Version 1.3 — By Wolf <email@example.com> — October 1st 2011
I've spent over 50 days in New York in my life so far, so I like to believe I have a good idea of where to go if you're visiting the city. This list of over 40 places or things to see is highly opinionated and you might not be like me, so your mileage may vary. I tend to avoid the main "tourist" spots (in NYC's case this means 9/11 Memorial, Times Square, the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty). My main interests are books, photography and design; I like to read comics, watch movies, drink coffee and beer and play video games.
Make sure you called your bank to verify your credit card can be used in the US. Due to some new fraud protection you have to call them to "activate" the card for usage in the U.S.. Also this is probably a good moment to up your VISA limits if they are low (one of my cards had a €625 limit, which I didn't figure out until I was there.)
Assuming you're flying in to JFK: you can take the Airtrain to get into Manhattan. This is probably one of the cheapest options ($7,25). If you go for the cab ride into Manhattan you'll pay around $60 (including tip/toll).
Stand in front of a Starbucks and find the wireless network called attwifi. Hop on. There's one of those pages where you have to accept the EULA but otherwise it's free.
Public restrooms are hard to find, but you can try McDonalds or Starbucks. Most Dunkin' Donuts do not have a restroom. If you go the Barnes & Noble they always have good and clean restrooms.
Unless money doesn't matter your main form of transportation is going to be the subway. When you get out of the airport immediately go for the unlimited Metrocard (1 week, or more if you're staying longer) instead of a fixed price one.
If you're in the US for more than a couple of weeks, go to a T-mobile store and buy a SIM card with data (no subscription) so you have mobile internet. The Yelp app is a big help to find good places to eat. If you're only there for one or two weeks I would rely on maps, WiFi and asking people to find your way.
You'll commonly find Belgian beers, but they are often $5 a bottle (e.g. for a 25cl Stella Artois), so you might want to try the local beers or whatever's on draft. There are some pretty shitty ones so asking the bar man might help. Try Samuel Adams beer or Fat Tire; avoid Blue Moon. Depending on your location and whether it's happy hour (pretty common in NYC between 17:00 and 19:00) you'll find 0.5l beers for $3 to $8 plus tip.
New York is famous for it's humongous pizza slices ($0.75-$2.5). Be sure to eat at least one! If you are absolutely crazy about pizza I hear this tour is cool, but I can't tell you firsthand.
You can go for a hotel or hostel, this will cost a lot and you will get little. There is a hosteling international hostel on Amsterdam Avenue that is probably OK if you are traveling alone and you are young and don't have money. However I chose to use Airbnb to find places to stay; if you search a bit you'll find better value for your money than most hotels (e.g. we stayed in an entire apartment with kitchen and amenities for less than €100 a night),
2289 82nd & Broadway
Barnes & Noble are, I believe, the biggest sellers of books in the US. There is no other chain like it (R.I.P. Borders); their stores are massive. Some have up to 6 floors. There's cafés inside them, there's a big magazine selection, they have a much comics as your average neighborhood comic shop. It's a pretty amazing place for book lovers. Best of all you can read and read and read and no one's ever coming to bother you (that's American customer courtesy!)
Strawberry Fields: located near Central Park West between 71st and 74th Streets
You can visit Strawberry Fields on a stroll through Central Park, but don't do it if you're short on time. There's nothing really to see there. Central Park is nice to stroll through, sit in the sun, read a book, generally chill. I can't say too much about it since I haven't fully explored it yet (it's massive!)
767 5th Avenue
The Apple Store is a good sight, they're doing a new version now with less glass panels so you can't actually see the cube.
420 9th Avenue
This is a big photography store. If you're into photography and looking to buy a new toy this is a good place to visit, I picked up a new lens for a better price then in Europe (think 15% discount, could be higher depending on what you get).
1000 5th Avenue
The Met is a museum with lots of swords, old statues and an ancient Egyptian temple. They have some cool samurai costumes and knight armor. Love their old flintlock type oustiks. There is no set price when you enter, they work with some kind of donation system. We only paid $5 to get in, they suggest $25. You can pay more, you can pay less.
11 West 53rd St.
MoMA — New York's famous museum of Modern Art — is about $25 and you can combine it with a ticket to Top of the Rock for $38. It's cheaper if you're a student and supposedly free on friday afternoons. MoMA has a good collection of modern art including pieces by Picasso, Dali and Vincent van Gogh. Avoid their restaurant which — while tasty — offers you little value for your money.
Nicholas Felton's work at display in MoMA
30 Rockefeller Plaza
Top of the Rock is basically going to the top of the Rockefeller building and looking at the city. People recommend to do it at night but we went during the day. It's around $20 or you can get it cheaper if you combine it with a MoMA ticket. There was no line when we went (the Empire State Building supposedly has a big line) and it was a pleasant experience overall.
620 5th Av or entrance on Rockefeller plaza
Inside the Rockefeller center is a big Lego store where you can buy specific Lego pieces. They have some cool Lego art set up. Definitely worth a peek.
Central Park West at 79th
This museum mainly consists of stuffed animals and dinosaur bones. It's kinda like Night at the Museum (which I think is actually set in this museum). It's good but not great. If your time is limited I would stick to MoMA and the Met.
59 Columbus Circle
There is a big shopping center at 59 Columbus Circle, don't go there, you can find all of the shops inside while strolling through SoHo and Chelsea instead.
42nd street and Broadway
Generally you should avoid Times Square. If you spend any time in the city you'll automatically bump into it anyway. It's a terrible place full of advertising and tourists. However it also feels kind of special to be there (once).
There's a big 3 story themed M&Ms shop, it's expensive and I would avoid it, but if you're a fan you might want to take a look.
1514 Broadway At 44th St
Also a really big toy store, some parts of it look more like you're in a theme park; they have a giant T-rex and a ferris wheel (inside the shop!)
Go catch a movie at the AMC at Times Sq. There's another AMC Loews at Broadway (link). Be warned if you order popcorn, it's salted in the US
Walk around Broome and Spring street and Broadway near the crossing with those streets to find a good selection of shops.
560 Broadway, corner of Prince St
The name says it, if you need All Stars (all colors and sizes), this is the place to go.
120 Spring Street
This is a pretty crazy store with lots of natural history collectibles, see their about page to get a feel.
Levis positions itself as a premium brand in Europe. Get pants for $48 instead of €100 here. You could also go to Urban Outfitters to find cheap Levis Jeans.
A Big All Saints store, I found the collection a bit disappointing and boring compared to the Antwerp store but worth a look.
96 Spring Street
There's a big Ben Sherman Store in spring street. Stylish UK clothes and shoes.
Some quality jeans at 282 Lafayette Street (between Prince & Houston)
New York Cheesecake: if you've never had cheesecake you should taste it in New York. Eileens Cheesecake is tasteful but the staff was not very friendly. Worth a try nonetheless.
Cheesecake we had at Le Petit Café (apparently not the place to be according to Yelp!)
Be sure to take the subway to E14th street/Union Sq. It's a great area to explore.
Union Sq is a lively square, often has markets and street performers or something special going on. So stroll through the mini park and keep your eyes open.
33 East, 17th street
Once again there's a big Barnes & Noble here.
I like to look at the local products in supermarkets when I travel, that might just be me.
1 East 23rd Street
Possibly the coolest building in New York.
Great store for comic lovers.
"Home to 18 miles of books". Worth checking out if you're a book lover.
If you're into rock concerts look up the Bowery Ballroom and Le Poisson Rouge. During our stay nothing super interesting was playing but it's worth checking out.
Brunching is a New York tradition, there's some good places, we went to MUD Coffee which was great. Don't come too late, there might be a line.
If you want to go barhopping in the East Village start here. While you're there, take a look in St. Mark's Bookshop.
9 Doyers St
Cool "hidden" cocktail bar with funky cocktails. Possibly combine with dinner in Chinatown.
If you have 2 extra days (or more) I would highly recommend a trip to Boston. Two companies (Lucky Star and Fung Wah), possibly more, offer bus rides to Boston from Chinatown. It costs $30 round trip per person. The Lucky Star busses have WiFi so if you own an internet connected device you shouldn't be bored.
This is a park built on an elevated platform, it's basically a beautiful +-2km walk, I would heartily recommend it if you're in the neighborhood.
This shopping center has a good selection of everything and nice to walk through. Not your typical mall. (75 9th Avenue (Between 15th and 16th Streets)
183 9th Avenue
A restaurant suggestion: if you're looking for a place to eat around Chelsea, I can recommend Le Grainne Cafe.
Visiting Brooklyn is not for everyone, it's not as overwhelming as Manhattan, but I liked it. It's more of "place to live" than a "place to see". There are some good spots but you should only do this if you have a longer NYC stay.
The place to experience why Williamsburg is labelled hipster.
Park Slope is mostly a residential area but probably cool to explore to get a good feel of Brooklyn. Walk down 5th and 7th avenue to know what it's about. See Prospect Park.
This avenue, along with 7th, has most of the shops, cafés and general action in Park Slope.
6823 5th Avenue, Brooklyn
Good small indie comic shop on 5th Avenue.
Prospect Park is a really big park, envisioned by the same people as Central Park. These guys thought Prospect Park turned out much better; but it doesn't get as much buzz as Central Park. There's a zoo and it's big, wide open and nice to walk through, but not so special.
To get to Coney Island take the R into Brooklyn to Coney Island. It's a pretty long ride (More than 15 stops) so it's not just "swinging by". It's better to dedicate a full day to Coney Island if you're going to do visit it.
602 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11224
The Aquarium is not bad but not spectacular. Might be better if you have kids.
If you want to ride the old school attractions on Coney Island make sure to come during weekends and/or during the Summer. We went on a tuesday in September and everything was closed. Oops.
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