We recently spent a quick four days in New York City, one of my favorite cities in the world. There is such a plethora of things to do in this city. It’s not the New York of old. It is clean, efficient, colorful. In fact the trees and flowers were all in bloom and my allergies where in full spring mode. But I loved it nonetheless. New York City – The Hidden Gems Tour.
Last May, we spent twelve days in New York and really did the city thoroughly. Check out last year’s post My Favorite Things in New York City. Surprisingly though, we missed a few things of interest to us. So on this much shorter visit, we set out to explore some lesser visited places. We dubbed our visit New York City – The Hidden Gems Tour.
Lower East Side
Last year we really enjoyed visiting the historically working class Lower East Side area. We spent a good portion of our visit last year Exploring the Neighborhoods of New York City. Since I am such a history buff, the Lower East Side has such a variety of interesting things related to the founding of New Amsterdam! We returned for our second visit to the Tenement Museum, one of my favorite things to do in NYC. The Tenement Museum is one of the most unique museums I have ever enjoyed, giving visitors a window into the past of the working class, immigrant neighborhoods of the Lower East Side. I highly recommend this hidden gem when in New York City. One visit is not enough.
The Morgan Library and Museum is not as crowded as some of the larger museums of New York and we really enjoyed the art here. But most of all we enjoyed the spectacular library and office rooms open to the public. JP Morgan (April 17, 1837 – March 31, 1913) was an American financier and investment banker who dominated corporate finance on Wall Street. The former home and offices are well worth a visit when in New York City.
Taking the tram over to Roosevelt Island is truly one of the most underrated things to do in New York City. The tram (gondola) costs $3 and during your ride it gives you a wonderful view of the East River and the city. Roosevelt Island is a lovely place to stroll, cycle or run with shops and restaurants, as well as a state park. Definitely check out Roosevelt Island on your next visit to New York.
The New York Mets
Grab the subway to the neighborhood of Flushing in Queens for a New York Mets game at the beautiful Citi Field. The 1986 World Champion Mets play in this beautiful stadium opened in 2009. The subway drops you right at the stadium, but we recommend going a little early and heading into Flushing. We ate at the Michelin-recommended dumpling house in Flushing called Nan Xiang Xian Long Bao. The dumpling and the noodles are perfection…and it was the least expensive meal we had during our visit to New York. Don’t miss it.
Staten Island Ferry
We have been to the Statue of Liberty and to Ellis Island in the past, so this time we decided to hop the colorful and free Staten Island Ferry. The ferry that runs from lower Manhattan to Staten Island every thirty minutes offers a spectacular view of the Statue of Liberty, at no cost. It’s also a fun ride especially on a sunny day with views back to the Manhattan skyline. You can hop off and spend some time on Staten Island, or re-board and head right back. I highly recommend it.
Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
As you know, I am always up for a garden and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens did not disappoint. We were lucky enough to visit on a beautiful sunny day when the Cherry Blossoms were just past peak but still fluffy and pink. We spent more than two hours enjoying the 52 acre site and the variety of gardens and exhibits both indoors and out. Don’t miss the fascinating Bonsai collection. Subway from Manhattan drops you right at the gardens. Consider also visiting the Brooklyn Museum next door. We did not because the museum is closed on Mondays but I understand it is also worth a visit.
New York City – The Hidden Gems Tour
Thanks for reading this week’s post New York City – The Hidden Gems Tour. I am not done with NYC! I absolutely love it and I will definitely be back. Whether you are planning your first visit or going for the tenth time, you will always discover something new, fun, interesting and amazing in this fascinating city.
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New York, the largest city in the United States, is a collection of distinctive neighborhoods covering more than 472 square miles. Home to 8.5 million people, New Yorkers are proud and hard working, ambitious and love their city and individual neighborhoods.
New York is made up of five boroughs; The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Within the boroughs are numerous neighborhoods. Below is a list of my favorites, but please note I was not able to visit all the boroughs or all the neighborhoods. My twelve days in the city were incredibly busy, but even so I didn’t see it all. I would love to go back for even more exploration. So with that in mind, here is what I discovered, exploring the neighborhoods of New York City.
I’ll start in Lower Manhattan and work north up Manhattan Island before coming around clockwise to Long Island. Again please note, this is not all neighborhoods, just the ones I was able to briefly visit.
Lower Manhattan – lower Manhattan encompasses a variety of unique places including Wall Street, the September 11th Memorial and Museum, NYU and much more. Here I have broken out four neighborhoods from lower Manhattan; Chinatown, Gramercy Park, Little Italy and Greenwich Village. But there is much more to Lower Manhattan.
Views of the Statue of Liberty, the free ferry to Staten Island, great restaurants, shops and museums; Lower Manhattan has a great vibe and should not be missed. It’s the jumping off point for most tours to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty
Recommendation The Tenement Museum, Katz Deli, Wall Street
Lower East Side covering 2 square miles
Recommendation Spicy Village for handmade noodles and dumplings
Manhattan’s Chinatown today is a bustling gritty area of businesses and restaurants. In the 1800’s it was a cluster of immigrants trying to survive. Unlike the European immigrants who arrived through Ellis Island, most of the Chinese arrived from the West Coast, fleeing from violence and discrimination there. The majority of those arriving in New York were males who took on jobs considered “women’s work” including laundry and restaurants still prevalent today.
Worth a visit today to experience the amazing food, fresh fruit stands or shop in the wide variety of tiny stores.
Gramercy Park and Neighborhood
Lower Manhattan about 172 acres.
Some famous residents of Gramercy Park include Jimmy Fallon, Julia Roberts & Uma Thurman
Recommendation – just take a stroll. Or if you can afford it, visit Gramercy Tavern. (I did not)
In 1831 Samuel Ruggles purchased a swamp in farmland in lower Manhattan. He spent 180,000 to turn the land into a private park surrounded by 66 parcels of land. Residents of the 66 parcels still today are the private users of Gramercy Park, the neighborhood known as Gramercy.
This is an upscale area with beautiful homes and even more beautiful people. Visitors are not allowed in the park but you can walk the sidewalk that surrounds it.
Population – 28,000
Lower Manhattan (nearly to Midtown) 0.3 square miles
Famous people who live in the village are many including Ralph Fiennes, Daniel Radcliff, and Chris Noth.
Recommendation – stroll, people watch, eat. In my opinion this is the most beautiful neighborhood in New York. Check out the Washington Square Park, art shops and music clubs.
“The Village” is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York, dating to the 1600’s. Visitors will notice the narrower, tree lined streets (some with cobblestones). Greenwich was laid out prior to the grid system the rest of the city has. It is one of the things that give the neighborhood such a quaint village feel. Once the home to a Bohemian scene in the 1960’s and today it retains its individual vibe with a young and vibrant scene. The architecture has the look of Alexandria Virginia with a colonial feel.
Population – 5000
Lower Manhattan – 3 blocks of Mulberry Street with some surrounding blocks included
Famous People from Little Italy include Robert DeNiro
Originally Little Italy was a much larger part of immigrant Lower Manhattan. Home to tenements and working class people. Today, it is a shell of it’s original self, mostly catering to tourists, with few Italians still living in the area. It is however a wonderful place to find delicious authentic Italian food, on the three block Mulberry area designated at Little Italy.
Little Italy has been the setting for many iconic movies and films including the three Godfather movies. It has also seen its own real life Mafia. For much of its history the Italian Mafia operated out of Little Italy, including John Gotti.
Midtown is a thriving business district and home to Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Crysler Building, the United Nations and much more. Bustling center of retail and commerce, Midtown is home to a wide array of fantastic dining. Times Square and the Broadway theater scene is part of the Midtown neighborhood reach.
Hell’s Kitchen, a small neighborhood of Midtown, is home to hundreds of restaurants, many with ethnic flavors from Greek to Cuban, Italian to Spanish, Vegan and Indian. Everything you might desire.
Fifth Avenue, famous for Saks, Rockefeller Square and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is a great place to stroll and window shop and people watch.
Upper West Side
Upper West Manhattan bordering the entire west side of Central Park about 2 square miles with the Hudson River to the west.
Many celebrities call the Upper West Side home including Antonio Banderas, Jerry Seinfeld and Randy Rainbow (see more)
Affluent residential area that is also home to Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University and Lincoln Center. High rise apartments and upscale hotels surround restaurants and shopping. The area was not developed until the 1800’s, although there was shipping and industry along the Hudson River.
The development of Central Park and an elevated railway helped boost the growth of the area and it is today one of the most sought after neighborhoods in the world.
Recommendation – Central Park, American Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Center, Crave Fish Bar and many restaurants
Upper East Side
Population – 125,000
Upper Manhattan covering all of the east side of Central Park to the East River. 1.75 square miles
Famous people born in the Upper East Side include Woody Allen, Elizabeth Arden and Herb Alpert. Today some of the celebrities who make their home there include Samuel Jackson, Drew Barrymore, Mariah Carey and Bill Murray.
Early on the Upper East Side was a fashionable address, and was home to famous New Yorkers such as the Rockefellers. Developed earlier than the west side of the park and therefore it is home to many elegant post Civil War brownstones and apartments. The Upper East Side Historic District is a registered National Historic site.
Today the quiet tree lined streets continue to house the cities elite and beautiful. The Museum Mile, 5th Avenue along the East side of Central Park, is home to several museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim.
The Upper East Side has its own small neighborhoods such as Yorkville. Throughout the Upper East Side you will find designer shops as well as humble markets, five star restaurants as well as tiny diners and takeout.
Famous People from Harlem – Cicely Tyson, Sammy Davis Jr., Ed Sullivan, Lou Gehrig (more). Matt Damon is a current resident.
Recommendation- Jazz Clubs, Apollo Theater and Sylvia’s Diner the Queen of Soul Food. Don’t miss the northern most part of Central Park also in Harlem, a less manicured, more forested section of Central Park.
Founded by the Dutch in the 1600’s, the area was predominately Jewish and Irish in the 1800’s and until the Great Migration of Afro Americans began in the early 20th century. Harlem has experienced wide swings of boom or bust, depression and success. It is the home of the “Harlem Renaissance” in the 1920’s and 30’s as African Americans defined the music and art scene. Many legendary Jazz and R&B artists are from Harlem.
Harlem has fought the “gentrification” of it’s name and neighborhood and all though it has changed, it holds onto its roots as a family and working class neighborhood.
I wanted more time in Harlem, but I didn’t get it. I’ll see more on my next visit.
Population – 1.5 million
Just across the Harlem River from Manhattan, The Bronx is the only borough on the mainland. 57 square miles
Famous people from The Bronx; Jennifer Lopez, Carl Reiner, Kerry Washington, Lauren Bacall, Billy Joel, Al Pacino (more)
Once a violent and poor, gang-infused area of New York, today The Bronx is safer and more family oriented , although still home to one of the poorest congressional districts in the US. Just across the Harlem River from Manhattan, The Bronx is the home of the New York Yankees as well as the beautiful campus of Fordham University. As a visitor the New York Botanical Gardens are not to be missed or the famous Bronx Zoo.
The name “The” Bronx (sometimes capitalized but not always) comes from Swedish born Jonas Bronck who is credited as the first settler and farmer of the area. One story goes Manhattanites headed to “The Broncks” as a weekend getaway.
The Bronx history includes bootlegging center during prohibition and poverty and crime in the 1960’s. In the 1980’s the Bronx Expressway created even more poverty by destroying neighborhoods and housing. In the late 80’s and 90’s a revitalization plan by the city helped and today The Bronx continues to search for it’s place in this huge city and to deal with it’s social issues. That said, a visit to NYC should include a visit to The Bronx.
Population 2,800,000. If Brooklyn were it’s own city it would be the third largest in the nation
West end of Long Island 71 square miles
Famous People from Brooklyn – Barbra Streisand, Jerry Seinfeld, Anne Hathaway, Joan Rivers (more). Current residents John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, Daniel Craig and Spike Lee.
Named after the Dutch village of Bruekelen, Brooklyn is a hub of New York life. One of my favorite neighborhoods for food and people watching, Brooklyn is connected to Manhattan by numerous bridges and tunnels including the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Once a working class area, Brooklyn has become “gentrified” with housing prices skyrocketing and entrepreneurs flocking to the community.
The Dutch arrived in the 1680’s to find Native Americans (Nayak and Carnasee) growing corn and crops in the rich soil of the region. Over the next two centuries Brooklyn would attract immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Britain and after World War II Italians.
I wanted more time in Brooklyn. It will definitely be a place I visit again.
Exploring the Neighborhoods of New York City
Even if you lived in New York, you could never explore it all. It is one of the most unique, vast, interesting and most beautiful cities in the world. It is constantly in motion and always changing. I love it and I can’t wait to go back and see even more. I hope you will consider visiting and exploring the neighborhoods of New York City.
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I recently spent twelve days visiting New York City. It was my sixth visit to the city – my first when I was in college in 1980. Since then my visits have all been three to four days…never enough time to really feel the heart of this amazing city. Visiting for twelve days was incredible. We did not visit the top tourist attractions this time like Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island or the Empire State Building. We had done all that on previous visits. Instead we explored deeper, wandered widely and ate with gusto. It was easy to put together my favorite things in New York City. Here is our story.
Well I’m a planner, and so it’s not my style to wing it. And in New York City it helps to try to plan ahead. For example the day we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art with our pre-purchased tickets we avoided an hour and a half wait. We walked right in. I told my husband he should be happy he married a planner…:) I think he is. Try to do some planning and you will enjoy NYC with much less stress and less waiting in line.
Be sure in your planning to consider how far things are from each other. For instance group your activities in Lower Manhattan all together. Central Park and many of the Museums are also in the same area. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time running from one end of the city to the other.
Where We Stayed
There are so many options to stay in NYC but we chose a small Airbnb for its location as much as anything else. This studio was on the ground floor with tons of storage, comfortable bed, small bath and even smaller kitchen. But it was in the Upper East Side, only three blocks to Central Park and two blocks to the subway. And we could afford it!
Art Museums and Tours
New York has a plethora of museums and these listed here are some of my favorite things in New York City. There are many others too…I’ll tick those off on my next visit.
Metropolitan Museum of Art – I can’t really rate all the museums but this was definitely one of my favorites. A beautiful display of timeless art and sculpture…I wish we had spent an entire day.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum – Smaller museum with changing exhibits but worth a visit to enjoy the beautiful building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Museum of Modern Art – large and sprawling museum home to everything from Monet to Warhol and everything in between.
Brooklyn Street Art Tour, The Bushwick Collective – We took a tour of the Bushwick Collective with a guide, the Brooklyn street mural art that has turned this neighborhood into an art Mecca. I highly recommend it.
The Cloisters – at the far north end of Manhattan is a small Medieval Art Museum associated with The Met. A surprisingly vast collection of Medieval Art, but for me the best part is the beautiful building. Worth a trip.
American Museum of Natural History – You can never see all of this vast museum, so before you go choose a few topics of interest to you and enjoy. Great for families. Get tickets online ahead of time.
The Tenement Museum – fascinating museum in Lower Manhattan that has put together multiple ways to learn about the tenement experience in New York City through the lives and voices of those who lived it. This is a do not miss.
The National September 11th Museum and Tour – Now one of the top tourist destinations in New York, the National September 11 Museum takes you down into the underground where the World Trade Centers used to stand. Here you explore a well thought-out and descriptive museum, all about that horrifying event. We chose to hire a guide for a two hour walk about the neighborhood before going into the museum. Our guide was able to show us many of the iconic spots where unforgettable things took place on September 11th 2001 and the days and weeks that followed. His insight as a New Yorker was so interesting. The tour was definitely worth the money.
Parks and Gardens
Central Park – One of my favorite places in the world. It is truly an incredible space, so well cared for by both the Central Park Conservancy and the local public. Adored by New Yorkers and visitors alike. Spend as much time as you can exploring all the pieces of this 1.32 square mile iconic park. It might just top my list of my favorite things in New York City.
The High Line – Stroll The Highline, a re-purposed elevated railroad track in lower Manhattan, turned into an elevated garden and walkway. Simply the best.
Bowling Green Park – if you take a boat out to the Statue of Liberty of Ellis Island you might depart form Bowling Green Park. It’s a beautiful little green space right on the Hudson River looking across to Lady Liberty.
New York Botanical Gardens – yes it’s all the way out in the Bronx but totally worth it. We really enjoyed our day here. The azaleas and lilacs were blooming and it was just incredibly beautiful, well planned and welcoming. A special orchid exhibit was on display in the Conservatory when we were there.
911 Memorial – Gorgeous and somber, the 911 Memorial recognizes each individual who died from the attacks on September 11th. It is a public space, a free park and gathering place and an absolute must when in New York City. Even if you don’t visit the The National September 11th Museum, be sure to come to the 911 Memorial Park. It is definitely one of my favorite things in New York City.
Brooklyn Bridge – we were blessed with a nice sunny day when we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, something I have always wanted to do. There were ALOT of people, but most people just walk about a quarter of the way out. It’s a fun and iconic thing to do with lots of photo opportunities.
New York Subway – my hubs has taught me not to fear the underground! And in NYC it’s cheap and efficient. We did not use Uber or taxis during our entire visit except to the airport…and if it wasn’t for the luggage we could have done a subway there too. I love people watching on the subway! Just keep alert and you’ll be safe.
Yankee Stadium – I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I do enjoy seeing different stadiums around the USA and I’ve been lucky to have been in some of the most iconic. The Yankee Stadium was rebuilt a decade or so ago, but it still reflects the historic old look of this iconic team. Yankees beat the Orioles 5-2.
Broadway – There is nothing like a live show on Broadway, and although the Times Square vibe to me feels like a cheaper version of the Las Vegas Strip, I do love live theater. I wish we could have seen more shows, but we saw two remarkable productions; Hamilton and Aladdin. Both amazing.
Rockefeller Center – I’ve always wanted to see the Christmas Tree and the Rockettes but I’ll have to do that in the future. But for this visit we made a quick visit to 30 Rock just to snap a few photos.
Boat Tour around Manhattan Island and the Manhattan Skyline – we hadn’t planned to do this until our friends recommended it highly. And I am so glad we did. Although the weather wasn’t the best, this tour is a wonderful way to learn history and get a real feel for the lay of the land (or island if you will). Great photos opportunities too for the beautiful and iconic Manhattan skyline.
It’s impossible to eat at all the restaurants in this city. Just look for where the locals are! On this visit we chose some hidden gems instead of the more big name spots. Here is a short list we recommend;
Williamsburg Pizza in Brooklyn – much debate goes around about where to find the best pizza is in Brooklyn. Most people wait an hour at Grimaldi’s, Juliana’s or Lombardi’s. We dashed into this little spot and were very happy with our meal. I don’t think you can go wrong with pizza anywhere in NYC. As the saying goes, pizza was invented in Italy but perfected in New York.
Kashkaval Garden in Hells Kitchen – Mediterranean spot tucked into a warm and inviting small space in Hell’s Kitchen. The hummus was exceptional.
Il Corso in Midtown – I think this may have been my favorite meal in New York. I’m still dreaming about the burrata with fried artichokes.
Crave Fish Bar Upper West Side – our first meal the night we arrived in New York was this wonderful fresh and sustainable seafood restaurant. It was really good and the service was also great. Fun space. Check it out.
Boqueria in Upper East Side – I met my friend Heather here and this joint was busy! Reservations are needed in many NYC favorites. We did the tapas tasting meal…wow…I was rolling home.
Black Star Bakery in Gramercy Park – this bright and cheery spot was a pick-me-up on a busy afternoon. I’d like to go back for something off the delicious-looking breakfast menu.
Zia Maria in Little Italy – Very authentic Italian Restaurant in the fun and colorful neighborhood of Little Italy. There are dozens of restaurants and bars to chose from here…I’m sure most are great…but this one was where we ate lasagna and Lobster Ravioli
Ramen Ishida – the day we went to the Tenement Museum we were going to go to Katz’s Deli, even though we had been there once before. But the line was around the block! Although Katz’s is good, I’m not willing to stand in line for an hour and a half. So instead we stumbled upon this incredible little hole in the wall called Ramen Ishida. It was perfect for a cold windy day. Delicious and beautiful.
My Favorite Things in New York City
Well the twelve days of New York were hectic and fun and we were able to enjoy my favorite things in New York City. We saw a lot, but still didn’t see it all. We left a few things to explore on our next visit…in fact more than a few things. I realize most people can’t stay for twelve days. But hopefully this blog post My Favorite Things in New York City will help guide you to the things YOU find most interesting, in the city that never sleeps.
Meanwhile, check back next Friday, because I’ve saved my favorite neighborhoods for an entire separate blog post….the neighborhoods and boroughs are a colorful and interesting thing about the Big Apple. So diverse, historic and delicious! Look for that blog next Friday.
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