New York City cheat sheet
Time Square, NYC. Photo: via Megenzi
TAKE A STROLL
If time is limited and you want to take in all the sights of New York, it can be tempting to jump on a tourist bus and let it all roll past like a 1970s Woody Allen film. But much of the city – especially Manhattan – is made for walking, so it makes sense to discover it by foot with a native.
There are walking tours that take in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights, including the area around Ground Zero and the labyrinthine Financial District. But why not take one that combines knowledge with pleasure? The West Village is one of the most picturesque parts of Manhattan, and while sometimes it seems like there is a Marc Jacobs on every corner, it is also home to a lot of “mom and pop” speciality food shops. A good example is Murray’s Cheese Shop, which has been keeping Manhattan’s haute bourgeoisie in fromage since 1940.
Post Hurricane Sandy, foodie tours are back up and running and are keen to support the many local businesses that have been affected by the super storm.
Lower Manhattan: nyc-by-foot.com
West Village and Greenwich Village: foodsofny.com/
If you cross the street from Columbus Circle into Central Park and the cold hasn’t yet set in, you will be greeted by the dulcet tones of ringing bells. No, they are not heralding you as the new Queen of Manhattan – they want you to hire one of their bikes.
The touts offer good prices on bike hire – around $20 for a couple of hours and cheaper if you are in a group. Don’t worry if you’re a nervous cyclist; just stick to the bike path. It’s an eight-kilometre loop and no vehicles are permitted from 10am to 3pm on weekdays and throughout the day on weekends.
Puffed out? Have a beer break at The Loeb Boathouse, a charming restaurant and bar overlooking Central Park lake. You can also hire rowboats but it gets really crowded in summer, making the experience akin to riding dodgem cars.
Okay, you’ve done your exercise for the day. Weather permitting, stay in the park and have a picnic. Pick up some food from Wholefoods in Columbus Circle or the magnificent Zabar’s further on the Upper West Side. Zabar’s sells great cheeses, meats, chocolates and breads. It’s like an Aladdin’s cave of food.
In summer, there is a stage set up on the east side of Central Park, where you can watch bands for free or see the famous Shakespeare in the Park.
Everyone loves taco trucks but you can walk for blocks and all you’ll see is a hotdog vendor or pretzel man. The Tacombi taco truck, however, is always parked in the same place in lower Manhattan’s Nolita district. The outdoor space is festooned with fairy lights and has a casual vibe. You line up, order your taco, then a man in a taco truck makes it for you. Wash it down with a margarita or Mexican beer at the most relaxed eatery in Manhattan.
267 Elizabeth Street, Nolita; tacombi.com
From Wednesday to Sunday night, Mona’s is a fairly typical Irish dive bar in the East Village that has a good jukebox and a punk attitude. But late on Monday and Tuesday nights, it becomes the epicentre of New York’s improv jazz scene.
Hang around the narrow bar after midnight and musos come in from their regular gigs in hotel lobbies and start jamming, sometimes playing until 4am. When the crowd gathers around the piano and close their eyes and sway (to the music, not from the drink), it feels like the Pogues’ song Fairytale of New York.
During the summer months, check out the Roof Garden Cafe and Martini Bar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You’ve seen the art, you’ve walked the park, now reward yourself with a drink on the rooftop. There are cocktails and stunning views.
Mona’s, 224 Avenue B
The Highline is an urban park that is fast becoming one of Manhattan’s most successful attractions. Once a railway freight line that wove through the Meatpacking District up to West 34th Street, residents, including actor Edward Norton, have worked tirelessly to turn the area into a public park.
The result is creative and unique. Walking along the elevated boardwalk, you can recline on one of the many easy chairs or peek into the high-rise apartments whose windows are at eye view.
Once you get to the Chelsea end of the Highline, visit Chelsea Markets, which are just around the corner. As well as crafts, jewellery and independent designers, there is a great food and drinks section selling everything from lobster rolls to Australian flat whites.