Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Best of NYC - Insider Recommendations

A few weeks ago I was asked for insider recommendations of great things to do in NYC. Instantly, my mind started racing. Favourite places? I have dozens. Best hidden gems? There are hundreds. Oh New York... how I love you.

Limiting the list to a reasonable visit was almost impossible, but since this question comes up all the time, I thought it was about time I put something together. This list will continue to grow, but for now, here's a starting point for 'The Best of NYC.' Enjoy!

Casual Fun
1) Walk the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn. The reward on the other side? A trip to Grimaldi's, an authentic pizzeria that will make you question all other pizza you've ever eaten. Note: Grimaldi's is a cash-only establishment. If there's still room for dessert, walk towards the river (only about five minutes further), and grab a sweet treat from the river walk ice cream shop and enjoy while overlooking Manhattan. Pure bliss!

2) The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens - A beautiful oasis in the heart of Brooklyn. Saturday mornings are free and there are tons of amazing brunch places within a 15 minute walk in any direction.

3) The Highline - NYC's newest and most visited park. They've converted old elevated railway tracks into a pedestrian park and it's simply wonderful. Be warned: this park is gaining popularity, so if you're willing to brave a day that's not quite as nice, the crowds will be thinned and the walk will be much more peaceful. If you start at the south-end of the walk, you can always browse through Chelsea Market (where sample sales can often be found!) and, just across the street, grab the world's most delicious latte and ginger molasses cookie at Blue Bottle Coffee (also, a cash-only establishment). If coffee is a passion, don't let the small front counter fool you - on the right of the counter there is a staircase that will lead you to a coffee bar where they serve different and unique brews along with some other delicious offerings (like preserves with brioche toast).

4) Ninja. This dark ninja cave meets dinner. I don't want to give too much away, but it's a delicious and memorable dining experience that's sure to surprise!

5) Looking for a walk? Head to Prospect Park in Brooklyn and browse through some of the esteemed real estate of Park Slope. Dream.

Higher End Experiences
1) Martinis? Yes please! Head to The Jimmy in SoHo - It's a high end rooftop bar that's perfect for watching the sunset over New Jersey. Expect a cocktail to run you anywhere from $15-$20, but it's totally worth it. Note: If you get there before 7 (I think!), enter through the hotel; after, enter through the unmarked door on the east-side of the building.

2) Bar Americain - If you're looking for a delicious dinner, pre-Broadway show, look no further - Bar Americain is just the stop you'll want to make! It's Bobby Flay's restaurant (and he frequents this location, so keep your eyes peeled!). The creamed kale will change your life. Just saying. Also, if you're a salmon lover, indulge. Everything here is delicious.

The Best of Touristy New York
1) Top of the Rock and NBC Studios. In my opinion, The Rock is a much better tourist experience than the Empire State Building, so it's always my preference when trying to get a great view of the city. I always like to combine this with the Tour of NBC Studios - you get a deal doing both and, who doesn't love a little Rockefeller history? Tip: I recommend getting tickets early and doing a Thursday afternoon tour. Specific, I know. There is a reason though. If you go on Thursdays, the cast of Saturday Night Live is likely to be rehearsing. You just never know who you'll see in studio or wandering the halls! I've seen Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wig there.

2) 9/11 Memorial. If you haven't been, I strongly encourage you to stop by for a visit to see the fountains and look at all the work that is being done. Once you've finished with the Memorial, take a walk through Battery Park City - a great place to catch the Statue of Liberty and escape from the concrete jungle.

3) The Guggenheim. Every time I see this Frank Lloyd-Wright building, I get a little happier. It's a beautiful museum that is well worth admission (that is, if they aren't changing exhibits. If this happens, I recommend heading straight over The Metropolitan Museum of Art which is GIGANTIC and, believe it or not, a building that was constructed just to be a museum and nothing more. I like to imagine it was once home to NY royalty).

4) Harlem Gospel Tour. This tour takes you to parts of Manhattan you probably haven't ventured to before, unless you are a braver traveler than most! Sit in on a church service, listen to a great gospel choir and see some stunning architecture just above Central Park North.

5) Columbus Circle, Midtown, SoHo and Greenwich Village. Walk around, take in all you can. The shopping, the ambiance, the simple pleasures of NYC.

6) Stage Door Tour - Behind the Scenes at Radio City Music Hall. Learn about how the living nativity gets created in the Rockette's Christmas Spectacular, the history of the building (right down to the carpet!) and then meet a Rockette! Tour guests also get a discount at the gift shop after, so you can snap up your 'how to be a Rockette' t-shirt and star practicing!

Theatre1) Broadway, of course. All of it. Looking for a better deal on tickets? Visit TKTS booths around Manhattan and Brooklyn (I suggest the location at the South Street Sea Port as it is much less busy than the one in Times Square). I recommend pre-browsing their Website to check out what shows are typically being offered at reduced rates.

2) Sleep No More NYC - It's a film noir style production of Macbeth, taking place in an abandoned hotel on West Side. It's interactive (you wear a mask throughout the whole show and follow the actors through six floors of set!) and it's guaranteed to be unlike anything else you've ever seen. Truly, this is the show everyone in theatre is talking about. You must get tickets in advance as it sells out early (and with vigor!). When looking, book the early showing as you get to experience the show three times, all in different ways.

1) As a huge fan of television and movies, I was always on the lookout for new shoots in the city (especially if it relates to The Good Wife!). If you're interested in watching something film in NYC while you're there, check out On Location Vacations. If you have Twitter, follow @OLV as well, as they are always posting updates, live from the street!

2) Joe Fresh. I know, right? Well, they've opened a beautiful store on Fifth Avenue that's worth the time it takes to get there, if only to look and see what Joe Fresh is like in NYC! While you're in the area, pop by Bryant Park and the New York Public Library. The Library offers daily tours if you want a little history with your shopping.

3) For something completely different, head to the northern-most tip of Manhattan, Inwood Hill Park. It's Manhattan's last remaining forest and is full of rich history. In fact, this area used to be the vacation land of those who lived downtown! Just on the other side of the river, the Bronx.

4) Social Eatz - If you want to have the best burger of your life, go to Social Eatz and order the Bibimbap Burger. Asian-American fusion. Pure deliciousness.

5) Ilili - If there's one thing I love, it's Mediterranean food. Okay, there are thousands of things I love, but this is in the top 50. Ilili NYC has some of the best Mediterranean food I've ever eaten (and as someone who feels they should have been born Greek, believe me, I've had a lot of experience in this type of cuisine). Great service and amazing food - best served with friends.

Don't Forget...
1) NYC is not quite the dream-like place Sex in the City would have you believe. You can't wear stilettos all day and run, carefree, through the streets of the city. Disappointing, I know. At night, I definitely recommend 5 inch heels and a sequin dress, but during the day you have to be a little more practical. The fact is, if there's one thing you're going to do in New York, it's walk. A couple of pairs of good shoes will serve you well. Socks and runners will make you look like a tourist, so think about some nice boots, cute ballet flats or splashy sandals. Need to stock up on shoes while you're there? Check out Century 21 in the Financial District or up in Columbus Circle.

2) The MTA offers $29 seven-day all-you-can-ride transit passes. If you're trying to get from a stand-by line for Jimmy Fallon in the morning and race to a live taping of The View just 45 minutes later, this pass is going to save your life (oh, and save you money). Hop on, hop off and enjoy all the Subway has to offer.

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