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The city guide to New York

New York, New York

The first time I went to New York, I was in awe & in love. The skyscrapers, the shops, the energy & vibrant feel of the city – it was basically all that I dreamt or thought it would be. That first trip was about 10 years ago, and I’ve visited New York 6 times in total since (2 of those times include one crazy travel story, where I basically flew home in a semi-private jet (this was part of an awesome press trip), only to leave back to New York again a couple of hours later for a personal trip that had been booked before. Safe to say, I was kinda exhausted.) Since then, New York has also served as a convenient meeting point with our Canadian family, which explains the last 3 visits in 2014, 2016 & 2018. I l still love New York, but I have to admit that the last time I was there in November, I felt like it was time to “take a break” from visiting the city so it might be a (long) while before I go back. However, to pay tribute to all the awesome times that were had there, I wanted to post this long overdue city guide with my favorites for the city that never sleeps. Consider it as my recommendations / favorite things to do based on all previous trips, all wrapped up in one post!

Where to stay?

When it’s your first time, I’d recommend going for a hotel that’s close to the area of the Flatiron building. We’ve stayed at the Ace Hotel, The Paul & The Roger in this area and it’s a really good central location to explore everything. You’re surrounded by lots of great food options (not that that’s ever really a problem in New York). Note: it’s true what they say about the “city that never sleeps” – you’ll probably hear some of the street traffic noise and honking at night, depending on where your room is located. Ear plugs are always a good idea! An area I wouldn’t recommend for staying is anything too close to Times Square, because it’s really (very) loud and not very charming. During our last trip, we stayed a lot more downtown at the Arlo Soho. This is also a great area but the other one is more central. For a more alternative stay, go to Brooklyn or Williamsburg. Williamsburg is the most alternative of the two, but also has a lot of cool shops & places to eat. Brooklyn is also really nice! You’ll be further out of the city though – if you don’t mind commuting back and forth every day to get to Manhattan, it’s okay – otherwise it might be a bit far out if it’s your first time visiting and you only have a couple of days to explore.

What to do?

Obviously I can’t (and won’t) name all the things to do in New York, because there’s a lot – but these activities are my favorites.

Walk the High Line and end at the Chelsea market, where you can grab lunch and shop at Artists & Fleas. Right now, you’re in the Meatpacking district, which has a cool vibe, that industrial NY-feel, and of course – plenty of nice places for food & shopping. At night, it’s fun to have dinner at The Standard Grill in this area & then head up for drinks with an awesome view at the Top of the Standard or Le Bain.

Walk around in the ultra-cozy neighborhood of the West Village, where you’ll also find the famous Magnolia bakery. Their cupcakes are delicious indeed – try them, the line usually moves pretty fast. This area is also where Carrie Bradshaw’s SATC apartment and the Friends building is. Trust me, you’ll find it hard not to love it here!

Go for a walk through Central Park (it’s huge!), and enjoy the nature / city contrast. You can pick & visit one of the many famous museums around it like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim or Museum of Natural History. It became a New York-tradition of ours to always stop for the mini sliders and sweet potato fries at the Plaza Food Hall here – they’re so delicious! (I also had the absolute pleasure of staying at the Ritz-Carlton here once during that previous mentioned press trip, which was quite amazing)

Head to the financial district, make a shopping stop at Century 21 (I always check out the bags – it’s where I bought this Rebecca Minkoff & Zac Posen purse) and walk the Brooklyn bridge afterwards. It’s pretty much always crowded here, so go really early morning if you want the place to yourself. During the weekend, you can head to Smorgasburg for lunch. Their winter location changed last year – it’s now at the Atlantic center which is a lot less nice than the previous one in my opinion. During the warmer months, it’s open-air and has a nice view on the city. Make sure to stroll around the cozy Dumbo area before you head back to the city – you (and 300 other tourists) are going to want to take a picture with that really iconic background (find it at the intersection of Washington and Front street). If you’re not too tired yet, walk back to the city via the Manhattan bridge – otherwise rest your legs & take the subway.

It took us a while before we finally made it here, but a trip to Coney Island is also nice to add to your “New York-experience list”. It does take about an hour to get there with the subway, but it’s fun to see a bit more of this area. It was completely deserted when we were there, but that only added to the (semi-creepy) experience for me.

Stop by the New York Public Library – it’s completely free, and a beautiful and iconic building to visit. Check the opening times before you go, and make sure to stop by their book store before you leave. I’ve picked up more than one souvenir here on my trips!

When in New York, I always make sure to check out some of my favorite brands and stores that aren’t available in Belgium. I love Madewell, J. Crew, Anthropologie, Club Monaco & Aritzia – even though I have to admit that they’ve become more & more expensive the last few years. Topshop also has a location in New York (on Broadway), and they’ve opened up a new Artists & Fleas location close-by here too. If you’re a beauty fan, a trip to the Glossier Flagship store is pretty much a must, too.

You can find colorful street art at different locations in New York (I love the ones by Kobra), but you can also head out to Williamsburg to explore more street art in an alternative neighborhood. It’s not complete hipsterville yet, but you’ll already find a lot of cool little shops and places to eat around here. It’s more quiet, and a cool place to stay and explore when you want to explore a different side of New York.

I’d almost forget because I figure you’ll do this anyway – but make sure to see all the (iconic) buildings of New York, even though you’ll surely pass by those when walking around the city. The Flatiron building is one of my favorites, and going to the Top of the Rock is something you have to do at least once.

Visit the 9/11 memorial – it’s quite impressive to see, even though you’ll probably leave with a sad feeling. I’ve never made it to the actual museum yet, but I’ve heard it’s quite good & would definitely add this to my list if I make it to New York again.

Eat & drink

New York is food heaven, period. You’ll find good options everywhere, without even having to search for them. I’ll stick to telling you a small list of favorites. For breakfast (find a more elaborate blog post on that here), head to the Butcher’s Daughter (they have several locations), The Smith (again, several locations), Coco & Cru, Bubby’s (Hudson street) or Jack’s Wife Freda. For lunch or dinner try Tacombi, Ruby’s Cafe, The Smith, The Plaza Food Hall, The Standard Grill or one of the Westville locations. Wild or Aurora Soho are nice if you’re looking for an extra cozy dinner spot with good food.

Read all my previous New York articles with extra tips here:

The New York bucket list
5 New York favorites
New York – The Burgers
Breakfast in NYC

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