A Comprehensive Travel Guide to New York City For Two

Bird's eye view or overhead shot of Upper Manhattan, New York City

Words: Rhonda Bannister

With its vibrant streets and endless attractions, NYC can be overwhelming for first-time visitors. But don’t worry, this comprehensive guide will point you in the right direction and highlight the best areas for couples to stay and explore. Get ready to create unforgettable memories with your loved one in the city that never sleeps!

It’s one of the most exciting and romantic places in the world but as the most populous city in the USA, visiting New York can be daunting, even for the well-travelled couple.

Getting the most out of this incredible city is all about the area you stay in, and trust us they are all very different. From Harlem above Central Park in the north down to the Lower East Side in the south and Brooklyn to the east, each neighbourhood possesses a distinct personality and unique vibe, so use this guide to help you decide where to stay.

Our tip: Split your time with a few nights in Upper Manhattan to make the most of the city’s cultural attractions before moving to one of the charming areas in Lower Manhattan.

Upper west side view from across the Central Park in New York
Upper West Side of Manhattan from Central Park

Upper Manhattan – NYC’s cultural heartland

Straddling Central Park, an amazing green heartland which runs north to south from 110th Street (Harlem) to 59th Street and across town from Fifth Ave to Central Park West are the upmarket areas of Upper West Side and Upper East Side. Here serene streets showcase some of the city’s finest historic architecture with opulent townhouses and mansions lining the pristine sidewalks. This is where the elite live and it’s utterly charming. This is also home to any number of the city’s most famous and elegant hotels such as The Plaza, The Pierre, Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons, The Carlyle and the Ritz-Carlton.

Best suits the couple: Into cultural pursuits who would happily spend hours wandering the hallowed halls of world famous museums and galleries such as the amazing Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Frick which contains some of Europe’s best known artists; the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim and the American Museum of Natural History which is a must visit. Who hasn’t seen and loved the hilarious Night at the Museum movies! Then there’s the Lincoln Centre, home of the New York City Ballet, Philharmonic Orchestra, New York City Opera and more.

Boathouse Restaurant on a lake in Central Park, New York with paddle boats on the foreground and lush greeneries and trees on the background
Boathouse Restaurant at Central Park | Image: David Vives

Don’t Miss: A horse and carriage ride through Central Park and then continue the romance with lunch at Central Park Boathouse Restaurant right on the park’s beautiful lake – ask for a window table when you book! Then go for a row on the lake before stealing a kiss on the beautiful cast-iron Bow Bridge – one of the park’s most romantic spots.

Streetscape at Midtown Manhattan, New York with building, cars, and pedestrians
Midtown Streetscape | Image: Dan Bannister

Dynamic Midtown – the city that never sleeps

Times Square, Broadway, Hell’s Kitchen, Carnegie Hall, Empire State Building, City Library, Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Centre, St Patricks Cathedral, and the block-long Macy’s Herald Square Department store all live in this area.This is the centre of the city with the tallest skyscrapers and busiest streets, where the noise of people, sirens and horns never stops. Running north to south from approximately 59th to 31st Street, this area is what most visitors define as the ‘Big Apple’.

Best suits the couple: Who love the beating pulse of a party city on steroids; want to wander from bar to bar soaking up the incredible atmosphere of the city that never sleeps; can’t get enough of the extravagant, flashing neon lights and the clashing cacophony of Times Square; want to immerse themselves in the theatre district – the bright lights and smell of greasepaint on and off Broadway at night and by day want to ‘shop til they drop’.

Times Square Broadway nightlife with neon signs, cars, and pedestrians during nighttime
New York Times Square and Broadway | Image: Andreas Niendorf

Don’t Miss: Make time for at least one Broadway show – get your last-minute tickets at TKTS Booth Times Square. Visit the glorious Grand Central Terminal on E42nd Street, the biggest railway terminal in the world and an absolute eye-popper with its Beaux-Arts architecture and sweeping staircases and glittering chandeliers. For a treat, pop into the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar for lunch and just watch the crowds swirl around.

Quintessential New York City

Chelsea, Greenwich & West Village – Quintessential NYC

This part of Manhattan has starred in so many television series and movies that you’ll feel at home straight away as you recognise the streets and buildings from famous scenes in Sex and the City and Friends. The delightful tree-lined streets of impeccable brownstones, intimate restaurants, bars and unique boutiques are, we think, quintessential New York. They are the city’s most sought-after districts, which is probably why so many Hollywood stars choose to live here.

Best Suits The Couple: Who enjoys a laid-back bohemian atmosphere rather than the pulsating energy of Midtown, and would prefer to stay in a Brownstone apartment or a boutique hotel and really get to know Manhattan like a local, not as a tourist. Stroll the avenues and backstreets looking for atmospheric cafes and unique boutiques; don’t mind using the subway to travel to all the other areas sightseeing, but can’t wait to get back to their more sedate neighbourhood.

Meatpacking District | Image: Dan Bannister

Don’t Miss: Walk the High Line, an old elevated freight line that’s been transformed into a scenic walkway and park running high above the streets of Chelsea. The nearby Meatpacking District is the edgy part of town with some of the city’s most sought-after restaurants and late-night spots.  Music lovers should make their way to Cafe Wha? at MacDougal Street Greenwich Village as it was the original hangout of Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix and still rocks every night! On the same street is New York’s famous Comedy Cellar but you’ll need to get tickets online well in advance.

Related: 35 Romantic Things for Couples to Do in New York.

Streets of Tribeca | Image: Zachary Shakked

East Village, Lower East Side, Little Italy, Soho, Tribeca – a diverse melting pot of cultures

Trendy Tribeca’s rise to glamour status began when Robert De Niro opened Nobu Restaurant, and then started the popular annual event, the TriBeCa Film Festival, which has done so much to change this area from a down-at-heel district into one of NY’s hottest destinations. These historic areas of lower Manhattan offer visitors a variety of eclectic and quaint neighbourhoods that seem little changed over the decades with their iconic cast-iron buildings and fire escapes such an architectural feature of the area. Residents of the Lower East side could be termed ‘indie’ in thought and fashion and the area is grittier than surrounding neighbourhoods with one-off boutiques and vintage shops, hot clubs that go all night and hidden-away bars that attract a music-loving, younger clientele.

Best Suits The Couple: Who loves to groove away at trendy night spots – some of Manhattan’s best are found here! Because these areas encompass such a diverse range of communities and cultures from Chinese to Italian, Jewish to Indian, Russian to Romanian, couples who enjoy delving into the city’s history will also love staying here poking through the old churches, synagogues and temples and walking the cobblestoned streets to see what they can discover from the past.

Staten Island Ferry leaving Downtown

Don’t Miss: Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge – it’s not that hard and is a truly rewarding experience and a fab opportunity to get some great photos. Catch the free Staten Island Ferry from Whitehall Street Pier for a 25 minute voyage from Manhattan to Staten Island offering fantastic views of Ellis Island and The Statue of Liberty.

Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Williamsburg, Brooklyn – hip & trendy

It’s another borough across the river where the rents are cheaper and the crowds are hipper and it’s becoming quite the place to stay if you don’t mind cycling or walking over the Williamsburg Bridge or catching the ferry or subway a few stops to Lower Manhattan. Streets such as Bedford Ave are lined with cafes and bars; boutiques selling clothing with street cred, vintage and pre-loved items including old vinyl records plus there’s a buzzy art scene which gives the area a cool, young and relaxed vibe. The area has been cleansed of its previous seedy reputation as a drug warren and old warehouses have been given new life as apartments, restaurants and hotels.

Best Suits The Couple: Who like alternative lifestyles and a feeling of being in a community (think Byron Bay in northern NSW), dining on local, artisanal foods at buzzy restaurants such as Diner, opened in 2000 by artist-cum-restaurateur Andrew Tarlow who now has five Brooklyn restaurants and is credited with transforming Brooklyn.

View of Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn Side, New York
Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn | Image: Dorothee Hubner

Don’t Miss: Artists & Fleas, an indoor weekend market showcasing local artists and designers where you’re sure to find unique pieces of designer jewellery and clothing plus some great vintage buys. Every Sunday the Brooklyn Flea Market takes place just down the road right on the waterfront with magnificent views of Manhattan. Have a relaxed lunch at one of Red Hook’s seafood restaurants like the Brooklyn Crab, an open-air, three storey building which offers a view of the waterfront from its funky street level bar and views of the Statue of Liberty from its rooftop deck.

Statue of Liberty | Image: Dan Bannister

Getting Around – it’s easy once you know the rules

The island of Manhattan is only 21.6 km long and 3.7 km wide and because the streets are set out in a grid pattern with major avenues like Park, Lexington, Broadway and Madison running north-south and streets like 34th Street running from east to west it’s not hard to navigate your way around. The only trick is E or W! As an example, a street can be either W21st Street or E21st Street so just remember that the dividing point between east and west is at Fifth Ave.

The exception to the EW rule is in the area south of Houston Street (acronym SOHO ) in lower Manhattan where the Dutch, who first settled ‘New Amsterdam’ in 1625, used an irregular grid with street names rather than numbers.

Taxis are reasonably priced but it’s the killer traffic that makes them an expensive way to travel. The subway is easy to use and can get you almost everywhere you want to go once you have worked out the grid of colours, numbers and letters – sounds confusing but it’s not. Travelling north/south and vice versa is easy, just choose the right colour line to get you where you want to go.You can even transfer between lines at certain stations. For instance if you’re staying in the Upper East Side but want to get the subway to Bedford Street, Williamsburg, you would take the green line 4, 5,or 6 train south to 14th Street Union Square station and transfer to the grey line L train to Williamsburg, all on one ticket. Bronx bound trains are always heading uptown and Brooklyn bound trains are always heading downtown. Best advice is to get a subway map and study it. And don’t forget, this is a city made for walking so take your walking shoes!

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