In the wake of the pandemic, many people are still quite hesitant to visit New York. Having been the epicenter of the virus just a few months ago, the City still feels scary to many out-of-towners. But our numbers are way down in terms of new cases, and if you take proper precautions there’s not too much danger. The elderly and those with pre-existing conditions may still want to stay away, but for anyone who does feel safe coming here, it’s actually a good time to visit. Hotel prices are extremely low. The Ace, an incredibly hip boutique hotel and one of my favorite places to work (free wifi in the lobby), is only $150 a night right now. So if you do find yourself spending a weekend in NYC anytime soon, here’s a little itinerary—essential New York locations open this fall.
Assuming you arrive Friday evening, a night downtown is the perfect start to the weekend. I recommend hanging around Greenwich Village, the East Village, and the Lower East Side. You can’t really cover all three in one night, so choose one based on what kind of energy you’re looking for.
Greenwich Village is probably the most well-known area of downtown Manhattan. It’s become a bit more yuppie-ish in recent years, but maintains some echo of folk rock and bohemian intellectualism.
The East Village is one of the few areas of Manhattan that still feels gritty in parts. Formerly the center of punk rock (and heavy drug use), it has definitely changed a lot in the past thirty tears or so. Still, it feels a whole lot edgier than GV. There are ton of great restaurants, vintage shops, tattoo parlors, and dive bars…although bars are mostly closed over there.
Lastly, the Lower East Side—not too far off from the East Village in location or personality. It has more of a historical feeling, having been home to most immigrants to the City in the early twentieth century. Slightly more grown-up than the East Village. So, take your pick of the three neighborhoods.
In Greenwich Village, I recommend Bleecker Street Pizza for dirt cheap, cheesy thin crust pizza. If you’d rather sit down and dine-in, Olia e Piú is a slightly pricker but still fairly casual Italian restaurant. They’re currently open for outdoor dining. For after dinner drinks, the GMT Tavern is a nice, chilled out bar with a pretty extensive beer list and good pub food. And streetside dining / drinking.
If you decide to head towards the East Village and Alphabet City, I suggest Han Dynasty for a quick dinner, or Root & Bone for a sit-down meal. They have a fairly small but varied menu, all classic southern cooking. Chicken and waffles are to die for. As for bars, there are very few open in the EV right now—most bars over there are little dives without space for outdoor seating.
On the LES, try Cheese Grille (exactly what it sounds like) for quick, cheap service. Bar Goto is a classy, polished bar with Japanese bar food, known for their cocktails. It’s a solid choice for both dinner and drinks.
Uptown day…unless you don’t want to go uptown, which I get because I hate it up there. I’m saddened by the horses pulling carriages and annoyed by the high volume of snooty, ultra-wealthy old ladies. I would actually recommend spending the day in Williamsburg or Dumbo. That said, there are some really essential New York locations uptown, and there’s no harm in being touristy if you’re a tourist (or a local).
Start at Top of the Rock—it’s not cheap. Almost $40 per adult. In my opinion, it’s worth doing once. Infinitely better view than the Empire State Building. You’ll want to stay up there forever, staring down at Central Park. Other side of the observation deck is a perfect view of the ESB.
While you’re at Rockefeller Center, go to Magnolia Bakery. It’s always crowded, and was made famous by Sex and the City, but it’s pretty amazing. Cupcakes and cheesecake are delicious, but my favorite menu item is the banana pudding, by far.
Try the Plaza Cafeteria for lunch—it’s a quick walk up to Central Park South. They have a cafeteria in the basement of the hotel that has a ton of dining options. It’s both casual and fancy—not too dressed up, but distinctly Upper East Side. I like to get food to-go and have a picnic in the Park.
My favorite spot in Central Park is Sheep Meadow. It’s a perfect picnic spot, and a great place to lie in the sun. But of course there are a huge number of things to do in the Park (like the City, always capitalized in my book). Bethesda Terrace, Strawberry Fields, and the Loeb Boathouse are some of the best spots. The zoo is also open again.
The Met is finally back in business as of August 29th—aside from the overwhelmingly extensive collection of art, there’s a really nice rooftop bar. It closes at five on Saturday, so don’t be too late. Tickets are $25 for adults. They used to have pay as you wish admission, and still do for New York residents. So if you live in state and, like me, have the audacity to suggest an admission price of $0, it’s free.
The 9/11 Memorial is a beautiful, and incredibly moving place to start the day. It’s at Ground Zero, two sunken pools exactly where the Twin Towers once stood. Names of victims are carved into stone, and I always cry when I go. It really makes you love New York.
If there’s time, spend some time in Battery Park after the 9/11 memorial. If you’re too hungry to hang around lower Manhattan, take the R train up to Ruby’s Cafe for brunch. They have a wide variety of beautiful, and filling food.
Before you leave the City, whether from one of the airports, Grand Central, or Port Authority, shopping in Soho is a nice, slow-paced way to end the weekend. There are a ton of major chain stores, several flagships, in addition to some interesting smaller stores. Explore. Wander. I particularly love The Evolution Store. It’s not for everyone. Kind of creepy, full of bones and taxidermy. But very interesting.
There’s so much to do here there’s absolutely no way to cover even close to all of it in one weekend. But this is a start. Just a sampling of all the City has to offer. If you’re hungry for more, I highly suggest living here. Seven years after I first moved to the City, I am still frequently in awe of it. And rent prices are extremely low right now. Think about it.