Greetings, Internet Stranger, and welcome to the best things to do in Midtown NYC! Are you visiting New York City for the first time? Are you feeling a little overwhelmed by all the things to do in this area? Or perhaps you are already familiar with New York City, but you think of Midtown as being kind of tacky and you don’t know how to make it fun?
Midtown is one of those sections of Manhattan that no one can quite agree on the boundaries to. We all know that it’s bordered by 59th Street to the North, but what about the South? Does Midtown end at 14th Street, 23rd Street, or 34th Street.?
But even if we can’t figure out exactly where Midtown is, we can all agree that it’s full of amazing things to do. Some people think Midtown is too crowded with tourists, but I say those people just haven’t figured out how to have fun in Midtown yet.
So allow me to take you on a day of adventure while we explore Broadway, the Japan Society Museum, and dine at some of the best restaurants in New York. Let’s get started right away!
Best Things to Do in Midtown NYC
How To Get There
Now, I wish I knew where you lived, Internet Stranger, because I could send you a set of rare antique Playbills. But sadly, I do not, and so I can’t tell you exactly how to get from your home to New York City so you can find the best things to do in Midtown.
However, if you need to take a plane or car to get to New York City, I recommend Expedia for the best way to find the cheapest flight or car rental, depending on how you want to get around. Just click here to start looking for the best possible deals on your flight or car rental, so you can head out to find the best things to do in Midtown ASAP.
Best Things to Do in Midtown
Where to Stay?
If you’re a tourist in New York City, you’ll probably be staying in a hotel while you explore the best things to do in Midtown. I mean, maybe you have a kind relative who will let you crash in their spare room, but that kind of space is rare in Manhattan.
I recommend staying in the Artezen Hotel in Lower Manhattan. It’s very easy to get to the best things to do in Midtown from here. Seriously, it’s so close that you can easily walk from the hotel to the tour on the beginning of this itinerary. Plus, the rooms are affordable and cozy, and there’s free snacks, coffee, and fancy bath products in your room.
If you’d like a convenient and affordable hotel in NYC, click here. And if low prices and a great location scare you, just click here. This search engine will help you find the best hotel in your price range for the dates you are visiting NYC and looking for the best things to do in Midtown.
Best Things to Do in Midtown
What to Pack?
- A cell charger so you can take photos of all the best things to do in Midtown.
- If you’re looking for a guidebook to NYC, this is my favorite choice.
- My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
- Want to learn how I saved enough money to travel 16 weeks a year? Check out my top secret How to Afford Travel digital system.
- We’re going to be learning a lot about Broadway today, so if you want to get more of the hot goss about the restoration of the old theaters, check out the book Razzle Dazzle.
- I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age, and you don’t want to get stranded during your trip without help. You never know when extreme weather will strike or some other emergency. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by a ghost that haunts Broadway theaters while you’re exploring the best things to do in Midtown
Best Things to Do in Midtown
Morning: Broadway’s Beginnings Tour
It’s a cliche to say that native New Yorkers like me tend to hate Times Square, but it’s a cliche that happens to be true. But the one exception to that hatred is Broadway! We love New York’s theater scene: everything from splashy musicals to serious new dramas.
Obviously you should see a Broadway show when you’re in New York, but what about during the morning? That’s when you can check out a tour of Broadway run by the wonderful company Broadway Up Close. I recommend the Broadway’s Beginnings Tour to understand how this one part of New York City became the greatest theater district in all the land.
The tour is run by Broadway professionals who are full of energy and knowledge. They’ll show you around properly, so you’ll be able to see much more than…
Approximately Top 5: Broadway!
1) The Nederlander
The Nederlander theater is named for one of the three groups that owns most of the theaters on Broadway: the Nederlander, the Schuberts, and the Jujamcyn.
Apparently the original Mr. Nederlander producer wanted to try to start a thriving theater district in Detroit, Michigan. (This idea seems sillier now than it did back then, when Detroit was the thriving center of the automobile business.) Nederlander was not successful, so he ended up having to come back to New York City and work on Broadway just like everyone else.
You might be wondering why the theaters are called Broadway when most of them are not literally on the avenue we call Broadway. A Broadway theater just means one of the 40+ theaters in NYC that has at least 500 seats. Smaller theaters are called Off-Broadway, or even Off-off-Broadway.
2) The New Victory Theater
Each Broadway theater has a fascinating story, and I can’t reveal all of them to you here. You’ll need to take the tour and discover them for yourselves! But the New Victory Theater is one of my favorites. It started as a highbrow theater showing classy dramas, but apparently those didn’t draw much of a crowd.
So the New Victory was purchased by the notorious Minsky family who turned it into a burlesque (strip) club. The most famous stripper of all time, Gypsy Rose Lee, even performed here.
Eventually the theater was shut down, until the former strip joint got reopened as…a children’s theater! I feel like there’s a life lesson in there somewhere, but I’m not exactly sure what it is.
3) The Selwyn Theater
The Selwyn Theater doesn’t really exist anymore because it has now been converted into the American Airlines Theater where the Roundabout performs its shows. However, the Selwyn had a pretty hilarious backstory, which I would be delighted to share with you.
Once upon a time the Selwyn was showing a bizarre play called Information, Please. This show, which I can’t find a copy of online, apparently had offensive political messages and was terrible to boot. The men who ran the Selwyn tried to bribe the critics into giving it a good review, but this didn’t work. However, the critics were sufficiently bribed that they wrote articles praising the beauty of the Selwyn Theater, even if they couldn’t bring themselves to praise the show.
After these articles, crowds started showing up, wanting to see a show at this beautiful theater, but of course there was nothing to offer them. So instead, the theater owners turned their palace into a gorgeous movie theater. And the moral of this story is that bribery sometimes works.
4) Eltinge Theater
Here we have another theater that doesn’t exist anymore! This ceiling used to be part of the Eltinge Theater, and it was named after a female impersonator named Julian Eltinge. Oddly enough, he never actually performed a show in the theater named after him, but he is honored by having his face included in the mural you see above.
The Eltinge is now part of the AMC Empire movie theater, and it’s a great example of how even demolished Broadway theaters have been recycled. There was a developer who wanted to build this modern movie theater at the site of the Eltinge, but because the Eltinge was landmarked, he needed to use the historic facade as part of his building.
If you go inside the AMC Empire, which is free of charge, you can see the creative ways in which they made this old theater part of a fancy new movie palace. It’s eco-friendly and beautiful at the same time!
5) The Belasco
There are so many great theaters on this tour; believe me that I didn’t even include half of all the stories you’ll hear. But let’s finish with a haunted theater: The Belasco. The Belasco is supposedly cursed, and it usually lies empty. Our guide said that apparently the only shows that do well here are ones with a connection to Shakespeare, like the production of Hamlet starring Ralph Fiennes, aka Lord Voldemort.
However, it’s gorgeous inside because the Schuberts, who own the theater, suddenly had to pay for expensive renovations at one of their theaters to avoid getting hit with a bunch of back taxes from the IRS. (Yup, Broadway producers can be a shady bunch.) So do go inside and check out the stunning interior if you get a chance.
Best Things to Do in Midtown
Afternoon: Japan Society
The Japan Society is truly one of Midtown’s hidden gems and definitely one of the best things to do in Midtown. If you’re looking to escape the crowds of Broadway and head some place serene and beautiful, this is the place to do it. The Japan Society is dedicated to all aspects of Japanese culture: language lessons, film screenings, theatrical performances, you name it.
But they almost always have a fascinating museum exhibit up and running, so I recommend heading to that for this best things to do in Midtown itinerary. I can’t guarantee what show will be up and running when you’re in NYC, but I can help you out with…
Three Fun Facts: Japan Society
1) What About Lunch?
Glad you asked! Since we’re going to the Japan Society, why not stop at Japanese ramen restaurant Hide Chan, which is in between the end of our Broadway walking tour and the Japan Society?
I suggest getting the ramen lunch special, which comes with a choice of side item. I chose the California roll because the ramen is quite filling, we have a big dinner ahead of us, and this is the lightest option.
And here’s our main event: the classic ramen. It comes with succulent pork, scallions, and mushrooms. Just look at that delectable layer of fat on top! Can you wait to gobble that all up? You can choose between straight or wavy noodles, but I suggest wavy because they are more fun to chew.
2) What kind of shows are at the Japan Society?
The last show I saw there was on Japanese carpentry, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds. The exhibits explained the incredible level of craftsmanship that goes into these words. Japanese carpenters often make their own tools, use only locally sourced wood, and can fit their joints together without using any extra pegs! Wow!
Can you imagine making all of these gorgeous tools by hand? I certainly can’t. I get unreasonably impressed with myself when I manage to head to the hardware store and buy something instead of just ordering it from Amazon.
3) What Else Is There to Do at the Japan Society?
Tons! You might be able to go to a Japanese craft beer tasting, where you can have beer made using ingredients like wasabi and matcha. There are various talks and presentations on everything from the fine art of Japanese gardening to specific kinds of Japanese cooking, like the casual food you might find at a kissaten. (The food talks are the best because you usually get snacks afterwards.)
There are also many different types of plays and performances here. I recently went to a socially distanced “virtual reality” play, where the audience members took on the role of a guest at a bizarre restaurant run by an Extremely Creepy Man. Naturally things took a disturbing turn.
But my favorite part of the show is that Japan Society employees would run around with fabulously fragrant food to enhance the impression that we were really in a restaurant. (Sadly, this time we did not get to eat the snacks.)
Best Things to Do in Midtown
Evening: Dinner at Aquavit
After you’re done at the Japan Society, you’ll probably have some time to kill before dinner. So why not stroll around and window shop at the famous stores like Bergdorf Goodman’s and Tiffany’s? You might not be able to afford a Ferrari, but they can’t stop you from looking in the shop window and taking a quick snap with your camera! That’s just science.
After you’ve done all the browsing you desire, head to Aquavit for dinner. This Scandinavian gem is run by one of the best female chefs in the country, Emma Bengtsson. You’ll need to make reservations ahead of time, but it is worth it!
At Aquavit, you can order either a la carte or a pre-set tasting menu. I always opt for the tasting menu because it’s wonderful to eat tons of delicious food without making any decisions.
Our tasting menu will start with an amuse bouche bite like this smoked mackerel tart topped with a pea shoot salad and smoked egg. Eat the whole thing in one bite; it tastes of pure mackerel.
Some would call Aquavit a New Nordic restaurant, which means it features Scandinavian food that actually tastes good and isn’t lutefisk. And every New Nordic restaurant is going to have amazing bread cooked with traditional Scandinavian techniques. Here we get two choices: Danish rye jam-packed with seeds and a hay-smoked sourdough.
Both are delicious and you can eat as much as you want of them. Lucky you!
For our first real course, we have squid marinated in miso with English peas, pickled rhubarb, and three different kinds of roe. (Aquavit tends to go very heavy on the seafood.) The main thing that stood out about this dish was that the squid was so soft! I often find calamari chewy, so I don’t know how they got it so tender.
The contrasts in the dish were also pleasing with the sweet peas, salty roe, and sweet-sour rhubarb. So far we’re off to a great start!
For our next fish course–it’s raw halibut! That sounds gross, but it’s actually amazing. The halibut was served in a sweet-tart little salad of lingonberry, chamomile, and white peach. The pure flavors of the halibut really shine through when it is served raw. I had never thought of trying it, but now I want to eat it again and again.
Here we have the main fish course: charcoal grilled black bass with mussel hollandaise, collard greens, and a Japanese black butter turnip. This dish was extraordinarily rich, especially with the Mussel hollandaise and butter on the turnip. But because of the bitterness of the collard greens and the turnip, the richness isn’t overwhelming.
Hollandaise is so yummy; more restaurants should try experimenting with putting different ingredients in this sauce. I know I would definitely eat a chocolate hollandaise.
And finally a non-seafood dish! This is a Long island duck served green strawberry butter, herbs, and fresh summer squash. This duck was a joy to eat because everyone knows that the best part of any fowl is a perfectly crackly exterior, and this was so perfectly crusty, especially with the green strawberry butter over the whole duck.
Duck is usually served with fruit, but I’ve never seen it served with green strawberry before. And combining the green strawberry with butter was especially clever. Nothing’s better than a dish that tickles your mind as well as your tummy.
24 Hour Treasure
Here we have the most famous dish on Aquavit’s menu: the Arctic bird’s nest. Do not worry! No real nests were used in the making of this dish. It actually made with chocolate instead of dirt and blueberry sorbet. The egg shell is made from white chocolate and stuffed with goat cheese pretending to be the egg while, and sea buckthorn as the yolk.
This dish could not be more fun to eat! It’s just as pleasing to the stomach as it is to the eye. Plus, it’s sweet but not too sweet. The perfect choice for a Scandinavian dessert! And the perfect end to our day of the best things to do in Midtown.
That’s the Best Things to Do in Midtown
What do you think are the best things to do in Midtown? How many pictures can I take of the Ferraris before they get mad and chase me away? Have you ever eaten a bird’s nest for a dessert before? Please email me at [email protected] and let me know.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 Hours with the best things to do in Midtown.
And there’s a million other things to do in New York City aside from the best things to do in Midtown. Want to spend Christmas in New York? With the Brooklyn Bridge? What about 24 hours in Manhattan? How about the Bronx? Or the best museums in Manhattan? I’ve got you covered here!