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Although I now live in the middle of nowhere in the Netherlands, I used to live in New York City. During my many years of living in NYC, I got to explore the city and find some hidden gems. A lot of people go to NYC to see the Empire State Building, and of course, Times Square, among other places. I’m asked a lot about what to do in the city and where to eat. There are tons of things to do and plenty of places to eat, but I’ve managed to condense my list. I’m constantly discovering new places when I visit and my preferences change. So at the moment, these are my top places. Some of them are popular destinations, others are not but definitely worth checking out.
1. Eat at Cafe Tibet
One of Brooklyn’s hidden gems is Cafe Tibet. It’s a tiny, hole in the wall of a restaurant. There are barely any seats, they don’t take reservations, and you can only pay with cash. Despite all of that, it is absolutely worth it. The food is authentic and frill-free. Lots of things are served in very plain dishes, but still delicious. I do recommend that you call before going to make sure they are open. This restaurant is located right above the Cortelyou Road Q train station. If you want some good Georgian food, head over to Chama Mama or the many delicious Georgian restaurants in Brighton Beach.
2. Take a Ride on the Staten Island Ferry
This is one of the best ways to see the city, and best of all, it’s free! Take the Staten Island ferry from the Whitehall Terminal in Manhattan at the start of sunset. When you arrive on Staten Island, get right back on the ferry to get back to where you started. On the way there, you’ll have a beautiful sunset. On the way back, you’ll have a beautiful view of the city complete with all of the twinkly lights. It’s beautiful and free.
3. Check Out Some Tall Buildings
Of course, you can visit the Empire State Building and the Freedom Tower, and you should. But there are more cool tall buildings with observation decks. I recently checked out the Summit. It’s located in the One Vanderbilt building across from Grand Central Station. The whole experience is so cool, complete with tons of mirrors, windows, and interactive activities. I have also heard that the Edge is nice, but I didn’t get a chance to check it out yet.
4. Shop at a Cute Market
One of my favorite markets is in Union Square. There are tons of little booths selling delicious baked goods, meat, flowers, produce, and much more. My favorite is the maple cream from Roxbury Mountain Maple. It’s very hard to find this product, it’s expensive, but it’s freaking delicious. During the holiday season, there’s also a holiday market in Union Square. Another good Christmas market is in Bryant Park. But that one tends to be a lot more crowded.
5. See a Show on Broadway
Even if you don’t like theater, go check out a show. You might change your mind. I finally got to see the Rockettes’ Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. I recommend everyone check it out. It’s cheery, fun, filled with happiness, and full of the holiday spirit.
6. Listen to Some Jazz
There are so many places to listen to jazz in NYC. This is especially true in Harlem, the birthplace of jazz. One of my favorite places is in Williamsburg (Brooklyn). It’s called Velvet Lounge. I love the interior and the vibe. On select nights, they have a live jazz band perform. I also really liked Bar Next Door at La Lanterna di Vittorio. This jazz bar is in Manhattan, very close to Washington Square Park. There’s also Melody’s Piano Bar in Manhattan. It’s super beautiful and cozy.
7. Enjoy the Views From a Rooftop Bar
You cannot leave NYC without visiting some awesome rooftops. My favorites are Magic Hour at Moxy Times Square and PHD Rooftop at the Dream Hotel. These are both in Manhattan. I also really like Kimoto Rooftop in downtown Brooklyn’s Sheraton Hotel. This one has some delicious food and cocktails.
8. Relax at a Spa With a View
I’m going to get right to it. This place is expensive. And it’s not even located in NYC. But can you put a price on a view? Sojo Spa is a multilevel spa with an infinity pool, other pools, hot tubs, saunas, and much more. The view of NYC from the infinity pool is amazing, especially at sunset and at night! Although it’s not in NYC, it’s very close to it. Sojo Spa is located in Edgewater, New Jersey.
9. Visit an Art Masterpiece
The Oculus is an art piece, a mall, and much more. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, this building stands out like a sore thumb, in a good way. It’s located near the Freedom Tower where the twin towers used to be. I’m no stranger to Calatrava because the art museum in my hometown was designed by him as well.
10. Go To The End of the World: aka Brighton Beach
Tourists don’t normally visit Brighton Beach, but this neighborhood at the end of Brooklyn is a must. There are tons of incredibly delicious Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, and other such restaurants. Brighton Beach is often referred to as Little Odessa. In addition to food, there’s a beautiful beach with a boardwalk that takes you all the way to Coney Island.
NYC is a lively city that never sleeps. There are always things to do and eat, no matter what time of day or night it is. If you have the dream of seeing NYC or you simply love big cities, make the most of your time there. It’s chaotic, dirty, loud, and smelly, but it’s also big, fun, energetic, and full of life. Make sure to check out the things I can never travel without. Don’t forget to eat a bagel loaded with cream cheese and lox. And if you’re like my partner Kevin and think bagels are deep-fried in oil, know that they aren’t. They are boiled in water and then baked in the oven to delicious perfection.
Bonus: Eat Some Good Bagels
The featured photo was taken by Aye Ostertag.
What are some places you recommend people visit in NYC?