I have been wanting to write a New York City travel guide for a long time, and didn’t know exactly how to share it with others, after starting The Plain Jayne I knew this was the place to do it. If you read my last post, you know that I have gone to the city at least once every year for the past four. I didn’t mention there, that I have been going to the city since I was born. My dads entire family lives in a small town in New Jersey about 30 minutes outside the city and whenever we would visit when I was growing up we would always make a trip into New York City. So while I am not a native New Yorker, I have been more times than I can count, and have so many friends and family that have lived there that have given me little cheats in order to have the best trip possible. In this post I am going to share my tips and tricks to the best NYC trip possible. I am going to cover transportation, accommodations, sights, shops, restaurants, and bakeries that I think are the crowning jewels of the city. If you have something that you want to add please share it in the comments section below to help others plan their trip!
- Uber/Lyft – I love both of these because they are way cheaper than cabs and way more comfortable (and safe) than the subway. My trick for these is using the uberPool and Lyft Line function in the apps. You can only request the ride sharing program if you are a party of 1 or 2, but it ends up being ridiculously cheap. You share the ride with someone you don’t know, so don’t do this if you have to be somewhere by a certain time, or are running late, but if you aren’t short on time- do it. The person you share with is going in the same direction, and if you don’t get matched with someone you still only pay half price!
- Extra tip #1: There is a flat rate ride from Newark Airport (EWR) to anywhere in Manhattan on uberPool, it’s only $29, which is about half of what a cab costs- if there are two of you thats only $14.50 each.
- Extra tip #2: I would check the price estimate for Uber and Lyft prior to submitting my request and then ended up taking the cheaper one.
- Extra tip #3: If you have never downloaded either app, use my code to score free rides!
- Uber: savannahl84
- Lyft: SAVANNAH799450
- Cabs – Avoid if you can, the cost just usually isn’t worth it unless it’s a short distance.
- Subway – If you aren’t with someone who lives in the city, the subway can be extremely confusing. I recommend downloading a subway map app on your phone (the subway has wifi now!) to be able to figure out where you are trying to get to and what is the best way/train to take to get there. Buy a metro card and just keep refilling it as needed, but don’t overdo it because you can’t get what you don’t use back. ($2.75 each time you swipe).
- Where to Stay – This is not so much of a “stay at this hotel” kind of tip, but rather where in the city to choose as your home base. It all depends on what you want to be doing and how much you want to be spending. While Midtown has Times Square, some other main sights, and Central Park; Downtown has the village, Soho, Tribeca, Financial District, Union Square, Washington Square Park, and Chelsea. So it all depends on what kind of trip you are planning. If you want to go to all the touristy destinations in the city, stay in Midtown. If you want a more laid back trip filled with shopping and eating, I would recommend staying Downtown. All that being said, I would advise against staying Uptown- it is mostly residences.
- Hotel vs. VRBO – I have stayed in hotels, with friends, and in vacation rentals (VRBO.com). If you are a large group, look into renting an apartment. You could save money on breakfast and coffee by buying groceries and eating in, because eating out in NYC is expensive to say the least. Other than that, stay in a hotel if there aren’t a ton of you and try to find a place that has breakfast included and possibly even an airport shuttle.
- Top of the Rock – located at the top of Rockefeller center, this is my #1 sight that I believe everyone should experience. This is the place where my banner photo for this post was taken. It has a perfect view of the Empire State Building on one side, and then Central Park on the other. That photo was taken in one of the large picture windows, but there is also an entire outdoor section that is all glass panels, no unsightly bars or fences (like at the Empire State Building), meaning it is perfect for a good photo. It gets cold all the way up there, so be sure to bundle up and take tons of Instagram worthy shots.
- Empire State Building – in my opinion it is overpriced and the view is obscured by bars. Not my thing. But it is definitely an experience!
- World Trade Center & 9/11 Memorial – breathtaking doesn’t begin to describe the way you feel when you walk up to the deep pools of where the two tallest buildings in the world used to stand. Reading each person’s name that was killed during the attacks is just as heart-wrenching as you would expect it to be, if not even more. White flowers in an individuals name signifies that it is their birthday. The actual museum I have never been to, but I have heard nothing but praise for it. I have also heard to give yourself plenty of time to experience it, as well as bring plenty of tissues. The part that killed me the most at the memorial is “…and her unborn child.” Truly an experience.
- Times Square – if you have already been, I would advise against going again… It is so over-crowded that it’s hard to even experience. However, it is always strange to me how you can be standing in the middle of Times Square at midnight and it is just as bright and buzzing as it was at 3pm that same day.
- Union Square/Washington Square Park – Although not directly next door, they are within walking distance of each other. Union is a beautiful park and a shopping destination for sure. With everything either surrounding the park or an avenue up at 5th ave, there is sure to be something for everyone. Washington Square is a little different, much more quiet and buzzing with NYU students who go to school around the park, the famous arch is just always something I recommend to go see, and to just relax and eat lunch.
- Central Park – a huge stretch of green (or orange and yellow if you go in the fall) in the middle of so many tall buildings is something that just warms my heart. I love going to the park, sitting on the giant rocks, taking cute photos, and eating lunch there. It is just beautiful.
- Ice Skating – if you go in the fall or winter and want to experience ice skating I have one giant tip: DON’T DO IT IN ROCKEFELLER CENTER. That being said there are other places to ice skate for a fraction of the price. Wollman Rink in Central Park is my favorite, and it isn’t astronomical, adults pay $12 + $9 for skate rental (as opposed to Rockefeller Center $25 + $12). Another great option is Bryant Park where admission is free and skate rental is $20, however the line for general admission is usually pretty long, but they offer Express Skate for $28 which includes admission, bag check, and skate rental.
- Henri Bendel – (5th Avenue) A two story Bendels? I just die every time.
- Chelsea Market – (9th Avenue) Super cool place to walk around and shop local, or at Anthropologie… They also have some pretty awesome little restaurants in there.
- Macy’s – (7th Avenue) The biggest Macy’s, always a staple to check out when your in town.
- Others – I always like to go to these stores when I’m in the city, even though I have them at home, they just seem to have better stuff there: Forever 21 (Times Square, Union Square, and Soho are the best ones in my opinion), Steve Madden (Soho), H&M (Soho), Kate Spade (Soho & 5th/20th), Anthropologie & Free People (Rock Center, 5th/16th, and the Anthro in Chelsea), Zara (5th/17th), and Brandy Melville (Soho).
Restaurants & Bakeries
- Magnolia Bakery – The banana pudding is legendary, and their cupcakes are delicious too.
- Baked By Melissa – Just about the cutest mini cupcakes you ever did see…
- Erin McKenna’s Babycakes – GLUTEN-FREE ALERT!! This entire bakery is gluten-free, aka my dream come true. They have everything from donuts to cookies to cakes. Check this place out, even if you eat things with gluten, the sweets are amazing.
- Max Brenner – A true chocolate lovers dream… Everything is covered in chocolate, with the exception of their lunch and dinner. But their breakfast is to die for (I love the after party waffle, back in my pre-gluten-free days). Also the marshmallow hot chocolate…..Wow.
- Catch – A high end restaurant located near the Chelsea Market, in the meatpacking district. This place is definitely pricy, but also definitely worth it. It’s a seafood restaurant and they are able to mesh a ton of different types of seafood dishes, from sushi to Alaskan King Crab. Also, try their Lavender Arnold Palmer… Yum!
- Melt Shop – Yep, you guessed it, it is a grilled cheese restaurant… Need I say more? Oh, well besides the fact that they have gluten-free bread…
- Ferrara Bakery – The best Italian bakery. It’s one of my go-to’s, especially when my grandparents are with me. Try the cream puff, canoli, and pignoli’s!
- Plaza Food Hall – Basically the most high end food court you could possibly imagine, all situated underneath The Plaza Hotel. I love to get food here and then have a picnic with it in Central Park!
- Serendipity – Because where else would you get a frozen hot chocolate when it’s 20 degrees outside?
- Extra tip: In order to dine in, each person at your table is required to spend $8.50. It’s a weird rule, and lets just say the manager heard some choice words from me about it, but keep that in mind (especially before you make the trip Uptown)…..
- Toloache – Super yummy Mexican restaurant with some very unique guacamoles. Definitely somewhere I recommend.
I am sure I missed a ton of places that you all know and love, and I would love if you could leave them in the comments so others can experience them too! I hope this helps you plan your next NYC getaway, or your first trip there. It’s something I recommend everyone experiences at at least one point in their lives (or every year like me… haha!), and I hope this little guide could be of help to you all.