Note: This guide was originally written in early 2019 (ie before the pandemic). I’ve updated it in Dec ‘23 to make sure everything still exists, but unfortunately am on a few years’ break from living in the city and don’t have the most updated info. If you’re reading this and see anything off with the guide, send me a text/email with what I should fix.
Table of contents:
Welcome to New York!
I present to you Steve’s NYC Visitor Guide, an always-in-progress list of the more interesting, eccentric, or authentic New York locations and experiences.
First things first, please watch Johnny T’s NYC Tourist Tips. This video will go over some guidelines for etiquette while you stay in this great city:
Note that New York is a massive city, and no matter how long your visit is you will not be able to remotely scratch the surface of what it has to offer. This is okay! One of the best parts about New York is that you can have an entirely different experience each time you come back.
If this is your first time, I’d recommend knocking out the general tourism list and a sampling of some of the more interesting/off-the-beaten-trail suggestions you find. This way, next time you come to visit you’ll be able to spend more time on the interesting stuff.
Before we dig into the more fun stuff, take a second to learn about some cultural norms here that may be different from your own. These are, of course, in addition to Johnny T’s amazing tips which you should be well accustomed to by now.
A few quick things:
- Don’t lean on the poles, it makes it hard for other people to grab onto them.
- If the train is crowded, take your backpack off and put it on the ground so there’s more room for others to stand around you.
- Let people off the train before you try to get on.
Walking across the street when the pedestrian light is red is not only allowed but encouraged here. Feel free to cross whenever and wherever you’d like. If you aren’t jaywalking, kindly get out of the way so the rest of New York can pass by 🙂.
Check out the wikipedia page if you’re interested in the origins of the term.
For those of you reading this from outside of the US, you should know that tipping in the US is an annoying but absolutely required practice when you are interacting with the service industry (ie restaurants, getting your hair done, etc).
If you’re going to a sit-down restaurant, be ready to pay an additional 18-20% of the bill (after 8% sales tax) as tip. Anything less (in New York, at least) is on-par with a middle finger to the waiter/waitress that served you.
It gets a bit fuzzier in some situations, for example getting a coffee: I usually tip $1 or so if I’m getting an espresso from a boutique coffee shop, perhaps a bit more if it’s a fancier drink that requires more work. Something simple like tea (where it’s just putting a bag in hot water) probably wouldn’t merit a tip unless the barista was particularly nice.
When in doubt, text me (or any other American friend) and ask what they’d do in that situation, but please, please, please tip your waiters and waitresses. In many cases a majority of their wage that they rely on to live comes from tips; this is especially important in an expensive city like New York!
If you’re visiting the city for the first time there is a laundry list of default experiences that you’ll probably want to get out of the way. Most of these are pretty boring/generic places, but some are worthwhile even if they’re entirely cliché.
- Go to Times Square once. Your first visit may be great, but every New Yorker hates Midtown. It’s over-crowded with people commuting from out of the city and jerk tourists (like yourself!). Please don’t eat here unless at a restaurant explicitly approved by a New Yorkian friend. It’s overpriced and generally not good.
- There is one exception to this rule: Korea Town (colloquially known as K-Town). Located around W 32nd St. between Madison and 6th Ave, this enclave is a goldmine of excellent Korean BBQ joints and karaoke bars. Be sure to look up as you’re walking through the neighborhood; many of the best places are not at street-level 🏢.
- Walk on the High Line, starting in Chelsea. It’s an old above-ground subway track that got converted to a park. It’s generally filled with tourists but is a cool park. Don’t hesitate to take a peek inside the windows of the super bougie apartments along the way (rich people aren’t real people anyways). At the end of the walk you’ll get dumped off at the creepily modern Hudson Yards, a Gucci-filled mall complex with a weird alien looking building art thing (?). I’m not a huge fan, but it’s probably worth the visit.
- Go to the top of one building. I generally recommend the Top of the Rock, since you get to see the World Trade Center and then Empire State Building in one go, but Hudson Yards Observation Deck is perhaps better as of 2023. Expect to pay at least $30-50/person.
- As mentioned by our friend Johnny T, you should take a trip on the free Staten Island Ferry. It’ll be about an hour round trip and give you great views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Just make sure when you arrive at Staten Island you immediately get back on the ferry you arrived with. Do not stay in Staten Island. In terms of safety, it’s fine, but it’s basically the suburbs, and a gross one at that.
- If you’re looking for a different water-sourced view, take the NYC Ferry. It’s essentially a mini boat-tour of NYC but for $2.75. They even have a bar onboard!
Points of Interest
You can also find this list in map form (which might be easier to navigate if you’re out and about).
Four Horsemen (American)
A wine bar from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. It’s pricey but consistent in providing an interesting and notably tasty meal. I’m also a sucker for the atmosphere they’ve created with the place, perhaps only because I’m a James Murphy fanboy.
Panna II (Indian)
Panna II is a fast-paced Indian restaurant filled to the brim with Christmas and chili lights. Great Indian food and a bizarre atmosphere. It’s also, notably, BYOB. I highly recommend hitting up the Indian grocery store just to the left of the restaurant to pick up some beer before heading in.
Han Dynasty (Chinese – Szechuan)
Not unique to New York (and has a few locations throughout the city) but Han Dynasty is a universal favorite for excellent Szechuan food. Get the Dan Dan Noodle.
Table 87 (New York-style pizza)
Currently my favorite pizza in the city (as of Dec ‘23). They have a unique gas/coal oven that yields a great crispy crust + their sauce is phenomenal. If you’re in a rush they have slices in the front, but I’d recommend heading to the full-service tables in the back and getting a Burrata pizza.
For what it’s worth, I’ve had this restaurant approved by an Italian friend who is picky and knowledgeable about pizza (hi Matteo!).
Win Son (American-Taiwanese)
Amazing Taiwanese food located right around the corner from my apartment. It’s generally hard to get a table on weekends and they don’t take reservations for parties < 6. I’d recommend showing up on a weekday or walking up and asking for a table knowing that you might need to wait for 45m-1hr.
Supper (Northern Italian)
Some of the best pasta I’ve ever had outside of Italy without spending an insane amount of money for the privilege.
Totto Ramen (Japanese)
Recommended as one of the best by a friend of mine who has quite possibly been to every ramen joint in the city.
A great taste of Greenpoint’s Polish history. This place will give you way too much food for a very reasonable price.
While In Kathmandu (Nepalese)
Being in Ridgewood, this place is definitely off the beaten trail but I would very highly recommend it. If you’re looking for some motivation to get yourself deep into BK/Queens, make it a mini-trip and stop by Nowadays (which has Mister Sunday’s, a fun dance party, during the summer) and Ridgewood Chocolate.
Black Seed (Bagels)
Many New Yorkers will claim that their local bagel joint is better (and they might be right), but if you’re visiting the city this is a very good choice of bagel. My favorite is an everything bagel toasted with olive or scallion cream cheese. I’m not a huge fan, but apparently “Lox on cream cheese” is a particularly New Yorkian spread.
Important note contributed by Claire:
Make sure you get Lox on cream cheese, not Lox spread. The latter is “shitty Lox ground up and put into the cream cheese,” which is not as tasty.
Note that this recommendation was made in Sept ‘19 and hasn’t been re-validated since. Black Seed has since grown pretty rapidly throughout the city and I haven’t re-gauged their quality since then.
Various locations in Manhattan, but the OG is in Soho // Maps.
Public Records (Listening bar, cocktails)
If you’re familiar with the idea of Japanese Kissas, Public Records is a Brooklyn take on the idea. It’s an extremely hip feeling place, but nonetheless has an impressive sound system and very good musical taste. It’s a great place to spend a night with friends.
William Barnacle Tavern (Cocktails) This bar is a former speakeasy during the Prohibition Era and has roots in the mafia (don’t hesitate to ask the Irish bartenders about this). They’re now known for their absinthe cocktails, which are some of my favorite in the city.
Update as of Dec ‘23: This bar has, devastatingly, closed since originally adding it to this guide. Rest in peace, good friend.
East Village // Maps.
McSorley’s Old Ale House (Irish Pub)
Claimed to be New York Cities oldest continuously operated saloon (they opened in 1854). When you walk in you’ll notice some wishbones hanging from the chandeliers over the bar: legend has it these were from American soldiers departing to fight in World War I. Each one hung a wishbone hoping to take them down as soon as they came home from the war.
Double Down Saloon (Dive)
A grungy punk bar. If you’re looking for a place that serves “ass juice” and frequently airs NSFW content on old CRT TVs, this is the spot for you. I love taking people here for a quick can of Genny (reg, not cream) and a game of pool.
Art and Museums
NY Transit Museum
If you like public transit, this is the place to be. The transit museum documents the extensive history of the New York City Subway, including a subway platform filled with each of the deprecated train styles used over the decades. The gift shop is excellent and all proceeds go towards teaching kids about transit!
The Infinite Wrench
Excellent improv: 30 plays in 60 minutes (or however many they can get through, depends on the night). The show frequently refreshes the plays, so it’s great to go multiple times. Would highly recommend getting a drink from the bar above the theater, K.G.B., which was a former meeting spot for Ukrainian-American socialists during the Red Scare.
The Comedy Cellar
Easily the most famous comedy club in New York (possibly the US). This place is known for having superstars like Dave Chappele or Jerry Seinfeld randomly pop in some nights. I’ve never been to the main club, but their offshoot at the Fat Black Pussy Cat is much easier to get tickets for and has always been a solid lineup of less famous comedians. Would highly recommend sitting in the front.
Named after the iconic Domino Sugar Factory, this waterfront park was recently opened and has a great view of the city and the Williamsburg Bridge. During the summer it has a Mexican taco stand, a bunch of sprinklers, and volleyball court. Definitely worth walking through if you’re in Williamsburg.