Our Essential Guide for Travelers to New York City

Planning a visit to the Big Apple? Here’s our Essential Guide for Travelers to New York City. 

While we were visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Mostar’s iconic Ottoman Bridge shining in the background, a nineteen-year-old waiter with bright-eyes and big dreams shared his hopes of visiting New York. One day, he said. We have seen this look of wonder and felt the hopeful anticipation in people of all ages and from all over the world. It seems even in an era where interest in visiting the U.S. has plummeted, New York City continues to loom large in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. (And, thank goodness for that).

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to partner with editors at SmarterTravel, a subsidiary of TripAdvisor and create An Essential New York City Travel Guide. No project has represented the highs and lows of freelance travel writing for me more than this project. When I initially scored the assignment, the thought of sharing the joys of this city that I love felt like the highest of highs. Then a few weeks later, my grandmother’s health declined and she entered hospice. Traveling back to the U.S. (from Spain, at the time), to be by her side, there were days I didn’t think writing a decipherable sentence was possible. The more tears flowed, fewer words followed.

Thanks to the patience and encouragement of an amazing editor, I kept plugging away, mainly during quiet moments when she slept. With my heart breaking for what this magnificent woman and my family were going through, somehow writing about New York, if only for an hour a day, helped keep me grounded and hopeful. The assignment took on more meaning and importance than I ever could have imagined.

Two months and 12,000+ words later, the guide was published and I’m proud of the work. Below are links to the individual articles, from best hotels to can’t-miss attractions. I hope this guide helps you plan your travels, but also inspires you to explore deeper into the heart and soul of New York City. The city will reward you every time for your effort, I promise.

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Our Essential New York City Travel Guide for SmarterTravel.

So, why visit New York City? 

For us, New York represents America at her most hopeful and inviting; most shining and successful; most transformative and tolerant. The great Melting Pot requires people of all backgrounds and walks of life to coexist, on a second-by-second basis, whether shuffling along bustling sidewalks, packed into subway cars or sunning in Central Park.

Why Visit New York City?

Ever hopeful and striving, New York City is a melting pot of cultures that innovates like no other place on Earth. From arts and architecture to cuisine and entertainment, the Big Apple always goes big. When you visit New York City, you’ll have nonstop access to the world’s best treasures and attractions.

– Excerpt from my New York City Travel Guide written for SmarterTravel. 

Let’s begin with accommodation. Where you choose to lay your head in NYC depends greatly on your trip’s focus. Is museum-hopping on your agenda or do you plan to sing your way down Broadway? Do you seek residential vibes or the bright lights of Times Square?

For many years, we refused to stay anywhere above 23rd Street, preferring to orbit around East and West Villages, Soho, Tribeca, Lower East Side, Downtown and Gramercy. Then, as friends begin to disperse all over the city, our range expanded and we discovered favorite spots on Upper East and West Sides, Spanish Harlem, Washington Heights, Harlem and beyond. (Just a note, we love you Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and The Bronx, however, this guide focuses almost exclusively on Manhattan). 

We aimed to be as comprehensive as possible and include fantastic hotels in every neighborhood and for every budget. Here goes, with our New York City Hotel Guide.  And, of course, why not start at the top (of luxury and budget, that is).

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The Beekman NYC, downtown luxury with old world vibe. Our Essential NYC Travel Guide.

 

10 Best Hotels in New York City

New York knows how to dazzle like no other city in the world, particularly when it comes to luxurious accommodation. From suites fit for presidents to loaner sports cars you can take for a spin along Broadway, the best hotels in New York offer exclusive perks and services to please the most discriminating traveler.

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As dreamy as many of the hotels mentioned above are…and, they are!…those rates are out of reach for many of us. What many people don’t realize is that NYC is rich in fantastically affordable hotels as well. No, really, it’s true!

Here’s our guide to the best budget accommodations.

11 Cheap Hotels in New York City

As any New Yorker will tell you, finding your own space within the tightly-jammed 23 square miles of Manhattan is the ultimate luxury. For travelers who don’t mind tiny rooms or the absence of fine amenities, cheap hotels in New York come in a surprising array of choices spanning every neighborhood, from Harlem to Battery Park.

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Washington Square Hotel, located across the street from this famous arch in Washington Square Park, is one of our long-time favorite places to stay in New York City.

No conversation about New York City hotels is complete without mentioning the stars. NYC has no shortage of places made famous through film and TV shows or infamous through a cast of frequent clientele. Can we say “Chelsea Hotel?”…then, cry a little over its current closure.

Ah, but change is the only constant, right? So, here are our top picks for Famous New York City Hotels. 

9 Famous Hotels in New York City

New York City boasts more than its fair share of iconic hotels, some made famous through the silver screen or hit TV shows, others renowned as timeless havens of style and design. Many famous hotels in New York have shut down completely or closed temporarily for renovation (the legendary Waldorf Astoria falls into the latter category), but there are still plenty of places where you can bask in fame’s bright glow.

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Even more than where to stay, the main questions we get about visiting New York City revolve around one subject: FOOD.

Where should we eat in NYC? No city does food quite like flavors of the great melting pot. From celebrity-chef tasting tables sure to set most of us back at least a month’s income to street vendor cheap eats, the city that never sleeps dishes up above-par meals all day and night. Let’s begin with a splurge.

Here are our top picks for Famous New York City Restaurants. 

10 Famous New York City Restaurants Every Foodie Should Visit

From the unforgettable star turn of Katz’s Delicatessen in When Harry Met Sally to the instantly recognizable neon sign of Tom’s Restaurant in a little show called Seinfeld, famous New York restaurants populate every neighborhood. But the realm of fine cuisine is where New York generates the brightest star power.

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New York Pizza is as iconic as the Empire State Building. A must when visiting NYC.

On the other delicious end of the spectrum rests New York City’s vast range of delicious cheap eats. Many of our favorite meals in NYC fall into this category, from dumplings in Chinatown to falafels in Central Park.

Here are our Favorite Affordable Places to Eat in NYC. 

11 Deliciously Cheap Eats in New York City

Visiting New York City is an expensive endeavor. Fortunately, while splurging on world-class dining in the city’s famed restaurants is part of travel’s joy, there’s also a bounty of cheap eats in New York City for travelers on a budget.

Follow the locals’ lead to discover delicacies that are easy on both the palate and wallet. Just make sure that wallet is holding greenbacks in addition to credit cards: Most cheap eats in New York City are cash only.

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Chinatown for dumplings is a golden cheap eat and must when visiting New York City.


What is classic NYC cuisine?
, you ask. Great question.

For oysters to bagels, there are so many classically New York tastes and you should try them all.

Here’s what we think are the Best Foods to Try – maybe, even the Essential Foods to Try in New York City. 

11 Best Foods to Try in New York City

The story of New York, including its most beloved food traditions, is a story of immigration to America. Cherishing memories of home and determined to become part of the great melting pot, immigrants have introduced and mingled flavors from around the world. The most famous New York foods reflect this heritage while showing off the innovation and experimentation for which the city is known.

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Every American should visit Ellis Island. The museum tells the stories, hopes and dreams of immigrants from around the world while detailing the impact of their migratory patterns. All the while, the Statue of Liberty shines like a beacon just beyond on the horizon. It’s deeply moving, possibly even life-altering, and the most essential New York attraction for any first-time visitor, period.

Of course, then there’s Central Park, Broadway, Empire State Building, Freedom Tower, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Birdland, Joe’s Pub…the list goes on and on.

Here’s a bit of help in navigating what to see and do.

11 Places to Visit in New York City

From arts, architecture, and parks to dining and nightlife, New York attractions set the standard in all categories. This limitless blur of activity can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers. When deciding which places to visit in New York, plan to tackle one must-see sight per day; then save time for wandering the city’s diverse and unique neighborhoods. For as every local and frequent visitor knows, the easiest way to slip into the dream state known as a “New York state of mind” is simply by walking one densely fascinating block after another.

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An afternoon in Central Park is Essential for Any New York City Visitor.

Okay, so you’ve marked all of the Top NYC Attractions off your list, now what? New York City is loaded with under-the-radar attractions and hidden gems. For instance, do you know about the beautiful green space within bustling Central Park that you can have all to yourself almost any time of day? Yep, such a spot exists.

Here are our Top 10 Hidden Gems in New York City.

10 Hidden Gems in New York City

In the shadow of attention-grabbing attractions like the Empire State Building, Central Park, and the Freedom Tower lies a beautiful assortment of museums, sights, and experiences that may not generate as much star power but offers no less enlightening experiences. Many of these hidden gems in New York City are hardly hidden to locals, but they often fall just outside the spotlight for visitors, especially first-timers.

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Walking neighborhoods of New York City is without a doubt our favorite activity. From Lower East Side, where this shot was taken, north to Harlem, every pocket offers fascinating sights.

And, for those of you staying long enough to venture beyond Manhattan – and, we highly recommend doing so, there are an endless array of great towns and sights within easy reach, via car or train, from NYC. Beaches, wineries, hiking and river-rafting, you can find it all around the area.

Here are our picks for Best Day Trips from New York City.

9 Great Day Trips from New York City

There are enough attractions and distractions in Manhattan alone to fill every second of your trip, no matter the length, but taking day trips from New York City to experience the area’s diverse landscapes and culture can enrich an urban vacation.

Majestic mountains, sandy beaches, surfing and sailing meccas, artsy towns, and oddball attractions are but a few of the offerings within a few hours’ drive or train ride for those intrepid travelers willing to venture beyond The Big Apple’s core.

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Now you know where to stay, where and what to eat, and how to fill your time (and then some). Still, as your NYC trip approaches, a million questions are bound to arise.

Questions like: 

1. “How can I possibly afford a day/week/hour in NYC?”

2.  “Which is better: subway, taxi, Uber, or bus?”

3.  “What should I wear?”

4. “How can I pack everything I need and still travel light?”

Here’s our answer key:

  1. New York City is expensive, there’s no way around that. But, as with any travel, set a budget – then, stick to it. Decide where you will save – a budget hotel, for instance – in order to splurge on other memorable experiences. Enjoy one meal a day in a sit-down restaurant, while filling your belly at stand-up cafes, food trucks and counter spots throughout the rest of the day. Pinpoint happy hours specials, abundant through the city. Take advantage of free events, galleries, museums and concerts. NYC can be affordable, with planning. (more on this topic soon).
  2. All of the above. There are multiple ways to get to almost every destination, including from JFK, LGA and Newark airports. When it comes to airport transfer, pack light so you don’t have to fork over $60-100 for a taxi (or wait in the crazy long queue). For instance, from LGA, you can take the M60 bus to 125th Street, then hop the subway. Alternatively, check Uber and Lyft rates, for private ride and pooled rides, from each airport, before hopping in the taxi queue. (more on this topic coming soon, too!).For traveling around the city, get a subway metro card from a vending machine and use it at every opportunity. Of course, the magic of NYC is best experienced on the street, so bring those walking shoes and get the sidewalk as much as possible.
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Riding the subway, the quintessential New York City Experience.

For answers to questions #3 & #4, see these pages from our Essential New York City Travel Guide, including What to Wear and What To Pack for New York City. 

What to Wear in New York City

What to wear in New York City depends on the weather and your itinerary, of course—but regardless of season or activity, carry this knowledge: New York thrives on individuality. Wear what makes you feel good, and take the opportunity to test new styles and make bold statements.

More than any other city in America, the Big Apple inspires people from all backgrounds to walk in their own rhythm and fearlessly express their personal style.

Here’s a rundown of key pieces and accessories for creating stylish, yet comfortable New York outfits.

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What to Pack for New York City

Uncertainty about what to pack for New York City leads many travelers to overpack, filling Gotham-sized luggage pieces even for short visits. Streamline your wardrobe with mix-and-match basics, punctuated with a few statement pieces and accessories.

Every New York packing list should include outerwear for cool evenings or rainy afternoons, plus essential gadgets like phone chargers and cameras. And remember—New York City is America’s shopping mecca. Leave space in your bag for a return home loaded with Big Apple scores.

Read more…

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Wooee, so, there you have it, Our Essential Guide for Travelers to New York City! 

Did you find this story helpful? If yes, we hope you will leave a comment and tell us your favorite tips – along with any NYC hotspots or cool finds you think should be included. 

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New York City Travel Guide, Section 1: New York City Hotel Guide

Happy travels, y’all!

Related stories:

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Behind the Curtain of a Secret New York City Supper Club


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