New York is my favourite city. Whilst I have been fortunate to tick off a number of the world’s most popular cities, it is The Big Apple that I choose to return to every year. I also often say that New York is the only other city I would live in aside from London and one day I hope that is the case. The possibilities with a trip to New York are endless but for a first-time visitor the sheer amount of choice can often prove overwhelming. With that in mind I have created this guide to offer some of my top tips for first timers, as well as recommend some of my favourite hotels and restaurants which will prove useful no matter how many times you have visited.
The first hurdle for visitors is leaving the airport. The classic New York City yellow cabs are the most popular mode of transport when transiting from the airport to your hotel. It is not only incredibly easy, but you are essentially ticking off a tourist attraction by travelling in the iconic taxis which many have seen in hundreds of movies and TV shows. The services and the prices and rates vary depending which airport you have arrived at. At LaGuardia you will pay a standard metered fare. At JFK you will pay a flat fare of $52 + tolls to anywhere within the Manhattan boundary. From Newark you will pay a set rate plus a surcharge of $17.50.
If after a long flight you want to avoid taxi queues and the grey area surrounding rates you can pre-book a taxi before you leave your house. I use Black Lane as they are available in most cities around the world and often work out cheaper than a local cab. I enjoy getting off the plane knowing that I will not encounter any stress in finding a cab. In fact I receive a text from my driver saying he has arrived. As always with Black Lane and similar companies the drivers are smartly dressed, the vehicles are high quality and they already know where you are going.
Whilst out and about in the City, if you want to hail a yellow cab simply raise your arm when one passes. If the centre light is lit, then it is available. When the centre light and the side lamps are lit simultaneously it is out of service and when no lights are lit the cab already has a passenger.
New York is an amazing city to explore on foot so wherever possible walk. Google Maps is one of the best tools available to any traveller, taking you from location to location and informing you how long each walk will take. For those longer trips I would definitely recommend embarking on the adventure that is the subway. Many travellers find the thought of the New York City Subway intimidating but as long as you can read a simple map you will be fine and there is genuinely no better place to rub shoulders with all types of New Yorkers. In fact some five and a half million people ride the subway each day.
You can plan ahead by getting a number of different apps which tell you exactly which trains to get on and where to find them. You can grab a ticket at each station with one journey currently costing $2.75. The trains typically run in two directions (uptown and downtown) and New York’s grid system makes this relatively easy to figure out. Very simply and as a rule of thumb from Manhattan the Bronx is up, Brooklyn is down. Common sense and safety precautions apply as they would in any busy city.
When it comes to accommodation New York City hotels have a pretty bad rep. Small and overpriced properties are available in every borough so prior research is essential. If location is important for your trip then look no further than Room Mate Grace. Situated within the chaos of Times Square, Room Mate Grace has the best of New York on its doorstep offering the perfect base to explore.
The Room Mate brand puts an emphasis on affordable luxury and upon arrival that will become apparent. The lobby area is spacious and draped in modern décor with gold and black tones draping the room. The bedrooms are individually decorated by the designer Lorenzo Castillo so you will likely encounter different styles from visit to visit. Uniquely the hotel has an indoor pool on the ground level which is adjoined to the bar. Imagine spending the afternoon relaxing at a swim up bar in the middle of Times Square with a Manhattan cocktail before heading out to one of the world’s greatest cities!
Whether you like to keep fit or recharge whilst travelling the hotel boasts a relaxing sauna and a 24-hour gym. The gym is pretty basic but has everything one needs for a typical workout or alternatively head outside and jog in one of the world’s most famous outdoor spaces, Central Park!
For those seeking a touch of luxury during their stay, the Four Seasons Hotel Downtown is one of the city’s most spectacular high-end options. Ideally situated for business travellers or seasoned visitors, the property is located where Tribeca meets Wall Street and only minutes from the World Trade Centre. The property also forms part of an all-new skyscraper by the famed Woolworth Building where it fits in with Lower Manhattan’s distinctive 20th century architecture.
The Four Seasons Downtown pays attention to the finer details and this really helps set it apart from rival hotels. Upon requesting water, you will be given the choice of cold or room temperature and before your stay you are encouraged to specify your comfort preferences down to what style pillows you like. Staff always greet you by name which is another nice touch and an example of the hotel doing that little bit extra. Another reason that this property is so highly regarded is its unique ability to make a stay feel like home. The rooms heavily focus on comfort with welcoming interiors reflecting the property’s 20th century sensibilities enhanced by the latest technologies and conveniences.
The Four Seasons Downtown also boasts one of the best hotel wellness centres in any property around the world. This is such a big pull for guests choosing to stay here and there is so much to take advantage of that the property has created a 48-hour health and wealth itinerary for guests at the hotel. Curated by Spa Director Tara Cruz the itinerary is designed for guests to take advantage of the very best health and wellness offerings that Lower Manhattan has to offer including partaking in a crystal detox body treatment at the first class spa, enjoying a detox juice from in-room dining, attempting an aqua fit workout in the hotels large indoor heated pool, reserving a resident healer session from a clairvoyant and ordering a SOAK service – a menu which includes four options for individual travellers who wish to relax, reduce music tension and condition the skin. Having all of this available at your hotel puts most hotels health offerings to shame.
For those who want spectacular views then hidden gem Hotel On Rivington is the spot for you. Located in the up and coming Lower East Side, the hotel is an urban oasis with sleek modern design. In terms of what you get for your money I believe you will struggle to find anything to rival it across the five boroughs.
In a city where box sized rooms are the norm, Hotel On Rivington offers huge spacious rooms with floor to ceiling glass windows which welcome in the Manhattan sunshine. Being away from the hustle and bustle of Midtown and without high rise buildings obstructing the eyeline the views are quite simply phenomenal. You will experience several nice touches during your stay but none better than warm cookies brought to your room daily.
A stay in this part of town is different to what you would have experienced elsewhere in Manhattan. The Lower East Side is relaxing and relatively calm during the day and comes to life at night with great eats, music and entertainment. The Lower East Side also has an artistic vibe and lots of culture; the food scene is varied, from delicious quick bites to small classic bistros and landmark restaurants.
Food in New York City is as diverse as the city itself. From budget staple eats such as Dollar pizza slices to pricey Michelin starred restaurants, New York’s influences from all across the world make this an amazing place to grab a bite to eat.
SERRA by Birreria is a seasonal rooftop restaurant located on the 14th floor of Eataly NYC in the Flatiron area. Meaning “greenhouse” in Italian, SERRA changes with the seasons, always offering a fun, themed atmosphere and a rustic menu reflective of the Italian countryside. One of the most spectacular transformation happens during winter when you can escape the hustle and bustle of Manhattan to relax at SERRA ALPINA, the restaurant’s “winter greenhouse” replete with a cosy, snow-covered atmosphere, an extensive cocktail menu (think coffee and even truffle-inspired cocktails), and vibrant seasonal plates infused with traditional flavours of the Italian Alps and featuring top local produce.
Despite offering relaxation and comfort the restaurant has a great vibe during busy dinner services with loud music and quirky Instagrammable locations dotted around the space. The menu is designed for sharing with an intriguing offering of antipastas, spuntini (small bites for pairing with cider) as well as salumi & formaggi. A standout on the menu is the delicious truffle arancini and any fans of its unique earthy flavour will be delighted to know that you can order truffle by the gram to add to a number of dishes. Perhaps a surprise to some but another spectacular dish is Cavoletti Fritti. The dish combines fried Brussels sprouts in a Guanciale Vinaigrette – the sweet and sour taste that the Dijon mustard and white balsamic vinegar create offers a fresh spin on a much-maligned vegetable.
SERRA also offers something for those in-search for some weekend drinks. Due to the aforementioned atmosphere and an adventurous cocktail menu the space becomes the perfect spot for a tipple in the Flatiron district. If you are visiting during winter, then be sure to try the seasonal Stella Alpina. The drink combines Moscato d’Asti with orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and allspice berries. The sparkling nature of the Moscato offers the perfect base for the other more powerful ingredients to take centre stage with the sweetness of the berries offsetting the woody spice taste of the cinnamon. Other great choices from the cocktail menu include Manhattan In A Nutshell and Rosso Di Serra.
Whilst enjoying all of the guilty culinary pleasures that NY has to offer there will come a time when your body will simply say ‘no more’ and that is the time to visit the fantastic Café Clover.
Nestled on a charming tree-lined street in the West Village, Café Clover offers a delicious alternative to the calorie heavy meals you will no doubt be enjoying during your trip. With a focus on pure, simple ingredients brought together in imaginative and unexpected ways, Café Clover delivers dishes that are both healthy and delicious, whilst giving you a chance to explore one of New York’s hipster neighbourhoods.
Start by sipping on one of the cafés thirst-quenching cold pressed juices. Options include and orange, green and red juice all consisting of mineral and nutrient rich ingredients. I tried the Orange cold pressed juice which was packed full of carrot, lemongrass, turmeric and chia seed and it tasted great after a few days of excess.
For a restaurant that specialises in healthy food the menu is surprisingly vast and diverse. If arriving earlier choose avocado on pumpernickel baguette with pickled shallots and a honey glaze or the fruit covered quinoa pancakes. Lunch options include nine different salad options as well as a hearty selection of sandwiches and pizzettes.
For dinner try the standout organic Scottish salmon with fresh braised kale, kohlrabi, green curry and sunflower kernels for a delicious healthy meal that will have you coming back. Whatever time of day you visit just ensure you get down to Café Clover for a real New York City neighbourhood vibe.
For meat lovers visit CUT by Wolfgang Puck which is the chef’s first Manhattan restaurant. With its own entrance off Church Street, CUT by Wolfgang Puck is where New Yorkers’ broker deals over power meals, and where Tribeca’s residents come to dine, wine and unwind, while world travellers immerse themselves in downtown New York City’s emerging culinary scene.
The original CUT is based in California and consistently ranks as one of the most sought-after steak restaurants in the United States. Offering a contemporary twist on the classic steakhouse, the menu highlights various cuts of the finest beef from regions across the globe, as well as shellfish, seafood and an extensive international wine list. The best of culinary, architecture and art are on full display at CUT, where Wolfgang’s world-famous cuisine is served in a sleek and serenely modern environment.
The dining room of its brand-new New York location has an elegant and intimate atmosphere with window views overlooking the bustling streets of lower Manhattan. The interior, designed by cutting-edge French designer Jacques Garcia in partnership with Kimberly Brown and STRATA Architects, is complemented by artwork curated for the space by Gelila Assefa Puck.
To start, the options are plentiful with Sashimi offerings from the raw bar including the Long Island Fluke which deliciously pairs sour grapefruit ponzu with slightly spicy Red Kosho from Japan. Alternatively, order from the oyster bar where you can choose from three different US sourced options including New York, New Jersey and Maine options.
For the main event the ‘Nose to Tail’ menu does exactly what the name suggests and provides dishes using various parts of the animal including the slightly more quirky Pastrami Beef Tongue Bao Buns. For those wanting to experience the best of CUT then keep it simple with their stunning Filet Mignon. The tender cut of beef is a CUT speciality and is served with a green peppercorn emulsion. To level up your cut of meat even more, pair it with the house Chimichurri Sauce. The refreshing oregano and parsley play against the strong garlic taste to create steak heaven. Rumour has it the Chimichurri sauce at CUT is a secret recipe originally created from one of the owner’s grandmothers in Argentina.
For dessert there are so many good options that I could recommend them all but if I were to pick one then the Baked Alaska would get my vote. Mint ‘stracciatella’ is paired with white chocolate ice cream and dark chocolate brownie to create a sweet lovers paradise. Not only does it taste incredible but it adds a touch of theatre to your evening as the Alaska is Flambéed table-side!
With the world’s most famous skyline at its mercy New York City is littered with first class bars boasting breath-taking views. Choosing the right ones during a short stay is not easy. Two of my favourites and venues that I will continue to return too, are The Skylark and Mr Purple.
Skylark is situated 30 stories high in the heart of Times Square South. The décor is upscale and the panoramic views of the Empire State Building, the Hudson River and Times Square are breathtaking. The Skylark has numerous spaces to enjoy including both indoor and outdoor areas but in my opinion the views are best enjoyed on a table next to the lounges floor-to-ceiling windows.
Created by expert mixologist Johnny Swet (Rogue & Canon, the Park, the Elm) the cocktail menu is vast, diverse and ambitious. Signature drinks such as Skinny Paloma, Spring Fling and Blackberry French 75 all excel but my personal favourite is the Austin City Limits. A simple concoction of vodka, ginger liquor and agave lime and mint it is essentially the Moscow on steroids.
If you are hungry the Skylark offers a decent bar menu where you can enjoy a range of tapas, fish, meats and light bites. Be sure to try the spiced sweet potato fries served with amazing cranberry ketchup and pumpkin maple mustard or the herbed sea salt dusted fries complete with truffle aioli.
If it is your first trip to New York City and you are trying to fit as much in as possible, then a trip to the Skylark is a genuine replacement for the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Centre. You get the same amazing iconic view of the skyline but instead of fighting past tourists you can spend the $50 entrance fee on amazing food and drink instead.
Another bar which offers views you would expect to see in a brochure is Mr. Purple. Located on the 15th floor of Hotel Indigo on New York’s Lower East Side the contemporary restaurant offers good food and drink using the city as its spectacular backdrop.
The chic interior, designed by internationally acclaimed design firm Crème Design recreates an artist-loft ambiance with indoor and outdoor areas displayed through the use of reclaimed wood structures contrasted with concrete, metal, free hanging lights, and modern wooden furniture. Mr Purple has two fantastic terraces; one with its own swimming pool and is perfect for those cool summer nights.
If thirsty try the delicately presented sun toki; asian pear infused suntory toki whiskey, coquerel calvados and fres. Another intriguing option is the infamous ‘Mr Purple.’ The self-named concoction is an ingredient heavy drink with several stand-out flavours beginning. The base tequila is joined by cranberry liqueur, allspice dram, apple and lemon.
Whilst enjoying the cocktails be sure to try some of Mr Purple’s superb bar snacks. The kitchen has prepared a menu with the drinks in mind and all options perfectly compliment their cocktails. Some of the highlights include tuna tartar, pulled chicken sandwich and the prosciutto flatbread.
Another great piece of advice for first time visitors to New York City and the best and most cost efficient way of seeing all of the main tourist attractions is via the New York CityPASS. Incredibly one £115 pass will give you access to: The Empire State Building Experience, American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Top of the Rock Observation Deck, Statue of Liberty and the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum!
You will have to make at least half a dozen trips to New York to really begin making an indent into the list of things to see and do. A major mistake many first timers’ make is to attempt to do too much. When you do this, you spend far too much time rushing to and from the world class attractions that you stand no chance of fully appreciating the city. The City Pass lets you scratch beneath the surface of this amazing place whilst leaving less-known attractions for another visit. That way it gives you an excuse to return to one of the greatest cities on earth time and time again.
Jack David is a London based music industry professional with a passion for writing and travel. He has previously written for lifestyle publications Flavourmag and tmrw Magazine.