Things to See and Do in NYC
During the fall term of 2018, I worked in software development for Broadway Technology in New York, New York. Not knowing when I would be back, I set out to see and do as much as I could during my nights and weekends. This post is a summary of some of my favourites.
I ended up being offered a full-time position at Broadway, starting in July 2019, so I’ll be headed back to New York and I’ll keep this list updated while I’m there.
- Bigoi Venezia: Quick and cheap counter-serve pasta place on the Upper East Side. The noodles are fresh and cooked al dente.
- Cafe Katja: Top-notch Austrian food and a friendly atmosphere on the Lower East Side. I’ve had the goulash and schnitzel and tried the meatballs, and I’d happily order any of them again.
- Halal Guys: There are locations across North America now, but the pair of stands on the southwest and southeast corners of 53 St and 6 Ave are the originals, serving gyros, falafel, and chicken, either in a wrap or over rice. There are lots of similar halal carts around the city, some better than others, but Halal Guys is one of the best. Be aware, the hot sauce is known for being extremely spicy.
- Levain Bakery: There are two locations, a few blocks apart, on the Upper West Side. The cookies are especially good. My favourite is the chocolate and peanut butter one, but the chocolate is also good, and friends have told me they liked the oatmeal and raisin.
- Momofuku Noodle Bar: There are two locations, part of a group of restaurants specializing in various types of food. Their ramen is not quite as heavy as Shinka and I think the noodles are a bit better.
- NY Pizza Suprema: Counter-serve pizza right across from Madison Square Garden, established in 1964. It’s more expensive than the dollar-slice counters you’ll see every few blocks (though those are also good!), and it’s worth it if you’re looking for a slice that’s a tier better, but still not at all fancy.
- North Dumpling: Take out ten pork dumplings for $3. Good spot to visit before walking across the Manhattan Bridge or Williamsburg Bridge.
- Prince Street Pizza: While they serve New York-style pizza from their counter as well, it’s the thick, square, Detroit-style slices that they’re better known for. The wait can be 45 minutes outside the storefront in Nolita.
- Shinka Ramen: The beef bone marrow ramen is easily the best ramen I’ve had. It’s very rich and filling and has wagyu brisket in it, too. It’s on the first floor of a hotel in Chinatown.
- TsuruTonTan: I went to the Union Square location and had the Wagyu beef and truffle udon, which was excellent. You can order a small or a large, but they’re both the same price.
- Veselka: Ukrainian food in the East Village, near NYU. Open 24 hours; I’ve always had to wait outside, but it’s worth it.
- Juliana’s: Located in DUMBO, in the same block as Grimaldi’s. Exactly what you expect from New York-style pizza.
- Himalayan Yak: Nepalese and Tibetan food in Jackson Heights. I recommend the momos (dumplings). I’m glad I tried the yak meat, but it is tough, so I probably wouldn’t order it again.
- Exchange Place Food Trucks: While there are food trucks all around Manhattan, they can be a bit harder to find in the rest of the area. In Jersey City they congregate on the waterfront near Exchange Place. Enjoy some cheap Indian food with a great view of the Downtown skyline. There’s also a 9/11 Memorial, including a beam from the Twin Towers, worth seeing just south of where the food trucks usually are.
- Roman Nose: An authentic Italian restaurant on the Newark Avenue pedestrian mall. The street is permanently closed and often fills up with vendors and tables for local restaurants.
- Ben’s Delicatessen: I’ve only been to the one in Midtown Manhattan, but there are also locations on Long Island and in Florida. It’s not quite as good as Katz’s, but it’s much cheaper and easier to get into.
- Grimaldi’s: One of the most famous NYC pizzerias, with locations in DUMBO, Manhattan, and Coney Island. Exactly what you expect from New York-style pizza.
- Joe’s Shanghai: I was at the Chinatown location and there was quite a wait for Saturday lunch. Joe’s is famous for their soup dumplings, which you can get with either crab or pork, and I also recommend the scallion pancake and the “Lion’s Head” meatballs, which are cooked in a dark, savoury gravy.
- Shake Shack: A fast food chain, but a step above McDonald’s and the like. There are locations across the US, but the franchise started in NYC and that’s where they’re most common. The burgers are good, but the shakes are the highlight for me.
- Spot Dessert Bar: I’ve been to the locations in Koreatown and the East Village. The desserts are on the expensive side, but unique and very good, especially the “Cookie Camp”, a mix of ice cream, pretzels, and a warm chocolate chip cookie.
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum: In the former locations of the Twin Towers there are now huge fountains, lined with trees. The adjacent musem is built in the foundations of the Towers and is worth seeing as well.
- American Museum of Natural History: Featured in Night at the Museum, AMNH has lots of fossils and taxidermy and is too big to see in one visit. I give it a slight edge over the Met. It’s on the Upper West Side.
- Central Park: You’ve probably seen it in more movies and TV shows than you can remember, but it’s worth seeing in person. The Park is massive and contains lots of very different areas, including lakes, fields, woods, a path for bicycles and horse-drawn carriages, and clearings with statues. Standing in the middle of any of the fields gives a good view of the Uptown and Midtown skylines. In my mind, the best of these views is looking south from the north end of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, from which you can see not only Midtown icons like the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building but even the Freedom Tower, if you stand in the right spot. Worth noting, if you are trying to get somewhere specific, even if it’s in the Park, spend as little travel time in the Park as possible. It’s very easy to become disoriented due to the winding paths.
- Citi Bikes: These are ubiquitous and relatively cheap rental bicycles that you can use to commute or simply to see Manhattan. I’m too nervous to ride along streets, but there are good paths around Central Park and along the west side of Manhattan, all the way from the battery to Uptown.
- DUMBO: Somewhat touristy shopping area with great views of Manhattan.
- Financial District: Abbreviated FiDi, this is the part of town with the World Trade Centre, 9/11 Memorial, the New York Stock Exchange, New York City Hall, and the Charging Bull. Traders gather after work in bars on Stone Street, but besides that there’s not much nightlife. Federal Hall doesn’t take long to see, but is free to visit. It served as New York’s first city hall and was the site of the Stamp Act Congress and Congress of the Confederation.
- Manhattan Bridge: Much less crowded than the Brooklyn Bridge and with better views. Spans the East River from Manhattan Chinatown to DUMBO in Brooklyn.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: World-renowned art museum on the Upper East Side, in Central Park. It’s huge and has exhibits from ancient through the 20th century. Tickets are good for three days and also apply to the Met Breuer, a modern art museum nearby, and the Met Cloisters, a castle full of old European religious artifacts at the very northern end of Manhattan.
- Morningside Heights: Lots of old architecture to see, including the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, Columbia University, and Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb.
- Prospect Park: A bit south of downtown Brooklyn, it is very large and not as crowded as Central Park. There are kilometres of open fields, plus walking paths and a lake.
- Rockefeller Center: Located in Midtown, this area has a lot of high end shops, including the famous toy store FAO Schwarz. During the Christmas season, there is a very large tree set up, and nearby stores put light displays on their facades.
- Roosevelt Island: There’s a cable car from the east side of Manhattan over to Roosevelt Island with great views of Midtown and the Queensboro Bridge. The south end of the island is a park with a monument to FDR and the north end is residential with a bit of retail.
- Staten Island Ferry: Free ferry from the Financial District to Staten Island. Great views of Brooklyn, New Jersey, and the skyline of Downtown Manhattan. Don’t bother walking around Staten Island, though. I tried it and there was nothing there.
- Strand Books: They have a huge selection of new and used books over multiple floors. This is the best bookstore I’ve found in NYC. Located near Union Square.
- Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site: Free tours operate in this brownstone in the East Village.
- Times Square: Most New Yorkers seem to hate it, but everyone should see it at least once. It’s packed with crowds, souvenirs, retail, buskers, and video screens showing ads. It’s busy every time of the night and day. Avoid going while it’s raining if you don’t want to get poked by hundreds of umbrellas.
- Unisphere: A 43 metre high globe, built for the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It’s a lengthy trip from Manhattan, but it’s not far away if you’re going to a Mets game anyway, and it’s one of my favourite New York landmarks.
- United Nations: You can see the assembly halls for many committees, as well as the general assembly. There’s also art from all around the world, donated by member countries. Canada donated the doors to the patio.
- Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre: Co-founded by Amy Poehler and with locations in Hell’s Kitchen and NoHo, as well as Los Angeles, this is an improv theatre that hosts shows by many different troupes. I’ve seen “The Curfew” a couple of times and both shows were excellent.
- Bryant Park Christmas Market: In November and December, every major square and park along Broadway in Manhattan has its own Christmas market, but Bryant Park’s is the biggest. There are food vendors, artisans, and a skating rink.
- Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation: All the balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade are inflated the night before near the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. It gets crowded, but not as crowded as the parade itself, and it gives a better, close-up view of the balloons.
- Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade: I watched from near the south end of the parade route and to start with, I couldn’t get within 10 metres of the route because it was so crowded. I worked my way forward over time, but not without getting squished. Some floats carry celebrities and it’s cool to see the balloons up in the air, but this isn’t something I would do more than once.
- Feast of San Gennaro: An 11-day street festival in Little Italy and Nolita in the middle of September, there are carnival rides and lots of food vendors, primarily serving Italian food. It’s well-worth seeing if you’re in the City at the right time.
- Smorgasburg: North America’s largest open air food market, open every weekend of the summer in Brooklyn, in one location on Saturdays and one on Sundays. They also run along with a flea market inside in Downtown Brooklyn during the winter, plus they organize other special events. The food can be a little expensive, but there’s a very wide variety of interesting dishes. Many restaurants throughout NYC started as stands at Smorgasburg.
- New York Yankees (Yankee Stadium, just inside the Bronx): The subway goes straight to the stadium and the area immediately surrounding it is safe, but there are some dangerous neighbourhoods nearby, so don’t stray too far.
- New York Mets (Citi Field, in Flushing, Queens): It takes a little over half an hour to get from Grand Central Station to Citi Field on the 7 train. The stadium isn’t far from LaGuardia airport, so planes regularly fly low overhead. The surrounding area is mostly pretty quiet, but Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (especially including the Unisphere) is nice to walk around. If you happen to be there for a night game, go up to the very top of a section in the vicinity of 520, and you will get a unique view of the sunset over the Manhattan skyline.
- New York Knicks and New York Rangers (Madison Square Garden): Right near Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan, the location is great but tickets are expensive and the facility is dated. I was there for a Rangers preseason game and sat in the 400 sections. I could just barely see the whole ice surface; it was like looking through a slot because the ceiling is so low. It would be worth extra to sit in the first row of one of those sections or elsewhere in the arena.
- Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders (Barclays Center): In downtown Brooklyn, the arena is easy to get to from Manhattan, plus it’s cheaper to get tickets there than to the Knicks or Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and the arena is newer and nicer. Be aware that the Islanders have recently started moving some of their home games back to Nassau County, which is several hours out of the city by transit.
- New Jersey Devils (Prudential Center): In downtown Newark, a half-hour ride on the PATH train from World Trade Center. Like Barclays Center, Prudential Center is nicer than Madison Square Garden, and it’s easy to get Devils tickets. The down-side is the location, as it requires a separate fare from the NYC subway.
- Brooklyn Cyclones (MCU Park, on Coney Island): It can take an hour to get to Coney Island from the Financial District by subway, but watching a baseball game down there is a really unique experience. A breeze blows in off the ocean and there’s a roller coaster out in left field. The Cyclones are a minor league affiliate of the Mets, in the New York-Penn League (short-season A).
- Staten Island Yankees (Richmond County Bank Ballpark): Going to a ballgame on Staten Island is a good excuse to take the ferry. The outfield has a great view of the Manhattan skyline. The SI Yankees are a minor league affiliate of the Yankees, in the New York-Penn League (short-season A).