It’s always fun to think about seeing a city through someone else’s eyes. As a life long New Yorker born on the little island known as Manhattan, I’ve definitely formed my fair share of opinions while hosting guests from all different walks of life. The bottom line for anyone reading this is that New York is wonderful, there’s something for everyone and it’s very safe. Though things like Times Square, Empire State Building and so forth are a right of passage, these are my best “local” tips and they have nothing to do with any of them…

a city skyline with a bridge and a skyscraper

Where to Stay: (By personality)

Hip Jetset Vibe: If you are into boutique shopping, cocktail dens and unique restaurants, you will do best in Soho/Lower East Side, West Village, East Village or Meatpacking. For very “indie” I like the Rivington Hotel. For “SoHo shopping” I would say the Mondrian is good. If you want West Village / Meat Packing top notch stuff ,check out the Standard on the west side. Far from standard. These are the higher end options but I think just about any hotel in Manhattan is going to be of solid quality.

Total Tourist: If you are most interested in seeing the aforementioned Empire State, Times Square, Planet Hollywood and so forth you will want to stay in or near Times Square. Manhattan is very safe and staying anywhere in the 30’s to 50’s (street numbers) will keep you in easy walking distance of all the plays, billboards, attractions and people. I recommend staying just East or West of the actual square. It’s nice to be near it but nice to escape at least a block or two away. There are lots of great hotels on Lexington Avenue just a bit across town. 

Business Smart: Midtown is business in New York. If you can find a place near the Park thats stellar, but anything from the 20’s to 40’s (street numbers) is going to be business central with great accessibility to many different neighborhoods and of course the convenience of almost everything. We stayed at the Tuscany by St. Giles once and found it to be superb and very reasonable price wise (at the time). Highly recommend. It’s just out of the madness but close to Grand Central, Madison Square Garden and Times Square. 

Old World Luxe: Definitely Upper East or West side. You’ll want to be near the park so you can go to Laduree for Macaroons, hit Madison Avenue for major luxury brand shopping and of course stroll around the park or simply take it in from your hotel room. There’s the obvious choice of the Plaza but the Park Hyatt, Mandarin or London hotel will be super too.

Getting Around:

a man in a suit walking next to a car

Subway: It’s not as hard as in London but it’s also not as good. It’s very basic. Most every train with the exception of the 7 and the L run up and down the city. You use it to go from say…Soho to Times Square which I consider South to North. You never really go East to West. If your goal is to get from Central Park to the West Village you most likely would take the A/C/E or 1/2/3. If you are on the east side doing the same you will likely be on the 4/5/6. Uptown literally means up to higher numbers and downtown means what you can hopefully figure out. It’s cheap, easy and a great solution.

Uber: Use my free rides! If you don’t have Uber already, sign up when you get to NY and you get a free ride up to $20. It’s a great way to get around the city, is usually as cheap if not cheaper than a taxi, and the drivers are nice because they care about your good rating of them. If you are with a group, refer the rest of your group. Everyone that signs up gets a free ride through you and you get a free ride for referring them! A group of four can really make this pop!

Air Train From/To JFK: This is one of the few recent things I am super proud of New York for. The Air Train is clean, nice and affordable. It’s $5 per person and gets you to Jamaica station in Queens. Once there you buy a ticket into the city for an additional $5-6 dollars and get in. $10 or so per person is not bad and if you land during rush hour, its MUCH faster. You end up at Penn Station right smack dab in the middle of all the greatness directly under Madison Square garden.

“Tourist” things I actually do regularly:

a walkway with grass and buildings in the background with High Line in the background

The High Line: I love it, I walk it, it’s magical. What used to be a defunct above ground rail road is now a serene experience offering natural grasses, unique architecture, amazing sunset and river views and a fantastic way to fly from the West Village/Meat Packing up to Penn Station. Unofficially of course, I love mixing a drink and putting it in a Starbucks cup and going for a nice walk on a sunny day. Do it. It’s just lemonade ; )

Williamsburg Bridge: Walk it! Some of the best views of NYC imaginable and it’s rarely too crowded.  Feel free to claim your $20 free first time Uber ride from me, take it to the entrance of either side of the Williamsburg Bridge and walk back along the completely separated walking path free from cars. The views of the city and Brooklyn are Breathtaking and offer a really unique vantage point. 

Gansevoort Market: You may have heard of Chelsea Market but I am willing to bet you haven’t been to the Gansevoort Market. I think it was opened in response to the growing success of Chelsea Market, it offers similar neat unique food and craft stalls and is far less crowded in an even cooler part of town just a couple blocks away. They have everything for foodie heaven. 

The MOMA: It’s an incredible location, a super gallery and a great place to eat all in one. If you aren’t too worried about going through the crowds to see the art but love all things related to MOMA check out their store across the street or in Soho. Great stuff.

Chelsea Market: There’s a reason it’s flooded with people these days. Really great small shops and stalls offering unique food, baked goods, wine and a few neat restaurants. It’s just an amazing indoor space and a great place to people watch. You can buy a bottle of wine at the Chelsea Wine Vault (screw top), grab a table just outside and sit and have a glass as you watch the strangest and most interesting people on earth pass by.

New York is a fantastic walking city. I think one of the best walks around is through the West Village area near Christopher Street, West Fourth and just winding up and west through those streets. Very peaceful, great people watching, second to none shops and restaurants and true New York authenticity. 

My Favorite Restaurants:

a restaurant with tables and chairs

I love trying new restaurants and I consider myself a “foodie”. I cook regularly and really enjoying finding places that accomplish things I cannot. I highly recommend calling or OpenTable’ing for reservations. 

Barbuto (Rustic Italian, Semi Pricey): Most restaurants run by iconic chefs charge hundreds per person. Jonathan Waxman has created this unbelievably good rustic italian spot and though it’s not cheap it’s very reasonable for the quality and location.  There isn’t an entree over $30 and each are exquisite. We make a point of popping in every couple weeks for the regularly changing menu. I personally love getting a pasta to split to start, a main each and all the unbelievably good veggie sides. Great cocktails too.

Ngam (Authentic Thai, Reasonable): To me an open kitchen is a signal of quality. At Chef Hong’s east village spot you will find what I consider to be among the best Thai food in New York. I’ve celebrated my birthday there it’s so good! Very inventive twists on thai classics and a great hip/casual vibe. My personal favorites are the Chiang Mai fries to start, the duck in red curry for main and the spiced brownie to finish. 

Spice Market (Asian Fusion, Semi Pricey): Spice Market is famous and it is a staple of the trendy West Village area. Fusing French cooking technique with the diverse flavors of all things East makes for a really neat meal where you can go from Indian to Thai to Chinese in a matter of seconds all with a level of chef’s craftsmanship. 

Bond St (Japanese, Semi Pricey): Definitely eat downstairs in the lounge. It’s got a really cool layout, very nice ambient music and offers exceptional sushi, cocktails and more. It’s location in Soho is perfect and you never know who may walk in. It’s just a great casual place to have a meal. I love Japanese food. 

Fette Sau (Authentic BBQ, Reasonable): Far and away the Best barbecue you can find in the New York Area. I am a self proclaimed connoisseur (with reason, I’ve had BBQ in at least 30 US States). It’s in a great hip neighborhood in Brooklyn called Williamsburg. If you walk over the Bridge on a pretty day you can get to the restaurant on foot! They have just about every cut of meat, a great bourbon selection, super sides and it’s very communal outdoor BBQ style even though most of the seating is indoors. Enjoy. It’s my favorite.

My Favorite Bars:

a man pouring a drink into a glass

I love Mixology, music at a normal volume and a nice comforting atmosphere. None of these places are going to be loud night clubs or “light beer” crowd bars but they have plenty of atmosphere.

The Experimental Cocktail Club: Hands down the best cocktails I’ve had in my life. There are three locations: New York, Paris and London. Each offers a unique vibe and a world famous bartender. The menus change seasonally and always feature drinks where I don’t even know what half the things in it are but they are all great. It’s in the Lower East Side which I think is very under appreciated and offers a trendy less traveled New York feel. 

Mace: Mace is a brand new upstart in a cool part of New York known as Alphabet City near Soho and the East Village. The bar features former Experimental Cocktail Club veterans who decided to branch out and make their own ridiculously good bar based on spice. Check out this cocktail menu! Insane!

Madame Geneva: If you like Gin it’s hard to beat this one. Their menu is entirely Gin-centric and features all the classics as well as some inventive new ones. On the weekends they have a DJ after 9 or 10 which plays superb classic hip hop/r&b and stuff you want to hear while sipping drinks. Really great location in an excellent restaurant neighborhood that is the East Village/Soho. 

Park: This is a restaurant/bar which has some really unique spaces right under the High Line. It’s hard to describe but there is something for everyone in there, there are different themed rooms and the drinks are excellent. At midnight the roof opens and it’s neat.

The Top Of The Standard: This is definitely the most pricey bar on the list but it’s views are worth the couple extra bucks. You have very elevated views of the Hudson River, Freedom Tower and Empire State Building and the waitress service resembles something out of a Great Gatsby scene. It’s definitely worth it for a round at sunset. Get there early and be confident. Just take the elevators for hotel guests up to the top floor, ask for a table for however many people for a few drinks. I took this amazing picture from their restrooms. 

Extra Tips:

a basketball court in a sports arena with Madison Square Garden in the background

Want to See A Sporting Event/Gig/Concert? There is a great website here in the US called Stubhub. It lists resale tickets. Days before an event the tickets are horribly expensive and not worth it. If you wait until the hour of the event… say like 7pm for an 8pm show, you can find unbelievably cheap great tickets for well below face value. My wife and I have used this trick recently to see Billy Joel. Works almost every time!

Brooklyn: Chances are, If you are in Brooklyn at a point nearest to Manhattan it’s very safe and might even be a very high end neighborhood. Williamsburg, Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights are all great neighborhoods. Williamsburg is famous for Hipsters and all things artsy that come with them while Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights are very beautiful residential spaces with a more traditional feel. 

If you are coming to NY I am happy to help with any more personal suggestions. If there’s anything not covered here that you’d like to know, I’ll be happy to add it. Leave a message in the comments! 

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Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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