I first visited NYC a little more than 10 years ago and was not really excited. A classic over-promise / under-deliver case if you stick to the touristy bit. Little did I know back then… it’s now one of my favourite destinations, with so much to experience around, ever changing and ever new.
Back then, SoHo and the Meatpacking district were still in the beginning of their transformation and Brooklyn was still an undiscovered evolution of the initial six small Dutch towns settled in the southern tip of Long Island.
Fast forward 10 years and the vibe has changed so much.
Having experienced an influx of numerous businesses (think finance and high tech back office teams, entrepreneurs and artists), first in DUMBO and then in other neighbourhoods, Brooklyn has now grown to become the most populous borough in New York (2.6m out of 8.5m habitants). And, yes, housing prices are skyrocketing out there.
So without delving too much into the whole Williamsburg scene of the hip crowd I would keep it simple and note the well attended Artists & Fleas in-doors market on weekends with a sophisticated collection of merchants and stalls. It serves as a good way to digest the delicious Moroccan-influenced brunch and cocktails served at Cafe Mogador two block down the road. Favourite dish? Poached eggs on Moroccan pitta bread and served with a dash of harissa.
Flatiron and SoHo
Torn between the half-posh half-hip ambience of the Flatiron district and Gramercy Park, the area around Madison Square Park is just about right for your overnight stays if you’re looking for the full New York experience. Freehand is a great choice for those that are after a homey (yet pricey) kind of option with many good options for a quick bite like Caffe Marchio and Daily Provisions to kickstart your day. If you’re after more food, then a visit at Eataly (the full on Italian market and dining place) or Shake Shack (Danny Meyer’s infamous burger joint) are also round the corner.
Praised as the most fashionable hood from hipsters and yuppies alike, the South Of Houston area continues to attract the crowds especially during weekends. When I’m there I usually wonder around shops on Spring street and the likes, with the occasional visit at the Dean & Deluca outlet and the ever so classic New York street dog from the street vendors. Be brave and try it out (if you haven’t already).
When I’m done with the crowds I usually head east towards NoLIta and Cafe Gitane. Hippy and tourist crowds flood this neighbourhood-like joint that serves great coffee and other small bites.
These days, all of the meat warehouses have left but the industrial aura still lingers.
A beautiful restoration has taken place in most of the blocks (even the fashion brands located there appeal to a more sophisticated crowd – think Warby Parker and Helmut Lang), The Standard Highline hotel attracts hippy travellers and with the new Whitney museum (designed by Renzo Piano) having opened its doors last fall, this is definitely one not to miss.
And if you’re a nature fan, you can always take a detour north, along the old tracks of the West Side metro line that is now home to the Highline park. On your way back, you can exit on 16th street for a quick visit to Chelsea Market – the fish is always fresh and makes for good sashimi. If you’re there during the morning don’t miss out on a great espresso at Ninth street Espresso and an unforgettable burrito from the Los Tacos cart right next-door.
9/11 has certainly left a mark on the city and although I never got to see the Twin towers up, close and personal, the newly established complex in the area makes for a nice visit. The World Trade Centre is still in the works with architect Santiago Calatrava working on his signature structure (I wonder if he’s ever going to change that style…) and a very touching One World Trade Centre Memorial indicating the void left after the attacks.
One thing I’d leave out though from this tour would be the visit to the top floor of the Freedom Tower. Instead head down to the Oculus for the must-have photo opp of the crowds moving in frantic mode.
The Highline – great idea if you want to get away from buzzing city; take note of the winds as your stroll can get unpleasant
Central Park – more like a forest rather than your average European park, Central park offers great nature and activities. You can usually spot a lot of familiar movie sets around the area of the Pond
World Trade Centre – best to go early in the morning and avoid the crowds; the museum is not that exciting, nor is the One World Observatory but you can walk around the memorial and enjoy the close views to the Freedom Tower
The Metrpolitan Museum of Art – you must see their main rooms, as this represents one of the most classic museums in the world. Greek, Roman and all sorts of other treasures on display
Guggenheim Museum – modern art museum in the iconic building of Frank Lloyd Wright. Great to combine with The Met when in Upper East Side
Hudson Yards – recently launched development area at the end of The Highline Park, also featuring a public green space and an indoors shopping mall
Generally speaking, the more south you stay the better. With Airbnb the options are limitless but if you’re looking for great hotels here is our list:
The Standard Highline – most of the fashion crowd crashes here; also home to a rooftop bar and a hip discotheque, The Top of The Standard and Le Bain. Tip: ask room service for extra toiletries; their shampoo is amazing!
The Standard East – sister hotel of The Standard featuring similar rooms but less of a hip crowd. The summer garden at the back is also nice and Narcissa reataurant has nice warm aesthetics
The Bowery – hip boutique hotel with an old-world look in a 1-minute walk to Bleecker Street subway station; also features a nice Italian restaurant in the lobby with a vibrant scene
The Ace NYC – also hip but less comfy, Ace’s NYC outlet is housed in a historic, turn-of-the-century building in Midtown Manhattan
Public – new addition in the hotel scene with the signature of the legendary Ian Schrager, designed by the Swiss duo Herzog & de Meuron. Hip crowd and the perfect rooftop, as well as another two bars and Public Kitchen offering an eclectic menu
1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge – committed to sustainability and preserving the environment, this hotel launched in Feb 2017 featuring 194 industrial-chic rooms and a perfect homey atmosphere. Great rooftop bar and a small pool only for guests overlooking the Financial District
Freehand Hotel – New York outpost of the hotel group that knows how to create warm fuzzy places with a twist. Great location if you’re into the Flatiron area, moments away from Gramercy Park
Estela – apparently Obama has also dined here but this is only very little its charm. It’s mostly about great service, a very cozy ambience and very tasty dishes. Try the black fried rice with squid! Read our full review here
Café Altro Paradiso – latest venture of the gourmet duo of the great Estela, Mattos and Carter. Nice heigh-ceiling ambience in this Italian-inspired joint with a great comfort food menu! Read our full review here
4 Charles Prime Rib – set in the low-ceiling basement of an old building in Greenwich Village, Brendan Sodikoff created an amazing dining experience that reminds the movie set of a jazz film. You must try their insanely tasting burger. Read our full review here
Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien – arguably the best burger in town, if you can locate it behind the closed curtains. Be patient and go for an extra large order… you’ll thank us later
Shake Shack – best fast food in town; first established in Madison Square park by Danny Meyer. We recommend the Smoke Shack if you haven’t noticed
Daily Provisions – the latest addition of Danny Meyer and the Union Square Hospitality Group is a grab-n-go breakfast place that has a killer breakfast sandwich! You should also try their cruellers. Read our full review here
Cafe Mogador – Moroccan-infused cuisine in this second joint of the original East Village venue located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Better go for an extra spicy dish like the poached eggs on harissa. Also, the fries are unbelieveable
Egg Shop – if you like variety on eggs, this is the place. Located in the heart of NoLIta is this very small joint specialising in eggs
Sunday in Brooklyn – new addition to the ever evolving brunch scene of Williamsburg. Go early, get a table upstairs outside (if the weather allows) and enjoy some tasty bites! Read our full review here
Thumbnail Image: Paul Reiffer