Picking one activity per neighborhood is not easy in the most vibrant city in the world. The part of Manhattan below 14th Street is considered Lower Manhattan; a cultural melting pot, open-minded and creative. As city tripping tends to be exhausting, every activity is paired with an option to fuel up on food or drinks.
Hudson River Park
The Hudson River Park flanks the Hudson from 59th Street all the way down to the south tip of Manhattan. I found it to be a great running track, if you don’t mind jumping over the occasional rat. The One World Trade Center approaches with every step as you work your way down.
Fuel up: the annual Hudson River Park Blues BBQ brings the city’s best BBQ restaurants and the country’s greatest Blues artists together in the waterfront park, all for free. On any other day of the year there is B Flat, an underground jazz lounge that makes you forget about the bustling city above you.
9/11 Memorial and Museum
Where used to be the Twin Towers is now a powerful memorial, commemorating the 3000 people that were killed in the 9/11 attacks. The adjacent 9/11 Memorial Museum shows how New York City lived through its darkest day.
Fuel up: Fresh Salt is a cozy neighborhood joint with a great happy hour. Four dollar gin tonics in one of the most touristy areas of Manhattan? That’s what I call a hidden gem.
This neighborhood on the East River waterfront holds a double gateway to Brooklyn. Both the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge will land you on the other side, but the latter does it in style. Cross the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge and get splendid views of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Fuel up: At the other end of the Brooklyn Bridge, you’ll find a Shake Shack waiting. What started as one hot dog joint in NYC’s Madison Square, Shake Shack’s burgers and shakes can now be enjoyed all over the US. Buzzers letting you know when your food is ready are widespread nowadays, but four years ago my first encounter was at Shake Shack. That must be why I took a picture of it.
Just like most cities’, NYC’s Chinatown is one long chain of Chinese restaurants and supermarkets. Order a batch of dumplings, sesame pancakes or steamed buns for take out and enjoy them in nearby Columbus Park. Back in Gangs of New York times, this picnic would have meant your last supper. Nowadays, Columbus Park is a peaceful and popular meeting point for the Chinese community.
Fuel up: One of my favorite culinary discoveries in New York City were soup dumplings. These little pockets of dough are filled with chicken or meat broth, for an explosion of flavor. Joe’s Shanghai has some of the best in town.
Little Italy & Nolita
Food walking tour
Little Italy and its north neighbor Nolita are scattered with delicious food options. That’s why a self-guided food tour is a great way to explore these neighborhoods. Indispensable on the menu are Di Palo‘s fine meats and cheeses, Taïm’s falafel, Lombardi’s pizza and espresso from Caffé Roma.
The Bowery Ballroom
Nestled in between food havens Little Italy and Lower East Side, Bowery has no shortage of great food options on its own. Another reason to head down to Bowery is the Bowery Ballroom. This unique music venue is housed in a building dating back to the Roaring Twenties. There’s room for no more than 600 people, which ensures an intimate experience. You might just be standing ten feet away of the next rising star.
Fuel up: The Chinese alternative to fondue has more flavor and less calories. Hot pot is a festive meal with many variations, depending on the region in China. Little Sheep Hot Pot started in China and successfully branched out to the United States. I was happy to have a Chinese colleague by my side, teaching me hot pot etiquette.
Shop till you drop
SoHo or “South of Houston” is known for one activity only: shopping! The shopping experience in SoHo is one of a kind. No cramped spaces or generic malls around here. The shops are housed in beautiful and spacious buildings, characterized by the signature fire escapes. Designer boutiques alternate with upscale chains like Hollister and Banana Republic. We shopped in SoHo on Black Friday, which turned the ever classy neighborhood into an (organized) madhouse.
Fuel up: When my parents came to visit me, I was craving a classic Belgian meal: steak and fries. Unfortunately, this was not part of my unpaid intern diet. My cravings were satisfied in The Jane, a welcoming American bistro.
Lower East Side
Manhattan has a unique bar scene, which is why I dedicated an entire post to it. The Lower East Side is especially well endowed when it comes to imbibing options. Fill up your wallet and go on bar crawl alongside Manhattan’s party crowd. Start at Nitecap with ‘aperitif hour’. Continue the sweet deals during Verlaine’s extended happy hour. Stop by Dudley’s or Attaboy for a perfectly crafted cocktail. Pass through a pawn shop to enter Beauty & Essex’s luxurious lounge. End the night in one of NYC’s two original speakeasy bars; to honor this fact, the Back Room serves all its drinks in teacups.
Fuel up: If you’re still around the morning after and up for some more imbibing, head to Tre. This little Italian place serves up a fantastic brunch, including bottomless mimosas. Although the latter might not be authentic Italian, the food definitely is.
Boozy (bottomless) brunch was born in New York City, and more precisely in East Village. Although I cannot back this fact up, the concentration of bottomless brunch venues in East Village proves my point. The concept is simple: for about 30 dollars, you get an entree and an hour or two of unlimited drinks. The options typically range from Mimosas to Bellinis and Bloody Marys. The challenge lies in finding the place that refills your glass before it’s empty – with a smile.
Fuel up: with boozy brunch, of course. These three East Village venues guarantee a weekend of bottomless fun:
- Looking at San Marzano‘s brunch menu, you’ll feel in a small Italian town rather than a pricey metropolis. For under $20, you get a brunch classic with an Italian twist and unlimited mimosas. Everything is served in a bright corner space.
- Poco lives up to its party brunch label. They don’t do refills by the glass, but replace the bottle instead. The lobster mac and cheese is surprisingly delicious.
- When living in the US, I dream about crunchy bread and non-plastic cheese. Pardon My French satisfied both of my cravings at the same time with a fine Croque Monsieur. The waiters fill up your glass in style and with a smile.
Washington Square Park
Greenwich Village is home to the New York University, which explains its young and open-minded crowd. I wish somebody had told me sooner that its pronounced GREN-itch, not GREEN-witch. Besides a ton of restaurants and bars, you’ll encounter one of the cities best known public parks. There is always something going on in Washington Square Park: street performers in summer, Christmas charm in winter.
Fuel up: Another brunch spot where the drinks keep on flowing is Carroll Place. Here no Mimosas but delicious Bellinis, which are accompanied by giant Italian pizzas. Note to the detailed reader: the spider webs are not part of the daily decor, but of the Halloween decoration.
West Village is characterized by beautiful tree-lined streets with static brownstones. Technically part of Greenwich Village, splitting it up gives me the chance to mention the IFC Center. This art house movie theater screens the newest independent and international movies. In addition, there are premieres and weekly series that take a leap into movie history.
Fuel up: Cross the street for after-movie drinks in The Garret. This hidden bar is located above a Five Guys joint. Enjoy a burger and craft cocktail with a view of Bleecker Street.
Whitney Museum of Art
For such a small neighborhood, there is quite a lot going on in the Meatpacking District. Most of it involves obnoxious imbibing, but there are other options. The Whitney Museum of Art is one not to miss. Its extensive collection focuses on Modern American Art. With more than 20,000 pieces, the works on display are never the same. The fifth floor terrace has spectacular views of the High Line and the Hudson River.
Fuel up: The Standard Hotel offers two very different options for nightly entertainment. One is Le Bain, the rooftop bar where the doorman plays a central role. The other one is much more relaxed, proven by the beer served in boots. Nestled under the High Line, The Standard Biergarten is the perfect spot for a summer night out.