A first-timer's guide to Downtown Manhattan, New York City: where to stay, what to do and where to eat

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Gossip Girl, The Bold Type, Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada, Friends, etcetera, etcetera, (honestly, I could go on) all shaped my childhood... And if I'm being real, my adulthood, too. The one thing they all have in common? Well, other than being the most iconic, cinematic masterpieces to have ever graced our screens, these movies and TV series were all set and filmed in New York City; The Big Apple; The City That Never Sleeps; The Concrete Jungle – and where (read: what) my, Lia Mappoura's dreams are made of. Alexa, play 'Empire State Of Mind' by Jay-Z.

After spontaneously booking cheap(ish) flights to NYC on Black Friday (side note: 'tis the hack of the century to nab decent flight prices on the last weekend of November!), I sought out every friend's recommendation, TikTok tip and online guide to curate the hottest places to stay, the best things to do and the most delicious food to eat. And humble brag, I think I nailed it.

Where to stay on the Lower East Side

When consulting everyone and anyone I knew who had been to New York about where to stay, I was inundated with persuasions to set up residency (for all of a week) downtown in Lower Manhattan, specifically in the Lower East Side and/or East Village – because the Blair Waldorf x Serena Van Der Woodsen fantasy ain't all glitz and glam... but more on that later.

Naturally, I was curious as to how downtown compared to all that we see in the movies of the surrounding Central Park areas and simply, it all comes down to the vibes.

If you're a city native, you'll know to avoid staying in the central areas. I mean, as someone who grew up in London, I would rarely recommend a first-timer stay in Picadilly Circus, Canary Wharf or Covent Garden, for example. Yes, they're great places to visit, shop and tick off landmark sightings but preferably, hotel stays would veer towards Islington, Notting Hill or even Finsbury Park. Gentrified? Perhaps, but they certainly provide cool vibes, low-key speakeasy spots and above all, are well-connected with transport links.

And as I learned myself when visiting, the same goes for NYC; Downtown is the place to be! Luckily, I had the opportunity to dip my toes in both the LES and East Village areas, first, taking to The Moxy, Lower East Side.

The Moxy, Lower East Side

The room – in the video above – took my breath away, not only for its comfort, but the landscapes and picture-perfect views, too. Where else can you awaken to a crystal-clear view of thee Empire State Building? While not necessary, if you do have a little extra dollar to spare, the city view room is where it's at.

If you're craving style and socialisation on your hotel stay, then the scene at The Moxy is for you. Think: a modern Japanese restaurant, boujee piano lounge, all-day café and a swanky rooftop bar for those late-night evenings; just a few of many amenities that prove their party cred. When the Lower East Side meets Soho...

The Lower East Side is the perfect area for those wanting to explore Dumbo and Williamsburg areas, while still being surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

The Moxy, East Village

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Hearst Owned

Located just a stone's throw away from its sister counterpart is The Moxy East Village Hotel, situated in the heart of avant-garde art, Beatnik poetry, LGBTQ+ activism and American counterculture as we know it.

The hotel flows from bottom to top as a chronological trip through the eras, paying tribute to the earliest settlers, the renegade punks, and the envelope-pushers of today. With 286 designed-driven bedrooms, modern co-working spaces, creative culture programming, and tech-savvy amenities, guests can count on a rebelliously refined stay at a price that won’t break the bank. Four new eating and drink venues overseen by Tao Group include Cathédrale, a French-Mediterranean restaurant from Chef Jason Hall, Alphabet Bar & Café d'Avignon Pop-up at Alphabet Café in the lobby, The Ready, an all-season rooftop bar, and underground lounge Little Sister.

The East Village is an ideal location for those wanting to explore Manhattan's most iconic landmarks by day (aka, The Empire State and Central Park, for example) while also enjoying the local amenities by night.

What to do

The Whitney Museum

If culture is what you're after, get yourself on the subway and head to Greenwich Village where the Whitney Museum is located. Not only is this a chance to experience the defining museum of modern and contemporary art but the gift shop is a creative's idea of heaven.

Just remember to stock up on a handful of quarters because the Mini Prints machine will have you in a chokehold.

Strand Books

Bookworms, fill up on waffles, pizza slices, hotdogs and all the good NY grub before entering Strand Books because you're going to be in this landmark shop for hours on end (trust me, I fell victim, first-hand). Specialising in new, used and rare books spanning fashion to finance, folklore to film, no novel will go untouched. Plus bookish gifts will have you making excuses to surprise every 'loved one' with a hidden treasure. It's me, hi, I'm the 'loved one' it's me.

Casa Magazines

As an Andie Anderson, Betty Suarez, Jenna Rink and Andy Sachs cosplay wh*re, you best believe I Googled every 'best magazine shop in New York' before even stepping foot on US soil. And after a few loose ends, I discovered heaven, also known as Casa Magazines.

Of course, I bought a People Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce cover edition to commemorate the year as well as a classic New York magazine. It's a rite of passage, folks.

Take the ferry to Brooklyn

When in Rome New York, you must visit the iconic ends of the Humphrey's. To do so, download the NYC Ferry app before planning your route from the LES/East village down to the South of Manhattan and then jump on a 20-minute ferry to Brooklyn. It's just as easy as spending $40 on an Uber, plus the views of the financial district (before exploring Dumbo) are unmatched.

Thrift shopping

Just like London, New York is one of the best cities to go thrift shopping in but specifically, head to Brooklyn for treasured finds. For all things vintage fashion, homeware, trinkets, books and more, favourite the following on your Google Maps:

  • Beacon's Closet Park Slope


  • Frank Vintage

  • Dobbin St Vintage Co-op

  • L Train Vintage

  • Artists & Fleas Williamsburg

  • Wonders of Walter

  • Bedford Vintage

  • Seven Wonders Collective

  • The Mini Mall

  • Awoke Vintage Brooklyn

  • Other People's Clothes

  • Second Time Around

  • Molasses Books

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

The Empire State and Rockefeller Plaza are two of the most iconic buildings in the state. Naturally, when planning a visit, you toy with which to visit and may even opt for neither due to finances... I feel you.

However, via recommendation from my friend's brother, we opted to spend a morning at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt which not only provided one of the best views of the city (and my new-found fave, the Empire State) but an experience that blends elements of art, technology, architecture, and thrill to take the concept of NYC "observation decks" to entirely new heights.

Where to eat

Magnolia Bakery

Magnolia Bakery was thrust into fame after being featured in an episode of Sex and the City. What started as one local cupcake shop on Bleecker Street has become a NYC must-do with half a dozen locations around the city. So, if you're after an excuse to indulge in a sweet treat, then look no further.

In fact, the bakery has become so synonymous with SATC that in 2007, they introduced a 'Carrie' cupcake, which is the very one featured in S03E05, where Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) are sitting outside Magnolia Bakery, stuffing their faces with said pink goodness.

Chelsea Food Market

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After you've visited The Whitney Museum, take a stroll down to Chelsea Food Market to fuel up before conquering the rest of the day's activities. The indoor marketplace is renowned for its wide range of grocers (fish, produce, etc.), shops and eateries, plus, thanks to it being located in the heart of New York City's Meatpacking District, you're just minutes away from high-end designer clothing stores, a stretch of the High Line, an elevated park built atop former railroad tracks and more.

Although the range of food is endless, I would recommend Los Tacos No. 1 for the delicious and authentic Mexican culture and flavour. Quesadillas like no other.

Think Coffee

In need of a breather from Union Square? Grab a sandwich or a hot drink in Think Coffee, a small, independently-owned business, that serves small plates and to-go food with a smile. On our daily walk over to the Subway, we would stop in for a morning tea (helloooo Brits abroad) and a good old natter with the baristas.

Legasea Bar & Grill

Calling all meat lovers in Midtown! Head to Legasea Bar & Grill for their brand-new unlimited Ribeye, Fries & House Salad for $49 per person. It's the ultimate dining experience that lets you savour as much ribeye as your heart desires, served with a house salad and crispy golden fries (also unlimited).

Fiaschetteria Pistoia

Fiaschetteria Pistoia is an authentic and traditional Tuscan Italian restaurant located in the East Village. Known for good vibes and even better food, the dimly lit setting makes it the perfect spot for a date night. Though, remember: Phone. Eats. First! After all, you really will want to remember how good the truffle pasta was.

Black Seed Bagels

Spread across 10 locations in the city, you'll never be short of traditional NY brunch with Black Seed Bagels. The honey-boiled, wood-fired bagels are some of the best I've ever had, not to mention how reasonably priced they are, too. The Salmon Classic is, as you may have guessed, a classic – because you can never go wrong with lox and a bagel.

Brunch at Edition Hotels Times Square

The Terrace at the Times Square EDITION is luxury in every sense of the word. The food, the ambiance and the service all provide the perfect dining experience for an extra special lunch. Surpassing expectations of Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day and every Insta grid-worthy annual occasion, let's just say you'll be the fave of the family for booking the classy, top-notch vibes of the EDITION.

Time Out Food Market

Offering the best of the city's food under one roof is the waterfront Dumbo market, Time Out. From hot pastrami sandwiches and incredible pizza to some of the best Thai seafood dishes in NY, this is where the all-day party full of good food, drinks, live music and activities is at.


  • Keep your wits about you on the Subway.

  • Don't forget to take a trip to Trader Joe's and Walmart for all things classic American snacks.

  • Bring comfortable shoes, you're going to be doing a lot of walking.

  • Don't beat yourself up if you're not feeling up to an evening drinking at the bar; 12 hours of sightseeing can be tiring!

  • The best time to travel to NYC is in April/May. It's not too hot like the summer months, nor is it snowing as it does throughout the winter.

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