New York City for beginners

I put together this list in 2011 for a group program to New York City. The group size was 600 people and many of them had never been before. I sent this to all attendees to help expose people to some of the classic NYC experiences.

Food

  • Hot Dogs!  The best hot dogs in the world are in New York City.  If you can’t make the trek to Nathan’s on Coney Island, Papaya King and Gray’s Papaya are the next best places to experience the real thing.  Located throughout the city, they serve incredible dogs at incredibly cheap prices.  As long as you don’t mind standing at a counter to eat, it’s the best meal you’ll ever have for under five dollars!  Katz’s Deli also has great dogs.
     
  •  “Comes with a Pickle”.  Carnegie may be the most famous deli in town, but New Yorkers know where to go for the best pastrami sandwich or other deli food: Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side.  It’s a meal you’ll never forget.  Katz’s, whose slogan is still “send a salami to your boy in the army”, is old-fashioned cafeteria style.
     
  • Visit the Dean & Deluca flagship store in SoHo to browse and have a snack. Broadway and Prince Street.  
     
  • Eat pasta at a street-side table in Little Italy.
     
  • Try some egg rolls in Chinatown.
     
  • Other NY Foods.  Food just isn’t the same anywhere else.  As you stroll and shop, keep your eyes open for other classic NY foods: real bagels, pizza by the slice (BIG slices!), knishes (small, savory, flaky pastries filled with any of a dozen different fillers), or the classic NY drink, an egg cream (foamy milk, chocolate and seltzer).  If you can find a place that makes egg creams instead of serving them in bottles, don’t hesitate - just order one!  
     

Shopping:

  • Visit the famous Bloomingdale’s where NY likes to shop (“Bloomie’s” to the locals).  Third Avenue, between 59th and 60th Streets.  
     
  • Lose yourself among the books at the gigantic Strand Bookstore, where there are 16 miles of books.  Broadway & 12th Streets.  
     
  • Chinatown and Little Italy.  Go bargain hunting on Canal Street in Chinatown, where you can get a Japanese fan, Gucci bag and an authentic Rolex watch for less than $50 total.  Start at the corner of Wooster and Canal Street and walk east on Canal.  Turn left on Mulberry Street - it’s only a short walk to Little Italy, a great stop for lunch. 
     
  • Fifth Avenue.  If shopping (or window shopping) is your passion, Fifth Avenue is the place to be.  The most famous brands in the world all have stores here, including Prada, Gucci, Disney and Cartier.  Don’t miss one of the most famous jewelry stores in the world: Tiffany’s, located at 5th Avenue and 75th Street.

 

Exploring:

  • Talk a walk through Times Square and see where the “ball” drops on
    New Year’s Eve.
     
  • Ride the Circle Line’s “Full Island Cruise” (three hours) around Manhattan Island.  $29 pp
     
  • Get up early and walk over to Rockefeller Center (3 blocks away) to be in the crowd at Today Show and wave to your friends back home.
     
  • Visit St. Patrick Cathedral and see the massive bronze doors. Madison Ave between 50th and 51st, one block from the hotel.
     
  • Walk around Ground Zero to see how the rebuilding is progressing.
     
  • Walk along Fifth Avenue next to Central Park near the old Plaza Hotel and look at all of the art for sale.
     
  • Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. 
    Carriages line up in front of the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street near Fifth Avenue.
     
  • Greenwich Village.  Aside from the hundreds of interesting shops, restaurants and occasional street vendors, the Village is one of the best places for people watching in New York.  Either start at Washington Square Park (a great picnic spot) and head west towards Christopher Street and turn right on Bleeker, or, for a shorter walk, start at Seventh Avenue South and Christopher Street, walk west on Christopher, and turn right on Bleeker. 
     
  • Central Park.  Take a carriage ride or just stroll through one of the largest city parks in the world.  It’s located just outside your hotel so there’s no excuse not to! 
     
  • SOHO.  Another fascinating neighborhood, SOHO is filled with galleries, shops and restaurants.  It’s also close enough to other downtown neighborhoods to combine several areas into your own walking tour. Start on West Broadway, between West Houston and Prince Streets.
     
  • Visit a jazz club in the Village for some late night tunes.

 

City Attractions:

  • Ride the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building at night (open until 11:00 PM).  Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th.
     
  • Take an offbeat city tour, like the Seinfeld Tour
     
  • Statue of Liberty.  The ferry is free and provides the best view of the city.   You can’t go up into the statue these days, but you can go inside the base.  Just walking around the outside of the statue is an amazing experience.  Don’t forget your camera!
     
  • Art Museums.  There are scores of art museums in New York, but if you have to choose one, go for one of the best.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a huge, world class institution, with enough art to keep you busy for a week.  Pick one or two genres and take your time.  The Guggenheim is a modern art museum best known for the incredible spiral building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Whatever the exhibition, it’s one of the most amazing buildings you’ll ever walk through.  (Take the elevator to the top and walk down - it’s easier than walking up!)  The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) is one of the greatest modern art museums in the world, and just reopened in it’s new facility.  If you’re interested in something smaller, the Frick Collection, located in the collector’s house, is also a memorable experience. 
     
  • Museum of Natural History.  This is one of the most famous museums in the world.  The dinosaur halls alone are worth the trip, but there are also scores of other exhibits to visit.  You may even recognize some of the areas where scenes from TV shows and movies were filmed.  Attached to the museum is the new Rose Center for Earth and Space, which features the most technologically advanced planetarium show on the planet, narrated by Harrison Ford.  New York Magazine has called it “the world’s largest, most powerful virtual-reality simulator”.  You may want to buy your tickets online in advance to ensure you get the show time you prefer. 
     
  • Yankee Stadium Tour  Classic tour: $14
     
  • Radio City Music Hall Tour One hour tour: $17
     
  • NBC Studios Tour
     
  • Rockefeller Center Tour 
     
  • Central Park Bicycle Tour Two hour tour: $40 per person
     
  • See a musical on Broadway!