New York recommendations (specifically for a group of Parisiens)
February 9, 2024 9:21 AM   Subscribe

I have some colleagues going to New York in mid-April and looking to spend 4-5 days being tourists after work stuff. What would you recommend for either NYC activities or nearby? (more specific questions below)

They were originally thinking about going to Niagara Falls but I talked them out of it as a lot of driving. They are now leaning to staying in NYC but a little hesitant because it is expensive, so also interested in potential other nearby locations to spend a couple of days. Either by public transport or they are open to renting a car if necessary.

So far they have some classic touristy things on their list, statue of liberty cruise, empire state building, seeing a Broadway show.

They were looking at at staying at the Best Western Premier NYC Gateway Hotel (actually in New Jersey where I-495 and hwy 9 cross), does this seem reasonable? There is bus service to the city, how workable is this? Other ideas for budget-friendly places to stay?

Is the Empire State building worth it or is there another option to get a nice view?

Ideas for day trips? Like Long Island or where to people go? Or better to just stay in the city?

Other things they shouldn't miss in NYC? They are from the Paris region, so New York or American unique things would be a plus. They're used to a big city but not skyscrapers, for example.

posted by orchidee to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Boston or DC are easy by bus or train- maybe that would be a second location of interest- though I don’t know that they’ll be that much cheaper, though there’s so much to do in DC that’s free
posted by raccoon409 at 9:44 AM on February 9

Should they need a break, the neighborhood of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, is the favored location for French expats, and is full of French Cafés, French Bistros, and French speakers.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:45 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

The Dia Beacon is a great contemporary art museum up the Hudson River, easily accessible with the Metro North commuter train from Grand Central -- the museum is next door to the station. It gets you out of the city for a bit, going up the Hudson is simply lovely, and the art collection is first rate. (And unlike the MoMA, say, you won't be meeting your neighbours there.) The town of Beacon is a very sweet, really *American* town.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:13 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]

Similarly, and depending on when you're here in April, Storm King Art Center is a superb sculpture park -- even if the art doesn't grab you, the landscape will. It's a lot of walking, but it's an unforgettable experience. There is a direct bus from the Port Authority (the bus also goes to Woodbury Common outlet mall, which is another huge attraction, if shopping is your thing).
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:19 AM on February 9 [6 favorites]

I haven't been in ages, but I remember being amazed that The Cloisters were in New York. The collections, however, are largely European so perhaps not that exciting. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the shopping behemoth that is Jersey Gardens may be of interest, or for that matter, American Dream. A bit north of the city is Storm King, which may be open when you visit.
posted by knile at 10:19 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]

The Berkshires in Connecticut is a lovely area, lots of scenery, bistros, spas, etc. About a two hour drive. In the city I would recommend downtown, Soho for the cast iron architecture...East village for galleries and shopping. In the city I would recommend The Met museum and the Frick of they are art lovers..
Madison Ave above 96th is lovely, no skyscrapers, eateries, bookstores, shopping....The Cloisters in upper Manhattan is spectacular. Or a tour of Harlem with lunch at one of the cute places...
posted by Czjewel at 10:21 AM on February 9

As for budget accommodations IN the city, there's always the YMCA. It's really not that bad. If you're just there to sleep and shower, it's perfectly fine.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:22 AM on February 9

I'd walk the Brooklyn bridge to Dumbo and take a uber to the Museum of Moving Pictures. NY was part of the beginning of the movie industry and it's a great museum.

I do hope you'll take them through Times Square in the evening. People love to hate on it as too touristy but I love the energy and the excitement of so many people seeing one of their bucket list cities.

Also-- taking the tram over to governors island is nice.
posted by beccaj at 10:31 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]

Personally, if they're open to renting a car ($$$), I'd spend that money instead on staying at a hotel in Manhattan near to either the attractions they're interested in or a subway that will get them there. Like, unless they're dead-set on doing things outside the city that require a car -- which is everything, because public transportation in the US sucks -- it would be much more convenient to start off in Manhattan. Otherwise they'll be traveling for the better part of an hour just to see anything at all.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:33 AM on February 9 [12 favorites]

Should they need a break, the neighborhood of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, is the favored location for French expats

Fort Green resident here, weighing in to say that while I do hear French spoken amongst some of my neighbors, a different neighborhood slightly close by is where you'll find much more of a "Little Paris" scene. However, since your friends are from Paris this may be like bringing coal to Newcastle.

So as for logistics:

* I have a hunch that your friends are expecting the USA intra-city public transit system to be like France's, and it sure as heck ain't. There simply isn't as extensive a system for getting from point A to point B in an equivalent degree of speed. I was able to get from Paris to Giverny in about an hour - the nearest equivalent spot you could get to from NYC on a commuter rail would be a couple suburban towns in the Hudson valley. It's wiser to kind of stay put rather than go anywhere really far-flung, I'd suggest.

* Fortunately New York City has a HELLLLLL of a lot of places to visit just within the 5 boroughs, especially if you're talking about "experiences unique to New York". I've lived here for over 25 years and there are parts of the city that I still haven't been to. Staying in New Jersey would be DEALABLE, but it's probably going to be more pleasant to stay in the city and use public transit. (Speaking of which - trying to drive in the city will be immensely frustrating.)

* The Empire State Building is a LITTLE kitschy to New Yorkers, but still kinda worth it. Other "Only in New York" kinds of things I'd suggest would be - Katz's Deli (not fancy food, but very NYC, and an icon), Central Park (yeah, I know there are parks in Paris but Central Park has some details that would be worth seeing), and several of the museums along Fifth Avenue's "Museum Mile" - that's a stretch of museums that are all conveniently located along one stretch of 5th Avenue, and museum-hopping may not be a bad idea.

(I'm trying to multi-task so I may revisit.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:10 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]

Do not waste time on the Empire State Building, tell them it's like waiting on line for the Eiffel Tower.
Don't leave the city if you only have 4 or 5 days. April is glorious in NYC. Go to the museums, sit in cafes, just walk around and take it all in. If they want to get out of the urban feel don't drive anywhere, just take a ferry to the Rockaways or the subway to Coney Island. Take long walks by the piers.
If they are interested in French and french related NY as per Ft Greene in the answer above, Nolita (downtown) has French things. But more interesting might be the lovely, often newish, hip cafes and restaurants and shops of West Harlem, home to many Senegalese expats.
Finally it might be kind of fun for them to go to Dominique Ansel's ridiculous Parisian bakery on Spring Street. It is hard to explain this place til you wait for 3 hours for a Dead Serious Cronut really just tastes like a Krispy Kreme but NYC itself feels warm, fuzzy and non-elitist after you've been there.
posted by rainy day girl at 11:13 AM on February 9 [5 favorites]

I would advise against staying in New Jersey unless they are able to stay right by a Path station. That hotel looks okay, but it is directly next to the Lincoln Tunnel approach highway. There will be heavy traffic and few things to do within walking distance (and buses may not be super frequent / easy to navigate from there into the Port Authority Bus Station).

A much better option to save money would be to stay in Brooklyn or Queens near a subway station; anything other than the G will get them into Manhattan quickly. If they stay along the L—a few hotels in Williamsburg are cost competitive—they can easily connect to all the major trunk subway lines in Manhattan to go North / South. There are also several iconic "hipster" pizza joints along the L, including Roberta's and Ops in Bushwick.

The Empire State Building is nice, but there are also tall views available in Hudson Yards (The Edge), One World Trade, and probably a few other buildings. I would look at ticket prices, availability, and determine what interests them the most (The Empire State Building has the Art Deco architecture).

Go to Grand Central and get lunch at the Oyster Bar, whether or not you are going north to Dia:Beacon. From Grand Central there is also an hourly train to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, which should still be showing the Orchid Show at that time.

I believe the Biennial will be in full swing at the Whitney by mid-April, which will also put them by Little Island and the High Line; my usual suggestion is to get lunch at Chelsea Market when you are in that area.

Go to a baseball game! Nothing more American or New York than that. As a Mets fan, I strongly recommend going to Citi Field over Yankee Stadium (though it will be dependent on who is having a homestand during their trip). If Citi Field, head to Flushing or Jackson Heights on your way back for dinner.
posted by thecaddy at 11:22 AM on February 9 [12 favorites]

And because I can't help myself -- if you're looking to stay inside the city, the Louis Armstrong House is a delight to visit, even if you're not that big a fan. They've recently expanded. Accessible by subway, but way out in Queens. In addition to the house, you'll get to see a lot of 'real' New York.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:27 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]

I'm betting that the potted plants on the High Line might start to be in bloom around mid-April. That neighborhood has been a favorite of mine on my visits in the last decade or so.

Hee hee, I'm taking recommendations from this post myself, since I'll be near NYC for a few days in early March, God willing. That Senegalese neighborhood in West Harlem is calling...
posted by rabia.elizabeth at 11:29 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]

I'm back already!

So, again, others have flagged "Fort Greene" (a Brooklyn neighborhood) as a Francophone hotspot. However, I personally think that's more accurately describing Court Street and Smith Streets, which are in the Cobble Hill/Carrol Gardens area. That's where a bar called Tabac tries having a big Bastille Day shindig every year, complete with closing the streets to set up boules courts and suchlike. (Your friends do NOT want to attend this, mind you - it can get tacky AND wild. The last time I went I was trying to push through the crowd between the Perrier stall on the left and the bar on the right and I got splashed with something, and I honestly don't know whether it was the Perrier, someone's wine, or some other fluid I didn't want to think about.)

But amusingly, there is still another part of the city that is trying to make a bid to be designated "Little Paris" - in Soho. Both these spots are actually a short hop from each other on the subway and are also generally pleasant enough places to stroll.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:30 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]

NYC is a big, diverse city and there's no need to leave during a 5 day trip. But if they get urban-ed out, they could take the ferry to Governors Island. Greenwood Cemetery and of course Central Park offer more green space. Maybe North Brooklyn Boathouse will have some community events?
posted by umwelt at 11:33 AM on February 9 [7 favorites]

Chinatown is a must.
posted by sandmanwv at 12:18 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]

I'm going to make a plug for visiting Queens for some real New York flavor. So many great ethnic neighborhoods. You could look into scheduling a food tour with Nosh Walks that ends at restaurant for dinner. The Queens Museum is also fun to visit you can also see the Unisphere and the museum has a cool huge floor map/model of New York city that you can walk around.
posted by brookeb at 12:35 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]

As an alternative to the ESB, Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center also has great views and you'll be able to get selfies with the ESB.
posted by orrnyereg at 12:48 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]

I enjoyed a roundtrip ride to Staten Island(or Governor's? can't remember the 1974 trip); I like boat rides. I liked going to the Statue of Liberty - Thanks France! - and when I was there you could climb to the crown, but now the museum is way better. Get The New Yorker, Time Out NYC, etc., go see a show - theater, nightclub, concert. The museums often have artists selling on the sidewalks. I like MOMA for the architecture as well as art, but there are so many great museums. As with Paris, walking and gawking is worthwhile. ESB is iconic, and I enjoyed it one time. Subsequent times, less so. Many people want to go to the 9/11 site, so I went when there were still missing posters up because a friend insisted. It made me sad and depressed to gawk at it and if I need a museum, the MeFi posts bring it back. Go look at Grand Central Station. Next visit, I want to go to the Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn. The magazines will have postings for what's on, including galleries and stuff. There's so much to do.
posted by theora55 at 1:04 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Agreed with the above people that staying in NJ just isn't worth it with the time and money you'll waste. A lot of people I know stay at Arlo Soho which is a nice/safe/convenient location for less than most places in the area. The rooms are tiny but who cares.

Ideas above are great starts. Agreed that skyscraper views are better from Hudson Yards The Edge, or WTC, or Top of the Rock. WTC really makes a good show of it with a cool elevator experience and a big ol' reveal. Excellent tourist fodder.

And agreed, with 4-5 days, I wouldn't recommend day-trips either unless by 'day-trip' you mean outer-borough in which case something like Coney Island or the Bronx Botanical Garden or baseball in Queens as discussed upthread is worth a go. Upstate/Hudson River Valley or Long Island transportation can be a huge hassle for tourists not used to our crappy US planning and they will be exhausted by day 3 anyway.

I also recommend for anyone to hop on one of the East River ferries. It's cheap, you can get a drink on board, it's relaxing--it's basically a $3 30-45 minute (if you go end-to-end) open-air pleasure cruise that goes under all the bridges and allows you to see so much of the city. If you time it right, you can get amazing sunset-behind-Manhattan photos.

All the charm of New York, especially in springtime, is in wandering around and exploring. Central Park, the Village and West Village, Soho, brownstone Brooklyn (Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill), are the prettiest areas.

Hope they have fun!
posted by greta simone at 1:13 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]

A visit to the Tenement Museum and waiting in line for Russ and Daughters' could also be an interesting outing. Close by is Kossar's Bialys which I still dream about or Yonah Schimmel's Knishes, which I also crave!
posted by brookeb at 1:31 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]

I don't know what their budget is, but I would recommend they figure out a way to stay in Manhattan. There's a lot of inexpensive (if somewhat dull, crummy and small) tourist hotels in midtown. If I only had 4-5 days I really wouldn't want to have to take a bus back and forth from New Jersey. That's going to be a stressful time sink.
posted by SoberHighland at 2:23 PM on February 9

Depending on when in April, the Queens Night Market may be back in operation. Great opportunity to eat your way around the world without ever leaving the city.
posted by JaredSeth at 3:23 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]

The Top of the Rock has a good view of the Empire State Building and in my opinion probably is the best observation deck for views of skyscrapers in midtown. If they are willing to drive to Niagara Falls, I have further recommendations, but I feel like a lot of time would be sucked up just getting to and from Buffalo and that time could be better spent in a more concentrated area if they are only in NYC for the length of time mentioned. I will return with recommendations for stuff in western NY if you request it, though.

I rather like the New York Historical Society, can be seen fairly quickly when in its general vicinity (not far from the Natural History Museum which I also like but which is huge. I definitely endorse that, too.)
posted by Whale Oil at 5:46 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

I go to NYC once a month. The 9/11 Memorial is extraordinary. I go to the Metropolitan Museum most visits, though I recommend street food rather than the Met's food. Today I took a subway tour with Untapped New York (We had two Germans, a Londoner, and a couple of uptown folks on the tour with me; it was weird, noisy, battered-looking and enjoyable). The Circle Line Tour is fine but boring, though when I went on it I had the dubious pleasure of being lectured at length by a German paterfamilias who thought I was jumping the line. Agree that the Cloisters are incredible but not what I would call a New York City experience. Go sit in Bryant Park and watch the skaters, the chess-players, and the throngs (the Bryant Park bathroom is worth a visit, no joke). Take a Central Park Conservancy tour.. Visit Grand Central Station.

I have my little haunts - bookstores, the Fountain Pen Hospital, Kinokuniya, Brooklyn Bridge, etc. - and you can find pretty much anything for any interest.
posted by Peach at 6:07 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

You already have lots of great suggestions for NYC itself (though I am not sure why Parisians would want a "little Paris" experience in NYC -- but who knows, perhaps they will!)

I want to say that if they want to squeeze in one more city, Philadelphia is a doable, reasonable, and fun day trip -- Amtrak will get you there in an hour and a half from midtown. If they are at all interested in American history, they can see Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, etc.
posted by virve at 7:38 PM on February 9

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a free good view and stands a good chance of being nice in April. I'd do that unless the specific draw of the ESB is the height.
posted by less-of-course at 9:51 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Definitely stay in NYC, even for two nights out of four. I think the Empire State Building vs Eiffel Tower is apt - and sometimes you need to do the most touristy thing. There are obviously so many things to do. One thing I’d recommend is that they understand where things are and plan their visits to hit one or two areas per day. Otherwise they will spend too much time getting from one place to the next. That also allows them to walk from site to site and take in various neighborhoods.
posted by Sukey Says at 2:10 AM on February 10

I used to drive past that Best Western daily. I wouldn't stay there. As said above, it is an area of terrible traffic. The convenient way in/out of the city from there would be bus or car and you'd probably end up stuck in traffic. Alternatively, you could take an Uber to Hoboken or Weehawken ferries (the ferry is a beautiful ride). I would try to stay in Manhattan if possible, or Queens or Brooklyn, or even Hoboken or Jersey City (where you could walk to subway or the PATH or ferry).
posted by miscbuff at 1:12 PM on February 10

To nth those commenting above, 4-5 days is barely any time at all, so I would strongly advise your friends to stay in the city itself. Even a day trip to Westchester or the Hudson Highlands will be too much, I would say. Just no to Niagara Falls or Philly, fer cryin' out loud.

Get accoms in the city. Dealing with the commute into the city is a PITA for even seasoned locals, so I would urge them find a hotel in Manhattan, second choice Brooklyn.

April can be a crapshoot for weather. It could be 70 and sunny and or 40 and raining, so they should have backup plans if it's not feasible to go walking in Central Park or the Botanical Gardens or whatever outdoor activity they have planned. The High Line is convenient to the Whitney, so if it gets nasty you could always duck into the museum.

I have mixed feelings on the Sept. 11 museum, but it may be something they believe is part of the quintessential NYC experience.

Take a ferry! The Staten Island ferry is free and gives you the views of the harbor and the Statue of Liberty. If the weather is good, go to Governor's Island for one day, and then you still get the harbor/Statue views. The Circle Line is also a great way to see the whole of Manhattan.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:28 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]

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