An Experiential Guide to New York City.

There’s something about New York City that is easy to love. Maybe it’s that you can hear four different languages in the span of one short metro ride. Or that you can find restaurants serving the rarest of cuisines. Or that you never feel judged, no matter who you are, what you look like, what you wear, or how you talk.

I’ll be honest. Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and other flashy New York sights didn’t evoke in me what they possibly evoke in other travellers. But being part of the city even for a few weeks (again and again) is what I came to love.

Behold, my humble attempt to put together a New York guide beyond the touristy sights and sounds, scratching a little below the city’s surface in fall and winter:

Slow travel in NYC

fall colors NYC, where to see fall colors nyc, travel guide nyc
Who knew NYC could be this beautiful?

Fall colors along Riverside: I vividly remember the moment I knew I wanted to stay longer in the city. It was a crisp autumn afternoon, and I was sitting under a tree – its leaves bursting in shades of red, yellow and orange – writing, with not another soul in sight. Ditch the crowds of Central Park and soak up fall colors on a long walk in Riverside Park, or skip to my favorite spot just past Riverside church.

Stargazing: I couldn’t imagine spotting the Orion Nebula or Saturn amid the bright lights and not-so-dark skies of New York City. But every Thursday night, Columbia Astronomy Outreach – open to the public – on the rooftop of Columbia University, not only tunes its telescopes into the night sky, but also offers captivating space-related documentary screenings.

Cycling along the Hudson River: No matter the weather, whiz along the breezy Hudson River on two wheels, past the boat dock, with New Jersey on the horizon. Spotting the occasional yachts and kayaks in the distance, and seeing the sunset cast a golden glow on the waters, gave me that quintessentially New York feeling that only the locals seem to chase.

Unforgettable sunsets: I seldom chase sunsets, but when you stay long enough in a place, the most awesome ones tend to find you. My NYC favorites, besides along the Hudson River, were on the Staten Island Ferry and from Brooklyn Bridge Park. The former connects Manhattan with Staten Island, and the skies glow a crimson red with Statue of Liberty in the foreground; the latter casts a golden light on the up-close skyline.

Free Wifi and ice skating at Bryant ParkMy go-to place on a warm fall day is Bryant Park, a green oasis surrounded by the midtown skyline, with free Wifi and plenty of unexpected conversations. In winter, it transforms into a free ice skating rink!


Also read:
Could Dying be Beautiful? Fall Colors in New York City
The Joy of Slow Travel

Vegan (and vegetarian) Food in NYC

You already know that I gave NYC half the credit for my not-so-hard transformation from vegetarian to vegan. I can write a thesis on the food in New York (and I will!), but for now, I’m sharing my absolute favorite spots that even my carnivorous friends dig:

somalian food nyc, exotic cuisines nyc, vegan food guide nyc
Somalian (vegan) food at Safari. Yum!

Best vegan food: Peacefood Cafe, a vegan haven on the upper west side, became a favorite even before I turned vegan. Their menu spans everything from chickpea fries to vegan pizzas and sandwiches to yummy vegan desserts; I can never resist the French-horn mushroom focaccia sandwich and a slice of the good old (vegan) chocolate cake.

Awesome vegan burgers: Organic Grill in East Village wins hands down; their Green Machine burger, with a crispy roasted mushroom patty, topped with portobello mushrooms, homemade pesto and daiya cheese (made of tapioca and arrowroot flour) is pure happiness. Closer home, V Life in midtown serves up some kickass vegan burgers too; try their black bean burger and sweet potato fries.

Vegan-friendly ‘rare’ cuisines: More than the variety of cuisines, I love the fact that many of them in New York are vegan friendly. Try Somalian food at Safari, Ethiopian food at Massawa and the weekend Sri Lankan buffet at Lakruwana on Staten Island.

Vegan-friendly supermarket: While there are many small natural / organic markets across New York, nothing compares to Whole Foods Market, which carries vegan chocolates and vegan pesto, health food that can easily be mixed in everyday cooking (like flax / chia seeds), vegan cake slices, almond, soya, oat and hemp milk, and even natural cola made with cane sugar and no chemicals! It’s the future of the world as I see it.

Massawa nyc, ethiopian food nyc, vegan food nyc
Ethiopian (vegan) food at Massawa!

Also read:
10 Awesome Free Things to do in NYC
The US Tourist Visa: How to Get That Stamp on an Indian Passport
Vegan Pizza Around the World

Cultural Immersion in NYC

I never associated North America with culture, but staying a while in NYC let me experience what an interesting melting pot of unique cultures – that we might not rub shoulders with otherwise – it is.

eatwith nyc, shabbat nyc, culture nyc
At my first Shabbat, in NYC.

Flamenco and sangria: Outside of Cordoba in Andalusia, the two flamenco shows I caught at Alegrias La Nacional Theatre blew my mind. The monthly shows typically feature world-renowned artists, accompanied by pitchers of sangria and (not-so-vegan-friendly) tapas. The closest you can feel to Southern Spain without actually being there!

Shabbat with a Jewish family: Last fall, my friend and I found ourselves in the home of a Jewish family for Shabbat, their Friday night ritual to reflect on the week, complete with wine-blessing, ritual hand-wash and home-made challah (braided bread) – thanks to EatWith, a platform that connects chefs hosting dinner at home with foodies! I would also love to EatWith a Nigerian Culinary Art student in NYC.

Sufi music: The Rumi worshipper fan in me was delighted to witness two mesmerizing performances by the acclaimed Amir Vahab and his ensemble. They read out Rumi’s poetry in Persian and performed with instruments like the tanbour, dating back over 5,000 years. The event was organized by the Iranian Society of Columbia University, and I could attend thanks to a friend who studies there. Case in point: Buddy up with a Columbia / NYU student!

Amir wahab, sufi music nyc, culture nyc
Amir Wahab and his ensemble. Photo via

A civil / criminal court in session: Learning that New York’s civil and criminal courts in session are open to the public was quite the discovery. Just for kicks, I decided to sit in on some arraignments, hearing the prosecution describe cases, the public defendant make impassioned defences, and the judge accept bail or not. It was quite like the movies, but also an eye opener in terms of racial disparity.

Harlem farmers market: Three words: Mangoes in fall! Every Tuesday (other than cold winter months), farmers from all over Harlem gather at 125th street to sell locally grown and produced vegetables, fruits, wines, pickles, bread and even vegan food. I’m not sure how mangoes make it here, but they are pretty darn good.


Also read:
The Coolest Way to Fly Out of India
How to Earn Money While Traveling

Where to stay in New York City

I mostly stayed with a friend on the upper west side of Manhattan, near Colombia University. I loved that area for its proximity to Riverside Park and easy access to the rest of Manhattan, yet far enough from the bustle of Midtown. You can try to find an Airbnb in that area; sign up with my referral link to get 15$ off your first stay!

On a recent short trip to NYC, I scored a sweet last-minute deal at Four Points by Sheraton (130$ a night, a steal for a city like New York) on Wall Street, in the heart of downtown, close to lots of awesome food and a direct train ride to the airport.

How to score a US tourist visa

I was quite hesitant to apply for my US tourist visa on my Indian passport, given the myths and stories surrounding how hard it is. Much to my surprise, scoring a 10-year visa was quite a breeze, compared to other visas I’ve applied for! Read all my tips on how to go about the US visa application process and what to expect in the visa interview.

On my NYC wishlist

Cooking class with an immigrant family: I’ve recently joined as a traveling ambassador (more on that later), and would love to explore a new culture, cuisine and neighborhood in New York through League of Kitchens.

Korean food at Hangawi: My Korean food indulgence so far has been limited to a tofu bibimbaap, but the idea of an all vegan Korean menu at the traditional Hangawi restaurant has me drooling!

A rooftop bar: Back in my corporate days in Singapore, rooftop bars were my favorite indulgence. I have to think thrice about my funds now, but hitting a rooftop bar with a view of the NYC skyline – like The Press Lounge – is high on my list.

What does your dream trip to NYC look like?

If you’ve tried any of my wishlist experiences, let me know if they’re worth coughing up the money for. I’m all ears for new, unique things to add to it too!

Coming soon on the blog:

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Cover photo by Maik Hankemann.

The Shooting Star Academy

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  1. The Traveloholic says:

    Becoming a vegetarian and then vegan is a big leap for anybody especially if one has acquired a taste for meat. I personally can never imagine doing it for myself but you never know what future holds. Travelling can change us in ways that we can never imagine. It is the greatest teacher there is. Thanks for sharing this. Stay in touch. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. That’s the most honest thought, and although after 12+ years of being vegetarian, I don’t miss meat any more, after almost 6 months of being vegan, I can still almost cry at the sight of a chocolate I loved but choose to no longer eat. But I think it will get better with time. Mentally and physically, I do feel different, and the road sort of gives me strength to keep going. You’re right, it is the best teacher in the most unexpected of ways.

      1. The Traveloholic says:

        I wish I had your courage and conviction mam ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Monil Patel says:

    I’ve got a question, shivya. I’ll be in UK in a few days and if I’m to acquire schenghen visa from there, is it possible? You’ve been travelling long from one country to another. And I think you’re the best one to ask.

    1. Hi Monil, it’s usually tough to obtain a Schengen visa on an Indian passport in another country, but I’ve found that it’s not impossible. The first step is to write to / call the embassy in the UK that you plan to apply for a Schengen visa from, and try to convince them why you are unable to apply for one in India. If you have past Schengen visas, it definitely helps. But ultimately, it’s the embassy’s call. If you have a week or more in India still, I’d suggest you apply for one there – much easier!

  3. Hi Shivya! My compliments on such a well-written post!
    I recently went to NYC, albeit for a weekend and did not bother looking up any guidebook / blog post for tips for, there wasn’t much time anyway. I did read ‘your free things to do in NYC’ from last year but this, is pure gold! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m day dreaming my next visit now, hopefully it comes to quick execution!

    The question I do have for you though is on Rumi. I have been wanting to read, what would be your suggestions? Needless to add, value your inputs over Google ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Aashlesha says:

      Sorry for barging in, but another Rumi fan here so couldnt resist. have you read Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak? You must, especially if you want to kick start your journey into all things Rumi. Another good one is ‘The essential Rumi’ by Coleman Barks.

      1. @Ramya I hope you’ll be back in NYC soon and have the chance to try out some of these things. Especially fall colors in Riverside!

        For Rumi recommendations, I can’t agree more with @Aashlesha ; I read a few of Rumi’s works before getting my hands on Forty Rules of Love. It’s such a relatable (in modern ways) yet detailed look into Rumi and Shams of Tabriz, that it was only after that that I began to understand Rumi and his works better.

        @Aashlesha You eased my task so much ๐Ÿ™‚ Don’t think I’ve read The essential Rumi, will keep a look out.

      2. Ah cool! Thanks for the recommendation! ๐Ÿ™‚ will try to get my hands on them soon.

  4. Pritish Sahoo says:

    Nicely Described ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Aashlesha says:

    Been there more than 4 times, but never seen New York through these eyes ๐Ÿ™‚
    Next time I go (end of Fall this year), there are a couple of things I am definitely doing.

    Slow travelled in rainy Goa after reading your post on it (never imagined I could slow travel in Goa but it was lurvely)

    Thanks for writing it so crisply, always love it.
    Keep it coming ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Awesome that you went to rainy Goa, continues to be one of my fav experiences! I hope you’ll be able to see NY with different eyes soon too ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for reading!

  6. Loved how these are different then usual things you would visit in New York

  7. Hi Shivya,
    Just curious to know at what time of the year you have been to NY?

  8. Hi Geevika, I’ve been there in fall (September / October), and in winter (January / February).

  9. I would love to try this out when I am in NYC in summer. I love big cities – there’s something to be discovered on every street, isn’t it?

    1. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of big cities, but I managed to find that small city / countryside feeling in NYC. I’m sure you’ll love it!

  10. Pragya Dwivedi says:

    U make it feel real and surreal simultaneously. It was a bliss reading this!

  11. Wooo its the first post that I found interesting to read completely, you have a great art of expressing showing the people the actual places not burdened by the tourist
    Love to read

  12. I grew up in NYC in the 1930’s, and tried to live there back at the beginning if this century. Couldn’t afford it.

    I miss the city as it was back then when there were a long line of second hand book stores on lower Fourth Avenue and Canal Street was a wonderland of all sorts of strange goods at incredible prices. When Fourth Street in Greenwich Village had a fantastic cluster of small shops for creative jewelry craftsmen and we lived in the oldest apartment house in the city at 142 East 18th Street with seven large rooms and five working fireplaces at a rent of $75 per month.

    I live far away now in a more peaceful place but I hear they still celebrate Christmas at Rockefeller Center with a huge tree and innovative displays. Lafayette Radio where I used to test my radio tubes is long gone but Chinatown is still there. For a short time, before the cops chased me away, I sold Good Humors in front of the UN with a wagon with bells that tinkled and drove me nuts over the cobblestone streets.

  13. tapriithoughts says:

    loved the post, New york is one of my dream city to visit. You have described it very beautifully.

  14. Jessie Rao says:

    Dear Shivya,

    Live in NY, but have never seen NY through your eyes.

    As a New Yorker, busy schedules keep me occupied. Reminds me of Robert Frost, ‘Leisure’

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.
    No time to stand beneath the boughs
    And stare as long as sheep or cows.
    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
    No time to see, in broad daylight,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
    No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
    And watch her feet, how they can dance.
    No time to wait till her mouth can
    Enrich that smile her eyes began.
    A poor life this if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    Glad somebody is enjoying. ๐Ÿ™‚

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