This October, I had the chance to show my three younger siblings around New York. They had never been and I wanted to make it special. The older two are in college and the third is in high school, so money isn’t something that is plentiful or easy to spend. I carefully developed my own tour plan to hit the highlights without hitting their wallets.
Here’s what we did…
3:30 pm: Take a Car to Brooklyn Heights.
Pro Tip: Cars to and from airports in New York can be very expensive ($35+). Make sure to look at quotes before you book your plane ticket. Public transportation and shuttle buses are available, but can be difficult to navigate or take too much time. I try to fly into LaGuardia because it is the closest to Manhattan and Brooklyn (plus these planes have the best views flying in).
4:00 pm: Visit the Brooklyn Promenade. The Brooklyn Promenade is directly across from the Financial District of Manhattan. It boasts clear views of Lower Manhattan, Governor’s Island, and even (if you squint) the Statue of Liberty. It’s most popular in the mornings and evenings- but it’s rarely ever crowded.
4:30 pm: Pick up an MTA Pass. A weekly subway pass will put you back $31, but it is much, much better than stressing to preload a card and only using the subway a few times. As long as you take the subway more than 11 times, the card is worth it. ($31)
5:00 pm: Travel to Grand Central Station. I pass through this station at least twice a day, five times a week, and I never get tired of walking through the cavernous main hall. There isn’t another place in Manhattan that I feel more “New York” than Grand Central. I love the crush of people pushing through turnstiles and rushing to catch commuter trains. If you’re feeling peckish- feel free to browse the Grand Central Market or the underground Food Court.
Pro tip: Grand Central also has free, relatively clean restrooms by the food court, so go now.
5:20 pm: Stop into the New York Public Library. Open until 6 pm, the evening is actually a great time to visit. It’s generally less crowded since people are starting to head home and the school children are all gone. The entire building is gorgeous, but make sure to pay homage to the movie Ghostbusters by stopping in to see the Rose Main Reading Room on the third floor.
6:00 pm: Head to Times Square. Times Square isn’t my favorite place in New York, but I do feel that it’s important to see- especially for a first-timer. We took our trip in October, so it was already starting to get dark by this time. I definitely advocate seeing the Square at night (Kind of like Vegas, it looks better in the dark). The lights are brighter and it makes the whole experience a bit more awe-inducing. While you should never eat at a restaurant near Times Square- there are some huge department stores that can be worth a visit. The Toys R’ Us, M&M Store, and Forever 21 are my personal favorites. Make sure to get a picture in front of the US Flag and from the steps at 47th and Broadway.
6:30/7:00 pm: Visit Rockefeller Center. The Top of the Rock is awesome BUT it’s super expensive. That being said, this tourist trap is still worth the visit. The architecture of the building is phenomenal and there’s always something going on. I especially like to stop into the Nintendo Store to play some Mario Kart.
7:00/7:30 pm: Stroll along 5th Avenue. This is one of the premier shopping districts in the world. I can’t afford anything, but I love to walk past window displays. It’s also along this street that you can get great views of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings.
8:00 pm: Grab dinner at Souvlaki GR Midtown. Generally, I would advocate an early dinner to skip the crowds. New Yorkers work on a slightly different work schedule than the rest of the country (many office employees work 9-6 or 10-7) so early dinners let you avoid the rush. That being said- there is a certain appeal to a packed restaurant. Souvlaki GR Midtown is in a small storefront that serves affordable gyros to adoring crowds. This restaurant is interesting in that it can be as expensive or cheap as you want to make it. When we went, they accidentally gave me the bill for the table of two sitting next to us, which turned out to be double what I paid for our party of five. ($6-15/person)
Pro Tip: If you have a party of three or more, it’s a good idea to make reservations. Many restaurants in New York are extremely small and so it’s hard to guarantee a seat without a wait.
9:30 pm: Head home to Rest Up.
9:00 am: Cross the Brooklyn Bridge. For a majority of the year, the Brooklyn Bridge is packed with tourists and athletes. The best way to circumvent the crowds is to go early in the morning. The views are better if you cross towards Manhattan, but you can easily go in either direction.
10:00 am: If you’re crossing towards Manhattan, take a minute to admire City Hall and then head down into the Financial District. This is your chance to look up at Trump Tower or cheese next to the New York Stock Exchange- if that’s your thing.
11:00 am: Head to the Upper East Side for Shake Shack. Shake Shack is a chain, but it’s New York’s chain. It boasts a bitter rivalry with the West Coast, In n’ Out Burger, so don’t miss your chance to weigh in. My order suggestion- a Shack Burger, Fries with Cheese, and a cup of their Signature Lemonade Flavor of the Week. ($6-$15/person)
12:00 pm: Get Cultured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You will have to wait in a line at the Met, but it’s worth it to visit one of the largest art museums in the world. The best thing about the Met is that it’s pay what you wish. I generally suggest donating between 5 and 15 dollars per person. You can easily get lost or tired, so come up with a game plan to hit the best galleries- whatever you decide those to be. ($5-$15/person)
Bonus: While you’re on this side of the Park, take a moment to snap a photo outside the Guggenheim. It’s not my favorite museum (too expensive) but it’s free to admire from outside.
3:00 pm: Take a Leisurely Stroll through Central Park. I love Central Park. I live 10 minutes away from it and I do not go there enough. If you have a favorite NYC movie or series, I’d suggest looking up where scenes were filmed and visiting those (Because, let’s be honest, every NY movie has a Central Park scene).
5:00 pm: Grab a Slice. My siblings were meeting up with my boyfriend in Brooklyn, so they went to a great neighborhood pizza joint called Dellarocco’s.
If you want to stay in Manhattan, let your walk take you through Central Park and come out on the West side around 74th. From here, it’s just a few blocks to a great little pizza shop named Freddie & Pepper’s. You can buy pizza by the slice or whole. ($5-$15/person)
6:00 pm: Visit Washington and Union Squares. Washington Square shows up in a lot of movies due to the large central fountain and picturesque arch. It is the best place in the city to watch street performers- especially if you like dance and gymnastics. Union Square is in the middle of a large shopping district and above a massive subway station. It’s a good place to take a rest because there are so many markets, festivals, protests, and food carts that congregate there.
7:00 pm: Admire the Flat Iron Building. This is one tourist attraction that I don’t totally get, but it’s still a great thing to see on your way to or from other places. Basically, it’s a triangular building that made it onto the historical registry because it’s one of the older skyscrapers in New York.
8:00 pm: Take the Staten Island Ferry. The Staten Island Ferry is completely free (don’t even need a Metrocard) and runs around the clock. If you are stumped on what to do in the evening, it’s a great way to get nighttime views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan.
8:30 pm: Staten Island. Honestly, there isn’t much to do near the ferry stop at night (or during the day). If you want to see this borough, you’ll have to plan to take either the subway or buses further into the island. We made the decision to just grab ice cream at the station and hop back on the ferry.
9:00 pm: Head home to Rest Up.
9:00 am: Visit Lady Liberty and Tour Ellis Island. This is my all time favorite thing to do in the city. For $18 dollars, you can take the ferry from Battery Park to Liberty Island to Ellis Island and back. Tickets can be purchased online or at Battery Park, but there is limited availability. I suggest purchasing tickets ahead of time for the earliest morning slot. Visitors can spend as long as they like at each island so morning tickets optimize the time you’ll have while minimizing the number of people you compete with. ($18/person)
1:00 pm: Lunch at Cafe Himalaya. Located in the East Village, this small restaurant serves Tibetan fare. If you’ve never had it- it’s kind of like what you would imagine an Indian/Chinese fusion to be. They offer spectacular dumplings and noodle dishes, while also boasting some fantastic curries. Basically, it’s my food dream. The staff is friendly, it’s hardly ever crowded, and the prices are highly competitive. ($10-15/person)
2:30 pm: Tour the Museum of Natural History. This is my favorite museum in the city. Like the Met, it operates on a pay-what-you-wish basis (as long as you buy your ticket from a cashier). I advocate starting at the Hayden Sphere and then hitting the Fossil Halls, Hall of Gems and Minerals, and Hall of Ocean Life. Another option, which I’m dying to try, is the Night at the Museum themed tour available on the museum app. ($5-15/person)
6:00 pm: Dinner at Kati Roll Company. Kati Rolls are seasoned meat (and eggs in some cases) wrapped in paratha flatbread. They are amazing. The Kati Roll Company offers a wide variety of rolls for 4-7 dollars each. My favorite is the Unda Chicken Roll. I suggest getting three rolls for every two people in your group- one isn’t filling, but 2 per person always feels like a lot. ($4-14/person)
7:00 pm: Souvenir Shopping. Have you really been to New York if you haven’t bought anything with the “I ♥ NY” logo? There are all kinds of cheap souvenir shops in Midtown around Times Square, Rockefeller Center, and the New York Public Library. The only rule of thumb here is to try to find the stores two or three blocks off the main tourist streets, as those tend to be a little cheaper.
9:00 pm: Buy Sunday Brunch Bagels. We decided to pick up some bagels and cream cheese from my local grocery store for our own Sunday morning bagel brunch. New Yorkers claim that tap water is the secret to making their bagels great- so any bagel place will do. If you want a more “special” bagel, I’ve heard great things about H&H Midtown Bagels East. ($1-2/person)
10:00 am: Go for a Walk. Sunday mornings are an excellent time to go for a walk and take photos. New Yorkers tend to be late risers on the weekends, so this is the perfect time to get great shots.
1:00 pm: Church.
2:30 pm: Car back to LaGuardia Airport.
Total: $90-160/person (not including airfare, carfare, or lodging)
Sites: 17 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History, Rockefeller Center, New York Public Library, Flatiron Building, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Brooklyn Promenade, Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, Grand Central Station, Union Square, Washington Square, Central Park, Guggenheim, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building)
Cuisine: 5 (Greek, American, Italian, Tibetan, Indian)
Boroughs: 3 (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island)