I’ve spent a lot of time alone in New York City. Who could blame me? This city was practically built for the loneliest version of ourselves, surrounded by people by inherently alone. And if you ask me, this is the best way to be in the city of New York. Alone with yourself, your thoughts, your control over how your day evolves.
Because if New York is not lacking in one thing, it is options. Endless options. You can quite literally go from the best Italian pizza to ever enter your mouth, cross a few streets and be in the most encapsulating version of a China Town your eyes have ever seen.
New York is often described as a melting pot. There’s no shortage of culture and customs, with people from all over the world migrating to this fast-paced city. So, how should you spend your time alone in New York City? I’ve listed 20 of the best things you could do (and should do) while alone in the Big Apple.
Take a Walk around Mid Town
We’ll start the day getting our bearings. Take out a map (or open maps on your phone) and notice the shape of Manhattan. As you glance over the map, you will notice many streets crisscrossing across the page or screen, showing a grid. This is the heart and soul of New York to visitors, but it is known as the island of Manhattan to locals. That’s because there is much more to New York outside of Manhattan – including Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.
However, as a first-time visitor, you won’t be able to see it all. If you’re looking for the New York experience you see on movie screens, you’ll likely want to centre yourself in Midtown. This is where you will find Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, The Empire State Building and many more landmarks.
Being your time alone in New York by getting your bearings in Midtown. As soon as you know how to get around on foot, you’ll start to feel more comfortable and in control of your time in the city. And remember: this city operates as a grid. The numbers ascend as you travel further uptown and descend and your travel downtown. Then they run East to West, which makes finding an address relatively easy once you get your bearings.
Walk over Brooklyn Bridge to DUMBO
Now that you’ve mastered Midtown, take a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge towards DUMBO, one of Brooklyn’s most trendy neighbourhoods. If you time it right, you should aim to catch a sunrise or sunset. This is easily the prettiest time of day to be crossing the river and feel a part of the daily commute over to Brooklyn.
When you find yourself over in Brooklyn, be sure to allow a few hours to walk around and get to know another side to New York. DUMBO is full of great cafes, bakeries, bars and pizzerias, but it is also one of the most popular locations in Brooklyn. Head further afield to Williamsburg if you want to feel like a local and visit some of the many book stores, vintage clothing stores and concept stores.
Eat Cereal Milk™ Ice Cream in the East Village
Back over in Manhattan, I don’t believe any visit to New York City is complete without stopping by Milk Bar. After a sudden burst in popularity, you will now find many Milk Bars all over the city. But it is here in the East Village where you will find the original store and be able to sink your teeth into the world-famous Cereal Milk™ Ice Cream.
Milk Bar might specialise in their famous soft serve, but this isn’t all they are good for. You should also tuck into a range of take-home treats and be sure not to leave without a few compost cookies for the road. Those things are dangerously good and will leave you wanting more.
See the city from the top of the Rock
Once upon a time, the Empire State building offered the most sought-after view over New York City. But nowadays, that title is safely in the hands of the Rockefeller Centre. The ‘Top of the Rock’ as it is affectionately known is where you will get the best view over the city and if you ask me, it doesn’t get any better than at sunrise or sunset. This is a great way to see the sheer size of Manhattan from up close and way into the distance, plus provides one of the most iconic views in the city.
Visit the New York Public Library
With over 55 million books, the New York Public Library is probably a lot larger and more extensive than you would imagine from humble photos of the library. But there are many rooms to discover, with many of them being accessible to the public each day. And if you’re looking for somewhere unique to pull up a chair and do your work (or hey, maybe your travel blogging!?) then this is it. This is a great way to spend an hour or a few if you plan to stay a while.
Explore the MET Museum
When you’re looking for some culture, New York really is a limitless lifeline for artsy and creative types. The city has so much to offer visitors, but arguably the one museum not to be missed is, of course, the MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art). Representing 5000 years of art, the MET is considered one of the world’s most reputable fine art museums. There are endless exhibitions on offer, plus a permanent collection featuring the likes of Claude Monet’s Bridge over a pond of water lilies and Vincent Van Gogh’s Self portrait with straw hat.
Go thrifting all over the city
Who doesn’t love thrift shopping in New York City? This city was practically built for it! No matter what neighbourhood you find yourself in, you will almost always find a thrift store or vintage clothing store nearby. It doesn’t matter if you’re uptown or over the bridge in Williamsburg, New York City has thrift stores all over. And many of them offer authentic luxury brands for a fraction of the price you’d pay if you bought them new. So get thrifting!
Washington Square Park
If I had to pick just one park to send someone alone in New York City, it would be Washington Square Park. This public park in Greenwich Village is full of people from all walks of life, many of them alone either passing through, walking their dog, or parked up reading a book on one of the many bench seats. It is the perfect place to bring your take-away lunch or park up with a good read. Speaking of which, check out my favourite books for solo travellers and join our book club!
See a Broadway Show
As the sun sets over the city, you will notice much of New York really comes to life after dark. And one area you absolutely must experience after dark is Times Square, home to an endless array of on and off Broadway shows. For me, nothing beats live theatre. And nowhere else in the world is the talent more prevalent than on Broadway. Shows come and go, but the talent remains of the highest callibre. So if you enjoy your first show, don’t be afraid to back it up with another show! I once saw 6 shows in one week in New York, I just couldn’t get enough!
Madison Square Park
Another public park that is great for solo travelers is Maison Square Park. Located adjacent to the Falt Iron building, you are likely to stumble upon this park somewhere in your explorations around midtown. And if you haven’t already over-indulged in your first Shake Shack experience, this is where you can do so! There’s a Shake Shack located in the park, with plenty of outdoor seating on offer or you can take your order elsewhere in the park and enjoy the people watching.
Take the ferry to Staten Island
Taking the free Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty up close is sort of a right of passage in New York as a tourist. And since you’re visiting, why not embrace your status and hit up all the tourist spots! Too often I read about how not to be a tourist – when really – you can be both a tourist and feel like a local, all in the same day.
New York is made up of so many neighbourhoods you’ll want to explore, but there are a handful you won’t often read about, as they are tightly held as local’s favourites. Noho (North of Houston) is one such neighbourhood, with a handful of high end boutiques and street markets offering trinkets and treasures. And just when you think you’re in a secret neighbourhood, I might remind you (this being New York) a certain famous supermodel by the name of Gigi Hadid resides here!
Visit the West Village
Another neighbourhood catering toward solo travelers exploring alone in New York City is the West Village. A neighbourhood seemingly built entirely for writers, artists and introverts, this area feels a lot more grown up to its Eastern counterparts. There are many great shops to discover – from book stores to the very first Magnolia Cupcake Bakery. Plus you’ll find plenty of green spaces, quiet corners and quintessential streets.
Discover the Delights of the Lower East Side (LES)
One of New York’s most underrated neighbourhoods (unless of course you’re a New Yorker yourself), is the Lower East Side, also known as LES. And one of my favourite discoveries here as I was exploring alone in New York is newcomer Supermoon. Making and baking twice-baked croissants, cruffins and all other sorts of buttery goodness, this bakery is the true New York take on a French patisserie. Just remember to arrive early, they sell out often.
Seek out all of the Gossip Girl Filming locations
A few years ago I wrote about where to find all of the Gossip Girl filming locations around New York. It remains one of the most popular articles on World of Wanderlust (of all time) and I still enjoy visiting the locations myself! There are many memorable locations from the show around the city, where the show was filmed. From the stairs at the MET to the Humphrey apartment, this list is a fun way to fill a day in the city.
Spend a Day Exploring Central Park
If you have Central Park as a destination on your list of places to visit in New York City, you might want to allow yourself an entire day here. The park is gigantic (3.41 km²) and has a lot on offer, making it not just one of my favourite places to explore solo, but one of my favourite places to return time and time again. I’ve written a list about the best things to do in Central Park to give you plenty of ideas during your visit.
Seek out Levain’s Cookies (The best cookies in New York)
While you’re in the neighbourhood Uptown, be sure to sneak out of Central Park and over to Levain Bakery on the Upper West Side when you need a sugar hit. Local New Yorkers will back me up in saying Levain’s cookies are the best cookies in New York City. They’re huge, baked fresh daily and ridiculously tasty.
See New York After Dark
When I explore cities solo, I often choose not to go out after dark. But New York City is a city you absolutely must explore at night, as it takes on a new life in the night time. If you want to ensure you feel safe, stick to the busy tourist populated areas like Times Square, where you can guarantee there will always be people around. And if you’ve got some extra time on your hands, revisit the Top of the Rock to capture the city at night from above (believe me when I say there’s nothing like seeing this city lit up from this viewpoint!)
Feel like a local and take a class at New York Pilates
If you’re traveling for an extended amount of time or just love to feel like a local when you do travel, you absolutely must drop in to one of the New York Pilates studios for a class. This is one of the leading studios for pilates in the city and has a cult following. Their reformer classes are considered legendary, so be sure to pack your grippy socks!
Seek out the Art Deco era in midtown
Last but not least, for the ultimate walk back through history seek out Art Deco architecture in midtown. All over this part of town you will notice art deco architecture and ornate detailing, from the Chryssler Building to the entire neighbourhood surrounding Grand Central Terminal. This is a great way to see midtown through a less touristy eye and start to unpack the details of this city in its heydey (though if you ask me, it will always be in a constant state of that!)