My husband’s idea of vacation is hiking in the mountains with a backpack and some MREs. So when he asked if I wanted to go to New York City during the holidays this year, I was a little surprised and totally elated! Then my practical side took over, and I started to feel hesitant about the whole thing out of fear that he wouldn’t enjoy the trip at all, I would be disappointed that he didn’t like it, and then we would both just be miserable the whole time.
But I definitely didn’t want to turn down a trip to New York City – especially not during Christmas!
So I spent two months meticulously planning the perfect trip for us with activities and places that are more his style. Although I have to admit, it was a challenge to plan a trip to New York City for someone who doesn’t like crowds… 🙂
And guess what? He totally loved it!
This was my fourth time to visit New York City – I’ve been once for work and three times for vacation – and there is still so much I haven’t seen or done. I’m always learning new things and going new places every time I visit. This trip was extra special because I got to share it with my love!
Three days was plenty
We decided to make this trip much shorter than we usually spend on vacation, and I’m actually glad we did. We arrived on a Thursday afternoon and left the following Sunday afternoon. That gave us two full days and two half days in the city, which was perfect for us. If you’re on a budget, don’t have a lot of time to travel, or someone in your group isn’t much of a city person, I think three days is plenty of time to enjoy the city.
Stay somewhere low key
I’ve stayed in several different parts of Manhattan, and by far, my favorite is Gramercy Park and nearby neighborhoods. This year we stayed at the Park South Hotel, which is technically in NoMad, and I would highly recommend it.
This area seems pretty residential, so the energy is more relaxed and cozier than other areas I’ve stayed, like Hell’s Kitchen or Chinatown. It’s quiet (for New York City), and there aren’t hoards of tourists clogging the sidewalks. It also isn’t commercialized like so many other parts of the city (think Times Square, Madison Square Garden or Rockefeller Center). If you’re looking for the bright lights, the glitz and glamour, you won’t find any of that here!
There are lots of great places to eat in this area, and you’re in walking distance of some of the best sights in the city (Grand Central Station, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Flatiron Building and Macy’s). I always feel safe here and like I can actually breathe without all of the crowds. It’s also pretty affordable.
Get out early
It’s impossible to completely avoid crowds in New York City (trust me, I’ve tried!). But if you can beat the rush, you’ll get a much better experience. I would suggest to pick your top things to do and places to see, and do those things first each day. For example, I’ve been to the 9/11 Museum three times, and by far, the best experience was when I went first thing in the morning (they open at 9 a.m.). There was practically nobody there, and I could linger at the exhibits as long as I wanted. This year we waited until noon, and it was a madhouse! I definitely want to bring my husband back one day, so he can experience it without the crowds. Ditto for the Brooklyn Bridge.
We definitely learned our lesson. So the next day, we left the hotel around 8 a.m. to see the Flatiron Building, walk the High Line, visit Chelsea Market and Macy’s at Herald Square. There was n-o-b-o-d-y out, and it was amazing! Totally worth the early morning wake up in my opinion.
Make an itinerary
I usually prefer to wing it when I’m on vacation. I’m supposed to be relaxing and enjoying myself, not planning and analyzing, right?! For this trip, I decided to make an itinerary to help me stay organized and make sure we hit all of the spots we wanted to see. It definitely made our trip so much easier and more enjoyable to have those decisions already made in advance. Of course, we changed a few things on the fly, and that’s totally OK. There is just so much to see and do, and the island is so big. An itinerary helps you stay on track and make the most of your time.
See a Broadway show
By far, Dennis enjoyed seeing the shows on Broadway the most out of everything we did during our trip. We bought tickets in advance to Dear Evan Hansen because we knew we wanted to see it. Then we took a chance and waited to see if TKTS would have discounted tickets to Come From Away, and luckily, they did! Both shows were truly fantastic in different ways, and I loved every minute of them both. I would highly recommend either show if you’re into musicals.
Seeing a Broadway show is such an amazing experience. If I only had one day in the city, I would definitely use it to see a Broadway show. If you’re not set on a particular show, I definitely visit TKTS for discounted tickets. They even have an app now, so you can see what shows were recently available. They did not have this the first time I went back in 2002!
Highlights from Our Trip
- 9/11 Museum and Memorial – this is definitely a MUST. It’s an experience that will impact you forever, and I truly believe every American should visit this museum at some point in their life. Buy your tickets in advance on their website here.
- Brooklyn Bridge – this is a beautiful place and so iconic of New York City. It can get pretty busy, so go early if you can to avoid the crowds. Make sure to take a walk in the Brooklyn Bridge Park when you reach the other side.
- Grand Central Station – I can’t believe this is a train station! It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, in my opinion. Pop inside to see the gorgeous architecture and get some awesome photos. There are also lots of cute little shops and restaurants where you can pick up gifts or grab a bite to eat.
- Flatiron Building – you can’t visit New York City and not get a picture with the Flatiron Building! Take stroll through Madison Square Park across the street and enjoy some coffee or gelato.
- Macy’s at Herald Square – this is the store from Miracle on 34th Street, and it’s the biggest department store I’ve ever been in! Make sure to take a ride on one of the old wooden escalators while you’re there.
- Empire State Building – take the elevator all the way to the top, and you’ll get one of the best views in the city! The line is usually pretty long, so if you don’t have time to visit the top, at least make sure to see it. It’s truly beautiful.
- Chrysler Building – it’s such a cool building, and it’s hard to miss. I’ve never been in it, but it’s really pretty from the outside.
- Times Square – this is where you’ll find all of the flashy lights and the dazzling craziness of New York City! It’s definitely an experience. Personally, I’m not a fan. But if you don’t see Times Square at least once, did you really even visit New York City?
- Rockefeller Center / 5th Avenue – I usually do these at the same time because they’re right next to each other. Rockefeller Tower, the Today Show, the Christmas Tree, Saks 5th Avenue, Radio City Music Hall. It’s all here! There will be crowds, so brace yourself. Of course, this is also where you’ll find some of the best shopping in Manhattan. For higher end stores, be sure to walk down Madison Avenue too.
- Chelsea Market / High Line – I also do these two things together because they’re right next to each other. Chelsea Market is a fun little indoor shopping market with mostly food-related merchandise, including restaurants and specialty grocery stores. My favorite place here to pick up gifts is Buon’Italia. And you have to get a milkshake at Creamline. After shopping at the market, cross the street and take a walk on the High Line, which is an old elevated subway line that was converted into walking trails and green space. It’s beautiful, peaceful in the morning and definitely worth a visit!
- Central Park – whenever you need a break from the city, this is the place to go! It’s a breath of fresh air, literally, with beautiful green spaces, gorgeous architecture and nice walking / jogging trails.
Places to eat
I have to admit, I was pretty proud of myself because every restaurant we went to was fantastic! I can highly recommend every place on this list!
- Tony’s Di Napoli (3rd Ave location) – delicious Italian food, and reasonably priced. The half order is plenty big enough for one person. Get the full order if you want to share. Definitely make a reservation in advance.
- Joe Jr. Restaurant – this little diner has great food, great service and great prices. They also have a huge menu. My husband got a burger and I got buffalo chicken wings. Then we split a massive slice of cheesecake. It was all delicious! Everyone seemed to know the guys working behind the counter, and we saw several groups of locals meeting up here. Places like this are why I love the Gramercy Park area.
- Lombardi’s Pizza – everyone in New York City has their favorite pizza place, and this happens to be mine. They only take cash, there are no free refills and they recently switched to paper plates and plastic cups. Whatever, I love their pizza and I’m willing to deal with some minor annoyances for a slice of that gooey goodness!
- Sticky’s Finger Joint – I need this place to come to Texas! This was definitely Dennis’ favorite place where we ate. It’s straight up fried chicken with all these different sauces and toppings. No frills and so delicious. Also, your bank account will thank you because it’s ridiculously affordable. You’re welcome. 😉
Visiting New York City is such a fun experience, and it never gets old! Still, I’m always so happy to get back home to the slower hustle and bustle of suburbia in Texas, and to be in my own bed!
If you haven’t been there already, I hope you get the chance to visit the city one day. Hopefully this post will be useful for helping you plan your trip, whether you’re going for the first time or making a return trip like me!
Until next time,