A week of sky-scraping structures, lights that never dull, and crossing paths with colourful individuals constantly on the move. The glitz of a big city mixed with grunge inspired a feeling of wonderment tapered by actuality. New York City spans larger than half of my country of Jamaica, with more than 5x the population size. Like Jamaica, it is a place that seems to offer endless attractions and possibilities. The main problem as a visitor here may be deciding where to go in New York, as there never seems to be enough time to do it all (and there probably isn’t).
What to Do In New York City
Believe it or not, I act like more of a tourist in my own country than I do abroad. Overseas trips for me are usually to spend time with friends or family; any attraction or outing I end up doing is usually a courtesy of my host. Before this particular trip I seldom sought things to do and places to go as a tourist, but decided to solicit suggestions from subscribers like you this time around. Thanks to that move, visiting NY for at least the 3rd time truly felt like the very 1st. Here are the suggestions I got from New Yorkers and fellow Jamaicans, which you can do on a budget.
Average Base Price Key: $ = FREE to $25 | $$ = $25 – $50 | $$$= $50+
- Roam Times Square. $
The flashy entertainment centre is illuminated by larger-than-life ads, lights, colours, and businesses pulling your attention in every direction at all times. Times Square is a hot spot of attractions and events, and is considered a must-do for any New York traveler. It’s like you never really been to New York if you haven’t taken a selfie or stepped into a business within this marketing haven filled with Hollywood references.
- Explore a Museum. $
This was THE most popular suggestion I got! New York City has many world acclaimed museums of different kinds to choose from. I received 4 recommendations by name: Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Museum of Natural History, Museum of Modern Art, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
- Go to a Park. $
I never realized just how many parks of various scales New York seems to have. You can easily find 1 to walk through or stop at while on a leisurely stroll. Parks typically offer a space to relax and admire surrounding views and passing people. Other common park activities include grabbing a bite to eat, cycling, and recreation activities.
- Walk the Brooklyn Bridge. $
The pioneer Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn over the East River. It’s a bit over 1 mile long and reportedly takes roughly 30 mins – 1 hour to traverse on foot. Walking the Brooklyn Bridge grants an attractive view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Besides walking to soak in the sights, you could also ride a bicycle, bus, train, or ferry across Brooklyn Bridge.
- Visit DUMBO. $
I wondered why this neighbourhood was named after a cartoon elephant, only to realize it’s actually an acronym (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). This former industrial community is today well known for its galleries, bookshops, eateries, bars, and shopping with a side of Lower Manhattan skyline views. Visitors tend to explore DUMBO after a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge, later visiting its namesake park and enjoying rides on a century-old vintage carousel.
Places to Eat & Must Have Foods in New York City
- Eat Out! $
Another thing New York City is well known for is its awesome gastronomic experience. International cuisines & franchises, food markets, mom-&-pop shops, hole-in-the-wall treasures, and street food carts are all signature NYC eating options. You can grab a bite on pretty much any budget! When I wasn’t enjoying a $1 cheese pizza slice in Times Square, I was probably overwhelmed reading foreign 3-course menus and going with whatever the chefs recommended.
Travel Tip: If you’re looking for Jamaican Restaurants in New York City, Miss Lily’s, Negril, The Door, Port Royal, Genesis, Fish & Tings, Code Red, West Bar & Lounge, and Caribbean Vibes were recommended to me by Jamaicans living there.
- Have a New York-style Pizza. $
Who doesn’t love pizza? If you didn’t know, it is 1 of the foods New York is famous for. Their pizza slices and pies are typically sizeable, satisfying, cheap, and on just about every block. I tend to pop into simple pizza spots for a quick bite while exceeding my daily step goal walking the city.
- Visit Chinatown.$
Indulge in an experience that tells Chinese-American stories through food, shops, pharmacies, museums and more. You can find bargains, herbs, cultural food & items as you browse through Chinatown’s community street markets and shops oozing with culture. I received 2 Chinatown restaurant recommendations by name: Nom Wah Tea parlor and Wah Fung . If you’ve tried either or have any others to add, let me know!
- Drink at a Rooftop Bar.$
The buzzing city is filled with swanky bars, but how about spiking your cocktail with a panoramic view? Let’s face it, one of New York’s biggest appeals is its high-rise city scene, especially at night. Enjoy your drinks outdoors on the top of one of its many tall buildings.
- Enjoy Coffee.$
Coffee lovers this is for you; New Yorkers are known for their heaping love of the good stuff. I was admittedly shocked at some of the coffee cup sizes I saw, and now understand why this is the city that never sleeps lol. I couldn’t understand why anyone would need THAT much coffee at once (but maybe that’s just me?). In addition to large franchise chains, there are many quaint little shops ready to serve you an affordable cup of java.
Landmarks & Famous Buildings in New York City
- Visit the World Trade Center. $$
My 1st thought when receiving this suggestion was, “you mean the memorial site?” not knowing that a structure was actually rebuilt in 2014. At the time of this post, the WTC is a single tower called One World Trade Center (aka Freedom Tower), and is the tallest building in the United States & Western Hemisphere (1,776ft)! It mainly functions as an office, just like the original, but also offers an observatory tour to view the city from the top.
- See the Statue of Liberty. $
Lady Liberty is THE New York landmark that instantly tells your location. I saw her for the very 1st time this trip while riding the Staten Island Ferry, but there are other available tours and options to see the icon. View the 151-foot statue (305ft including the pedestal base) from a distance like I did, or visit Bedloe’s Island (aka Liberty Island) to see her up close.
- View the City from the Empire State Building. $$
1 of the tallest buildings in the city, where movie character King Kong famously climbed before his demise. Inside the Empire State Building observatory grants a sweeping panoramic view of the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. At night it illuminates in changing colours, sometimes commemorating special occasions, and creates an impressive light show for onlookers down below.
- Visit the Rockefeller Center. $$
The Rockefeller Center is filled with art collections and commercial businesses. This landmark is also popular for its 360-degree views of the New York skyline, hosted elite events, bars and restaurants, plus ice skating rink and Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony during winter.
- Climb The Vessel. $
This 154-flight cone stairway has 2,500 individual steps and is an architectural marvel. Just looking at it may be impressive but you can get a fuller experience by walking within it. The “new” 2019 structure (compared to other popular ones in New York) is located in 1 of the city’s priciest neighbourhoods, Hudson Yards.
Getting Around: Transportation in NYC
- Ride the New York Subway / Bus. $
Travel like a New Yorker! With millions living in the big city that’s plagued by ongoing traffic, you’ll find that driving or owning a car in New York makes little sense to many locals. Taking public transportation allows you to have a better grip of finding your way around an unfamiliar place, plus observe neighbourhoods and people. At the time of this particular trip, each ride on a standard train or bus was US$2.75.
Travel Tip: Get a Metrocard
- Take a NYC Bus Tour. $
If you want a more unobstructed view during your travels, along with some insights on the places you pass by, consider a bus tour. There are multiple New York City sightseeing bus tours covering sizable areas, some free and others at a cost.
- Do a NYC Bike Tour. $$
Bicycle tours explore specific areas and New York attractions at a leisurely pace. Take a ride through the city’s finest, such as Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan and more. Whether you’re traveling on electric bikes or the good old-fashioned peddlers, it shouldn’t be hard to find a tour that suits you. NYC bike tours have varying budgets, duration, locations, and levels of difficulty.
- Travel via NYC Ferry or Tram. $
New York City transportation is more than just walkfoot mobiles, weaving bikes, the routine subway, and a hive of yellow cabs. Take the scenic route, like along a river in a ferry or gliding the skies on an aerial tramway.
- Take a NYC Helicopter Tour. $$$
See the Big Apple from a whole new perspective, with or without helicopter doors! Fly high in a private ride in the sky, seeing New York like you and many others probably never have before.
P.S. Here are the travel requirements I needed to come to Jamaica after visiting New York (as at Nov. 2020)
It’s no surprise I didn’t get to cross everything off this list during my short visit, but it encouraged me to check out places I never knew about or experienced in a certain way before. If you’re looking for ideas of things to do in New York City, use this post as a personal checklist like I did and see just how many you can tick off!
If you have any suggestions of your own please add to the comments for others to consider, or for the next time I go back!
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