BY: CHRIS ROGERS
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON AUGUST 9, 2019
Some call it “the Empire State”. Others, “the Big Apple”. To me, she is the Motherland. It’s all true what they say about her: where dreams are made of, the streets will make you feel brand new, and the city lights will inspire you. Her personality is one of a kind, an energy you wouldn’t find in any other city. The second the two of us met, we became emotionally linked. She’s forever in flux and never sleeps, and with just one visit and tons to do, neither will you.
Like her 5 boroughs and a week’s worth of things to do in each, you have just 5 days to finish your “must sees”. The excitement becomes overwhelming with busy streets filled with yellow taxi cabs and millions of people. Bundling your go- to’s by location and having a strategic itinerary to follow will make you feel like the New York native you deserve to be. So here we go, stepping off the plane, Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind” playing, our day 1 in the motherland has begun!
Fall in Love with Your Feet (and the MTA):
Walking every block in New York is no challenge for me! Perfect time for sightseeing, burning off all the Chinese takeout, and great photo ops. As I find the city to be very walkable, this can be overwhelming for a first timer. Luckily, the MTA subway and bus system is the most accessible and inexpensive option to make the most out of your visit and we’ll begin using it to get from the airport to Manhattan!
Entering the underground world requires a MetroCard, which comes at the price of $5.50 and is reloadable. If you are with a group, I recommend one of you purchase a single MetroCard to avoid each of you paying $5.50 for your own. Multiple people can use one card if you upload enough funds for each additional rider. It has never cost me more than $2.75 per ride. If you are required to make any connections, those are usually free within two hours. New York is also Uber, Lyft, and taxi friendly and the rates, while typically more expensive than the subway, will all range around the same price. On a heavy traffic day, this can also be your most time-consuming option to consider.
Living Like a Native:
Check-in’s at 3 PM for the hotel we booked on a third-party website to save some extra cash. I love Expedia.com or Travelocity, which compares their prices with other sites and gives us the best rates. I often find single room deals at the Ritz for $161 a night less than the hotel’s website. The Ritz also have a great rewards program so I’m always saving extra cash on my next stay.
PRO TIP: I make more than one reservation so as it gets closer to vacation time, I go with the least expensive reservation and cancel the rest. Read the fine print and hidden fees, stay up-to-date on cancellation policies, and when flexible, book during New York’s best seasons (January – March or July – August).
Bring along a good-size, secure bag with you because you’ll need it! I have my man purse on hand and stocked with my sunglasses, wallet, portable charger, MetroCard, and lip balm. It’s best to have a small amount of cash on you for some cash only establishments.
There are certain fashion laws you must abide by in the world’s leading couture capital and I’m not letting you break any of them. Do away with plain t-shirts and save that athletic apparel for the treadmill. We only dress to impress here. The sidewalks are like runways and honey, we are strutting Every. Single. Day.
Year round, I’m in pants to match my most comfortable pair of loafers. I pack different styles of shirts (oxfords, sweaters, turtlenecks, etc.) for each occasion on our itinerary. When its warmer, my go-tos are oxfords because you can roll the sleeves and avoid appearing as a fashion amateur. On cooler days, I’m always layering shirts with my favorite overcoats. I have been caught in the rain multiple times so add your favorite trench or rain jacket to the packing list.
My outfits are accompanied with my favorite jewels to add nice last-minute touches to my pieces. Never leave your neck, arms, and ears solo during the trip!
Day 1: City Sightseeing
It’s best to soak in all the breathtaking views New York has to offer on the first day. That way, you’re not completely exhausted (just wait until Day 3) and you get an instant start on building your photo album. I like to start on the 86th floor of the Empire State building. This attraction offers a 360° view of Manhattan’s skyline at the price of $36 and is necessary for your first visit.
PRO TIP: If you are wanting to save the cash for shopping or local cuisines, I have visited many hotels, rooftop bars, and even the Staten Island ferry for free and received the same satisfaction.
About an 8-minute walk away is one of my favorite natural attractions, Bryant Park. It’s refreshing to see a little bit of green while in the concrete jungle and perfect for capturing pictures in front of the water fountain. I’m usually enjoying an ice cream cone at one of the surrounding food trucks that will happily take that cash I told you to carry along with you.
I finish up my cool treat before making just a short walk over to the New York Public Library. The recently renovated interior features wall-to-wall wood carvings, giant chandeliers, and many more historic features that are worth seeing. I normally gloss over the books before admiring the library’s beautiful grand stairwell.
Chanel your inner Serena van der Woodsen just down the block in Grand Central Station. She’s one of my favorite photo-op spots and a fabulous introduction to life underground. Ignore all the running travelers and gaze at the sunlight beaming through her huge, arched windows and shooting stars on the tall, painted ceilings. This place is like a maze so you may end up in one of the dining concourses with many local restaurants and even one of my favorite bakeries, Magnolia’s. I have already spoiled my lunch and I’m doing it again with some infamous banana pudding!
By night, we’re having everything spicy at my favorite Thai restaurant, Pongsri’s, and then heading to Time Square for “I Love New York” t-shirts at the many surrounding gift shops. Then, we’ll grab some photos under the lights and a slice of the original New York cheesecake and French fries from Junior’s to celebrate our first day.
Day 2: A Whole New World
We will be taking things international with lunch in Chinatown as we enter our second day in my favorite city. Now, this is real deal Chinese and not that stuff that you would call- in at Mr. Chen’s. While embracing the brimming culture and pedestrian filled sidewalks, we will be checking out one of many markets and souvenir shops and then some of the best fried dumplings, pork buns, and bubble tea in Manhattan. Our food tour starts at Shanghai’s for their pork soup dumplings, then down the street to Mei Li Wah for dim sum and pork buns, and we’ll finish off with “the big tray of chicken” from Spicy Village. You can’t go wrong with any restaurant in Chinatown, but you will be questioned if you leave without getting a moon cake from Lung Moon.
For an additional culture change, we’re taking the subway 25-minutes away to Brooklyn, home to the best hidden gems and local restaurants in New York. The 19th century rowhomes and street art are a must see as we make our way down to the most popular borough in the Empire State. And what’s a visit to New York without going to the Brooklyn Bridge? Typing “DUMBO” into your GPS and following the walking directions step-by-step will get you to one of the best views of the NYC skyline in no time.
After some bomb pics on the Brooklyn Bridge, I like touring around one of Brooklyn’s most hipster neighborhoods, Williamsburg. It’s a blast from the past and broadcasts the most beautiful murals you can find on a building. There are plenty of food markets around like my favorite, Smorgasburg, featuring many ethnic snacks and fresh pastries. I finish up my “Halo Halo” before paying a visit to the Williamsburg Art and History Museum to cool off. Oh, and if we’re staying for dinner, may I recommend Blue Ribbon for some bomb lamb chops and fried chicken wings with honey drizzle? Don’t worry about the calories because we’ll be burning them all off come Day 3!
Day 3: Get in Losers!
We’re going shopping, and I laid out our entire third day just for it! New York is the leading fashion capital in the world and they have all the stores to match. Did I mention there is absolutely no sales tax? I take advantage of that starting on Fifth Avenue where there is something for every fashion devotee. Whether you’re wanting to feel some leather at LV or picking up athletic wear at Lulu, there is a diverse selection of retail therapy for everyone. One perk: a 5-minute walk down the street is one of my favorite Chinese takeout spots, Hong Kong Food Town and I probably go there every single shopping day for a quick bite.
A 5-minute walk in a different direction is Time Square for more pick-ups. Shop at Levi, who will happily take your student discount for you to use towards sales on graphic tees and jeans. And right next door is Aerie, where you will either find great deals on bathing suits or me asleep after chicken and waffles from Mom’s Kitchen and Bar (iykyk). This goes without saying, a New York trip isn’t a successful one if you don’t see some of it hanging in your closet. And if you have extra room in your luggage afterwards, be nice and let a friend use it.
For a refreshing treat after my favorite hobby, a cronut is a must from Dominique Ansel’s as we take a short break from all the cardio and head to Columbus Circle for more.
Day 4: New York’s Finest Attractions
Central Park views for breakfast as we enter Day 4 in a city even more magical than Disney. A 16-minute walk from our hotel is New York’s most iconic natural landmark, Central Park. This huge, world class park features its own zoo, an ice skating rink (during winter), a lake, and lots of green space to relax and catch a Frisbee with a stranger. I’m not one to sweat so you can find me eating ice cream from one of the carts and getting more pics.
A 30-minute subway ride gets us to our ferry that set sails to Lady Liberty. She costs $26 to witness and we planned her visit a month in advance as tickets sell out quickly. Get an audio guide to learn some interesting facts about New York’s big green gift and bring a mini Lady Liberty from the gift shop back with you.
For a change in scenery, we’ll be taking it inside with some of the most extravagant museums in the States. One of the best things about them is that they’re typically free on certain days or “pay what you like” during the night. I’m channeling my inner Blair Waldorf at the MET (and using my student discount for admission). Then, there’s modern art at MoMa before remembering every hero of September 11th at the 9/11 Memorial.
Oculus is just a 5-minute walk away and one of New York’s most modern structures. This free attraction offers the greatest interior and exterior views, perfect for us to grab photos and admire its dove-like architecture.
Afterwards, I’m grabbing a beef gyro platter from Halal Guys, a nearby food truck famous for their Mediterranean. We’ll continue exploring before finishing the day off prepping for our last night in the city with a Broadway show and Korean at my favorite, Her Name is Han.
Day 5: The Finale
The day I dread the most is finally upon us. We’re hours away from our boarding time so I’m waking you up extra early for some last-minute strolls. I call in an order of Chinese takeout from Hong Kong Food Town to bring back on the plane with me. Then, I’m picking up a bagel and caviar from Russ and Daughters for breakfast. We’ll sit in Time Square for a time lapse of the one of a kind busy morning commutes before jetting off back to reality.
Our scheduled subway oasis awaits as we are checking out of our temporary home for the underground. We’ll be swiping our MetroCard for the last time and taking an hour ride back to the airport.
It’s been fun but our week in paradise has officially come to an end. Every visit has been like my first so I’m glad I was able to join you on yours. I’ll be looking out for comments and suggestions before we board so tell me, what should we do for NYC part 2?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The New Yorker, Christopher Rogers is a senior majoring in philosophy, english, and history with a political science and a broader minority studies minor on the pre-law track. He values Love, mentorship, and equality and devotes his free time fostering relationships, cooking, and traveling to New York. When not boarding a plane to his favorite city, he is servicing events at the student union, blogging recipes, couture, and advice columns and for the reason you are here – planning his next trip to New York!