Tips for Visiting New York City for the First Time

Ever since I was little, I’ve accompanied my mom on her buying trips to NYC. She owns a children’s boutique and women’s clothing store and does most of her buying at big trade shows in the city. When I was younger, I’d go to the shows with her but once I got older, I gradually began to explore the city by myself. In the beginning, I was intimidated by NYC and all that it has to offer. I had no idea where to even start! Over the years, I’ve learned how to make the most of my time in the city and have picked up a few tips and tricks along the way.

If you’re visiting NYC for the first time, or just looking to make your trip go a lot smoother, you’ve come to the right place!

This guide will teach you:

  1. The non-touristy way to discover the city
  2. How to navigate the city like a pro
  3. How to pick where to eat
  4. Where to find the best shopping deals

1. The non-touristy way to discover the city

In my opinion, the best (and non-touristy) way to discover NYC is to explore a few of NYC’s famous neighborhoods. You won’t be able to explore them all (unless you’re staying for quite a while), so you’ll need to pick one or two that appeals to you. Each neighborhood has its own distinctive personality. I’d recommend reading this guide for an overview of each neighborhood and what it’s known for. After selecting a neighborhood that speaks to you, choose a couple of activities and then devote at least half your day to exploring the area. If you’re looking for unique things to do, check out travel blogs for their suggestions, especially if the blogger calls NYC home. Just go to Pinterest, search “what to do in X neighborhood,” and you’ll find tons of great guides.

Alternatively, if there’s something you absolutely want to do, then plan around that activity. That way, your day will have some structure to it but you won’t feel like a crazed tourist jumping from one destination to another. Instead, you’ll have time to immerse yourself in your surroundings and make your own discoveries. After all, that’s what NYC is all about! Some of my favorite neighborhoods to explore are the Meatpacking District, the West Village, and Soho in Manhattan, and Dumbo in Brooklyn.

The Met is one of my all-time favorite museums. A highlight of my trip is always visiting the Met’s annual fashion exhibit.

Brooklyn Bridge Park tips for visiting new york city

Checking out the incredible waterfront views of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park in Dumbo, Brooklyn

high line tips for visiting new york city

Enjoying a popsicle with a friend on the High Line, one of my favorite things to do in the Meatpacking District!

Williamsburg pink bridge tips for visiting new york city

Stumbled upon this amazing pink bridge in Williamsburg, Brooklyn!

2. How to navigate NYC like a pro

To navigate NYC like a pro you first need to have a sense of where things are geographically. Manhattan is divided into Uptown, Midtown, and Downtown and it really helps to know which neighborhoods are where. Below you’ll find a useful map of all of the neighborhoods. Naturally, everything above Midtown is Uptown and everything below Midtown is Downtown. You’ll need to know which direction you’re heading when taking the Subway or hailing a cab so keep this map on you!

tips for visiting new york city neighborhood map

Photo credit:

Before going anywhere in NYC, I use Google Maps to figure out what is the best mode of transportation. If it’s walkable (under 20 min), I walk. If not, I usually take the Subway and use Google Maps to see where to get on and off. For Subway newbies, it’s really not as intimidating as you think and you’ll save so much on cabs! Also, the Subway is often by far the quickest option (like when going to Brooklyn or traveling during rush hour) so it’s important to become familiar with it. However, if you’re traveling alone at night or have a lot of packages, I’d recommend taking a cab or Uber.

Click here for more tips and tricks for navigating NYC’s public transportation.

3. How to pick where to eat 

NYC is a foodie’s paradise. It’s home to some of the best restaurants in the world and you can find anything your stomach desires. It’s also the perfect place to try different ethnic cuisines from around the world. However, having thousands of options at your disposal can be daunting. How do you pick?? After years of wrestling with this dilemma, I’ve learned to first select a general location or neighborhood where you want to eat. For example, somewhere in walking distance to your hotel. If you’re in the mood for a specific type of cuisine, such as Indian, research the best Indian food in X neighborhood via Yelp or a quick Google search.

However, if you’re open to eating anywhere in the city, ask a New Yorker. Every New Yorker I know has strong opinions about where to eat in the city. So if you know anyone from NYC, hit them up! I promise they’ll love sharing their favorite spots with you. If you don’t know anyone, turn to guides such as Zagat for food critic reviews or Yelp for customer reviews. I’d also suggest perusing food blogs based in NYC. Once again, Pinterest is an awesome tool. Just search “where to eat in NYC,” and you’ll find tons of guides to help you make your final choice. If a restaurant allows reservations, make one either by phone or on OpenTable. If not, call before going to see if there’s a wait.

A Few of My Favorites Eateries

Off the top of my head here are a few of my favorite places to eat in the city:

  • ABC Kitchen– Delicious organic food in a beautiful setting. After eating explore their drool-worthy home store . 
  • Via Quadronno– The best place for cappuccino and a sweet treat after exploring Central Park.
  • Miss Korea BBQ– Best Korean I’ve ever had, fun environment and great for big groups.
  • Ilili– Incredible Lebanese in a trendy, modern space.
  • Takahachi– Possibly the only affordable Japanese restaurant in the city with seriously good sushi.
  • Babu Ji– Not your typical Indian joint. Modern Indian cuisine and street food in a hip setting with an extensive selection of craft beer.
  • Sarabeth’s– The Park Ave one right next to The Plaza is a real treat for brunch. If you’re a fan of sweet breakfasts (i.e. lemon ricotta pancakes, almond filled french toast), you’ll be in heaven.
  • Buvette– Adorable French bistro in the West Village. There’s always a line on the weekends but it’s so worth the wait.
  • Bubby’s– Fuel up here before walking the High Line. Known for its comfort food.
  • Cosme– Mexican-inspired cuisine by renowned chef Enrique Olvera. If you haven’t made it to his Mexico City restaurants, this is the next best thing.
  • Waverly Inn– Dine at this beautiful restaurant for a special occasion (be prepared to shell out the big bucks).
via quadronno tips for visiting new york city

Possibly my favorite place for coffee in the city!

Sarabeth's tips for visiting new york city

Brunch at Sarabeth’s with a friend



Miss Korea BBQ tips for visiting new york city

A Korean feast at Miss Korea BBQ

Inspired Indian cuisine at Babu Ji

4. Where to find the best shopping deals

NYC is one of my all-time favorite places to shop. Every year I find amazing deals in the city and leave with pieces that become staples in my wardrobe. I even refrain from buying my favorite designers elsewhere because I know I can get it cheaper in NYC. The trick to getting a good deal is knowing where to go and when. Visiting the city in August is a fabulous time for end of the summer deals. Most major stores have sales running in mid-August because they’re desperate to make room for their new fall collections. My two favorite places to find designer clothes for a steal are Nordstrom Rack and Bloomingdales.

FYI this street is NOT where you find the best deals

Nordstrom Rack

If you’re unfamiliar with Nordstrom Rack, it’s the off-price division of Nordstrom, offering deep discounts of brands found at Nordstrom. So if you love Nordstrom but hate the hefty price tags, Nordstrom Rack is for you.

The Nordstrom Rack in Union Square is not for the faint of heart but you will find amazing deals if you know how to navigate it. When I’m there, I zero-in on the racks of my favorite designers like Joie, Vince, and Theory, and ignore everything else. Nordstrom Rack is also my go-to place to find designer jeans like Paige and 7 for all Mankind for a fraction of their original price. Finally, don’t leave without checking out the shoes.

DwD Tip: When you’re ready to check out, skip the long line and instead find an employee wearing a green shirt. If you’re paying with a credit card, they’ll check you out right there and then.


The Bloomingdale’s on 3rd and Lex is one of my absolute favorite places to shop because it has all of my favorite designers on one massive floor. Bloomingdale’s also offers loyal customers great perks. Years ago, I opened a Bloomingdale’s store credit card and I’m so glad I did. Every time I go there’s an awesome promotion for card holders. This past trip, I got an additional 25% off everything, including sale! If you don’t want to open a store card (they’re dangerous, I know), get a Loyalist card instead.

Besides the discounts, I also love the Bloomie’s sales clerksThey always go above and beyond to find my size, get me a roomy dressing room, and give their honest opinion about whatever it is I’m trying on.

DwD Tip: Your first stop art Bloomie’s should be the Visitor’s Center to pick up a 10% off coupon for anyone out-of-state. 

*Click here to see what’s new at Bloomie’s!

Boutique Shopping

Finally, if you’re more into boutiques than big department stores, NYC has tons of those as well. I love discovering little boutiques across the city, especially in neighborhoods like Nolita, SoHo, and Greenwich Village. Although you probably won’t find the kind of deals you would at stores like Nordstrom Rack and Bloomingdales, you just may leave with a unique piece that you couldn’t get anywhere else.

For a great guide to boutique shopping in NYC click here and here.

Williamsburg boutique tips for visiting new york city

A cute boutique in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

I love the beautiful boutiques that line the cobblestone streets of SoHo. But beware, there aren’t many deals to be found in this part of the city.

DwD Tip: Student or Teacher Discount

Oh and one more thing, if you’re a student (or still happen to have your student ID…) or a teacher, make sure to ask stores if they offer a student discount. Stores like Club Monaco (a personal favorite), Madewell, and J. Crew offer up to 15% off and that really helps! Here is a list of 87 other retailers who grant student / teacher discounts.

Final Thoughts

In order to make the most of your time in NYC you need to have a plan. With a combination of foresight and flexibility you’ll be able to check off your must-dos while keeping yourself open to new places and experiences. And if you happen upon something you want to check out, like a cool rooftop bar, veer from your itinerary and check out that rooftop bar! 

one Hotel Dumbo tips for visiting new york city

A spontaneous visit to the rooftop bar at 1 Hotel in Dumbo, Brooklyn on the day of the eclipse

Additional resources:

Good luck, you’ve totally got this!!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips for visiting New York City for the first time. If you found this guide helpful, or have other NYC tips, please let me know in the comments below!

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Skiing in the Colorado Rockies

Growing up in the extremely flat state of Delaware, skiing was not something my family did regularly. As a kid, my parents took me to Pennsylvania a few times to learn to ski; but once my brother Ben and I got the hang of it, they started opting for warmer vacation destinations. My family has always been much more water-sport inclined. My Dad’s logic is: 1) the water is much more forgiving when you fall and 2) unlike skiing/snowboarding you don’t have to pay to go in the ocean. Solid points, I’d say.

So when Julian invited me to go skiing with his family in Colorado, I was a bit apprehensive. After all, I hadn’t skied since I was 14 and East Coast mountains are not exactly the Rockies. But once I saw photos of where we’d be staying, I was sold. Soon I was conjuring images of sipping hot cocoa by a fire, soaring down the mountain in my new gear, and relaxing at the spa after a long day on the slopes.

Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch colorado

The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch

The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch

If you haven’t heard of Bachelor Gulch before, don’t worry, neither had I before my trip. Bachelor Gulch is an enclave in Vail Valley and is so named for its original settlers, the five Swedish bachelors who called this deep V-shaped valley, or gulch, home. From the Ritz, the resort town of Beaver Creek is just down the road and Vail is less than a 20 minute drive.  

The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch snow

The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch is as stunning in real life as it is in pictures. Far from the hustle and bustle of the city, it’s the perfect place for a winter retreat. As soon as I walked through its doors twinkling with Christmas lights, I felt right at home. While some Ritzs can be a bit pretentious, this Ritz exudes understated luxury with its rustic decor evoking the great mountain lodges of the American West.

The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch lodge

Photo credit: The Ritz

Highlights of Our Stay

We loved every moment of our stay but a few highlights stood out…

-Après-skiing at Bachelors Lounge, an open-air cigar bar kept warm with a roaring fire and electric heaters. After a long day of skiing, we’d head there for a glass of champagne or wine (or both…) and hors-d’oeuvres. We also spent many nights here, including NYE, sipping on cocktails and hanging out with friends.

The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch bachelors lounge

Photo credit: The Ritz

-Listening to live music after skiing. The performer played a great selection of classic hits and always drew a fun crowd.

The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch live music

-Relaxing at the spa. After skiing, there was nothing better than heading to the spa to unwind. The grotto jacuzzi was the perfect thing for our tired muscles. We also took advantage of the steam rooms, saunas, hot and cold plunge pools, and the relaxation room.

The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch spa

Photo credit: The Ritz Carlton

-Breathing in the fresh mountain air. After being at home in Delaware for the holidays and Mexico City before that, I really enjoyed the change of scenery and reveled in the crisp air and the sight of snow and pine trees.

The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch cashmere dear drew lounge set

Taking in the views in my cashmere lounge set from Drew Barrymore’s Dear Drew line. Treat yourself to a set and receive 30% off your purchase with the code Sarah30.

-Snowshoeing to Zach’s Cabin (more on that later!)


Unfortunately, the skiing conditions were not ideal. In fact, it was the least snow Colorado had seen in years! It was a shame Colorado was not quite the winter wonderland I had envisioned but that’s Mother Nature for you and it’s no use getting upset about. In a way, the less than ideal conditions were a blessing for me because I’m a huge baby about the cold. Most days, we were skiing in the high 30s and low 40s. Balmy temperatures for winter in Colorado!

 Beaver Creek skiing colorado

Skiing in Beaver Creek. As you can see, the mountains behind me are completely devoid of snow!

 Beaver Creek skiing colorado

Skiing in Bachelor Gulch is super comfortable because you can ski in and out of the hotel. You literally just put your gear on, grab your boots and skis (which are stored with the ski valet) and off you go! Also, an on-site mountain guide tells you everything you need to know about the day’s conditions and gives you recommendations based on your skill level before you hit the slopes. Beaver Creek Mountain is great for beginners and also has plenty of fun runs for intermediate skiers. One day, we made the trek to Vail which has more terrain and advanced runs. Vail also boasts superior views as you can see from the pics below.

vail skiing colorado

vail skiing colorado

Since my skiing skills were rather rusty, I decided to hire an instructor my first day. For beginners or anyone who hasn’t skied in a while, I’d highly recommend doing a group or private lesson. It’s not cheap but I considered it an investment in my future as a skier. In the end, it was so worthwhile. A good instructor will help you master your form, give you personalized tips, prevent you from doing anything potentially dangerous, and best of all, give you a big confidence boost!

vail skiing colorado

beaver creek ski school

Me with my favorite ski instructor Jim. Turns out he attended the University of Virginia too, Wahoowa!


The Vail Valley Food Scene 

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Vail Valley has an impressive food scene. There are so many amazing restaurants serving up the best of local cuisine. I’d return just for the food! My favorite restaurants were…

Mirabelle– A super cozy Belgian spot perfect for food and wine enthusiasts. I tried elk here for the first time and it did not disappoint. Don’t skip the souffle, both the chocolate and Grand Marnier are to die for.

mirabelle restaurant vail valley

Zach’s Cabin– Perched on the mountainside high above Bachelor Gulch you can only get here by skiing, snowshoeing, or by taking a sleigh ride on the Snow Cat. During the day, it’s only open to members but at night it’s open to the public. We loved the rustic cabin decor, roaring fire, and hearty, delicious meals.

zach's cabin bachelor gulch

Juniper– A bustling eatery considered one of the best dining spots in the valley. We dined as a big group here and everyone was happy.

juniper restaurant vail valley

Julian’s tasty pork chop


Another major highlight of our trip was snowshoeing up Bachelor Gulch Mountain for lunch at Zach’s Cabin. It was definitely a workout but the thought of a good meal was a real motivating force. We went on New Years Day and it was the best start to 2018! The views were incredible and after so much indulging it felt good to know we burned 1000 calories going up and down the mountain.

Bachelor Gulch Mountain snowshoeing

Our snowshoe group

Bachelor Gulch Mountain aspen trees

While snowshoeing, you really get the chance to appreciate the natural beauty all around you

Bachelor Gulch Mountain Zach's Cabin

The one thing that kept me going… the thought of lunch at the famous Zach’s Cabin

snowshoeing bachelor gulch mountain

After climbing up the mountain, going down was a piece of cake!


We had such a packed schedule everyday that I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time in Vail. Guess I’ll just have to go back! Vail is made up of three lively areas: Vail Village, Lionshead, and Golden Peak. Vail Village and Lionshead were inspired by Swiss alpine villages and they’re filled with twinkling lights, endless shops, restaurants, and après hot spots. The shops in Vail Village are a mix of high end designers, ski shops, boutiques, and even a few Colorado classics. Do not miss Designer Furs and leather-wear specialist Kemo Sabe.

 ice skating rink Lionshead vail valley

The ice skating rink in Lionshead

Vail Village at night

Vail Village at night

Kemo Sabe vail village

Stop into Kemo Sabe for a taste of real Colorado grit

Magical Colorado

If you had asked me before this trip whether I prefer a tropical beach or a winter wonderland, I would’ve picked beach without hesitation. But after our week in Colorado I may be a convert. Our winter escapade made me remember how magical the snow-covered mountains are and how there’s nothing quite like snuggling up by the fire with your loved ones. While I’ll always be a beach girl at heart, there’s something that awakens the spirit in the mountains… the fresh Colorado air, lush pine forests, and glow of a roaring fire are memories I won’t soon forget.

ritz carlton bachelor gulch champagne cheers

What’s your idea of the perfect vacation? Do you prefer a tropical beach or a winter wonderland? Comment below!