Exploring New York City: a bite-sized stay in the Big Apple

From quintessential must-dos such as Times Square and Broadway to finding the best pizza in Greenwich Village, this itinerary highlights the best of the city that never sleeps

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If you’re headed to New York, you don’t actually need an itinerary because the city will come at you from every direction, pulling you in and throwing up surprises at every corner. And while that’s ideal if you’ve got plenty of time to explore, if you’re on a tight schedule, the never-ending action in the most populated city in the US can be overwhelming.

We've put together a concise plan of action for travellers looking to take in a bite-sized piece of the Big Apple, encompassing world-famous landmarks and a few less-visited gems.

The Mark Hotel on the Upper East Side is the ideal base for a whistle-stop stay in New York. Photo: The Mark Hotel

Base yourself at The Mark Hotel, just off Madison Avenue. Dating back to 1927, it's one of the best luxury hotels in Manhattan and you'll instantly want to sink into the cloud-like bed in your suite. But that will have to wait — a quick freshen up is all there is time for, because the city that never sleeps is waiting to be discovered.

Get your bearings with a walk back towards Midtown Manhattan from your new base on the Upper East Side. Stroll along the outskirts of Central Park passing The Strand Central Park Kiosk — a concession store that’s part of The Strand Bookstore, New York’s largest and one of the most famous independent bookstores in the world.

The closer you get to Midtown, the higher the skyscrapers seem to stretch — don’t forget to look up as you go, to see sights such as the spire of the Bank of America or the tip of Mies van der Rohe’s towering Seagram Building.

Visit the New York Public Library inside the Stephen A Schwarzman Building. Photo: Unsplash / Cody FItzegerald

Make a quick stop at the New York Public Library inside the Stephen A Schwarzman Building. Housed in a Beaux Arts-style building that is arguably one of the most beautiful in the city, it took 16 years to design, and a peek inside offers a glimpse of Astor Hall's white marble arches and grand staircase. The two lion sculptures that stand watch outside are as old as the library itself. One-hour free tours are also available if you want to delve deeper.

No visit to New York is complete without a street-side hot dog, so grab one from a vendor as you proceed towards one of America’s finest treasures. Ranked the number one attraction in the US by TripAdvisor this year, the Empire State Building is perhaps this city’s most famous skyscraper.

Having celebrated its 90th birthday in 2021, the 380-metre structure was the world’s tallest when it opened in 1931, a title that it retained for more than 40 years, the longest any building has held the record during the skyscraper era.

Prepare to be humbled by views from the Empire State Building Observatory. Photo: Julienne Schaer/NYC & Company

It’s entirely recognisable, even if you’ve never visited before, thanks to its leading role in pop culture. It is where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks find each other in Sleepless in Seattle, with the building also surviving the rampage of King Kong and taking some direct hits in Superman II.

Interactive exhibits inside take guests back in time to 1920s New York and the building’s original manifestation as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, while the observatories on the 86th and 102nd floors offer breathtaking views of Manhattan and beyond. Pause for a moment and take in the vista.

The Statue of Liberty, one of the city's most popular landmarks, looks tiny from this height and you can see all the way to New Jersey, and as far as Pennsylvania and Connecticut on a clear day. Embrace the sense of smallness that comes from being perched so high above this ever-changing cityscape, and get used to it — it’s the first of several skyscraper viewpoints.

Dinner and a Broadway show

Sufficiently humbled, head back down to earth and hail a yellow cab to return to The Mark to freshen up for an evening of entertainment. A pre-theatre dinner is on the cards, and while it can prove tricky to find an authentic restaurant in the tourist-haven that is the theatre district, La Masseria has you covered.

Designed to mimic a rustic Puglian farmhouse, expect white tablecloths, hearty Italian dishes and some of New York’s finest service. From here, you’re a short walk to the entertainment epicentre that is home to New York's Broadway theatres.

Dinner and a show is as classic as a New York evening gets, and with nearly 40 venues to choose from, you’re spoiled for choice. As well as fan favourites such as Moulin Rouge and Chicago, there’s a whole schedule of new shows debuting on Broadway this month, including the first NY show from up-and-coming Polish-born playwright Martyna Majok, a revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman at Hudson Theatre and The Piano Lesson starring rising star John David Washington, son of Hollywood hero Denzel.

Post-show, make a beeline for the Hard Rock Hotel New York. Located between the Theatre District and Radio City Music Hall, the recently opened hotel is a tribute to the city’s eclectic musical history. Storied memorabilia from the past and present pepper the halls — from a custom dress worn by Beyonce to Lady Gaga’s silver leather boots and John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for his 1972 hit New York City. Take the elevator to the top floor where the Art Deco-inspired RT60 is the perfect rooftop lounge on which to raise a glass to the Broadway spectacle you’ve just been privy to.

End the evening with Time Square's Midnight Moment, the world's largest and longest-running digital public art programme where myriad electronic billboards glow with creative, cutting-edge artworks for three minutes each night.

Living on the edge

Hudson Yards is home to the highest viewing platform in the Western Hemisphere. Photo: Julienne Schaer/NYC & Company

Breakfast at The Mark is a great way to start the next day. Curated by renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the menu encompasses everything from French toast and buttermilk pancakes to Norwegian salmon bagels and Applewood smoked ham. Pavement-side dining comes with people-watching perks as you fuel up for an epic day of sightseeing.

Today’s first challenge is deciphering New York City’s subway system. While it can seem daunting, a good rule of thumb is to remember is that as the station numbers go down you’re heading downtown, and if the numbers are getting higher, you’re going uptown.

This morning, we're taking the train to Hudson Yards, New York City’s newest neighbourhood. With waterfront views, upscale shopping, public art and 14 acres of public gardens, this mixed-use area exists in a place that was previously a military fortification, a parking lot for unused trains and and offloading area for slaughterhouses. It’s now where visitors can find The Edge — the highest sky deck in the Western Hemisphere.

A triangular-shaped platform located on top of 30 Hudson Yards, the tourist attraction has a glass floor with views 100 storeys down. Thrill-seekers can opt to climb towards the tip of the tower, then step out over the ledge about 420 metres above New York City. Thanks to an entirely competent safety team and several equipment checks, it sounds scarier than it is, but is well worth doing if adventure pursuits or one-off views are your thing.

Dare-defying stunts complete, wind things down with a visit to one of the world’s most famous urban green spaces. Commanding about 340 hectares of Manhattan real estate, Central Park has been welcoming harried New Yorkers for more than 150 years.

Lunch in Central Park

Bethesda Foutain was the only sculpture commissioned during the original design of Central Park. Photo: Christopher Postlewaite / NYC & Company

Pick up a "citi" bike from one of the 1,500 stations across New York and head into the park in search of the carousel, Strawberry Fields, Belvedere Castle and Bethesda Fountain. If you prefer travelling by foot, there are 93 kilometres of green-lined paths snaking through the park.

You’ll likely recognise the Victorian-style Loeb Boathouse on the bank of Central Park Lake, which has featured in a slew of NYC films, including 27 Dresses, Enchanted and When Harry Met Sally. Having made a name for itself as a place for dining and drinking since 1953, the restaurant is sadly set to close for good in October this year, so if you’re in town before then, make sure you visit.

Otherwise stop for lunch at the laid-back Tavern on The Green. Originally built to house the sheep that grazed in Central Park's Sheep Meadow, this lively spot has been serving up rustic eats to visitors since 1934.

Greenwich Village offers jazz, comedy, pizza and more. Photo: Brittany Petronella/NYC & Company

As the sun goes down, make your way to Greenwich Village. A poster child for New York city’s Bohemian dreams, the neighbourhood might not be the city’s coolest haunt any more, but it’s certainly worth spending an evening here given its rich history, impressive architecture and buzzy nightlife.

Start at Washington Square Park where NYU students lounge in the shadow of the marble arch, children and dogs play by the fountain, and locals set up chess tournaments on the parks’ perimeter. There’s always something going on — from people handing out free pizza and poems during our visit to the regularly scheduled salsa socials, art in the park and story time under the tree sessions.

Wander to Bedford Street where Friends fans can see the apartment building depicted in the opening credits of the hit 1990s sitcom. Stop to appreciate the original but little-known Empire State Building, which commanded six-stories of real estate on the corner of Bleecker Street and Broadway.

Johns of Bleeker Street is an Italian-American family-owned and operated pizzeria that dates back to the turn of the century. Photo: NYC & Company

Of course, a trip to New York wouldn’t be complete without a slice of pizza and tonight you’re in the right place for it. Johns of Bleeker Street is an Italian-American family-owned and operated pizzeria that dates back to the turn of the century. With an old-school ambience courtesy of faded murals, original wooden booths and black-and-white Art Deco floors, it’s the place to go for perfect brick-oven baked crusts topped with zesty tomato sauce.

Post dinner, a musical extravaganza awaits. The jazz roots in Greenwich Village run deep and you can see the house of Charlie Parker, a prolific jazz saxophonist composer and a towering figure in American jazz, or visit Zinc, an underground club that sits in the historic space of the former Cinderella Club. Smalls on 183 West 10th Street is where you should end the evening with an abundance of soulful music. The basement space here dates back to 1994 and has carved a name for itself as a hotbed for New York’s jazz talent, hosting scores of musicians over the years.

Sunday service in Harlem

An early start today with a subway jaunt uptown to Harlem. The neighbourhood has come a long way since the start of the 2000s in lowering what were previously very high crime rates, and while some streets are better avoided at night, Central Harlem is well worth the train ride.

Known for its music scene and black heritage, the area is busiest with tourists on a Sunday morning when travellers line up around the blocks of myriad, often non-descript churches. While tourists are welcome to attend Baptist services, remember that you’re not there for a performance, but a religious celebration, so be respectful. Donations are encouraged.

Afterwards, make a beeline to the Red Rooster, where the celebrations continue. A comfort food menu celebrating the neighbourhood’s diverse culinary traditions features the likes of grits, cornbread and chicken and waffles alongside live music every Sunday.

Walk off lunch with a stroll to the storied Apollo Theatre where a Walk of Fame honours some of the great artists who have performed here. Golden plaques dedicated to Stevie Wonder, Little Richard, Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight line the pavement. And you can’t leave Harlem without stopping at BLVD Bistro on Frederick Douglas Street. A favourite with those who live in the area, this soul food spot has an all-day brunch menu, home-made cakes and a DJ spinning hits every Sunday.

Bridges, buildings and a 1970s throwback

Brooklyn Bridge Park with a view to Manhattan. Photo: Julienne Schaer / NYC & Company

From Harlem, it’s a decent subway ride to Brooklyn, but it’s worth the jaunt to walk over one of the world’s most recognisable bridges. Once called the eighth wonder of the world, the Brooklyn Bridge has been an indelible part of the New York City skyline for almost 140 years. About 30,000 visitors cross what was the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge every day and it’s a quintessential New York experience. As you cross, stop to look back for a perfect snapshot of Lower Manhattan.

On the other side you’ll find yourself in the Dumbo neighbourhood, where you can head to the Time Out Market New York to refuel. With 21 food outlets, you can find everything from spicy guava ice cream at Sugar Hill Creamery to fried chicken sandwiches at Tiki Chick. Post lunch, head to Brooklyn Bridge Park where a ride on the century-old Jane’s carousel comes with one of the best waterfront views in New York.

Sunset view at Top of the Rock in Midtown, Manhattan. Photo: NYC & Company

Your final night in New York City will hit all kinds of new highs. Book a sunset slot to visit Top of the Rock and then head back to midtown Manhattan to explore the Rockefeller Center. Spread over nine hectares flanked by Fifth and Sixth avenues, it's like a mini-city within the city. Commissioned by John D Rockefeller — America's first billionaire — it was constructed during the peak of the Great Depression, when it provided critical jobs for more than 40,000 New Yorkers.

The Art Deco buildings opened in 1939 and travellers can head to the top of the 70-floor Comcast Building for three levels of 360-degree viewing platforms. Watching the sun slide behind the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock is magical, and the ideal place for your last New York City sunset.

When the show is over, descend to ground level and get your skates on. Until October, the famed ice-rink at the Rockefeller Centre — the same spot where Buddy and Jovie have their first date in Elf — has been transformed into Flippers Roller Boogie Palace. This open-air roller rink is a revival of the former Los Angeles institution that was frequented by celebrities, including Elton John and Cher. It channels all the drama of the 1970s — think retro skates, sparkly costumes, neon lights and funky tunes.

Unsteadily spinning across the rink surrounded by towering skyscrapers, television studios, Art Deco architecture and oversized public art wraps up a dizzying few days in one of the world’s most familiar yet endlessly intriguing cities.

Getting there and where to stay

Fly with Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi to New York’s JFK. There's 11 flights a week and economy fares start at around Dh5,000.
Stay at The Mark Hotel on the city’s Upper East Side. Overnight stays start from $1395 per night.
Visit NYC Go, the official destination resource for New York City for all the latest events, activites and openings.

Updated: September 22, 2022, 8:29 AM
Getting there and where to stay

Fly with Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi to New York’s JFK. There's 11 flights a week and economy fares start at around Dh5,000.
Stay at The Mark Hotel on the city’s Upper East Side. Overnight stays start from $1395 per night.
Visit NYC Go, the official destination resource for New York City for all the latest events, activites and openings.

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