It’s a question any New Yorker, no matter how new or how seasoned, gets asked with anticipation and a hint of worry by friends, family, or mere acquaintances headed for the Big Apple (no, no one calls it that): “Where do I go to get good photos?”
The minute I hit the ground in New York, I started taking photos. It was “welcome week” for freshman students, which meant we had a whole week free of classes to attend events, mixers, and other school functions in order to meet people and get acquainted with our new surroundings. I signed up for one event to test the waters — I think it was something about being environmentally friendly in the city? — and after spending an hour in a windowless classroom watching a PowerPoint, I made the wise split-decision to never do that again. Later that day, I was back in my dorm room, meandering around trying to figure out what to eat for lunch. My new roommate, Cynthia, was also home, and she wandered into the living room where I was stationed.
“Hey,” she said a bit sheepishly. “What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing,” I responded in that way you do when you’re not really comfortable with someone yet; both apprehension and invitation colored my voice.
“Would you…” Cynthia began, “…maybe want to get lunch?”
I smiled. “I’m starving.”
And so Cynthia and I set out in search of a suitable lunch — which, thankfully, didn’t mean dining hall food to either of us. I quickly learned that Cynthia had a similar encounter with the Welcome Week events, and so we decided to skip any other ones we might’ve been thinking about attending for the rest of the day. We filled our metro cards and headed uptown, to Central Park, grabbed a coffee and quick bite and began to stroll through the park. Cynthia was introduced to my pushy style of photography (“Go stand there!” I’d command, making her nervously laugh with compliments and exclamations of “That looks so good!” (Krystal can attest to this!)), and I snapped photos at every turn. After we’d explored a good chunk of the park, we decided to head down Fifth Avenue back towards our home on 14th St, intending to maybe catch the subway along the way once we got tired.
Instead, we walked the entire 45-block, 2.3 mile stretch, stopping for photos and popping into stores the whole way down. We discovered some of our still-favorite spots on that walk, like the Toby’s Estate Coffee that’s also a Strand Bookstore, flower shop, and Club Monaco, the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, and the Eataly across the street. We saw how busy it gets for about 5 blocks before and after the Empire State Building, the beauty of Bryant Park, and craziness of 5th Avenue shopping. Somehow, we weren’t tired at all after that walk. If anything, it inspired us to get out and see as much of the city as we could.
Needless to say, Cynthia and I didn’t go to any more Welcome Week events. We roamed around West Village, walked to Chinatown, explored the Met, stopped in coffee shops in East Village, went shopping on the Upper West Side, traversed the High Line, and more. It meant so much to my New York induction that I get out of my little Greenwich Village bubble. I knew how to take the subway, I knew which way was East and West. I felt like a New Yorker.
The most important part, though? I had thousands and thousands of pictures to prove it.
Maybe that sounds a bit shallow. Of course photos aren’t everything, but for someone like me who thrives on creativity, who lives for a good shot, they provide the most amazing visual record of a life well lived.
So, long story short, I’ve amassed a pretty good collection of perfect Instagram spots. And now I’m going to share them with you! These are places Krystal and I shoot constantly, places I love to visit, places I eat at and stare at in wonder, places that make up my perfect, photographable, New York.
Whether you’re a local or a tourist posing as a local, these spots will give you a head start on a great Instagram feed (Oh, and some lovely memories along the way, too.)
Best known for the apartment where the exteriors for Friends was shot, the adjacent corner of Bedford and Grove in West Village is actually way cuter and often way more deserted (since everyone is snapping photos of the Friends corner!). It has some of the most beautiful brownstones in the West Village, like this one below. A few houses down is the famous Grove Court, the most adorable nook of matching homes, which at Halloween fills to the brim with carved jack-o-lanterns!
There’s almost no way you can’t recognize this corner; it’s absolute Instagram fodder, and for good reason. La Esquina restaurant provides a great retro background, and it’s situated at the perfect junction of Soho and Nolita, so it looks both grand and industrial at the same time. Try to hit this spot as early in the morning as you can if you want photos without other people in them, because it can get pretty busy during midday (especially with popular Jack’s Wife Freda just up the street!).
We recently shot all day in Williamsburg, but in between outfits, we stopped in the Wythe Hotel’s restaurant, Reynard, for an iced coffee. It is the prettiest space — huge windows line the wall, an ornate bar covers the other, and the tiling and wood details are so gorgeous. It gets busy on weekends and evenings, so try to stop by in the day for the good light and empty space.
The hotel itself is also massive and gorgeous — the rooms are a great mix of industrial and modern, with big paned windows, sizable bathrooms, exposed brick and cement floors with white and gold accents. I’ve personally never stayed there, but friends who have say it’s a seamless experience from beginning to end. But, beware, you may never want to leave!
Every morning when I go to school, I get off at the West 4th stop and head east on Waverly. This house never fails to brighten my day — it is the happiest shade of dusty pink, and seems to fit nearly every season perfectly. In spring, it evokes the bursting cherry blossoms; in summer, the cotton candy sunsets; in autumn, the crisp mornings and late-afternoon light; in winter, the pinks of noses and cheeks brushed by the winter air. Wow, yes, I did just wax that poetic about a pink house!
It’s usually relatively empty on this section of Waverly, unless they’re filming a movie or delivering produce next door to swanky Babbo. Plus, I kind of love the look of strangers walking by this majestic place. Of course, though, like a lot of these spots, this is someone’s home, so obviously exercise respect when taking photos!
Calling all fashion week lovers! Even though NYFW will no longer be rooted at Skylight Clarkson Sq, the area around the old venue is still an ideal place to snap photos. This photo above was actually shot at a UPS warehouse, but the rows and rows of garages actually made the perfect backdrop for Krystal’s feminine outfits. The light over here is also amazing in the mornings; dapped light hits the warehouses in the prettiest way. It’s also a hop and a skip away from Soho, so it can be a great jumping off point.
Besides having amazing coffee, Happy Bones is one of the cutest coffee shops, perhaps in all of Manhattan. Marble tables and white walls are ideal for the Instagram-obsessed, and their latte art is almost always pristine, providing both the perfect shot and the perfect sip. The only catch is that it’s absolutely tiny, with only 3 tables and room to stand at the window. I wish I had a good time to visit, but honestly, it’s always a gamble. My best bets are early afternoon on a weekday (like 2p or 3p) or very, very early on a weekend (close to 7a) if you want to score a table all to yourself. Otherwise, just head there and hope for the best. The area around it is adorable (La Esquina is close!), so grab a coffee and explore Little Italy — you’ll find tons more Instagramable spots!
Well, there you have it! A selection of some of our favorite spots to snap Instagrams in the city. I have a ton more up my sleeve, so if you have a particular area you’re hoping to visit, leave it in the comments and I can provide even more recommendations! I hope this helped you get some locations on your list for next time you’re headed to the city! Where are your favorite places to snap photos? Let me know!