From the bright lights of Broadway to the hip-hop block parties of Harlem, New York City pulsates with the sound of music at every turn. Its 24-hour pace and urban vitality have inspired musicians for decades and birthed the likes of disco, salsa, garage rock and hip hop. With world-class venues including Madison Square Gardens, the Apollo Theatre and Carnegie Hall now every bit as iconic as the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and the Statue of Liberty, there’s simply nowhere better to see live music than NYC, either. Follow our music lover’s guide to NYC to discover all the other places you shouldn’t miss in Manhattan.
A Music Lover’s Guide To New York City
Musical Things To Do In New York
Radio City Music Hall
Follow in the footsteps of everyone from Whitney Houston to Frank Sinatra by taking the stage at the legendary Radio City Music Hall – albeit without an audience. Book a Stage Door Tour of this beautiful art deco theatre ($33 per adult, msg.com) and you’ll get to hear all about the venue’s illustrious history, snoop backstage, and even stand on the famous stage itself. Along the way, you can marvel at the gold leaf-papered lobby, peek in the secret apartment and even bump into an immaculately made-up Rockette, one of the dancing girls who perform to sell-out crowds at the theatre every Christmas.
Have you even visited New York if you haven’t seen a show on Broadway? Whether you prefer the hip-hop styling of Hamilton, epic tear-jerkers of The Lion King or even the Britney Spears songs in Once Upon A One More Time, there’s a show for you in the city’s theatre district. Book in advance at broadwaycollection.com for the best choice. I saw A Beautiful Noise, a surprisingly moving, beautifully performed re-telling of singer Neil Diamond’s life that had the whole theatre on its feet singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ by the end. Get in the mood first with a visit to the Museum of Broadway (from $34, themuseumofbroadway.com) that tells the fascinating story of this world-famous area through rare costumes, props and interactive experiences.
Hush Hip Hop Tour
Walking tours might bore you to tears, but this one is more likely to have you (break) dancing in the streets. Led by rappers, MCs and local hip-hop legends, this unforgettable and hilarious tour (from $50 per person, hushtours.com) traces the roots of the genre through the streets of Harlem and is packed with personal anecdotes, history and music. Our guide, rapper RayZa, led us through Spanish Harlem where salsa originated, past the Graffiti Hall of Fame to a church attended by Martin Luther King and the celebrated Apollo Theatre, demonstrating his freestyle rapping talents along the way.
The Jazz Club at Aman
A night out at a chic jazz club is an NYC must-do. The Jazz Club at Aman New York (thejazzclub.com) only opened in late 2022, but is already the city’s coolest place to see and be seen. With the exclusive air of a Prohibition Era speakeasy and its own secret entrance, it hosts nightly performances by jazz artists and the best New York DJs from Tuesday to Saturday – but advance reservations are essential. Try to catch a performance by the club’s own Creative Director and six-time Grammy Award nominee Brian Newman if you can.
Whatever music you love, you won’t struggle to find a live performance at the Lincoln Center (lincolncenter.org). With 11 resident arts organisations including The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet and the New York Philharmonic, it hosts daily concerts, guided theatre tours and even dedicated family shows and creative workshops. Visit in the summer and everything from silent discos to orchestra performances are completely free, too.
Where To Stay
Hard Rock Hotel New York
Steps from Times Square on the street once known as Music Row, the Hard Rock Hotel New York is a fun, flash tribute to the city’s incredible musical legacy. Having opened in April 2022, it’s unashamedly devoted to pop and rock, from the music blaring in the elevators to the oversized photos of stars like Bruce Springsteen on the bathroom doors.
There are DJs whipping up a party in the hip rooftop cocktail bar, interactive city guides curated by musicians offered instead of standard maps and a basement live music venue for big-name performances. You can even borrow record players or Fender guitars to bring the music to your bedroom.
Be sure to spend some time checking out the priceless music memorabilia on display throughout the hotel too. I spotted outfits from Madonna and Beyonce, handwritten lyrics from John Lennon and silver leather boots worn by Lady Gaga.
BOOK IT: Rooms at Hard Rock Hotel New York start from $395 per night. hardrockhotels.com
Musical Places To Eat In New York
Red Rooster, Harlem
A favourite of Barack and Michelle Obama’s, Harlem’s Red Rooster (redroosterharlem.com) was established by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson to bring together the best local food, music and art. This lively, laid-back restaurant now serves huge portions of moreish American comfort food, including jerk salmon, lobster rolls, heavenly mac and cheese, and one of the best apple pies you’ll ever try. The walls are lined with original artwork and there are performances from local and internationally-known DJs and bands most nights, while Sunday’s gospel brunch is the hottest ticket in Harlem.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
Don’t expect a quiet lunch at this riotous diner in Times Square, where the waiters climb on the table to belt out show tunes and theatre classics (ellensstardustdiner.com). Expect retro ‘50s theming, astonishingly talented singers, plenty of cheering and hollering, and an all-day menu of burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and meatloaf. The boozy milkshakes are worth the visit alone – we’d recommend salted caramel pretzel laced with Jim Beam bourbon. Just be warned that the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so expect to queue if you visit at peak meal times.
Parker’s at Thompson Central Park
Named after jazz great Charlie Parker, this relaxed lounge (parkersnyc.com) is dedicated to the music that makes New York great. The lights are inspired by horn instruments, the walls display work from celebrated music photographers and even the cocktails are named after songs. Visit on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday for live music in partnership with The Jazz Foundation of America.
Visit nyctourism.com to plan your musical visit to the city.
United Airlines (united.com) flies direct from London Heathrow to New York from £580 (economy) and £3766 (United Polaris business).