Growing up in New Jersey provided me with many life skills such as talking REALLY loud, cursing at strangers, talking with my hands and mouth simultaneously, driving like a crazy person and getting to know neighboring NYC really well. As an actress, I spent many of my weekends in high school around the Broadway theaters in mid-town Manhattan. Now, even though I no longer live in the Tri-State area, I do still consider it home and head back as often as I am able to. In fact, last week I was able to return to NYC with a friend who was unfamiliar with the city and wanted to see some of the sights. So while I took her around the city, I compiled a list of the 'Top 10 Things to Do and See' in NYC (it was difficult to only include 10 of them...believe me!). I have also included some tips at the bottom of this post that I recommend ALL tourists follow. Anyway, I hope this small list helps you make your next trip to 'the city that never sleeps/concrete jungle/big apple' a bit easier.
See a Broadway Show-
This is a MUST in NYC and don't give me the excuse 'I don't like musicals!' There are plenty of shows on Broadway each season that don't include ANY music.
My top Broadway picks (as of July 2015)
-The Phantom of the Opera, Majestic Theater
(I suggest sitting in the middle of the orchestra for this show). Box seats can be purchased for $62 (a steal) but just know you will be missing a good portion of the side of the stage (you will however get a great view of the orchestra pit). The music is gorgeous, it is the longest running show on Broadway plus the Majestic *in my opinion* is one of the prettiest Broadway theaters. I've seen the show 15 times and it never gets old.
-Jersey Boys, August Wilson Theater
Be aware this show does contain a bit of language, even so, the story of the Four Seasons is a classic and so is the music. You will be singing "Walk Like a Man, Sherry, and Big Girl's Don't Cry" the rest of the week.
-Wicked, Gershwin Theater
Do you love The Wizard of Oz? Then you will love this backwards round-about tell-all from the Good Witch/Bad Witch perspective. Great music and wonderful for the whole family.
Eat at a GREAT NYC Restaurant/Gourmet Shop
Skip the eateries IN Time's Square and the Themed Restaurants. Sorry to tell you but Olive Garden is NOT REAL AUTHENTIC Italian Fare. I know, I know...how could I EVER choose just a few restaurants in NYC to go to? Believe me, there are SO many places to choose from...but here are just a few;
My top picks;
-Picholine (Near Lincoln Center)
Yes this place is super expensive but honestly it is the best meal I have ever had.
-Buddakan (Meatpacking District)
Asian fusion with a bit of flare (Sex and the City fans may recognize the scene of Carrie Bradshaw's engagement party as it took place at Buddakan )
-Carmine's (Theater District + other locations around NYC)
Family Style Italian food...great for a large group wanting to share!
This quaint 'Gourmet Grocery Store' is the perfect place to pick up a quick bite for breakfast or lunch. Their products are fresh everyday, they give back to the community and carry local pastries and more. They also have specialty products that you won't find anywhere else in the city. We stopped in and wanted to buy EVERYTHING. All products in store are chosen with care and are of the highest quality. Their lunch salads are a HUGE favorite with everyone in the Hearst building....in fact, the salads are so large that many people eat half for lunch and half for dinner (that's a steal in NYC). Rick, the manager is the nicest, humblest man and truly someone who LOVES his job. Say "hi" to him when you stop in! (Check out Capital Mom's amazing Balducci's review here.)
P.S. Pick up a few packages of Salt of the Earth Cookies while at Balducci's--they are AMAZING (and a favorite of Ricks'!)
-Paris Baguette (32nd and 6th + other locations around NYC)
This chain first started in 1988 out of Korea and has since expanded into the United States. The pastries in each shop are made fresh daily and you can find new items every few hours on the shelves. I became obsessed with their Almond Rum Pastry, Lemon Cronut, Rice Donut and Horchata Frappe.
Stay at the Hilton Garden-Inn Central Park South
See Times Square at night
- Times Square (where the New Year's Ball is dropped) always seems a bit less crowded to me late at night. I would recommend heading there around 11pm (when most of the shops are closed) and taking a few photos.
Ground Zero- 9/11 Memorial Pools and Museum
-Plan ahead if you are heading down to the financial district as it is a bit far from mid-town (23 minutes or so depending on traffic). I visited the 9/11 museum last June (click here for my post) after it opened and I am so glad I did. I highly recommend setting aside a whole day to experience the museum and memorial pools (bring plenty of tissues). I wouldn't recommend bringing children to the museum or memorial pools unless they are older and can be respectful and quiet. Also, many restaurants close early in the financial district so don't plan on finding lots of restaurants open in the area if you are there past 6pm.
Walk down 5th Avenue
-If you love fashion and shopping then you are definitely going to want to walk down 5th Avenue in NYC. No matter what your budget you will be able to find something for you.Hint: The best shopping takes place between 39th and 60th st.
See the Empire State Building
-Let me just say that again 'SEE' the Empire State building. You won't find New Yorkers lined up inside to pay the outrageous prices and stand in the crazy line ("You kiddin' me?). The Empire State Building is pretty much a tourist attraction-plain and simple. Sure, if you want to wait in line for hours to get to the top or skip the line and pay close to $65-$85 (per person) go for it...but honestly, just seeing from the outside or stepping inside the lobby is good enough.
-If you LOVE art then the MET is for you. Take my advice and carve out a good portion of your day if you are heading to the MET. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the largest art galleries in the world so thinking you will be able to see everything in one day is preposterous The MET has over two million works of art that have been divided into 19 curatorial departments.
Rink at Rockefeller Center/Christmas Tree-Rockefeller Center is made up of a collection of buildings that have been featured in many Holiday movies (my all time favorite is Home Alone 2). It is also recognizable for having one of the biggest tree-lighting ceremonies (and one of the biggest Christmas trees) in the United States. Even if it isn't 'the most wonderful time of the year' there is still lots to do in Rockefeller Center. Head down early in the morning and you might be featured on the 'Today Show.' The Skating Rink is open from October-April and features a gilded statue of Prometheus. Make sure to make a skating reservation in advance...the line can get crazy around the Holidays.
Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island
-The Statue of Liberty is one of New York's most recognizable landmarks. It stood as beacon to generations of immigrants who came to America in search of a 'new life.' Before 9/11 you could schedule your trip once you arrived at Liberty Island...sadly that isn't the case anymore. You must buy tickets in advance to 'guarantee' access inside the Statue of Liberty. Be aware that you will have to walk up 393 steps to reach the crown (the steps are narrow and small from the top of the pedestal to the crown-with no elevator access in those areas either). Oh, and a heads up there is also NO air-conditioning. I did the climb twice in elementary school and even as a kid it was pretty boring. While climbing there isn't much to see, it is crowded and when you reach the crown the windows are teeny.
-If you are into genealogy then Ellis Island will be fascinating for you. The Immigration Museum is once again open (after some damage from Hurricane Sandy was repaired). Here, you can search ship manifests for passengers and explore the building that was the first point of entry in the US for 12 million immigrants.
Subway-I don't recommend the Subway unless you live in the city and know it REALLY well. It is REALLY, REALLY confusing. REALLY, just trust me.
My recommended method of transportation:
Walk or use Uber- This is If you would like to save yourself some $$ and anxiety use UBER. Download the app on your phone and it will basically send a car to get you. It is fast, convenient and UBER cars are WAY nicer than riding in a smelly Taxi.
Want $20 off your Uber ride? Use code: kileys86ue
Don't stop walking to take photos-Don't stop in the middle of a crosswalk or in the middle of the sidewalk to take photos. First, it SCREAMS 'tourist' and second, New Yorkers HATE it and thirdly, you will get run over. If you want to take photos step back close to a building to take them.
Don't count your Millions-Don't take out a wad of cash and count it in the street...just don't.
Don't photograph Costumed Characters-Don't take photos of the weird looking 'costumed characters' around New York City (they roam where there is lots of foot traffic usually around Rockefeller Center and Times Square). If you take a photo OF them or WITH them be prepared to be accosted for money.
Don't hang in the subway-Don't hang out in the subway (but more importantly don't hang out there at night). It is smelly and dirty and if you are lucky, you may just spot a rat or two.
Don't wear your Rolex-Use common sense, keep your money close to you at all times and leave valuables at home. Don't carry more money than you need to.
Don't Assume-all New Yorkers are rude. Now get out of my way!
Don't engage with Catcallers/Whistling- and don't look at your harassers
Don't Do Central Park at night-Central Park at night is a bit sketchy, just don't do it.
Don't Pull out a HUGE Map- really? Come on people.
Diamonds are a girls best friend-If you are traveling with valuables please use the safe in your hotel room.
Keep walking-past people pan-handling and handing out fliers
Be Assertive- Know what you are going to order before you get to the front of the line, know where you are going to go before you leave the hotel...just be in control.
Wear Sunglasses- these will keep the dust, grime and smoke out of your eyes.
Wear black-if you want to blend in...
Follow Foot Traffic-Even if the lights are flashing telling you not to walk--if everyone else is--then you better walk.