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Planning a trip to NYC can definitely be overwhelming. There is so much to do and see, that it can be frustrating trying to fit it all into one trip, especially if it’s your first time. I grew up in the suburbs, just 30 minutes outside of New York City, and have now lived here for many years. I think it’s safe to say that I consider myself a local at this point. Keep on reading to discover my local’s guide to NYC! You can mix and match the days below to fit any itinerary, whether you have three days in NYC or seven.
Before you dive in, I want to caveat this post by saying that I’ve put off writing a new yorker city guide for years since there are just SO many things to do in this hectic city, that this kind of itinerary can be different for everyone. Instead, what I’ve put together is a mix of my favorite tourist highlights as well as the cheap hole-in-the-wall restaurants, exactly how I’d like to spend a trip to NYC.
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A Local’s Guide to NYC
A Local’s Guide to NYC: Exploring from Midtown to Uptown
Start your morning at Top of the Rock. It’s admittedly touristy and a bit expensive, but so worth it for the views. I recommend booking your tickets ahead of time and arriving right when it opens to beat the crowds. The Empire State Building is also good alternative, with the newly renovated 102nd floor, but Top of the Rock has slightly better views in my opinion (as you can see the Empire State Building).
Backtrack a bit after your early morning to explore a number of NYC musts: Grand Central, Bryant Park, and the New York Public Library. While it would make sense to stop here before heading a bit north to Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building, it would make the most sense to visit those spots early and then backtrack if you want to avoid the crowds. Otherwise you can start your morning here and make your way Uptown. This is also a good opportunity for a quick stop in Times Square. Most locals avoid Times Square at all costs, unless they are going to a Broadway performance. That being said, it is an iconic New York City spot that wouldn’t miss.
My absolute favorite museum in NYC is the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) so I would definitely stop here next if you’re interested in art. If you’re visiting during winter then it’s a perfect opportunity to warm up a bit inside. Make sure to check out the gift shop as well for some unique souvenirs. Another great option is the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The next stop on your NYC itinerary is Central Park. Central Park is one of my absolute favorites places in NYC. It is truly enjoyable in any season. You could spend all day exploring Central Park, whether you’re basking in the sun or taking in the fall foliage, but here are a few tips:
- Enter at 5th Avenue (just across from The Plaza Hotel) and wander around The Pond and Gapstow Bridge
- From here, make your way North towards Bethesda Fountain and Bow Bridge
- If the weather allows, go for a boat ride at the Loeb Boathouse ($15 cash + $20 cash deposit for 1 hour)
- If you’re planning on laying out or having a picnic, I recommend Sheep’s Meadow
- There aren’t many public bathrooms in Central Park. but if you need to go you’ll one a public restroom right behind Le Pain Quotidian, located by Sheep’s Meadow
Once you’ve had your fill of Central Park, make you way to the Upper West Side for a stroll and a meal. My personal favorites include The Mermaid Inn, Han Dynasty, and the famous Carmine’s Restaurant (if you’re traveling with a group). The Mermaid Inn is great for a drink and a great oyster happy hour. Han Dynasty is a classic Chinese restaurant, great for family style meals. And Carmine’s is a NYC classic, with oversized portions great for any celebrations.
If you’re on a budget that you’ll find a list of the best cheap eats in NYC here.
A Local’s Guide to Brooklyn
No trip to NYC is complete without a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge – but do yourself a favor and do it early! This is one of the best free things to do in New York! The bridge gets extremely busy during the day, both with tourists and New York locals. Arrive shortly after sunrise (or during for great views), and you’ll find a relatively empty bridge. Both of these shots were taken shortly after sunrise. Although the views are slightly better walking towards Manhattan, I recommend starting on the NYC side and making your way across to Brooklyn. You can always turn around for Downtown Manhattan views. For the easiest access take the 4/5/6 subway to Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall station. If you’re starting on the Brooklyn side then take the F to York street station. Make sure to watch out for bikers while on the path!
Once across the bridge you can explore DUMBO, a neighborhood named after its location down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass. Head to Washington and Water St to snap a photo at the famous NYC Instagram spot, before wandering down to the water.
Check out a list of the other best Instagram spots in NYC.
You’ll find some great spots to eat in DUMBO, such as the Time Out Market and Grimaldi’s Pizza. Even if you don’t want to eat there, I recommend heading to the rooftop at the Time Out Market for some excellent views of the bridge (free to access). Another great rooftop is the One Hotel. The drinks are on the pricier end but well worth it for the excellent views!
Once you’ve had your fill of DUMBO, continue walking down the water to experience neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill for some Brooklyn charm. Admire the Brooklyn brownstones and the neighborhood shops on Court and Smith streets. A few highlights in the area include:
- Elsa Cocktail Bar (handcrafted cocktails and excellent wine)
- Lucali Pizza (one of NYC’s best pizza spots – arrive right when it opens to snag a seat)
- Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain (extravagant ice cream sundaes with old time Brooklyn charm)
- Vinny’s of Carroll Gardens (classic, no-frills Italian food)
- Black Mountain Wine House (cozy cabin vibes with an excellent, and affordable, wine selection)
- Swallow Cafe (hot drinks and treats for an afternoon pick me up)
All of the photos in this post were edited using my custom Lightroom travel presets!
Next stop is Brooklyn’s trendiest neighborhood: Williamsburg. Hop on the G train and scoot on over to Williamsburg. There’s plenty to do in Williamsburg, whether you’re checking out the shops, looking for a snack, or grabbing a drink. You can definitely spend an afternoon exploring the trendy coffee shops and boutique stores, but I definitely recommend a night out in Williamburg as well! One item that must be on your Williamsburg itinerary is a slice of pizza from Joe’s Pizza. A true new yorker knows that nothing can complete with a New York slice of pizza. I recommend the Sicilian, or staying traditional with a “plain slice”.
If you’re visiting during the warmer months and happen to be in the area on a Saturday then I recommend checking out Smorgasburg for a fun dining experience. Just make sure that you save room for dessert. From here you can shop for some local goods at Artists & Fleas. If not, no worries! Here is a list of some of my favorite spots in the area:
- Brooklyn Brewery (a taste of a local brewery)
- Cafe Mogador (Moroccan restaurant – perfect for any meal but brunch is a personal fave)
- Radegast Hall & Biergarten (perfect for groups and casual beers)
- Fresh Kills Bar (come for the happy hour cocktails)
- Berry Park (the perfect Williamsburg rooftop bar + restaurant)
Exploring Downtown Manhattan
There is so much to do in downtown Manhattan that it definitely deserves it’s own day on this NYC itinerary.
Start your day of exploring at one NYC’s newer attractions: The Vessel. While same-day tickets are available, I recommend booking them ahead of time online. Once you’ve had your fill of the interactive art exhibit (I still don’t quite get it), make your way to the High Line. The High Line, a park on a raised subway track, is easily one of my favorite things to do in New York in any season, and always the first thing that I recommend to anyone visiting New York.
Make your way down the High Line until you reach Chelsea Market. This is the perfect spot to stop for a snack and shop, with a number of boutique shops and restaurants. Once you’re recharged, head over to the Whitney Museum. This is must for any art lovers. Plus, the roofdeck views of the city and the Hudson River are perfect.
Wander through the trendy Meatpacking District and then continue to Greenwich Village and the West Village — exploring the cute neighborhoods and storefronts. If you don’t have time to add a trip to Williamsburg to your NYC itinerary, then you have a second chance at grabbing a slice of my favorite, Joe’s Pizza, in the West Village.
Be sure to stop by Washington Square Park for a classic NYC experience, before heading downtown a little further to SoHo. SoHo is fun for shopping and small cobblestone streets. For a high-end dining experience in SoHo I recommend a meal at Balthazar. The menu is $$$ but an amazing meal to splurge on.
For those of you who aren’t splurging at Balthazar, finish you day with dinner in Chinatown, the East Village, or the LES – all fun, local areas. For a cheap, delicious meal in Chinatown I recommend the following:
- Nom Wah Tea Parlor (oldest dim sum parlor in NYC – be sure to check out the speakeasy next door as well)
- 88 Lan Zhou Handmade Noodles (no-frills doesn’t even cover it – cheap dumplings and noodles)
- Vanessa’s Dumpling (a great spot for cheap takeout dumplings)
A few of my favorite spots in the East Village/LES include the following:
- Jajaja Mexican (I never knew how good vegan Mexican could be)
- Souvlaki GR (transport yourself to Santorini with this hidden Greek gem)
- Panna ii (where Christmas lights meet chili peppers.. and Indian food)
If you’re sticking around the area to check out some bars, then I recommend the following spots:
- Mr Purple rooftop (LES)
- Lois (East Village)
- Pianos (LES)
- Please Don’t Tell (East Village)
- Ten Degrees (East Village)
A Local’s Guide to NYC: Exploring (Way) Downtown Manhattan
Although most local’s avoid way downtown Manhattan, other than to go to the office, there are some great things to see. Take the subway (or walk) down to Wall St and wander the streets a bit to get a taste of New York’s Financial District (FiDi). Choices for food can be a bit limited in this area, but you can never go wrong with a meal at Westville. Classic dishes at reasonable prices, plus a great happy hour at the Wall St location.
I definitely recommend checking out the One World Trade (Freedom Tower), as well as the 9/11 Memorial and Museum if time permits.
Wander down to Battery Park. Pro tip: from here you can take the Staten Island Ferry for a very cheap way to see the Statue of Liberty up close
A Local’s Guide to Queens
As someone who has lived and worked in the area, it would feel wrong to not include it. While not the most famous parts of a NYC itinerary, you’ll find some hidden gems in both Long Island City and Astoria.
Start the day with brunch or an early lunch at LIC Market – simple, fresh dishes and an excellent natural wine selection. Once you’re full, make your way MoMA PS1 museum.
With so many awesome local breweries, I recommend enjoying a self-guided brewery tour.
- Big aLICe
- Rockaway Brewing
- Fifth Hammer
- LIC Beer Project
- Dutch Kills (for cocktails)
Just North of Long Island City you’ll also find the hidden gem of Astoria. I’m bias because I lived here for two years, but I truly believe it’s one of the best foodie neighborhoods in NYC. Here are a few of my favorite spots:
- Napoli’s (classic, no-frills Italian)
- Taverna Kyclades (family-style Greek)
- Il Bambino (brunch and dinner paninis)
- Chip (NYC’s best cookie shop)
- Sekend Sun (cocktail bars and tasty dishes)
- Marie’s (dive bar with fun outdoor space)
- Astoria Bier and Cheese (perfect for a casual night out)
I hope that you enjoyed my local’s guide to NYC! Have some other favorite tips and spots? Be sure to comment them below!
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