Whether you refer to it as The City That Never Sleeps, The Big Apple, Empire City or another famous name, there’s no question that New York City has something for every kind of traveler. This destination easily has more restaurants, galleries, rooftop bars, museums and culture all in once condensed place than most destinations around the globe. This is especially true now that the surrounding boroughs seem to be in the spotlight as often as Manhattan! So let’s all take a deep breath and accept the reality that one simply cannot see and do it all in one (perhaps even several) visit(s). <sigh>
If that was a hard pill to swallow, rest assured: no matter what you choose to fill your itinerary with in New York, chances are it will be a great trip. I recently partnered with Expedia.ca to create my own itinerary and put together a “Weekend in New York” recommendation list. As I was planning, I made a conscious effort to strategically do as much as I could in our four short days. And again, while I knew I couldn't cover everything there is to do in this city, I aimed to sample a little taste of the things I love the most: global influence, epicurean highlights, culture, unique experiences and embracing the local, iconic landmarks.
But before I jump to those recommendations, here are a few things you should know first about visiting NYC:
Downtown is Quite Literally, Downtown:
Often while visiting a city, we refer to downtown as a commercial center where all the action is. In New York, however, it means in a southern direction (as opposed to uptown in the north or midtown in-between the two.) This is important to note while following directions (especially on the Subway, while most trains are marked “uptown” or “downtown.”
Given the condensed nature of New York, it’s an extremely walkable city. With that said, the plethora of pedestrians means it’s imperative to make an effort to have some decent sidewalk etiquette. Always aim to keep to the right. Don’t be a sudden stopper (you wouldn’t put your car in park suddenly on the interstate without pulling over first, would you?) If you’re with friends, don’t take up the entire sidewalk (no more than two people next to each other at a time is a safe rule of thumb). Simply put: make an effort to be mindful that while you may be enjoying a holiday away, there are loads of New Yorkers trying to get on with their daily life in an orchestrated manner (ideally, without dodging tourists who are being inconsiderate or oblivious).
Subway, Yellow Cabs + Ubers:
While walking will take you far (we averaged 11 miles a day!) to see all that you should, you’ll inevitably need to give your legs a break to get around. NYC has tons of transportation options... so how do you choose? I always recommend the Citymapper app, which shows you all options to get from point A to B (then you can decide if you’re more concerned with time, convenience or money). Chances are, you’ll be taking the Subway, an Uber or a Yellow Cab. The Subway is fairly easy to navigate (although I personally found it to be a bit more confusing than metro systems in cities like London, Chicago or Paris— I think because the lines are simply a letter or number which is less memorable to me than a word/name). It’s only $2.75 per ride and to avoid buying a ticket every time, I’d suggest putting $10 or $20 on a card at a time if you plan on riding multiple times throughout your stay. Should you ever call an Uber or other ride share, always be sure you’re requesting the correct pick up location (and that you get in the right car— check the license plates!) And if you decide to go for a ride in a famous yellow cab, look for ones that have the numbers on their roof illuminated (if they’re turned off, someone is in it). Oh! And be conscious not to upstream someone while hailing your own (essentially, this is “cutting" or standing a bit farther in front of someone who was already trying to hail a cab.)
Right, I think that covers enough of the basics, so let’s dive into some of the details from our itinerary.
WHERE WE STAYED:
As I previously mentioned, Manhattan is no longer the favorite child of the NYC boroughs the way it once was. While I’ve still only been to New York 4 times now, 3 out of those 4 trips, I’ve stayed in Williamsburg- an easy train stop or two away from the Lower East Side. When I first visited, this trendy Brooklyn neighborhood seemed to be predominately occupied by hipsters with man-buns and artisanal food shops peppered amongst gritty bodegas. As any gentrification process seems to play out, today this area is home to world-class restaurants, swanky hotels and even a Whole Foods. While it’s not exactly a “hidden” gem anymore, this borough is brimming with fantastic food, drink, shopping and culture— all with an extra bit of breathing room you don’t quite get in Manhattan.
I’ve stayed with friends every time I’ve visited, however there are plenty of Airbnb options to choose from. And if you fancy a proper hotel? The Wythe is a 117 year old factory building turned boutique hotel and offers panoramic views of the city. Regardless of where you choose to rest your head, I love the convenience of Williamsburg to both Manhattan, as well as neighboring areas of Brooklyn.
WHERE WE ATE:
We squeezed a lot of great food into a few short days. Here are some of those highlights:
While asking some friends who are NYC locals what their favorite rooftop bar was, I kept hearing “Mr. Purple.” Located on the 15th floor of Hotel Indigo LES, this hotspot " captures the vibrant and artistic spirit of the Lower East Side.” With incredible views of both the Empire State Building and One World Trade, this is exactly where you want to be on a beautiful day in the city.
The menu has iconic culinary staples and features locally sourced ingredients (we loved their burrata, tuna tartar and salt & pepper fries). To drink, they offer an extensive list of beer, wine and both classic and specialty cocktails (I recommend their signature “Mr. Purple” with Casamigos respasado tequila, cranberry liqueur, allspice dram, apple and lemon).
I’m always looking for globally-inspired cuisine, so when a reader recommended Claudette: a Provençal eatery in the heart of Greenwich Village, I was sold immediately. Claudette offers Mediterranean-accented French dishes that are inspired by the cooking and teachings of the Chef’s Tunisian grandmother. The space is bright, airy, inviting and is the quintessential environment you’d envision sipping rosé for an afternoon lunch with girlfriends. We shared the lamb hefty with za’atar yogurt, and the chicken & kohlrabi salad with mint, chili, scallion and a walnut-truffle emulsion.
To further my quest for global cuisine, I opted for dinner at Aldea: a Portuguese eatery emphasizing Iberian Coast flavors in a chic space in the Flatiron District (and newly boasting a Michelin star). Chef George Mendes made us feel right at home sitting at the chef’s table, which is the bar nestled against the kitchen where you can watch all the magic happen. We sampled a variety of items off the dinner menu to enjoy tasting highlights like the Bacalhau À Brás (farm egg and salt cod custard with crispy potato and black olive) and the Morel Mushrooms. My favorite main was the Arroz de Pato with duck confit, chouriço, orange and duck cracklins. Yet my favorite part of the meal was when Chef Mendes wowed us with his decadent Pasteis de Nata: a traditional Portuguese egg custard tart that was just as good as the ones I had in Lisbon (possibly even better). Every wine pairing was spot on and they did a beautiful job of bringing Portuguese culture to life in the heart of New York City.
Located on the street level of Viceroy Central Park, Kingside offers a swanky diner vibe with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and hand-crafted cocktails. We came here for brunch one afternoon and ate like absolute Queens! Start with a small plate like the cauliflower croquettes or an NY classic: smoked salmon & a bagel. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, you can’t miss their bubble waffles with caramelized bananas, vanilla gelato, walnuts and butterscotch. Craving something a bit more savory? The lobster scramble and avocado toast are both incredible. But my favorite item on the menu? Oddly enough, the kale salad (it comes with brussels sprouts, pistachio and pear— but the ingredient that really stood out was the fresh mint. It was one of the best things I ate all weekend! This was the perfect spot to pop in for brunch before we went around the corner to Central Park to walk it all off.
Tao venues are typically known for their nightclubs, yet VANDAL is broadening that stereotype a bit with their art-filled space on the Bowery in the Lower East Side. Exploding with pop art, murals and interesting creations at every turn, there is no lack of excitement for your eyes (or your tastebuds) at this spot. We loved coming for brunch and sampling a variety of their globally-inspired menu items (my favorites were the chilaquiles and the vegan donuts). They also offer a range of fresh pressed juices if you’re feeling healthy (but don’t worry, you have the option to add the Ketel One Botanical vodka of your choice).
It would be a sin to go to New York without having pizza, but I wanted to find a spot that puts a fresh spin on the city staple. Enter The Woodstock: a low-key yet vibrant 1960s-inspired cocktail and pizza bar in the Meatpacking District. Art lovers will swoon over the original Salvador Dali paintings adorning the restaurant’s walls and adding a bit of surrealism to their trendy buzzing space. There aren’t enough adequate words in the English-language to properly pay homage to the Gloria pizza (a Primo Tartufo with mozzarella, smoked scamorza, wild mushrooms, rosemary, pine nuts and porcini truffle crema). But while the 60s decor, Dali paintings and mouth-watering pizzas are all incredible, possibly the most memorable aspect of this hotspot is the cocktail menu. Each concoction is served in a unique glass, ranging from your standard Collins or High Ball, all the way to a lightbulb (which the “Light My Fire” is served in). And while one may think the luxe art collection would skyrocket food/drink prices, however all premium cocktails are merely $10 and pizzas are $15 (which is practically robbery for NYC prices).
“Remind me how much of a vegetarian you are these days?” my cousin texted me as we were trying to decide where to meet for dinner my final evening in the city. I’m thankful my answer was 0% so I could experience Traif: a Williamsburg restaurant flaunting all things unkosher. Traif celebrates pork, shellfish and globally-inspired food (my favorites were the strawberry-cinnamon glazed Berkshire baby back ribs and the seared foie gras). While the neighborhood’s nearby community of Hasidic Jews likely won’t be flocking to Traif anytime soon, meanwhile, the orthodox are busy ordering another "Rude Little Pig”: a signature cocktail with lapsing-infused tequila, orange liqueur, pomegranate and, of course, a bacon rim.
WHERE WE DRANK:
Stomach too full for a meal, but looking for a spot to grab a drink? Here are some of my favorite watering-holes where we gave our legs a break from walking.
This was hands down one of my favorite places we found in New York. Located in the basement of the Roxy Hotel, The Django is a cavelike, Paris-inspired jazz venue and cocktail bar. We walked in last minute, but I would recommend calling in advance if you go on a Saturday night to reserve a table (it was jam-packed, but still so fun!) With big-band jazz music filling the room and people of all ages and background swing dancing with no regard for what time it was, it felt like we transformed back in time (or perhaps were on set for the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris.”) Whatever you do, give this place a spot on your itinerary - you won’t regret it.
This award winning coastal Italian restaurant is located directly under the High Line, yet it boasts vibrant blue and orange umbrellas that leave you feeling like you’re in Positano. Pop in for an Aperol spritz on the patio after you finish strolling the High Line.
On a sunny Saturday in the summer, be sure to arrive to The Standard right at 4pm to beat the lines and grab a spot at Le Bain. This rooftop bar boasts incredible views of the Hudson and Manhattan skyline and offers an energetic atmosphere, complete with delicious cocktails.
Pop into their lower-Manhattan location a sunny Friday afternoon in the summer and you’re sure to rub elbows with Financial District employees who are loosening their ties for the weekend. P.J. Clarke’s has been serving up frosty drinks (their frosé is truly special) since 1884 and you can’t beat the buzzing energy and waterfront views this place has to offer (a perfect place to grab a drink before the Willy Wall).
This Williamsburg Peruvian eatery offers a stunning atmosphere, but more importantly, delicious pisco sours (a traditional cocktail of Peruvian origin). I came here after dinner at Traif to meet friends and in addition to our cocktails, we tried one of the most memorable desserts I’ve had in a long time: Palo Santo flavored ice cream.
WHAT WE DID:
I couldn’t believe how many locals I spoke with who had never visited the Willy Wall (or more formally known as “The Honorable William Wall”). It was easily one of the coolest things we did in the city! Whether you fancy watching a sailing regatta or simply taking in gorgeous views of NYC on a nice day, this floating clubhouse/bar in the Hudson belonging to Manhattan Yacht Club is somewhere you absolutely shouldn’t miss. Tickets should be reserved in advance and includes a free one-way transfer on the Liberty Landing ferry from the World Financial Center Ferry Terminal to the Warren Street Pier where you meet the Admiral’s Launch water taxi.
An iconic photo spot just around the corner from the Brooklyn Bridge. Be sure to go for coffee + almond croissant at Almondine while you’re over there!
After snapping photos at DUMBO and grabbing your coffee at Almondine Bakery, it’s time to stroll across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge! You always want to walk from the Brooklyn side to the Manhattan side for the best views of the city, and if you prefer to avoid crowds I definitely recommend going early (we arrived at 9am and it still was pretty full).
THE HIGH LINE
Formerly an above-ground railroad, the High Line is a ~1.5 mile elevate park that runs along the west side of Manhattan. Starting a few blocks from Penn Station and running down to Meatpacking, this is the perfect spot to stroll when the weather is nice (it reminds me a lot of London’s Southbank with all of the street vendors, places to sit and various view points).
An obvious “must” while visiting New York. We didn’t have much time to spend here on this particular trip, but some of my favorite highlights over the years include the pond, Gapstow Bridge (with the Plaza Hotel and skyline as a backdrop), The Lake Strawberry Fields and Sheep Meadow.
With today’s plethora of tourists, this likely won’t be a spot you want to stay long. Even still, I liked starting an (early) morning here to sneak a peek of the TODAY show cast (we heard Shawn Mendez performing “In My Blood” from a distance while we were shooting some photos in the area!) and strolling along some of the famous sights like Radio City Music Hall. Get in, see what you came to see, and then move on.
TOP OF THE ROCK
It’s been said that this is the best spot for views of the city and I can’t really disagree now that I’ve been (although be warned, it gets crowded). It opens at 8am and tickets should be purchased in advance to avoid a long line. I recommend going bright and early to avoid peak tourist times so you can enjoy the views with limited crowds.
While this building is certainly an iconic NYC landmark you shouldn’t miss, the area in general has plenty to offer. Go for an afternoon pick-me-up with a cappuccino at Eataly or some matcha at Cha-Cha-Matcha before strolling through Madison Square Park or doing some shopping.
There’s a lot more I could say about our time in New York (and about other things I’ve done during other visits!) Since I can’t expand upon everything, here are a few more favorites worth mentioning:
MUSEUMS + MONUMENTS
I’m always looking for great recommendations to try for the next time I visit, so if you have a spot I can’t miss tell me in the comments below!
Thank you to Expedia.ca for partnering on this trip and post and to Mr. Purple, Kingside, Aldea, Woodstock and Vandal for accommodating us. All opinions are my own.
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