Afterwards, I took a table for one upstairs at the BG Restaurant, on the 7th floor.
The restaurant is little-known among tourists, a fact I heard repeated several times by an Upper East Sider at the table beside mine. Unsurprisingly, the food here isn’t cheap but it won’t break the bank. The view over Central Park is worth the price of lunch, and the eavesdropping value is priceless.
3. Walk the High Line
An instant classic, and for good reason. Walking the High Line is a great way to get a better view over Manhattan neighbourhoods like Chelsea and the Meatpacking District and there are always interesting pop ups and installations dotted along the 2.3km elevated walkway. It’s such an inspiring example of what can happen when historic preservation meets creative urban design.
Plus, it’s just a really nice way to spend time outside among art, nature and architecture in New York City.
One end of the High Line is in Chelsea, and the other end is in the Meatpacking District. Start at the Chelsea entrance, so you can relax with a refreshing drink at Santina, a bar at the other end of the High Line in the Meatpacking District.
4. The Central Park Trifecta
I couldn’t write a list of my favourite experiences in New York City without mentioning Central Park. This world-famous park is enormous, and probably impossible to cover in one trip. There are three things I recommend making time for on your first visit to New York City: hiring a boat, lapping the reservoir and strolling through the mall.
Weather permitting, hire a boat on the Central Park Lake and work up an appetite out on the water. Re-fuel with brunch at the Loeb Boathouse afterwards, overlooking the lake. It’s the perfect place to be on a beautiful day in New York!
One of my favourite parts of the park is the enormous Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. It’s the perfect setting for a scenic run (or leisurely stroll).
On my last day in New York, I made a mad dash for the other end of the park to walk through the famous Central Park Mall – the leafy walkway lined with bench seating, featured in just about every TV show and movie set in New York City. It really was a pinch-me-I’m-in-New-York moment.
5. Take a sunset cruise of the Hudson – for free!
One of my favourite experiences in New York City was technically free. North River Lobster Co is a lobster shack aboard a boat, which docks in Hell’s Kitchen. Every forty minutes or so, it sails up and down the Hudson before returning to the pier. Entry is free, although it would be a little rude not to buy a drink or snack on board. We had a couple of cocktails and a delicious lobster roll, while cruising up the Hudson River. We timed our visit with sunset, which for an extra scenic trip.
6. Hang out in Washington Square Park
I removed “eat your body weight in greasy only-in-the-USA sports bar snacks” from this list so I could include idyllic Washington Square Park. This West Village park has had a long and colourful history as New York City has grown up around it. Today, it buzzes with buskers, families, joggers, tourists and students from NYU just across the street. It’s unmistakably New York, yet I didn’t find a single other place in the city quite like it.
7. Dine at Balthazar, SoHo
My favourite meal in New York City was at Balthazar, Parisian-inspired restaurant that oozes Manhattan charm. Keith McNally’s SoHo restaurant is the perfect place for a romantic dinner and people watching.
8. Slurp oysters at Maison Premiere & East River State Park
Oyster obsessives rejoice: you’ve found your spiritual home in Maison Premiere. This Williamsburg wine & oyster bar has the most mouthwatering oyster menu I’ve ever seen, with varieties from all around the US & Canadian coastline. We ordered a platter lined with oysters, starting with varieties from Maine in the Northeast, working its way down the coast and back up and around towards Vancover in the west. Heaven.
Afterwards, we soaked up the sunshine at the glorious and underrated East River State Park. Even on a weekend on a glorious summer’s day, this sandy waterfront park was nearly empty – unbelievable, considering the 10/10 views of Manhattan’s epic skyline.
9.This Rooftop Bar Crawl in Midtown
I designed a rooftop bar crawl through Midtown, that would get us closer and closer to the Empire State Building with each bar. Each rooftop bar had a beautiful view of the Empire State Building, and we timed it during sunset, so at each bar we were treated with a different perspective of the Empire State Building and Manhattan as the sun went down and the city lit up. We started at the Skyroom, followed by the Skylark and ended at the Top of the Strand.
10. Visit a world-class gallery or museum
Even if you’re not a culture vulture, there is bound to be a museum in New York City that will tickle your fancy. The Frick Collection and the Neue Galerie are small and manageable treasure troves. MoMa, the Guggenheim and The Whitney are unmissable for Modern Art lovers. The Whitney was especially eye-opening for a foreigner like me, because it is full of American art and when I visited, it had a fantastic exhibition celebrating American art through the ages.
The behemoth Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Natural History Museum are classics and you could easily spend the entire day lost inside them. For something different, check out Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, an open air museum on a retired aircraft carrier, docked in Hell’s Kitchen.
Looking for more ideas? Check out my New York City Archives for my full coverage of my favourite city in the world.
Have you done any of these things, or would you like to? What would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments!