New York City
As Taylor Swift once said, “welcome to New York, it’s been waiting for you!” This lively city has not only been the backdrop to countless iconic movies but also to Amelia’s life. Her parents were born and raised here. She was born here and grew up visiting NYC frequently her whole life. Her Italian grandparents grew up in Little Italy to immigrant parents. NYC is in her blood and she’s excited to share some of her top recommendations to experience when you visit New York.
We will start at the top of Manhattan and work our way down.
Upper Manhattan and Harlem
If you are visiting in December try to arrive in time for the Annual Winter Solstice Celebration at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, located on Amsterdam Ave on the west side of Manhattan, between 110st and 113th St. The concert is self-proclaimed “A dazzling extravaganza of music, dance, and spectacle within the awesome space and acoustics of the world’s largest cathedral.” It is a most magical experience, sitting in this massive old cathedral, dimly lit but with colorful and shaped lights illuminating a show around you on the walls and ceiling, a 10-member consort of musicians will captivate you with their all-encompassing music, they are accompanied by dancers and a variety of singers. This is a must-do at least once in your life kind of experience.
While you’re uptown we recommend a visit to the Harriet Tubman Memorial on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, W 122nd St, and St Nicholas Ave. It is a moving sculpture that depicts Tubman in part as a train, as though she herself is the Underground Railroad. She is pulling away from roots that represent slavery. Her skirt is full of faces and objects representing anonymous passengers on the Underground Railroad and symbolizing the countless lives she saved by helping to guide and hide them as they escaped slavery. This was all at great personal risk to herself who had previously escaped slavery. It is a very moving sculpture that we recommend visiting to take in for yourself.
Whether you’re hungry or just a fan of Seinfeld, you may want to drop by Tom’s at least for a photo from the outside. The exterior of this diner was used in Seinfeld as the fictional “Monk’s Café” which the gang frequented throughout the series. This diner also inspired the Suzanne Vega song “Tom’s Diner.” It is right beside Colombia University so it has been and is frequented by many of the university’s students, including Barak Obama.
In the northern parts of this gigantic city park, you can escape NYC entirely and feel you are in some remote forest. This beautiful 90 acres of woodlands and streams tucked within Central Park is called The Ravine and it is perfect if you are in the city for a long stretch and are craving some exercise in nature.
Two sights within the park that holds dear from Amelia’s childhood are the Alice in Wonderland sculpture and the Balto sculpture. They symbolize such memorable childhood stories (though we aren’t sure children of today will know Balto) and are such fun for kids to climb on and have photos taken with.
Two fun spots for kids, young and old, are the Carousel and Wollman Rink. Not only is the Carousel fun to ride, but it is visually a cute vintage carousel. It is one of the largest merry-go-rounds in the United States and has 57 hand-carved horses. Nearby is Wollman Rink which likely one of the most iconic ice-skating rinks in the world. Picturesquely immediately surrounded by tall beautiful trees and above the trees is an impactful NYC skyline. Wollman Rink has been featured in iconic romantic movies such as Love Story and Serendipity.
If it’s a warm summer day make your way to the Great Lawn and bring a blanket to join the countless New Yorkers sunbathing and picnicking here. Just beside are the baseball fields which can provide some additional visual stimulation.
Pretty central within the park is an area very near to Amelia’s heart. Here are 3 sights that have been a part of almost every summer of her life Belvedere Castle, Delacorte Theatre, and Shakespeare Garden. If you are visiting in Summer you MUST join the hoards of people lining up from dawn to get free tickets to see a Shakespeare play performed in the open-air Delacorte Theatre. There is often a famous actor or two in the cast and in the audience. Each Summer the NY Public Theater puts on these world-class productions for free. The lining up for tickets isn’t simply the way to get free tickets, it is the way to get tickets and tickets are free. The only way to pay for a ticket is through a gift of support to the theatre but even still they keep this very limited to keep the majority of seats available for free. So you must grab your coffee, bagel, book, and a lawn chair and go join the masses waiting in line from the wee hours of the morning for tickets. It’s in the middle of Central Park so it really isn’t a bad way to spend your morning, plus it’s all part of the experience. Once you’ve collected your tickets don’t forget to mosey through the nearby Shakespeare Garden which is four-acres of gardens designed to resemble the English countryside and has flowers, plants, and sculptures from Shakespeare’s works. Afterwards, visit Belvedere Castle just beside. This is a Gothic and Romanesque castle from 1869 that is atop the park’s highest point, Vista Rock. The castle itself is worth many photos, but so are the scenic views from it. Then as the sunsets, you return to the park dressed for the theatre, can snag a pre-show drink, snacks, and swag related to the play being performed at the stalls around the theater. Then make your way to your seats in this impressive open-air amphitheater for a most spectacular show.
Nestled around the park is The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) and The American Museum of Natural History. We highly recommend visiting both of these but warn you to do some preparation to decide what you would like to visit within them because you would need more than a full at each of these to see all of their pieces. Within The Met is an impressive Egyptian wing as part of the permanent collection that is set within a towering pyramid and contains mummies, historical icons like The Denial of Saint Peter by Caravaggio circa 1610, plus they always have some fantastic temporary exhibit passing through and The Costume Institute puts on fanciful exhibits annually curating a specific designer or aspect of fashion in history. The American Museum of Natural History plays the backdrop to the magical movie Night at the Museum if that helps jog your memory of exhibits you can expect to see there. Its focuses are on exploring human cultures, the natural world, and the known universe. Here you will see ancient artifacts, dinosaur bones, and scenes of ancient times. You won’t want to miss the gigantic Blue Whale hanging from the ceiling. You’ll be in awe feeling the actual size of these real-life modern giants.
A few blocks south of Central Park is another great museum The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Here you can view works from Vincent van Gogh to Andy Warhol and a touch of everything in between. If you are an art lover, especially of modern art than you won’t want to miss this.
On your way out of Central Park, you may want to pass by the southwest corner to Columbus Circle. It is a massive and busy traffic circle with its own little park in the center. On the southeast corner of the park, you could visit the iconic Plaza hotel. If you or your kids are Eloise at The Plaza fans then be sure to visit the storybook’s themed shop also located here.
Below the park and beside MOMA there are few significant sights to experience. If it is Christmas time be sure to visit Radio City Music Hall to see the legendary Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes. No matter the time of year, you might want to make a visit to the Rainbow Room, the iconic NYC rooftop cocktail lounge at the top of Radio City.
Here you will also visit Rockefeller Center, which is most special during the holiday season. At the very beginning of the season, they bring in a very carefully selected gigantic tree, and with the utmost pomp and circumstance, they light serenaded by famous musicians. For a truly magical experience, you can ice-skate below the impressive Christmas tree.
If you have children with you or you yourself grew up with American Girl Dolls then you shouldn’t leave this neighborhood without a visit to American Girl Place. Amelia’s childhood visit here holds strong as one of her most cherished childhood memories. Literally, the stuff a little girl's dreams are made of – here you can take your well-loved doll to the spa to be refurbished, have an afternoon tea with your doll (special doll highchairs included so she can sit at table height) and a full department store of all the clothes, furniture and accessories your doll could ever need.
The 1879 neo-gothic Catholic Cathedral of St Patrick is just east of Rockefeller Center and an impressive work of architecture no matter your faith.
On the west side of Central Park south you find the cultural stronghold, Lincoln Square. Here is the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, the city’s premier venue for opera, ballet, and symphony. All three theaters are landmarks of midcentury design and set around an iconic courtyard with a fountain and reflecting pool. If you are a fan of the arts, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to see a performance here. If you are visiting in the summertime, plan to attend Midsummer Night Swing which is a weekly public dance class followed by a dance party with live bands providing the soundtrack. They rotate through different genres including, swing, salsa, disco, and more. It is most romantic dancing under the stars in Lincoln Center, and we strongly encourage the couples to give this one a go.
As you head further south to Midtown there are so many iconic sights to see. You can’t come to the Empire State and not visit the Empire State building at least once. Which includes the quintessential ride to the top for a stunning view of Manhattan from the 86th or 102nd Floor observatories. While in this neck of the woods do appreciate from afar and snap a few pics of the city's other iconic tower, the Chrysler Building. An art deco-style skyscraper built in the late 1920s, you will easily pick it out from the crowd of skyscrapers in NYC.
Far from peaceful, and not recommended for the faint of heart, Times Square should be experienced at least once in your lifetime. Few places can compare to the chaos, bright lights, flashing billboards, NASDAQ ticker tape, and home of Good Morning America. Oh, the live sculptures and endeared childhood characters you’ll see haggling for the price of a photo you will witness here… and not to be overlooked the Naked Cowboy whose fame has surpassed the other buskers. We strongly discourage shopping or eating in this epitome tourist traps, with the partial exceptions being made for M&M World, Hershey’s Chocolate World, and the Disney Store.
Have you really been to NYC if you haven’t seen a Broadway show? Surrounding and running through Times Square is the famous theater district, Broadway.
You have a variety of wonderful shows to choose from and can find something to fit anyone’s taste. If it’s a very popular show or brand new that we highly encourage purchasing tickets online well in advance of your trip. If you are looking to save some money and don’t mind risking what shows and seats might be available, you can head to TDF’s TKTS booth (located under the red steps at 47th St and Broadway) on the day of wanting to see a show and can find tickets discounted approximately 50% for shows that have seats still needing to be filled for that day. Generally, the earlier in the day you go, the better your luck.
Garment (Fashion) District
Just east of this neighborhood is Grand Central Terminal, the third-busiest train station in North America and designated a National Historic Landmark. It was constructed between 1903-1913 in the Beaux-Arts style, while many elements inside the terminal were designed by French architects and it encompasses both grand open spaces and intricate details.
Also, on the eastern fringes of the Garment District is another beloved park, Bryant Park. In the summer it’s a perfect place to take your morning coffee or lunch to enjoy a bit of nature before a busy day. Throughout the summer many events take place here from yoga classes to Broadway in the park which includes casts of top shows taking to the stage to perform numbers from their shows for the public.
This neighborhood might not be that interesting to every visitor, but if you are crafty or enchanted by the fashion industry than do pop over. Between 7th and 8th avenues from 36th to 39th streets, you will find many fabric and findings stores like the famous Mood Fabrics. Up 6th and 7th avenues between 36th & 39th, you’ll find lots of beading and jewelry supply stores. While you’re on 7th don’t forget to look down to spot the Fashion Walk of Fame. Beginning at 35th St and continuing up to 40th St you’ll spot plaques celebrating the finest American designers from Marc Jacobs, Betsy Johnson, and Ralph Lauren to less commonly known names like Charles James and Norma Kamali who are worth a Google search. As you approach 39th St on 7th Ave you can’t miss the giant Needle Threading Button sculpture, but keep your eyes open for the sculpture of a garment worker grinding away in its shadow. They collectively pay homage to the city’s legendary fashion industry.
Herald Square & Macy’s Department Store
In our opinion, Macy’s is the end-all and be-all of department store greatness. If you didn’t grow up watching Miracle on 34th St then you need to go watch it now! If you did grow up watching it then you probably already have a nostalgic and romantic vision of Macy’s at Herald Square. Well if you visit, especially around the holiday season, we promise it will not disappoint.
If you don’t mind dense crowds then attending the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is worth at least a once in a lifetime experience. You can even visit where they blow up the skyscraper-sized balloons the day before. During the parade, you’ll get to see not only acts from Broadway hits but also some of the most popular pop stars of the moment just a few yards in front of you.
From Thanksgiving time onwards you’ll be able to see the iconic holiday season displays in the storefront windows wrapping around Macy’s. If you have kids with you then you had better bring them inside to the elaborate Christmas village which in itself is amazing (like a small visit to Disney World) and culminates in a beautiful photo and visit with Santa.
Holiday season aside, Macy’s has some magic all year round. They have maintained some of their old wooden escalators that personally make our hearts flutter with nostalgia each time we ride them. Macy’s at Herald Square is everything that is wonderful about department stores. You enter at ground surrounded by designer handbags, accessories, fine jewelry, cosmetics, and perfume. From there you can go down to One Below if you’re hungry you’ll find a food court, or you can go half a level down to the Lower Level and find Men’s basics and accessories. Half a level up to Mezzanine you can find the visitors center and one of many Starbucks with Macy’s. There are restaurants, cafes, and restrooms scattered on most floors of this 10th Floor department store so no matter what kind of break you need in the middle of your big shop they have you covered. Shoe lovers, the Second Floor is almost entirely shoes! The Eighth Floor is homewares and the Bridal Salon. The Ninth floor is for furniture and luggage (and where you’ll find Santa’s village during the holiday season). On those in-between floors is a wide range of men and women’s apparel categories from sportswear and suits to maternity and activewear. You can really find just about anything for anyone inside Macy’s, and for a wide variety of prices. From designer price tags to really great sale prices Macy’s is also great for any budget.
Outside of Macy’s in Herald Square you’ll find food carts and some public tables and chairs for a rest right in the middle of the bustle. It’s worthwhile if you can find a seat to pause here and take in the energy of NYC. If you haven’t exhausted your shopping drive at Macy’s, surrounding Herald Square are the likes of Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, H&M, Old Navy, and more.
Union Square Park
Heading further south make a stopover at Union Square Park. Any day of the week you will find some very interesting street performers here. From talented breakdance groups to a guy that seems crazy and likes to involve bystanders in his odd pointless but nonetheless entertaining shows. In the southwest corner of the park you’ll find the Hare Krishnas drumming and chanting and occasionally handing out their scripture. It’s a spiritual movement that arrived in NYC from India in the 1960s and found a large following from a young people, especially those considered hippies, who weren’t satisfied with the “American Dream” and were seeking more.
If you can visit the park on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday to experience the wonderful Farmer’s Market that happens all along the park’s perimeter. From local produce and flowers to local moonshine, you will find some homemade and grown specialties here.
The Lower East Side (LES)
New York City has so much more than Broadway for experiencing incredible performances. A New York City Landmark that you really should check to see what shows are on during visit is The Public Theater. From Shakespeare’s plays to up-and-coming playwrights you will be impressed by whatever you see here. Attached to it is Joe’s Pub where you can catch singers and musicians with a drink and grub before, after, or separately from seeing a show at The Public Theater.
You will hard-pressed to find a bar with more character than McSorley’s in LES. It is as old school as you can get. So if you like a little history with your beer this is your place. It was found in the mid-1800s, though the exact year is contradicting a million different ways do to different press and official documents. It is generally considered the oldest Irish Saloon in New York City and still boasts that it has Irish bartenders. It was one of the last Men Only pubs, and only began allowing women patrons in 1970 when it was legally forced to do so. Here you will find saw-dust on the floor and only two choices of beer – light or dark. They even maintained a mouser cat until 2011 when a law was passed outlawing this practice. There is so much historical paraphernalia in here that it would be hard for us to imagine anyone not finding something to captivate their nostalgia and curiosity. A pair of Houdini's handcuffs remain cuffed to the bar. Many legends have patronized McSorley’s over its lengthy history. We’ll list out some to paint the picture of this bar's iconicness: Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Woody Guthrie, Hunter S. Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, E. E. Cummings, Michael Bloomberg, and the New York Rangers celebrated their Stanley Cup victory here.
As you head west to The Village you’ll want to explore its epicenter, Bleecker Street. This was the center of American Bohemia in its heyday. Now it still holds an artsy vibe but no longer sustains an artist’s budget. Here you will find many restaurants (including John’s Pizzeria that we highlight in the food blog), live music venues, comedy clubs, nightlife, and lots of funky shops. Nearby is Christopher Park with the Stonewall National Monument which is a historic site for LGBT rights.
Just to the west of The Village, you’ll find Soho which has become one of the most iconic shopping districts in Manhattan. Soho literally stands for South of Houston and runs from Houston down to Canal street (where China town takes over). If you follow along Broadway you will find stores like H&M, Lacoste, Converse, and Victoria’s Secret. Take Greene Street for designer stores like Proenza Schouler, Paul Smith, Louis Vuitton, Bape, & John Varvatos. Wooster St is where you will find the likes of Cole Haan, DVF, UNTUCKit & Canada Goose. Mercer has Marni, Agent Provocateur, and Rag & Bone. If you're interested in some handmade and more artsy accessories to add to your collection then check near Prince St and West Broadway to find vendors selling jewelry and art. Scattered through this neighborhood you will also find art galleries and good restaurants.
Beside Soho, you will find delightful Little Italy which is increasingly becoming littler as China town sprawls wider. Little Italy will really transport you straight to Europe. One of its main streets is closed to traffic so pedestrians can stroll it freely, restaurants can extend outdoor seating, and gelato and cannoli carts can set up shop in the street. You will find the descendants of Italian immigrants still managing the restaurants and shops. You’ll have to read our Eats blog to find our specific recommendations but this neighborhood is full of decadent Italian desserts, quality espresso, and mouthwatering Italian food. At night the lights strung back and forth over the pedestrian street light up for a magical evening stroll.
South of Canal Street between Mulberry and Bowery you will find one of the busiest, most crowded, and exciting parts of China Town. As a child Amelia loved China Town it was enchanting and as close to visiting a different country and experience a different culture as you can get within America. Here you could buy a wide range of tea in tins that were fully labeled in Chinese, beautiful porcelain Chinese bowls, spoons and teacups, Chinese style kimono, and the kicker for a young fashionista - knock-off designer purses. There is of course, also many great dining options for the Chinese food fan.
South Street Seaport
Now host to a nice shopping mall, museum, and great views of the East River and Brooklyn Bridge this was once the stronghold of American trade. The first of its piers were built in 1625 when the Dutch West India Company founded the port. During the American Revolution, the British occupied the port and hurt trade for eight years. However, the port quickly recovered after the war, and from 1796 until the mid-1800s New York had the country’s largest maritime trade. In its peak this port was lively with businesses, institutions, workshops, boarding houses, saloons, and brothels. Today this neighborhood is home to some of the oldest architecture in downtown Manhattan and the largest concentration of restored early 19th-century commercial buildings in the city. This included renovated sailing ships and the former Fulton Fish Market.
Wall Street to White Hall
All the way down at the southern tip of Manhattan there is much sight-seeing to do, and if you're interested in going inside some of these historical buildings to see so much more and learn more information we recommend it.
The two most prominent sculptures for photo-ops down here are the Charging Bull representing a bull market (and the power and prosperity that accompany it), and the Fearless Girl which was originally a temporary statue put opposite the bull to encourage companies to put more women on their boards (now the sculpture has been moved to a permanent home outside the Stock Exchange).
The most notable feature of Wall Street is likely the New York Stock Exchange (founded 1792), but don’t overlook the other historically significant buildings in the area like Trinity Church (completed 1846) and the United States Custom House also known as the Alexander Hamilton Custom House (the original burned down in 1814 and the current one was completed in 1907).
In our opinion, the most awe-inspiring of the historical buildings down here is New York City Hall (built 1811). It is notably one of the oldest continuously used city halls in the nation that still houses its original governmental functions. If you want to take an extra special tour here you can try to book a tour of City Hall subway station which has been closed since 1945, but not tickets for these tours only go on sale a few times a year.
Still within the Financial District, you won’t want to miss experiencing the extreme height of One World Trade Center. It is the tallest building in the United States and the Western Hemisphere (7th in the world) and just outside of it is the peaceful and melancholy 9/11 Memorial which honors the 2,977 people killed in the terror attack of September 11, 2001. A very cool architectural masterpiece to see from both the outside and inside is the Oculus, which also serves as the subway station for the World Trade Center complex.
Your New York City experience really isn’t complete without seeing the Statue of Liberty, at least from afar. To be honest, we don’t feel it’s worthwhile to wait in the massive lines and go through security to take a boat to Liberty Island where you will again have to wait in a massive line that wraps around the island just to go inside the statue. However, taking a boat to Ellis Island and visiting the museum located in some of the same buildings most early immigrants passed through is highly recommended. For a perfectly lovely NYC summer day we’d suggest taking the Staten Island Ferry from White Hall Station across to Staten Island and back. In White Hall station you can grab yourself an ice cream cone for the journey and when on board, if the weather is nice, snag a spot outside along the railing to get some perfect selfies with the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline in the background. If you don’t have time to grab your ice cream in the station don’t worry because they do sell refreshments on board but do note that this ride is shorter than you may think… only about 15-20mins either way. The docking and boarding take more time than the journey. This ferry ride is free! So, enjoy that gift from NYC.
We hope we’ve inspired some lesser-known NYC experiences and encourage you to read where you should eat in our Eat blog and some interesting facts in our Know blog.