Welcome to my first-timers New York City guide. I spent an amazing seven days in New York, and this guide collects together my favourite places to go and things to eat in the city. My focus of this piece, as always, is food; so expect plenty of restaurant, street food and fast food recommendations. My guide also features a glimpse at what New York has to offer in each specific neighbourhood, from swanky Soho to laid back East Village. I enjoyed our trip to New York immensely, and I hope some of the recommendations below prove useful to anyone travelling to the city in search of food, fun and plenty of pizza.
As soon as we settled in our Bushwick airbnb home for the week, we headed to Times Square, Midtown. This is a perfect way to set off your New York experience, diving straight into the madness of Manhattan before you’ve even had a chance to unpack. For some, this also might be a great way to get all the necessary tourist attractions out of the way first. Bryant Park is a nice place to sit down for a few moments to rest away from the big screens, you might even catch an event there (we managed to see a crazy game of giant musical chairs!). Take a way on Broadway and marvel at the crowds, traffic and hustle and bustle. A walk up 5th Avenue is well worth doing, gawk at the huge designer shops and their customers whilst sipping on an iced coffee.
One of the highlights of our trip was visiting the Top of the Rock for the breath-taking views of New York. We booked our tickets for 8pm, the perfect time for June as we were lucky enough to view the city in daylight, sunset and darkness. Take your camera because you won’t want to forget those views! The Museum of Modern Art is also a Midtown must. You can easily spend half a day here examining the striking modern artworks on offer. This museum takes you through the ages of modern art, with a particularly interesting exhibition on Robert Rauschenberg. This is one of the more expensive galleries, $14 for a student price. If you can spare it, it’s well worth the price. For an introduction into the plethora of foods New York has to offer, we were lucky enough to catch a huge food market, stretching way down West 46th Street. At $10 for 10 tokens, and each dish costing between 2 and 6 tokens, this market was exactly what we needed. We sampled guacamole and chips, cheesecake, bread and butter pudding, and mountainous spinach lasagne. Check out what’s happening in NYC whilst you’re there, you never know what you might run across!
Soho and Chinatown
Soho is a beautiful and quirky part of New York City. Cobbled streets lined with classic fire-escape fronted houses showcase some of the most exclusive homes of the city. You’ll wander past swanky juice bars, expensive boutiques and restaurants with tinted windows. For a tasty snack, I’d recommend stopping off at Vesuvio Bakery. The cookies are both perfectly crisp and squidgy and the chocolate oozes out nicely. A refreshing change from the overpriced ‘superfood’ juices and kale salads you’ll see litter this part of New York.
A short walk from the class and style of Soho is the commercial wonder of Canal Street, leading you into Chinatown. Canal Street is a noisy, commercial, crazy road with busy traffic, bright lights and tacky clothing stalls. Off shoots from this throbbing aorta of Chinatown include Little Italy and some of the smaller winding streets where you can find all sorts of delicious food. On Doyers Street sits Nom Wah Tea Parlour, one of New York’s oldest dim sum restaurants. Luckily we didn’t have to wait for a table, but a queue quickly formed after we sat down. Nom Wah has a nice selection of beers, from domestic to international, and a quick and easy order system of ticking numbered boxes on the menu. We chose the scallion pancakes (delicious) , vegetable dumplings (fresh and tasty), scallion and coriander rice rolls (tasty, but a little stodgy) and a few other bits and pieces. The food and beers were tasty, the restaurant environment was fast-paced and funky.
For dessert, head back to Canal Street and wander down to Taiyaki NYC. Matcha ice cream in a waffle fish shaped cone… what more could you want to end your day in Chinatown? Taiyaki is a tasty way to finish off your meal and is open late too! The constantly arriving late night crowds are testament to the tiny shop’s popularity.
This was one of my favourite areas in Manhattan. Take a day to explore the High line, a set of old railway tracks snaking through the skyscrapers, offering gorgeous city views and funky graffiti. Once you’ve completed your walk, head to Chelsea Market for a snack and a browse of boutique and vintage jewellery, clothing and home furnishings. A great, reliable place for pizza near the High line is Artichoke Pizza. Get three huge slices of pizza for $18. The perfect lunch! The white pizza was a little too rubbery for my taste, but the sauce on the artichoke pizza was satisfyingly creamy and delicious.
The Whitney Museum of American Art is another stand out attraction of this district. You really need a whole day for this one if you want to explore it fully. The Whitney houses 5 floors of stimulating modern art that demands your time and attention. One of the most engaging galleries we visited, there are plenty of films and interactive works to get stuck into. A personal highlight was the Stuart Hall film, The Unfinished Conversation, shown in split screen perspective. Many wonderful exhibitions making for a culturally saturated day out. There is a downside to this highly interesting gallery, it costs $18 for student admission. However, the views from the top make it worth it! If you’re lucky, you may even bump into the self-proclaimed ‘Mayor of Meatpacking’… he certainly is a character and will give you an insight into crazy Manhattan-ites of the art scene.
East Village and Greenwich Village
The villages were one of my favourite parts of the city to spend a day wandering in and out of to explore. These areas feel like much more of a local’s New York City. Take a stroll from East to West, starting in East Village with a Black Seed bagel. This is the epitome of hipster bagel dining, so take it with a pinch of salt! I opted for a poppy seed bagel with honey butter. The butter was incredibly tasty and I would fully recommend. The sizes of these bagels were much more normal (although after several ginormous bagels they seemed tiny in comparison) and the taste was lovely. I’d also recommend the coffee, although the amount of ‘drip coffee’ (still no idea…) and associated varieties can be confusing.
After exploring the East, stop off at the famous Strand Bookstore to browse bargain books before taking on Greenwich Village. I managed to find a wonderfully 80s recipe book titled ‘Bean Banquets’ that preaches the wonders of beans for only $6, perfect! St Mark’s Place is also a pretty street where you can have a wander, explore the cute shops and cafes along this famous stretch before taking a break to catch a casual baseball game at Tompkins Square Park.
For a smarter Saturday night dinner, go to Motorino Pizza. Motorino is a small restaurant serving tasty pizzas (on real plates..) with craft beers and cool sides. The pizzas are big enough to share, with tasty wood fired bases and delicious marinara sauce.
A brilliant, more casual stop is the New York institution that is Joe’s Pizza. With classic bar tables and simple menu, these slices rival Best Pizza, the Williamsburg wonder you can read about in my Brooklyn section!
Washington Square Park and Union Square
This neighbourhood is home to NYU, and so around Washington Square Park you will see plenty of students lounging about. This park is a great place to sit and have lunch, just head down to MacDougal Street and grab something to eat from one of the many small eateries lining the pavement.
My picks are Mamoun’s Falafel, Ben’s Pizzeria for a true New York slice, and the delicious Belgian fries at Pommes Frites, served with more choices of sauce than you can imagine! Other tasty options include The Kati Roll Company, by CHLOE and Thelewala. At night, Macdougal Street turns into a lit-up strip of casual bars, perfect for bar-hopping and experiencing all-American night life.
This area also contains Union Square Park, and a little further up the island, Madison Square Park and the Flatiron Building. Take a stroll up from Washington Square Park to the Flatiron building, stopping off at Eataly for gelato or an aperol spritz. Unsurprisingly, this student-filled area is great for affordable, tasty meals. We made a visit to Republic, a modern, spacious noodle restaurant just off Union Square Park. The portions were huge, and the Vietnamese iced coffee was delicious. I had the vegetable curry noodles and I was impressed with the tastiness of the sauce and cooked-until-just-tender vegetables. Would recommend for hungry urban explorers.
We didn’t get very much time to explore the upper west side of New York during our visit, but we did make a quick dinner stop in Hell’s Kitchen. We went to Otto’s Tacos (also with East and West Village locations) and luckily arrived on taco Tuesday, a tasty bargain promotion. Two tacos = $2 beer, what more could you want? The veg tacos were filled with charred, caramelised seasonal veg and hot sauce. Delicious. To go with the tacos, we had a side of masa fries- although they might not be everyone’s cup of tea- I enjoyed the unusual texture and crisp outer coating. Hell’s Kitchen is also a great spot for affordable and casual bars, and has a pretty good gay bar scene too.
The Financial District
This area is Manhattan’s version of Canary Wharf. Amongst the modern skyscrapers and futuristic architecture lies an older heart to this district. Wall street is not at all how I imagined it. Cobbled streets and the stock exchange cower beneath the high rises build up around them. Striking though the modern buildings are, some of the most interesting things lie in the oldest streets. Trinity Church offers beautiful respite from the madness of the city, and a wander up Wall street will take you to Leo’s Bagels, where (what I believe) the best bagels in New York are on offer. So good, we even went twice! I recommend the sesame bagel with sun dried tomato and roasted garlic cream cheese, and the cinnamon raisin bagel with maple, walnut and raisin cream cheese. Washed down with a hazelnut coffee (iced or hot- and not cloyingly sweet either), this is the perfect New York breakfast.
After exploring Wall Street, take a walk along the waterfront at Battery park and try your best to ignore the ticket sellers if you’re a bargain hunter! Make your way to South Ferry port and catch the Staten Island Ferry instead. Get on quickly and make your way to the upper decks, the side decks make for a great set of stunning views of the harbour and statue of liberty. Catch the ferry straight back to Manhattan, getting on and heading for the decks at the front of the ferry instead. This offers dramatic views of the financial district skyline and makes for wonderful photos.
After you take the ferry, walk back up into the city and visit ground zero. The 9/11 memorial is beautifully moving, take time to take it all in. When its time to move on, take the subway from the World Trade Centre station, the architecture is interesting and there’s even a mall inside.
Upper East Side
One of New York’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, the Upper East Side is home to decadent homes, hotels and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This museum is priced at a sort of, ‘pay what you can’ basis in the form of a donation. So if you’re on a budget, you can enter for as little as $1. It would take days to explore the whole of the Met, so my pick would be the Arab Lands section. Here you can see beautiful rugs, fabrics, tiles and pottery from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and many other beautiful countries. Gorgeous tile work from Damascus is made even more important viewing by the recent conflict in the area, worthwhile viewing for its beauty alone. If you’re looking for breakfast before you embark on your art historical mission, head to H&H Midtown Bagels. I chose a sesame bagel (by far my favourite New York variation) and scallion cream cheese, with an obligatory iced coffee. Not quite as tasty as Leo’s, but a great option for an uptown breakfast.
After a walk around the Met, head to Central Park for a picnic. Stroll around the spacious New York expanse of greenery, and settle into a spot to chill out before taking on the bustle of the city again.
Brooklyn is Manhattan’s cool, laid back sibling. Far away from the touristy madness of midtown, Brooklyn is a welcome break for sore footed foodies. A walk around Williamsburg is a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Starting at Bedford Avenue (1 stop away from 1st Avenue on the L train) wander down to Best Pizza for a spot of lunch. I can hands down say that this was the best pizza we tried during our time in the city. An absolute gem, Best Pizza sits on a sleepy street in Williamsburg, surrounded by residential buildings and only 10 minutes away from Bedford Avenue. If you’re in a group, then get a selection of the pizza slices. The white pizza was outstanding, with a tasty sesame seed crust and caramelised onions. Wash down your pizza with a cup of self-serve iced tea, or a local beer.
After pizza, head to Bedford Avenue for a wander round Spoonville and Sugartown Books and neighbouring undercover market, where you’ll find vintage clothes and bubble tea.
Continue to wander down Bedford Avenue and North 10th Street before reaching Bushwick Inlet Park. This park was one of my favourites, it has beautiful views of Manhattan and even a sort-of urban beach where it seems the locals go to chill out at the end of the day. Despite its unglamorous name, this park has the gorgeous views and relaxed atmosphere that Central Park lacks at the weekend. Brooklyn Heights is another great, easily accessible area of New York to explore. Starting in Manhattan, stride across Brooklyn Bridge (try to avoid angry New York cyclists, walk on the left!) and end up at Gran Electrica, a beautiful Mexican restaurant with plenty of outdoor seating. The salsa and nacho chips are extremely moreish, and followed by a beautifully presented huevos rancheros, Gran Electrica is a perfect brunch destination.
Not too far from the ivy-walled garden of this restaurant lies Brooklyn Bridge Park. Take a wander through Brooklyn Heights’ stylish streets, then take the winding walkway down to the park offering stunning views of Brooklyn bridge and the financial district. For me, this was the perfect, chilled out atmosphere in which to finish off my trip, so take time to unwind in this aesthetically attractive area.
New York City was a wonderful city to explore for a whole week. I was incredibly lucky to embark on this trip with two of my best friends, with whom I had the most amazing time. I thank them for their map reading skills, willingness to do anything and being the most fun people I could have visited with. In short, you guys are the best.
Next time I would love to explore Harlem, more of Brooklyn and Queens! And perhaps continue my quest for the perfect bagel…