When you're in New York City for the first time, the temptation may be to visit every restaurant, bar, shop and venue that you’ve seen on Instagram or read about online. But even the most energetic twenty-something can run around for so long before everything turns into a blur and loses its appeal. So, instead of trying to do it all, pace yourself.
The View Without the Line
No matter what your age, every first-timer to NYC should see the views from the observation decks on top of the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, which are inarguably impressive: afterward (or, if you don’t have time for the iconic buildings), get dressed up in your finest and treat yourself to a drink or a bite to eat at Bar SixtyFive, the sophisticated cocktail lounge perched on the 65th floor of 30 Rock. Massive windows display the Big Apple in all its glory, and depending on what you order, it might even be cheaper than a ticket to the top—and tastier.
Wake Up Early
Since you are here, it’s most obligatory to venture into Times Square. However, much like Chinatown and Fifth Avenue, Times Square is best before 10:30 am—the crowds have yet to descend, so you can take it all in without feeling claustrophobic. If you are there on a Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday, you can also get discount tickets to a Broadway or Off-Broadway show at the TKTS booth (those are days the booth opens early), along with a view of the Theater District at the top of the TKTS steps.
Stay Out Late
If you’re a night owl, which you most likely are, dancing ‘til dawn at a club is always an option (1 Oak or the Flash Factory are great choices), but it’s definitely not the only one. Fat Cat in the West Village, open until 5 am daily, has live jazz and jam sessions, not to mention a full bar, billiards, table tennis, board games, foosball and more. Nearby, the IFC Center screens cult-classic flicks at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and both the East Village and Midtown Upright Citizens Brigade Theatres (UCB) rarely go a day without at least one comedy show that starts after 9 pm.
When temperatures drop and the streets are lined with dirty snow mounds, head to a museum. The Museum of Modern Art’s current exhibit, “Items: Is Fashion Modern?,” runs through the end of January and showcases 111 clothing and accessory items that have influenced and defined style throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Elsewhere, other big museums like the Whitney Museum of American Art or The Metropolitan Museum of Art are fulfilling alternatives for a chilly day. Most museums offer student discounts, so if you have a school ID, bring it with you. Check Groupon as well: It frequently has deals on museums, not to mention other city attractions.
SoHo shopping is a full-day affair, with chain stores running along Broadway and designer boutiques lining side streets. Check out stores like Mango, & Other Stories, Aritzia, Brandy Melville, Uniqlo and Topshop, which are harder to come by outside of major cities. The neighborhood also has an Apple store, acclaimed chocolatiers Mariebelle and Vosges Haut-Chocolat, and Artists & Fleas, an indie art market. For shoppers who’ll tolerate anything for a good discount, Century 21, in FiDi and Lincoln Center, boasts marked-down designer duds and accessories, plus tech and home sections. Book shopping? One of the city’s best is The Strand. The four floors and outdoor racks are bursting with titles, and the rare book room frequently has readings, talks, signings and more.
But more than anything, New York’s greatest attraction is the city itself. Walk aimlessly, explore places that look weird or interesting and just see where your feet end up taking you. Sometimes the best experiences are the ones you didn’t look up on Yelp.
Hipster Tips and Resources
The Skint: This is a great way to find out about cheap—sometimes free—events is the Skint. Updated daily, the site (and newsletter) is perfect for last-minute planners and those of us on a budget. Events typically include bar trivia, improv shows, workshops, movies and dance parties.
Oh My Rockness: Few concert listing sites are as comprehensive as Oh My Rockness—no matter what your musical genre preference, you’ll be able to find a show in one of the boroughs that fits your jam.
Drink on the Cheap: Nightclubs and concert venues typically upcharge for drinks, so don’t rack up a $50 drink tab. Buy some wine at the notoriously affordable Trader Joe’s Wine Shop in Union Square, and have a few in your hotel room, ordering more modestly when you go out.
Carry Cash: Not every bar has moved on from its cash-only days, and street vendors are rarely equipped to handle credit cards. Also, corner delis can be strict about credit card minimums. Buying five packs of gum to pay for your cappuccino is a fool’s errand.