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Solo New York trip; a New York City itinerary

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I recently got back from a solo New York trip and had an absolutely amazing time! As a mom with two young children – and as a female traveler – the idea of solo travel can be a bit scary, but New York City is one of the best places to dip your toes in the water with traveling by yourself!

I’ve put together a New York City itinerary for solo travelers, including where to stay, how to get around, where to eat, and some of the best things to do on a solo New York City trip. Obviously everyone’s comfort levels are different so this is just a guide, and absolutely use your best judgement but I hope this will be a good place to start!

Where to stay on a solo New York trip

For me, my biggest concern about solo female travel is safety so finding a place to stay in New York City where I would be comfortable by myself was very important. I wanted to find a hotel in a neighborhood I would feel okay coming back to after dark, and feel comfortable walking around on my own.

In the end, I went for a hotel in a busy area that was also within walking distance to plenty of the attractions I wanted to visit. This meant I was never really walking around on my own, even after dark, and I didn’t have to take the subway or a car too much if I didn’t want to. I was also looking for a hotel that took security seriously.

I actually stayed at the West 57th Street by Hilton Club, which is a couple of blocks from Central Park (and a couple of blocks from The Plaza – which is where I would have stayed had I won the lottery before my trip!) The hotel was on a busy street, there was a doorman on the door, and the elevator couldn’t be operated without a room key. This made me feel pretty safe.

For a solo New York trip, I would probably suggest sticking with a bigger hotel chain in a central location. Prices can sometimes be higher in those areas, but not only will you save money not having to take the subway everywhere, but you’ll have the peace of mind.

How to get around on a solo New York trip

Again, this will depend on your comfort level. I’m pretty comfortable getting around on my own, but being in a different city does make me a little wary.

My biggest tip is to download the City Mapper app; you type in your location and it will tell you the fastest way to get to your destination – but it will also give you other options and tell you how long those will take as well. The app never steered me wrong and the times were pretty accurate.

For most of this trip, I just walked everywhere. I love walking and honestly think it’s the best way to see a new place, especially in a city like New York where you might never see neighborhoods outside of the touristy areas.

There wasn’t anywhere I didn’t feel comfortable walking during the day, although I did stick to pretty busy streets and tried to stay away from quieter side streets if I wasn’t totally sure of the neighborhood. At night, I was a bit more careful where I went, but I can honestly say there was no time I felt uncomfortable.

If you need to go a longer distance, options are either the subway, a taxi, or a ride share app like Uber or Lyft. I feel pretty comfortable using the subway; I’ve used it enough on previous trips to the city and even though I think you need to pay a bit more attention to your surroundings, it’s always seemed pretty safe to me. I did avoid using the subway too much at night though; I don’t think it’s unsafe, but it was just outside my comfort zone.

I used Lyft to get to and from the airport on this trip, and felt totally comfortable with those trips by myself. I use Lyft during day to day life and think the company does a great job with safety, so I felt just as comfortable using them in a new city.

Where to eat on a solo New York trip

I’m not someone who particularly likes eating in a restaurant by themselves, even at home; I’ve given it a try over the years and always feel super awkward, even though there’s absolutely no reason to!

I do think that if you’re okay eating in a restaurant by yourself then New York City is one of the best places to do this; literally no one is watching you, the restaurants will be busy and no one will care what you do! I saw a lot of people eating in restaurants alone on this trip.

But if you don’t want to eat in a restaurant alone, then New York City is also one of the best places for that! There are endless casual dining and take out options, and something for absolutely every taste.

One of my favorite things to eat in New York City is pizza – I mean, it’s pretty much one of the best places in the world to get pizza! Not every place will do pizza by the slice though, and even I can’t manage a whole pizza by myself, so double check the menus. Artichoke Basille’s not only offers pizza by the slice, but makes some of my favorite pizza: the artichoke pizza with white sauce is so good!

Bagels are another staple of New York City, and although you can get them pretty much anywhere, my favorite has always been Ess-a-bagel. There are locations throughout the city and they can get pretty busy during the morning rush, so be prepared for a bit of a wait. I usually get the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich but there are so many options to choose from!

Somewhere I’ve been dying to visit through years of New York City trips with the kids is Parisienne bakery Laduree – but it’s definitely not one of the more kid-friendly options! On this trip, I visited more than once to indulge in their incredible pastries and sweets – I would especially recommend their macarons and their eclairs!

Another one of my recommendations for places to eat on a solo New York trip (or any other trip to New York City!) is Magnolia Bakery. This bakery is famous, not only for its cupcakes, but the amazing banana pudding they make! The banana pudding is one of my favorite desserts in the world, but I always take the time to try the cupcakes too!

Another great thing about being on your own when you travel is getting to just stop and people watch for a bit. I love sitting with a drink and watching the people of the city go about their lives, and if you visit in the summer like I did, you might want to do that with a cold drink since it’ll probably be hot! The matcha lemonade from Cha Cha Matcha was so good; I’m not much of a fan of matcha tea, but this was so refreshing.

Another recommendation for somewhere to get a cold drink on a hot day is Posh Pop Bakeshop. Not only was this raspberry lemonade amazing, but they specialize in allergy friendly baked goods including cheesecake, cookies, and doughnuts.

What to do on a solo New York trip

Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge has been on my New York City bucket list for a really long time, but my kids are too young to walk across it without complaining the whole time. I knew this was the perfect time to finally cross this off my list, and I’m so glad I did.

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge takes about 45 minutes, depending on how fast you walk. You can make it in about 30 minutes if you pick up the pace, or it can take over an hour if you stop to take a lot of photos. It took me about 45 minutes but I was mostly taking photos as I went rather than stopping.

Three of my biggest tips for walking across the Brooklyn Bridge: start on the right side, pick the right time of day, and watch where you’re going!

While you can obviously walk across the bridge in either direction, if you want the views with the Manhattan skyline in the background, you need to start in Brooklyn. I kept turning around to look back at Brooklyn as I walked and while the views of Brooklyn were cool, I’m glad I chose to walk towards Manhattan instead. Of course if you have time, it’s worth walking in both directions.

There are also times of day that are better to make the walk. Earlier in the morning will be less busy, the middle of the day in the summer will be hot because there’s no shade on the bridge at all, and while the views at sunset will be spectacular, there will be a lot of people in your pictures because everyone else has had the same idea. If you want uncrowded photos, go as early in the day as possible.

Lastly, you need to pay attention. It’s easy to be looking all around you, taking photos and admiring the views, but the bridge can get busy and there won’t just be foot traffic: bikes and scooters are allowed on the bridge as well.

When you start walking on the bridge, look down and you’ll see there are two lanes painted on the ground with symbols to show which side of the line is for foot traffic and which is for bikes and scooters; walking from Brooklyn, the foot traffic was on the left.

If there are no bikes coming, it’s okay to step over into that lane to take a picture or go around a slower group, but remember to move back. I saw countless people walking on the wrong side almost get hit by bikes or electric scooters, and the bike riders were not shy about telling people they were on the wrong side!

A lot of the bikers are messengers, people delivering food, or those going to work, and they don’t usually have time to keep stopping if people are in their way, so it’s understandable that they get frustrated at tourists not looking where they’re going!

In Brooklyn, the beginning of the pedestrian walkway is at the corner of Tillary Street and Boerum Place, or you can jump on via the underpass at Washington Street. In Manhattan, you’ll get on the bridge just across the street from City Hall. There are usually vendors at either end selling drinks and snacks so you might want to pick up something to eat or drink to take with you.

Not only was walking across the bridge a lot of fun, but the views over Manhattan were fantastic; you could even see out to the Statue of Liberty. I’d absolutely recommend finding the time to do this on a solo New York trip.

Visit Brooklyn

I’ve visited New York City over 20 times in my adult life, but the only time I’ve ever been to Brooklyn is when I accidentally got on the wrong train. I’ve always wanted to go but never managed to find the time with so much else to see and do in Manhattan.

On this trip, I knew I wanted to try and take some photos in Brooklyn, so the plan was to go over and see what else there was to do there for a few hours. Well, I could have spent days there – in fact I’d love to stay in Brooklyn next time I go to New York and spend more time there.

One of the first things I wanted to find in Brooklyn was the Instagram-famous photo spot with the Manhattan Bridge framed between the buildings of Brooklyn. If you’re looking for this photo spot, you want to head to Washington Street and go down towards the water; you’ll spot it straight away because there will be a ton of other people taking the exact same photo! One I’d gotten my photo, I spent some time walking around and found that DUMBO (down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass) is a really cool area.

I’d heard that one of the best views of the Manhattan skyline with the Brooklyn Bridge in the forefront was from Pebble Beach. Walking along the water to find the spot was beautiful on a warm, sunny day – there were actually a lot of really great places to take photos.

The picture above was taken from Pebble Beach, which is a very small beach covered in pebbles and driftwood. This was the best photo spot I found, although I’d recommend walking along the water to get some different perspectives.

I had a bunch of places to eat recommended to me for where to eat in Brooklyn close to the waterfront, but the same few places kept coming up time and time again – and one of those was Luke’s Lobster. This place makes the best lobster and crab rolls; the lobster is fresh and you get so much of it stuffed into that little roll!

The other place I kept hearing about was Juliana’s Pizza. I’ve heard that this is the best pizza in Brooklyn (quite a claim!) but they didn’t do pizza by the slice so I had to skip it on this trip (I could probably eat an entire pizza by myself if I tried, but I’d probably need a nap afterwards and that was not on my itinerary!)

I was also told to try food from Time Out Market. This is an indoor market with a ton of different food vendors and options for pretty much every taste. I had already been to Luke’s for my lobster roll so I opted for dessert; pictured above is the honey lavender ice cream from Sugar Hill Creamery and it was amazing! I’d love to go back and try some of the other vendors, every menu sounded fantastic.

If you still have room (sadly I did not) then stop by Jacques Torres for a cookies and – if the weather isn’t too hot – a wicked spicy hot chocolate. I’m really picky about my chocolate (don’t get me started on the abomination that is Hershey’s) and this place is amazing! If you don’t have room to get anything at this point then don’t worry – there are other locations in Manhattan as well.

Take the Staten Island Ferry

This suggestion has less to do with actually visiting Staten Island and more to do with using the ferry as a way to see some of the best views of not only downtown Manhattan, but the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This is one of the best ways to see those sights since the ferry goes right past them, and best of all, it’s free!

You catch the ferry from Whitehall ferry terminal in downtown Manhattan, and the ferries leave every 15-30 minutes, depending on the time of day (during morning and evening rush hour, they’re more frequent – you can find the schedule online and it’s posted at the terminal as well).

The journey itself takes about 30 minutes, and to get the best views you’ll want to be outside on the right hand side of the ferry. It can get very windy and in the winter, I can imagine it’s absolutely freezing, but the views are spectacular.

As you can see, you get to be really close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. If all you want to do is see these locations and take some photos, this really is the best way to do it since it doesn’t cost anything. You also get some amazing views of the downtown Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Visit the World Trade Center

Although I’ve walked past the World Trade Center complex on previous trips to Manhattan, I’ve never really walked around it. Before my kids came along, a lot of the buildings weren’t complete (on my very first trip to the city, Ground Zero was still being cleared) and on my trips with the kids, they haven’t really been old enough to visit places like the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I knew this would be the perfect trip to explore this area.

My first stop was the Oculus. The architecture of this building is absolutely incredible and it’s positioning was carefully designed: it is in alignment with the sun’s solar angles on September 11th each year from 8.46am to 10.28am (the 102 minutes from the first plane striking to the second tower collapsing) so that during that period, the Oculus floor is flooded with a beam of light. I think that kind of thought being given is amazing.

The building also houses the WTC PATH train station as well as other subway lines, and a variety of shops. I mostly walked around and took pictures, basking in how quiet and peaceful the space was. I don’t think you need a lot of time to visit the Oculus, but I absolutely wouldn’t skip it.

While you’re in the World Trade Center plaza, I would really recommend visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Reservations are required so it’s worth buying the tickets in advance, and the suggested length of time for a visit is about 2 hours. I thought that sounded quite a long time, but I spent 2 hours there and could have spent longer had I not had other plans afterwards.

I grew up in the UK so my memories of 9/11 are not the same as those who were living in the US. I think 9/11 is one of those days where everyone can remember where they were and what they were doing, and I’ve watched documentaries over the years to get a better understanding for what it must have been like to live in the US on that day. I thought I went in quite prepared, but I came away having learned a lot.

The museum has a variety of different exhibits. Some featured artifacts from the day, including things like fire trucks that were damaged at the site, stretches of steel from the buildings themselves, and even seatbelts from the planes, while others included media and narratives from those who were there.

There were even newscasts from September 11th, 2001 where the news was literally breaking on air – newscasts I remember watching at the time. Some of the exhibits might be upsetting to some people but there are written warnings to explain what you’re going to be seeing before entering each section. If it all gets a bit too much, there is a whole exhibit on the dogs of 9/11, which is a lovely heartwarming section.

After visiting the museum, step outside to see the Memorial Pools. Not only do these feature the names of those who died in the Towers themselves, but those who were on the planes, first responders, and those who were killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as well. The names are grouped together, not just in those categories, but friends and coworkers’ names are placed together too. I thought that was a lovely idea, and I love how peaceful the pools are.

One final thing I’d recommend doing here is going to the One World Observatory at the top of One World Trade Center. At 100 stories high, this offers an amazing 360 degree view of the city and while it wasn’t my favorite way to see the New York City skyline (more on that later) the views were breathtaking.

Walk around Greenwich Village

One of my favorite things to do in this solo New York trip was to walk around neighborhoods that I’d never really explored in the past and wonder where I might like to live if I ever moved there (and won the lottery, because that’s a more fun game to play!)

I had wanted to go to Greenwich Village for a couple of different reasons, so I thought this would be a great neighborhood to explore. It ended up being one of my favorite places in the city, and it’s definitely one of the places I’d love to live if I ever moved here (although that lottery win would be essential!) The streets were leafy and peaceful, there were some really cool restaurants and bars, and it just felt a world away from the touristy areas.

One of the places I really wanted to visit was the Stonewall National Monument. I’ve recently watch a documentary on the Stonewall riots, so I knew I wanted to see the monument and the bar itself. Visiting during Pride month seemed especially poignant and I loved all the flags that were decorating the monument.

I also wanted to do something a bit touristy and try to find a couple of filming locations for two of my favorite 90s TV shows that I knew were in the area. The first was the building pictured below, which was used in Friends as the exterior shot of the building all of the friends lived in at one time or another. The address of this location is 90 Bedford Street.

The second was the steps pictured below, which were used as Carrie’s apartment in Sex and the City. This was one of my favorite shows and I always thought it made New York City look like the most amazing place in the world!

Carrie’s apartment exterior is a private residence and has a chain across to stop tourists presumably trying to stand on the famous steps (which I would never have done anyway) but it was still really cool to see. The address of this location is 66 Perry Street.

One more thing you must do while you’re in Greenwich Village is to visit the original Magnolia Bakery; it will be significantly less busy than the ones in more touristy areas. There’s a little park across the street where you can sit and eat your cupcake or banana pudding and watch the world go by.

See the city from above

No matter where I visit, I always love to try to see that place from above; I think you get a totally different perspective. New York City is a great place to see from up high; it makes the city look so much smaller and you really realize just how many people are crammed into quite a small space!

My favorite place on this solo New York trip to see the city from above was The Edge at Hudson Yards. Billed as the highest viewing platform in the western hemisphere at 102 stories tall, this outdoor platform has become Instagram gold!

I paid $10 extra to visit during the sunset hour and it was worth every penny – this is the very best time to visit! I would recommend choosing a time that starts about 30 minutes before sunset to get as many pictures of the changing light as possible.

I was worried the platform might be windy, being up so high, but the partitions around the edge meant there was no wind at all. It was a bit chilly, so anticipate it being a bit colder than whatever the temperature is on the ground at that point.

There are steps at the back of the viewing platform that provide a great place to sit and just overlook the city. I took as many photos as I could of the sun setting, then sat down with a drink from the bar to just watch the colors of the sky change and the city lights come on. It was such a lovely way to spend an hour, and the views were amazing.

Also in Hudson Yards you’ll find The Vessel. This is an incredible structure with 16 floors over 8 stories and 2500 steps that provide really unique views and picture opportunities. While you’re nowhere near as high up as the other options I’ve mentioned, the views are completely different and the architecture is fantastic.

The structure faces the west and New Jersey so the sunset views are the best if you’re there at the right time of the day. You can walk around the entire space to get photos from the front over the river, or from the back like the one pictured above, which is the more interesting perspective.

Walk around Central Park

I love Central Park so much, but on previous visits I’ve had my kids with me and we’ve never really gotten much further than the playgrounds! On this solo New York trip I wanted to walk a little further into the park to see what else there was to see.

One of my biggest concerns was the safety of walking around Central Park. I’m a big fan of True Crime documentaries and almost every one of those stories that takes place in New York City seems to originate in Central Park!

My fears seemed completely unfounded though; I felt safe walking around the park early in the morning and later in the evening as the sun set because there were constantly other people around. I probably wouldn’t walk around at 2am, but during daylight hours it was fine.

As a huge fan of the Beatles, I made sure to walk around Strawberry Fields and stop by the John Lennon Memorial. This was a designated quiet zone so it was really peaceful, and there were some beautiful flowers in the area.

I also wanted to find Bethesda Terrace to see the Bethesda Fountain. I stopped by this area in the evening, and there was so much going on; a singer performing songs from musical theatre, a man giving salsa lessons to an elderly couple, and a man painting beautiful watercolors of the pond that was happy to chat about his work. It seemed like a real hub for those looking to be outdoors after work, and had a really great feel to it.

A word of caution though: remember that you don’t have the park to yourself, and many animals call the park home!

Since I was there in the evening, I wanted to try to take some pictures of The Plaza hotel and the surrounding skyscrapers from the park. There were some beautiful views of the city so I stopped to take a few pictures; as I did so, I felt something brush against my leg and looked down to see a raccoon!

It just strolled past me like I wasn’t even there and I ended up seeing a bunch more before I left the park that evening. There were also some very confident squirrels, lots of birds that became your best friend if you had food, and I even caught a glimpse of what I thought was a fox. Obviously these are wild animals so don’t feed them, and keep an eye on your food if you are eating in the park!

Having been on a solo New York trip now, I can honestly say it’s probably one of the best locations to travel as a solo female. I felt perfectly safe, there was so much I felt like I could do on my own, and I’m already planning a return trip! I can’t recommend it enough!

Related New York City posts:

New York City at Christmas with kids
Central Park with kids
Broadway shows for kids

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Where to find the best views of the New York City skyline - Have Diapers, Will Travel

Tuesday 29th of June 2021

[…] It took me about 45 minutes to walk across the bridge at a leisurely place, stopping every now and then to take photos. If you know you want to stop and set up a lot of different shots, definitely leave more time. Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is a really fun experience and one of my biggest suggestions for a solo New York trip! […]

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