New York City includes 5 boroughs at the crossroads where the Hudson River meets the Atlantic Ocean. At its core is Manhattan, a heavily populated borough known for its sprawling Central Park. Its iconic sites include skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building, Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, and Broadway theater staged in the famous neon-lit Times Square. This city that never sleeps is a never ending concrete jungle with soaring views from the Rockefeller Center and observation tower, a city highlight. I had been dreaming of seeing this city for years and when browsing flights one night saw the cheapest red eye flight and left for a 4 day weekend perusing the Big Apple on a whim. This was the best decision and I had an amazing weekend exploring the city including Soho and Noho and the vibrant live music nightlife of the city.
How to get there
The main airport serving New York City is John F. Kennedy International Airport that is in Queens, New York and about a 30-50 minute drive into the city and depends on the traffic. This drive when I flew in Friday morning was back to back traffic for work rush hour in the morning flying in at 6:30 am. It took us twice as long if not more because of the traffic. This is the main international airport and largest airport outside of Manhatten.
Airport to City Center
There are several transportation options to get from the airport to city center. Because of limited time I chose to take an Uber from the airport to the city and the rush hour traffic for work was horrible and the rates were skyrocketing. Taking Uber was not a good choice and I had not researched my options well enough beforehand.
JFK Airport Taxi
This is the fastest and most convenient option since there will be many airport taxis curbside immediately ready to take you to your destination as well as one of the most expensive options. A taxi from JFK has a flat fare of USD$52 (44€) to any location in the Manhattan area, with additional tolls, and the ride will take around 45 minutes. The flat rate of the taxis ironically will probably end up being cheaper than Uber and other driving apps because of the increased rates at busy times during the day. In traffic the ride can take up to two hours and the tolls must also be paid by you as the customer.
***Tip: There is a USD$1.00 Peak-Hour Surcharge between 4:00PM to 8:00PM, Monday to Friday.
This is the most budget and effective way to travel through the city quickly and avoid traffic. First you will take the Airtrain at JFK to get to the closest station. The ride will be about 60 minutes all together, including the transfer at Jamaica Station, and will cost USD$7.75 (6.67€). This is the best way to get around the city as well once you are in city center. This is the best way to beat traffic and exorbitant fees for taxis and Ubers that cost a lot and have increasing rates based on the demand and time of the day.
Note: If you are buying a new MetroCard, there is a $1 fee for the card. Hold onto that card! It is refillable!
The cheapest but also longest option is the bus. The bus can be taken from the airport to Jamaica Station and then from there to Midtown. The trip will take around 90 minutes in total and cost USD$9.25 (7.95€). This option does not make sense in light of the cheaper and faster subway that is more direct. The bus from the airport is USD$2.75 (2.40€). However, if you take the express bus service into Manhattan, you will need to pay an additional USD$6.50, making the whole trip around USD$9.25 (7.95€). Tickets are purchasable from the machines at the stations, either individually or with a MetroCard.
**Tip: The express bus services leave from Jamaica Station, so in order to catch one you will need to take the Q3 bus which leaves from Terminal 5 at JFK to reach Jamaica Station.
Things to do
Eat an Original Rainbow Bagel from The Bagel Store
The Bagel Store is a New York must that is found in Brooklyn. This is a handy stop on your way into town from the airport. I flew in early and was in need of breakfast and needed to try some famous New York bagels. I had heard about the Bagel store and it really is a small hole in the wall shop that sells the most soft and delicious homemade bagels with flavored cream cheeses that are some of the most wild flavors and combinations. They are known for being the original rainbow bagel. This one was a big too sugar rush for me in the morning but was pretty delicious! These bagels are more than delicious and homemade they are works of art. This is a cash only spot. I think these bagels really were worth the hype and next time I would go with a more savory option.
Hours: 7am-6pm daily
Brooklyn Bridge Park
The Brooklyn Bridge Park is the second stop on your way into town from the airport that is a fun park. The park features a long river walk and trails with the best New York City skyscraper views from across the river. This urban oasis features shaded picnic tables, hibachi-style BBQ grills & river views. This park includes the piers, historic and beautiful Jane’s Carousel. I went on a morning walk through the park to see the city views and the bridges. This park has some of the best views in the city of the skyline and bridges and is a great spot to hang out on a nice day.
Park Hours: 6am-1am daily
Empire State Building
This is a historical landmark that is well known in the city. This is an iconic, art deco office tower from 1931 with exhibits & observatories on the 86th & 102nd floors. This is the other place to get killer views of the city. There are three main decks, the top deck is at 102 floors, the main deck at 86 stories and the 80th floor with the dare to dream exhibit. The main ticket is $2 cheaper than the Rockefeller center, however this building offers higher viewing points. Their tickets are the same price for a two a day visit and so they are fairly comparable.
Hours: 8am-2am daily, (longer open hours than Rockefeller center)
Price: $36 for main deck (86th floor) adult ticket, am/pm ticket is $52 per adult, and a spendy sunrise experience for $114 a ticket with only 100 people allowed a day. See tickets and book online here.
RockFeller Center & Observation Deck
This center is a historical landmark in the city that is a famous complex home to TV studios, plus a seasonal ice rink & giant Christmas tree. This building is in the center of the action in Midtown. The Rockefeller Center has an observation deck of the city on the top floor that is called Top of the Rock. Top of the Rock is designed with an ocean-liner style, offering the best city views and panorama. A general admission ticket for adults is $38 and children are $32. The sunset is the most popular ticket and time to be on top of the center so the tickets are $10 more each. The sun & stars ticket was my favorite option that offers you a two visit viewing within a 24 hour period so that you can experience during the day and at night for the city lights skyline. The sun and stars ticket is $56 per adult and $45 per child. This is definitely one of the best views in the city and an unlimited experience with timing. Once you go up you can stay as long as you want. I brought a bag with snacks and took my time in taking in the view. I returned for the nighttime skyline and was not disappointed. The lights at night were beautiful.
Hours: Sunday–Saturday8:00am – MidnightLast elevator up at 11:00pm
Price: General entrance $38, sunset $48, and two times within 24 hours for sunset and day or night skyline $56. Book tickets here online to save time waiting in line at the center.
The Theater District is the bustling heart of Midtown West. In the pedestrian plazas of Times Square, there are the pulsing lights of towering digital billboards. Locals and tourists gather on the giant red staircase above the TKTS booth, which sells tickets to Broadway shows running at the area’s historic theaters. On busy 42nd Street, chain stores and restaurants abound. This is the hub of the city that always feels awake, alive and very bright with all the lights even at night. This is a must see spot in the city and is a fun place to walk through during the night and day.
St. Patricks Cathedral
This is a beautiful city center historic cathedral. St. Patrick’s is an enormous Neo-Gothic church from 1879 with twin spires & storied history opposite Rockefeller Center. Seeing the beautiful historic architecture next to skyscrapers is pretty surreal in the city. This is a quiet respite amidst a bustling and busy city. It was a peaceful experience to step in and sit a few moments in this beautiful cathedral. There is mass 7 times a day that can be attended as well as volunteer free tours sharing more of the liturgical history. The public tours begin at 10 am and are around one hour. See more information here.
Hours: Daily: 6:30am to 8:45pm. The Cathedral is open until 7:00pm on the night of the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center.
Price: Free admission
Central Park is the one of the most famous points in New York City. It is a massive park with pedestrian paths & ballfields, plus a zoo, carousel, boat rentals & a reservoir. This is a green oasis gem in the midst of the city. There is a rock called the summit rock that is a grouping of large boulders that you can climb up and sit on with a view of the park and the skyscrapers towering over the trees. There is an indoor and outdoor theater with puppet shows and acting inside of the park. There is a castle called Belvedere that is a Gothic & Romanesque castle from 1869 set on Vista Rock (the park’s highest point) with park views. This castle is right next to the quaint turtle pond area of the park. Cedar hill is the main rolling green hills picnic area of the park that is great for lounging with snacks in the afternoon. There are fountains, lakes and beautiful old bridges There are beautiful gardens and Bethesda Terrace has beautiful tiles and architecture. This huge park has so much to do and see in it and events that occur inside the park in all different seasons. This was one of my favorite spots in the city to explore and walk through an endless jungle in the middle of the city.
Hours: 6am-1am daily
Seeing broadway live has always been a life dream for me since I was young. I have always loved plays and since the Lion King has always been my favorite Disney movie since childhood it seems that Lion King was always the broadway that I had dreamed of seeing forever. So of course when I visited for the weekend I made sure to get a ticket to the show. The Lion King was showing in Minskoff Theater, a multilevel, 1,600-seat Broadway stage venue showcasing major productions & dance since 1973. This theater is in the middle of theater district right off from Times Square. This was my favorite experience of the city and I personally wish I could see so many more shows and lived near so that I could go to the shows. The quality of the singing, dancing and the artistry in costumes and sets was astounding. This was an experience I will remember for a lifetime. You must see a show when you are in New York! The show was unbelievable and made me weep. You can go to the box office the day of to get cheaper deals but also risk there not being tickets available.
Box Office Hours
Monday-Saturday: 10:00 AM-8:00 PM
Sunday: 12:00 PM-6:00 PM
Purchase The Lion King tickets online, at the theatre box office, or by phone at 866-870-2717. The ticket pricing ranges from around $150 to be in the far back “nosebleed” section, to $230 for the front better view section. An average ticket cost is going to be $150-$300. If you want to see shows and purchase tickets online click here.
Radio City Music Hall
This is a famous performing arts theater circa-1932 art deco theater hosting the Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes, concerts & more. This theater is found in central Midtown near Rockefeller center. This is one of the best spots for live performances in the city. There are music shows as well as acting theater and shows for families. The music features figures such as Billie Eilish, Lenny Kravitz and Incubus. There is live comedy as well featuring Aziz Ansari and Dane Cook. Comedy show tickets range from $45-$75 a show. The music shows tickets will be more around $200-$700 depending on the musician.
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10:00am to 8:00pm. The Box Office will be open at 10:00am daily or 90 minutes before the 1st performance of the day, whichever is earlier and will stay open until 8:00pm or 30 minutes after the last performance of the day begins, whichever is later.
Price: $45-$400 tickets & booking here
Ladurée New York Madison
Laduree is an upscale bakery with Parisian origins, specializing in French macarons in a number of flavors. The macarons are to die for homemade from this pastry shop that is a classy tea room. This is a perfect spot for a rainy day in New York. The fancy tea rooms are small and so you need to grab a spot early. I am a macaron connoisseur and addict and these are the best I have ever had. I love their rose petal macarons the best. Tea at their shop is $7.00, sandwiches and salads are $4-$10 and their macarons are 3 for $8.40 and can be bought in boxes for the number you want. Their macaron flavors to choose from are: Coffee, Salted Caramel, Chocolate, Strawberry Candy, Raspberry, Rose, Pistachio,
Orange Blossom, Vanilla, Lemon, and Marie Antoinette. They have a high tea for $39 that includes 3 macarons, 1 pastry, 2 Guimauves, 1 Cannelé and 2 Finger Sandwiches on top of the pot of tea. More information on locations and menus here.
Hours: 8am-7pm Mon-Fri, 9am-7pm Sat, 10am-6pm Sun
Manhatten , lower Eastside and westside
Upper east side Manhatten is known as the posh, residential area of the city also known for its wealthy denizens, fancy restaurants and designer shops along Madison Avenue. Madison Avenue is where Laduree has a tea shop. It’s a pretty neighborhood, with a mix of classic brownstones and upscale high-rises. Museum Mile, a stretch of 5th Avenue next to Central Park, includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and El Museo del Barrio. This is a trendy neighborhood area to walk around and explore. Papaya King is known to be one of the best New York hot dog stands in the city is in this area. There is also a Gossip Girls tour for fans of the TV show in the area. For a great thrifting spot in the city check out Vintage Twin amidst all the expensive designers on Madison Ave. Steep Rock Bouldering is a great climbing gym in the area with day passes and memberships. Lexington Candy Shop is an old fashioned soda fountain with malt milkshakes and homemade candy. The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden is a beautiful rooftop garden with views of the city and great cocktails and small dishes.
The Upper West Side has the Lincoln Center, which hosts performing-arts institutions like the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Ballet. This area is filled with apartment buildings of Central Park West, and has the American Museum of Natural History. There are lots of brunch and bagel shops in the area. Columbus circle boasts the best shopping in this area as well as where Columbia University sits in the city.
Soho is a neighborhood that gets its name from its location in the city, south of Houston street. This area was once an artists’ enclave: painters, writers and dancers moved into the abandoned warehouses and lofts found in cast-iron buildings in the 1970s as a cheap space to both live and work. While those artists have since vanished due to rising rents and a changing landscape, bits and pieces of New York City’s old-world history still remain at these iconic landmarks. My favorite spot at night in the city with all of the live music venus, bars and restaurants was Soho. I walked in to a bar that was playing, Empire State of Mind and I lost it because it was just too good. Everyone was singing together and that was such an awesome cliche experience in the city. Fanelli Cafe is one of the oldest bars/restaurants in the city. Artists and Fleas Soho is is a shop in a loft that is a marketplace for locally made products and artisan crafts in the city. Canal Street Subway here is known for several connecting hallways filled with live musicians, poets and one of the best places to still see live musicians performing. Everyman Espresso is a unique coffee shop with no menus and a personal coffee experience where you are made a unique drink to your tastes with latte art. Film Forum is an independent film house open since the 70’s supporting local film artists. Soho neighborhoods are filled with street art, graffiti and murals that can be found on every corner. This area is filled with fun rooftop bars and cocktail speakeasy lounges. Some of the best live music and night life is here in the city. Read this article here for best bars for live music in soho. This is a good list of some of the best bars in soho as well.
Where to stay
Luxury NYC Oasis + GYM + SPA
I stayed at the most beautiful boutique hotel on the edge of Midtown in Hell’s Kitchen on a quiet outer area of where the center of all the action is. This made a great walking distance choice that mostly allowed me to not pay for transportation and was easy to explore the city. The hotel was filled with eclectic art and a very modern decor. There was a beautiful sky top spa and pool area that had glass ceilings and was a light filled comfy spa with amazing views of the city.
I stayed at this amazing airbnb in 2016 and the property is unfortunately no longer on the site. The boutique hotel was a large complex and so I am not sure why it was taken down off the site but if you want to still research the property the address is below.
510 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036, United States
HI New York City Hostel
This hostel is in a historic castle-like building minutes from Central Park and Times Square. The hostel has modern amenities with more than two floors of common room space for socializing, five banquet rooms for meetings and events and a 36-burner kitchen available for guest use, and of course free wifi. They house Manhattan’s largest private outdoor patio, available for impromptu soccer games or trainings and orientations. This is one of the most budget stays you will find centrally located in the city.
Price: $70/night, book here
This hip and modern budget hotel on a leafy block in Midtown East is 1.1 miles from Times Square. Colorful modern rooms that are simple. Most rooms have en suite bathrooms; some have shared facilities. Amenities consist of a year-round courtyard cafe, a funky lounge with games and a bar, and a furnished rooftop terrace with city views. This is a great mid range property in the city with a great location.
Price: $188/night, book here
The NoMad Hotel
This boutique hotel is in a historic beaux arts building, and is a chic, Parisian-inspired hotel that is 1.4 miles from the Museum of Modern Art and 0.4 miles from the Empire State Building. Stylish rooms have free Wi-Fi, hardwood floors, handmade rugs, and original artwork, as well as pillow-top mattresses with Italian bedding, desks, minibars, flat-screen TVs and iPhone docks; suites add bay windows and extra living space. Some rooms include claw-foot tubs and city views. Amenities include a nightly turndown service, a 24-hour gym and a bi-level library, plus an indoor/outdoor rooftop event space, a plush lounge with a 24-foot mahogany bar, and a posh restaurant. This is a place of luxury in the city with art, history and class centrally located in the city.
Price: $400/night, booking here