Explore world class museums, famous meals and ingredients, and a small portion of the many (many!) shows and books set in the Big Apple, with our virtual travel guide to New York City.
New York, New York—so good they named it twice. The city of Times Square, Central Park, and the Statue of Liberty; home to the world’s best restaurants, music venues, theaters, and art museums. But while New York City is certainly big and loud (just ask anyone who’s visiting from out of town), it will also knock you over with its quiet moments, like when the sun sets over the Brooklyn Bridge or a saxophonist plays under the Washington Square Arch.
New York has always been my dream. I once asked my dad when exactly I started telling people I was going to live in New York City and he told me I “came out of the womb that way.” In the nine years since I’ve moved in, I have rotated through jobs, partners, and apartments (so. many. apartments.), but New York has been my constant.
Not that New York has been easy, nor has it ever pretended to be. New York is for masochists. As much as you may love New York and give it your all, this city can’t be bothered. The morning subway will not wait for you as you trip down the station stairs, the grocery bag will rip in the middle of a crosswalk, the bartender will shrug as you gasp at $17 drinks. Maybe you don’t get the job or the guy or the part, and suddenly you think the suburbs of LA or Detroit or Columbus hold some appeal. Until you wake up in the morning and remember that the people and places that make up New York are the best of the best.
Lately, that’s been truer than ever. At 7 p.m. we cheer for our healthcare workers, children in Brooklyn tape rainbow drawings in the windows, and more people than ever are volunteering to foster pets or support coronavirus relief efforts. As the city hit hardest by COVID-19, the best of New York is currently closed, waiting for when it’s safe to return—but it will take much more to shut down its people.
While you may not be able to travel here at the moment, fortunately New York is a place that captures the heart with its mythic lore alone—and only gets better the more movies and media you consume before you visit. Trust us, the Empire State Building, Grand Central, and Katz’s Deli really are as great as they look on screen.
Below, find just some of the many (many!) books, movies, TV shows, musicians, and artists that come from the Big Apple, plus a few ways to bring NYC to you.
There is maybe nothing more representative of New York City than the pizza slice, which is available on practically every corner of Manhattan at every hour. If you’re looking for the real deal, cruise pass the $1 signs and head to Joe’s Pizza on Carmine, Prince Street Pizza, Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint, Roberta’s in Bushwick, Saraghina in Bed-Stuy or John’s of Bleecker Street (there is also a John’s of Times Square that I’m fairly certain is a knockoff but still delicious and a great place for a cheap-ish bite before the theater). Scott’s Pizza Tours are currently hosting virtual pizza-making classes—fun for the whole family.
That’s a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese sandwich, and this NYC standby is available from every corner deli to fancy cafes like High Street on Hudson and Sadelle’s. There are plenty of techniques to reenact this delicacy at home, though we give extra points to Bon Appetit’s egg-in-a-hole sandwich with bacon and cheddar for presentation.
Bagels and Lox
Brined salmon, cream cheese, tomato, onion and caper on a bagel = the ideal meal to grab on your way to a park for the perfect weekend morning in summer. You can find this Jewish speciality at institutions like Barney Green Grass and Russ & Daughters, but really any bagel shop will do. Very little actual cooking is involved with this brunch staple, but you can watch Melissa Clark and Niki Russ Federman of Russ & Daughters assemble the ingredients to really nail the technique.
That line snaking down the block just in front of the Museum of Modern Art in midtown is for the famous Halal Guys’ gyros or chicken platters. On the corner of 53rd and 6th, this cart slings chicken, falafel, and gyro meat with rice, lettuce, tomato, a white yogurt sauce, and spicy red sauce. People have been trying to recreate their white sauce for years to no avail, but you can find some DIY instructions here and here.
Anthony Bourdain says you have to eat a “dirty water hot dog” when you’re in New York, and we’re not going to argue with him—though we would recommend Nathan’s or Gray’s Papaya over a random street food carts. We’d also recommend *not* trying your hand at hot dog making at home, though roasting one over the open flame of your stove would be just fine.
Magnolia Bakery Banana Pudding
The cupcakes and cakes at Magnolia are divine, but the banana pudding is the stuff that dreams are made of. Perfectly textured with the ideal pudding-to-Nilla ratio, you’ll want to buy a vat to bring home in your suitcase. In the meantime, try your hand at making it yourself. Magnolia Bakery’s West Village location is usually mobbed, but they now have locations all over the city.
We’re not sure where the term “meat sweats” originated, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it was born after someone ate a giant sandwich with inches (plural) worth of pastrami. Brave the line for Katz’s Deli, or head to Pastrami Queen or Mile End Delicatessen. Over at Bon Appetit, you can prepare pastrami for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Tour the City’s World-Famous Museums
See Van Gogh’s Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art, the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and look up at the rotunda from inside the Guggenheim through Google Arts & Culture. It may not be the same as the real thing, but consider it an art appreciation class to make seeing these pieces in the flesh that much more exciting when the time comes.
Or Better Yet, Take a Class
MoMA is currently offering free art classes through Coursera, on Fashion as Design, Contemporary Art, and Photography, among others. You’ll start to see the world in a whole new way, once we can get back out there.
Go Back in Time
The Tenement Museum is great in person, but their online exhibits are equally interesting and well-designed. 2020 is a census year, and the museum’s historians have put together a timeline to show how they’ve used census data to build a more complete picture of the Lower East Side over the years. The New York Historical Society also has a robust archive of exhibits to explore. Plus, take a look at New York during the 1918 epidemic, and remember that life does resume against all odds.
The Metropolitan Opera is streaming a different show from the past 14 years every night at 7:30 p.m. while it’s closed. New York Philharmonic has launched NY Phil Plays On with free archival recordings. For a different genre, Ridgewood dance club Nowadays is live-streaming a new DJ set every night from 8 p.m. to midnight for free (you can also become a member on Patreon for $5/month to gain access to their archives). Broadway World has launched a daily Living Room Concerts series, where the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda perform their hits. And while the Tribeca Film Festival may be postponed, they’re sharing select works—including online premieres—from their alumni filmmakers.
You’ve Got Mail
Set in NYC’s Upper West Side in the late-90s, this Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks-starring rom com is a classic for a reason. Co-written and directed by Nora Ephron, a New York City hero in her own right, this love story is also a love letter to the good ol’ days of New York when mom n’ pop shops reigned supreme. All the while nodding to the fact that the only constant in this town is change. Rent it on Amazon Prime or YouTube.
The Devil Wears Prada
For anyone who’s ever aspired to move to New York and work in fashion. Based on Lauren Weisberger’s novel of the same name about her time as assistant to Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour, you’ll attend the Met Ball, travel to Paris Fashion Week, and date ubiquitous New Yorker Adrian Grenier, all in an hour and 50 minutes. Rent it on Youtube.
Follow a young Rosario Dawson, Chloe Sevigny, and Leo Fitzpatrick through subway turnstiles, skateparks, and house parties in this seminal coming of age story. Released and set in the mid-90s, New York’s then-reality was sex, drugs, and rock and roll, yes—but also HIV, racism, and misogyny. With scenes set in Washington Square Park, the Carmine Street swimming pool, and the backseat of taxi cabs, it’s a love letter as much as a warning to New York’s youth. The movie isn’t available on streaming services, but you can read an oral history of the movie here.
The Squid and the Whale
Noah Baumbach loves New York, especially the neighborhoods surrounding Prospect Park (more than one of his films feature my subway stop, confirming that it is, in fact, the best subway stop). In The Squid and the Whale, two Brooklyn kids are shuffled from one side of the park to the other, navigating their parents’ fresh divorce. Laura Linney, Jeff Daniels, and Jesse Eisenberg—need we say more? Watch it for free on Tubi.
When a preteen makes a wish to be “big,” he wakes up as an adult (played by Tom Hanks), and has to navigate New York’s corporate world, dating scene, and social structures all at once. Hilarity ensues, but the lesson, of course, is that as much as you might feel like you’re constantly chasing after something here in New York City, you’ve already arrived. Rent it on Youtube.
Sex and the City
Sure, it’s expected, and yes, there are issues with diversity and inclusion, and no, New York City is not at all the same as it appeared in this late nineties/early aughts cult TV show. But. But! I’d be lying if I didn’t say this is the show I went to sleep dreaming about as a midwestern youth. Despite the aforementioned issues, it’s still the very best ode to female friendship, fashion, and NYC <3. Watch on HBO Now.
If Sex and the City overly romanticized New York, Broad City brought it crashing down to reality. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer play women in their early 20s navigating New York’s more mundane realities, like Bed Bath & Beyond, wisdom teeth removal, and showering at the gym. Watch on Hulu or Comedy Central.
We’re convinced that for a very small percentage of New York’s Upper East Side echelon, the plot of Gossip Girl is 100% factual. Football field-sized apartments, daily happy hours at the Plaza, masked balls—most of us will never experience this particular New York, but we can certainly ogle at Blake Lively, Penn Badgeley, Chase Crawford, and Leighton Meester on screen while we whisper to ourselves “See! Money doesn’t buy happiness.” Watch on Netflix.
Listen to the best live conversations that have been hosted at The New York Public Library, from former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson to poet Marilynne Robinson and author Susan Orlean.
For the history nerds, the Bowery Boys podcast has been running for over a decade, covering everything from Greenwich Village in the 60s to NYC’s department of sanitation to bagels. There are hundreds of episodes to choose from, and all are meticulously reported and incredibly detailed.
You can’t get on a New York City subway without seeing someone reading a copy of New Yorker magazine. Hear the stories from wherever you are with this podcast, where New York fiction writers read their own recently published stories.
An epic story of a man who arrives in New York in 1740 and remains—you guessed it—forever. Our main character Cormac O’Connor is granted immortality as long as he never leaves Manhattan, and so the reader sees New York shift and grow from small settlement to the grand city it is today. It’s a history lesson that imbues facts with love stories, war tales, and magic.
Author Stephanie Danler wrote Sweetbitter over seven years, based on her experience working in Manhattan’s lauded Union Square Cafe. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at New York’s restaurant industry, from its glories to its harsh realities, and an ode to the excruciating magic of being young in New York.
Published in 1943, this American classic follows young Francie Nolan through her everyday life in the slums of Williamsburg. A must-read for anyone who has dreams of “making it” in NYC.
Poet, artist, and musician Patti Smith turned to prose to document her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the late sixties and seventies for Just Kids, published in 2010. For anyone who idolizes New York’s artists of yore, Smith gives us an inside look, from Brooklyn to the Lower East Side to the Chelsea Hotel. She doesn’t make it sound easy, but she does make it sound wonderful.
Hanya Yanagihara’s novel follows four young men from their first apartment on Lispenard Street through jobs, relationships, and life’s dark turns. Epic, tragic, and haunting—there are lines from this book that have stuck with me for years.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Bed-Stuy’s Marcy Housing projects, Jay Z is New York’s golden child, poster boy, and hero. He’s released 13 albums since 1996, and there are plenty of biographical tidbits to glean from his rapping. I dare you to play “Empire State of Mind” and not sing along.
Lauded by many as the greatest rapper that ever lived, Christopher Wallace, whose stage name Notorious B.I.G. was usually shortened to Biggie or Biggie Smalls, was killed in a driveby shooting at age 24. His discography is still fairly robust thanks to a handful of posthumous albums, of which he’s sold over 20 million copies. In 2020, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Strokes have a way of arriving just when you need them most. Their album Is This It came out in the month following 9/11, and on April 10th they released their latest record The New Abnormal—which couldn’t feel more prescient. Most of the the band met as highschool students at Dwight on the Upper West Side, and New York has always been all over their music, in songs like “New York City Cops,” “All the Time,” “Electricityscape,” and “Meet Me in the Bathroom”—and off the new album “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” and “Ode to the Mets.”
Sure he may have been born in New Jersey, but Frank Sinatra is all ours. He sang for all of us transplants when he melted away our little town blues, and wasn’t kidding when he said if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, though he seemingly left out the part about how hard it is to “make it.” Even he had some trouble in that department, retreating to Las Vegas for a residency stint in the early 50s after his first album. Perhaps he just needed a break though, because he was soon back and releasing hit after hit, from “You Make Me Feel So Young,” to “Come Fly With Me,” eventually starting his own record label.
Lou Reed has been indicted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice—first as a member of the Velvet Underground in 1996, and then for his solo career (which saw the release of twenty studio albums) in 2015. He grew up on Long Island, and recorded his first song after impressing the audience at a junior high talent show. His trouble with mental health and drugs started soon after that and never really let up—his songs are troubled, brilliant, and poetry for the ages.
If not for one of the band member’s early passing from cancer in 2012, the Beastie Boys might still be releasing new music. With eight albums released between 1986 and 2011, it didn’t seem like they had plans to slow down. And as the best-selling rap group since Billboard began recording sales in 1991 with 20 million records sold, why would they? Instead, the two remaining members have toured a book and are promoting the Spike Jonze-directed Beastie Boys Story, which premieres on Apple TV+ on April 24th.
New York’s favorite photographer, Daniel Arnold has been called the “William Eggleston of Instagram” by the New York Times, and “Instagram’s ultimate street photographer” by Wired. His slice-of-life snapshots are poignant, humorous, and sometimes disturbingly raw.
Nan Goldin is known for her candid and deeply personal portraits of her community during the drug-addled 70s and 80s in New York City. Her work documents the AIDS crisis, drug addiction (both others’ and her own), and the city’s nightlife—she’s said that she didn’t go to sleep before 5 a.m. for decades. Order her book, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, for a primer.
The Factory Kids
Andy Warhol‘s New York City studio had three different locations between 1962 and 1984, but each time “The Factory” moved the “Warhol Superstars” followed. Jean-Michael Basquiat, Keith Haring, Grace Jones, Edie Sedgewick, and countless others were a part of Warhol’s clan, and together make up a fascinating part of New York’s history.
Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris but moved to New York when she was 27, and lived here for the rest of her life. Here, she befriended other renowned artists including Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko, and Williem de Kooning. She taught at the Pratt Institute, Cooper Union, Brooklyn College, and the School of Visual Arts, and held salons for young artists and students called “Sunday, bloody Sundays” at her home in Chelsea. She’s best known for her sculptures, particularly those of giant spiders and what she called “Cells.”
Abstract Expressionist painter Helen Frankenthaler exhibited her work for over six decades, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2001. Born in New York City, she studied at the Dalton School under Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo and then at Bennington College in Vermont. She’s known for her Color Field technique, which involved pouring pigment onto raw canvas, and was a defining quality of mid-20th century art.
Step to the Side
New Yorkers are actually much more friendly than given credit for (we will happily give directions when asked), but we have no patience for slow walkers or tourists who stop in the middle of the sidewalk. Don’t take up an entire city sidewalk by walking side-by-side in a row, and step to the side if you need to check Google Maps.
Venture Beyond Midtown
Midtown may feel like the most central place to stay, but we’d encourage you to give other areas of the city a shot. You’ll be more inclined to wander around Soho than Times Square, for example, which means you’re more primed to discover something you didn’t expect. Plus, you’ll be closer to Brooklyn if you stay downtown.
Wear Comfy Shoes
Yes, New York has a great subway system and Ubers and Lyfts are readily available, but sometimes the fastest, nicest, and best way to get somewhere is to walk. This is very much a walking city, and you’ll want your comfiest shoes to get you around town.