The assholes at Australian immigration (just kidding, please let me in) still haven’t approved my second year working holiday visa, so I’ve been trapped in the US for close to two months. I haven’t been able to make any travel plans yet, since I’m not sure where I’ll be based. So I’m in limbo. I’ve had a nice extended period of time with friends and family, but tbh I am over it and itching to get back out there.
I’ve gotten so used to jetsetting and living abroad that being back home has been… underwhelming, to say the least. So I’ve stayed one (small) step ahead of boredom & depression by jetting around the States, avoiding all my responsibilities, and blowing all my money on food and fancy cocktails. Rough life, hey?
My most recent trip was a spontaneous visit to NYC, which me and one of my best friends planned with less than a week’s notice. Sometimes the best holidays are the ones you excitedly throw together last-minute. Winter in New York is magical, and we packed a lot of sightseeing and a ton of food into our four days. I’ve compiled all my favorite activities and restaurants here, for a fun-filled holiday that will leave you as happy (and full!) as I am!
Spend Three Hours Getting to the City from the Airport
Just kidding. But seriously never, ever book with SuperShuttle, especially after a sleepless red-eye. Unless you enjoy waiting in the airport for over an hour after your flight, dealing with sullen, useless customer service representatives, sitting in a cramped shuttle for hours, and being driven around by a swerving, weaving maniac (insane even by New York standards). If not, book with Go Airport Shuttles. Much more organised, much less stressful, same price (~$22 to Midtown) : )
Look at (But Do Not Join) the Ice Skaters at Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center is a magical little place in the wintertime. The famous Christmas tree is located here, but I preferred the view at night so I’ll talk about that later. The ice rink is really cute and looked like a fun activity, especially for couples (we saw a proposal there! Everyone cheered. It was adorable. God I’m so alone).
However it was also totally packed. It probably would have been a half hour wait to get in, and it costs $25 plus a $12 skate rental. There’s a lot of other, cheaper places to go ice-skating where you’re not packed in like sardines, with a gaggle of tourists ogling you from above. We opted to just take a peek at the rink and move on.
Check out the Adorable Christmas Displays on Fifth Avenue
The entirety of Fifth Avenue becomes an adorable Christmas wonderland during the holidays, with all the shops putting up elaborate displays. My favorite was Saks Fifth Avenue. All the windows were transformed into snapshots of Disney films – the characters move, too! It’s quite the production and we had a great time wandering around all the storefronts and peeking into the different displays.
Explore St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the New York Public Library
I was surprised to learn that there’s a beautiful Gothic cathedral chilling in the middle of NYC, just around the corner from Rockefeller Center. It’s a stunning piece of architecture and definitely worth a visit. The nearby public library was also gorgeous, with huge stone arches, beautiful ceiling-high windows, and the craziest ceiling that wouldn’t have been out of place at the Sistine Chapel!
Visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (Again)
It pains me to post such a shit photo here, but not all of us are at the stage where we have professional photographers (or Instagram husbands). I couldn’t not post it though, because the tree was so beautiful. Hopefully this picture at least somewhat communicates the scale of the tree. It is freaking huge, sparkling with tons of little lights, and a must-see despite the 8000 tourists crowded around it. We were lucky enough to be there while it was snowing, which was absolutely magical and had us Californians giggling and frolicking around like five-year-olds.
Eat Some Decadent Swiss Cheese Fondue at Trestle on Tenth
If you happen to be here on a Sunday night in winter, Trestle on Tenth serves the most incredible Swiss cheese fondue. For a mere $24 per person you get an obscenely generous pot of melty, gooey cheese, a tray of meats, pickles, potatoes, pickled onions, and a plate of bread.
There are a lot of things that warm you up in the middle of winter, but eating your way through a pot of cheese has got to be pretty high on the list. We were so content sitting in that cosy little restaurant. The service is also FIVE-STAR and the drinks are all amazing craft cocktails made with local spirits. If I could live here I would.
Get on the Today Show, Fools!
My friend really wanted to be in the audience of the Today Show and I (lazy/not a morning person/don’t care to be onscreen unless I have a speaking role lol) would have preferred to stay in bed. But I begrudgingly set an alarm for 5 am and dragged myself out of bed anyway, because I am truly a great friend, and an awesome, selfless person.
We wore ugly Christmas sweaters and light-up earrings. It was freezing cold. We were on TV for about .5 seconds since the camera favored the crowd on the other side of the set (don’t know why, since the two cutest people were over here working the hell out of some ugly xmas sweaters, but whatever). It was still really fun to catch a peek at the filming of the show and I’m glad we went.
Warm Up with a Hot Chocolate at City Bakery
After nearly freezing to death outside the Today Show I was in need of something warm and cosy. I was also extremely hangry since we hadn’t gotten up early enough to eat beforehand. So on our way downtown we stopped in at City Bakery, which is famous for having NYC’s best hot chocolate. It’s rich, creamy, chocolatey, and topped with the biggest homemade marshmallow that takes up literally half the cup! They’ve got a good selection of sandwiches, pastries, and other goodies, so it’s a good spot for a quick bite to eat.
Check out the Christmas Markets
There’s a ton of Christmas markets all around New York – we hit the ones at Union Square and Bryant Park. If you’ve put off your shopping too long and are in a complete panic like me, every year ever, the markets are a lifesaver. They’re full of different stands so there’s something for everyone, and it’s all the kind of knick-knacks you would never think to buy, but that make awesome gifts.
Best of all, some of the markets have equally delightful food stands like this cute ass pretzel cart (photo feat. highly unimpressed pretzel woman). I had the gruyere/paprika and it was delicious. If you’re sensing a theme here, yes, pretty much all we did was eat.
Grab Lunch at Union Fare
Union Fare has got to be one of the cutest places ever, and a perfect spot for a quick lunch. It’s not one restaurant but more of a food hall, with a variety of different menus including sushi, soups, salads, and ready-made sandwiches. I had the most delicious turkey & brie sandwich of all time, with a perfectly-portioned little side salad.
They’ve also got a lovely little bakery area with stuffed croissants, cookies, and pretzels. The crowd was great too, all young professionals on their lunch break, and there was a good amount of eye candy which is always a plus.
Explore Times Square and Go Shopping!
Times Square isn’t the kind of place that you want to stay for too long – it’s crowded as hale, and if you’re easily overstimulated like me you’ll be overwhelmed pretty much immediately. It’s definitely a lot. But it’s also a New York icon. It really is as grand and over-the-top and cool as it looks online. It’s also inexplicably populated by a ton of creepy Disney-costumed characters. I have no idea why, but every time we walked through there was some strange, off-looking Mickey Mouse or freaky Elmo bobbling around. No ty.
Visit the MOMA
The first few floors of the MOMA were highly underwhelming to me, as someone who prefers art that doesn’t suck. Some people may say that art is subjective, and on some level I agree. However there is no way that you can convince me that a white canvas with one yellow line painted across it is art. I honestly despise that kind of “work” and think it’s an insult to creativity and the artistic community, and not worth paying a $25 entrance fee for. Anyway.
The museum was completely redeemed by the upper floors, which had some very cool exhibitions. The MOMA houses some really famous works including Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and a massive Monet triptych. The entire top floor is a fashion exhibition full of vintage designer pieces, from Rick Owens to Chanel. I didn’t have my camera with me at the time (why am I so dumb. Why do I never have my camera with me) so my pictures all turned out like crap, but it was really, really cool, especially if you’re a fashion lover like myself.
Grab Breakfast Pastries at Supermoon Bakehouse
Supermoon Bakehouse has got to be one of the trendiest, most millennial-pandering, Instagram-whoring bakeries in the States. With their neon-pink “Bite Me NYC” sign, blinding iridescent packaging, and over-the-top, highly Instagrammable pastries, they clearly know exactly who their audience is… Which is losers like me. And the girl next to me, who literally brought a handheld light which she awkwardly arched over her head while crouching down to take 500 shots of her donut with her other hand. Breathe, girl.
The pastries were phenomenal. My friend and I grabbed a mulled wine croissant, a gingerbread donut, a cream-cheese-and-lox-stuffed croissant (these places always have bomb savory options somehow), a peppermint croissant, and a boring plain croissant (instant regret). It took us about two hours to demolish the entire box and we regretted not getting more!
See Aladdin!! (Or Any Broadway Show)
As a Middle Eastern woman (am I a woman yet? Who knows), Aladdin has always been one of my favorite Disney movies. Princess Jasmine was my inspiration along with Belle, the nerd princess after my own heart. I was concerned that Aladdin would be a horrific bastardisation of a classic childhood film but I was delighted to find that the Broadway production did it justice in a big way.
The cast was awesome, the sets were absolutely STUNNING, and I may or may not have cried during “A Whole New World”. Do yourself a favor and see it! Or a different show, if you have zero interest in that one. Just see something. New Amsterdam Theater is absolutely gorgeous and it’s honestly so much fun to see a Broadway production in NY. It’s a great experience and 100% worth the money.
Dinner at The Meatball Shop
We felt like some hearty Italian food and happened upon a quirky little joint a few blocks away. You mark your selection on a laminated menu with a felt-tip pen (I seriously love doing this at restaurants. Just give me some crayons and paper tbh), and your food is whisked out shortly after. We had the Buffalo Chicken meatballs with blue cheese sauce to start and they were fucking divine.
I got classic meatballs over rigatoni for my main – they were drenched in a rich Parmesan cream and accompanied by a small piece of focaccia. Too small. Give me more bread, I am clearly not here to be healthy. I know I can’t describe all meals as “like crack” but I could have eaten an entire pot of that pasta. Amaze. They nailed the meatballs too.
Go Bar Crawling, Drink Too Much, Get Lost on the Subway
Did you even visit New York if you didn’t have at least one panic-inducing, disastrous subway ride? In the city that never sleeps, the subway never sleeps either. This is a good thing in that you can get home from anywhere, at any hour, but a bad thing, in that you can mentally justify roaming around at ungodly hours of the night “because the subway is still open”.
We went bar crawling with a few local friends and hit a ton of cool spots like Bar Goto , Attaboy , Nitecap, and Ms Yoo (highly recommend all!!). Drunk me is a brave, intrepid solo traveler with too much confidence in her abilities, so I obviously ended up alone in the middle of nowhere with 20% battery, convinced I was going to have to sleep in the metro station. Though I miraculously survived my night of drunken idiocy as always, next time I’ll plan my route home before wandering off.
Eat Brunch at Pietro Nolita, the Cutest Restaurant of All Time
Who wouldn’t want to go to an all-pink restaurant? The entire interior, exterior, bar, and decor of Pietro Nolita is pink, and I knew there was no way I could come to NYC and not visit. I figured it would be a lame photo opportunity but not much more, and forgave myself for trekking there solely for the gram.
But it actually ended up being a really solid restaurant. My friend’s meal was the real winner – she got the egg sandwich with brioche, crispy prosciutto, and pesto, and it was way better than my benedict (which was still yum!). We left very satisfied and then had a half-hour photoshoot outside which ended only when I caught the entire laundromat across the street laughing their asses off.
Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is a must when visiting New York. It’s one of the coolest bridges I’ve seen, and offers some spectacular views of the city as you walk through. The bridge is obviously packed with tourists, but once you get past the main walkway there are a few opportunities for better photos. You can get to Brooklyn by subway, of course, but we were really glad we walked the bridge instead.
Explore Brooklyn Bridge Park & Brooklyn!
Just after you get through the bridge, there’s a really cute park (Brooklyn Bridge Park) that offers a great view of the bridge and of Manhattan. There are a ton of cute restaurants and cafés and a long walkway along the water.
There are so many different areas of Brooklyn to explore. Everywhere you walk there are cute streets, cute buildings, cute dogs, cute cafés… It’s a lovely area packed with stuff to do and built for exploring, since pretty much everywhere you walk has somewhere to stop in. The architecture is really lovely too, a lot of beautiful classic brick buildings. Basically I thought Brooklyn was adorable and I’m upset I didn’t get to spend more time there, since I had a flight to catch.
Get Snacks and a Spicy Marg at Gran Electrica
I’m a sucker for a spicy marg, and when we needed some shelter from the cold we popped into the first bar we spotted. Gran Electrica makes a killer habañero margarita and a ton of bomb little snacks like ceviche and tacos. I was flying out that evening, and my friend was switching hotels, so this was our last stop : ( But closing with a bar was an excellent choice – I left a little tipsy, happy, and totally satisfied with my trip.
Where to Stay:
We stayed right in the heart of Times Square at Row NYC . The room was cosy (read: small), but the beds were so comfortable, and considering the convenience of the location I didn’t mind the size. The area is crowded and touristy, but it’s super central, and you’re within walking distance of a ton of activities. I hadn’t been to New York in a decade and wanted to be right in the middle of all of the excitement, so if that’s what you’re looking for I’d highly recommend this place! It’s also right next door to Sugar Factory , if that’s on your list!
Getting Into The City:
As long as u dont take Supershuttle idgaf what u do. After my nightmare experience getting into the city I booked with Go Airport Shuttle for my way out, and they were a much more organised operation. My shuttle actually arrived early!
It took me about two hours to get into the city, so I’m pretty confident it would be a hefty charge for a taxi. A shuttle service ran me about $20 and even though it’s not glamorous, it’s also a lot more practical than blowing half your vacation budget on a cab.
Stay Somewhere Central: We were thrilled with our location in Midtown because it meant that we were within walking distance of a ton of activities that we wanted to do. Plan ahead, figure out what you want to see and do, and pick a convenient spot. New York is huge and you won’t be able to see everything, so plan beforehand or you’re going to be totally overwhelmed when you get there!
Bring Warm Clothing, U Idiot: I work in e-commerce and accordingly, it is part of my job description to look good. I have way too many clothes/shoes/accessories, but I’m from California and live in Australia, so I’m used to mild weather. So when it came to packing for NY, instead of bringing a big jacket like a normal human, I decided I could make do for the sake of fashion. Reality: I did not make do, I was cold, I had to wear a ton of layers and buy gloves/scarves/hats last minute to survive. Don’t be like me. BRING ADEQUATE CLOTHING.
Bring Comfortable, Broken-In Shoes: The only shoes I brought with me were a brand-new pair of super cute metallic rose-gold sneakers, and a pair of gorgeous suede over-the-knee boots I’d only worn a couple times. Guess who walked 10+ miles every day and went through an entire package of Band-Aids over the course of four days because her feet were bleeding all over the place. Once again, don’t be like me. Bring shoes that are broken in or you will regret it. You will walk a lot here.
Bring Loose Pants, Lol: New York has some freaking amazing food, and it’s such a densely populated area that literally everywhere you go is going to have somewhere you want to stop in for a bite. Me and my friend ate way more meals than were necessary because we kept finding delicious stuff that we needed to eat, even if we were already stuffed lol. The one day that I didn’t wear my fat pants I wanted to kill myself I was so uncomfortable.
Stay More Than a Few Days: Four days was not enough!! There are so many different areas of NYC and I feel like we barely scratched the surface of all the amazing sights to see and foods to eat. I wished I’d had more time there to explore more neighborhoods. New York is known as the city that never sleeps for a reason! I could easily have spent another week or two there and I don’t think I would have spent a single moment bored. I can’t wait to get back and see more of the city.
As an American living abroad, sometimes it’s easy to forget that the US has some pretty awesome places to explore too. NYC is definitely high on the list and especially for us west-coasters feels completely new and exciting.
Planning a trip to New York? Let me know if any of these spots made your list!
Like this post? Share it below! ↓