The Best Things Every Visitor Should Do in Manhattan to Feel Like a Real New Yorker
Manhattan can be a wildly overwhelming place, packed with more landmarks, bars, restaurants, stores, and activities than you could ever dream of working your way through -- which often makes it impossible to decide on what to actually do in the borough. To make sure you make the most of your time, consult this list of the the most essential things to see, eat, and do in the heart of New York City.
Learn to make pasta in Little Italy
Walk past the sidewalk hawkers of Mulberry Street to one of the neighborhood’s newer additions, Aunt Jake’s, for a more modern approach to pasta. Owned by Chef Carmine Di Giovanni (an Italian-American Staten Islander), the shop leaves the decision-making to diners, who can mix-and-match noodles and sauces. For a truly hands-only experience, join Di Giovanni for a pasta-making class in the beautiful second floor space, known as the “Pasta Lab.”
Sweat it out at the Russian & Turkish Baths
For the ultimate detox, skip the fancy Instagram-friendly spas and head to the old-school Russian and Turkish Baths, which has been around since 1892. Tucked away on East 10th Street, the bath house boasts multiple steam rooms, saunas, traditional treatments like seaweed salt scrubs, and platza (aka, a massage that involves being “beaten” with a bushel of oak branches), plus a juice bar and rooftop deck -- all accessible for an affordable $40 a day.
Eat a late-night chopped cheese at Hajji’s
The Harlem-born chopped cheese sandwich holds a special place in New Yorker’s hearts -- an affordable bodega sandwich (best enjoyed after a night of drinking) involving griddled ground beef, melted cheese, onions, peppers, and your choice of fixings on a pressed hero. Think of it is NYC’s answer the the Philly Cheesesteak. Hajji’s (aka Blue Sky Deli) claims to be the OG chopped cheese slinger, but you’ll find plenty of other bodegas throughout Harlem (and the Bronx) that serve them as well, typically for less than $5.
Grab donuts from a car wash
High on the list of great things in unexpected places is Underwest Donuts, a donut purveyor hidden inside the Westside Highway Car Wash. From a slim space adjacent to the cleaning operation, chef/owner Scott Levine slings incredibly tender cake rounds in offbeat flavors like halva, lavender-vanilla and maple waffle. It’s a bit out of the way, but well worth the detour.
Meander through Central Park
Whether you’re looking to linger on the Great Lawn or Sheep Meadow with some picnic fare, take a romantic row on the lake, or roam through the North Woods to uncover hidden waterfalls, you can easily spend an entire day just wandering Central Park’s sprawling 843 acres.
Try an authentic New York slice
Every New Yorker has a different opinion on who exactly makes the city’s best pizza, but some of the very best slices in the city can be found in Manhattan. No matter what style you choose -- charred thin-crust from Bleecker Street, chewy Neapolitan from Joe’s, or doughy square Sicilians from Prince Street -- there’s only one way to eat them: with your hands, preferably while walking down the street.
Go uptown -- way uptown
The upper half of Manhattan is full of sights and sounds that shouldn’t be overlooked. Start your journey by heading up to Harlem for classic soul food at Amy Ruth’s and a jazz show at the revived Minton’s. Then make your way to Washington Heights to explore medieval art inside the Cloisters or take a hike up to the Little Red Lighthouse.
Drink on the Hudson
To truly appreciate Manhattan’s island status, you have to get out onto the water. When the weather’s warm, hop onto the seasonal Grand Banks, a former fishing schooner-turned-floating bar, for nautical cocktails and oysters.
Sample Dominique Ansel’s best desserts (without the line)
To get a taste of Dominique Ansel’s over-the-top desserts, skip the SoHo Cronut line and head to his West Village Kitchen, where the focus lies on pastries à la minute (like a lemon curd tart that’s spun to order using a milkshake maker and matcha-dusted beignets fried fresh). In the summer, a side window opens up to sell soft-serve ice cream, and by night, the third floor kitchen transforms into the setting for a multi-course tasting that shows off Ansel’s fine-dining background.
Walk the High Line
Once an industrial freight rail that transported goods in and out of the Meatpacking District, the High Line has transformed into one of Manhattan’s most unique outdoor spaces. The elevated urban playground boasts lush greenery, art installations, and great views of the Hudson River (especially at sundown). If you’re looking to avoid crowds, get there early in the morning when all you’ll find is a few lone runners.
Eat your way through Chelsea Market
Pair your walk on the High Line with a trip through the OG food hall. Being forced to sidestep crowds is worth it for food from vendors like Dizengoff, where you can grab a quick hummus snack or linger for a family-style dinner; Korean ramen shop mokbar (kimchi ramen for a full meal, crispy ho’ cakes as a pick-me-up); and the al pastor tacos-slinging Los Tacos No. 1.
Scope out the view from One World Trade Observatory
For the absolute best aerial view of Manhattan and beyond, head up to the 1,776-feet spire’s observation deck, where, from the glass-enclosed 100th floor, you’ll see the city from an entirely different perspective.
Get cultured along the Museum Mile
Museum-hopping is easy when so many tour-worthy institutions sit along the same stretch of Fifth Avenue. With nine establishments packed into the 28-block span, there’s one for every type of culture-seeker, including The Met for fine-art connoisseurs, the Cooper Hewitt for design enthusiasts, and the Museum of the City of New York for history buffs.
Explore Grand Central Station
The always-packed commuter hub is a far less frustrating place when you’re simply there to enjoy its architectural marvels. Among some of the must-see attractions are the whispering gallery; the zodiac mural on the ceiling of the Main Concourse; the newly reopened hidden bar, The Campbell; and the landmark Grand Central Oyster Bar, with its iconic vaulted ceiling and famed oyster pan roast.
Hop on the Staten Island Ferry
While this technically takes you outside of Manhattan, the ferry boards at the Whitehall Terminal, located on the borough’s southernmost tip. For the low price of free, the ferry will take you on a scenic ride with Insta-worthy views of landmarks such as One World Trade and the Lady Liberty.
Eat a bacon, egg, and cheese
Whether you like your BECs fancy -- if so, try the ones at Daily Provisions in Flatiron -- or simple (then any corner bodega will do), housing a BEC on a Sunday morning (or late Saturday night) is the ultimate New York City rite of passage.
Explore the stacks at Strand Bookstore
Even with plenty of reading material on our phones and computers, there’s something unmistakably satisfying about trying to find a book at the Strand. The 90-year-old bookstore is the last surviving shop of NYC’s one-time “Book Row” and houses nearly 18 miles of tomes ranging from new bestsellers to antique treasures.
Get dumplings and dessert in Chinatown
While dumplings may be a given on any Chinatown excursion (you’ll find excellent pan-fried ones at Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle), there’s another type of food worth trying in the downtown neighborhood: ice cream. Chinatown is quickly becoming a full-blown dessert destination thanks to new openings like Soft Swerve, Taiyaki NYC, and Milk & Cream.
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
After grabbing a bite in Chinatown, head down Canal Street to the Manhattan foot entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge (right at the City Hall station). The views of Brooklyn, the Manhattan skyline, and the Statue of Liberty are beautiful no matter what time of day you go, but your best bet is to head there on a weekday afternoon (or early in the morning on a weekend) when you can avoid the crowds.
Sip cocktails at a hidden bar
Despite its name, PDT (short for Please Don’t Tell) may be the city’s worst-kept secret bar. Accessed through a phone booth inside Crif Dogs, the sleek speakeasy offers one of the best drinking experiences in Manhattan -- excellent cocktails created by legendary bartender-owner Jim Meehan, plus plenty of booze-soaking food from its hot dog and waffle fry-slinging neighbor.
Grab a bagel with lox at Russ & Daughters
Lower East Side
While there are certainly fresher bagels to be had in Manhattan (for those, head to Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side), no one can rival this 103-year-old appetizing store’s gaspe nova smoked salmon on a bagel. Sliced paper thin and layered with house-made cream cheese, capers and tomatoes, it’s the ultimate New York City breakfast.
See a Broadway show on the cheap
Yes, even Hamilton. Theater lovers can score discounted tickets to the Great White Way in a number of ways. There are the digital lotteries, which require a few minutes of your time and a smartphone, or the old-fashioned technique of standing in line at various TKTS booths or the theater’s box office for same-day rush tickets.
Eat a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli
Lower East Side
You’re as likely to bump into local New Yorkers as you are tourists waiting on line at Katz’s, a testament to the quality of its pastrami. Few others can rival the Lower East Side institution’s slow-cured, hand-carved pastrami on rye -- or its history (yes, you can go sit at the When Harry Met Sally Table, but please, keep your Meg Ryan moans to yourself).
Scope out the views at The Crown
Situated atop Chinatown’s Hotel 50 Bowery, The Crown is a newish rooftop bar offering unobstructed views of the Manhattan Bridge, Freedom Tower, and Empire State Building. There’s also food and drink from Dale Talde’s Three Kings Restaurant Group, which -- true to the Top Chef alum’s repertoire -- leans Asian (like a Manhattan flavored with Szechuan peppercorns and a vodka-tea concoction infused with kalamansi).
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