You’ve seen it in the movies. You’ve imagined it. Maybe you even heard stories of your ancestors making the journey over. But nothing will quite replicate the feeling of actually being in New York City for the first time.
The energy moves so quickly and you sort of get swept up by the organized chaos. I can see how it can be addictive. The vibe and the history that came together to create this city is unparalleled. It’s the most diverse place I’ve been to. Walking the streets, it feels like no one is too different, too poor or too rich to be in New York.
Here are my recommendations for A Week in New York – Things to Do, based on my recent summer trip!
Slowly but surely, there are cheaper options becoming available to fly into the US. We flew with Norwegian and had a pleasant experience. As an EU citizen, you’ll also be needing an ESTA visitor visa which is relatively easy to obtain and valid up to 90 days.
Walking around NYC is actually deceptively easy, until you rack up the miles realize how tired you are! Manhattan is set up in blocks with a system where streets meet with avenues and Broadway cuts across. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really simple to navigate your way around! Unlike most places in the world, jaywalking is pretty much a standard in NYC, just watch out for bikes that whizz by!
We each purchased a Subway pass for the week, which at the time of writing is $30. There are plentiful stops everywhere so we never once needed to use a taxi or an uber.
There’s also a very handy app called Citymapper which lets you input your destination and tells you the best form of transport to take, including which line of subway to use, how to find the right station and where to get off. It made our lives infinitely easier! Just make sure to purchase a US sim card with some mobile data on it (which will cost you roughly $25 dollars) as roaming can be very expensive.
Week in New York
You’ll likely be quite tired from your travels, so I recommend you get settled and explore the area where you’re staying. You’ll end up spending a lot of your time here, so it’s good to get your bearings. We were staying in East Village, so we took an evening stroll around all the food places, pinpointed the nearest subway stations and took in all the sights and sounds!
The Highline is an old train track line about 3km long that has been converted into gardens. It’s dotted with a few food and drink stalls and surrounded by high rises. It’s very easy and enjoyable to walk in full, but you can exit at multiple points if you wish.
Central Park North
As you might know, Central Park is huge, so I knew I wanted to visit it at least a couple of times. It’s the perfect place to go when you need a little rest. We first went to Belvedere Castle and sat on the grass with some snacks, then we walked by The Reservoir.
I didn’t plan many evening activities myself, but my boyfriend picked a comedy gig for us to see at UCB Theatre which was inexpensive and fun!
Friends Apartment Building
This is a really quick stop off, but if you’re a Friends fan, a very special one! I’ve been watching Friends for 20 years, it was one of my first ways of learning English, so being there felt like life has come full circle! The apartment is on the corner of Grove and Bedford Street in Greenwich Village which is a surprisingly calm area. There’s no Central Perk nearby unfortunately (that was a film set), but you get to snap a photo as a memento.
Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry is a free service and although it doesn’t stop at Ellis Island, it offers a pretty cool experience. The journey lasts about 20 minutes and you get to see the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan from a distance, which is pretty majestic. You can either stay and explore Staten Island or take the next ferry back which departs every half hour.
Ground Zero / One World Trade Centre
When you get off the ferry, Ground Zero and One World Trade Centre is within short walking distance of the port. It was very surreal seeing this spot bathing in the sunshine with visitors mingling.
I fell head over heels in love with Greenwich Village, which neighbours with East Village. It has wonderful cafés and a chilled out artistic vibe. One of my favourite spots has got to be Washington Square Park, which is full of performers, music and people playing chess. We were there during the golden hour when the sun was hitting the fountain, casting rainbow reflections – it was quite magic really.
Top of the Rock
I think when you’re in New York for the first time, it’s worthwhile doing one observation deck. I chose the Rockefeller Building as it’s so iconic and the view from the top is a photo I had pinned on my vision board very early on! It’s also the home of NBC and Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon – it was class to think how many interesting people would have walked through its doors. Exiting the building, you can also choose to walk onto Rockefeller Plaza, which is where the renowned ice skating rink is in winter.
Just a stone throw away from The Rock is the iconic Times Square. You’re often told to only go to Times Square if you really need to, as it’s madness! As much as that’s true, I think it would be crazy to skip it on your first visit there! Weirdly, I found it somewhat serene, maybe because I was so mentally prepared! There are the red steps that you can sit on which form a little oasis and after a while you learn to have selective sight and hearing. It’s only when you lift your head up that it hits you again where you actually are!
Central Park South
As mentioned, I definitely wanted to return to Central Park at some stage during the week. This time I wanted to see this specific scenic view, which is taken from Gapstow Bridge. We sat on top of one of the rock formations, taking in the scenery and walked by Victorian Gardens Amusement Park.
Roosevelt Island Tram
On one of our walks, we just happened to randomly stumble across some red cable cars. We discovered it’s the Roosevelt Island Tram, that’s free to use with a Subway pass and offers unique views over the city. Being suspended over the river gives you butterflies but it moves at a slow pace over short distance, so it’s not too scary. We didn’t stay on Roosevelt Island, as it didn’t seem too exciting at first glance. Once back on the Manhattan side, you’re actually pretty close to Bloomingdales which is well worth a look!
Grand Central Station
This is just a quick step away from a subway station and worth checking out, even just for a few minutes and a quick photo. To think how many people have hurried through its impressive hall over the century!
Happy Hour and Movie Experience
During ‘happy hour’ a lot of bars offer drinks at seriously discounted prices. On our fourth day we stopped by the Drop Off Service for a couple of drinks. Afterwards, we knew we wanted to have some sort of movie experience while in NYC. Seeing as it was quite late, we ended up just going to a regular cinema to see Dunkirk in 70mm. If you have time though, there are a few cool ways to enjoy movies in the city. There’s the Rooftop Cinema Club as well as free Movies in the Park.
As much as New York isn’t about one specific thing and more about the overall picture, I have to admit walking the Brooklyn Bridge was one of my favourite moments. You can walk it just under an hour, or if you feel like it, you can also cycle. The whole structure is mind-blowing and the views are unparalleled.
Dumbo is an incredibly picturesque area just to the left of Brooklyn Bridge. This famous view from Washington Street is not to be missed. Keep walking down towards the river and you’ll be greeted by Empire-Fulton Ferry Park which is nestled between Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge and offers insanely cool views over the city.
I have to say I don’t think we approached Williamsburg quite from the right direction, so we were underwhelmed and tired when we got to the heart of it. I still thought it was worth seeing in the end. It has lots of cool little shops, a strong hipster vibe and a different interesting architecture from other areas of the city.
Doing rooftop drinks was on my list of things to do while in NYC but I had nothing concrete planned. Then the lovely Michaela from Life of a Lady Bear (who I know from Galway) took me to the 5th floor of Metropolitan Museum of Art. Such fun! If you’re already planning on visiting the MET, this would be a great option for you, if not, there are loads of rooftop bars around the city without an entry fee.
Hell’s Kitchen & Chelsea Flea Markets
We didn’t do much shopping while in NYC, but flea markets are my thing! The Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market was my fave – even though it’s small, it’s so full of character and you can easily spend ages there. My boyfriend purchased some records and I found some cute little antiques.
The Flatiron Building is only a few minute walk from Chelsea Flea Market. It was so cool approaching the building from the side and letting its cool shape reveal itself from the front! You can then sit down and sip a coffee in Madison Square Park that lies below it.
Broadway/Off Broadway Show
We weren’t lucky enough to score tickets to a Broadway show but we did go to see a romantic comedy Off Broadway, in 777 Theatre which we all enjoyed. If you know anyone who’s a member of the website Club Free Time, you can actually find a lot of free or discounted events there!
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
Our friends Paloma & Declan suggested we grab a bite to eat afterwards in Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where professional singers sing to you while they serve you dinner. The prices were quite reasonable considering the location and I loved the whole spectacle of it! They even sang a song from Les Mis, which always grabs at my heartstrings! It’s a completely unique thing to experience and I can’t recommend it enough!
We were actually flying out that afternoon and were quite tired from the day before. But had I one more full day to spare I’d probably go to Coney Island. It would be great to see an Americana style amusement park and pack a beach day into a city break. I hear Luna Park is meant to be the best attraction.
On our last morning, what we actually did was go to the Penn Station and I sent some postcards home from there – old school! We then took one last stroll through East Village, with a staple giant iced coffee in hand!
Bye, Bye NYC!
I really wouldn’t change anything about our week there. I felt like we saw everything we wanted to see but didn’t overload ourselves. I am now determined to return at some stage!
New York emboldens you and toughens you up a little. Once you’re there – even just for a week – no one can take that buzz and experience away from you!
If you’re thinking of heading to NY for the first time and have any questions, please feel free to throw them my way!
If you want to see what I packed for the trip, you can have a look at a blog post here. I was so happy with what I brought over with me. If I was to pack again, I’d pack exactly the same!
I’ll also be putting together a blog post about my favourite places to eat in NYC – especially the vegan and gluten free kind, so keep an eye out for that!