American author E.B. White once quipped about this city of eight million inhabitants: “New York provides not only a continuing excitation but also a spectacle that is continuing.” And while he may have said this nearly a century ago, his words still ring true to this day. The City that Never Sleeps is in constant motion – yes, even at 3am – and while the surface may be always transforming, its heart never really changes. Spend a day seeing the sites in Manhattan and another day wandering the heart of global hipsterism in Brooklyn. There’s no better time to take a bite out of this pulsating metropolis.
Explore our interactive map below for all the local highlights, and scroll down for our suggested day-by-day summary of the best things to see and do…
Hit Central Park (59th St. to 110th St.) for an early-morning stroll through this 843-acre-sized patch of greenery that looks like it was carved out of the urban landscape. The park, designed by genius landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, is a great spot to feel submerged in nature, far from the bustle of the big city.
Try to emerge from the park on the south-east corner. That way you’re only a small stroll from one of the best modern art museums in the United States (if not the world): The Museum of Modern Art. The museum, best known as MoMa, has a vast collection of work by late-19th and 20th century artistic visionaries, including Van Gogh, Rousseau, Picasso, Dali, Mondrian, Warhol, Monet, Matisse, Frida Kahlo, Jasper Johns and Warhol. The best way to tackle MoMa is to take the lift to the top floor and work your way down (the most memorable works are on the top two floors).
If all that art gawking builds up an appetite, lunch is just a 10-minute walk to one of the New York-iest restaurants in New York history. Welcome to The Grill, where you can have a three-martini lunch in a mid-century Philip Johnson-designed dining room. The menu is classic New York City with lobster à la Newberg, pheasant Claireborne, and spring chicken à la queen getting top billing. The adjoining space, The Pool, is a great spot for a cocktail.
Walk off that Big Apple meal with an amble down the High Line (Gansevoort and Washington Sts.), a long stretch of once-abandoned elevated railroad track on Manhattan’s westside (from 34th St. to the Meatpacking District) that was converted into an aerial park. It has become an instant Big Apple institution, wowing visitors and locals with its cool design that incorporates much of the natural surrounding. Start at the top of the High Line on W. 34th St. and then work your way down. That way you’ll be deposited right into the atmospheric Meatpacking District.
Once you reach the end of the High Line, head west to the Hudson River to see Manhattan’s latest attraction: Tiny Island. Designed by London-based Thomas Heatherwick, the one-hectare artificial island in the Hudson River is free to enter. The lush island is etched with trails and provides stellar views of the Manhattan skyline.
Since the High Line spills out into the Meatpacking District and the West Village, take a breather at Té Company, where you can sip hard-to-find oolong teas from Taiwan and nibble on snacks made by chef Frederico Ribeiro who has logged time at multiple Michelin-starred restaurants.
When the stomach starts rumbling again, head east: Fish Cheeks, located in NoHo (that’s North of Houston), is one of the best Thai spots in Manhattan.
Have a nightcap at Katana Kitten, a sleek bi-level Japanese-themed cocktail bar. Sip a Negroni made with genever and aged umeshu or gin and tonic laced with shiso.
Spend part of day two exploring Brooklyn. Get there by strolling across the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the most iconic spans in North America. The 271-ft-tall neo-gothic arches are certainly the bridge’s trademark, but ambling along the elevated pedestrian walkway is a must for any visitor.
Once off the bridge, walk through leafy, historic Brooklyn Heights, especially the promenade above the river that offers splendid views of the downtown Manhattan skyline. And then, point yourself toward the tree-lined atmospheric neighborhood of Cobble Hill. Here is where you’ll find St Julivert Fisherie. Run by the husband-and-wife chef team Alex Raij and Eder Montero (who also run the excellent nearby La Vara), St. Julivert is an excellent seafood spot with an emphasis on Basque cuisine.
Work off your lunch by taking in more art at the Brooklyn Museum, the second largest museum in New York City. The 1895 Beaux Arts building include works by Mark Rothko, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and Edgar Degas.
If you prefer to stay outdoors, go next door to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where thousands of types of flora will take you miles away from the bustle of the Big Apple. Seek out the particularly peaceful Japanese Hill and Pond Garden.
For some post-sunset fun, head back to Manhattan. Linger for a while in Washington Square Park where bohemians and beatniks, street performers and students from nearby New York University give the place a groovy and fun vibe. On warmer days, children play in the fountain and jazz musicians thump out tunes. If the weather is not agreeable, pop into Blue Note where, since 1981, jazz and soul greats like Sarah Vaughn and Ray Charles, among many others, have taken the stage.
Then plant yourself at Minetta Tavern, a classic Big Apple spot that serves one of the best burgers and steaks in town.
Afterwards, wander a few blocks north to the new 8th St. hotspot, Mace; an avant-garde cocktail bar from French mixologist Nico de Soto. First timers should opt for anything with unlikely ingredients as de Soto has a way of mixing booze and things you wouldn’t find in a cocktail glass (such a sweet potatoes or black pepper) and making it oh-so-quaffable.
Brooklyn’s Bushwick is currently the hip ‘hood, but those in the know have already moved on to Greenpoint, a vibrant Polish neighbourhood. Vietnamese restaurant Di An Di and French-Canadian bistro Chez Ma Tante are just two eateries that should lure you here.
Get in step for a guided Free Tours By Foot. The daily walks include an architectural tour of Harlem, where to find the best street art, and a culinary take on Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.
Don’t overlook DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), a neighbourhood that is rich in atmosphere thanks to the cobblestone streets and old warehouses that have been turned into loft living spaces. The nearby revamped riverside walkway boasts public art, an historic carousel, and street food stands.
Did you know?
New York City’s tap water is among the highest quality urban drinking H20 on the planet, as it is channelled from upstate reservoirs. Spare buying a plastic bottle and drink from the tap instead.
You can pay up to $150 (£116) for a day pass to a rooftop pool in Manhattan. But just cross the East River to Long Island City and chill by the Ravel Hotel rooftop pool for a mere $25 (£19) after 5pm (or $50/£38 for the entire day). Sip on an “English Flower” (gin basil, elderflower, and prosecco) and nibble on a jumbo shrimp cocktail while looking at the Manhattan skyline across the river.
Where to stay . . .
The lavish Beekman Hotel, located way downtown, boasts spacious high-ceilinged rooms bedecked with vintage furniture and aged oak floors. Temple Court, the in-house restaurant by celeb chef Tom Colicchio, serves old-school New York fare, such as lobster Thermidor, but updated with seasonal ingredients.
At The NoMad Hotel, French designer Jacques Garcia gives a bohemian-chic makeover to a turn-of-the-century Beaux Arts building in the Flatiron District. The 168 sumptuous rooms, two swanky bars, a vintage fireplace and a restaurant overseen by superstar chef Daniel Humm make it one of the hottest hotels in town.
The 612-room Moxy Times Square is a design-friendly property with budget-conscious millennials (or those who don’t mind travelling like one) in mind. The massive rooftop bar affords fabulous views.
What to bring home . . .
Stop by the New York Transit Museum shop to pick up some iconic items of the New York City subway system: T-shirts of your favourite metro line, Grand Central socks, and subway-themed tote bags.
When to go . . .
New York is a year-round destination with four distinct seasons. Winter can be magical, with thick snowfalls followed by cloudless skies, but also unpredictable: one winter might regularly blanket the city in snow and the next year there will be only one giant storm. Summer is the most consistent, as the air turns sticky and humid but the warm weather brings out the fun. Spring and autumn are the optimum times to visit, highlighted by clear blue skies and a crispness to the air. October visitors will be treated to trees turning to golden red for the autumn.
Know before you go . . .
British Consulate-General: (00 1 212 745 0200; ukinusa.fco.gov.uk), 845 3rd Avenue, New York
Emergency services: Dial 911
Tourist office: See nycgo.com, the website of NYC and Company, for extensive information on what’s on in the city and tips on where to go. Stop by to pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the Official Visitor Information Centre (00 1 212 484 1222) at at 151 W. 34th St. between Seventh Ave. and Broadway; Open Mon-Sat, 10am-10pm; Sun, 10am-9pm; Times Square between 44th and 45th Sts; daily, 8am-7pm; Southern tip of City Hall Park; Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm; Sat-Sun, 10am-5pm.
Local laws and etiquette
It is standard to tip 15-20 per cent in restaurants. Sales tax in NYC is 8.87 per cent; taxes are not included in listed shop or restaurants prices.
Currency: US dollar
Telephone code: Dial 00 1, then the three-digit number of the borough (eg, 212 for Manhattan, 718 for Brooklyn/the Bronx) for New York numbers from abroad
Time difference: New York is five hours behind London
Flight time: London to New York is approximately seven hours
David Farley has called New York’s West Village home for the last 15 years, where he makes a habit of helping lost, google map-wielding tourists to navigate the neighbourhood’s tangle of confusing streets, trying to steer them away from tourist trap restaurants and bars.
Experience New York with The Telegraph
Telegraph Travel’s best hotels, tours, cruises and holidays in New York, tried, tested and recommended by our New York experts.