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Top Things To Do in NYC

The Big Apple needs no introduction but we’re still going to give you an idea on what to see and do

Published 09/01/2021 by Shandana A. Durrani

New York is a helluva town. Locals know it and the 47 million visitors a year know it, too. While you probably think you’ve seen it and done it all, you can’t really get a full glimpse into its history, culture and people unless you return again and again.

Once home to the Algonquin tribe, the Dutch and the English settled here in the 1500s and 1600s. By the time of the Revolutionary War, in the late 1700s, the city’s ethnic makeup was Western European. This remained the case until the late 19th century when an influx of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe came to its shores via Ellis Island. Today, the city is home to a diverse amalgamation of ethnic groups, from Europeans to Africans to Asians to South Americans. Don’t be surprised to hear Spanish spoken on the same street as Swahili and Urdu.

The city flanks New Jersey, Long Island, and Upstate New York. Scattered throughout five boroughs—the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island—New Yorkers take enormous pride in their city and even their specific borough, claiming it to be the best in the world.

Whether you’re here for a city break or for a two-week vacation, the Big Apple offers many tantalizing places to play, eat, drink, dance, and relax. Take a big bite out of it and enjoy the flavor of the city.

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Eat

If you want a 10-course tasting menu or a dinner that costs $10 per person, you can find it in New York. Famous chefs and award-winning eateries abound. There’s Thomas Keller’s Per Se in the Time Warner Center and Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin on West 51st Street.

Head to the Bronx for Latin American cuisine. Harlem is well known for its great soul food. From Uptown to Midtown, you’ll find a wealth of American and Continental options as well as the odd ethnic restaurant. Gramercy and Chelsea play host to some hearty fare. Want to eat at the restaurant of the moment? You’ll probably find it in the West Village. The East Village has myriad ethnic options from Korean to Japanese to Indian to Latin. Soho and Tribeca have chic outdoor eateries. Italian waiters in starched aprons still coax passersby to enter their establishments in Little Italy—whose border seems to get smaller every year. Manhattanites head to Queens for authentic ethnic cuisine from Asian countries. Brooklyn has fast become a gourmand’s dream as a number of notable chefs, priced out of Manhattan, have set up cutting boards in Williamsburg, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill. Even Staten Island has a number of good dining options.

Looking for authentic varenyky and bigo? Head to Ukranian restaurant Veselka, an East Village institution since 1954. This expansive eatery is arguably the most famous Ukrainian restaurant in the world. The space is bright and clean with the hustle and bustle of a Greek diner and the menu is varied and extensive featuring both domestic and foreign dishes. Varenyky, a.k.a. pierogis, are made from scratch and served boiled or fried. Dip them in sweet apple sauce. Bigo is a peasant stew made with kielbasa, pork and sauerkraut.

Blossom was one of the first dedicated vegan restaurants on the New York food scene. The eatery crafts artistic, organic, kosher vegan delights such as Pesto Brushed Tofu with sweet corn and green peas and Black Eyed Pea Cake. The Soy Bacon Cheeseburger will pleasantly fool you. The ingredients are locally sourced or from small independent producers.

The lines outside Tartine, a diminutive French bistro in the West Village, often wind around the block. Why? You’d be hard pressed to find better eggs benedict anywhere else in the city. The eggs are poached perfectly and the hollandaise sauce is neither too viscous nor overpowering. Order the croque monsieur, a savory tartine (French for open sandwich) or the bouchee a la reine, a chicken pot pie with dumplings and mushrooms.

Since 1998, Cafeteria has been attracting a fashionable crowd. The high-end 24-hour diner is sleek and modern, with white plastic chairs surrounding black tables in the main dining area and egg-shaped poofs and blue ceilings encompassing the downstairs lounge. Cafeteria prides itself on serving filling American comfort food to soak up all that alcohol you’ve imbibed. The flavorful meatloaf could inspire sonnets. It’s that good.

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Top Things To Do in NYC
Many a poet has waxed rhapsodic about the picture-perfect Manhattan Skyline. Credit: Mike C. Valdivia/Unsplash

With a wealth of sites to see, tourist attractions in New York City run the gamut from the tried and true—think the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center—to the more underground—we have our eyes on you Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art! And then there’s the endless nightlife. But let’s start with the more under-the-radar relaxing bits.

Chelsea has few spaces at which to enjoy the outdoors so news of the development of The High Line was greeted with cheers. Opened in June 2009, the public walkway, which once elevated heavy freight trains, stretches more than 10 blocks from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street. In 2002, architecture firms James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio +Renfro designed the space to blend the urban with the natural. Visitors can admire the native foliage and relax on wooden lounge chairs as they gaze at the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty. The 10th Avenue Square on 17th street is a design standout and the best part of the High Line. Become part of the High Line installation by sitting on the bleacher-like seats. The glass screen allows you to view the traffic below.

Opened in 2004, the 70,000-square-foot, three-level Rubin Museum of Art showcases art from the Himalayas and surrounding regions. Climb the steel and marble winding staircase to view permanent and traveling exhibitions. The museum houses more than 2,000 works of art from centuries-old buddhas to textiles from Afghanistan. Classes are offered as well as film screenings, dance performances and cultural discussions.

Founded in 1894 as the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects, the Van Alen Institute—renamed for William Van Alen who designed the Chrysler Building—celebrates architecture in its many forms. The institute encourages the public to participate in readings and seminars and attend exhibitions on architecture, design and landscape design. The Reading Room houses the institute’s vast archive of design-centric documents.

For the more iconic buildings and sites in New York City, you have to start with the Statue of Liberty. The imposing monument, built by sculpture Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi and gifted to the United States by the French government in 1886, is a beacon of hope and prosperity to immigrants from around the world. Ellis Island, where the Statue of Liberty resides, boasts a plethora of ephemera dedicated to the many migrants who fled persecution or poverty in their homelands to make a new life in the U.S. Getting to the Statue of Liberty is easy. Just take a Statue Cruises ferry from Castle Clinton in Battery Park City in Tribeca.  

The Empire State Building is another beacon for visitors to NYC. The 102-story Art Deco skyscraper, built in 1931, was once the tallest building in the world until the World Trade Center was built in 1973. Guests can take an elevator to the observatory at the Empire State Building for epic views of Manhattan and beyond. The Empire State Building lights up in various colors on special occasions, such as holidays, sporting events and most recently, in support of Ukraine after the Russian invasion. 

After a day of sightseeing, it’s time to party. The disco revolution? It started here. Hip hop? It begat in da Bronx. Dance crazes from Vogueing to Break Dancing to the Uptown Shake got them on the dance floor in New York City long before any other city. You can’t argue with New York City’s position as the world’s top nightlife destination.

1OAK a.k.a one of a kind remains one of the hottest clubs in New York City. The velvet rope is notoriously hard to get through so dress well. Once inside the 6,000-square-foot club, you’ll immediately notice its unique design. Architect Roy Nachum created a space that was inviting, yet chic enough to get people talking. A black marble and glass bar and Brazilian wood dominate the main room. Chocolate brown walls are covered in cryptic gold lettering. The dance area is small but that doesn’t stop everyone from flocking there once they have a few drinks.

Opened in 2009 by the owners of La Petite Abeille, a citywide chain of Belgian eateries, Raine’s Law Room hosts well dressed patrons in a subterranean speakeasy. Plush seating surrounds classic chessboards. The erotic wallpaper in the bathroom will cause your jaw to drop. Choose from a list of delicious libations such as the Champs Elysees and the Communist’s Daughter. Don’t wear shorts and flip-flops. While Raine’s Law welcomes everyone, the lounge frowns upon slovenly dressed patrons.

Opened in 2005 by partners Jason Kosmas, Dushan Zaric, Igor Hadzismajlovic, Bill Gilroy and Henry LaFargue, many of whom were bartenders at the now defunct Pravda on Lafayette Street, Employees Only is known for crafting cocktails for the adventurous at heart. Try the refreshing Westside, a Meyer lemon vodka concoction with fresh mint or the nearly lethal Yellow Jacket, made with tequila, yellow chartreuse and St. Germaine. Weekends can find you jostling for space so get there early and pay your respects to the friendly doorman.

Stay

The Dream Downtown

The Meatpacking District has seen a resurgence in recent years as a local hotspot after two decades as a tourist mecca. With the reopening of Pastis—one of NYC’s hippest restaurants—the area is as vibrant as ever. And if you want to lay your head somewhere nearby, it’s the Dream Downtown that fits the bill. Boasting luxurious rooms aplenty—314 at this writing—the Dream Downtown is about as buzzy as you can get without losing some authenticity. Expect flatscreen TVs, Egyptian cotton linens, and decor as eye-catching as it is comfortable. Spend the day sightseeing and the late afternoons at your private cabana on the pool deck. Ph-D, the sleek rooftop bar, is the best place to see and be seen as you sip a Mai Tai or three.

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Crosby Street Hotel

Opened in late 2009, this 86-room boutique building was Firmdale Hotels’ first foray into the New York hotel scene. The Crosby has several green spaces—a sculpture courtyard, a woodland meadow and a rooftop garden. Situated on what was once a parking lot, the 86-room hotel is contemporary with an eclectic feel. The ground floor features a Juame Plensa steel sculpture, a restaurant and bar, a private drawing room and a 99-seat screening room. Each of the modern rooms and suites is unique but all feature oversized windows, high ceilings and lots of light. Some are decorated in neutral tones while others are emblazoned with colorful pink or green floral prints.