New York City: A Travel Guide for Savvy Philadelphians

Because we’re not exactly tourists, are we?

What to Do

Because you’ve already been to the Met.
Live Music and Grown-Up Nightlife

In 2012, Brooklyn native Jay-Z gave an opening performance at the Barclays Center, and the venue hasn’t slowed down since. Catch a Nets game and hope for a glimpse of Mrs. Carter, or see one of the upcoming shows, like Iggy Azalea or Stevie Wonder. Stay in the borough and head to the historic Brooklyn Academy of Music, which has a reputation for putting on cutting-edge work. There’s opera, film, dance, literary events, comedy, music and theater, like Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, which stars Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy and runs through mid-March.

In Manhattan, skip the tourist-laden oversize venues and find just-edgy-enough entertainment in the smaller shops. At SubCulture in NoHo, you can sit with a glass of wine in the intimate “listening room” and hear everything from bluegrass and jazz orchestra ensembles to clever comedians. If you want a little more tradition, try the Carnegie Club in Midtown (PSA to your hair and lungs: It’s a cigar bar), where singer Steven Maglio croons Sinatra classics every Saturday night.

Downtown in Greenwich Village is a fantastic 180-seat cabaret space called Joe’s Pub at the Public — the stage has seen the likes of David Byrne, Adele, and Philly’s own Martha Graham Cracker. Grab a pre-show cocktail and pucker-worthy pickle plate at the theater’s duskily lit Library bar on the mezzanine.

Intimate Museums and Accessible Art

The Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle showcases an interesting collection of national and international post-WWII crafts and folk art. (Those with contemporary tastes should plan on spending time perusing the killer gift shop.) The building itself is also a draw — a makeover of a nearly windowless modernist landmark turned it into a light-drenched stunner. For art from living artists, check out the New Museum, which was founded by a former Whitney curator and can be thought of as MoMA’s rebellious, back-talking child. This Bowery gem offers gritty rotating exhibits that incorporate a host of mediums, from painting to new digital displays to sculpture.

The Morgan Library. Photo by Graham Haber

The Morgan Library. Photo by Graham Haber

For literary dorks, the Morgan Library & Museum has a vast and varied collection of rare manuscripts and original works (like Mozart’s music sheets, Thoreau’s journal and sketches from Rubens) that Pierpont himself collected. Don’t miss the financier’s private study, which feels straight out of Downton Abbey and is filled with first editions. See how the less-well-heeled lived at the Tenement Museum, which tells stories of the city’s pivotal immigrant experience in the 19th and 20th centuries. (The walking tours that go outside are cool, too.)

Areas Worthy of Urban Stomping

As spring breaks, don’t miss an opportunity to walk or bike over the Brooklyn Bridge. (If you’re staying at the NU, they offer free bikes.) It’s an easy one-mile jaunt that drops you near the heart of Chinatown (two words: soup dumplings) and offers unparalleled views. If you’re staying in the eastern borough, Brooklyn Flea is a must. Don’t expect any bargains, just a ton of envy-worthy finds, design-y products and great nibbles. If you like Philly’s Night Market food fests, don’t miss Smorgasburg, the culinary offshoot of the Brooklyn Flea, which starts up again in April. Craving a less trendy Brooklyn? Stroll around Crown Heights before it goes the way of too-cool-for-school Williamsburg. Dozens of hip cafes (Breukelen, Little Zelda) and boutiques (Owl & Thistle General Store) line Franklin Avenue between Nostrand and Atlantic.

Do like the locals and flock to the open spaces. Avoid the touristy throngs at Belvedere Castle and the Loeb Boathouse and instead take a Central Park Conservancy Walking Tour, which leads you along bridle-pathed and bridged byways of America’s first major public park. Guided tours — more than half are free — meet at various park locations, or download the Central Park Conservancy’s official smartphone app and make your own way. Downtown, the Battery Park area is an immaculately created series of parks that edge the waterfront, and a popular retreat for locals. You can walk continuously, safe from cars, from Chelsea Piers to the tip of the island. There are places to play, to count boats, to see Lady Liberty, to drink, and to hop onto the High Line.

The Roosevelt Island Tram. Photo by Judith Berdy

The Roosevelt Island Tram. Photo by Judith Berdy

A trip to Roosevelt Island is utterly inspiring. The aerial tram — one of only two high-flying commuter trams in the U.S. — leaves from 59th Street and whizzes past the exquisitely wrought Queensboro Bridge. With buildings on either side and ships passing below in the river, you’ll hear Simon and Garfunkel in your head while you contemplate the majesty of human achievement. This is enhanced by the grandeur of Four Freedoms Park, designed by the late Philadelphia architect Louis Kahn. An expanse of lawn and linden trees leads to “The Room,” which — though in the middle of East River — feels like a private moment between you and America.