The first time I visited New York City, the city and I didn’t really click. My visit was solely centred around the top attractions – Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, the shops along Fifth Avenue – and I just ended up feeling overwhelmed by the chaos of it all. On this second trip I wanted to do things differently; since it was Sam’s first time in the Big Apple, we still made sure to cover those iconic New York sights, but we also gave ourselves plenty of down time in the parks and some of the quieter Brooklyn neighbourhoods. Here are some of the highlights:
Walking the High Line
I love it when a city can continue to reinvent itself and repurpose structures that have become obsolete. The High Line was once a set of rail tracks that connected factories and warehouses, allowing for the easy distribution of food products. It was cleverly designed above street level, so that goods like milk, meat, and produce could be transported and unloaded without disrupting traffic below. However, over time these rail tracks lost their purpose. They lay in complete abandon until 2006, when plans were made to turn this space into an urban park. Today, there’s a wooden boardwalk where trains once ran, and the space is lined with all kinds of vegetation.
Playing Board Games at Bryant Park
During my very first trip to New York City several years ago, I felt a little claustrophobic and like there was no escape from the masses. However, during this second trip I found a lot of green spaces and quiet pockets where I could relax; Bryant Park being one of them. The thing I particularly loved about this park is that they have free board games for families and friends to enjoy. Little tables with umbrellas have been up, and you can sit down for a game of chess, scrabble, dominoes, Chinese checkers, or whatever else you can get your hands on. This is so clever for a city where people live in small apartments with relatively little outdoor space.
Stumbling upon Little Korea
Having spent a year teaching ESL in South Korea, I now crave Korean food all the time – bibimbap, kimchi bokkum bap, pajeon – you name it! That’s why I was beyond thrilled to discover that New York City has its own Little Korea. Koreatown (코리아타운) is located on West 32nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, and it really feels like you’ve set foot in Seoul. The street signs are in hangul, the bars serve soju, and there are plenty of noraebang rooms should you be in the mood for some karaoke. Sam and I found a little restaurant called Woorjip with a Korean buffet and we ended up eating there 3 times during our week in New York City. Yes, that’s how much we love our Korean food!
Getting a taste of Europe at the Cloisters
If you’re looking for some peace and solitude, then you may want to consider visiting the Cloisters in Upper Manhattan. Located in Fort Tryon Park, this place feels miles away from the bustle of the Downtown. Heavily influenced by European architecture, the building will make you feel like you’ve set foot in Spain or Italy. I particularly enjoyed the Cloisters because the place doesn’t get as many visitors as some of the other better known museums.
Spending hours walking around Central Park
There is so much to discover in Central Park! I mean, I knew it was huge before going, but I didn’t realize the scale of it until I set foot there and started walking. Central Park is more than a green space; it has numerous attractions and activities within. These include Belvedere Castle, Shakespeare Garden, Central Park Zoo, the Great Lawn, and Strawberry Fields, where people come and leave roses for John Lennon. Your best bet is to always enter from a different path so that you can see it all over time.
Eating Sylvia’s Soul Food in Harlem
Oh my goodness, the food at Sylvia’s Soul Food is mouthwatering! The restaurant was founded by Sylvia Woods, the Queen of Soul Food, and it is quite the popular establishment in Harlem. Sylvia’s clientele has included everyone from world figures like Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton, to locals who are in the mood for some hearty home-cookin’. I had the smothered chicken with yams, macaroni, and corn bread – it was heavenly! The meat was so tender and juicy that it just broke apart with my fork. Oh, and then I also had peach cobbler pie for dessert, because you don’t come to a place like this and leave without dessert! The establishment is modest and the interior looks a bit dated, but I can see why they don’t care much about the decor when they cook the way they do. Sylvia’s is located on Lenox Avenue, between 126th and 127th Streets.
People-watching at Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park is located in Greenwich Village by the NYU campus and it’s just a really nice place to hang out. You have the Memorial Arch which is a little reminiscent of the Triumphal Arch in Paris, there’s a big fountain where kids like to splash around on a hot day, and then there is always a street musician serenading people.
Taking the Roosevelt Island Tram
Do you remember that movie scene where Spider-Man is battling the Green Goblin and he has to choose between saving a tramway full of passengers or Mary Jane who is dangling in mid-air? That Spider-Man scene was filmed on New York’s Roosevelt Island Tramway! While there isn’t much to do on Roosevelt Island, it was fun riding such an iconic tram and getting to see the city from a different perspective.
Going on the rides in Coney Island
I happened to be in New York City the same weekend the Mermaid Parade was taking place, and that was enough to lure me out to Coney Island. After watching the scandalously-clad mermaids strut their stuff down the street, Sam, Jackie, and I decided to take on the rides. Unfortunately, Jackie got stuck in the middle on most of these rides, which meant she got two earfuls of screaming anytime there was a twist or a drop. Sorry Jackie!
Checking out the New York City skyline from DUMBO
DUMBO is an acronym which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. The name alone makes this place worth a visit! This former industrial area is now home to loft apartments, design stores, art galleries, and trendy restaurants – plus you get some killer views of the Manhattan Bridge! P.S. There are some amazing pizzerias in this neighbourhood.
A little video from NYC!
Have you been to New York City?
What are your favourite spots in the Big Apple? Or what spots would you like to visit?
Looks like you guys had a great time! There’s this amazing little ice cream parlour at the end of Brooklyn bridge. I walked the span of the bridge under the blazing sun and I swear that ice cream saved my life.
There’s also the best BBQ I’ve ever eaten in Harlem called “Dinosaur Bar-B-Que” Im surprised I could walk again after tucking into their burgers. It was immense.
I missed the ice cream parlour! I also walked across the bridge when it was a scorching summer day, and all I wanted was shaaaade!!!
I also found that I didn’t click with New York when I visited a few years ago! I would like to revisit to see if I would feel differently about it now, though. I like the idea of hanging out in green spaces and exploring different neighbourhoods.
That’s why I like revisiting places. Sometimes the city you hated as a teenager takes on a completely different life once you’re a young adult. 🙂
New York is one of my favourite cities and there is still so much I haven’t seen. I would love to go on the tramway, and also check out Coney Island. *sigh*…makes me want to go back sooner than later!
Coney Island is a lot of fun! Although, if you want to experience the rides and have more of a relaxed time on the beach, it’s best to go when there aren’t any special events going on. The place was packed during the Mermaid Parade.
Hi Audrey, I love that this post focusses on great NYC activities besides ‘the touristy’ things we already know! I also did the statue of liberty and the big museums, but next time I would definitely like to explore the other neighborhoods such as Brooklyn :)!
I hope you get to revisit, Manouk! Brooklyn is a pretty cool area – plus they have the best view of the NYC skyline.
Yes, Brooklyn does have a beautiful view on NYC skyline . . . but have you seen it from the NJ side? I live in Weehawken/West New York, NJ and the view is super incredible!!
Wish I could post a pic here.
I’ve been to New York a few times but only for short visits. And while the main attractions (i.e. the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, etc.) are things that I really enjoyed, I also just loved exploring areas in Brooklyn and Central Park. But there’s so much left for me to see there!! It looks like you made a fantastic use of your time there! This post makes me want to go back 😉
I’ve been to NYC for a couple of short trips, and it sounds like I had a similar experience to your first trip. I’m thinking about heading back there to explore more, so your guide is perfect! The High Line seems especially cool, and DUMBO – I love taking photos!
The High Line is definitely worth checking out – especially early in the morning before it gets too busy. There are a few little cafes towards the end of the line, which means you can stop for a cool drink after the walk.
I’ve never been there, but always wanted to go and not do the ‘Times Square’-type stuff, so this is a fantastic guide!
I really wanted to walk along the Highline when I was last in NY but I ran out of time 🙁
I don’t feel like I really clicked with New York when I visited either but the things I loved were the Highline, Washington Square Park (there was a flash mob marriage proposal when I was there!), Central Park, Brooklyn Heights Promenade, the beautiful walk up apartments in Brooklyn Heights and Greenwich Village, Brooklyn Flea, Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge Park and Williamsburg for amazing food. Seems there was actually quite a few things I loved about New York!
That’s so cool that you got to see a flash mob proposal! I hope she said ‘yes’. 🙂
So glad you made it to Harlem and parts of Brooklyn. New York can be really overwhelming if you’re just there for the tourist sights. I really like walking around Madison Square – it’s very New York in the sense that there’s places to shop, good food all over, a little bit of greenery, and iconic buildings right in front of you. One of my favorite “touristy” things to do is take the ferry to Staten Island on a sunny day. You pass by the Statue of Liberty, but mostly it’s nice because you get this gorgeous uninterrupted view of the skyline and the water is blue and beautiful.
Thanks for sharing those less touristy attractions. I will definitely remind myself of them when I’m going to visit NYC for the first time cause I think I’d enjoy it more then. The cloister doesn’t look like it’s in New York City. I love those urban escapes in big cities.
I’ve never been to New York City (planning on it though!) and I would totally spend an entire day in Little Korea eating All The Food.
The way you described your first NY experience was exactly how I felt about Paris. Next time, I’d love to relax more and take it easier. I love your suggestions for NYC, especially playing board games in the park! I’m a super dork so I love doing stuff like that :). I’d love to ride the rides at Coney Island too!
I visited NYC for the first time in January this year with my boyfriend. We hit as many main attractions as we could in our long weekend. I did not fall in love with the city like so many other people I know who have visited, but this post gives me some great ideas to try to give NYC another chance! (Maybe going when it’s warmer out will help too)
New York does look gorgeous. I like cities that have plenty of spaces to walk and discover things on impulse. Bryant Park looks so sophisticated.
Definitely my favorite places were the high line and cloisters,. They were really peaceful and interesting !
Great article! Next time you’re here, you’ll have to come to Astoria. We have New York’s oldest beer garden and some of the best Greek food!
I’m so glad I got to see you guys when you were here, scary rides and all!
Great post! I’ve always wanted to go to NYC, but never really knew what I would do there. Except for the Green Line, it’s been on my radar ever since I heard about it. But the other things you described seem really nice too, so it is a great reference for a future trip to NYC!
I can’t believe I’ve never been to New York, not yet at least. I’d love to go though and perhaps spend some time in the Little Korea of which I didn’t know the existence.
New York does look gorgeous. Bryant Park looks so sophisticated. I like cities that have plenty of spaces to walk and discover things on impulse.this is a very nice place and i like it.
Great post Audrey. I always love NY. Great and beautiful to visit.
I have not been to New York before, my friend who lives there said it’s very noisy city. The park and the bridge are beautiful. I will definitely visit one day!
You certainly got a lot done during your week in NYC and glad you guys got to ride the LI tram and visit the Cloisters, a lot of people miss both of those! 😀