The Perfect Weekend in New York City

If you only have a weekend in NYC, we can’t guarantee a ton of sleep but you can expect fantastic cultural experiences, from live music to medieval art in a bucolic setting. We’ve mapped out three days that immerse you in a mix of old and new New York. Start with iconic cultural sites in Upper Manhattan; explore the Lower East Side’s gritty past and gentrified present; and cross the river for a leisurely day in Brooklyn’s buzzed-about Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods, capped off with rooftop drinks.

99 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY 10040, USA
The Cloisters, a museum devoted to medieval art and architecture, is a delightful respite from the hustle and bustle of NYC. This tranquil treasure is definitely worth a half day (or more) trip on your next visit. A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters opened in 1938 and is located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan. Perched on a towering cliff, the museum offers commanding views over the Hudson River to New Jersey and the George Washington Bridge. The buildings include elements from medieval sites from Europe (primarily France) and renowned artwork includes the Unicorn Tapestries and the Annunciation Triptych, but the heart of the museum is the cloistered garden. This lush space consists of an interior courtyard surrounded by covered walkways. The flowering garden within invites contemplation and appreciation of a different time. The Cloisters includes a broad terrace with expansive views across the Hudson. The view is so prized that in 1901, J.P. Morgan purchased 12 miles of the New Jersey coastline to protect it from excessive quarrying and in 1933 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. donated 700 additional acres of NJ to preserve The Cloisters’ view. Be sure to include time in your visit to explore beautiful Fort Tryon Park.
Riverside, Dr To Broadway, New York, NY 10040, USA
Fort Tryon Park is a jewel. Much more off the beaten path for tourists and even locals, the 67-acre park is located in far northern Manhattan on towering cliffs with panoramic views of the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, and the New Jersey Palisades. The park’s pedigree features impressive lineage. It was named after the last British governor of colonial New York and was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., whose father was the architect of NYC’s beloved Central Park. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased the land in 1917 and gifted it to New York City in 1931. Due to its secluded location, there are far less crowds than other parks. Visitors can luxuriate in quiet corners and tranquility as they stretch their legs. This is the perfect spot for a (hilly) bike ride, run, stroll or walk. Be sure to visit the overflowing Heather Garden and the shaded views from Linden Terrace. The park also has two dog runs, world-famous medieval museum The Cloisters, and upscale eatery New Leaf Restaurant & Bar.
2245 Broadway, New York, NY 10024, USA
Every New Yorker knows Zabar’s, an Upper West Side institution. The specialty food market was founded in the 1930s by Louis and Lillian Zabar; today’s store is nearly a block long and serves 35,000 customers weekly. Bagels, lox, smoked fish, gourmet cheese, bread, global coffees, knishes, chocolate rugalach, spreads and pates, seafood salads, prepared foods—it’s a true New York historical food experience with much more personality than newer upscale gourmet shops such as Dean & Deluca or Whole Foods. Grab a bagel, lox, and coffee to go, then walk two blocks west to a bench in Riverside Park for a picnic overlooking the Hudson River.
200 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024, USA
Located on the Upper West Side, at 79th Street and Central Park West, the American Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s largest museums. It has 45 different halls, occupies more than 2 million square feet, and has some 33 million different specimens—only a fraction are on display at any time. It includes an abundance of dioramas and reconstructed skeletons, and “cultural halls” that extend natural history into anthropology. The museum makes a valiant effort to constantly keep its exhibits relevant by adopting new interactive technologies and displays as it battles the preconceptions of many that natural-history museums are old-fashioned institutions. In 2000, it also added the Rose Center for Earth and Space, which has proven popular with young aspiring astronauts and astronomers. If you are headed to New York with kids and they haven’t already watched Night at the Museum, you may want to rent it before your trip (even if most of the interior scenes were actually shot on a set in Vancouver).
New York, NY, USA
Manhattan can, famously, feel like endless rows of apartment blocks and office towers for most of its length. At least above 14th Street, a regular grid of streets and avenues, bisected only by Broadway, has transformed the city into a dream for real estate developers. The green spaces interrupting the pattern—Union Square, Gramercy Park, Madison Square Park—are few and far between, with one enormous exception: Central Park. Running from 59th Street to 110th Street, and between Central Park West (Eighth Avenue) and Fifth Avenue, it is one of the world’s largest urban parks, measuring some 843 acres. It is the masterpiece of the 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted working in collaboration with Calvert Vaux. Inside its borders are stately allées and naturalistic scenes, ice-skating rinks (in the winter), an enormous reservoir, and a faux castle. The park is hugely popular, and so to call it an escape from the bustle of the city is often not accurate, especially on mild summer days and the first warm ones in the spring when thousands of residents head to its playing fields, bike and run along the road that loops the park, and enjoy picnics on the Sheep Meadow or one of its other lawns.
328 East 78th Street
My vote for the best bowl of Asian noodles in New York City goes to Xi’an Famous Foods, which also won over Anthony Bourdain, food critics, and countless locals. The family-run business celebrates signature spicy dishes from its hometown in western China. Most of the locations are small—you will likely wait—however, once you dig in to your bowl of spicy broth, stewed pork (or lamb, or oxtail) that falls apart on your fork because it’s so tender and hand-ripped noodles, you will understand. Do yourself a favor, skip the available cans of soda and instead opt for their homemade cold jasmine tea (sweetened or unsweetened). It perfectly cuts the heat. There are more than 10 locations, including the original in Queens. They do a brisk business at lunchtime; visit for a late lunch or early dinner to improve your chances of getting a seat.
1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028, USA
The Met’s rooftop terrace, open from May to late fall, is a delightful spot for a breath of fresh air. Visitors are treated to unobstructed panoramic views of NYC’s skyline and Central Park’s lush treetops. The cafe serves wine, beer, specialty drinks, coffee, soft drinks, light snacks, and desserts to pick you up after hours of art and culture. The terrace also features an annual single-artist installation. Past years have included art from Ellsworth Kelly, Jeff Koons, Frank Stella, and Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi. To visit the rooftop, look for the elevator in the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts galleries.
35 East 76th Street
This Upper East Side legend opened its doors in 1930 and, since then, has offered big-city accommodations to a legion of luminaries, from John F. Kennedy and Ingrid Bergman to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The hotel’s famed restaurant Café Carlyle is where much of the action—and longstanding history—exists, having consistently hosted top talent like Woody Allen, Alan Cumming, and Rita Wilson since opening in 1955.
103 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002, USA
These days, wandering the Lower East Side (the area between the Bowery and the East River, with Houston Street marking its northern border and Canal Street its southern one), it can feel impossible to recall that this neighborhood was once among the city’s most overcrowded, teeming with immigrants. Its streets were filled with Germans, Greeks, Hungarians, Poles, Slovaks, and other Europeans newly arrived in the United States, including a significant Jewish population. Today, boutiques and bars cater to gentrifiers, much of the population is Puerto Rican or Dominican, and the few traces of that earlier era are hard to find—the facades of Yiddish theaters and synagogues that have long since closed. The Tenement Museum on Orchard Street is dedicated to assuring that period of the city’s past is not lost forever. On each floor of the restored tenement building, the lives of some of its former occupants are brought to life, from the German saloon owners on the first floor to the Jewish immigrants who occupied the top one. Docents in character and costume help to make the stories of those immigrants personal. The museum also organizes walking tours of the Lower East Side and offers talks on the district’s history.
550 Broadway, New York, NY 10012, USA
If Fifth Avenue in Midtown is New York’s primary higher-end retail strip, with Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel, and Bergdorf Goodman as its anchors, the SoHo section of Broadway (between Houston and Canal) is its less glamorous sister, crowded with young shoppers pretty much every day of the year. Established chain brands have largely taken over, with Uniqlo, Banana Republic, and CB2 among those represented. In addition to them, there’s a downtown branch of Bloomingdale’s that tries to follow a more fashion-forward path than the Upper East Side mother ship. Also tucked between the familiar brands are a few bargain holdouts from the days when the neighborhood attracted students on budgets, selling T-shirts and jeans in no-frills, fluorescent-lit spaces. The shopping continues in both directions off of Broadway: Nolita, to the east, has more small, unique boutiques; head west, into SoHo, and you’ll find more-upscale brands than those represented on Broadway.
86 Allen St, New York, NY 10002, USA
Amanda Cohen pioneered vegetarian fine dining in Manhattan with the 2008 opening of her pocket size Dirt Candy, which has become one of the city’s most sought-after reservations. In 2015, she relocated Dirt Candy to a light-filled, 60-seat space in the Lower East Side, designed by graffiti artist Noah McDonough in an elegant black and white floral motif. Highlights on Cohen’s playful and original menu include kale matzoh ball soup with a poached egg, Brussels sprouts tacos served on a sizzling stone, and jalapeno hush puppies accompanied by rich maple butter. Since Dirt Candy reopened, the restaurant became the first in New York City to eliminate tipping; instead, employees are offered a living wage above the state minimum, as well as profit sharing.
188 Ludlow Street
When hotelier Sean MacPherson opened the Ludlow he totally nailed the unique spirit of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The 175-room hotel is the perfect mix of gritty and stylish, cool and calm. Rooms are done up in that signature MacPherson style with unique artisan touches including handmade silk rugs, artisan—crafted Moroccan pendant lamps and Indo-Portuguese-style beds. The “and” factor amenities include bathrobes from cult Paris fashion label Maison Martin Margiela and a Rockstar suite with a 1,100-foot terrace with Williamsburg Bridge views. The lobby is always abuzz, no matter what the hour and features a rotating selection of art curated by Vito Schnable as well as an outdoor “secret” garden that’s perfect for hiding away with your laptop or a good book. Breakfast is included for guests and the warm pastry basket should not be missed. Perhaps the highlight of any stay is the fact you’re right above Dirty French, one of NYC’s buzziest restaurants. Being an elevator ride away from the complimentary herb-seasoned flatbread is reason alone to book a stay.
90 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA
Brooklyn has become a dining destination in recent years, with dozens of restaurants preparing local, organic, and sustainable American dishes—and others serving everything from Korean bibimbap and Scandinavian specialties to Ethiopian stews and Mexican tacos. The borough has an overwhelming abundance to choose from, but Smorgasburg makes it easy to graze and sample a variety of Brooklyn’s dishes. From the beginning of April to the end of October, food trucks and stalls representing around 100 restaurants and other establishments set up at East River State Park, in the Williamsburg neighborhood, every Saturday; on Sundays, you’ll find them farther south, in Prospect Park. The largest weekly open-air food market in the country, it’s popular and draws thousands of visitors, but don’t be deterred by the crowds: Much of the fun is the people-watching and the general festival-like atmosphere. Even if you aren’t visiting New York in the summer, it’s worth checking out the Smorgasburg website as they sometimes have smaller off-season pop-ups, including the Winter Flea & Holiday Market.
31 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222, USA
It is really hard to walk past a cute bakery like Ovenly without going in. Pretty decor plus shelves and glass jars filled with homemade treats just catch my curiosity everytime. Plus, there is something very comforting about biting into a scone with a just-right crust or a gooey cookie with a hint of salty and sweet. So imagine my delight when I discovered Ovenly, on a quiet, industrial street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I tried a Cheddar Mustard Scone baked with locally-made wholegrain mustard and sharp cheddar, a Chocolate Truffle Cookie enhanced with sea salt, and Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies. Next time I’ll be sure to try the Apricot Thyme Scone, Black Caraway Bread, and Spicy Bacon Caramel Popcorn, which sounds so wrong it must be right. Ovenly was just named Best New Bakery by Time Out New York. Owner/bakers Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin are young Brooklynites who infuse their treats with traditions from their Eastern European backgrounds. Grab some pastries, then stroll around the other independently owned boutiques and cafes in downtown Greenpoint.
229 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA
Traif (Yiddish for foods deemed unkosher) encourages eating more than just the standard cuts of meat you likely grew up on. The seasonal menu has featured pork belly, braised short ribs, chopped chicken livers, frog’s legs, and even bacon doughnuts. It’s a lively, affordable spot and especially enjoyable if you snag seats out in the garden. Traif has participated in the annual Taste Williamsburg Greenpoint event, a block party that showcases delectable northern Brooklyn restaurants like Roberta’s and Maison Premiere.
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Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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