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A Music Lover's Guide To New York

A Music Lover's Guide To New York

New York City is a city that lives and breathes music and what better time to explore the city that never sleeps than on the 50th anniversary of hip hop.

August 10th, 2023

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of hip hop on 11th August, the vibrant city of New York is THE place to be to not just celebrate this life-affirming genre, but every aspect of the Big Apple’s legendary music scene from hip-hop and rock ‘n’ roll to Broadway.

New York at sunset
New York at sunset

New York City is a city that lives and breathes music. It is known for its rich musical heritage and it’s home to some of the best clubs, venues, and record stores in the world.

The genre of hip hop celebrates its 50th anniversary this week. Way back when, a pivotal moment initiated a brand new genre as well as a cultural shift.

On 11 August 1973, a young DJ changed the world forever and the genesis of hip hop provided the disaffected youth of Harlem and the Bronx in New York to have a voice.

DJ Kool Herc took to the decks at a birthday party in the Bronx and tried a new technique. This technique was using ‘breaks’ to interrupt the flow of the record that was playing.

Using a mixer and two turntables to overlap and seamlessly play breakbeat after breakbeat after breakbeat, this caused a sonic revolution which was completely groundbreaking at the time.

Over time, other elements such as break dancing, rapping, Graffiti art and DJing, all formed part of the ever-evolving hip hop culture.

hip hop in the city
hip hop in the city

So, to commemorate that seminal 50th anniversary, our Music Editor Emma Harrison rounds up the must-visit spots for any music lover to enjoy whilst in New York.

Stay in a music-themed hotel

What could be better to keep things on brand than to stay in a music-themed hotel. Enter stage left the dazzling Hard Rock Hotel in the heart of Times Square.

This is the ultimate epitome of a pitch-perfect slice of the Big Apple - this stylish hotel is positively steeped in music history.

Hard Rock Hotel lobby with Alicia Keys dress
Hard Rock Hotel lobby with Alicia Keys dress

Music memorabilia adorns the walls of reception, the bar and other shared areas which includes a spectacular butter yellow Max Azria Atelier dress once worn by Alicia Keys, song lyrics, striking images of musicians from both the past and present like James Brown, guitars from Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones and more.

Budding musicians can also hire guitars to channel their own Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin where you can rock out in the sanctuary of your room to your heart’s content with the hotel's Hard Rock’s Sound of Your Stay experience.

Hard Rock by name, Hard Rocking by nature! If you prefer to be a captivated audience member instead, you can enjoy live performances from both local, national and international artists.

Keep those peepers peeled, as you might well spot world-renowned stars like Halsey who has  performed in the hotel’s basement.

Located just round the corner from iconic music landmarks including Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center and Broadway.

It’s also a great place to grab a drink (the consumption of music-themed cocktails is strictly obligatory!) and try some of the delicious options at the ‘Sessions’ restaurant which is where you will find the majority of the hotel’s vast collection of music memorabilia.

If you are looking for the best place to enjoy steak in the city - head to the hotel’s NYY Steak, an elegant wood-panelled restaurant down on the ground floor. The steak and other dishes are simply sublime and are complimented by the exceptional service too.

NYY Steak at the Hard Rock Hotel in Times Square
NYY Steak at the Hard Rock Hotel in Times Square

For a lighter bite, check out the mezze options at RT60, a stylish bar and lounge way up on the 34th floor. They also offer a  fantastic range of cocktails, including New York, New York, a bourbon, vermouth and grapefruit bitters blend that Ole Blue Eyes would surely have most certainly given his seal of approval.

Naturally, the rooms follow suit with the music memorabilia, you’ll find a music soundwave above your bed and each room has a musician emblazoned on the glass door that leads to the marble-drenched bathroom.

Music-themed bedroom at the Hard Rock Hotel in New York
Music-themed bedroom at the Hard Rock Hotel in New York

For me, it was an oversized Bruce Springsteen clad in a rock ‘n’ roll denim shirt looking nothing short of resplendent.  These are ‘Glory Days’ indeed!

How to…soak up the sights and sounds of the city’s music scene

Take a hip hop tour

As it’s the 50th anniversary of hip hop, why not take an ever deeper dive into this vibrant and exciting genre, with the help of the brilliant Hush Tours.

The guides are all fully immersed in everything hip hop and are all figureheads of the scene. We had the wonderful rapper RayZa who was a truly engaging and effervescent host.

He led us around the neighbourhoods of Spanish Harlem, Harlem and the Bronx, pointing out notable landmarks such as a mosque built to commemorate the memory and legacy of civil rights leader Malcolm X, who was assassinated in the Harlem neighbourhood in 1965 and the vibrant graffiti wall of fame which you just have to take a selfie in front of!

The dynamic RayZa’s energy levels and knowledge were second-to-none. He also performed a freestyle rap or two and was incredibly engaging and enthusiastic which really helped elevate the tour experience.

Explore the artefacts at the Universal Hip Hop Museum

By now, we are sure that you will be wanting to continue learning even more about hip hop right? And what better way to do so than at the Universal Hip Hop Museum in the heart of the Bronx.

Museum of hip hop in New York
Museum of hip hop in New York

As well as some impressive pieces which includes a bike donated by US rapper Coolio a matter of weeks before his death, there are also educational snippets such as old polaroid photos, handwritten letters and drawings too - all of which help bring the history of this fascinating genre to life even more.

Watch some live music

In New York, you are never far away from a live music venue, but the cosmopolitan venue of The Jazz club at the Aman simply cannot be missed.

Reminiscent of a speakeasy, it’s dark, decadent and it’s here you will find the best jazz in the city.

Situated in the highly-exclusive Aman New York hotel, it’s a pretty new kid to the block, but what a worthy addition it really is.

You will be treated to world-class turns from some of the city’s finest jazz stars which includes the highly talented six-time Grammy Award nominee Brian Newman.

Other notable music venues to add to your ‘to do’ list include the world-renowned and historic Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which hosts events for music, theatre, dance, film and opera.

Enjoy a Broadway show

Can you say you have been to New York if you haven’t been to a Broadway show? There’s so many to choose from, but if you want to get ahead of the curve, book a ticket to go and see the new Neil Diamond Musical - A Beautiful Noise.

Broadway hit - A Beautiful Noise
Broadway hit - A Beautiful Noise

A awe-inspiring and refreshing take on the life and times of Neil which showcased both his impressive songwriting skills for other artists as well as a sonic sojourn around his own back catalogue. Good times never seemed so good!

Enjoy a healthy dollop of burgers and Broadway.

For a delicious pre-show dinner, book a booth at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, located at 1650 Broadway on Times Square, which is a must-visit for all musical theatre lovers.

Stardust Diner in New York
Stardust Diner in New York

The food is fabulous and the servers get on the tables and perform high-octane tracks from a repertoire of musical theatre classics such as Grease, Chicago and Hamilton.

Get even more Broadway on!

We may be biased, but we think of Broadway rocks and what better way to trace the history of this iconic institution than to visit the brilliant Museum of Broadway.

Museum of Broadway in New York
Museum of Broadway in New York

So, get ready to get your jazz hands out and shimmy as you gaze in wonder at the incredible costumes, photos and immersive artefacts that are on display.

Carry on the foodie music vibes at Parkers at Thompson Central Park

Named after the prestigious jazz musician Charlie Parker, this sophisticated restaurant is a great haunt either for lunch or dinner - or indeed both!

As well as a trip to Aman, jazz fans can’t miss this lowkey haunt, named after New York jazz icon Charlie Parker.

Similar to the Aman, the theme of jazz is everywhere - even the well-crafted cocktails are named after songs from the celebrated genre.

Try to time your visit on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday where you can enjoy stunning live jazz recitals that will blow you away.

Radio City Music Hall

New York is a dream destination all-year round, but at Christmas a visit to the Radio City Music Hall is simply unmissable!

Radio City Hall exterior
Radio City Hall exterior

Visitors can take a guided tour of this stunning art deco theatre where they can trace the footsteps of world-class performers whilst immersing yourself in the venue’s illustrious history,

There’s also an opportunity to bump into a real-life Rockette, one of the incredibly talented dancers who perform to sold-out crowds at the theatre throughout the Christmas season.

And the best of the rest….

This is a city that never sleeps, so we are sure you will want to carve out as much time in order to maximise your schedule. Here’s some of Emma’s favourite things to do whilst in NYC.

See some incredible art

New York is an unrelenting cultural hub and its reputation for its world-class museums and art galleries are second-to-none.

If you only visit one museum, make it the MoMa AKA the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan which houses a collection of more than 200,000 artworks of every variety.

Get your stroll on and pay tribute to the late great John Lennon

If you want a little oasis in the city, head on over to Central Park and explore even a smidge of the 843-acre park.

Central Park in New York city
Central Park in New York city

There’s always live music being performed and if you happen to venture near the John Lennon memorial, you will undoubtedly be treated to some pretty impressive renditions of songs from the Fab Four.

John Lennon Imagine memorial
John Lennon Imagine memorial

Strawberry Fields is a memorial to the musician and peace activist who was sadly shot in 1980 only a stone's throw away from the park that he loved so much.

Admire the cityscape with the CityPASS at the Top of the Rock

For those oh-so insta-worthy pics, head on up to view the city of New York from one of the best vistas at the Top of the Rock Observation Deck at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

In return for riding the thrill-a-minute lift up to the top, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the glittering city landscape.

View from the Top of the Rock
View from the Top of the Rock

The most cost-effective way to see this and other notable attractions such as Ellis Island, the Empire State Building and more is to buy a  New York CityPASS.

Eat some soul food

The Red Rooster has several celebrity fans and one of the most famous is the one and only Michelle Obama.

With delectable dishes such as shrimp grits, man ‘n’cheese on offer, you had better be careful to pack your appetite!

How to get to the city that never sleeps

United Airlines flies direct from London Heathrow to John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airport in New York and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey. Economy ticket prices from Heathrow start from £434.

If you have some air miles going spare (or feel free to use someone else's - you can upgrade to a more luxurious flight with United’s Premium PlusSM experience. It’s well worth it - trust me!

Thank you so much to NYCTourism for your generous hospitality. Head over to their website to help plan your very own music tour to the Big Apple.

Buy your New York City Pass in advance online which includes prepaid admission to the Empire State Building and American Museum of Natural History, plus admission to three more attractions of your choice: Top of the Rock Observation Deck; Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island; 9/11 Memorial & Museum; Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises; Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum; and the Guggenheim Museum.

Emma Harrison

Emma Harrison

Music editor, Emma, is in her element at gigs, listening to records and has freelanced as a music and travel writer for the past 7 years.