What should I do next week in NYC?
August 22, 2013 6:15 AM   Subscribe

In an effort to distract myself from my life, I've decided to spend next week in NYC. I've never been, and am getting a little overwhelmed trying to decide what to do there. Oh yeah, and I'd like to not have to sell my firstborn to pay for everything.

I'm a Chicagoan in my late 20s, with a love of museums, especially fun, obscure ones, and a major cinephile. Historical landmarks are a favorite, too. I also love theatre, from the small stuff to big revivals, but don't really know the NY theatre scene outside of Broadway. I'm going to probably hit up all the really obvious tourist places (Empire State building, Statue of Liberty, Times Square) unless everyone agrees they're pretty boring. I like bars and clubs, too, though I'm not worried about hitting the hottest spots and would rather not wait in ridiculous lines to get in. I'll be alone during the day, but I have a friend I'll be staying with who will join me after her workday.

Also, while I'm not particularly worried about finding food, I would love to know of any awesome vegetarian restaurants you could recommend.

Any tips on what I should do while I'm there? I'll have a guidebook and a smart phone, but I'd love to have some insider knowledge what to do in NYC and how to save money while there.
posted by jenlovesponies to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (44 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Are you a book lover? Then you have GOT to check out The Strand.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 6:22 AM on August 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think any of the "obvious" places are boring. It's not like you have to stay in Times Square all day, but a walk-through is nice, if only to say you've been there.

For fun, obscure museums, I recommend the New York Transit Museum and the New York Historical Society.

NYC has a number of National Parks worth checking out, including the Statue of Liberty (look into tickets now, I believe the crown is sold out but it's still worth a visit). I loved visiting Hamilton Grange, too. I have you have a Parks Passport!

If you're looking for off-Broadway theater, I highly recommend Buyer & Cellar.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:24 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might also enjoy going out to Coney Island, having a Nathan's hot dog, and seeing a minor league ball game.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:25 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's a MeFi IRL pretty much every week in NYC.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:27 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cannot recommend The Museum of the Moving Image enough.
posted by Pineapplicious at 6:30 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you like movies, check out what's playing at the IFC Center, the Film Forum, Sunshine, Cinema Village and the Angelika.
posted by griphus at 6:36 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

For smaller museums you can't go wrong with the LES Tenement Museum or MoRUS.
posted by elizardbits at 6:37 AM on August 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Fun obscure museums? Coney Island Museum + Sideshow + Bar, and Museum.

I love the South Indian vegetarian food at Saravana Bhavan, and the S'Nice chain has great vegetarian sandwiches, despite the horrible name. Try the Thanksgiving Leftovers Sandwich!
posted by moonmilk at 6:40 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't bother with the Empire State building. Seeing it in the skyline is enough. There can be a long line of tourists waiting to go up the elevator for the view from the top, and I for one don't think it's worth the time. As someone who lived in NYC for decades, I only did this once when I had visitors who really wanted to do it. They did enjoy it, but other friends started to wait in line and decided it wasn't worth it, much to my relief.

I *think* the Ellis Island museum has re-opened after closing for a long time for Hurricane Sandy damage -- I'm sure someone will tell us below if this is wrong. But if you love museums and it has indeed re-opened, you might consider this instead of or along with Statue of Liberty. (Taking the ferry to Ellis Island, you pass the Statue up close anyway but I think you could do both if you wanted a long day). The Ellis Island museum is really fascinating if you like the history of ordinary lives.
On preview, was going to finish saying this is good thematically along with the tenement museum on the lower east side.
posted by third rail at 6:40 AM on August 22, 2013

I think the Coney Island Museum is still shut down from Sandy (at least it was during the spring.)
posted by griphus at 6:41 AM on August 22, 2013

Ellis Island still closed.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:42 AM on August 22, 2013

Wander around Soho and look at expensive things.
posted by kestrel251 at 6:42 AM on August 22, 2013

You're right, griphus - Coney Island Museum is still closed.
posted by moonmilk at 6:42 AM on August 22, 2013

The lesson here, OP, is if you're going to make plans to see something anywhere near water, make sure it still exists.
posted by griphus at 6:43 AM on August 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Thing near water that still exists and is totally worth visiting: Governors Island.
posted by moonmilk at 6:44 AM on August 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If you want to check out the touristy stuff, I'd consider getting a hop-on-hop-off bus pass. You can certainly make your way without it but that might make it a little easier. And I think the subway gets expensive pretty quickly.

I really enjoy the High Line. I also like wandering around near NYU. Once I happened to be in New York and saw that a writer I really like was going to be speaking at Cooper Union for free so I checked that out. I'd definitely look into events like that. There is always something going on.

Pro tip: the admission for the Met is a suggested donation so you do not need to pay $25 to get in, though it's probably worth it. It's open until 9:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays but I imagine that it gets crowded after work.

If you're feeling ambitious, NY now has CitiBike. Bring a helmet.
posted by kat518 at 6:46 AM on August 22, 2013

Best answer: If you're going to be wandering around the West Village make sure to get a falafel at Mamoun's.
posted by griphus at 6:47 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For discount theater, go to the TKTS booth in Times Square, two birds, one stone. You might get a crazy good deal on a Wednesday matinee.

Book of Mormon has a ticket lottery, show up two hours before show time and you might win the opportunity to buy tickets for $32 apiece. I paid $450 a piece for mine, so...bargain! Also, as you wait outside for the doors to open, the church across the way plays "There's no Business Like Show Business" in bells. Which is rather cool.

Everyone is talking about Sleep No More, a hotel/theater thing.

The museums are awesome. MOMA has a free happy hour admission on Fridays and it's chock-a-block with hip singles. The Metropolitain Musume of Art is great, so's the Guggenheim.

The New York Citypass is a great deal if you plan on doing these attractions.

Shit, the time you'll save waiting for tickets to Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty alone is worth it!

Have a great time!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:47 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: And I think the subway gets expensive pretty quickly.

The way around this is to get a 7-day unlimited MetroCard, not a pay-per-ride.
posted by griphus at 6:48 AM on August 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

Definitely get the unlimited weekly Metrocard. Way, way cheaper at $30 than the hop-on, hop-off tourist buses (which get more expensive every time I look- the last time I asked, one day was $60+).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:51 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

You mention wondering about smaller theater-- if youre interested in experimental theater, check out the wooster group
in soho.
posted by third rail at 6:52 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some things I forgot - Seconding the High Line. It's great!

Also: if you enjoy poetry slam, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe is a fun evening.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 6:52 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thing near water that still exists and is totally worth visiting: Governors Island.

Specifically, the vintage amusement park rides they have there this summer.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:59 AM on August 22, 2013

Best answer: Buddha Bodai is the world's best veggie dim sum, in Chinatown. Come meet me for lunch if you're free!
posted by mlle valentine at 7:02 AM on August 22, 2013

Best answer: Take the train up and visit The Cloisters. It is really well done and you get off the train and walk through Fort Tryon Park, with its views of the Palisades across the river. A really nice and informative half day.

My other fave is the Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Lots of graves of notable people, plus killer views of Manhattan from the tops of the hillocks there.
posted by Danf at 7:05 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and the High Line. Two of my favorite things in Manhattan.

The Staten Island Ferry is also great and free - takes you by Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
posted by jilloftrades at 7:06 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been itching to return to the Frick Collection, which is housed in Henry Clay Frick's former private residence on Fifth Avenue. It's full of Old Master paintings, sculpture and decorative arts.
posted by icaicaer at 7:09 AM on August 22, 2013

The City Reliquary is about as fun and obscure as museums come. It is small, with odd hours, so check that they are open before making the trip.

For all things film, check out Altscreen, which compiles independent / repertory / art house cinema screenings.
posted by stachemaster at 7:12 AM on August 22, 2013

Best answer: Seconding Governors' Island, which is totally a cool thing and is free to get to - it's only open on the weekends, but a free ferry will take you from Manhattan over to GI. There's a handful of pumped-up food carts, a group of artists who've created a minigolf course that is donation-based (pay them a buck or five or whatever you want), and there are tours of the national landmark bits for free. This year they also have a huge field-o'-carousels for some reason I haven't figured out. There's also a chicken farm on there randomly, a couple popup shops run by local Brooklyn handcrafters, and a popup museum dealing with "New York City during World War II". You may also get to catch the guys who do old-timey-style baseball having a game.

As for cheap theater, you may be here at the tail end of the Fringe Festival.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:24 AM on August 22, 2013

Best answer: Thing near water that still exists and is totally worth visiting: Governors Island.

Were it me, I would skip an actual trip to the Statue of Liberty altogether, and instead take a ferry to Governor's Island and have a little picnic there. You get an amazing view of the statue from a short distance away, rather than a view of its feet from close up. (It's only open on the weekends, of course.)

Actually, here's a day for you: Go to Chinatown and look around and have an early lunch there, walk over the Brooklyn Bridge (which gives you an amazing view of the city), take a quick walk around the gorgeous old brownstones in Brooklyn Heights before taking Squibb Park Bridge down to Brooklyn Bridge Park, walk south through the park (which is still being constructed but what's there is cool, and the view is amazing), grab a cone from the Ample Hills Creamery stand in the park, then take the ferry to Governor's Island and go to the south lawn, where you can buy a beer and drink it while the Statue of Liberty looms above you. Then, take the OTHER ferry from the island back to Manhattan. Boom. (If you're not exhausted by this point, you are now in the Financial District, so you could check out Wall Street, the bull statue, Zuccotti Park, etc.)

Oh yeah, bring walking shoes.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:26 AM on August 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

The Frick is nice because it's manageable -- you can see the whole thing in a couple hours. Plus there are Vermeers. If you go to the Met, which I hope you do, make sure to visit the Portrait of Juan de Pareja -- one of my favorite paintings anywhere --- it has so much human presence that you feel as if you ought to greet it when you come into the room.

The Mall in Central Park is incredibly beautiful -- it's one of the few stands of large elm trees left anywhere in the country. The Union Square Greenmarket is bar none the nicest farmers' market I've ever seen -- it's worth going there just to look even if you don't have anywhere to cook anything. And definitely the High Line!

Depending what kind of movies you're into: I also deeply enjoyed the Lebowski Store.
posted by ostro at 7:30 AM on August 22, 2013

HERE arts center, Soho Rep, La Mama and the Flea (full disclosure I work at this one) are all reputable places within the downtown scene and should have $15-30 tickets for anything you might want to see. Greenwood cemetery in Brooklyn is super interesting.
posted by edbles at 7:31 AM on August 22, 2013

The Paley Center (aka, the Museum of Film and Television) is often overlooked but can be a great time! Also, Museum definitely fits into the "funky and overlooked."

The Signature theatre has shows for $25 all the time, which is a great deal and hard to beat!
posted by mccn at 7:33 AM on August 22, 2013

third rail: "I wouldn't bother with the Empire State building. Seeing it in the skyline is enough. There can be a long line of tourists waiting to go up the elevator for the view from the top, and I for one don't think it's worth the time. As someone who lived in NYC for decades, I only did this once when I had visitors who really wanted to do it. They did enjoy it, but other friends started to wait in line and decided it wasn't worth it, much to my relief."

If you do still want to go up a tall building, I always recommend Top of the Rock instead. You can buy tickets in advance and reserve a time to go, so there's no waiting in line like there is for the ESB. Bonus: you get to actually see the ESB from the Top of the Rock. And it's glass enclosed, so better views, and you can see Central Park from there, too.
posted by Grither at 7:48 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you're into film, you might be interested in the ScoutingNY blog, especially the map he created to map out lots of film locations and just plain interesting building details throughout the city.

For veg sandwiches, I've grown more fond of Tiny's Giant Sandwiches in the Lower East Side.
posted by homesickness at 8:03 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do you like comedy? Go to the Comedy Cellar mid-week, late at night. You see some awesome stuff, some people you recognize, and eat a decent burger. If you're lucky, Chris Rock or Louis CK or someone on that level might drop in.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:19 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

There is nothing wrong with touring NYC's greatest hits: Top of the Rock ($27), Rockefeller Center (free), MoMA (free on Fridays, but there's usually a massive line in the summers), Times Square (free), Grand Central Terminal (free, plus MAS does a tour daily for $20 at 12:30pm), Central Park (free), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (donation suggested, you can pay a quarter and they'll still let you in), American Museum of Natural History, 9/11 Memorial (free but you MUST get the free tickets online ahead of time), and the High Line (free).

Space shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid ($29) has just reopened, as the pavilion had sustained damage during Hurricane Sandy.

The Statue of Liberty ($17 + $3 for crown access) also just reopened this past summer, having also sustained damage during Hurricane Candy. Ellis Island remains closed to the public, unfortunately.

The Museum of the Moving Image currently has a very small but cool Breaking Bad exhibit with about a dozen different props and costumes used in the show. You might also like Museum, which is a tiny, tiny museum off a random alleyway downtown and it's open with new exhibits this weekend (24th/25th).

And the "thing" to do this summer is lie on the floor and watch James Turrel's Aten Reign at the Guggenheim.

I also keep a list of Strange Places and Oddities in NYC.

Everyone is talking about Sleep No More, a hotel/theater thing.

It's not a real hotel, BTW. Sleep No More is an off-Broadway show in Chelsea, on the west side. It is a a MacBeth and Hitchcock/film noir inspired immersive, dance-based theatre show, with a choose your own adventure feel. There's no dialogue, all the expression is dance-based. You must wear a mask the entire time and you are not allowed to speak, take photos, or use cell phones. All bags must be checked ($3). The show takes place at the fictional "McKittrick Hotel" which was supposedly closed on the eve of WWII. They also have a pricey but gorgeous rooftop garden bar called Gallow Green, where there are a few lost souls wandering around, they might choose to tell you a story or two if you like. It's also quite expensive and they don't do any lotteries or discount tickets, ever, really. The cheapest it gets is $75 Mondays through Wednesdays.

Get there 30 minutes early as there's usually a line to get in (pro tip, you can show up early even if your ticket is for later). Wear sneakers, as the hotel is 6 stories (lots of staircases involved). Open drawers, closets, books, and read letters, as you are allowed to explore the set, but if you spend too much time doing so, you'll miss the action. Attendees are encouraged to split up and explore alone. Visitors may experience "psychologically intense" situations. Don't be afraid to follow the actor/dancers and don't be afraid if a character reaches for your hand. And run after a man covered in blood, by all means. I've gone multiple times, converted about a dozen friends, since you see only a fraction of the show each time. It's not cheap but once you go inside, you'll see why. There's about 100 rooms that you can explore to your heart's content.

If you get here by Saturday, Atlas Obscura is hosting two events: Field Trip Day in Red Hook, Brooklyn (free) and A walk through the Poison Cauldron of Newtown Creek ($20)

Open House New York is doing an architectural tour up the East River on Wednesday evening ($40).

If you're still here by the weekend, Turnstile Tours is offering its first Brooklyn Army Terminal Tour on Saturday, August 31, 3pm-5pm ($22). They also do tours of the Navy Yard for $30 most weekends.

The MTA Museum is also doing a vintage subway ride up to Van Cortlandt Park ($35). Venture uptown on our WWI-era IRT subway cars to spacious public grounds at Van Cortlandt Park, the third largest park in NYC. During a 3-hour layover, explore Van Cortlandt House Museum and a stroll along the John Kieran Nature Trail. Pack a picnic blanket and “staycation” with us!

For interesting vegetarian off the top of my head:
Indian - Chennai Garden, Tiffin Wallah, Tulsi (pricier), Saravana Bhavan/Saravanaas
Chinese - Grand Sichuan St Marks, Xi'an Famous Foods (spicy!)
Korean - Hangawi
Italian/pizza - Scarpetta, Motorino, Otto, Eataly's Le Verdure restaurant, Paulie Gee's
American - Westville, Northern Spy, The Green Table, Gramercy Tavern (the front room is cheaper/more casual)
Burger - Shake Shack (shroom burger)
Sandwiches - Tiny's, 'wichcraft, No. 7 Sub
Middle Eastern - Taim (they have a truck, too), King of Falafel and Shawarma (also has a cart), Babaloosta, Hummus Place

Look up menus and prices on Menupages in advance.

You also might want to download the Menupages app in advance in addition to a subway app (like Embark or Hopstop).

Other activities that are off the beaten path a bit:
- Ride the wooden escalators at Macy's in Herald Square
- Take the 6 train to City Hall and stay on as it turns around inside the old City Hall station
- Visit the MTA Transit Museum in Brooklyn
- Visit the Union Square Greenmarket (Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays, Saturdays are the biggest)
- Spend some time just people watching at Union Square
- Take a free NYPL tour and make sure you see the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals
- Take a Central Park tour by the Big Onion
- Visit the LES Tenement Museum (buy tickets online in advance)
- Ride the Roosevelt Island tram and visit the new Four Freedoms Park
- Canoe the Gowanus for free with the Gowanus Dredgers
- Visit the Brooklyn Flea and/or Smorgasburg
- There is also a mini version of Smorgasburg called Smorgasbar at the South Seaport right now, which is still recovering from Sandy
- Walk the Brooklyn Promenade and visit the new Brooklyn Bridge Park
posted by kathryn at 9:17 AM on August 22, 2013 [15 favorites]

Seconding the James Turrell recommendation. It's definitely something to experience.
posted by TonyRobots at 9:53 AM on August 22, 2013

Came in to specifically recommend Buyer and Cellar so I'm seconding that.

It's nice to get out on the water when the weather is good so if you don't want to head to Staten Island via the Staten Island Ferry, the East River Ferry could be a nice cheap alternative to see the city from the river. You could take it from Midtown, through all the stops in Queens and Brooklyn and get off on Wall Street. (I would then head to Stone Street for a beer and a snack but that's me.)

What is also nice, but more expensive, is to take one of the tourist oriented sunset sails. My friends and I still do that from time to time because it's just really nice and fun to drink wine on a schooner and watch the city from the water. These are generally on the Hudson so you'd get a different perspective.

And shout out to Angelica Kitchen. It's been around for a long time and it's still delicious imo.
posted by rdnnyc at 1:35 PM on August 22, 2013

If you are in the mood for bucolic, Wave Hill is worth the train ride. Bring a book to read, its essentially a beautiful lawn full of comfortable chairs and a view.

The cupcake trucks look tempting, but they are not good cupcakes. The gourmet ice cream however is wonderful, especially the earl grey tea flavor.
posted by velebita at 2:09 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater offers the best long-form improv outside of your hometown, arguably the best anywhere. Shows are dirt-cheap: $5 on weekdays and $10 on weekends. They sell out, so make a reservation. If you're around on a weekend evening, try to make it to The Stepfathers (Fri), Death by Roo Roo (Sat), or ASSSSCAT 3000 (Sun).
posted by scarylarry at 4:01 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I should add that if you're accustomed at all to Chicago-style improv, you'll find that (like NY itself) UCB tends to be faster, crazier, and dirtier.
posted by scarylarry at 4:05 PM on August 22, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everyone who made suggestions! Lots of intriguing ideas, so I'm going to spend some time with all these links and start contemplating my game plan. I'll be sure to follow up with what of these ideas I actually do.
posted by jenlovesponies at 6:52 PM on August 22, 2013

Response by poster: Hello all, just thought I'd let everyone know what I ended up doing in NYC.

I wouldn't have put it under inexpensive at tickets that cost between $75-$95, but Buyer and Cellar was phenomenal. Loved it! While I was there, I also went to the Comedy Cellar, which was pretty fantastic even though I didn't see anyone famous, and it happened to be located next to a Mamouns, so I got a delicious falafel sandwich.

I saw several UCB shows, at both theaters, and they were fantastic.

I happened to be at the right place at the right time, and my hostess and I put our names in for the Book of Mormon tickets, but didn't win. Oh well.

I got to the Met, the Cloisters, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the Brooklyn Museum.

I skipped the tall buildings with views, though I wandered the bottom floor of the Rock, and decided not to visit the Statue of Liberty, but I went out to Governor's Island and stared at it a bit from there.

The High Line was as pretty as everyone said.

I didn't do much shopping, though I went to The Strand, which was one of the best bookstores I've been to.

I couldn't go to an official meetup, but I did meet mlle valentine for lunch at the only vegetarian Kosher Chinese place I've ever gone, and afterwards, I walked the Brooklyn Bridge and read all the graffiti.

I thiiiink that's everything suggested here that I did while I was in NYC. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions. I couldn't get to everything, of course, though I wish I could've
posted by jenlovesponies at 5:46 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

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