As I sat in my window seat anxiously waiting to catch a first sight of the Manhattan skyline (don’t laugh, but I actually researched which side of the plane I should have sat on for this!), I thought to myself that revisiting New York is a beautiful thing. No matter how many times you come back, you always feel like a tourist thirsty to feed off the inexplicable energy of the city.
I’ve visited all major capitals of the world like Paris, London, Rome, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney. Yet New York seems to have a verve and charisma that is hard to match. It is intimidating and welcoming at the same time, like a huge body of water that terrifies you with its huge waves, and pulls you closer all at once. And just like the ocean that borders it, New York is vast and complicated and has too many layers to uncover in one visit. This was going to be my third trip here, but I knew I would still leave without seeing many of the things on my list.
Even though I did manage to cover NY’s “touristy stuff” during my previous travels (you can find my first-timer’s guide to New York here), this time, coupled up with my mom, I put myself to a challenge – walk to the opposite direction from the crowds and see real New York and maybe, for a split of a second, pretend I’m a New Yorker too. Most importantly, I went exploring fully offline. I deliberately didn’t get data on my phone, because disconnecting can be a beautiful thing. I was present to enjoy not only every moment with my mother but also be fully present and appreciate the places I was visiting with no distractions and cyber noise. So here’s my guide to how to travel unplugged and spend a perfect week in New York.
Luxury Stay at the Boutique Hotel
I have nothing against chain hotels, but for a truly unique and more intimate experience opt for a boutique hotel. My fantastic stay at Hotel Elysee, as well as Library Hotel, made the trip so much more special. I enjoyed the story behind each of the concept hotels and the personalized service I experienced at both was most certainly hard to beat.
Rediscovering Old Favorites
As sprawling as New York is, I don’t think there are places here that have escaped the attention of tourists. Even so, you can discover some new gems in the places that you might think you know well.
I love Central Park and never tire of the beautiful, alas touristy, nooks like the Gapstow Bridge, Bethesda Terrace, Loeb Boat House, Bow Bridge, or Strawberry Fields, but did you know that if you venture deep into the park you’ll also find an actual castle? While it is a folly, it is still quite remarkable architecturally. Belvedere Castle is one of Central Park’s five visitor centers. Calvert Vaux, co-designer of the Park, created the miniature castle in 1869 as a whimsical structure looking out on the reservoir to the north (now the Great Lawn) and the Ramble to the south. It contains exhibit rooms and an observation deck, and even a weather station.
Similarly, while strolling through Wall Street, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Stone Street that comes to a complete contrast to the rest of the area with its cobblestones. Turns out it was the first paved street in NYC and currently offers a fun, buzzing eating scene with tons of pubs and restaurants housed within its brownstones.
By the way, if you’re fascinated by exploring more beautiful streets of New York, here is a wonderful list by Thrillist.
Lower West Side: Little Italy, SoHO and Chelsea
There is a reason why my friends say I operate on Duracell batteries. Eager to explore Lower West Side of Manhattan (and also walk off all the food I’ve been consuming), I coupled up with my mom to walk through some of New York’s most atmospheric neighborhoods.
Adventures of the day included eating cannoli & tiramisu in Little Italy, shopping in SoHo (cannot wait to sport my new Ted Baker’s bomber jacket), and walking to Chelsea Market via Greenwich where we devoured some freshly shucked oysters followed by the famous tacos Los Tacos No.1. I find all these neighborhoods quite fascinating architecturally with its cobblestones and historic facades. Did you know that SoHo boasts the greatest collection of historic cast-iron architecture in the world? Chelsea, on the other hand, has a distinctly industrial feel with revamped old brick and brownstone buildings.
I was also eager to check out the High Line. What a unique concept and great idea to turn a decommissioned freight railroad into a public park. I was glad that I finally made it there on this trip but it was so cold and bare. I imagine there is nothing quite like spending a sunny afternoon on late spring and summer days when it’s all green and lush. It runs for 1.45 miles (2.33 km) from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues.
On my next visit, I want to venture down to Tribeca and Seaport Districts. You see, there is always something new to discover!
Brooklyn: DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and Williamsburg
I love exploring Manhattan, but Brooklyn has got the best views (and great food scene!). We decided to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, take some iconic photos on Washington Street and around Brooklyn Bridge Park before having a scrumptious Italian lunch at Cecconi’s and visiting Brooklyn Historical Society DUMBO for some interesting art.
One neighborhood that doesn’t seem to get enough love from tourists following their “must-do” routes in New York is Williamsburg. It is a hip and trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn that draws the young and the fashionable to its chic boutiques, trendy cafes and buzzy restaurants. It is filled with residential thoroughfares and repurposed factories that shelter art galleries, hipster cafes and shops. Similar to DUMBO, the waterfront here provides stunning views of Manhattan and there are seasonal venues that hold outdoor concerts and food markets. Williamsburg is also quite a hotbed for dance clubs, happening bars and music halls that liven up the nightlife scene.
Sunset Cruise in New York
Speaking of breathtaking views, there is something magical about seeing lower Manhattan skyline wrapped up in the pink glow of the golden hour. I highly recommend taking a sunset cruise if you have time. There are quite a few luxurious options that include just drinks or dinner and night entertainment in the form of DJ, live music and dances. If you’re on a budget, you can simply hop on a free ferry to Staten Island.
Call me insatiable, but there is still so much I want to see and do in New York. We most certainly want to go back for a purely gastronomic trip (cause we all know NY is a haven for fine dining and not only!), as well as more museums and Broadway shows!
Which of these spots would you like to (re)visit? Do you have favorite neighborhoods in New York I should explore on my next trip? I’d like to hear your recommendations!
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