Get Cultured in New York City

Content originally written for the Let’s Go: USA & Canada Guide by our researcher-writer, Daphne Thompson.

Canal Street Market

265 Canal St.; (646) 694-1655; canalstreet.market; open M-Sa 11am-7pm, Su noon-6pm

If Urban Outfitters designed a Chinatown food hall, it look something like Canal Street Market: Think lots of neon lights, sans serif fonts, and millennial pink. Unlike most Urban Outfitters items, though, you won’t regret your purchases here 10 minutes later. That’s because the food hall, a repurposed flea market that opened in 2017, houses an outstanding assortment of largely Asian-inflected vendors with counter-serve prices. Must-try stalls include the West coast import Boba Guys (try the ultra-’grammable Strawberry Matcha latte), dumpling dynasty Nom Wah Kuai (try the pork and shrimp siu mai), and Lebanese fusion spot Ilili Box (try the Korean falafel). The other side of the market sells largely unaffordable, pretty things; skip it if you don’t have a 401k.    

Establishment prices vary; wheelchair accessible; Wi-Fi

Chelsea Market

75 9th Ave.; (212) 652-2110; chelseamarket.com; open M-Sa 7am-2am, Su 8am-10pm

Before it was an uber-hipster food hall and shopping center, Chelsea Market was an Oreo cookie factory; after the massive redevelopment of the Meatpacking District in the 1990s, it’s still pumping out tasty products beloved by New Yorkers and tourists alike. Follow the High Line down to W 16th St. and take the stairs down to the retail concourse, where local vendors line the wide brick-walled hallway. Don’t miss the carne asada tacos at Los Tacos No. 1 (you’ll spot it at mealtimes by the long, long lines), crisp, fresh mini donuts at The Doughnuttery, and—if you’re looking to blow a few hours’ wages—a whole crustacean at The Lobster Place. The market is also home to the upscale craft market Artists and Fleas, a great place to contemplate what could justify paying $32 for a scented candle.

Food stall prices vary; wheelchair accessible; Wi-Fi

Strand Bookstore

828 Broadway; (212) 473-1452; strandbooks.com; open M-Sa 9:30am-10:30pm, Su 11am-10:30pm

Bibliophiles on a budget at the Strand Bookstore might find themselves in an awkward dilemma—should I buy that logo tote bag, or the new Viet Thanh Nguyen novel? Do I want to read a book, or let people know that I’ve read a book? The high tourist-to-local ratio definitely slants towards the former, and the legendary Union Square book emporium knows it, prominently positioning tables full of merch clickbait throughout the store. Tear yourself away from the t-shirts, though, and there’s lots of treasures to be found in the promised “18 Miles of Books.” New and used volumes cohabitate on the tightly packed shelves, and the elevator-accessible Rare Books Room on the third floor offers gorgeous tomes in a variety of price ranges. Go in with a book in mind or follow the well-curated staff suggestions; tables on “banned books” and “escapist fiction” suggest that the shop hasn’t lost its political edge after all these years.   

Prices vary; wheelchair accessible

Rockefeller Center

45 Rockefeller Plaza; (212) 332-6868; rockefellercenter.org; open daily 7am-midnight

How much you spend at Rockefeller Center depends on how high you want to get. If you’re okay slumming it at sidewalk-level, it’s free to roam around noted rich person John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s 22-acre Art Deco masterpiece—take a seat among the 200-plus flagpoles that line the plaza in front of 30 Rock and settle in for some good people-watching (or ice-skater-watching, in the winter). If you need more elevation, you can go highbrow with an art and architecture-focused circuit of the complex or lowbrow with an NBC Studios tour. Those really determined to get high, though, can splurge on a Top of the Rock ticket—you’ll shoot up 70 floors to a three-tiered observation deck where you can finally get that #nycviews panorama you’ve seeking.  

Tickets from $25; tours every 30min.; wheelchair accessible

Theater District

Broadway, Midtown Manhattan; (212) 541-8457; broadway.org

Oh, are you looking for the inside scoop on getting cheap Hamilton tickets? Join the club—this is a travel guide, not a miracle factory. But look, there’s 41 Broadway theatres in this city, plus dozens more top-quality off-Broadway facilities, so odds are you’ll be able to see something on or around the Great White Way while you’re here. There’s a few ways to score discounted tickets: You can visit the TKTS booth in Times Square, which offers day-of or one-day-advance tickets at prices up to 50% off; you can go to the Playbill Club’s website for discount codes; you can show up at the box office super early to get in line for “General Rush” tickets. While many of the most popular shows have online lotteries for insanely cheap tickets, you have a better chance of finding gold in Central Park than getting a seat for your preferred day.  

Prices vary; wheelchair accessible; Wi-Fi

Times Square

1560 Broadway; (212) 768-1560; timessquarenyc.org; open daily 24hr

TIMES SQUARE IS THE PHYSICAL EMBODIMENT OF CAPS LOCK: EVERYTHING IS BIGGER, LOUDER, BUSIER, AND BRIGHTER THAN HUMANS WERE DESIGNED TO ENDURE. Unless you’re a fan of prolonged sensory overload, the self-proclaimed “Crossroads of the World” (also like caps lock) is best enjoyed in very small doses. A seemingly-impossible deluge of cargo shorts-wearing pedestrians and double-decker buses filter through the famous intersection at all hours of the day, snapping ill-advised photos with the Elmo suit guys (they will aggressively pursue you for a tip) and stopping mid-crosswalk to consult Google Maps. While almost everything is overpriced and under-quality, you can grab a decent jianbing lunch at the Mr. Bing food stall, and a tasty speculoos waffle at Wafels and Dinges next door. The area has cleaned up a lot from its X-rated period in the 1970s—you’re more likely to see a Red Lobster than a red light—but keep an eye on your wallet nonetheless.

Free; wheelchair accessible

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