How to Travel to 10 Different Countries Without Ever Leaving New York City’s 5 Boroughs
But the “city that has it all” extends far beyond the 24/7 chains of Times Square or the boisterous, never-ending nightlife of downtown. New York City is home to undiscovered pockets of international culture, with authentic restaurants that rival cuisine made in far-off countries.
New Yorkers can travel the world without leaving the five boroughs. The city not only has pasta that transports you to Tuscany, but architecture from Morocco, and tea ceremonies steeped in Japanese culture.
The Big Apple’s international side is worth a vacation all its own. Whether you can’t afford a far-flung vacation or you’ve only got one day to escape, here’s how you can plan an authentic international staycation in New York City.
The Sofitel New York is not only part of a worldwide French hospitality brand but the center of a very famous French scandal surrounding the former chairman of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The hotel’s also got a french restaurant inside (Gaby), but venture to Buvette for buttery pâtisseries in the morning and classics like coq au vin or steak tartare at night. (The Parisians also have their own Buvette, so you know you’re getting an authentic meal.) Spend the afternoon at Albertine on Fifth Avenue. The beguiling bookshop is equally frequented by French expats and Francophile Americans — plus they host discussions and lectures surrounding french art and culture. And even if you don’t speak the language, the bookshop stocks plenty of famous French authors in translation.
The Roxy Hotel has a very popular reputation with New York City’s expat community. A visit to the hotel or any of its parties will introduce you to many who used to call Europe — particularly Spain — home. The hotel’s bar was once regarded as one of the city's best showrooms for contemporary Spanish design. Book a stay to discover why. Further uptown, the restaurant simply called Spain is not the fanciest place for tapas — but it’s one of the most authentic. When you order a drink at the bar, tapas are free, just like in Andalucia. The staff have all been working at the restaurant for ages and speak Spanish with the perfect lilt of mid-20th century Madrid. Afterwards, stop at the Instituto Cervantes which hosts a calendar of Spanish cultural events like flamenco recitals, movie screenings and live music.
The Michelangelo Hotel in Times Square may feel worlds away from Italy on first glance. But walk through the doors and guests are immediately greeted by Italian opera music. Renaissance-inspired furniture and a European art collection round out the vibe. When it comes time for food, there’s no shortage of commendable Italian cuisine in New York City. But for pasta that’s equal parts light and flavorful (just like in Italy), stop at Aita Trattoria. Many of the staff are Italian themselves, giving the restaurant added authenticity. Also: They have Aperol Spritzes on tap. It’s impossible to fully experience Italy without a stop at a church. Likewise, while in New York, drop in on the Church of the Most Precious Blood. Located in the belly of Little Italy, this church comes alive during the Feast of San Gennaro when a statue of San Gennaro is taken from its shrine and paraded through the streets. For a bonus: Visit Arthur Avenue Retail Market in the Bronx for an authentic Italian covered market on the opposite side of the Atlantic.
Hidden inside the PUBLIC Hotel is an ode to Mexican culture. A reproduction of a Diego Rivera mural is the centerpiece of the “Diego” restaurant and lounge space. The stylish, colorful furniture feels equally at home in New York City as it would in cosmopolitan Mexico City. When in Mexico, cosmopolitan Mexicans will ask if New Yorkers if they’ve been to Cosme yet. The menu, by Chef Enrique Olvera, features elevated Mexican dishes like abalone tostada, honeynut squash tamal and duck carnitas — made with fresh ingredients sourced from the Hudson Valley. For souvenirs that came directly from south of the border, visit La Sirena Mexican Folk Art. The East Village boutique sells luchador memorabilia, Virgen de Guadalupe crosses and an endless assortment of calaveras.
The lobby of Hotel Hayden is washed in white and covered in greenery. Further back, an elaborate installation of fishing rope makes the hotel feel equal parts Mykonos and Manhattan. For chic but authentic Greek cooking, get a table at Pylos. Like any self-respecting Greek restaurant, the East Village spot features moussaka, avgolemono and hearty portions any nonna would be proud of. And cap off a Grecian staycation with a dance party at CAPRICE. The Queens dance hall is one of the few remaining vestiges of Greek New York City immigration, where people drink ouzo and dance to music made across the ocean.
The Hotel 50 Bowery has an international influence running throughout the hotel, evident in subtle Chinese design in the rooms and hallways. There’s even a gallery curated by the Museum of Chinese in America on the hotel’s second floor. Across town, chef Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese Food has earned accolades for bringing Sichuan peppercorns to New York classics. Be sure to try the kung pao pastrami and green tea noodles. And no Chinese weekend is complete without a visit to deep Chinatown. Head to Columbus Park for an experience that will make you feel like you’re halfway across the planet. Residents gather to play mahjong, practice tai chi and create traditional music on erhus, flutes and drums brought from home.
The Kitano boasts that it has the only authentic Tatami suite in the entire city. Book a night in the suite that’s constructed entirely from Japanese materials, with a wood floor, tatami mats and shoji paper screens. Then venture to Brooklyn and grab a seat at Ichiran, the Japanese ramen chain. Customers who are dining alone can choose to eat in a secluded one-person booth where they’re served through a window. Wrap up the staycation with a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at Setsugekka, a tea house in the East Village.
If you can’t book a flight to Marrakech, book a night at the themed Marrakech Hotel. Plush pillows, hanging lamps and tiled walls take their inspiration straight from a Moroccan riad. And for the prettiest bowl of couscous in town, get dinner at Chouchou. The dimly-lit Bedouin eatery evokes a romantic, far-off world. Everybody knows that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a veritable treasure trove — but not everybody knows that hidden inside is a portal that leads directly to Morocco. The Moroccan Court is one of the most enchanting parts of the museum, designed by architects in Fez to reflect a medieval Islamic courtyard. Stepping inside is an instant, immersive escape.
Celebrate the best of Scandinavian design with a staycation dedicated to the sleekest, most clever and most practical furnishings out there. Book a stay at 11 Howard that boasts of Danish minimalism design. Feel Finnish when you check into the HigherDOSE infrared sauna on the hotel’s third floor. Venture uptown to Grand Central’s Great Northern Food Hall with Nordic vendors offering Danish hot dogs, aged vinegar and more smoked salmon than you can shake a spear at. Afterwards, head to The Shop at Scandinavia House which stocks some of the great Scandinavian design houses like Marimekko, Orrefors, and Royal Copenhagen porcelain.
For all things prim and proper, look no further than The Whitby Hotel. It’s equal parts posh, elegant and eccentric — like the stereotypical Brit. And, of course, no British hotel would be complete without an elaborate afternoon tea (and even a masterclass on floral arrangements). Grab a bite to eat at Jones Wood Foundry. The menu is chock full of British classics like bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie and (of course) fish and chips. Try to nab a table in the back courtyard for a picture-perfect meal. Pay homage with a stop at Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, featuring some of the costumes, decor and history featured in the show.