Insider’s Guide To New York City

Insider’s Guide To New York City

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Ah, New York, New York. Where to start on a trip to this incredible city? We chat to resident New Yorker Grace Cowey to find out her favourite places to explore, top foodie recommendations and unmissable NYC experiences to make your trip unforgettable.

New York is the City That Never Sleeps, and for good reason. There’s so much going on, there’s no time to rest. Neighbourhoods with distinct personalities collide in this artsy, trend-setting, energising, culturally and culinary diverse city, and the plethora of iconic sites and world-class museums and galleries can often leave visitors’ heads spinning.

‘New York is diverse, tough, and magical,’ explains resident New Yorker Grace Cowey. A born New Zealander with American family and years spent living in the UK under her belt, Grace has plenty of experience living in new places. But New York has stuck, and is the first place to really feel like home.

‘I’ve lived in New York off and on for the last four years, but spent many summers and vacations here before making the leap to move over,’ says Grace. ‘I’ve moved around so much for my entire life, so to really feel at home is incredible. I remember the first time I visited New York, riding the subway into the city, I had an overwhelming sense that this was the place for me. Something about the energy and buzz is intoxicating.’

The Statue of Liberty. Photo by Ximena Torres Rodríguez on Unsplash
Riding the Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty is a must in NYC. Photo by Ximena Torres Rodríguez on Unsplash

For visitors, this crazy-exhausting city can seem a little overwhelming and hard to know where to start. Lucky for us, Grace has shared some of her secrets for getting the best out of New York, whether you’re a regular visitor in need of something new, a first timer or a business traveller. This is a city that has something for everyone, after all.

You haven’t experienced New York until you…

  • Eat a good bagel. But make sure it’s not toasted and ask for it with a schmear (a coating of cream cheese).’
  • Watch a show on Broadway. You can get discounted same-day tickets from the TKTS booth.’
  • Visit at least one gallery or museum. I’m a massive art fan, so I love to gallery hop in the city, or check out more under-the-radar openings in Brooklyn. There are more and more awesome concept spaces popping up, like Red Bull Arts in Chelsea, which is a multi-disciplinary arts space that hosts lots of exhibitions and events. Or A/D/O in Greenpoint, which is a mishmash of restaurant, design exhibition, gallery, curated retail shop and co-working space. It’s a great place to chill.’
  • Ride the Staten Island Ferry. This is an absolute must in NYC. It’s free, and goes right past the Statue of Liberty.’
  • Go to a sports game. Try a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, or a Brooklyn Nets basketball game.’
  • Dance the night away. New Yorkers love to dance, and there are DJs everywhere – not just at clubs and bars, but restaurants, galleries and rooftops all become places to dance and hang. Stay out all hours and top the night off with a slice of dollar pizza.’  
Yankee Stadium. Photo by Chanan Greenblatt on Unsplash
Catch a baseball game at Yankee Stadium for a true NYC experience. Photo by Chanan Greenblatt on Unsplash

New York for first-timers

‘I always tell visitors coming for the first time to start their trip with one of the many bus tours you can take in Manhattan,’ says Grace. ‘It’s a great way to see a lot in a short space of time, and get the “must dos” ticked off so that you can start to delve a little deeper into all New York has to offer beyond its main attractions.’

‘It’s easy to think of New York as a list of sites to tick off, but one of the best things about this place is how many varied and distinct neighbourhoods there are,’ Grace adds.

‘One of my favourite things to do is wander the streets, soak up the vibes of all of the different neighbourhoods, wander side streets and lanes, pop in and out of little shops and cafés. Definitely go beyond Manhattan; there’s so much more to discover in the different cultures and nationalities of the neighbourhoods.’

Off-the-beaten track New York

It’s always good to try and see a different side to a city, and escape the hordes – you’ll get something much more out of your trip, especially in such a touristy city as New York.

‘If you love theatre, check out Off or Off-Off Broadway shows, where a lot of shows get their start,’ advises Grace. ‘The tickets are easier to get hold of, and are usually cheaper.’

‘If you love modern art, skip the crowds at MoMA and head to MoMA PS1 in Queens. Stay away from Times Square – it’s a crazy tourist spot! If you want to chill in a park, Central Park isn’t the only amazing green space in New York; Prospect Park, McCarren Park, and East River State Park are all lovely spaces on the waterfront or in cool parts of town.

‘Many New Yorkers like to escape the city at the weekend. I like to catch a train upstate to ramble up Bear Mountain, or visit the beach at Rockaway or Fire Island. There are some really charming towns upstate too, like Hudson, which is full of small art spaces and antique shops, or Fishkill where you can go apple picking. Surprisingly, it’s pretty quick and easy to leave the world of the city behind and escape to quieter adventures for a little while.’

Aerial view of Bear Mountain Bridge at sunrise
Grace loves to escape to Bear Mountain at the weekend

New York for foodies

Favourite coffee haunt: ‘The best coffee spot in the city is Happy Bones on Broome Street (I might be biased, because it’s owned by my family, but we’re New Zealanders, so we know good coffee!)’

Best spot for brunch:Two Hands and Banter are both great spots that are both run by Australians, and have yummy healthy food and laid back vibes.’

Top pick for a cheap and cheerful meal: ‘Check out one of the great food markets, like Smorgasburg in Williamsburg or Prospect Park. Or if it’s raining, there’s a basement food market at City Point in Downtown Brooklyn that has loads of food trucks and vendors selling some of the yummiest, weirdest or trendiest bites around.’

Favourite restaurant for an indulgent dinner:Marc Forgione in Tribeca serves a chicken-under-a-brick dish that you’ll dream about. Buttery uni spaghetti at Augustine (in the Beekman hotel in FiDi) is unbelievable. One of the most magical eating experiences is having late night oysters and absinthe at Maison Premiere, in their leafy garden lit by tiny fairy lights. And the best steak in all five boroughs is at Peter Luger in Williamsburg. Fact.’  

Best bars in NYC: ‘I love taking people to The Ides, which is a rooftop bar on top of the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg. It’s expensive and a bit pretentious, but the views are incredible. I love a good dive bar though too, and Skinny Dennis is one of the weirdest and most fun NYC experiences – it’s a honky tonk dive bar with amazing frozen whisky coffee. Baby’s All Right is a great spot too, serving yummy bar food and has a great lineup of live performances.’

Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York
Exploring Prospect Park in Brooklyn is a great alternative to the busy Central Park

The fantastic thing about New York is that there really is something to suit all tastes. ‘Whether your vibe is upscale glamour, seedy underbelly or anything in between, you can find it all, often in unexpected ways,’ says Grace. ‘It’s full of people who are the best of the best, and because it can be such a tough and exhausting place to live, it filters out a lot of people who can’t hack it. That means there’s a sense of constant motion, constant striving and constant creation and innovation. Nothing stays put – movement and experimentation are the lifeblood of NY.‘

Travelling to New York? The last thing you want to do when arriving is try to navigate the city’s subway system, or worry about racking up a fortune in taxi charges. Instead, consider booking an airport transfer – shared shuttle transfer companies from JFK airport to downtown NYC start from as little as USD$31 on Jayride.com.

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‘It's easy to think of New York as a list of sites to tick off, but one of the best things about this place is how many varied and distinct neighbourhoods there are.’