Photograph by Jeff Mauritzen, Nat Geo Image Collection
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The sun sets over the Empire State Building.

Photograph by Jeff Mauritzen, Nat Geo Image Collection

Weekend Itinerary for the Explorer in Manhattan

See this iconic city like an insider.

Meet the Weekend Explorer: Indré Rockefeller is the co-founder, creative director, and co-CEO of Paravel, which makes high-end travel bags. She previously worked with other luxury fashion brands and is a former ballerina. Here's her favorite way to spend a weekend in Manhattan.

It’s not uncommon to hear New Yorkers make bold proclamations as to where they will and, even more adamantly, will not go in their own city. “I won’t go above 14th Street,” or “There’s nothing for me below 59th Street,” not to mention the all-too-frequent rumblings about avoiding Times Square at all costs. In reality, however, a New Yorker is a permanent traveler and explorer in his or her own city. A new restaurant downtown, a rare exhibit uptown, or a star-studded play in Times Square will find almost any denizen of the Big Apple happily navigating the concrete jungle that is their hometown in search of the new. There will always be more to see and do in this exhilarating city than time allows, even if you choose to—like the city—never sleep.

Despite all the hustle and bustle, creating an itinerary for a weekend in Manhattan is simple: Sample some of the latest and greatest, but focus on the classics and hidden gems that have survived the test of time in NYC. Oh, and take the subway. It’s faster.

Friday

5 p.m.: Unwind at Aire Ancient Baths

It’s the end of the week, and if you’ve arrived in bustling downtown Manhattan, you’re probably already a little worse for the wear, regardless of whether you’ve traveled via cross-country flight or a crosstown bus. Start the weekend by unwinding the ancient Roman way at the Aire Ancient Baths in Tribeca, one of Manhattan’s best-kept secrets. Housed in a former textile factory built in 1883, this cavernous, candle-lit space holds baths and steam rooms to suit every taste. With experiences like hot to ice water plunge pools and sea salt to wine dips, you will emerge feeling rejuvenated–and ready to re-tox.

6:30 p.m.: Sundowners at Top of the Standard

Near the base of the High Line, perched at the top of the Standard Hotel is the sparkling Top of The Standard. Offering panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline and Hudson River, the Top offers an expansive cocktail menu to peruse in an Art Deco lounge. Savor a Manhattan (or two) and watch the city turn from day to night.

7:30 p.m.: Stroll Through Skyscrapers

Make your way down to the High Line, where you can take a scenic walk along Manhattan’s west side on elevated rail tracks turned into a delightfully landscaped public park. Urban city life blends effortlessly with the carefully reimagined native plants that used to grow wild along the abandoned rail corridor. For those interested in a deeper dive into the 300 species that make up the High Line’s landscape, the Friends of the High Line website maintains a monthly Bloom List and offers topical tours.

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The High Line glides through the bustling avenues of Chelsea.

8:30 p.m.: Dine in the West Village

On a corner of the West Village is the elegant Café Clover, lined with blue banquettes and bursting with charm. The menu is chock full of simple seasonal and local ingredients that are then whipped up into delicious, inventive fare like a cauliflower “steak” and chickpea spaghetti.

11 p.m.: Treat Yourself

Save room for dessert and head to Momofuku Milk Bar for an appetizing and indulgent nightcap like Crack Pie and Cereal Milk ice cream.

Saturday

8:30 a.m.: Wake Up at La Mercerie Café

Start off the morning with breakfast at the new La Mercerie Café. The charming eatery is nuzzled alongside a florist and bakery within the Roman and Williams Guild. Feeling particularly inspired by your surroundings? Absolutely everything in the restaurant, from the plates and napkins to the table itself, can be ordered from your waiter and delivered to your doorstep.

10 a.m.: Peruse Miles of Books

One of the world’s largest independent bookstores, the Strand has remained a treasured New York institution since 1927. Rummage through 18 miles of books, including new, used, and out-of-print titles. Take the elevator to the third floor’s rare book room to leaf through anything from a first edition Moby Dick to an idiosyncratic book about giraffes (Full disclosure: I now own that book).

11 a.m.: Cook in a Farmer's Market

Roll up your sleeves for a lunch at Haven’s Kitchen, where you can sign up for a market-inspired cooking lesson. This interactive meal begins with a visit to the iconic Union Square Greenmarket, where you will be guided through the freshest ingredients sourced from the area. After shopping the market, head to the kitchen to turn your bounty into an impromptu feast under the tutelage of a skilled chef.

2 p.m.: Get Cultured

Get an intimate, first-hand experience of the late conceptual artist Donald Judd’s iconic light installations at the Judd Foundation. Housed in a SoHo building that once served as Judd’s residence and studio, the foundation offers guided tours that provide the ideal context to explore Judd’s world, as well as a rare glimpse into SoHo's artistic mark on the city.

3:30 p.m.: Stock Up on Stationery

I love handcrafted stationery and I’ve rarely met a pencil I didn’t like. Two charming little shops are worth a visit for these analog treasures. Browne & Co. stationery at South Street Seaport specializes in small-batch printing and maintains a 19th-century letterpress for stationary and invitations. C.W. Pencil Enterprise on the Lower East Side stocks a surprisingly wide and inventive array of pencils from all around the world. You’ll find everything from scented pencils from Portugal to recycled, rainbow paper pencils from South Korea.

5 p.m.: Shop for Objects and Oddities

Imagine stepping into a beautiful town house of eccentric, world travelers who collect exquisite objects and oddities from far-flung destinations. Shelves and walls are lined with coral, glass, taxidermy, ceramics, insects, minerals, and antiques. Then, imagine being able to shop all of it. That’s Creel and Gow.

6 p.m.: Chic Reading

The constellation-frescoed ceiling and cozy couches courtesy of the French Embassy makes Albertine, an uptown French-English bookstore and reading room, the ideal place to put your feet up while thumbing through Proust or the latest edition of Paris Match.

8 p.m.: Dine in a Museum

In a lofty, elegant, and modernist space befitting its home at the Met Breuer, Flora Bar serves up some of the best seafood uptown. Enter the restaurant through the museum’s main entrance and order a selection of inventive small plates, paired with an artisanal wine from their notable selection.

10 p.m.: Get Jazzed

After dinner, walk over to Bemelmans Bar, housed at the iconic Carlyle Hotel. The walls are lined with whimsical murals, illustrated by the author of the children’s book series Madeline, and serve as an ode to old New York. Grab a cocktail at the Art Deco bar and settle into a booth to listen to some live jazz. If you’re lucky, you may just catch Woody Allen performing with the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band. If that’s not a New York City moment, I don’t know what is.

Sunday

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Belvedere Castle, which rises out of Vista Rock in Central Park, now houses the Henry Luce Nature Observatory.

9:30 a.m.: Find the Best Cappuccino

Wake yourself up with a legendary cappuccino from notable, uptown people-watching perch, Via Quadronno.

Sunday 10 a.m.: Design Over Time

Some of the world’s greatest museums line Museum Mile in uptown Manhattan, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Guggenheim. The masterpieces that lie inside deserve a dedicated weekend itinerary in and of themselves. For a shorter dose of quick inspiration on a busy day, the Cooper Hewitt is a beautiful museum dedicated to all things design. You’ll have the opportunity to marvel at the curves of a mid-century coffee pot alongside a limited edition 1990s cell phone. A quick roll around the iconic Spun Chairs in the garden is the perfect way to top off the visit.

12:30 p.m.: D.I.Y. Brunch

Brunch is a very serious NYC institution, and it’s hard to go wrong at the countless restaurants serving eggs alongside a strong mimosa. If you’re looking for a more D.I.Y. approach to Sunday morning, start your outing at the New York institution Zabar's. This family-owned gourmet grocer, specializing in smoked fish, cheeses, caviar, and everything in between, has been operating since 1934. Navigate the aisles to build a picnic feast to your liking, but don’t skip the fresh bagels, scallion cream cheese, and smoked salmon. Then head for Central Park.

2:30 p.m.: Feel Royal

After your picnic, stroll over to Strawberry Fields, a peaceful section of the park named after one of the favorite songs of singer, songwriter, and peace activist, John Lennon. Yoko Ono Lennon worked with the landscape architects to design a meditative "quiet zone" of the park. Or work off brunch by circling the 1.58-mile reservoir named for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, for whom the body of water was named in 1994. Stop for a photo op and soak up the spirit of the city.

For more Manhattan travel tips, follow the adventures of Indré Rockefeller, on Instagram and Twitter.