We have handwritten this guide on cool things to do in NYC so you can enjoy more than just the basics.
From the must-see touristy sites to the underground secrets, there’s never short of things to eat, drink, and discover.
And to save you some much needed time for exploring, we’ve compiled a list of our best of the best Big Apple favorites.
In this guide you will also find our best-kept secrets for Brooklyn and Manhattan.
This is not necessarily tourist guide. It was written by a local native, sharing insider tips for both locals and the tourists wanting to take a look behind the tourist curtain.
Keeping it simple, we even added a map with all NYC activities. Please keep scrolling or jump to the map right away.
List of Fun Things to do in New York City
Without any further ado, let us dive right in.
- Take in a show at the Comedy Cellar
- Sweat with a Central Park Workout Class
- Marvel at the View from Above with a Helicopter Ride
- Levain Bakery
- Listen to Music at the Apollo Theatre Amateur Night
- Take in the Sights with a Boat Tour
- Creep around the Smallpox Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island
- Sip on a Milkshake at Tom’s Restaurant
- Be a part of a Live Late Night Show
- Kayak the East River
- 9/11 Tribute Museum and One World Trade Center
- Impress your Foodie Friends with a Visit to a Michelin Star Restaurant
- Enjoy a Baseball Game with the Yankees
- Bike your way around New York
- Walk the Historic Brooklyn Bridge
- Enjoy the Rooftop Bar at Northern Territory
- Explore Chinatown
- Take a Walk on the Highline
- Boost your Culinary Skills with a Cooking Class
- Brunch like a Local
- Karaoke in Korea Town
- Jet Ski around Manhattan
- Soak in at the Russian and Turkish Baths
- Discover Hudson Yards
- Enjoy a Drink at the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden
- Find the Hidden Elevated Acre
- Browse the City Book Stores
- Day or Night, Pay a Visit to The Jane Hotel
- Enjoy a Beer at McSorley’s Old Ale House
- Take a Self-Guided Art Gallery Tour
- 5 secrets for Brooklyn
- 8 secrets for Manhattan
- Map with all NYC activities
Besides these cool activities in New York City, we also wrote up a handy guide on the best hostels in New York City.
It lets you save money on accommodation, and have more fun with fellow mates and stuff to do.
1. Take in a show at the Comedy Cellar
Address: Greenwich Village, NY
With good laughter comes a lot of responsibility…or something like that! Anyways, we start this list with one of my favorite fun things to do in NYC.
Arguably the most famous city in the world for stand-up, no New York trip is complete without experiencing the live comedy scene.
The legendary Comedy Cellar is home to some of the best comedians in the game. Located right in the heart of Greenwich Village, catch some good laughs with up-and-coming comics or maybe even an impromptu celebrity performance.
2. Sweat with a Central Park Workout Class
There’s something about Central Park that just makes you want to get into shape.
Perhaps it’s the abundance of athletes running, biking or playing softball, or possibly it’s just the energy that radiates out of the city and through Manhattan’s premier park.
Regardless, a fitness class in Central Park is just the ticket to compliment your perfect New York day.
Note: Pay per class and choose from yoga, core, strength or whatever fits your exercise regime.
Another Note: Rain or shine, summer or winter, you’ll see people running in Central Park.
3. Marvel at the View from Above with a Helicopter Ride
Experience the VIP treatment with a helicopter outing, soaring above the most exciting city in the world.
Get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Ground Zero and the rest of the New York harbor in the perfect light. Many top-rated tour operators work this helicopter route, most offering a 15-30 minute ride for $200-$300.
Looking for a longer ride? For a bigger price point, you can take a helicopter to Niagara Falls, the Hamptons or a Hudson Valley hideaway.
If this is not a cool NYC thing to do, I cannot help you…
4. Levain Bakery (Cookies!)
Address: Upper West Side, NY
The secret’s out from what used to be a cozy, sugar hideaway on the Upper West Side.
The tasty cookies speak for themselves and the New York locals and tourists alike can’t get enough. Levain Bakery is now open in four locations including two on the Upper West Side, one in Harlem and one the Hampton’s.
Although many flocks for the signature cookies, Levain offers much more, as an exceptional array of bread, muffins, and scones.
Levain Classic Favorites:
- Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie
- Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie
- Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
- Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookie
Tip: Make sure you get a warm cookie, straight out of the oven. As good as the normal cookies are, the warmer the better.
5. Listen to Music at the Apollo Theatre Amateur Night
Address: Harlem, NY
Ever heard of Aretha Franklin, James Brown or Michael Jackson? Of course, you have. Who hasn’t?
Apollo’s list of famous musicians is endless and you could be in the front row for the next big act. The ticket prices range but can be as low as $24.
Join the Amateur Night crowd every Wednesday at 7:30 pm or visit the Apollo’s calendar for a list of upcoming shows.
6. Take in the Sights with a Boat Tour
For as little as $30, you can see a different side of the city. This is one of the best things to do in New York City for families.
Enjoy the fresh air and salty spray of the river while getting a glimpse of the New York City skyline and the Statue of Liberty. There a countless boat tours available ranging from a $30/hour ride up to $500 for a private sunset tour.
Whether you’re looking for a speed boat, dance party, architecture tour, brunch cruise or just a classic round the island sail, you can find it in the New York harbor.
7. Creep around the Smallpox Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island
Address: Roosevelt Island, NY
If you’re looking for an eerie experience, the Smallpox Memorial Hospital might be the ticket.
The uninhibited ruins from what was once the first US hospital to care for Smallpox victims makes for a spooky visit. The building now stands without a roof or interiors and as of 1972, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Did you hear a strange sound or see a faint shadow? The abandoned hospital also consistently ranks among the most haunted landmarks in NYC. Check out the website at https://www.theruin.org to get an idea.
Note: Take the Roosevelt Island Tramway over and it’s only a 10-minute walk from there.
8. Sip on a Milkshake at Tom’s Restaurant
Address: Upper West Side, NY
Lots of tourists flock to New York to get a glimpse of their favorite TV landmarks. Unfortunately, many of these dwellings are actually located on a sound stage in Los Angeles, nonetheless, there are a few exceptions.
TV site tours are readily available including Sex and the City Hotspots Tour, The Sopranos Sites Tour and The Gossip Girl Tour.
However, our favorite TV landmark is straight out of Seinfeld at Tom’s Restaurant. The restaurant offers everything you’d want in a diner, the classic booths, the delicious food, and the snappy service.
Yes, it’s a real diner located on the Upper West Side and the milkshakes are incredible.
9. Be a part of a Live Late Night Show
Lots of late-night shows film right in the heart of New York, including:
- The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
- Saturday Night Live,
- The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and more.
Tickets are usually readily available, however, each requires its own procedure for ticket confirmation and pickup. Check your preferred show’s website for tapping schedules and ticket information a couple of months in advance.
BTW, do you know Jimmy Fallon’s “hashtags”? He asks via twitter fun questions, and followers reply. He then reads the best replies on the show.
FUN!!! Have a look here at #MyWorstCostume.
10. Kayak the East River
Imagine you, the water, the sun and Statue of Liberty while cruising along in a kayak.
For those active types, there’s no better way to explore the city – prices vary but if your schedule is flexible you can even try it out for free. There are a couple of different companies throughout the city that offer river kayaking:
- The Downtown Boathouse
- LIC Community Boathouse
- North Brooklyn Boat Club
- Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse
- Manhattan Kayak + SUP
This is not really an activity for family with little kids. However, with teenagers, this could be fun too!
11. 9/11 Tribute Museum and One World Trade Center
Address: Financial District, NY
The impact of 9/11 left a devastating hole on the New York City skyline, as well as the rest of the country.
Despite the tragedy that occurred on that day, New York City has since rebuilt the soaring One World Trade Center, standing 104 floors high, as well as a Memorial and Museum.
The Museum is a quick, few-minute walk down Greenwich Street from One World Trade Center, and documents the events and stories through interactive technology, articles and recounts of first-hand experiences.
12. Impress your Foodie Friends with a Visit to a Michelin Star Restaurant
We’ve all heard of the Michelin Guide – a review of all the top-rated restaurants in the world. One star meaning exceptional, two stars extraordinary and three stars perfection.
Lucky for us, very few cities in the world can rival the New York culinary scene and the Michelin chefs that call it home.
Normally known for being gravely expensive, there are a few New York Michelin spots that won’t rob the bank and still provide you with a unique, top-class dining experience.
- Agern – A Danish restaurant located in Grand Central Terminal, headed up by Icelandic chef Gunnar Gíslason. Diners can partake during lunch hours for $40 (Two-Course Prix Fixe Menu) or $48 (Three Course Prix Fixe Menu).
- Carbone – Located in SoHo, Carbone offers a throwback to 20th century Italian America gastronomy. With some methodical ordering, you can walk out with under a $60 bill…and possibly leftovers too.
- Gotham Bar and Grill – Perhaps one of the more relaxing restaurants on the Michelin list, Gotham offers a Three Course Prix Fixe Lunch Menu for $48.
13. Enjoy a Baseball Game with the Yankees
Address: The Bronx, NY
There’s nothing like a day at the ballpark. Whether you’re a baseball fanatic or just looking for a day in the sun, a Yankees’ game could provide the perfect outing.
If you go back in history, very few sports teams have done what the Yankees have. With a team that has won 27, World Series Championships made 54 playoff appearances and has fathered multiple top-ranking players, there’s no wonder New Yorkers love their Yankees.
14. Bike your way around New York
No matter what city you’re visiting, the quickest and possibly easiest way to explore is on a bike – and New York City is no exception.
Don’t let the traffic and pedestrians discourage you, being a part of the hustle and bustle is part of the fun. Whether you’re planning on renting a bike for the day or using a short ride Citi Bike (not a typo, btw!), you’re in for a good time.
For those less enthused about having to dodge in and out of New York City traffic, head over to Central Park or the West Side Highway bike path for a smoother and more leisurely ride.
How Citi Bikes Work:
- Buy a short term, single ride or day pass
- Find an available bike and unlock it with your ride code
- Take a 30-minute ride and turn your bike back in at your chosen portal
Single Ride: $3/Trip
Day Pass: $12/Day with unlimited 30-minute rides with the Citi Bike app or at the bike rental portal.
15. Walk the Historic Brooklyn Bridge
Address: Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, NY
No matter how many times I visit New York, the Brooklyn Bridge is always the one constant on my to-do list.
The Brooklyn Bridge encompasses the perfect New York view, is rich in history and is an architectural wonder. Walking from one side of the world’s first suspension bridge to the other, snapping photos and taking in the sights never gets old.
The perfect New York afternoon: Walking from Manhattan to Brooklyn, grabbing a slice of pizza or ice cream at Odd Fellows and walking back across.
16. Enjoy the Rooftop Bar at Northern Territory
Address: Brooklyn, NY
(UPDATE: we recently found out this pub is now closed. Shame)
In New York, it’s all about the views, and Northern Territory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn encompasses one of the best. The Australian pub offers a rustic vibe that meets the panorama roof deck and although closed during winter months, it’s worth the wait.
People come for the view, but the tavern also offers a decent Australian menu and a list of creative specialty cocktails.
Note: During summer months the roof fills up quickly, so get there early to snag a seat.
Status: Temporarily closed since 2019.
17. Explore Chinatown
New York plays home to not one, but three Chinatowns throughout the five boroughs.
You can find what’s considered the more popular, touristy Chinatown in downtown Manhattan. For me, this is for sure one of the coolest things to do in New York City.
While you can still get the true Chinatown experience, both the food and shopping are catered more to travelers. Chinatown in Flushings, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn house a larger Chinese population and can provide a more authentic experience.
No matter which borough you prefer, no New York visit is complete without exploring the food and shopping of Chinatown.
18. Take a Walk on the Highline
Address: Chelsea, NY
The Highline opened in 2009 as a west side park, transformed from an old above-ground rail line.
Now, space is open to the public and hosts a residency for emerging sculptures, paintings, gardens, and nature to come together and enrich the community. The Highline stretches 1.45 miles (2.33km) however there are several points to enter and exit along the way.
Duration: Casual Stroll 30-60 minutes
Note: Look out for weekly events on the website calendar.
Free Highline Tours: Offered Tuesdays 6:30 pm-7:45 pm and Saturdays 10 am-11:15 am on the Highline at Gansevoort St.
Tip: Avoid the weekend crowds and go anytime on a weekday.
19. Karaoke in Korea Town
Address: Midtown, NY
Apart from actually being in South Korea, there’s nothing better than some late night karaoke singing at Gagopa in Midtown West.
With over 30,000 songs, BYOB wine, beer and champagne and a 4 are closing, your night can last what feels like forever here in Karaoke in Korea Town. Private singing rooms are available for 1 to 30 people – dancing required.
Price: $36/hour (1-4 people), $9/person/hour (over 5)
20. Boost your Culinary Skills with a Cooking Class
Address: Brooklyn, New York
The Brooklyn Kitchen is constantly rated amongst the top for amateur cooking classes in New York. The Williamsburg and Sunset Park locations both offer daily classes ranging from Pizza and Latin American Cooking to the Mediterranean and Japanese cuisine.
Whether you’re looking to improve your kitchen skills or possibly considering a fun date idea, this is the place!
21. Brunch like a Local
For New Yorkers, brunch isn’t just a meal, it’s a tradition, a weekly ritual and a way to officially signify the weekend is here. You can’t walk a block in New York without spotting one of these established brunch institutions.
Keep an eye out for tables with a half drank mimosa crafts or possibly groups of people waiting along the sidewalks.
Regardless of whether you’re looking for bottomless cocktails, unique menus or the traditional brunch favorites, you’ll find plenty sprinkled throughout the five boroughs. Here’s a list of some of our favorites:
- PS450 | Murray Hill
- Friend of a Farmer | Gramercy Park
- Jacob’s Pickles | Upper West Side
- Chez Ma Tante | Brooklyn
- Tavern on the Green | Central Park
- 230 5th Rooftop | Midtown
22. Jet Ski around Manhattan
Address: Jersey City, NJ
When checking out on the best and fun things to do n New York City, I did not expect this one.
If you have the need for speed then it’s essential to check out New York Harbor Jet Ski Tours. Tours range from 1-3 hours and $150 – $450 depending on the length and distance and are well worth every minute.
Get out of the city, ride along the Hudson River, to the Statue of Liberty and beyond with your adrenaline pumping.
Note: Discount Prices for Monday-Thursday tours.
23. Soak in at the Russian and Turkish Baths
Address: East Village, NY
As you can imagine, New York is full of every kind of spa treatment possible. From steam rooms to body wraps and signature massages, you can pretty much relax in every way possible.
But if you want to bathe with history, send yourself over to the Russian and Turkish Baths on Tenth Street.
This historic bathhouse has been around since 1892 and said to be Frank Sinatra’s favorite place to unwind.
24. Discover Hudson Yards
Address: Westside Manhattan, NY
Possibly the newest addition to our list is Hudson Yards. Opened in March 2019 on the west side of Manhattan, Hudson Yards is a private real estate development turned entertainment conglomerate.
With the 25 plus restaurants, observation deck, and a luxury mall, this new neighborhood could keep the average traveler busy all day.
Impossible to miss is the massive Vessel on which Hudson Yards is built. This distinctive 16-story structure links the building’s staircases, adding a unique construction to the west side skyline.
25. Enjoy a Drink at the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden
Address: Astoria, NY
On a beautiful day, a visit to the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden is in order.
Rich with Czech and Slovak ancestry, Bohemian is said to be one of the oldest and largest beer gardens in New York.
Look out for happy hour specials and some of their other weekday events like Trivia, Taco Tuesday or Wine Down Wednesday.
26. Find the Hidden Elevated Acre
Address: Financial District, NY
Need a break from the city? We’ve found your secret oasis in the middle of it all. Located just above the hectic streets of the Financial District lies a garden, a sanctuary, a hidden escape, that is barely noticed or acknowledged by anyone at all.
Grab lunch to-go and make a picnic up in the park. With the quiet nature and views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Watchtower Building, you’ll forget you’re in a city of just over eight million.
Who knew, that there is cool stuff to do in the New York City financial district….
How to get there:
- Follow the sidewalk to a set of escalators at 55 Water Street.
- Take the escalators up and you’ll find The Elevated Acre
27. Browse the City Book Stores
In today’s world with ebooks, there’s something sadly missing from the whole “choosing a book” process.
Browsing bookstores is a great joy for most that have often been forgotten. Many would say, the bliss of perusing a bookstore is almost as rewarding as the book itself. Much like Shakespeare and Company in Paris or Lello Bookstore in Porto, New York is chock-full of those exceptional bookstores.
Some are meant for a quick look and others are destined to occupy our entire day, either way, we love them regardless.
28. Day or Night, Pay a Visit to The Jane Hotel
Take one look at The Jane Hotel and you can feel the notable presence. In 1912, The Jane Hotel hosted the remaining Titanic survivors for the days following the Atlantic tragedy.
Now, The Jane Hotel offers a unique hotel experience, an Italian restaurant, Old Rose, as well as a seasonal rooftop bar and popular nightclub.
If you want to stay more on a budget, check our guide on 3 best hostels in New York City.
Address: West Village, NY
29. Enjoy a Beer at McSorley’s Old Ale House
For a little New York history that you can enjoy while sipping on a beer, head over to McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village.
Known for being the oldest Irish pub in New York, with the early 20th-century memorabilia to prove it, McSorley’s is said to have welcomed everyone from Abraham Lincoln to John Lennon.
Good news, as of 1970 women are officially welcome at McSorley’s.
Address: East Village, NY
Note: Tours are also available.
30. Take a Self-Guided Art Gallery Tour
Address: Chelsea, NY
Get your culture fix with a self-guided art showcase tour of Chelsea. New York is saturated with some of the best galleries in the world, and the neighborhood of Chelsea hosts some of our favorites. We’ve listed our top gallery picks below.
- Gagosian | 555 W 24th St, New York, NY 10011
- Taglialatella Galleries | 229 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011
- Agora | 530 W 25th St, New York, NY 10001
- 303 Gallery | 555 W 21st St, New York, NY 10011
- David Zwirner Gallery | 525 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011
Note: Most of the galleries are open from 10 am-6 pm but check websites before visiting.
Extra: 31 and 32.
In the past, we had two separate secret guides to Manhattan and Brooklyn. These two guides were written by a real-life native New Yorker.
We want to provide even more value to this article and you. So we decided to publish this information now as well.
We teamed up with our friend Chloe Olewitz, born in New York City. In fact, born in Manhattan! She is a freelance writer and creative strategist and knows the city like the back of her hand.
And not just that. She shares the same passion for unique places, and the same spirit of travel as we do. Therefore, Chloe is the perfect person to bring us these travel tips to get to know the local life in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
31. 5 Secrets for Brooklyn
(by Chloe Olewitz)
We are happy to share with you these 5 New York tips.
We are no experts in the city, that is why we asked our friend Chloe Olewitz, a freelance writer and creative strategist, to help us with this Brooklyn Geeky Guide. Chloe is a real-life native New York City Local and knows the city like the back of her hand.
As in New York distances are quite big, we centered this guide in the Brooklyn area.
Before we start, here are some interesting facts about Brooklyn:
Although Brooklyn is more famous than ever these days as New York City’s hot spot borough, it also makes up an important part of the city’s rich cultural heritage. Luckily for food lovers and fans of everything new to New York City, that means that incredible restaurants, delicious cafes, and fun places to spend an afternoon or a weekend out in Brooklyn. There are countless ways to discover the many neighborhoods Brooklyn has to offer, so here are a few of Chloe’s favorites across the board. From a born-and-raised New York City local to you, with love.
And now that we know a little bit around the area, just start with our Geeky Guide. Are you thirsty? We definitely are!
31.1 A cocktail Bar: Leyenda
Address: 221, Smith Street
Leyenda is an unassuming Cobble Hill joint from the outside, but step inside and you’ll find pure Pan-American bliss. Their cocktail menu is a masterful look at some classics and some new inventions, and the flavors feature everything from Caribbean rums to infused Chilean pisco (my favorite is the Brooklyn Burro… dangerously delicious).
The food menu at Leyenda hits on some favorites you may have heard of, and some that will definitely be new to you. The chicharrones are a prime snack while you decide and the guacamole is top-notch, but the Churrasco skirt steak is nothing short of perfection.
I’d suggest you prop yourself at the bar and ask lots of questions, and if you get stuck in the wild weekend rush, remember that it’s worth the wait.
31.2 Roasted Coffee: Toby’s Estate Coffee
Address: 125 North 6th Street
Toby’s Estate is a world-renowned Australian coffee roaster, but its Williamsburg location is the kind of café you’ll never want to leave.
The beautiful warehouse build-out boasts storefront windows that let in the Brooklyn daylight, and bold communal tables and pillowed benches make it a comfy spot to stop in for a quick break or a long rest.
Toby’s snacks are delicious, but this place is really all about the coffee.
In the cupping room, Toby’s offers education in all things coffee. You can taste beans from around the world, learn about different brewing methods, and get to know flavors like a coffee expert. Toby’s beans keep up with sustainable and fair-trade trends, and the brand is heavily invested in supporting the farmers at the source.
The coffee is out of this world, and espresso drinks are prepared by absolute master baristas. And for all you Aussies out there, this is where you’ll want to stop in for a real Flat White!
31.3 Crazy Ice cream: Ample Hills Creamery
Ample Hills was born and bred in Brooklyn, and they keep the spirit of BK alive in all their super-friendly, fun-filled ice cream shops.
The crazy flavor names will make you giggle, but the more types you taste the harder it will be to decide. Ample Hills is all about making ice cream the old-fashioned way, slowly and completely by hand. You can even watch them in action in the window displayed the ice cream kitchen if you time your visit just right!
Ample Hills’ Star Wars edition flavors are usually only available by the pint or more and you have to order in advance, but if you’re ok with flavors like Salted Crack Caramel, Nonna D’s Oatmeal Lace, and Mexican Hot Chocolate, head to the nearest Ample Hills immediately. Of course, available flavors rotate based on the seasons, so you never know what you’ll find.
From experience, I can say it pays to be adventurous at Ample Hills.
31.4 Activity: Bushwick Collective
Address: St Nicholas Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237
The artwork covering the walls of Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood is proof that street art and graffiti can definitely transcend their reputation for vandalism.
The Bushwick Collective extends from Jefferson Street towards Saint Nicholas Avenue and is discretely curated by Bushwick-native Joseph Ficalora, who turned personal tragedy into a commitment to emphasize and display some of the most talented local artists he could find.
Local artists update the outdoor gallery space regularly, and international street artists travel from all over the world to contribute to the wall scape. Bring your camera, and let the art guide your path.
If you do some digging, you’ll be able to learn about the rich history of the Bushwick neighborhood and the stories behind the artists who work so hard to bring beauty and commentary to this space.
31.5 Activity: Gotham Archery
Address: 480 Baltic Street
This Gowanus range offers about twenty introductory classes a week with plenty on the weekends, so you can show up as a complete beginner and leave with a full quiver (metaphorically speaking).
The introductory class requires you to sign up online. Get to the range about ten minutes early to fill out some basic paperwork and get yourself settled, and then your lessons can begin.
An instructor will go through the fundamentals of safety on the range, different types of bows and arrows, and everything you need to know to shoot at that glorious paper target.
Beginners start at five yards, and once you’ve completed your introductory class you can rent equipment and lane time on the range anytime. Try out new equipment, work on your aim, or increase your distances, all with expert coaching.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never tried archery before, if you’re left-handed or if you’re a Katniss wannabe, a Gotham Archery intro class is always fun. And if you’re like me, you’ll get hooked before you know it!
32. Eight Secrets for Manhattan (by a real-life native New Yorker)
(by Chloe Olewitz)
Address: 175 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009, USA
You could spend decades going out for every meal of every day in this city, without ever going to the same place twice. As a real-life native New York City local (yes, we exist!), I do what I can to balance my old school city favorites with the never-ending discovery of new gems.
I was born and raised in lower Manhattan, and I still like to hang out around my old stomping grounds. By no means is this an official guidebook to the Village, but there’s nothing wrong with getting to know some local top picks.
It’s always hard to choose just a few, but here are some of my Manhattan favorites that visitors from anywhere could love.
32.1 Restaurant: Babu Ji
Even though this Indian restaurant is a new kid on the block in Alphabet City, within six months of opening it has skyrocketed to number one on all the top NYC dining lists.
The cuisine is styled after the native North Indian tradition of the restaurant’s owner, and from the moment you arrive, you’ll feel more like you’ve stepped into a family room than a trendy East Village hotspot.
Wondering about the name? Nobody said it better than the restaurant review from Infatuation: “Babu Ji” means “sir,” with the connotation of “local dude who runs sh*t.” And Babu Ji does exactly that. It’s an Indian take on a very New York concept of being the unofficial mayor of the block. When I first arrived with my family, the restaurant’s actual head honcho spent the rest of the evening calling my dad “Babu Ji”.
Talk about instant family vibes!
Wine is served at your table but beer is hands-on from the self-service deli fridge in the corner, under the huge stuffed peacock and across from the projector showing old Bollywood films.
If you’re hungry enough, go in for the Chef’s Table Menu to get a tour of Babu Ji’s best. Make sure you get a taste of the Batata Vada (“Mustard seed & curry leaf potato encased in chickpea flour pastry, topped with fresh radish, coriander, and pineapple chutneys”) and the Southern India Lamb Curry. And don’t forget to save room for the Kulfi for dessert – homemade Indian style spiced ice cream.
32.2 The Coffee Shop – with aspiring models
Address: 29 Union Square W, New York, NY 10003
The neon sign dangling outside The Coffee Shop can be misleading since this NYC staple is way more than a café. The Union Square establishment has been around for decades, and it used to be a 23-hour joint that would close only for an hour each day to clean and restock.
The American take on Brazilian classics and plenty of very “New York” diner-style bites means you can choose your own adventure here. Brunch is delicious, and you can order a full Brazilian Feijoada on the weekends. For lunch or dinner, make sure you order pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) to share with friends or friendly neighbors.
If you’re visiting in the summer, it’s worth the wait to snag a table outside – you’ll experience some of the best people watching the city has to offer at all hours of the day. The Coffee Shop is also famous for being staffed by aspiring models and generally beautiful people, so you won’t have any shortage of eye candy at a table inside or at the very wavy and always entertaining bar (full menu available, with cocktails galore).
Don’t have time to wait? Grab a coffee at the bar on your way downtown or in the summer, order a freshly squeezed juice from the stand just outside the main entrance.
32.3 Café: The Library at the NoMad Hotel (open for public until 4 pm)
Address: 1170 Broadway, New York, NY 10001
The NoMad Hotel and all its many surprises are housed in a fully restored, turn of the century Beaux-Arts building, which means the space looks European but the experience is spiked with New York City flair. Both the Atrium restaurant and The Parlour are spaces worth exploring, and the Elephant Bar is breathtaking.
If you know whom to ask, there’s even a magic show “Upstairs” on the weekends. But tucked away in a secluded corner of the NoMad hotel’s many nooks and crannies in the library, an elegant oasis that is a perfect getaway from the hectic city energy.
The library collection is real, not just for show, and the fully curated series makes a warm and welcoming backdrop to an afternoon on one of the library’s plush couches. Snacks and finger foods are all on the menu in the library, in addition to perfect espresso drinks, coffee, tea, wine, and cocktails.
Browse the books or relax with a drink and daydream in this classic, stylish space, but make sure you’re ready to leave by 4 PM when library access becomes exclusive for NoMad hotel guests. (Don’t worry – the Elephant Bar mere steps away is a dreamy evening alternative, especially if you’re up for cocktails).
32.4 Café and Bar: V-Bar Sullivan – a Community!
Address: 225 Sullivan St, New York, NY 10012
V-Bar is extremely low-key next to the library at the NoMad.
The West Village location has bar seating, a couple of small tables and a long communal workbench, so the space is small but the regulars are very friendly.
Baristas choose their own soundtracks and can usually talk you through whatever they’re playing, so don’t challenge them to Bob Dylan trivia unless you’re prepared! The coffee is delicious and the pastries are delivered fresh every morning.
Because this V-Bar branch is tucked away discretely on Sullivan Street, you might not notice it walking by except for the chalkboard sign in the front: “Productivity in the day, Promiscuity at night”.
V-Bar opens in the mornings for café service, but the Wi-Fi shuts off at around 6 PM as the rowdy nighttime crowd rolls in to sip from the surprisingly extensive selection of wine and beer in this very small bar.
Everything about V-Bar screams community, from the daytime “guidelines” hanging on the wall (please make phone calls outside, Skype eats up the bandwidth, camping is for the outdoors,) to the Karma board where merry drinkers can buy a round for a friend and leave their name taped to the wall for next time.
If there were ever a New York City community to be a part of, this might just be the one.
32.5 Bar: Little Branch – a unique experience!
Address: 20 7th Ave S, New York, NY 10011
Little Branch is the New York Speakeasy scene at its finest.
There has been a trend in recent years towards unmarked doors and sketchy alleyway entrances, but Little Branch ditches a lot of the pretension for a truly unique speakeasy experience. Bartenders strapped in suspenders are masters of mixology and can shake up everything from perfect classic cocktails to one-of-a-kind originals based on your favorite type of booze or the taste profile you like most.
Behind the unmarked basement door entrance lies a small space, so be patient if you have to wait in line for a few minutes before being granted entry.
Low ceilings and tight corners make this an intimate night out in more ways than one, so be friendly with your neighbors and smile at strangers. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the live jazz trio heating up the standup piano and upright bass that’s almost tall enough to touch the ceiling.
Once you’ve had a few drinks at Little Branch, you won’t feel like a jerk calling them “libations”.
32.6 Snack: Insomnia Cookies
If you’re a cookie-loving late-night snacker, Insomnia Cookies is the place for you. Open until the wee hours, Insomnia pops out hot, fresh-baked cookies when you need them the most.
There are already twelve locations covering Manhattan island, and if you find the shop closest to you they even deliver until 3 in the morning.
Pick your favorites online and have them delivered, the order in advance and pop into the store to pick them up, or be somebody’s best friend and have a cookie delivery sent to someone who needs that late-night sugar boost.
Insomnia is actually a national chain, so their cookies and cookie deliveries are popular anywhere college students are up late studying on campus. Although lower Manhattan locals have no trouble coming up with complaints about the New York University student body, we’ll take the late-night Insomnia cookies that they inspired any day.
The Insomnia shop on MacDougal delivers like all their other locations, but if you’re wandering through the West Village late at night you could also pop in for a fresh batch of cookies to nibble on your way home.
32.7 Activity: Chess Forum
Address: 219 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012
Chess Forum is a Greenwich Village institution by all accounts.
They are famous for stocking some of the most beautiful chess sets around, from handmade one-of-a-kind pieces to collector’s items and limited-edition releases.
Amateur, hobbyist, and professional players from around New York City have been coming to Chess Forum to hone their skills and challenge other players since the mid-nineties. Pop in to play a game or two and get tips on strategy from tried and true chess masters.
One of the unique things about Chess Forum is its engrained passion for the game and the culture that has grown around it. In the past 20+ years, the store has grown to include other classic games like backgammon and board games, not to mention their recent embrace of the more digital gaming world.
A visit to the Chess Forum guarantees beautiful craftsmanship, some sporting spirit, and a healthy dose of competition.
32.8 Activity: Union Square Greenmarket
Address: E 17th St & Union Square W, New York, NY 10003
The Union Square Greenmarket started small in 1976, but over the years it has grown in both size and reputation to become one of New York City’s most popular farmer’s markets.
At its fullest, the Greenmarket plays host to about 140 farmers, fishermen, growers, brewers, preservers, bakers, and more.
Most of the stalls you’ll visit hail from within New York state, and pretty much everything for sale is either organic, sustainable, fair-trade, handmade, fresh-caught… you get the picture. The Greenmarket is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays every week, and of course, the offerings at every stall represent what’s in season.
Union Square itself is lined with some of the city’s top restaurants (like The Coffee Shop above!), with hundreds more within walking distance.
Many of those high-quality locations nearby source their ingredients from the Greenmarket daily. If you keep your ears peeled you’ll hear restaurateurs shopping for inspiration, food writers and critics trading industry gossip, and even world-renowned chefs planning menus based on local growers’ seasonal bounty.
The local honey and maple syrup stalls will make your mouth water, the dairy stalls stock enough cheeses to make your head spin, and the fresh produce is piled as high as your shoulder if you get there early. Keep an eye out for handspun yarns, fresh-caught New York fish and ethically raised meats, and soak up the smell of Lavender or Eucalyptus as you make your way through the market crowds.
Check out the schedule and additional info here.
Useful Map with all cool things to do in New York City
Since we love you all so much, here’s a very handy map for you to use on your visit to New York.
We have mapped everything on the list. From what to visit, what to do, where to eat. It’s all on the map! Especially made for you!
All you have to do is check them out. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and enjoy exploring, New York!
Best Hostels in New York City
It’s time to wave an excited hello to the statue of liberty as you make your way to the best hostels in New York City.
That’s right, the Hostelgeeks have been searching high and low. We’ve found 3 great budget places to stay in New York City.
- Freehand New York City – great for backpackers & couples
- The Local Hostel NYC – one for solo travelers
- NY Moore Hostel – a top pick for female solo travelers
Find the full guide on best hostels in NYC here.
Do you want to stay in an Airbnb apartment? Sign up with this link and get a 35€ discount for Airbnb.
The discount is only valid for your first stay. If you have already an account, you will need to create a new one.
Read this full Airbnb guide if you have any doubt.
Over to you: Questions?
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Hostel Packing List
It is time to see what you should pack in your backpack or suitcase. Make sure you always pick a quality hostel, it totally reduces the things you need to pack. Here is our ultimate hostel packing list. It features 23 items you should really throw in your backpack.The most important things to pack are:
- eye mask
- key chain flashlight
- the right backpack, the Nomatic (our review of Nomatic here) or Lowe Alpine Lightflite 45 Pack
- packing cubes
- generic padlock (fitting all locker types)
- quick-dry travel towel
- universal power adapter
- travel-sized toiletries