Tens of thousands of restaurants, more than 450 hotels, nearly 100 museums, oh and 8.4 million people. The very things that make New York such a must-visit destination can also make planning a trip as overwhelming as Times Square on New Years. The trick is to make like a local and find your own little slice of the Big Apple. Longtime New Yorker Emma Sloley plays matchmaker, mapping out the must-sees and stays for every type of traveler, from booze hounds to romantics, design nerds to families
Best for Romantics
Of New York’s 8 million stories, we’re betting a good percentage are love stories. Write one of your own in the Old New York glamour of the famed – and newly reopened — Rainbow Room set on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center, with its wonderfully OTT crystal chandelier and cinematic city views. If you prefer more discreet corners, head to the hidden West Village Hudson Clearwater. Its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance opens onto candlelit two-tops and a ivy-walled patio strung in soft-focus bistro lights. Sneak in a nightcap in the front bar of The Marlton, with its marble fireplace, wood-paneled walls and genteel sofas, before heading to your swoon-worthy aerie for two at the NoMad Hotel, where you can revel in French design guru Jacques Garcia’s Parisian-inspired decor–think leather embossed headboards, claw-foot tubs, vintage Persian rugs and damask screens. While away the next day with the “Atelier for Two” experience at Spa Nalai, situated on the 25 floor of the newly-minted Park Hyatt New York. Think tubs for two, tandem massages and champagne in a huge room with views over the city.
Best for Families
The Big Apple is surprisingly well-suited to little ones, if you know where to look. Central Park is a great place to start: along with well-known attractions like the zoo and ice skating rink, be sure to check out the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, the fairytale-like Conservatory Water pond full of model sailing boats (April-October) and the Hans Christian Andersen statue, where storytellers read their favorite fairy tales every Saturday. Alternately pick up some “Discovery Kits” from Charles A. Dana Discovery Center & Belvedere Castle–these backpacks have field guides, kid-size binoculars and sketching paper. While uptown, head to the Museum of Natural History to see the dinosaurs, then refuel at Alice’s Tea Cup with a traditional afternoon tea (the kid’s menu features cookies and milk and PB&Js). Stroller-happy Brooklyn is also full of kid-friendly diversions: train your little ones to be paper-folding masters at Taro’s Origami Studio in Park Slope, then let them run wild at the surprisingly riveting Transit Museum set in a former subway station with actual historic trains. Finally, what child could resist a spin on Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park? The gorgeous 1920s classic features 48 ornately carved and painted horses, along with swell views of Manhattan just across the water. Complete the perfect family day with a well-deserved sugar rush at cult chocolatier Jacques Torres.
Best for Night Owls
The sheer diversity of New York nightlife ensures pretty much everyone can find something to keep them entertained (and tipsy). Comedy aficionado? Hit up Gramercy staple The Stand, where you can catch shows from talents like Judah Friedlander, Janeane Garofalo and Rachel Feinstein. The adjoining restaurant serves rib-sticking fare like bone marrow dumplings and pork belly rice balls. Fancy late-night cocktails in a retro-cool setting? Head over the bridge to Williamsburg and Extra Fancy, the new Brooklyn hotspot from the team behind West Village speakeasy Employees Only. Expect clam bakes, craft brews and whimsical cocktails, with a late-night liquor license (until 4am.) Want to rub shoulders with off-duty star chefs and assorted Francophiles? Buvette, the darling little French-inspired restaurant and bar on Grove Street in the West Village, offers comfort food, conversation and cocktails until late. Alternately, sidle over to the East Village and check out the Experimental Cocktail Club, the New York outpost of the swanky Paris hotspot. Once you’ve got your buzz going, it’s time to hit the dancefloor. Hard-partying rock star Andrew W.K. is co-owner of Santos Party House, a bi-level music venue between Chinatown and Tribeca that lives up to its name with cutting edge DJs and bands. Bed down at The Standard, High Line, a party in its own right thanks to beautiful-people magnets like The Standard Grill, the Biergarten and Le Bain, the decadent penthouse bar with its dance floor and plunge pool.
Best for Design Nerds
With some of the world’s most iconic architecture, design aficionados can have a field day in the city. Start at the extraordinary Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, an ode to both historic and contemporary design with 217,000 design objects, from furniture to product design and digital innovation. Admire Manhattan’s Gilded Age at architectural icons around town: the Midtown branch of the New York Public Library, set behind leafy Bryant Park, is housed in the Beaux Arts Schwarzman Building, while Grand Central Terminal serves as a magnificent monument to excess, with its acres of marble, bronze and stone. Snap some pictures then settle in with the swells at Campbell Apartment, the 1920s office of tycoon John W. Campbell, now a swanky cocktail bar. Further downtown, explore lower Manhattan’s most noteworthy buildings on a tour hosted by the Design Commission, then stroll The High Line. The park, set on old elevated train tracks, stretches from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, and has bird’s eye views of new architectural landmarks by everyone from Neil Denari to Frank Gehry. Fans of Mid Century Modern design, meanwhile, will want to make a beeline for the Noguchi Museum, the Queens museum dedicated to Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Fancy picking up a 20th century classic to call your own? Head to SoHo’s Design Within Reach an airy showroom featuring iconic designs from masters such as Charles and Ray Eames, Arne Jacobsen and of course Noguchi. (Bring your platinum credit card: this is the real thing, folks.) Continue the design tour after dark at Hotel on Rivington, with a whimsical “eggtrance” designed by artist Marcel Wanders.
Best for Epicureans
There are other great food cities – Tokyo has its sushi temples, Copenhagen a stellar New Nordic scene, San Francisco its farm-to-table mastery – but few other cities offer the breathtaking variety of New York’s dining world. We have the Michelin classics, with their celebrity chefs and high drama – Per Se, Le Bernadin, Daniel; Brooklyn game-changers like the multi-course extravaganza that is Blanca and the Thai-inspired West Coast transplant Pok Pok; plus the nostalgic downtown newcomers like Carbone, the unabashedly old-school Italian red sauce joint from Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi and Lafayette, Andrew Carmellini’s take on the classic French brasserie. Then there are the edgy, boundary pushers like the soon-to-reopen Mission Chinese Food, with its fiery and quirky Asian fare, nouveau Mexican joint Empellon Cocina (short-rib-pastrami tacos, anyone?), and wildly inventive riffs on comfort food from molecular gastronomy master Wylie Dufresne (of WD-50 fame) at Alder. Nosh on.
Best for Culture Vultures
If you’re going to experience even a fraction of New York’s art, theater and music scene, you’re not going to have much time to sleep, but check in at the art-filled Gramercy Park Hotel anyway. The longtime gem contains masterpieces from Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Damien Hirst. Then it’s time to hit the ground running in Midtown Manhattan at MoMA, one of the world’s best and most comprehensive collections of modern art and design. Or head to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. But don’t even think about trying to see everything on one visit. Choose a section and go deep: we’re partial to the Old Masters of the European Paintings gallery and the Costume Institute. Prefer to check out some contemporary talents? Head to the Lower East Side outpost of Rachel Lehmann and David Maupin’s Rem Koolhaas-designed Chelsea gallery, Lehmann Maupin, which showcases marquee names like Tracey Emin and Gilbert and George. Attend a world-class performance at The Metropolitan Opera, which stages 200 operas each season at Lincoln Center, or catch up-and-coming names at downtown institution The Public Theater, a nonprofit national treasure that stages everything from Shakespeare to experimental theater. (Have pre-dinner cocktails and snacks at one of our favorite New York secrets, Andew Carmellini’s The Library, a deeply convivial space on the second floor.)
Best for Shopaholics
Park yourself at the stylin’ Mondrian Hotel in SoHo in order to maximize your shopping time in one of the city’s best retail ‘hoods. Check out homegrown talent Phillip Lim’s streamlined, elegant takes on both womenswear and menswear at 3.1 Phillip Lim, then head to cult favorite Open Ceremony to see what the cool kids are up to–founders Carol Lim and Humberto Leon have their finger firmly on the pulse of downtown style. Channel insouciant Parisian cool at Isabel Marant–her Broome Street store is the first stateside—before heading up to the dazzling Dover Street Market, a concept store from visionary Commes des Garcons designer Rei Kawakubo that showcases design talent from the high profile–Prada–to the emerging, like hot Russian menswear designer Gosha Rubchinskiy. Finally, for the best of international fashion superstars along with iconic American labels all in one place, don’t miss Midtown’s two famous department stores, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman, each its own rarified world of fabulousness.