When in one of the world’s greatest cities it is vital to make every second count. With that in mind I can offer some of my top tips for a visit to the Big Apple. Don’t worry I’ve got you from travel to restaurants, and from bars to activities.
The classic New York yellow cabs are most people’s first port of call when transiting from the airport to the hotel. It seems like the only way to enter the city, like a movie code of conduct. These services the prices and rates vary depending which airport you have arrived at. At LaGuardia you will pay a standard metered fare. At JFK you will pay a flat fare of $52 + tolls to anywhere within the Manhattan boundary. From Newark you will pay a set rate plus a surcharge of $17.50.
If after a long flight you want to avoid taxi queues and the grey area surrounding rates you can pre-book a taxi before you leave your house. I use Black Lane as they are available in most cities around the world and often work out cheaper than a local cab. I enjoy getting off the plane knowing that I will not encounter any stress in finding a cab. In fact I received a text from my driver saying he had arrived and was waiting for me. As always with Black Lane and similar companies the drivers are smartly dressed, the vehicles are high quality and they already know where you are going.
Whilst out and about in the City, if you want to hail a yellow cab simply raise your arm when one passes. If the centre light is lit then it is available. When the centre light and the side lamps are lit simultaneously it is out of service and when no lights are lit the cab already has a passenger.
New York is an amazing city to explore on foot so wherever possible walk. Google Maps is one of the best tools available to any traveller, taking you from location to location and informing you how long each walk will take. For those longer trips I would definitely recommend embarking on the adventure that is the subway. Many travellers find the thought of the NY subway intimidating but as long as you can read a simple map you will be fine and there is genuinely no better place to rub shoulders with all types of New Yorkers.
You can plan ahead by getting a number of different apps which tell you exactly which trains to get on and where to find them. You can grab a ticket at each station with one journey currently costing $2.75. The trains typically run in two directions (up-town and down-town) and New York’s grid system makes this relatively easy to figure out. Very simply and as a rule of thumb from Manhattan the Bronx is up, Brooklyn is down. Common sense and safety precautions apply as they would in any busy city. Minimalise the chance of crime by keeping valuables out of sight and concealed.
New York hotels have a pretty bad rep. Small and overpriced hotels are available in every borough so research is essential. My usual go to hotel is located in Midtown Manhattan and a stone’s throw from 5th Ave and dozens of New York’s most popular tourist attractions including the Empire State Building, Times Square and the Theatre District. For me Hotel Le Soleil exceeds the hundreds of hotels in the popular area for many reasons.
Its interior is trendy and modern, stylistically setting it apart from the majority of dated New York Hotels. The rooms are spacious and elegantly decked out with rich fabrics, modern chrome and glass finishes. For the other half of the trip we stayed in a hotel on the opposite side of Mid-town Manhattan and the difference was noticeable. Despite being a similar price the rooms were tiny, the service less personable and the décor weathered. Whilst at Hotel Le Soleil be sure to check out their fantastic Grind Coffee Shop.
Food in New York is as diverse as the city. From budget staple eats such as dollar pizza slices to pricey Michelin starred restaurants New York’s influences from all across the world make this an amazing place to grab a bite to eat.
Choosing a burger join in New York is no easy feat and New Yorkers will passionately debate their favourite for hours. With various variations and techniques used across the city there is no doubt a burger for everyone but I had to pick a New York legend… Shake Shack.
Shake Shack evolved from a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park. It was created by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group to support the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s first art installation “I ♥ Taxi”. Word spread about how good these burgers were and fans lined up daily for three summers. In July 2004 a permanent kiosk was opened in the Park and Shake Shack was officially born.
Shake Shack is a fun and lively community gathering pace with widespread appeal. Numerous restaurants are now open in London and in each city it resides the chain looks to honour local tradition. My go to at Shake shack is the SmokeShack (cheeseburger with bacon and shack sauce) with cheese fries. Depending on how hungry I am I will add an Empire State Concrete which is essentially a frozen dessert disguised as a drink. The location focused Empire State is a concoction of chocolate custard, peanut butter sauce, banana, chocolate truffle cookie dough and sugar cane cookie (worth every one of 600 odd calories.) Visit Shake Shack on Herald Square before going to catch the Knicks at the Garden for a true New York experience!
Park Avenue is a dynamic restaurant that changes with the seasons. Effectively transforming into 4 different spaces throughout the year the venue changes everything from the menu down to its décor and staff uniforms to ensure it is on-trend and in-season.
Of course, merely looking the part is just the first step in living up to its superb reputation and the job of ensuring the food is as good is executive chef Zene Flinn. The reason this has made my list of must-visit restaurants is not the above visual achievement’s but more the freshness and creativity that Flinn achieves through his rapidly changing menu.
Current appetisers on the menu from the include Duck Egg Raviolo, Avocado & Trout Roe and seared Hamachi crudo. For main pick from sea or land with the Viking village scallops, swordfish, red wattle pork schnitzel or the incredible rabbit wellington. The desserts in Park Avenue are simply a work of art with superb options such as rum raison carrot cake, warm hazelnut financier or my favourite the Park Avenue chocolate cube.
For a fine-dining establishment there is no pretence towards tourists. The staff are incredibly welcoming and always make us feel at home in one of my favourite restaurants anywhere in the world.
A legend of Greek fine dining opened Loi Estiatorio in Upper Mid-Town Manhattan in 2015. Chef Maria Loi has turned the restaurant into an upscale take on her homeland cuisine with a unique and innovative twist.
When Maria Loi chooses ingredients and creates recipes, she considers the ancient grains and flavours that continue to flourish millenniums later. This is an area of expertise; her book on ancient Greek dining was the only official cookbook of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. These ingredients, as respected as the great Greek minds of Plato, Socrates and Hippocrates, are the pillars of a healthy, tasty Mediterranean diet: olive oil, Greek yogurt, grains, beans and freshly picked greens.
The restaurant space is sleek and the staff offer a warm welcome which is rare in one of the busiest and most tourist infested areas of NY. To start I would recommend choosing several appetisers and sharing them amongst the table. Highlights include the grilled halloumi, the octopus and salmon tartare.
Loi’s unique approach shines through the main menu with stellar dishes such as seafood orzo, shrimp pasta and lamb chops with loi yogurt. A dazzling array of seafood, meat and vegetarian option ensure everyone leaves full and well and truly looked after in this New York City favourite.
Whilst enjoying all of the guilty culinary pleasures that NY has to offer there will come a time when your body will simply say ‘no more’ and that is the time to visit the fantastic Café Clover.
Nestled on a charming tree-lined street in the West Village, Cafe Clover offers a delicious alternative to the calorie heavy meals you will no doubt be enjoying during your trip. With a focus on pure, simple ingredients brought together in imaginative and unexpected ways, Cafe Clover delivers dishes that are both healthy and delicious, whilst giving you a chance to explore one of NY’s hipster neighbourhoods.
Start by sipping on one of the cafes thirst quenching cold pressed juices. Options include and orange, green and red juice all consisting of mineral and nutrient rich ingredients. I tried the Orange cold pressed juice which was packed full of carrot, lemongrass, turmeric and chia seed and it tasted great after a few days of excess.
For a restaurant that specialises in healthy food the menu is surprisingly vast and diverse. If arriving earlier choose Avocado on pumpernickel baguette with pickled shallots and a honey glaze or the fruit covered quinoa pancakes. Lunch options include nine different salad options as well as a hearty selection of sandwiches and pizzettes.
For dinner try the standout organic Scottish salmon with fresh braised kale, kohlrabi, green curry and sunflower kennels for a delicious healthy meal that will have you coming back. Whatever time of day you visit just ensure you get down to Café Clover for a real New York neighbourhood vibe.
With the world’s most famous skyline at its mercy New York is littered with first class bars boasting breath-taking views. Choosing the right ones during a short stay is not easy. Two of my favourites and venues that I will continue to return too are The Skylark and Mr Purple.
Skylark is situated 30 stories high in the heart of Times Square South. The décor is upscale and the panoramic views of the Empire State Building, the Hudson River and Times Square are breath-taking. The Skylark has numerous spaces to enjoy including both indoor and outdoor areas but in my opinion the views are best enjoyed on a table next to the lounges floor-to-ceiling windows.
Created by expert mixologist Johnny Swet (Rogue & Canon, the Park, the Elm) the cocktail menu is vast, diverse and ambitious. Signature drinks such as Skinny Paloma, Spring Fling and Blackberry French 75 all excel but my personal favourite is the Austin City Limits. A simple concoction of vodka, ginger liquor and agave lime and mint it is essentially the Moscow on steroids.
If you are hungry the Skylark offers a decent bar menu where you can enjoy a range of tapas, fish, meats and light bites. Be sure to try the spiced sweet potato fries served with amazing cranberry ketchup and pumpkin maple mustard or the herbed sea salt dusted fries complete with truffle aioli.
If it is your first trip to NY and you are trying to fit as much in as possible a trip to the Skylark is a genuine replacement for the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Centre. You get the same amazing iconic view of the skyline but instead of fighting past tourists you can spend the $50 entrance fee on amazing food and drink instead.
Another bar which offers views you would expect to see in a brochure is Mr. Purple. Located on the 15th floor of Hotel Indigo on New York’s Lower East Side the contemporary restaurant offers good food and drink using the city as its spectacular backdrop.
The chic interior, designed by internationally acclaimed design firm Crème Design recreates an artist-loft ambiance with indoor and outdoor areas displayed through the use of reclaimed wood structures contrasted with concrete, metal, free hanging lights, and modern wooden furniture. Mr Purple has two fantastic terraces; one with its own swimming pool and is perfect for those cool summer nights.
If thirsty try the delicately presented sun toki; asian pear infused suntory toki whiskey, coquerel calvados and fres. Another intriguing option is the infamous ‘Mr Purple.’ The self-named concoction is an ingredient heavy drink with several stand-out flavours beginning. The base tequila is joined by cranberry liqueur, allspice dram, apple and lemon.
Whilst enjoying the cocktails be sure to try some of Mr Purples superb bar snacks. The kitchen have prepared a menu with the drinks in mind and all options perfectly compliment their cocktails. Some of the highlights include tuna tartar, pulled chicken sandwich and the prosciutto flatbread.
You will have to make at least half a dozen trips to NY to really begin making an indent into the list of things to see and do. A major mistake many first timers make is to attempt to do too much. When you do this you spend far too much time rushing to and from the world class attractions that you stand no chance of fully appreciating the city. Each time you visit pick one main attraction that you see each day. That way it gives you an excuse to return one of the greatest cities on earth time and time again.
Words by Jack David