New York, one of the most beloved cities in the United States—if not the world—is among the hardest hit by COVID-19. After just 20 minutes of watching the news you may feel as though you’ll never be able to visit the Big Apple again, yet we can all trust that there will come a time when we will enjoy the pleasures of traveling, maybe more so than ever.
Until then, why not take some of your spare time in quarantine and plan your next big trip? Whether you’re heading overseas or remaining stateside, a layover in Gotham can be an adventure in itself. Whether it’s your first trip or your fifteenth, here are some great ways to make the most of your time during a 4, 6, 12, and 48-hour period.
The reality is, you’re not going to have enough time to make it into Manhattan and back during a four-hour time frame—seriously, who needs the stress? So if you find yourself on a short layover, make the most of your time while at the airport.
Obviously, your options are going to be dictated by which terminal you’re in, but as one of the top ten largest airports in the United States, there are plenty of things to do in JFK. For starters, there are copious lounges and while you typically have to be a member to enjoy all of the amenities like complimentary wi-fi, comfortable seating, showers, and refreshments, you can apply/pay for a Priority Pass lounge access, which allows you to visit four different lounges in terminals 1, 4, and, 7.
If you find yourself in Terminal four, there are four XPresSpa locations on-site, so destress before your next flight with a massage, manicure, pedicure, or facial treatment. Of course, many of us find ourselves looking for a little sustenance while biding time on a layover.
There are several grab-and-go and food court options, but you’ve got four hours, so opt for a sit-down experience instead. Some standout highlights include The Local (Terminal 1, departures level), Shiso (Terminal 2), BKLYN Beer Garden (Terminal 2), The Palm Bar & Grill (Terminal 4), and La Vie or Piquillo in Terminal 5.
While they’ve been making a lot of renovations at LaGuardia airport, there’s no denying that it still has fewer exciting options to amuse yourself than JFK. You’ll find a handful of shops and mainly, fast food restaurants. Assess your options before going to security because it’s possible you’ll wind up sequestered in an area where the only dining option is a grab-n-go sandwich.
You’re going to have to hustle, but you can make it into the city with a six-hour layover. Depending on the time of the day (read: traffic), you may want to opt for a private car, shuttle, Taxi (a flat rate of approximately $52), or Uber versus the train system as you can save yourself some time. Otherwise, take the Airtrain to the subway, but be prepared to spend about an hour each way.
One of the most iconic eats the Big Apple has to offer is none other than the New York bagel. Not to be confused with a spongy grocery store impostor, the real deal is boiled then baked, dense in texture (but nottoo dense), and features a glossy yet crisp crust and softer inners. Family-owned and operated since 1914, Russ and Daughters not only has some of the best bagels in the city, but they’re also known for having some of the best lox, too—and isn’t that a match made in foodie heaven.
Since you’re short on time, visit the original location on East Houston Street, which is a charming grab-n-go storefront that will take you back to another era. Choose from one of the classic bagel and lox options such as Norwegian smoked salmon or pastrami cured salmon that’s served with a generous schmear of cream cheese, of course.
Work off some of those carbs with an (approximately) 15 minute-walk to the Instagram-worthy Museum of Ice Cream—it just may be one of the only places in the world where you can take a dive into a “sprinkle pool.”
The gastronomic gallery boasts 13 confectionery-inspired photo ops (very Willy Wonka like) spread across three floors. This isn’t just an attraction for kids. The museum has been host to countless weddings and adult-friendly special events for those who are young at heart. The cost of admission is $39 for adults and free for kids two and under.
Before heading back to the airport, take a final five-minute walk to Harney and Sons Fine Teas, a family-owned tea company dating back three generations. Take home some of the hand-blended loose-leaf teas on offer (over 300 kinds) made with ingredients from all over the world. Stay for a cup on-site or take it to-go if you’re short on time.
You’ve got a lot more time to work with when you have a 12-hour layover so you can plan some more time-consuming activities in advance.
If you’re the type who gets a kick out of spotting a celebrity, there’s a good chance you’ll see one in New York. However, if you want a better chance at becoming starstruck, then you’ve got to hang out at a place with the see-and-be-seen crowd.Carmine’s, a popular family-style Italian restaurant, has hosted innumerable celebrities over the past 25-plus years, including Tina Fey, Tim, Gun, Drew Barrymore, LL Cool J, and Ryan Lochte, and more.
End the evening (or late afternoon depending on your schedule) with a libation at the Rum House. The original bar, which opened in the 1970s, was previously a dingy watering hole, yet it was still a steadfast favorite of theatergoers and Broadway performers alike.
The new Rum House (since 2011) has cleaned up its act and greatly improved upon its drink offerings like the Hemingway Daiquiri and Rum Old-Fashioned. If you’re starting to feel like a pirate at sea, there’s a small selection of light bites such as empanadas, pressed ham and Gruyère sandwiches, and soft pretzels to soak up all that imbibing.
While there are definitely other places where you might spot a celeb, Carmine’s is perfectly positioned near Broadway, so it’s a great pre-theater dining spot. While a Broadway production may not be new to you, there’s never been a better time to show this industry some love than after the lock down. The current roster of shows has something for everyone, ranging from The Lion King and Aladdin to Jersey Boys and Kinky Boots.
Obviously this is the most desirable layover because it feels more like a mini-getaway! Not only do you get to spend the night in the city, but you can branch off into more than one area and really take your time to stop and smell the roses—or the pizza.
Jump on the underground subway or grab a taxi and head on over to the charming Greenwich Village neighborhood. Fuel up with New York’s original cappuccino at the famed Caffe Reggio—you can’t miss the place as it literally says “original cappuccino” on the outside. It’s been serving up stiff cups of foamy joe for 93 years and you can practically see the history within its walls.
End your layover with a memorable dining experience at Gage & Tollner in Downtown Brooklyn. The stunning eatery first opened its doors in the late Gilded Age in 1879, lasting until 2004. Now it’s reopening its doors after getting a refresh from a trio of Brooklyn restaurateurs and friends (Sohui Kim and Ben Schneider of the Good Fork and St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance).
The space still feels as though you’re eating at an aristocratic dining hall and the menu reflects that, too. Start off with a Wedge Salad and Oysters Rockefeller sprinkled with absinthe before moving on to surf and turf, pork pot pie, or Whole Broiled Porgy—don’t forget the side of creamed spinach. Finish things off with a Baba au Rhum or Baked Alaska for Two. Bon appétit and bon voyage.
Since you have 48 hours in NYC, then this is obviously an overnight layover so you’re going to need a place to rest your head. There’s practically a new hotel opening up in New York every month, but we chose the Pestana Park Avenue—the first NYC property from the Portuguese Pestana Hotel Group—because of its exclusive, boutique feel and sweeping views. Designed by award-winning Manhattan-based architectural firm Glen & Company, the property only has 95 rooms (some with a balcony) spread over 27 floors. Each floor only has three or four rooms, so you can expect spacious accommodations and large windows that look out onto iconic sites such as the Empire State Building.
Keep the Italian theme going with a stroll through Little Italy, the oldest living Italian-American community in the country, with roots that date back before the Civil War. Amongst the bevy of shops and delis, you’ll find Di Palo’s, a 109-year old Italian food shop. Today, it’s run by fourth-generation family member Lou Di Palo, who can be seen behind the counter shaving up fragrant Italian meats and cheeses. The shop also sells a variety of imported Italian products—it’s Di Palo who actually travels to Italy to hand-select the goods himself. Grab a custom-made sandwich to-go and continue your stroll through the neighborhood.
It’s worth a trip to the Brooklyn Museum to see Studio 54: Night Magic. The exhibition highlights the vibrant history, social politics, and flashy fashion of the most prolific nightclubs of all-time through photography, clothing, music, and never-before-exhibited costume illustrations, set proposals, and designs. Currently, the exhibition is slated to run until July 5.
No matter how long your stay in JFK is, there is something for everyone! Take a look at some of our other tips and tricks for getting the most out of your trips here.
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