This past February, my husband and I took a little winter vacation to New York City! The location paired with this timing (cold, mid-February) might seem odd, but for us it was perfect. My husband is working on his master’s degree and his winter break from university is the entire month of February. I also have fairly flexible work hours and February is usually not a busy time for me. It’s the ideal time of year for us to get out of Austria for a bit, and instead of going somewhere warm and sunny, we decided to hit up New York City. We’ve always talked about visiting NYC together; I’ve been twice, though both times in my early teens, and my husband has never been. The poor man has been to the U.S. dozens of times and has pretty much only seen the south.
I’m very excited to share with you some of the things we did, shows we saw, tours we experienced and the FOOD we ate. Keep in mind, he and I are not wealthy, luxurious jet-setters. We wanted to fully experience the NYC vibe without going broke, so that’s what we strove for. Granted, we did splurge in places, like our hotel and the one Broadway show we saw, but other than that, we tried to keep it low-key. That’s our style and how we like to travel.
Instead of going in chronological order, outlining what we did every single day, I’ve decided to group the activities into categories. I hope this will make the whole post more enjoyable to read and easier to follow if you’re needing recommendations or ideas for your own trip. I tried to link back to sources as much as possible. Are you guys ready to see our NYC experience? Here we go!
First things first, here’s where we stayed. The citizenM New York hotel is right off Time Square and pretty much hipster paradise. The rooms are tiny, but very cool. The bed was huge and super comfortable, pushed up against a huge window that was surprisingly (thankfully) very quiet. There’s storage under the bed for your stuff, a little desk, chair, fridge (necessary), and a little bathroom with the sink actually in the room. The coolest part is the whole room is controlled an iPad, so you can change the temperature, lighting, music, TV, even mood lighting, all with the iPad and this worked without any glitches. All the movies and TV shows are free! We spent two nights on our trip just hanging out in our hotel room. We ordered sushi, put on our pajamas and watched a movie with some cold beers from our fridge.
The hotel has a huge lobby with multiple sitting areas. We had their breakfast buffet a few times, which was always fresh, delicious, and filling (but pricey, $22 a pop), and the coffee is free any time! The bar is also great with a nice selection, but also a little expensive for us (as we discovered would be a common feeling throughout the trip).
Though I would not stay here again, overall I did enjoy the hotel. It’s very close to several subway stations (which was our main mode of transportation during our stay), the staff was VERY helpful and friendly, lots of restaurants nearby, and it had an overall nice atmosphere. Next time I will try to find something with bigger rooms and not located so close to Time Square. Walking through Time Square was fun the first time. The. First. Time. It quickly became extremely annoying being forced to walk through that chaos just to get to our hotel. We started avoiding it like the plague.
While I do enjoy exploring a new city on my own, just soaking in the atmosphere and seeing where we end up, I also have an appreciation for structured, organized tours. I love history, and New York City has plenty of it, so we did three guided tours during our stay.
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
The quintessential New York City tour. Can you really go to New York and not visit the Statue of Liberty? Since my husband was a first-timer, I thought it was a must. I, myself, remember going to Ellis Island in grade school and being really impressed with the property and the stories, so I added this to the ferry tour. We did this on our first day and it was the perfect introduction to our vacation. We got lucky with the weather; it was sunny and not too cold. I really liked this tour because you get to be mostly independent. It’s all audio guides, so you can go at your own pace, just make sure your back at the boat on time. 🙂 I would highly recommend for anyone who has never been to New York City and wants to know some history behind it’s founding and growth.
Hands down, the best tour EVER. If you like to eat (duh), have even the slightest interest in history, and want to visit some amazing restaurants and joints in the coolest areas of New York led by local guides (are you on the edge of your seat yet), then DO THIS. I know, I sound like a spokesperson already, but that’s how much I loved this Foods of New York Tour. I actually went on a very similar tour 12 years ago with my parents through the same company, and even then it made an impression on me. I was thrilled when I saw they were still doing their thing and booked this immediately after buying our plane tickets.
We did the Heart of The Village Tour, and our tour guide, Raheem, made this the best experience, despite the on and off rain that day. Come hungry, because you will be happy and full after these 3 hours. Raheem took us to 8 restaurants and specialty food stores in Greenwich Village, giving us little tidbits of history and telling stories about the places we visited and all the food we tried. And you get to try A LOT of different delicious food. Here’s a link to the tour we did so you can see exactly where we went.
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
One for the U.S. History buffs. This little museum on 97 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side tells the stories of immigrants and their families who lived in the building during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum offers many different guided tours through the building, each tour focused on a different set of families and their story. Our tour guide was extremely friendly and spoke freely about the building and the families. There were about 10 other people with us, everyone from different parts of the world, and our guide really encouraged discussions during the tour on the topics she was share by asking questions about our own experiences and what we knew about immigrant life during the time period. This was incredibly interesting, and a somewhat humbling experience. An hour and $25 well spent if you ask me.
Now for the fun stuff! I was most looking forward to doing some good eating on this trip, and we definitely did. I tried to keep our spending on food and drinks each day within a reasonable range, so I did a lot of research while we were there trying to find delicious food and interesting restaurants that would not cost us an arm and a leg. Some were good, some were not, but here are some of our favorite places we ate.
Blue Dog Cafe
On our first day I found this little cafe just a block away from our hotel. It’s a tiny place and was very crowded, but we were lucky and got a table as soon as we walked in (apparently we got really lucky, because there was a line out the door when we left). The food was amazingly flavorful with really good portions, keeping us full way past lunch time. Service was awesome and I wish we would have visited a second time!
While walking around the neighborhood near our hotel, Hell’s Kitchen, we saw tons of interesting looking restaurants, but for some reason this modest sushi place caught our eye. I was craving sushi from the moment we got to New York, so we went here for dinner on our second day. Besides your typical sushi fair, they had numerous specialty rolls, with accompanying pictures in the menu, and they all looked and sounded amazing. My husband and I both had miso soup and we shared 2 or 3 rolls, with some big Sapporos. The prices here were spot on, and we loved it so much that we actually ordered from here twice more on our trip and had them deliver to the hotel.
Mermaid Oyster Bar
One word: Oysters! One of my favorite foods that I only have on special occasions. There are several Mermaids locations in Manhattan, and we went to the one in the Village during Monday Happy Hour. $1 oysters, $5 beer, $7 sparkling wine, and all kinds of happy hour goodies at great prices. A reservation here is a must. I would not expect to be able to walk-in, especially during happy hour, and get a seat right away. One of my favorite places we dined, and definitely worth trying out if you have a hankering for seafood.
Carve Unique Sandwiches and Pizza
Half-way through the trip we were starting to get sticker shock from all the seemingly expensive restaurants. A bar tender we chatted with suggested we try out Carve since it was close to our hotel for a cheaper bite to eat and some decent pizza. Can’t go to New York without having some New York style pizza, can you? We liked it so much that we ate here about 3 times, twice for breakfast. 🙂 Why not, huh? We always each got a huge slice of pizza and then tried to find a window seat so we could people watch while we ate. Perfect solution for a quick and cheap bite to eat. I always got pepperoni and mushroom.
We decided to spend one day at the tip of Manhattan to walk around the financial district and see Wall Street and the World Trade Center. It was a really cold day, and one where I did not plan a place for lunch. But somehow, thankfully, we found this chinese place and decided to give it a try. It was almost totally full, and we had to sit at the bar, but the whole experience was very cool. Almost everything was in Chinese with only a few very poor English translations, and almost everyone in the restaurant was Chinese (I’m assuming). We ordered something that sounded good, which ended up being a kind of weird, oily bean dish, but we also ordered some dim sum, which I knew would be a safe bet. And it was so good! I hadn’t had proper dim sum in such a long time and it was delicious. For some reason (maybe someone else’s order got messed up?), they gave us another round on the house, which we very happily devoured.
Tout Va Bien
Upon the suggestion of my Great Uncle, we decided to try out this French place for dinner. I haven’t been to many French restaurants, and didn’t really know what to expect, but it was lovely. It’s in a neat building in Hell’s Kitchen, and they had completely decorated for Valentine’s Day (which was the previous day we visited). We had an early dinner because we had to catch a show that night, so our meals came out pretty quick (not complaining). Our waiter was pleasant and helpful, and I loved the relaxed atmosphere. They brought out a crudité to start, and I had the Coq Au Vin with lots of champagne.
Pick A Bagel
The last meal we had in New York was breakfast from Pick A Bagel. Holy cow, was this place crowded with both locals and tourists. Completely full, I’m so glad I was there alone picking up something to-go (and this is why I have no photos. It was crazy). There are tons of options for every kind of bagel, spread, topping, filling combo imaginable, plus salads, sandwiches and other pastries for whatever you’re feeling. It was hectic in there, but I loved it, and the prices where not too crazy, especially considering the portion size. I had a whole grain bagel with lox cream cheese.
Christof and I love Irish pubs. We met in one, for heaven’s sake, and there are many in Vienna that we love to visit. So when I found this one during an impromptu Google Maps search while we were aimlessly walking around Hell’s Kitchen, we made a beeline. It was Valentine’s Say and we were intent on not doing anything extravagant, so at 3:00 pm we took a seat at the bar at The Landmark Tavern and sat there for about 3 hours drinking Guinness and cider, watching soccer on tv and talking it up with the bartender. It was the most chill afternoon, and we learned a lot about the old bar and the area from the bartender. They also have a restaurant, which looked kind of fancy. I would totally recommend this place, whether you’re just wanting a drink or looking to have a nice sit-down dinner.
I read about this place on the hotel’s blog and stuck it in my back pocket in case we needed a place to sit down for a drink one day in the Village. Sure enough, the time arose, and while I had no problem finding The Garret on Google Maps and getting to the address, I had the hardest time actually finding it! I walked around the building listed on Google a few times, couldn’t find an entrance, a door, nothing. Then I crossed the street thinking maybe I’d get a better vantage point of the building for where this place was (if it even really existed). I then realized that this place is a legit speakeasy style, and the entrance was in the Five Guys restaurant I had been circling! You have to almost walk into the kitchen at Five Guys, then make a turn and suddenly you’re staring at a carpeted staircase. Take it to the top, and bam, you’re in the coolest little cocktail bar. We found a spot by the window and ordered some drinks while we planned our next destination. This was definitely a splurge, but totally worth it. Hopefully you’ll embarrass yourself less while trying to find it than I did.
Blind Tiger Ale House
Our tour guide from the food tour suggested this place when we asked for a good place to chill and have some cold ones. It’s a craft beer bar on Bleeker Street in the Village. They have a wide selection, and the bartender was super pleasant while helping us pick out some beers to try. There’s a huge fireplace on one wall, and I can only imagine that place is cozy as fuck in the middle of winter. It was pretty crowded, but we squeezed in at the bar and just fine. They also had some food options that looked amazing, but we had dinner plans right after and didn’t get to try anything. I would love to go back and try some snacks.
The Press Lounge
So, I thought it would be a great idea to go to the top of either the Empire State Building or One World Trade Center, but I had no idea how expensive that would be. $35 per person to ride an elevator and stare at the city views for about 20 minutes before you have to go back down again. I realize there is some upkeep to these kinds of tourist attractions, but that seems like a ripoff to me. I mentioned this to our bartender at Landmark Tavern and he suggested hitting up this hotel rooftop bar for a cocktail and a killer view. And it was a killer view. It opens at 5:00 p.m. which was right at sunset, and we had an awesome vantage point over the city. We ordered some specialty cocktails to sip while we soaked-up that NYC feeling one last time (we came here on our last day). In my opinion, this is way better than elbowing my way through crowds on the organized rooftop tours.
Things We Did
To fill in the time between meals and activities, we did a lot of walking. I think we got really lucky that the weather was so nice in mid-February. We definitely took advantage of it, and even when it was cold and windy, we tried to walk as much as possible. We stuck to the classics to get our steps in. Central Park was lovely, and freshly covered in snow and ice from a winter storm just a day or two before we arrived. We took several strolls through different areas of the park. We also walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. Mostly to say that we’ve done it! The views here were also great and as soon as we got to Brooklyn, we just hopped on the subway back to Manhattan. Lastly, we walked almost the entire length of the Highline. This is such a cool concept and even this time of year there was lots of greenery along the path.
While we didn’t go inside One World Trade Center or any of the World Trade center museums, we did want to visit the memorial site. It’s way bigger than I expected and surprisingly serene considering you’re in the middle of the largest city in the US. I’m glad we went.
And finally, we went to some great shows! How can you go to New York and not see a show: This is where I totally splurged, as I really wanted this experience for Christof and I. I’ve been to a few shows in New York and love the feeling of going to the theater and watching a live performance. Because I know Christof isn’t huge fan of musicals, I figured The Book of Mormon would be a good intro to theater. 🙂 Not only was the show great and hilarious, but the theater employees were awesome and I got to drink wine out of a sippy cup during the show. I was basically in heaven, and Christof was a fan.
We also went to a burlesque show at The Slipper Room in the Lower East Side (on the same street as the Tenement Museum). Now this was an experience. It was a classic burlesque set-up with go-go dancing, comedy acts, burlesque dancing, of course, and some singing. We bought tickets to the 8:00 show, but ended up staying for the late show too, and had the best time! Drinks weren’t too expensive, probably because they want you to get sauced and tip the ladies. This place was super classy, and watching those girls on stage was empowering and actually gave me this boost of confidence and feminine pride. It was great, and I would highly recommend if you want to do something a off the beaten path. And if you don’t have a problem with a little female nudity.
We also went to a comedy show at The Comedy Cellar, a famous comedy club where dozens of celebs got their start (and still do occasional shows), like Louis C.K., Robin Williams, Chris Rock, and Wanda Sykes. Tickets were cheap, about $10, but there’s a two drink minimum (no problemo, man). No cameras are allowed, but it’s for a good reason. The headliner the night of our show: Judah Friedlander! The hubs and I loved 30 Rock, and I personally used to be obsessed with all the VH1 “I Love The” decades shows where he was a regular. Would highly recommend if you love stand-up comedy. Even the two opening acts for Judah were hilarious. It was my ab workout for the day.
That’s it guys! While this is not an exhaustive list of every little thing we did, it’s a solid highlight reel of all the things we enjoyed most. I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on our trip. If you have any questions at all about our experience in New York, please leave a comment or message me directly.