College Tourist City Guide to New York City
Your ultimate resource for visiting the city of bright lights and big dreams.
Home to iconic skyscrapers and U.S. landmarks such as Broadway, the Statue of Liberty and Times Square; it’s no surprise that New York City is one of the most visited destinations in the world.
Giovanni da Verrazano discovered what is now known as “the big apple” in 1524. However, it wasn’t until 1609 when Henry Hudson settled the area as a Dutch trading colony while attempting to find a new path to Asia. In 1664, the British took control of what was then known as New Amsterdam, and changed the name to the one and only, New York.
In the 1800’s, the Erie Canal turned New York into one of the most important seaports on the Atlantic Ocean, causing rapid population growth. The population continued to rise as immigrants began to flood New York City through Ellis Island seeking the American Dream. However, many immigrants fell victim to the city’s major income inequality issues.
This population boom not only contributed to the diversity of the city, but also inspired projects like Manhattan’s modern-day grid system street layout, and the design of Central Park. Both were intended to organize the city and improve the health and well being of its residents.
In 1898, the consolidation of the five boroughs (Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan) turned New York into the largest city in the country. With the rise of the steel industry, the city began a race to the sky. By 1902, NYC boasted nearly 70 skyscrapers.
Although the Great Depression rocked New York and took it through some of its toughest times, the city continued to build up and icons such as the Chrysler and Empire State Building emerged. Post WWII, an economic boom allowed NYC to reclaim its role as the leading city in the world.
New York continued to see major growth in the 1980s and 1990s, and neighborhoods such as the Meatpacking District and Chelsea began to establish their own artistic and cultural flairs. The city appeared to be at an all time high until the traumatic events of September 11, 2001 occurred, bringing all of New York to its knees. Even so, the city persevered and continued to rise, proving that it was— and still is— one the most incredible cities in the world.
What to see:
Although it’s nearly impossible to see everything the city has to offer in one trip, here are five of the most iconic attractions.
Central Park—This 843-acre public park is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The beautiful grounds offer a dose of nature with views of skyscrapers in the distance. Don’t miss highlights like Strawberry Fields (the John Lennon Memorial), Bow Bridge, and Sheep Meadow. Renting bikes is highly recommended if you want to see it all in one day.
Rockefeller Center— Also known as Radio City, this well-known spot is full of international flags centered by an ice skating rink, and of course the beloved Christmas tree during the holidays. Head to the “Top of the Rock” for breathtaking views of the city, including highlights like Central Park and the Empire State Building.
Empire State Building—This iconic building is a New York staple. Although it’s beautiful up close, I personally believe it looks most beautiful from a distance. A ride to the top might be crowded (depending on when you visit), but the view is well worth the wait.
9/11 Memorial Museum— There’s truly no way to describe this place. Be prepared to experience a whirlwind of emotions upon entering the museum. However simply viewing the memorial pool, in which names of those who passed away in the attacks are inscribed, is enough to leave you in awe. Be sure to check out the new Freedom Tower while you’re in the area.
Flatiron building— Well-known for it’s shape, this building is irresistible to any passerby. Not to mention, there is always something going on around it, whether it be a pop-up shop or farmer’s market.
If you’re looking to escape the NYC madness, cross the Brooklyn Bridge for incredible views of Manhattan and head over to DUMBO, Brooklyn. There you can find a thriving art scene, boutiques and great places to eat. The nearby Brooklyn Bridge Park is another great place to relax and soak up your surroundings. During the summer months, be sure to hit up Smorgasburg, an outdoor food market with nearly 100 vendors at Pier 5 on Sundays and in Williamsburg on Saturdays.
Fun for free:
Although the city can be pretty expensive, there are plenty of free things to do. Parks including Washington Square Park, Battery Park and Central Park are open to the public, and can keep you occupied for hours on end. Grand Central Station, the New York Public Library and St. Patrick’s Cathedral are three beautiful landmarks that cost nothing to enter, and the massive Metropolitan Museum of Art costs only a small donation (as little as $1 if you choose) to enter.
A stroll through Times Square will cost you nothing, unless you choose to take photos with street characters. The Chelsea Market, a large indoor marketplace, is the perfect place to explore unique artwork and cuisine without feeling obligated to buy something.
What to eat:
The city is jam-packed full of good eats. Hit up Ess-a-Bagel or Dough Doughnuts for a grab-n-go breakfast, and visit quaint cafes such as Café Orlin or Penelope for a full-on delicious brunch. Popular lunch spots include Eataly, an Italian marketplace that holds seven restaurants, and Le Pain Quotidien (my personal favorite!), which offers a menu full of fresh salads, pastries and tartines. The Chelsea Market holds plenty of mouth-watering options including Beyond Sushi, serving up vegan rolls. For a true NYC dinner, order in Chinese or splurge at Catch (in the Meatpacking District) for an extravagant seafood dinner.
Pizza—New York style pizza is proof that bigger is in fact better. Spots like Rocky’s Pizza serve up slices that are almost too good to be true. Bonus points if you head there after midnight!
Bagels—The city is also famous for its bagel shops. Ess-a-Bagel is one of my personal favorites as they make their bagels in-house, so they’re always fresh. Tal Bagels is another delicious spot. I recommended eating bagels every morning if possible (one with eggs, one with scallion cream cheese, and one with tuna salad).
Jane Hotel— This intimate club resembles a living room, making guests feel like they’re at the best house party of their lives. Feel free to dance on the couches or socialize next to the fireplace.
LAVO— If you’re looking for a true NYC clubbing experience, head to LAVO. Popular DJs perform nightly and the crowd is always ready to party the night away.
230 Fifth— This large rooftop garden sits directly in front of the empire state building and offers a spectacular skyline view.
The Backroom Bar— This low-key speakeasy in the Lower East Side operated during Prohibition and still remains today. In true 1920’s form, the entrance is hidden and cocktails are served in teacups.
Broadway— Of course, seeing a Broadway show is always an option. The performances by world-renowned artists in beautiful theatres are always sure to impress.
There are numerous ways to get around the city. The most obvious is by taxi. However, using apps like Uber and Lyft are often less expensive and more convenient as you can split fares with friends without dealing with cash. For those looking to save a bit more money, make the subway and bus your go-tos. The subway can get a bit crowded and sometimes overwhelming, especially during rush hour. The bus is usually more laid-back, and you don’t have to head underground. Choose the ferry for a scenic route when heading over to Brooklyn. Lastly, try to walk everywhere you can— you never know what you’ll see!
Crossing the street—When crossing the street, locals usually don’t stop unless traffic is steadily flowing. Obviously, use your best judgement and always air on the side of caution if you aren’t comfortable walking across when the New Yorkers do. However, if the light is red but there is no traffic, feel free to move along.
Catching cabs— Be sure to catch a taxi going in the direction you’re headed, instead of in the opposite direction on a one-way street. That way, you don’t have to spend money waiting for the driver to turn around.
When visiting New York City, you almost can’t go wrong— especially if you use this guide! If you have any specific questions about your upcoming NYC adventure, or have been to a place I mentioned and want to share your love of the big apple, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Instagram or Twitter at @RiceJenna.