New York travel guide (for tourists and first-timers)

New York travel guide - Manhattan skylineThis New York travel guide is perfect if you are a first-time visitor if you haven’t visited for many years! 

I first visited New York over ten years ago and loved it – I was wowed by the vastness of it all, and the feeling of opportunity. My husband had visited once fifteen years earlier and we both knew we wanted to visit together. Now returning after so long, it almost felt like we were first time visitors again. We knew we wanted to spend our time enjoying ourselves and soaking up the atmosphere, but there were a few touristy things that we both really wanted to do again – mostly that we hadn’t done the first time round, wanted to do again or that didn’t even exist on our first visits.

 New York travel guide

 New York travel guide

Where to stay

New York travel guide - 1Hotels Central Park

One of my favourite little luxuries in life is staying in good hotels. I just love nothing more than beautiful decor, to-die for bathrooms and a huge comfy bed. Our New York Hotel met and exceeded all my expectations.

1 Hotel Central Park is perfectly situated in mid town New York, a block from Central park and right next to a subway station. It was within walking distance to Times Square, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Centre as well as being one avenue across from 5th avenue (and the infamous Tiffany’s).

The hotel was so beautifully done and in a very New York industrial style-they had used a lot of crittal, polished marble and rustic wood teamed with heaps of plants and greenery. I loved it! Our room had the most dreamy marble shower room and a perfect window seat for watching the busy streets below. It was the perfect spot to retreat to after a long day exploring and we often sat relaxing for half an hour with a drink in hand watching the world go by. 

What to do 

Walk the high line

New York travel guide - the High Line

New York travel guide - The High Line

We absolutely loved this. The high line was a freight railway line that was built above the city to move heavy goods from the docks into the city. After years of disuse it has been turned in to a park, complete with plants and trees and art installations. It is very cool and very New York. It starts in the meat packing district which is also a great area to explore.

Row a boat in Central Park

New York travel guide - Central Park

I am forever seeking a boat trip and managed two in this trip-one being a paddle about the lake in Central Park. It is surprisingly cheap and a lovely way to spend an hour. We combined this with a really good exploration around the park-it is so vast that at times it is hard to imagine you are in the centre of Manhattan!

Visit the 9/11 memorial

I was initially against going to the location of the World Trade Centres as I felt uneasy that it should become a tourist ‘attraction’ however after even a few hours of being in the city I began to understand just how much 9/11 had affected and shaped the city itself.  I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before as I think it reshaped the whole world, but for some reason I hadn’t considered the effect it would have on the very place it happened. The memorial is a very touching and sobering place which I appreciated visiting. It gave us a chance to stop and reflect during our trip, remember the people that lost their lives and their families that continue without their loved ones and feel gratitude for the lucky lives we are living. 

Head to the top of the Rock

New York travel guide - top of the Rock

On my last visit I went up the Empire State Building….however, going up to the top of the Rockerfeller definitely beats that! Not only do you get great views of the Empire State Building itself, but you get clear, unobstructed views of the whole island. Take yourself up as early as you can – we arrived at about 9.30am, only had to queue for about ten minutes and then had plenty of space to get pictures without too many people getting in the way of them.

Have a drink in Grand Central Station

This is such a cliché I know but it is such a gorgeous building. Sit at the Cipriani bar and order a drink and settle in for a bit of people watching! You can try and list all the films that have shot scenes right there in the concourse too.

Where to eat

We ate almost all our meals in the Nolita / Noho area of New York – we didn’t plant it, but pretty much every place we read about and wanted to try was situated there. I would really recommend exploring that area especially if you are hungry as we didn’t have one less than fabulous meal there.

Breakfast and brunch

The Butcher’s Daughter

New York travel guide - The Butcher's Daughter

An Instagram favourite, this little cafe serves up healthy vegan juices and breakfasts. I had the avo toast (naturally!) and Will went for the egg sandwich. Mine was delicious but I definitely had food envy as his was exceptional!


This restaurant is right next to the start of the high line so we fuelled up before we went. It is a more traditional style American deli and serves up huge plates of delicious food. It has a great atmosphere and a real mix of people – we saw office workers debriefing after an early morning meeting, friends meeting for breakfast and tourists like ourselves.

I ordered the pancakes which were amazing and so massive I barely scratched the surface, and Will went for eggs benny. Again, he won on the ordering stakes as I have never tasted hollandaise sauce quite as good.

Jack’s Wife Frieda

New York travel guide - Jack's Wife Frieda

Another Instagram favourite – a small cafe with hip waiting staff and an ever hipper clientele. The food was good and decor nice but you could definitely tell that it had become social-popular and it was sad to see an equally lovely looking cafe next door sat empty when people queued for this one. 



Got a fancy for a taco? Make your way to Tacombi – they have a number of locations across New York and it is so worth a visit. Order the  nachos and guacamole, fish tacos and spicy shrimp. Yum!

The Plaza Food Hall

The Plaza was just around the block from our hotel and the food hall is incredible. There are dozens of different food stalls serving everything you could dream up from Italian to sushi. It took us several laps to decide on what to eat. We opted for Luke’s Lobster lobster rolls and sides of clam chowder. SOOOO delicious. We followed it up with New York cheesecake and a coffee, naturally!

Chelsea Market

New York travel guide - Chelsea Market

Another amazing place full of different delicious options of where to eat. The market is right next to the High Line so another great food option of you visit that area. We didn’t eat as we had overstuffed ourselves at breakfast but if we were going to The Lobster Place had my eyes standing on stalks and my mouth watering. The sushi in particular looks excellent.



New York travel guide - Emporio

We ate here on our first evening and despite being a little wide-eyed with lack of sleep we had a lovely evening. We loved the buzzy vibe in this restaurant and the delicious seasonal food. We opted for fresh gazpacho and fish after our long flight but if I went back I wouldn’t hesitate to order a pizza, which looks amazing.

Il Buco

I have never been so wowed in a restaurant as I was here. The ambiance is like nothing else…when we arrived we were lead through the dimly lit, bustling restaurant that was and full of amazing smells and laughing people, to a steep wooden staircase lined with wine bottles that led to the basement. At first I was disappointed to leave upstairs, but not when I saw our destination: a wine cellar lit with candles and only a handful of tables. The service was excellent and the food exceptional – the waiter recommended something off the menu for me – a simple dish of spaghetti with black pepper and parmesan and it was one of the best meals I have eaten in my life. Please, please visit this restaurant if you go to New York.


New York travel guide - Gato

We spotted this very trendy restaurant whilst walking to Il Buco and booked for the next night. We weren’t disappointed. The service was excellent, ambience lively and the food delicious. I loved the choice on the menu with interesting flavours and ingredients. Another must visit.

 There were many things that were recommended to us that we didn’t get the chance to do  and so have sadly not made it in to this New York travel guide including:

  • Eat at Beauty and Essex
  • Visit Smorgasburg Flea Market on a Saturday morning
  • Drinks at the Rose Bar in Gramercy Park Hotel
  • Visit any museums (bad tourists!)

Do you have a trip to NYC planned or do you have any tips or recommendations to add to my New York travel guide?

 Thinking of visiting another US City? I highly recommend Chicago. See my previous posts Arriving in Chicago, A Night out in Chicago and Exploring the Windy City.