New York City is one of the most exciting, and most accessible solo travel destinations in the world. Easy to navigate, endless sights and countless buzzing eateries and hotels to suit everyones budget. This city just makes you feel alive.
Solo travel in NYC
If it's your first time in New York City, you may feel a little overwhelmed with choice, and wonder "where do I even start!?' - not to worry, I've broken down the must-do's and also, some of the less obvious choices (that may end up being the highlight of your trip!). I've also made a note of some of the best local eateries and bars, to give you the most authentic New Yorker experience. I hope you enjoy this guide - let me know if you have any of your own hidden gems to add in the comments section below :)
Female solo travel in New York City
I've been to New York as a solo traveller many times, and I loved it so much that I even lived there for a while. On my most recent stay, I opted for a mid range hotel, bang in the middle of the action. The Ace Hotel is just perfect for solo travellers, with it's cozy welcoming lobby, full of bloggers tapping away on their macs, and friends catching up over a glass of wine. There is also a restaurant, but I preferred to eat in the lobby as it was so relaxed and a great spot for people watching. My room was high up and had a spectacular view of the Empire State building. The hotel staff were also super helpful when I accidentally left my house keys, passport and purse in the safe once I had checked out (and gotten all the way to JFK... true story! - one mistake I won't be repeating ;-)
Scroll down for my favourite places to stay in NYC.
What to pack for New York City
New York's climate can range from sweltering summers (sometimes up to the mid 30s C / 90s F), to a sub-zero freeze in Winter. I've been there when it's gone from 0 degrees up to 17 (62F) in a few days, so do check the weather just before you go as it's very easy to get caught out. Whenever you go, comfortable shoes are a must. Chances are you will end up walking for blocks at a time (which is the best way to take in all of those skyscrapers!).
SEE ALSO: 9 travel packing tips from the experts
The top 10 must see sights in New York City for a solo traveller
If you've never been to NYC before (or even if you have and haven't gotten around to all of these yet), I've popped down the absolute must-dos below. Do you have any you would add?
⭐ 1. Take in the views from the Top of the Rock
If you're pressed for time, I would always go for the view from the top of Rockefeller Centre, rather than the Empire State, simply because you can SEE the Empire State from The Top of the Rock.
Tip 1: Buy tickets in advance here for around £28 / $38 USD.
Tip 2: If you're in NYC around Christmas time, Rockefeller Centre has the most instagrammable Christmas tree in the city (and an awesome ice rink!).
⭐ 2. Hire a bike and cycle around Central Park
Central Park is HUGE! And the quickest (and most fun) way to see it is to hire a bike. Ignore the guys hanging around the entrance at Columbus Circle - I used Central Park Bike Tours (book online in advance to save money). My favourite spots in the park are Jackie Onassis Lake, Gapstow Bridge at The Pond (you may recognise it from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.. yes I *still* watch that movie every Christmas ;-), the leafy canopy of The Mall and Bethseda Fountain. But honestly, there is so much to see (and plenty of hot dog stands if you work up a hunger - don't pay more than $3!).
⭐ 3. Take in the splendour of Grand Central
Visiting Grand Central Terminal in the heart of Midtown, is like stepping back into a golden age of architecture and engineering. Bustling with commuters, shoppers and tourists snapping pics of the famous four-faced clock, you can easily spend a few hours here. Don't forget to pull up a seat at the counter, and try the catch of the day at the atmospheric Oyster Bar. I think the quote from the GCT website sums it up perfectly:
⭐ 4. Take some time out in New York Public Library
Despite it's 5th Avenue setting, NYPL is a peaceful escape from the hubbub outside. This airy beaux arts landmark offers free entry and free tours that last around an hour. Sign up here in advance as it's first come, first served.
⭐ 5. Gaze in wonder at Van Gogh and Picasso at the Museum of Modern Art (for free!)
Another key spot, just off 5th Avenue, is the MoMA. For me, this feels like the perfect size for an art museum and less daunting than The Met (although the Met is wonderful - especially the special exhibitions). MoMA is spacious, set over six floors, with two great restaurants (and has free wifi in the lobby ;-) It's free entry every Friday (4 - 8pm) but arrive after 6 to avoid the long lines.
Tip: If you're planning on visiting during normal opening hours, you can save money when you buy a combined ticket for MoMA and The Top of The Rock.
⭐ 6. Watch the sun go down from The High Line
Running through Chelsea and The Meatpacking District, The High Line is an elevated oasis of grassy walkways sprawling over the old railroad line, which dates from the 1930s. Threatened with demolition in the 90s, the Friends of the Highline saved it and turned it into a free city park. Take your time to meander along the 1.5 miles, and take in the views from one of the wooden loungers on your way. Reward yourself with a cocktail at the Top of the Standard afterwards and take in more stunning NYC views (make a reservation if you're visiting at night).
Tip: Sunset offers the most beautiful light (and views)
⭐ 7. Experience life as an immigrant in the Lower East Side
The LES Tenement Museum is one of my favourite places in New York. A living time capsule, it gives you a truly authentic experience about tough life was as an immigrant in the 19th and early 20th century. This perfectly preserved tenement in Downtown NY has been home to German, Italian, Irish, and many more immigrants. You can only visit via one of their excellent guided tours ('Hard times' is particularly good).
Tip: If you're interested in immigration, Ellis Island Immigration Museum is another essential for your check list.
⭐ 8. Pay a visit to Lady Liberty
Right at the tip of southern Manhattan, Battery Park gives you delightful views across the water to Staten Island. Jump on the free Staten Island ferry to see The Statue of Liberty (who must have been such a welcoming sight for thousands of immigrants arriving into NY after suffering for months at sea).
Tip: You can also hire a bike and pedal up the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway up past the Hudson River (more great views!)
⭐ 9. Cross an item off your bucket list and walk over the Brooklyn Bridge
Not just an NYC must-do but surely this must be on your travel bucket list. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is such an uplifting experience. You will have to dodge tourists and joggers but the views are worth it. Jump on the subway over to Brooklyn (get off at High Street on the A or C train) then walk towards Manhattan. Once you're back in lower Manhattan, refuel on bubble tea at Kung Fu Tea Chinatown Store.
⭐ 10. Embrace your inner hipster in Brooklyn
Yes, Williamsburg is hipster central, but don't fight it, go and see what all the fuss is about! Spend a lazy Sunday wandering up Bedford Avenue (don't forget to call in to CatBird - almost impossible not to buy a cute trinket in here), then get brunch at RabbitHole - they have a gorgeous garden through the back. Get the G train down to well-to-do Park Slope for cute cafes filled with Yummy Mummies and take a stroll through Prospect Park.
The best solo dining spots in NYC
New York is a wonderful city to people watch while your enjoying a lazy brunch. I've highlighted some of my favourite New York eateries which are perfect for solo travellers.
Brunch with a Cuban twist. Super cheap and super tasty, it's licensed too so pull up a stool at the bar and wash down your home fries with a Mimosa :). on the corner of Prince and Elizabeth. cafehabana.com/new-york
Eataly Flat Iron
Prepare to gawp at all of the delicious treats in here. Half Italian food hall and half cafe, pull up a stool and order a meat and cheese platter washed down with a crisp white wine (this is what happened to me when I only went in for Christmas present shopping.. oops!)
Fonda Nolita Tacombi
My all time favourite tacos! This place is very close to my heart too, as it opened up during the 4 day power cut caused by Hurricane Sandy (when I lived there) and served up free tacos by candlelight, and tuned in to the radio via an ancient ghettoblaster - which was the only way of getting information at that point (zero power = zero internet and zero phone signal!) It's always busy in here with a relaxed retro vibe - think metal folding chairs and fairy lights.
I must admit, I became a little addicted to this place. Pull up a bar at the counter and grab a marker pen to start writing your order on your menu. Truly delicious meatballs and sides (veggie options too).
The Smith is a great lively brunch spot in the East Village and great for people watching. Try the French toast (I think the best I've ever had!)
This cozy spot was just down the road from where I used to live. A great hole-in-the-wall place if you're in need of some delicious Venezualan arepas and a cold beer. (Note: this is by no means a fancy place but the food is gorgeous! they do some good veggie options too. Worth the trip for the fried plantains alone! (pic credit Caracas Arepas Bar)
The best places to stay as a solo traveller in New York City
Each area of New York offers you a different perspective, and a different experience. NYC is an expensive city, so I've highlighted some of the best hotels, from budget hostel stays to stylish midtown spots which place you right in the middle of all the action.
Where to stay in midtown Manhattan
For NYC's headline attractions, Midtown is the beating heart. You'll be surrounded by skyscrapers, some of New Yorks best museums and you can stroll to Central Park.
Budget hotels in Midtown Manhattan
Good quality cheap accommodation is hard to come by in Midtown. But Jazz on Columbus Circle is in a great location (just 5 minutes walk from Central Park). Clean, safe and great for storage, there is a light breakfast included (which will still leave room for brunch later ;) and dorm rooms start at £55/$75USD.
Mid range hotels in Midtown Manhattan
It would almost be a crime to NOT spend some time in the Ace Hotel whilst you're in New York. Prices vary depending on the time of year but 'mini' rooms start at £150/$200USD per night. (I stayed in a mini and it was perfect for me. Remember to ask for a quiet room, with a view of the Empire State building.
Airbnb in New York City
Some of the most authentic experiences can be had when you stay in an Airbnb in New York. I stayed in the East Village and my cute apartment had everything on my doorstep, including a free yoga class and I even spotted a few celebs on my grocery shop! If you click the link below, you can save money on your first booking :)
The best hotels in Downtown Manhattan for solo travellers
For me, downtown is the best area to stay, but I am biased as I used to live in the East Village. When you're downtown, you have access to some amazing neighbourhood restaurants, yet the big sights are just a short subway ride (or a few blocks walk) away.
Budget hotels in Downtown Manhattan
Prices are at a premium, when you're south of 14th street. But The Leon Hotel is probably the best (and cleanest) option downtown. Chinatown doesn't have the picture postcard looks of SoHo or the East Village, but this is a great base. Handy for Little Italy, NoLiTa and SoHo. Bear in mind this hotel does not offer breakfast, but Two Hands is just a short stroll away (and serves possibly THE best avocado toast in town!). Rooms from £97 / $130USD.
Mid range hotels in Downtown Manhattan
Set on Bowery, one the arterial roads running through downtown sits Hotel 50 Bowery NYC. This recently opened boutique hotel is a gem. To the north you have Little Italy and SoHo, and to the south, Chinatown and the Brooklyn Bridge. A perfect location and stunning rooms (with amazing views on the higher floors) the real star is the rooftop bar, which in my opinion, beats the view from The Standard hands down. Rooms from £194.
Where to stay in Brooklyn and Queens
Budget hotels in Brooklyn and Queens
Just a quick subway ride from Midtown Manhattan, The Local NY in Queens is a warm and friendly hostel (with another great roof top bar!). This has more of a cozy atmosphere that you might find for a similar price on Manhattan, and the well-equipped, squeaky-clean rooms start at £42 / $55USD per night (dorm).
The best hostel in Brooklyn?
NY Moore Hostel is spacious, airy and well thought out. You have Bushwick and Williamsburg within easy reach, and Manhattan is about 25 minutes on the J train. The super friendly staff go out of their way to help, and there's free tea and coffee. Get your breakfast fix at vegan spot Champs Diner, just a ten minute walk away and try the almost TOO delicious pancake slam.
The best mid range hotels in Brooklyn
The BKLYN House, in Bushwick offers edgy design, super comfy beds and a great location. It's in quite a gritty area but Williamsburg is nearby as is the subway for your short hop to Manhattan. This is great value for money.
What to watch, read and listen to before you go
Set in 1930s New York, this evocative novel tells the story of two young housemates and their chance encounters in a Greenwich jazz bar
Guilty pleasure alert! If you're after a super light yet super readable NYC fiction read, this is for you.
A gritty (and sometimes violent) portrayal of life as an Irish immigrant in the 19th Century, in The FIve Points in Lower Manhattan (which is now Chinatown).
An essantial 1960s rom-com featuring Audrey Hepburn.
And finally, don't forget to take my perfectly curated New York playlist!
I’m thrilled to say, that this blog post was selected as one of Luggage Hero’s Specially Selected Travel Blogs about New York City :-)
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