Edited by Kathryn Foley
NYC is a must-see city. It’s hard to narrow down the hundreds of reasons to visit New York; from incredible food to cutting edge arts, there are a million reasons to visit New York, but here are some of the best. My first memories of New York are from my childhood when I went there on a family trip. I remember the classics - the top of the Empire State Building, the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, and the skyscrapers towering above me. But since then, my relationship with New York has changed a lot. I’ve lived in tiny Williamsburg apartments and luxurious historic brownstones in Manhattan, and in both cases, New York was pure magic. NY should be on everyone’s bucket list of destinations, and here’s why.
Food glorious food
To be clear, I am not a foodie. My priorities lie in seeing shows and performances or going to museums, but I do love good food and I am constantly fascinated by trying new dishes. I could be encouraging you towards New York-style foods like bagels, pizza, clam chowder, all of which I’ve eaten (they are delicious, please try them), or recommending the trendy restaurants in midtown and cool restaurants in Brooklyn, but you can find information on that all over the internet. So I am sharing with you the restaurants that I remember with my stomach: E.A.K Ramen, Taco Mahal, Hi-Collar, Momofuku. My first encounter with Korean food ever was in New York, and the multiple Korean restaurants I have been to in the years have all been incredible. Korean food in New York is the real deal, so don’t miss out on trying some while you’re in town!
Whenever I travel to a new city, I check if there is a free museum day or a day that the museum is open longer hours as I find that those are the best times to go. And if you’re looking for free things to do in New York, free museum Fridays are a great option! But you can seriously find a free day almost everywhere. I try to always go to Solomon R. Guggenheim (I am a sucker for architecture), the New Museum, the MoMA PS1, and the Brooklyn Museum. I’m interested in contemporary and experimental art, and I look for institutions and organizations that are trying to work against colonization, appropriation, and tokenization. The MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney are also incredible on a different level, and there are some like the Bronx Museum of Art which are always free. Who said you can’t find free things to do in New York!
The diversity of its neighborhoods
Get lost in New York’s neighborhoods. Take the metro to a place you’ve never been or a neighborhood you want to adventure in and just spend as many hours as you have just walking around, exploring, and seeing where your desires and needs lead you. Sure, get disorientated in Times Square and stroll through Central Park, but go to Williamsburg, Greenwich Village, Harlem, Little Italy, and wherever else takes your fancy. You can only discover the incredible diversity of the city’s culture, cuisine, and community by exploring districts like these. Each neighborhood really does have its own personality. I loved Williamsburg, and it’s true that these days everyone wants to come here, party, ride around on a bike and check out the latest hipster bars, but get past this and there’s still a whole lot of soul. If you’re wondering where to stay in New York City, getting out of Manhattan would be my recommendation, and who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with the area like I did!
Photo credit: elmoremagazine
Experimental arts scene
You don’t have to look far for unique things to do in New York; it’s a hub for many cultures and arts that often do not have geographical zones. One of these is the city’s quirky experimental theatre and dance scenes. There are amazing festivals like American Realness, Coil Festival, Under the Radar to mention a few, who are really working towards presenting the most experimental and cutting edge performances. All of these take place in January, and in the same month, APAP (Association of Performing Arts Professional) brings together curators, presenters, and artists from all over the country. Because of this, people come from all over the world to witness, discover, meet, and be part of this cultural moment. Individual artists organize shows and pop-up events during this time to benefit from this kind of cultural tourism. There’s a coming together of people from all walks of life, and this confluence of artists and leaders is very unique to New York and doesn’t really happen in any other part of the world. But if you can’t wait until January, there are still plenty of venues to check out: the Chocolate Factory, The Invisible Dog, Abrons Art Center, Danspace Project, Gibney Dance (a lot of drop-in classes to take here), La Mama, The Kitchen, The Public Theatre are a few venues to check out to see shows, take classes or workshops.
To walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
Going all the way to New York to walk over a bridge might seem strange, but I’m a sucker for a good skyline. As the daughter of an architect and a maker of many things that involved patterns, shadows, shapes and colours, I enjoy the way that each city has a different and unique way to define its distance and relationship with the sky. I am one of those people that walk around the world looking up a lot. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge allows you to be close to the city but yet, still experience the skyline. And the Brooklyn Bridge is such an icon of the city. Even if you’ve never visited before, you’ll recognise this sight from movies, tv shows and photographs - and it’s definitely one of the top things to do in NY! It takes about half an hour to walk across it, but it can be complicated and frustrating to find where to access it; look for the Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walkway. You can drive, bike or walk it, but I’d recommend walking for sure. It will be something that you remember forever, even if you only visit New York once.
For the brunches
What to eat in New York? Brunch. It’s a big deal here, and the weekend ritual of going for brunch with your friends or family is something I love about the city. Maybe it’s because the city never sleeps so no one has been to bed, or maybe it’s because no one wakes up in time for breakfast but you’re never far from a delicious brunch place. There are the latest ‘it’ spots popping up all the time and not even locals can keep up, but a few places I like which were not too far from where I used to stay in Williamsburg are Anella’s in Greenpoint and Stone Park Cafe in Prospect Heights. At Stone Park Cafe they do amazingly innovative things like tempura oyster frittata, which is great when like me you love experimenting with new dishes.
For the architecture
As I’ve already mentioned, I am the daughter of an architect so it’s not totally surprising that this is a passion of mine, but the buildings here have a real knack of transporting you to another era or making you feel like you could be someone else. Take Grand Central; the station is a beautiful example of Beaux-Arts architecture, and even just passing through can make you feel like you’re in a movie. Or take a lazy Sunday morning stroll - before you go for that brunch - in one of the Brooklyn neighborhoods that’s known for its brownstones, like Park Slope or Brooklyn Heights (both are also coincidentally great neighborhoods to stay in New York). So many of them look almost exactly as they would have done when they were built in the early 19th century, and you almost feel that time has stood still when you see the huge sandstone terraces which so epitomize New York architecture.
It’s a window into American history
There are 65 million passenger records of people who arrived in the States via the port of New York, at Ellis Island, and for so many years this really was the gateway to the rest of America. The millions of people who came through this port changed the face of the city, and of the whole country forever. And compared to so many other cities, New York’s is relatively recent. Visit Ellis Island to get a handle on how migration affected and shaped the city into the place we know today. Any list of places to visit in New York should definitely include this historic spot, and exploring the narratives of some of the early New York immigrants and their experiences provides, for me, a window into the city itself.
I’m a choreographer by profession and have spent time as a contemporary dancer in New York. The city is so inspiring, and there are endless opportunities to explore not only dance but other performing arts. The city is home to the Lincoln Centre, which is the largest performing arts center in the world, and the residence of the New York City Ballet. If you have the opportunity to go even once, go for it! And as I mentioned already, there are countless, experimental dance spaces where you can either take part or watch performances.
I think there are few cities on earth which visiting, even just once, is an experience everyone should have. New York York will have exhausted you before you exhaust the never ending list of things you can do here at any hour of the day. There’s such a vibrant energy fizzing out of literally everything and everyone here, and it’s infectious. New York experiences like walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, going up the Empire State building, having your first bagel or seeing the ice rinks at Christmas are things that are so universally recognised, and so special when you finally do experience them for yourself. A lot of these things are touristy, but it’s still magical to experience them for yourself. Day, night and anywhere in between there’s something going on, and things to do in New York at night can be anything from listening to jazz in a basement club to glamping in the city (true story) to finding somewhere that serves your favourite, niche dish at 4am. Whether it’s reality or a little bit fictionalised, the idea of what we think New York will be (or should be) is probably somewhere in the back of most of our head’s so this year why not come and check it out for yourself?
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