New York City
A lot of literature is written about the history, culture and architecture of the financial capital of the world. Known as the Big Apple, it has the energy and personality like no other city in the world. Having traveled to and worked in the city, we can safely state that there is no way you can get a sense of all that the city has to offer in one trip. If you are in search of the best the city has to offer, and only have a weekend to spare, follow the itinerary below for a holistic view of the cityscapes and find spots to hang out only locals know of.
Duration: Fri-Sun Best Time to Visit: Year around, but fall/summer preferred
You cannot understand the city vibes and neighborhood charm unless you are aware of the history of the city and the ups and downs the city has gone through in the modern times. Its history goes back to the 1500s when it used to be a Dutch trading post. The area around the city in 1600s was called the New Netherlands, and the present day Manhattan was named New Amsterdam ruled by the Dutch West India Company. Between 1660 and 1670, the English troops and Dutch fought several times to establish rights for the city. In the end, in 1674 under the Treaty of Westminster the city was surrendered to England. The English promptly named New York in honor of the Duke of York.
Like other large cities of the era, New York saw a number of epidemics, famines, great fires and conflicts including the battle of Long Island in the Great American War in 1776. It was the first capital under the newly minted constitution of the United States.
There are four boroughs of the city separated by the East River and Hudson River, with Manhattan being the largest island. The other three are Queens, Brooklyn and Bronx which were incorporated into the city in 1898. With the opening of the subway in 1904, Harlem Renaissance during the prohibition era and economic boom during the world wars, saw the rapid development of the city into a mega-metropolis becoming modern day hub of architecture, culture and economy. Some of the tallest and grandiose structures, like the Empire State Building, World Trade Center, Chrysler building, Flat Iron building and the Rockefeller Towers mark the iconic city skyline that glitters in the dark. Rapid economic boom drew immigrants from all around the world, and that created ethnic neighborhoods around the city, including a Chinatown.
The itinerary below will begin from a casual Friday evening and span the whole two weekend days.
Friday Evening in Midtown
- If it is summer and before dark that you reach midtown, spend some time in one of the roof top bars or in Central Park for a stroll. After dark, come back to Times Square. Spend some time people watching and taking as many pictures as you want when the screens light up the night.
- Since it is a relatively easy day, it may make sense to catch an evening Broadway Show or get a drink at one of many stand up comedy clubs in the area.
Saturday Morning in Lower Manhattan/Staten Island
- Start the day at the 9/11 Memorial to commemorate the lives lost in the terrifying attack. Avoid wasting time for the elevator ride up to the One World Observatory.
- Walk to the Woolworth Building which is one of the oldest sky scrappers in the city. The Trinity Church on Wall Street is a historic church dating back to the 1600s.
- Walk around Wall Street where all the big names of the financial world do business. The New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Reserve Bank are only within a couple of city blocks. Don’t forget to take a picture with the Raging Bull.
- For some snack or lunch, walk to Chinatown. Try not buying any designer bags from the street. Bring some cash as the best food options only accept cash. Try the noodles in Xi’an Famous Foods (vetted by Anthony Bourdain) and get a boba milk tea (bubble tea).
- Walk south to Battery Park which gets its name from the 17th century battery that the Dutch and English colonies established to protect the city from any naval invasion. Take the Ferry to Staten Island and return back immediately. It is a completely free ride both ways, and you can enjoy sweeping views of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty in the Liberty Island. Check out the ferry schedule here.
- If you want to visit the Statue of Liberty up close, you can choose to take the Statue Ferry from Battery Park but we do not recommend fitting it in a tight weekend schedule. It takes 3-4 hours round trip to go to the island, walk up the crown or pedestal, and return back with an optional stop at Ellis Island.
Saturday Afternoon in Brooklyn
- After coming back to Battery Park, walk to the Brooklyn Bridge and walk across it. Many movies and TV shows have made this iconic bridge famous. On your way across the bridge, from the Brooklyn Promenade, you can get another panoramic view of the city skyline, especially in the afternoon.
- Today we go into the artsy side of the town. Walk the Highline for another view of the downtown amidst the morning mist. Grab brunch in Chelsea neighborhood which is a chic ambiance. Walk in the interesting streets in the Greenwich Village while checking out the scenic facades and stores. Walk north to Washington Square for people watching. Tip – if you are into street photography, this area is one of our particularly favorite spots for some candid shots.
- Take a cab up to Central Park. Find the Bethesda Terrace and Belvedere Castle. Spend some time walking or biking in the trails while tasting some delicious treats from the food trucks. Regardless of your preference of Art, we recommend spending the next 2-3 hours in one of the greatest art museums in the world – Metropolitan Museum of Art (a.k.a. The Met) or Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (a.k.a. MOMA). You cannot do both, but definitely go into one of these. Both have famous paintings from the impressionism era to modern times, from Manet, Monet to Dali’s.
- If it is close to dark, walk south along the 6th street. Take a picture with the famous Love sculpture, people watch on the Rockefeller Plaza, and check out the world famous designer flagship stores along 5th and 6th avenue.
- Farther down south is the iconic Grand Central Terminal, that hosted so many movie scenes.
- Walk to Bryant Park for an incredible experience especially during the holiday season (Nov-Dec).
- At this point, with a heavy feet and fulfilled heart, drop your shopping bags in the hotel or drop anchor at one of the midtown roof top bars to delve into the sights you explored.
Even after miles of walking and hundreds of photos, be rest assured that we only covered a small percentage of what NYC has to offer. Be sure to check out our other posts on art and culture, and food scene in New York for your future travel needs.
Fun Facts and Things to Know
- The megacity is the world capital of finance, culture and media. It is also the home of the world headquarters of United Nations.
- Once you have seen the glittering Times Square, try to avoid at any cost, unless you want to catch a Broadway show. It is a traffic nightmare with the number of tourists around. Chances of a pick-pocket or petty theft are high in crowded times.
- Do not waste your money on attractions that boast view only (e.g. top of the Empire state building or World Trade Center). These are expensive, and also a waste of time to stand in line for 2-3 hours for a glimpse of the cityscape for 15 minutes.
- Best way to absorb a sweeping view of the famous New York City skyline is from the Jersey side across the Hudson River. Couple of locations to pack your tripod and capture a panoramic view are – Fort Lee Park and Palisades Park. If you drive along the River Road in Edgewater, you can find a spot for a view as well, for free.
Eat, Stay, Love
- Eat at top notch restaurants and the food-trucks around the city. But try to look for a NY Health and Safety rating of A posted in a yellow placard. If not, use your judgement lest there are food related problems spoiling your trip.
- For a foodie, you may be competing with yourself to try all the NY delicacies. Must try ones are – Bagels (lox and schmear), NY Style Pizza, Halal Brothers Chicken and Rice, Dim Sum in Flushing, Ramen in East Village. Plus if you can try one of many Michelin Star marked restaurants around the city.
- In terms of accommodation, it is no secret that NYC can be super expensive. Although you may find a cheap Airbnb, we recommend avoiding it due to city laws and housing crisis created by short term rentals. Here is one article for more details.
- Hotels outside Manhattan, especially in Brooklyn and Queens can be cheap. But check reviews and the neighborhood before booking. Tip – Hotels in lower Manhattan are cheaper during the weekends since the prices are higher in the week for business travelers.
Navigating the Megacity
- Hailing a cab (yellow ones, not Uber/Lyfts) can be an experience for a foreign visitor. The right way to do so is to stand away from a bus stop on the side walk and lift your hand up confidently at a 45 degree angle. Contrary to many other cities, cabs are better options than rideshare apps in NYC, as cabbies know the roads much better than a casual driver from the suburbs.
- Although a cab ride might be interesting, walking in many cases are much more convenient. Subway/public transport is good but can be sketchy in late evenings in specific neighborhoods.
- But do not try to walk the entire weekend. It is best to follow the itinerary above so that you can walk around in a neighborhood and take a ride to the next.
- It is recommended to not drive in the city for a foreign visitor. Even if you are bringing a car, try to park in the hotel or other longer term parking spots, then walk or take a cab.