There is so much to see and do in Manhattan and there is never enough time. I mean I spent two years plus the many trips I still do back there and I still have more to see.
My advice for the first timer is to not worry about all the museums/sites, etc but try to just wander and get lost in the many streets and avenues. You will always discover something interesting.
So I am going to attempt my advice by neighbourhood. Here is the Lower East Side:
I LOVE the Lower East Side. It isn’t the prettiest part of NYC, but the history makes me think it’s beautiful. And the Tenement Museum is a perfect way to introduce yourself into the LES. 1 in 4 Americans came through Ellis Island (and Ellis Island was only open for 32 years!) and practically all of those immigrants who landed in Ellis Island landed in the LES (not to mention the thousands for immigrants prior to 1892). Needless to say, the LES was home to many immigrants who built the United States and therefore offers a unique and interesting history.
The Tenement Museum offers an incredible glimpse into many of these immigrants lives during different periods. From Russian to Jewish to Irish to German, there are various tours that show you a glimpse of what life was like in this area. They also offer kitchen talks and a great walking tour. I have been to all of the tours, they are all wonderful. Even for a Canadian, it gave me such an appreciation for what my own ancestors had to do in order to start a new life in Canada.
If you are a Brooklyn 99 fan they just made fun of this museum with Amy’s very boring ex-boyfriend. So the Engineer made fun of me. But I can assure you, it is NOT boring! You know why? Because it appeared on SNL – so there Engineer.
Tours are often sold out so book in advance.
Once you eat a pickle from these guys, you will be ruined for pickles forever (luckily they ship!). I didn’t know pickles could be this tasty (and I already love pickles).
These guys pickle everything. You walk in and see several barrels with all sorts of pickled products: carrots, peppers, garlic, etc.
Eating one of their FULL SOUR pickles is like eating a garlic bomb of awesomeness.
If you take them to go, ask for them to make half-hot. It’s delicious.
These pickles are legendary. I was once carrying a container when I went to the MET and was at first turned away because you aren’t allowed food/liquids in the museum. But when I told her where they were from, she knew the value and let me take them in! HA!
*check hours before you go
When in New York you have to eat a pastrami sandwich. So you may as well eat the best at one of the most famous delicatessen’s in NYC. This is where that famous scene in When Harry Met Sally was filmed.
Take cash. And try a New York Egg Cream
The first one of these was opened in the LES – but now there are locations all over NYC both in actual shops and in satellite stores.
Doughnut Plant is DELICIOUS. They are all about filled-doughnuts which they have shaped into a square so that with each bite, you get some filling. Their flavours change daily (as well as their usual suspects) and you can have peanut butter & jelly or coconut chai cream – all are scumptious.
I go here more for the novelty than anything else.
The Back Room was a speakeasy back in the day and plays up it’s illegal roots.
It’s unmarked save for a bouncer and often a line. You walk down some stairs, under the building and into a sidedoor. This door leads you into a lush room with couches and velvet easy chairs. There are several bookcases (actual exits where people would hide from the cops) and hanging chandeliers. Cocktails (1920’s inspired of course!) come in a tea cup and beer in a paper bag.
Definitely a fun thing to do for a cocktail or two!
Fun fact: the reason honey appears in a few of their cocktails is that when alcohol was illegally made in the 1920’s, it was often terrible. So they used honey in cocktails to mask the bad flavour.