January is a great time to visit New York. Flights from London are great value, as it is outside of peak tourist season, and while it may get a little chilly you can still explore the city on foot if you wrap up! If you’re lucky, you’ll get to experience New York in the snow, which is undeniably magical. (Or in our case, you’ll find yourself in a freak heat wave: 18 degrees in mid-January!)
Having visited the Big Apple several years ago, I had already been to the Top of the Rock, seen the penguins at the Central Park zoo and taken the Staten Island ferry past Lady Liberty. These are all great activities if you’re visiting New York for the first time, but as this was my second trip, I wanted to delve a little deeper and hunt down some of the cute cafes, quirky storefronts and general swoon-worthy spots that kept appearing on my Instagram feed.
The Butcher’s Daughter
Audrey Hepburn mural
Freeman’s (aka that secret blue door!)
TimeOut Market – Juliana’s pizza
Williamsburg Street Art
The Oculus & 9/11 museum
The Upper Rust
Madison Square Garden
Day 1 – Caffeine & Pastrami!
We fought through the jet lag on the first day by café hopping around lower Manhattan and fuelling up on all the caffeine. We started at pink and pretty Cha Cha Matcha, before stopping in at Tulo House, which serves vegan-friendly nut milk coffee and is super cute inside with white brickwork and pops of pastel blue. Next up was teeny Urban Backyard over on Mulberry Street, with its greenery adorned entrance and a tiled floor that is everywhere on instagram at the moment! We also popped in to The Butcher’s Daughter, which had just the right amount of dangly foliage to complement its plant-based menu.
Once we’d had our fill of coffee, we headed further along into Little Italy and Chinatown. Further along Mulberry Street, (named due to the mulberry trees that used to line the sides of the road!), we came across the colourful Audrey Hepburn mural near the Little Italy sign which makes for a great photo-op!
We headed further along towards the Bowery district, where we stopped to have a nose down Freeman Alley and snap a photo of the insta-famous blue door. Behind the door is actually a cosy little restaurant, while upstairs is home to a secret, 20-seat speakeasy!
Around the corner, a colourful mural caught my eye, that on closer inspection turned out to be a dumpster! Located next to the Yumi Kim store, this has to be the cutest dumpster in NYC! We couldn’t leave this area without trying a pastrami sandwich at the super-popular Katz’s deli, (famous for THAT scene in When Harry Met Sally!) It was only 11am when we arrived, so the place was almost empty, meaning we were able to bag the table that was used in the movie. (It’s easy to fid, as there is a big sign hang overhead reading ‘Where Harry Met Sally – I hope you had what she had!)
Day 2 – Brooklyn Baby
On the second day we headed across the bridge to Brooklyn. (The earlier you get to the bridge, the less crowded it will be and much easier to get some people-free shots!) Despite being the middle of January, we were lucky to have blue skies and sunshine, although it was suuuper windy in the middle of the bridge!
Once we arrived on the other side, we explored the DUMBO area. Our first stop was Juliana’s pizza but the line was so long we headed to the TimeOut Food Hall instead. This turned out to be a great idea as there is a Juliana’s stand inside where the pizza is just as delicious but the line is nowhere near as long! The TimeOut Food Hall is full of stands serving delicious-looking food and the terrace upstairs has unbeatable views over the river.
Apparently, the DUMBO area never used to be on the tourist radar, but then a photo appeared on Instagram with this view of the Empire Sate Building poking out perfectly beneath the Manhattan Bridge. Since then, this junction has become a photo hotspot! It can get pretty crowded with people trying to get the right angle, but its worth hanging around to get a shot!
Once we’d got a photo here, we headed to the hipster hub of Williamsburg where we parted ways – my craft-beer aficionado fiance went in search of the famous Brooklyn Brewery while I wandered off to scope out some cute coffee shops. My first stop was a spot that I was determined to find since seeing it on Pinterest – ppl is a tiny Japanese coffee shop on the corner of S 1st and Roebling Street. Not only was the coffee here incredible, (seriously, it was the best coffee I had all weekend) but this may be the cutest spot in Brooklyn, filled with greenery in every nook and cranny and trailing plants dangling from the ceiling.
After fuelling up at ppl, I went in search of Butler, another spot that had popped up on Instagram and became popular for its aesthetically pleasing exterior. Butler actually has coffee shops in a few different locations, and the first one I visited, just below the bridge on Water Street, is a cosy spot but didn’t have the insta-exterior I was looking for! I finally found the one I was looking for on N 8th street and snapped a pic outside the grey and pink exterior before ordering a matcha from the friendly barista. I’m not going to lie, the matcha was bloody disgusting – I think I’ll stick to coffee from now on – but I was glad I had managed to find this cute spot!
Williamsburg is also well-known for its street-art scene, and there are lots of murals and colourful pieces hidden around the area!
After a day exploring the neighbourhood, drinking coffee and sampling craft beer, we spent the evening at The Whiskey where my fiancé lived out his American dream; eating burgers, watching the playoffs and drinking far too many ‘quick pours’ of whisky. (They certainly aren’t as stingy with their measures across the pond!) This bar had such a great vibe and the bar staff were super-friendly – definitely recommend if you’re spending a boozy evening in the Burg!
Day 3 – West Village Wandering
We started our last day in the city by taking a cab down to the World Trade Centre complex, where we spent a sombre moment at the memorial fountains before visiting the 9/11 museum. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to visit the museum, as this was such a devastating day that still feels very raw and recent and I wasn’t sure what more the museum could teach me about the attacks that I hadn’t already learned. But my fiancé was adamant he wanted to go, so I followed him in.
Inside, the museum was pretty much what I expected; clips of footage of the plane collision and the aftermath, huge chunks of mangled steel recovered from ground zero, various personal items recovered from the debris and, most moving of all, a room dedicated to the victims with a photograph of each face filling the wall. It was an emotional experience and not one that I would entirely recommend as, although it is of course essential to remember the victims and to never forget the atrocities that happened that day, it is impossible to walk out of the museum with dry eyes and I felt slightly sick for the rest of the day at the thought of getting on a plane!
Just outside the museum is the Oculus, where we stopped to snap a photo before heading over to the West Village where we wandered along leafy Bleecker Street, admiring the classic brownstones and checking out some seriously cute boutiques, including pretty in pink Love Shack Fancy. If you want to play out a scene from your favourite tv shows, this neighbourhood is home to Carrie’s SATC apartment as well as the Friend’s apartment which are within walking distance of each other!
After exploring the West Village, we continued on to Chelsea, where we had a nose inside bustling Chelsea Market and picked up some deliciously gooey brownies from Fat Witch bakery. (From here, its easy to jump onto the High Line if its a nice day!) Just up the road from Chelsea Market is Soapology, which is impossible to miss if you’re close-by because of the gorgeous, clean scent that wafts out onto the street! This is a great place to pick up some cute smellies to take home as a unique souvenir. Also in Chelsea is Milk Bar, with its popular cereal milk ice cream. (Delicious, but slightly difficult to eat when its 18 degrees outside and its melting all down your hand!)
If there’s one thing I 100% recommend that you do on a trip to NY is to go and see a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. The atmosphere is incredible (even if the Knicks don’t do so well…) and the interval performances are almost as fun to watch as the game! We were up top in the cheap seats (close to the bar!) but still had a clear view of the court. (Although if you want to be in with a chance of catching a t-shirt from the cannons or seeing your face appear on the big screen you’ll need to get seats slightly lower down!)
One last thing you need to try before you leave NY is a pickleback shot! Just as disgusting as it sounds, its a big slug of whisky washed down with a full shot of pickle juice! It may be nasty, but its a right of passage for any visitor to the city, just like visiting a dive bar in the East Village! Just hold your nose and knock it back!
I hope this post has given you some fun ideas on how to spend a long weekend in this brilliant city and inspired you to scope out some of the lesser known, instagram-worthy corners!