Planning a first-ever trip to any city can be daunting. In New York City, especially, the options can seem endless. To make things a tad easier, I’ve highlighted some of the best restaurants, drinks spots, snack destinations and attractions in this manageable guide (updated and reinvented since I last posted in 2013), which can be used as a resource for first-time visitors. It will also probably be useful to those coming for the second, third and fourth time. Have I left off more than a few favorites for the sake of brevity? Absolutely. I’m pretty sure, however, that if you utilize this post–and have at least a few days of sunshine–you’ll enjoy a pretty good, if not a downright amazing time in The Wonder City.
Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue: This mini chain is great ambassador for the city’s barbecue revolution. The brisket never disappoints.
Ivan Ramen: New-fangled ramen meets a creative apps menu at this Lower East Side restaurant.
Katz’s Delicatessen: Don’t even think about ordering anything other than a pastrami sandwich at this New York institution.
Al di la Trattoria: As popular as ever, this Park Slope, Brooklyn restaurant does rustic Italian right. If the wait is long, check out the sister wine bar next door, which features the same menu.
Comodo: The eclectic menu at this homey-yet-upscale Soho eatery features dishes influenced by the cuisines of Spain, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia.
Decoy: Snag a reservation at this subterranean West Village restaurant for the best prix fixe Peking duck dinner of your life.
Rose Water: Unlike most eateries, where the brunch menu is an afterthought, this Park Slope, Brooklyn greenmarket-centric restaurant gives the spliced meal the respect it deserves.
Grand Banks: Yes, this boat-restaurant docked at a pier in Lower Manhattan is sceney, but the food and drinks are legit and the vistas can’t be beat.
Pok Pok NY: This popular spot slings authentic, expertly spiced Thai (try the wings!) in Brooklyn’s Columbia Waterfront District.
J.G. Melon: This pub with plenty of character offers thick, griddle-cooked burgers on the Upper East Side. Though a second recently opened location in the Village has worked hard to translate the original’s charm, it’s still worth it to trek Uptown.
Cherche Midi: The steaks and burger are the stars at this expansive upscale bistro on the Bowery, but save room for equally rich apps and sides like pot de fromage and roasted cauliflower.
Fu Run: Take the 7 train to Flushing, Queens for inventive Northern Chinese cuisine popular with neighborhood locals.
Upland: Fresh California cuisine has made this large, airy restaurant on Park Avenue South the talk of the town.
Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter: Sweet tea-marinated fried chicken satisfies hungry diners on the cheap in the far East Village.
Gregory’s 26 Corner Taverna: Eating fresh porgy at this Astoria, Queens taverna is the second-best option to hopping a not-so-quick flight to the Greek Isles.
Leyenda: An inventive menu of pastel-colored tequila and rum cocktails have made this Cobble Hill, Brooklyn watering hole one of the most hyped bars of the summer.
Hotel Delmano: Mingle with nouveau Brooklyn bohemians at this dimly lit, romantic cocktail bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Met Roof Café and Martini Bar: If you’re already going to be at the Met, take an elevator to the roof for a glass of Cava and a stunning view of the city skyline surrounding Central Park.
Spuyten Duyvil: There’s a serious beer menu at this low-key Williamsburg, Brooklyn bar with expansive backyard.
Maison Premiere: The $1 and $1.25 oyster happy hour here is amazing (get there before 5 p.m. to snag a seat!), as is the lush outdoor garden. The complex cocktails, at a relatively affordable price, make this Williamsburg, Brooklyn spot as a must-try.
Weather Up: An upscale Prospect Heights, Brooklyn cocktail den that somehow manages to be as cozy as any neighborhood bar. (pictured above)
Mayahuel: Mezcal is the star at this moody East Village duplex bar.
Marshall Stack: A no-frills Lower East Side drinks spot with a varied beer selection and tasty bites.
International Bar: An often-crowded East Village institution where people from all walks of life mingle over cheap drinks.
June: A perfect date night post, this Cobble Hill, Brooklyn natural wine bar offers eclectic pours and small plates in a beautiful setting.
Russ & Daughters: This Lower East Side temple to appetizing has been churning out the best smoked fish in NYC for 100 years.
Absolute Bagels: A perfect crust and a chewy interior make the bagels at this Morningside Heights joint the best in the city. (pictured above)
Gray’s Papaya: Cheap grilled hot dogs with plenty of snap and fresh papaya drinks are the draw at this all-night Upper West Side institution.
El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette: This Lower East Side spot is the place to catch model-types filling up on healthy-but-inovative dishes like charred radicchio with ricotta, hazelnut and mint.
Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream: A draw for adventurous dessert eaters, this Lower East Side ice cream bar features flavors like durian banana and Black Strap rum.
Joe’s Pizza: This quintessential New York slice at this no-frills West Village stomping ground is beloved by celebrities and locals alike.
Taïm: The falafel at this West Village matchbook-size shop is amazing, but so is the sabich sandwich–a pita filled with charred eggplant, hard boiled egg, Israeli salad and other healthful toppings. A second location in SoHo offers the same menu.
Sullivan St. Bakery: Fresh sandwiches, salads, breads, pizzas and delicious desserts (get a bombolino!) keep the Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen locations hopping all day long.
Four & Twenty Blackbirds: Drool-inducing pie flavors like strawberry balsamic and chocolate chess make this super popular Gowanus, Brooklyn destination a believe-the-hype kind of spot.
Doughnut Plant: I’ve written plenty about these doughnuts because they really are that good. The crème brûlée-filled doughseed and the peanut butter-and-banana cream yeast doughnut are a few of my favorites at the Lower East Side flagship.
One World Observatory: The recently opened One World Trade Center skyscraper features the city’s newest observatory, where you can marvel at the country’s most impressive skyline from tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
Central Park: Manicured lawns, rolling hills, sun-strewn vistas–you could spend an entire day wandering around this urban oasis. (pictured above)
Whitney: The museum’s inaugural exhibit at its new Meatpacking District location features a survey of their permanent America art collection, and is not to be missed. The outdoor spaces on each level provide bird’s-eye views of the neighborhood and the harbor.
Broadway show: Seeing a show is a quintessential NYC experience. Hamilton is the production of the season, if you’re able to score tickets.
Colin Huggins at Washington Square Park: If you’re a piano lover, you shouldn’t miss busker Colin Huggins’ free performances of classical piano pieces on an east-side walkway in Washington Square Park. He’s there most weekends. Tip generously!
MoMA or Met: These NYC museums (in Midtown and on the Upper East Side, respectively) are world class. If you’re here for a short visit, pick one–are you a classics person or a modern art person?–and explore for at least two hours.
The High Line: One of my favorite places in NYC, this far west Chelsea train track-turned-elevated park is perfect for an evening stroll. Some of the best examples of modern architecture surround the walkway, and more gawk-worthy buildings have sprouted since the park’s first section opened in 2009.
Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge Park: Gazing at the skylines of both Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn as you meander across the Brooklyn Bridge has been a guidebook must-do for a long time. (For obvious reasons). Pair the walk with a visit to Brooklyn’s expansive and impressive new park on the East River.
East River Ferry or New York Water Taxi: You haven’t seen this city until you’ve seen it from the water. The former lets you zip from Midtown East to Long Island City, Queens to Greenpoint, Brooklyn to Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn and finally, to Wall Street as you take in the views and topography of the city. The latter lets you cruise around Lower Manhattan and to a few stops in Brooklyn. Hop on and hop off for a self-guided food tour; stellar eats can be had just a few blocks from each of the stops.
Tenement Museum: Relive the harrowing stories and tight living quarters of 19th- and turn-of-the-20th century immigrants through guided tours and recreated apartments at this unique Lower East Side museum.
Hudson River Park: I’m rarely more in love with NYC than when I’m strolling along the varied waterfront that makes up this diverse park. For a true adventure, start at 59th St. and walk all the way to Battery Park at the tip of the island.
(Check out my archived New York posts for more ideas!)