New York City skyline

My Secret City: New York City

New York is one of the world’s most visited cities with what seems like an infinity of things to see and do. We asked alumna and New York City resident Jennifer McCartney (MPhil 2005) to give us her insider’s guide to the City That Never Sleeps. 

"The best time of year in New York is springtime.

The East Village still has that artsy/punk/grunge vibe that you see in older movies about the city although it's getting harder to find. There are lots of dive bars and graffiti and good music venues. I recommend Otto's Shrunken Head (a tiki bar with live music) or International Bar (classic no-frills watering hole). 

The Strand is the best bookshop to hit up. Founded in 1927, it's now a NYC landmark, and is made up of multiple floors with every kind of book (and tote bag, and coffee mug, etc). They do events too, so you can catch your favourite author doing a reading or book launch. 

I love to spend Sunday afternoons at Smorgasburg. It's a massive food market that takes place every Sunday over the summer in Prospect Park (or in Williamsburg on Saturdays and Financial District on Fridays). There are tons of vendors serving everything from duck poutine to dumplings to tamales. The food isn't cheap but it's always interesting, and it's a great way to spend an afternoon.  

The time of year I like best in New York is springtime. The cherry trees are in bloom, all my friends come out of hibernation, the outdoor festivals start happening, and the restaurants set up their sidewalk patios. It's the best. 

"From Brooklyn Bridge Park there are amazing views across the East River of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn Bowl has always been a favorite music venue of mine. It's small enough you get to see everything but big enough that you can also bowl or grab food if you want. It's no Barrowlands Ballroom, but it's pretty fun. 

The Coney Island Museum is a weird little spot near the boardwalk that's just packed with tons of crazy stuff from Coney Island's wacky history. Neon signs, weird statues, old rides, fun house mirrors, plus live shows. 

The Circle Line does a great two-hour cruise around the city. You get a great sense of Manhattan from the water that you can't get on land. I like the evening cruise, so I can see all the lights. Or hop on the free Staten Island ferry and do a round trip past the Statue of Liberty. 

If I want to relax I love Aire Ancient Baths. It's this subterranean pool/spa complex in Tribeca. They've got a bunch of pools at different temperatures. You can get a 2-hour pass and just hop from hot salty water to a frigid plunge pool and back again. It's wonderful. 

For a day out of the city Metro North Railroad is a great option. You can grab a train from Grand Central and in an hour or two be up in Cold Spring or Beacon - little towns on the Hudson River with great antique shops, restaurants, and art galleries. On nice days they're filled with other New Yorkers trying to get away from it all. 

My food & drink hit list

Sweet Chick in Brooklyn does amazing chicken and waffles, and they usually have seasonal drink specials like sweet tea vodka lemonade. 

Junior's has been around for a million years and they do classic cheesecake, along with 400 other items. They're an old school New York institution, with some locations open 24 hours.

Ice cream
Ample Hills Ice Cream started in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn but they're everywhere now. They do a salted crack'd caramel ice cream that's really good, along with tons of seasonal flavors like Cranberry Gin Fizz. Be prepared to wait in line because people are nuts for this stuff. 

Hungry Ghost in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn does delicious cortados. Felix Roasting Company in Midtown does a S'mores latte that's also weird and good and Instagrammable. 

There are a billion great spots for cocktails in the city. For a special occasion I like Raines Law Room in Chelsea which was one of the earlier speakeasy Prohibition-style spots. It's down a set of unmarked stairs and you've got to ring the doorbell for admission. If that sounds pretentious, then I recommend the Italian spot, Dante in the West Village. They do a bunch of different Negronis that are fantastic.

This article was first published June 2019. All opinions expressed are the views of the author and are not endorsed by the University of Glasgow.

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Central Park in New York

Spanning 843 acres, Central Park is the most visited urban park in the United States (photo: Hector Argüello Canals, Unsplash).

The 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site.

The 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site (photo: Shutterstock).

Junior’s restaurant on Broadway.

Junior’s restaurant on Broadway is famous for its cheesecake (photo: Shutterstock).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, home to a permanent collection of over two million works (photo: Shutterstock).

Manhattan in New York

Manhattan, said to be the heart of the Big Apple (photo: Shutterstock).

The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States in 1886 (photo: Shutterstock).

The Brooklyn Bridge in New York

Brooklyn Bridge, the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge which connects Brooklyn to Manhattan (photo: Kyler Trautner, Unsplash).

Grand Central Terminal in New York

Grand Central Terminal, home to the famous clock housed under a stunning celestial mural.

Main Street in Beacon, a town on the Hudson River

Main Street in Beacon, a town on the Hudson River, located a short train journey from New York City (photo: Shutterstock).